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1993.11.DD - Guitarist Magazine - Loose Cannon (Duff)

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1993.11.DD - Guitarist Magazine - Loose Cannon (Duff)

Post by Blackstar on Fri Nov 23, 2018 12:00 am

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Loose Cannon
 
Guns N’ Roses
Duff McKagan

 
Bass player, resident punk spirit with the most successful rock band of the moment and now solo performer. Duff McKagan spreads his wings as Jeffrey Hudson closes in
 
With Guns N’ Roses’ notorious reluctance to commit anything to vinyl/tape/CD too often, it is hardly surprising to find the composite parts eager to flex their solo muscles. While Slash may have cornered the market with his ubiquitous rent-a-solo act, it’s been left to the unassuming Duff - so-called King Of The Beers and the approachable face of GN’R - to lead the way with a fully-fledged solo album.
 
The result is ‘Believe In Me’, 13 original songs running the full gamut of styles. There’s the plaintive pop chant of Man In The Meadow, the spartan atmospherics of Lonely Tonite and the, ermm, punk rock of the cryptic Punk Rock Song, all resonating with the one- take freshness that permeates the record.
 
There’s a 22-piece orchestra on one song, Lenny Kravitz sings another and the list of other contributors is near endless; and - yes - Slash is there with his guest solo (top) hat firmly on.
 
But GN’R fans fret not. What good time rocking there is - and it should be more than enough to sate the hungriest appetite - is as jugular-bound, straight-from-the-heart, take no prisoners heavy as anything Duff’s other band have ever done.
 
Geffen are delighted with it, GN’R are proud and Duff still looks like he can’t believe it’s happening to him. So, several years after he started, is this the album he wanted to make?
 
“Yes, it really is,” says the man christened Michael. “There are mistakes on there that are left on because it’s not a produced record - I mean, it’s not overproduced, or anything. I think the record is really different, not the manufactured-spit-out-once-a-year type of thing. It’s a very human record, so if there was a mistake in a certain drum track I did, or something, then I left that because I don’t want the thing to be perfect. It’s a human record made by human beings and human beings make mistakes.
 
“But it’s hard for me to look at it objectively right now because I’ve had my face buried in it for so long. It’s taken me a couple of years so it will take some time before I’m able to step back and criticise it - that’s a great opening line; you’ve really put me on the spot. Technically it’s not the best record or anything like that, but the songs came through like I wanted them to.”
 
Recorded largely at heel-kicking interludes on tour, was ‘Believe In Me’ the child of frustration?
 
“I never actually set out to make a solo record. I had gone through a period of time before we even made the ‘Illusion’ records when I lived alone in this big house in L.A. I’m from Seattle and I didn’t have a girlfriend or anything, and I would go down to the clubs in Hollywood and I was so fed up because the girls and people in general didn’t really care about me - they were only interested because I was in this big band and I had some money. So, I basically had enough of that. It was really a mind blower when I really realised they never wanted me for me.
 
“So I sat up at my house with my eight-track for a couple of months and just wrote and recorded something like 60 tunes; they just poured out. Then when we were doing the ‘Illusion’ records and we had a day off, I realised there was a drum kit there, and a Marshall stack and everything.
 
“So I went down to A&M with my song, The Majority, and put down a drum track, guitar and some bass.
Lenny Kravitz had been hanging out at my house, and he heard it and loved it and used to sing it; so when I was at the studio I decided to give him a call and he came right down and sang it.
 
“So, I thought: ‘Cool, I’ve just recorded a song in a real studio just for the hell of it.’ Then we mixed it and I realised I could record some more: I can play drums and guitars and make it work. But still I just financed it myself and thought that I would just have these recordings for myself. But as more and more songs were recorded the more Geffen got interested and the more other people wanted to play on them and it turned out cool.”
 
Which song came next?
 
“That’s a very good question! I think it was Believe In Me. I recorded it when I could, so date-wise I’m not sure; when you’re on the road it doesn’t matter what month or day or year it is really - we were on tour for 28 months so it gets to the point where it doesn’t matter even what century it is. I just recorded it whenever I could but I think Believe In Me was next.
 
“I always knew I had an album’s worth of material, easily, but I never thought of what I was doing as making a record. I had to do it to get the shit out. Although I had it on eight-track I just wanted to do it right - whether it be the corny cliche for my grandchildren or whatever, I had to do it.”
 
So Fine, from ‘Use Your Illusion II', is as bare and pared down as November Rain is overblown. Written and sung by Duff, it would not have sounded out of place on ‘Believe In Me’ which begs enquiry of whether there is any difference between a ‘Duff song and one written for GN’R.
 
“Yes and no: I mean there are songs that didn’t make the album that Slash and Axl said, ‘Come on, man, can we have these? Please.’ But for the main they are real personal songs. I’ve got plenty of other songs for GN’R, but it’s Slash and me and Matt who write the songs music-wise there; for most of the songs that I wrote for GN’R - although not all of them -I needed that magical chemistry.
 
“But this is much more on a personal level. I couldn’t have - or ask - Axl to sing one of my personal songs because it wouldn’t be coming from his heart.”
 
Man In The Meadow sounds particularly poignant.
 
“Sure. It’s about my best friend, Todd, who’s dead now. The guys in GN’R were very close to him, too, but to me it was very personal and so it was right for me to do it.”
 
With a solo record under his belt, Duff’s job description seems currently amorphous. Bass player, guitarist, producer, singer or songwriter - how would he describe himself?
 
“Well, let me give you a good example of what I don’t think I am. Geffen, bless their hearts, have taken out a full-page ad in America which shows the back cover of the album - just the back of my head because I don’t show my face on the sleeve - and it said: ‘Duff McKagan: bassist of Guns N’ Roses, singer, songwriter and multi- instrumentalist’ - and I thought, f*** this - just put ‘due out September 27th’! So I don’t look at myself as anything other than what I am if that makes sense.
 
“Axl and Slash are more the public face of GN’R than I am and that’s fine with me. I don’t envy the guys at all because they’re constantly hounded and I’m not. It’s really become a pain in the ass. I didn’t get into rock’n’roll to be on the cover of Rolling Stone or to be gawked at; I did it for the music. As far as being a household name goes - I'd rather not be, thank you very much.”
 
But the fact that you’ve been able to release a solo album publicising yourself must be more gratifying than if you were just a bass player in somebody else’s band?
 
“Well, yeah. I’m proud of what I did and I’m really glad I was finally afforded the opportunity to do this. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was 15 or 16, since I heard Prince’s first record when he played everything, really. Then when Lenny did his first record, I thought if he can do it I can do it too - not putting Lenny down at all because he’s amazing, but he was one of my buddies, and if my buddy could do it then I thought I could too!”
 
Kravitz’s vocal on The Majority has made the song sound like one of his own.
 
“Yeah, that’s right. But I figure if you took the vocal track away and had never heard him singing on it, then you would never have thought he could do it. My producer Jim Mitchell didn’t think it would work, but Lenny puts this signature vocal on it and now it’s a f***ing Lenny Kravitz song!
 
“Actually we’re doing a trade. The song is on my album and then Lenny’s doing a sort of Christmas EP of B-sides and things and he’s putting it on there. So people who don’t know my stuff will get to hear me and vice versa.”
 
Life on the road affects different people in different ways. Not many people would have survived a two year tour with GN’R; fewer would be hungry for more. Duff, it seems, can’t get enough.
 
“Oh, sure, yes. In fact, I’m going to rehearsal in about an hour and 15 minutes. I’ve put a band together and we are doing three club dates in the States first then we start October 1st in Europe for two months opening for The Scorpions.
 
“Actually, though, at first we were just going to go out and do clubs, but after I’d beat myself up for 28 months touring, I wasn’t that keen to go and do two hours every night. And also, I would only be playing 300-seater clubs and this way we’ll reach a wider audience.
 
“Not including me, my band - called just Duff - is so good that I want to get them seen. On guitar I’ve got Joie Mastrokalos who is this guy I’ve known for 15 years since we were little punkers. Then there’s Teddy Andreadis on keyboards, a buddy of mine, Richard Duguay, on bass and another one, Aaron Brooks on drums. When I go and watch them rehearse I just feel embarrassed to pick up a guitar and put my noises in there! So I need to get my band seen out there.
 
“We’ll be doing some one-off solo dates as well - in London I think we’re doing the 100 Club. But The Scorpions gig was offered to us, they’re big in Europe, and we get to use all their P.A. and lights and stuff; so we took it. And we only have to play 45 minutes a night!”
 
Just long enough to play your new album, in fact.
 
“Exactly! But we also play some other songs as well. When we got back from the tour about four weeks ago, I had to go and record two B-sides for European 12" singles; I did Cracked Actor by David Bowie and Bambi by Prince. They turned out great! I must have had one spark left after the tour and everything, and I guess I utilised that spark all at once doing these - it was, like, a two day vacation then I was back into it.”
 
Were Bowie and Prince some of your influences?
 
“I was always a big Prince fan, and of Bowie, of course. But I guess Iggy Pop, as far as rock ’n’ roll heroes go, was probably the man. When I was a kid I used to follow him around up and down the west coast - we’d all go on tour!”
 
In GN’R your heroes follow you and play on your stage: Brian May at Wembley, Ron Wood at Milton Keynes, Aerosmith and Jeff Beck in Paris. Beck even appears on your album.
 
“Yeah, I met up with Jeff Beck in Paris two years ago because he was supposed to play with us; and that’s when he heard F* * *ed Up Beyond Belief. He was staying in the room across from me at the hotel and he came over and asked what I was doing. I told him I was doing this solo record and I had the basic tracks on cassette. He asked if he could play on it and I was shaking - what do you say - ‘no’? It was like when, where, what time? In the end we met up in London and he did his solo.”
 
Beck never actually made it to the Paris concert in the end.
 
“That’s right. He was due to play Locomotive so we got up on the big stage to soundcheck and rehearse it with him. But he already had this thing called tinnitus in one ear and, when we had finished the song lots of times, his head was swirling and he’d hurt the other ear. It was really horrible to see him. I guess it’s like this constant whooshing in your head; I mean, one ear is bad enough but in both.
 
“There’s actually no cure for it. I haven’t spoken to him for some while but I saw that he played the Apollo Theatre and he’s put out nother record so he must be a bit better. When he came to London with his girlfriend Sandra I was concerned about him doing my record; but he said that there was a cure that they were developing so perhaps he’s found what he was looking for.”
 
Along with Beck and Kravitz the album features contributions from everyone in GN’R... almost. No Axl?
 
“It’s just the way things turned out. In fact, Axl has been the biggest fan of my record. I mean, all the guys in the band are completely behind me, but Axl even asked if he can come out on tour with me!”
 
Will you be doing any GN’R songs with your new band?
 
“Nah. Maybe So Fine. Or if Axl’s there maybe we’ll do something.”
 
Does it matter if the album sells?
 
“No, that’s not the point. It’s just here it is, here’s my heart and soul! If you like it, cool, if you don’t, cool. Even GN’R have never written a song to sell; I’ve never written a commercial record in my life. It’ll be available so if you buy it, fine. I’m not taking out big ads or anything. That’s pretty self-indulgent. That’s why I don’t show my face on the record. I didn’t want stylists and everything to make me look good; that’s not what rock ’n’ roll is about. What’s on the disk or vinyl matters. That’s what has most disillusioned me about bands especially since I moved to L.A. I mean, sure, we do pictures too, but we just stand in front of the camera.
 
“As for my tastes, I just like any band with integrity, which these days seem very few and far between. On tour I go into record stores wherever I am - whether it’s Oslo, Norway or Buenos Aires, Argentina - constantly searching for something cool. I’ll ask somebody who works there to recommend something that’s out that’s cool. They’ll say this and that and I’ll take it home - home?! - to the hotel! - and play them and they’ll be crap. Just more bands singing about going to the drive-in in their old man’s car and shit like that.”
 
For all the one-take roughness on the album, there is actually an orchestra on Could It Be U. How did that come about?
 
“We were on tour when I came up with the melody line. For the first time it actually came to me in a dream. It was when we had the horn section with us so when I woke up I called Lisa who played sax - she’s, like, a legitimate musician because she writes and everything - and asked her to write it down because I couldn’t.
 
“For that melody line I used cellos, four violas and 10 violins from the L.A.
 
Philharmonic; in the studio I sat right next to the concert master wondering what on earth I was doing!”
 
It was something of a surprise when GN’R - the so-called ‘world’s most dangerous band’ - took a horn section on the road.
 
“We just had them out with us for no other reason than to prove to ourselves that we could do it. When we recorded November Rain we used strings and I think that, live, most bands would have used tapes. But we didn’t want to cheat the kids so we put it together and it worked and I guess we just got it out of our systems; we can do this with real legitimate players: we are worthy!”
 
You’re a bass player by default really.
 
“That’s right. I’ve always been a guitar player and a drummer, not a bass player. GN’R is actually the first band I’ve played bass with!”
 
How did the switch come about?
 
“Well, I wanted to get my foot in the door in L.A. and I knew there was always a demand for bass players. I just had a cheap drum kit, a little Marshall combo amp and a little Hamer double cutaway Junior guitar. It was a great guitar but that broke, my Marshall got ripped off and my drum set was a piece of shit. So I traded in everything I had left and got a cheap bass and a little amp and moved.
 
“I thought that once I had got my foot in the door and met people, then I could go back to playing guitar or drums. But I really came to appreciate the bass and use it for more than just a backbone, for the melody and other cool things.”
 
You’ve certainly made your mark with an original bass sound. On Right Next Door To Hell or You Could Be Mine, for example, it seems more harsh and solid than anyone else’s.
 
“Right. My bass really is a pretty unique sound. It’s too abrasive for some people but I really dig it. I’ve always been into funk and stuff like that, so I try to keep a bright, round sound like that. I use a pick when I play but I pull off with my picky finger - that’s my version of slapping because I cannot slap. White men can’t slap!
 
“But to get that sound on Right Next Door To Hell and You Could Be Mine is simple. For recording I use GK 800RB heads but I won’t say how exactly I set up because I don’t know! I haven’t done it for so long because in the band you get roadies and bass techs. I don’t even know how to turn it on anymore!
 
“But for recording I use just one GK 800RB head; I use the old cabinet that I’ve always had: it’s got two 15 EV 400 watt speakers. I mic one of them and then I just run an SPX 90. I just use a simple box chorus pedal, I set the speed and the depth to where I want it - I’m not going to say where! - and then I use the old Fender Jazz Special, my first bass which I always use for recording. I mic one speaker then go direct also so I’m on two channels.
 
“For that coarsy sound you were talking about from You Could Be Mine, that’s when I turn the chorus pedal on and I mix the DI and the one live speaker, EQ the live bright then EQ the DI to a more middley sound and the mixer really comes out with a nice sound. I use the Rotosound twin bass strings and it’s really just a great sound. I couldn’t play on anything else recordingwise because it’s what I’m used to.”
It’s as distinctive in its own way as Axl’s voice.
 
“Well, yeah. When we did ‘Appetite’ I was always asked about getting that sound. I didn’t realise it was so different because again my face was buried in it so deep; when you are in a project you don’t really hear it realistically. But I did listen back after a while and, yeah, it’s really different and I really dig it.”
 
Speaking of ‘Appetite’ - were the real song credits on that album all down to the whole band as the sleeve claims?
 
“Yeah, because that’s how we always write our songs. On the ‘Illusion’ records it said that certain people wrote the songs but moneywise we still split it all equal. At the end of the day I’m proud of what I did and I know I did it. It doesn’t matter to me if other people think I’m just a bass player and that I don’t write any songs.
 
I know in my own heart what happened, so...”
 
Didn’t you write that drum intro to You Could Be Mine?
 
“That’s a very good question because I was actually in court yesterday saying that. Steven Adler [original drummer with GN’R] is suing us and his lawsuit has finally gone to court [since we spoke GN’R settled out of court by giving Adler $1.65m]; I had to get on a stand yesterday with a jury and everything, and explain what a drum edit was, and what a riff was.
 
“But yes, I used to get behind the kit when Steven was in the band. That song was written for ‘Appetite’ and at that time Slash and I would have to try and explain to Steven how the drum part should go; I’d have to tell Slash to chill out and I’d do it - a guitar player relating to a drummer just doesn’t work.
 
So I ended up getting behind the drum kit and showing Steve. I’m not technically a great drummer but I know how to get the playing across. And that’s what I testified yesterday, too.”
 
It was Adler’s insistence on ‘dancing with Mr Brownstone’, long after the rest of the band had given up such terpsichorean pleasures, that saw him phased out and replaced by Cult drummer Matt Sorum.
 
“We’d been trying for over a year to help Steven and get him straight because we didn’t want to kick him out of the band.
 
But enough was enough and we’d wasted a lot of money and effort.
 
“We got a new drummer in to shock Steven into cleaning up so he could come back, but that didn’t work. Then Slash and I went to see The Cult on the last night of their tour and we were amazed by this guy Matt on drums. We were friends with Ian [Astbury] and Billy [Duffy] because our first tour ever was opening for them so I asked Ian whether they would be hanging onto the drummer now the tour had finished. They wanted to get all British guys in the band so we got hold of Matt, he came and played and we knew it would work. He’s an awesome drummer.”
 
It’s gone full circle now because The Cult opened for you in England this summer.
 
“Well, I’ll tell you a funny thing - in fact, I’ll tell you two funny things. Our first tour, like I said, was opening for The Cult and we started up in Nova Scotia and came across Canada; ‘Appetite’ wasn’t even out in Canada so nobody knew who we were but Ian had managed to get a pre-release of the record, or something, and he got us on the tour. Back then we just played things like Reckless Life and all the fast punk things for 40-45 minutes, just whipping it out. But Ian said then that one day he would be opening for us and sure enough...!
 
“The other thing is that I got a call from my real estate agent who said he’d rented out one of my houses in L.A. I said great but who to, and it was Ian and his girlfriend! Now I’m his landlord.”
 
The Cult weren’t the only blast from your past at Milton Keynes. Wasn’t that a certain Mr Stradlin’ up there with you?
 
“Yeah. Izzy came back and did four gigs with us - two in England and two more. It was all because Gilby [Clarke - Izzy’s successor] broke his arm and we needed a replacement.
 
But that was cool. I have nothing against Izzy.
 
He had his reasons for quitting and he is his own man; if he’s not happy then screw it. So him coming back was neat. He was really excited and it was like old times with him playing next to me and we just goofed off. He had nothing to lose: he could make all the mistakes he wanted!”
 
Izzy’s return was shock enough, but where was Duff’s ‘King Of The Beers’ tag?
 
“I had to go sober on the last third of the tour because drinking really catches up with you.
 
On the road there’s always booze around and going from hotel to hotel you’re lonely and it catches up with you. I finally realised it when I saw pictures of myself and I looked bloated just from booze. I looked at the pictures and thought that wasn’t me so I quit altogether which was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my life.
 
“So after the tour I was nothing but energy.
 
At the end I got my second - or fourth or fifth or sixth or 19th - wind and I just sailed through the last leg which was three months.”
 
You expect someone in an attitude band like Guns N’ Roses to have a reputation trailblazing their arrival - and Duff is no exception. But forget ego or arrogance or selfishness, his is for niceness - real Brian May-type affability - and he doesn’t disappoint. Thwarting the best timekeeping efforts of a record company rep, Duff was eager to make sure he’d done enough...
 
“Hey, this is for Guitarist, right? Do you want me to run through the equipment I’m using?”
 
Go for it...
 
“I have a ’68 Les Paul Custom - one of the ones called the Fretless Wonders. I’ve been looking for one for about five years and I finally discovered this one six months ago in Germany. I have a little Fender Tele and a ’57 Les Paul Junior single cutaway - I think they called them Les Paul Specials then; it’s a blond one, a really sweet guitar.
 
“On-stage I’ll be using two sounds: two 50 watt Marshall heads and just two cabinets - I don’t need more than that - for my dirty sound. For my clean sound I have two Rolands with chorus on and I’ll have AB boxes going from one side to the other. Then I hit my clean sound - my Rolands - and it will go through the MXR phase; basically there’s only one dial on it called ‘speed’ - it gives you that Leslie sound which I like because I used a real Leslie on the record but it would be a pain to carry it around.
 
“Then I have an Ovation 12-string acoustic. On the record there are a lot of songs with 12-string. On tour I play rhythm guitar so I will be doing the 12-string stuff. Richard’s using my bass gear because I’ve plenty of it and so I just dial him into the set-ups I used on the record so they sound the same. He’s another guitar player and he learned the bass by listening to the record; he’s like me so he can pick up on what I’m doing.”
 
It must be refreshing to be at the top of the tree and be able to detach yourself from the GN’R machine’s sprawling clutches to start again?
 
“Yeah, because this is a new act. I have the same budget as any new act would have; but the good thing about it is I know all the bullshit that goes with it. So I can say, ‘Don’t even try and say that’ - I’ve heard it all before!”
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