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SoulMonster

1989-02-DD - Interview with Duff

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1989-02-DD - Interview with Duff

Post by Soulmonster on Fri Jun 10, 2011 9:32 pm

Circus Magazine Readers' Poll, February 1989

GNR Triumph: Best New Group, LP

As he prepared to leave for GNR's first ever tour of Japan, Australia and New Zealand, bassist Duff McKagan practically leapt out of his seat upon hearing the extent of GNR's triumph in the 1988 Circus Readers' Poll. The brash young West Coast Rockers scored in an astounding 15 categories - a great accomplishment for any band, but a truly overwhelming feat for one still riding on the success of its debut album.

"It's just been a great year," Duff exclaimed. "I don't know how to put it into words. Put yourself in our position- you can't really explain it. We're still the same guys. People expect us to be different. But the only thing that's different is we sold six or seven million records!"

The poll turned out to be largely a battle of the bands between GNR and Def Leppard, and Duff was thrilled to be neck and neck with the more seasoned Britons. He was gracious about frontman Axl Rose losing in a close race to Leppard's Joe Elliott as Best Singer, and Guns coming in second overall to Def Leppard as Best Group. After learning that GNR scored ahead of band favorites Metallica in that category, McKagan was quick to credit his group's relentless touring with their high placement. "I bet a lot of it had to do with the Aerosmith tour we completed in September. There we were again, for the third time, in every major city on a great tour. I think that probably left a good taste in a lot of people's mouths."

According to Duff, he wasn't surprised that Guns and Leppard rode on one another's coattails throughout the Readers' poll, because he noted the same thing happening on the sales charts for much of the year. AFD alternated with Hysteria for top honors for weeks, and Duff believes that rock fans were able to share their loyalties among several bands. "Take my nephews for instance," he pointed out, "kids I know in that age group from 13 to 19. They listen to Metallica, GNR and Def Leppard, basically. That's kinda cool to do this year. I think a lot of fans have broadened (in their tastes) from last year. They can listen to different bands."

Duff was delighted that axeman Slash topped the guitarist's category, and that drummer Steve Adler rode into fifth place in his class. As for McKagan's own third place finish in the bass category, "That's cool," he says. "It's great to be recognized as a bass player. Very few bass players are." News that GNR placed third to Def Leppard and Poison as Best Live Band didn't prompt much of a reaction from Duff, except for him quietly singing a Poison tune and commenting on how that group - not exactly friends of GNR - had worked very hard throughout the year, just as he did.

Because GNR are still relative newcomers to the recording world, Duff was particularly blown away by the band's number one position for Best Album, and scoring numbers one and three in the Best Single category for, respectively, "Sweet Child O' Mine" and "Welcome to the Jungle". "For me to talk about those two songs - I'm so sick of them!" he laughed. "The thing about 'Sweet Child', it was written in five minutes. It was one of those songs, only three chords.

"You know that guitar lick Slash does at the beginning? It was kinda like a joke because we thought, 'What is this song? It's gonna be nothin', it'll be filler on the record.' And except that vocal-wise, it's very sweet and sincere, Slash was fuckin' around when he first wrote that lick."

Duff emphasizes that the group had no idea that 'Sweet Child' would be the kind of smash that few groups ever see off a first record, never mind an uncompromising rock and roll band. That tune didn't have to fight for placement on MTV, and, the blond bassist recalled with disbelief, it even turned up on 'preppy' radio. "I've actually seen a full-on preppy guy - the type who wouldn't even say hi to me - whistling that song. I stopped dead in my tracks and just stared at this guy."

"We had no idea we were going to make it a single in the first place, 'cause that was our choice. Then, we had no idea it was gonna do what it did for the album. You should have seen the difference in crowd reaction before and after that single came out. Before, only the people up front knew who we were. People came to see us who were our fans, and there weren't very many, to tell you the truth. Afterwards, when that song came on, all the cigarette lighters switched on and everybody was on their feet. It was amazing, like night and day. And it happened that quickly, too."

"We've never written a song for anyone else but ourselves," McKagan cautions. "Not to sound selfish, but we just haven't. We're a rock and roll band. We're not a band that goes, 'OK, let's write a commercial song.' We despise that. But, it just happened. It certainly did," he said, still trying to convince himself.

The only category one could have predicted GNR would top was Best New Group, where no one else came close in gathering votes. Far more surprising to Duff was the number one placement of AFD as Best LP, an instance in which they narrowly beat Def Leppard. "That's amazing!" Duff shouted. "And it's an album of 1987. But most people didn't realize that it was out 'til last spring."

"Something like this only happens every ten years," the bassist noted. "For it to happen to us, I don't know if I'm ever gonna realize it. It's just figures I see on paper. I look at it and do a double take." The reality of multi-platinum sales and money in the bank came home to Duff in a very down-to-earth fashion. Last year, for the first time in five years, he could afford to fly home to Seattle and spend the Christmas holiday with his large family. Previously, the only times he spent with them were at backstage parties when GNR appeared in that city.

A solid 15 months of touring to support AFD have made GNR act more like old hands than first album newcomers. As Duff put it, "It doesn't feel like we're a new group anymore - we've been through so much shit. Even before we put out the album, it didn't seem like we were a new band. Yet we're still dealing with things that a regular band would after its first record, apart from the fact that it sold so much. It's a strange thing."

Determined not to be victims of any head trips about "second album syndrome" when they begin recording theirs any day now, Duff insists GNR will "approach it just like we would if the first album had sold ten copies. Because we're the same guys, and if anything, we've got more experience to put into the next record. I think it'll have a lot more depth."

During the band's lengthy tours of the US, Canada, England and Europe, they had literally hundreds of soundchecks in which to fool around with new song ideas. Consequently, L.A.'s wildest had a huge backlog of material even before getting together in January to work on creating some tunes. "We've got a lot of songs," McKagan emphasized. "Songs we wrote even before we did the first album. We had songs that weren't right at the time, so we said we'd save them for the next record."

Aware that they'll be going close to two years between albums, GNR released a very special EP in the interim, meant as a present for their fans. Titled GNR Lies, the eight song disc portrays two very different faces of this often controversial, always fascinating band. Side One consists of the four songs which were first released as GNR's independent label EP, Live Like A Suicide. One the flip is a quartet of tunes performed acoustically. Duff explains that Guns decided to reissue the old tracks because the original EP had become an exorbitantly-priced item on the collectors' market. "I've seen it for 150 bucks here in Los Angeles and that's ridiculous. So we're returning the favor to the fans."

"The acoustic stuff is just us sitting around a microphone and getting drunk and playing. It's not a real big deal." The acoustic tracks are 'One in a Million', 'Patience', 'Used to Love Her,' and an interpretation of 'You're Crazy' that reflects the original way it was written. 'Crazy' is somewhat closer to Guns' usual style, featuring drums and electric bass. Duff likes the idea of surprising people, but promises that the next GNR album won't be folk rock.

"What the hell - it's just a side of us. Take it as you like. If you hate it, fine. Everybody's got an opinion. We like it, so that's what's important to us." It's that fierce brand of independence that gives GNR its firepower. And for Circus readers in 1988, that cannon propelled charges which hit every target, obliterating most of the competition.
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