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SoulMonster

1989-07-28 - Interview with Duff

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1989-07-28 - Interview with Duff

Post by Soulmonster on Fri Jun 10, 2011 10:22 pm

Mad, Bad and Dangerous To Know?

Guns N Roses are the most talked about Hard Rock band in the world. They have a fiercesome reputation for excess and are the constant butt of rumour and speculation. In an exclusive interview, bassist Duff McKagan dispels some of the more OTT myths and outlines the band’s immediate plans for the future.

“AXL'S DEAD.”

The words incised their way through the hot wires. There was an almost predatory glee in the wanton woman’s voice at the other end of the link. As if she was reporting news of stature. “He was killed last night in a car crash in Los Angeles. It’s true!"

The early months of 1988. There was a chill on the glades and a menace among the beacons. The woman continued: “I heard this on the radio this morning, so it must be true. Axl’s dead!”

There was an air of despair, yet hope, in the voice, a tremulous squint in the tone - excitement! Strange how people get their kicks isn’t it?!

I checked the story. Axl was visiting his family in Indiana at the very moment when the supposed crash was alleged to brought his turbulent life to a close, slashing the T’s and pin-pricking the I’s on his organic contract.

This was merely one of hundreds of stories around this time concerning the death of Axl. It was as if there were those with nothing better to do than wait for the black cavalcade.

“People were even claiming that I’d killed Axl,” laughed GnR lead guitarist Slash recently, recalling all those rumours about the singer’s demise. And as time had worn an ever deeper furrow into this band’s existence, so the stories have grown increasingly more stupid. Reports in a certain “Yellow” newspaper over here not long ago claimed that the band have been known to go onstage toting submachine guns and electric cattle prodders! Mad? Pass the straight-jacket, Alberto, and let’s all do the Schizo Tango. Duff McKagan, bassist with the combo, reels at the shock of such charges.

“Machine guns?! Cattle prodders?!! Where do they pick up these things from? Ha! Mind you, the media in England seems to be more prone to print stuff like that than the papers over here. In America, rumours of this kind tend to spread through word of mouth. What’s the craziest gossip about us in the States? Oh, probably we’re all drug addicts and that Slash in gonna marry Tracey Lords (a porno star, associated with the top-hatted guitar master; he’s been working on some songs for her). Nice stuff, huh?!”

It’s all a long way removed from the LA band’s first visit to these shores two years ago, as virtual unknowns. They had a four track EP out on import titled ‘Live?!*@ Like A Suicide’ and came here with something of a reputation for being troublemakers. They sold out three nights at the Marquee Club. Ah, flashes skid across the mind: The boys sitting n the hot Summer streets lacquering their throats as the queues grow ever bigger for their final show on a Sunday evening.

Axl wearing a T-shirt stating the legend ‘Opinions are like assholes, everybody’s got one’. He wore it for the final date, as an attempt to get back at those ill-informed press persons who’d dismissed the band as passing yobs.Axl forcing the band to run through their cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ twice because the crowd wasn’t loud enough the first time.

The post-tour party at the band’s communal flat in West London, slugging it out until the early hours with a quart of Jack Daniel’s, eventually leaving the bottle punch drunk as eyes glowered amber.

‘The most dangerous band in the world’ I dubbed ‘em back then. Two years later, nothing much has changed - apart from the fact that the group’s debut album (‘Appetite For Destruction’) and the low- key ‘Lies...’ mini LP have sold between em more than 14 million copies worldwide! Nothing changes, except the clock on the wall, eh Duff?

“Well, it’s really weird having had such success. I go to shows and people come up to tell me how great we are, And I think to myself, ‘We haven’t done anything yet!’ Look, all this band has done so far is put out one LP and a half-assed mini album. I often wonder if we deserve what’s happened to us.

“Still, we did tour forever and certainly paid our dues. Having struggled for ten years in so many bands, it’s nice to be in a position now to earn money from making music.”

Of course, success and attention brings with it the inevitable restrictions...

“We’ve had to adapt our lifestyles a little,” admits Duff. “If we go to clubs these days we have to expect to be hassled and I’ve gotten into three fights recently with guys just trying to show off to their girlfriends - I won all of ‘em, though! You see, I’ve got a mountain bike that I constantly ride, so I’m in good shape.”

Married for a year now to Mandy, Duff, despite his tall lanky blond good looks, can easily be forgotten in the media stampede to gore or goad Axl and Slash. Rather like drummer Steven Adler and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, he has a comparatively low profile as compared to the mercurial singer and lead guitarist, But his role in this band should never be underestimated.

Which gives me a chance to put right a recent misconception. Some RAW readers have written to the magazine as a result of my feature on GnR in Issue 18, claiming that I unfairly dismissed the part Duff, Izzy and Steven have played in the rise of the band. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have the highest regard for their respective roles in this fivesome are crucial; Duff is precisely the right type of bassist for the Gunners.

DUFF HIMSELF has a certain gentility, a freshness and stability. He is still wild enough to shock any blue-rinse baboon, yet he has to some extent settled down-the inevitability of married life and, “Moving into a house, buying furniture and getting a couple of nice cars.” For him, the entire GnR experience has been the culmination of years working, grafting and groveling in the dirt tracks against the attrition of the club circuit in his native Seattle - a debilitating exercise. Over the years, he played in many bands, and was even once offered the chance to join UK Punksters The Angelic Upstarts.., as a drummer!

“The band came to the States years ago with a guy called Andy Thompson on drums, but he wasn’t working out. Anyway, they crashed at the house of a friend of mine whilst they were in Seattle so I got to know them. At the time I was playing drums, and out of the blue one day they called me from San Francisco, said they were looking for a new drummer and asked if I’d be interested.

“I rehearsed with ‘em, but they wanted me to move to England and I was shit scared of making such a jump. I turned ‘em down and stayed with the band I was with at the time. I thought I’d made a wise choice, but that group disappeared without trace. Still, in the long run I did make the right decision I guess. Look where I am now!

“I started out as a bassist and then a local band spotted me fucking around on drums and asked me to join ‘em. It was easy to pickup the rudiments of drumming, especially Punk drumming, so I accepted the offer.”

Duff eventually switched back to the bass - and the rest is history. But what of the future? When will the band start the long-awaited new album?

“Well, we’ve just begun pre-production in Chicago and this will last until the end of July. In August we begin working with producer Mike Clink on actually recording the LP - probably at studios in Los Angeles. And hopefully the record will be out by November or something through Geffen.

“We’re seriously thinking about making the album a double record, because we’ve got so many songs together. Slash and I have written some cool shit. And Axl has come up with some great stuff.., including the songs left over from ‘Appetite…, we’ve got about 40 numbers knocking around at the moment. And if we don’t do a double LP a lot of good tracks will be lost.”

As yet, the album doesn’t have a working title (“How about ‘Tits'?" jokes Duff), but among the songs up for consideration are: ‘November Rain’ (a nine-minute epic ballad written by Axl), ‘Ain’t Gold Down’, ‘Yesterdays’ and ‘Just Another Sunday’. The latter two were penned in association with Wes Arkeen, who also helped out on ‘Appetite...’; Arkeen is the first artist signed by the group to their own Uzi Suicide label. He’s an old friend of the quintet and their determination to do all in their power to help his career is typical of the loyalty they have shown to everyone associated with ‘em since the early days an admirable, rare trait.

In addition to the new studio album, there are also tentative plans for a Punk covers EP and a live release (not to mention an X rated acoustic E~ but that’s another journey on a different starship)…

We only do cover versions now for a reason. In the past, we did ‘em because we had to make our live set longer than would have been the case with just our own material But we have talked about doing a Punk EP. We’d probably do stuff by the likes of Fear, the Adolescents, The Sex Pistols, the sort of music we listen to before going onstage.’

Alright, enough of the Punk Stuff, on with the action, The proposed live LP……

Yeah, we’ll doubtless record and video shows on the next tour. In fact, we’ve already done some dates in Japan that way. Mike Clink came out to oversee the recordings and we also shot some video footage. But a funny thing happened when the video stuff was put in for processing - the tapes from the Budokan show disappeared I’m sure that some backroom kid now has a hot video in his possession, so I guess bootleg copies of that show will soon be appearing...” Yet, whilst the band prepare themselves for a new assault, ‘Appetite…’ is still selling and still spawning hit singles in the UK. Sweet Child O’Mine’ (issued for the third time) has just hit the Top Ten over here at the time of writing. It’s a situation Duff finds intriguing.

‘Well, you can took at it from the point of view that ‘AFD’ is two years old, but it you recall the LP only really began to take off about a year ago, so in those terms it’s not that old. One thing all of the band are pissed off with, though, is the fact that Geffen Records have seen fit to re-release ‘Sweet Child...’ again in the UK. Why? We certainly weren’t consulted on this state of affairs and whilst I know that the label don’t need our permission to put out anything as a single from our LPs, nonetheless it seems to us that they’re milking the fans. And I just hope that we don’t get the blame.”

Mind you, ‘blame’ is something the Gunners seem to be getting used to having attached to their name. Every time something goes wrong in their vicinity, people immediately jump to the conclusion that it must be Guns n’ Roses’ fault. Strange.

Perhaps the craziest example of this nonsensical attitude came last year when two fans died during the band’s set at Castle Donington - an event that is directly responsible for the cancellation of this year’s Monsters Of Rock spectacular see elsewhere this issue for further details). The press were very quick to denounce the group, laying the blame at their speckled doormat, before wiping their feet on the band’s reputation...

“The band were really brought down by the event. And we did try to stop the craziness down the front by changing our set, slowing things down, I actually don’t know it the accident was our fault or not. If someone were to ask me face-to-face whether Guns n’ Roses were to blame, I couldn’t say with any conviction that we’re not. I don’t think we can be held responsible, but I’d have to think very hard before giving an answer. Maybe we have to take some of the blame. After all, we were onstage when those kids died, and had Guns n’ Roses not existed then perhaps the tragedy wouldn’t have occurred.

“It weighs very heavily on us and whatever anyone else may write or say about the incident can’t make us feel any worse. Quite honestly, we couldn’t give a fuck about the media trying to make us the scapegoats. That thing will haunt me forever anyway.

“It’s strange, but tragedy and pain do seem to dog our career, A lot of weird shit happens to this band. We seem to attract it. I dunno, I can’t help wondering if the reason why Slash and Izzy were so strung out on certain ‘substances’ recently (they’re now cleaned out and revved up) was their way of attempting to hide and numb the pain they felt.”

Fortunately, the events of Donington won’t stop the band from returning here, although exactly when remains open to question.

“We were hoping to go back out on tour during the Autumn, but that’ll probably be postponed now because of the album. Hopefully we will be back in action before the end of this year.”

In the meantime, GnR fans might like to check out the latest Clint ‘Dirty Harry’ Eastwood movie ‘The Dead Pool’, wherein the Gunners make a cameo appearance...“Actually the film isn’t very good,” admits Duff. “The trouble was that we were so naive and green about the movie business that in the end we came across as kinda dumb. Perhaps we shoulda asked more questions about what was going on. And I can’t help feeling that Eastwood fucked us over with his direction.

“In fact, Clint didn’t talk to us much on the set at all. We had very little contact with him. Just about the only thing he said to us was, ‘Hey, great album’.”

As Guns n’ Roses prepare to record a new album (I refuse to suggest it’s a follow-up to ‘Appetite...’ This is an entity in its own right), their influence on the Rock scene seems to be stronger than ever, with several bands per week emerging having sniffed an ampule from the masters. Duff, though, feels that in the Gunners’ home town at least, there has been a slight shift.

“A year ago, if you read the ads in the local papers, it seemed that everybody wanted to find musicians similar to us. It was crazy. Virtually all the bands were quoting us as their main influence. But now it’s not that hip to classify Guns n’ Roses as a big influence. The market has simply been saturated with bands of that type. So now in LA, people look more towards someone like Aerosmith.

“I don’t think there’s necessarily a backlash against us, but.., well, let me put it this way: I’m glad we’ve waited this long before putting out another LP."
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