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SoulMonster

1990-03-DD - Interview with Duff

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1990-03-DD - Interview with Duff

Post by Soulmonster on Mon Jun 20, 2011 8:01 am

It took them a while, but Guns N’ Roses finally made it back into the studio. Whether they’ll ever make it out again is anybody’s guess, and if they do: will the second LP be as good as the first? In an exclusive interview, bassist Duff McKagan tells Mick Wall that it should be - because they’re doing all they can to recreate the circumstances that led to the all conquering debut ‘Appetite For Destruction’. After that its all down to the certain je ne sais quoi that made it happen ion the first place.

At a party in a house in West Hollywood, the place is filling up with freaks of all persuasions: writers, musicians, publicist and managers, agents, go-fers and professional bottle openers, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends and friends of friends.

It is a desultory gathering and the drinking is fierce. Pete Angelus, David Lee Roth’s manager, is holding court in the kitchen, close to the stocks of unopened champagne, his suave Italian American features creased into a permanent wolf-grin as he entertains a tight-circle of nodding, laughing heads with another of his absurd and funny little stories.

Meanwhile, back in the lounge, Slash from Guns N’ Roses sits in the corner of his room with his hair pulled over his eyes trying not to look too famous. A blonde teenage beauty queen he’s just been introduced to is balanced on his knee, a bottle of champagne and some glasses and the inevitable ashtray are placed on a small table by his side- laid back, but not laid out "Not yet, baby"..

There are two toilets and both are impossible to get into. People just seem to emerge from them from time to time.

I am puzzling all this, holding my dick and wondering if anyone will notice if I piss in the pool, when Duff McKagan comes stumbling up and grabs me by the shoulders.

"Man", He shakes his head dolefully. "I do wanna talk with you", he says smiling weakly. "But maybe in a couple of days, huh?"

Sure I tell him, why not? And Duff seems to relax, satisfied for the moment turning his attention back to his drink.

I take a good look at him. At a glance, he still looks good, girls. Tall (bottled) blonde in faded 501s squeezed into tight black leather chaps, heavy black motorcycle boots, black cotton shirt undone to the stomach and a battered blue denim jacket with the sleeves sawn off. You can see the girls eyes flash like traffic lights every time Duff appears in the room.

But looking at his face close up wasn’t such a pretty sight. The corn coloured hair was lank and greasy; the pink cherubic features pale and unshaven. His eyes were the shade of deep red you get from too much drinking or after you’ve been up all night crying.

He told me later that he had, in fact, just recently split up with his wife Mandy. They had been together over two years, married for most of that time. Clearly his mind was on other things. He promised to call. No hurry, I said. If I was him, I thought, considering what he must be going through, I wouldn’t call.

Eventually much to my surprise, Duff did call. Slash was still hanging out with him at his house in the hills, and Duff suggested they might come over and join me for a drink, and I did have my tape recorder ready because Duff wanted to "get something serious down!"
I’ve got my tape recorder ready. They arrive in a tan limo around 10:30 in the evening, two wasp waisted blondes in high heels in tow.

Duff was in a hurry to talk. To get that "something serious down" he seemed so anxious for. He was drunk, of course, which was a big relief for me as I was several sheets to the wind myself at the time, but if the conversation that follows is not always as cohesive as it might be, it is at least comfortable.

Duff was in considerably better spirits. His divorce had legally been made final that day. Understandably Duff was reluctant to discuss the breakdown of his marriage in this interview. "I will say, though, that I am now ok about the way things turned out," he told me.

"All I’m concerned about is getting back in to the studio and starting work on the new album. And then getting back out on the road. There’s a reason for everything, I think. Good or Bad. And what with everything coming up that the band has to do, maybe it’s better that I’m on my own right now I certainly feel better already," he sniggers into his drink.

What follows is as much of the taped conversation between Duff McKagan and myself as space will allow.

I begin by remarking that this is the first time I had interviewed anyone form Guns N’ Roses other than.."Axl and Slash?" Duff arches an eyebrow knowingly. "The big boys, you mean?" he asks, trying for a Sid Vicious leer in mock indignation that on him looks more like the floppy half smile of an inquisitive stray dog sniffin’ a bone.

"Well listen." He says setting down his drink and lighting a Marlboro (Duff chain smokes throughout the interview), "I’m not going to give you one of those Bulletboy rock star interviews. Just fucking man to man talk here"

I laugh and turn on the tape. Let’s just carry on with what we were talking about. What did you mean by ‘the big boys’ - referring to Slash and Axl - that was a joke?

"Oh yeah - they’re, and they’ll be the first to admit it-the cartoon figures of the band. Whether they like it or not and I think most time not, they’re focused on because Axl’s the singer and Slash is the lead guitarist and they’re both fucking amazing, you know? And I don’t blame magazines for wanting to get their clutches on the two of ‘em because they’re both so great, but yet untamed. I mean who was the last truly untamed guitar player, Hendrix?"

Isn’t that the main reason that so many people feel such a powerful attraction to this band? That, as you put it, ‘untamed’ quality to what you do the Most Dangerous Band In The World and all of that?

"It’s a very untamed situation all right, Ha-ha! To this day today, to this minute! But, I mean, the whole band, we love each other; we call each other every day. I just talked to Axl, Slash and I were just on the phone to Axl before we came over. We care for each other and we’ll always take care of each other"

What everybody wants to know, though, what everybody’s saying is,’Well here we are another year and still no new Guns N Roses album. What have they been doing? So, what the hell have you been doing since the band came off the road at the end of 88?

"Well, that’s kind of like trying to answer one of those questions from your parents,: what are you going to do with the rest of your life, son? Uh, I don’t know dad."

How much real work do you think the band has accomplished in the past year?

"Okay, here’s the deal. We’ve always had enough songs right? And we went to Chicago to try and get some of them down on tape - make a demo, sort of thing. So Slash, myself and Stevie went there and waited for Axl and Izzy. Axl had his reasons for not coming out. He was just waiting for us to do out trip as musicians. And Izzy - Izzy was having a hard time with life at that point, and he was just travelling the world. Well, we sat there in Chicago for three months just the three of us, and it kid of got suicidal, but at that point we got a lot of shit done. Some good songs. So if people are asking if we’ve lost our edge in the time it’s taken us to get in a position where the five of us are ready to go in and record, I’d really have to say no, we’ve gained a lot more edge."

"You know, before we did the last record we had no money and we were living like shits. But you go through all this stuff and now it’s like a whole different kind of shit we have to deal with. A whole different bunch of shit. You’ve got people wanting to fucking sue you all the time. You can’t go to clubs. New Years Eve I got in a fight because some guy just wanted to fuck with me."

"I went to the China Club and this guy - Check it out, it was my first night out since I busted up with my wife and all I wanted to do was have a good time. We go to the China Club. Bang Tango are playing later and I’m in a good mood. Anyway, I walk through the door and within 20 seconds this guy comes up to me and goes, ‘Where are you from?’ I said. ‘Er, I live here’. He goes, ‘Well don’t ever touch me again!’ I hadn’t even been near guy; I’ve just walked through he door!"

"I just saw red all of the sudden, because of all the shit that I’ve been going through, right? I turned to my friend Del, and asked him to hold my wallet for a second. Then I just turned back to this guy - and this guy was big man, and I just went HUAARRGHH! (Throws fist through the air) and fucking hit the guy. It’s the first time I’ve seen this happen in real life - he went cross eyed , just like in a movie, and then he went down! Ha-ha!"

"But it’s a horror having to deal with shit like that all the time. It creeps up on you when you least expect it."

Do you ever take a bodyguard with you when you go out at night?

"Fuck no!"

Do you think maybe you should? Trouble does seem to follow you boys around. Wouldn’t it be wise?

"No. I’m just a normal guy, man."

But Duff, you’re not. Not anymore.

"I am"

Well, you’re a very famous normal guy!

"Yeah, but, so?"

Well that means dickheads are gonna fuck with you if they get the chance.

"So they’re dickheads and I’m not, and the next morning they’ll wake up and know they’re dickheads, and I’ll wake up and feel sorry that I got in fight. That’s that. I don’t need security men. Fuck that! I don’t believe in that shit."

But does the possibility of harassment actually stop you from going out sometimes?

"It does, yes. But, dude, there was one period in the space of a week that I got into three fights - just because a guy wanted to show off for his girlfriend. But if they’re gonna be that much of a dickhead, you know, okay, fine. I can ditch a fucking hit, and I can hit ‘em back. If he kicks my ass - so what? You know, he’s not gonna kill me. I can protect myself. I mean if someone’s gonna be such an asshole, that’s their problem, not mine. I never did that to anybody when I first moved to LA. I never thought of going up to David Lee Roth if I saw him down the Troubadour and telling him I was gonna kick his ass, you know? I just wouldn’t have thought of it"

"You know the one that I feel sorry for the most is Axl. Because he’s such a huge figure. I mean, what does he do when he wants to go to a shopping mall? Put a hat on backwards and wear shades? That’s what he wears on stage, man!"

"But you wanna know if we’ve lost our edge, man? No fucking way! We’ve just been working on it a little bit. Keepin’ it sharp! He-he!"

Do you think that with this new album the world already expects too much - that whatever you do next cant possibly compare with people’s hyped-up expectations?

"Well, no, not our true fans. But we are aware that there must be people out there just praying for us to fuck up. Like the second album from the Go-Go’s or the Knack or something. But we’re not that. We’re a rock n roll band, and we’re gonna go on for a while. We have 35 songs for this next album. Are we gonna make it a double album? We don’t know. Are we gonna make it a single album? I don’t know. But we got 35 songs that we’re absolutely proud of and, I tell you what, man, I don’t mean to brag, but my bass playing has gotten so much better. Slash’s guitar playing has gotten immense, immense!"

"Axl’s voice had gone from, well on the last album, Appetite’ it was great but he was just a kid learning how to use his voice. Now he’s like (Smacks right fist into the palm of left hand) he’s got it nailed man."

"Back then," he says, pointing to a Guns n’ Roses poster hanging on the wall behind us circa 87, "we were kids trying to be toughnuts, right? Now we know what we wanna do and we can do it you know? And there’s a difference now. The last year, especially, has made a big difference. It took us some time and we went through a lot of shit, but suddenly we know what we’re about now."

You realize of course that what most people are saying is that the band have been too messed up on drugs and drink to get it together to make another record?

"Sure, sure, of course - and maybe at times it’s true. But whose business is that? It’s nobody’s business but ours. We’re just - we’re a rock n roll band. We’ll make the music. But if I fuck a cow, that’s nobody’s, man. Nobody’s business but mine, you know?

Do you think drugs are essentially a bad thing, though?

"Drugs are bad, yeah. I will always be the first to say that. And everybody in this band has had his bouts wit drugs, but that’s all over now, really. It doesn’t mess with the band anymore, that’s the thing. Before, it used to mess with the band; guys weren’t showing up for rehearsals, guys were coming to gigs all fucked up. But it’s like, that’s all over now, man."

What about this thing that Axl did on stage when you opened the show for the Stones at the LA Coliseum last October - telling the audience it was his last gig with the band because too many of the members had been 'Dancing with Mr. Brownstone'? (A thinly veiled reference to heroin.)

"Right, well he had his reasons."

Were you pissed off that he did that, though?

"Of course I was. But I can say I was pissed off at Axl for doing that, because I wasn’t one of the guys that he was talkin’ about, and immediately I was lumped into the whole thing. So I was furious, of course, but the next day we were on the phone together, talking, and he explained his reasons for doing that shit and I understood what he was saying."

"Axl was blowing off a lot of steam, not only about that but just about a lot of shit. The band hadn’t all made it to Chicago, that all fucked up."

Did either Axl of Izzy ever finally make it out to Chicago?

"Axl made it out for a while. But by that point we wanted to go home. Chicago was hot and sweaty and it was fucked, you know? But to get back to your point - yeah I was pissed off at Axl. I was mad. But that’s the beauty about this band; we got on the phone, the two of us, the next day, and really got out what was going on. That’s what happens with this band. We don’t bottle shit up. It just comes out and sometimes it’ll come out onstage. Maybe not the right place, but it works!!!"

That unpredictability is very much a part of the band’s appeal, don’t you think so?

"Yeah, I mean, we don’t know what the fuck is going on! Ha-ha! We don’t. Axl will tell you, he doesn’t know what’s gonna happen in the next five minutes in his head. I wouldn’t even like to guess, you know? I consider myself pretty stable in the band. I try to make things work musically. I kind of consider myself the musical director of the band, trying to keep everything together. Axl is the word master and the melody maker. Slash is the genius of the band."

When you say Slash is the genius of the band, what do you mean exactly?

"He’s just this fucked up guy that you wouldn’t think. I mean, I’ve seen him go from this kid who’s just this great guitar player, to, I don’t know, just this total monstrosity! To me he is anyway. Maybe I’m over playing him. But just to me as a musician, I appreciate so much. Axl is amazing too."

You didn’t know Axl before the band?

"No. to me, Axl when we first got together, I was like, ‘He’s good, but I don’t know’. But that’s when we had these other two cats in the band (guitarist Tracii Guns and drummer Rob Gardner) and the band was not clicking. But by the time Slash and Steven had joined the band and we were starting to really click. Axl all of the sudden clicked too. It took something for him to click, and it took something for Slash to click. But when it happened, it was somethin’ to see. I’m telling ya.
And Izzy is Izzy. He’s the cool dude of the band. And Stevie’s drumming has really come along too, you know?

"I’ll give you my theory on why were so successful apart from the music and the songs, that is. People look at Izzy, Axl Slash, me and Stevie and it’s obvious we’re all different kinds of people into all different kinds of things. We don’t like everything about each other, we don’t agree on everything, but we don’t lie about it and somehow t works.
People react to honesty, I think. They just look at us and go, ‘What’ And there hasn’t been a ‘What’ in years, you know? Does that make any sense to you?"

Are there any other bands out there that you rate as highly as Guns N’ Roses?

"I love Metallica. I love Faith No More. They’re the same type of band. Who is their guitar player? (referring to FNM guitarist Jim Martin) He’s definitely a ‘What’ too. They’re all fucking insane! I love that. But then you look around and who else is there? The answer is there are only a few bands out there really doin’ it."

What sort of music would you have playing in the dressing room before you went onstage?

"We play the Sex Pistols. We play Fear, Prince, Cameo. We play Faith No More. We play Metallica. We play, ‘um’ Lenny Kravitz. Our musical tastes are so spread apart. We’re into anything. As long as it’s got balls."

While I’ve got you pinned down in front of this machine, Duff, I’d like to get your views on one or two of the more controversial subjects relating to the band.

"Uh-oh..Okay, whaddaya got?"

The whole ‘One In A Million’ saga, for instance?

"That whole thing’s such a bunch of crap, man. Slash is half black. I come from a family that’s a quarter black. And if you (assumes a bullhorn voice) READERS OUT THERE, if you listen to all the lyrics, you might learn something. Axl was a fuckin’ wet behind the ears white boy in LA for the first time and he was scared to death! That’s what the song is about. People are just gonna have to take it whichever way they think is right."

"I mean, I don’t even like talking about it anymore. All it is, is a tale about a certain part of town. Yes, the story is told by a white kid, but that’s his story. And Axl’s got such a reputation now, he’s so well know, that of course they’re gonna jump all over his fucking ass. He said that dirty word."

"I mean, tell me about it. I’ve been an uncle since I was two. It was my older sister’s first child and it was a black kid. When I was growing up I was surrounded by nieces and nephews and cousins that were black, plus my own immediate family, who were white of course. Until I started school, I didn’t know there was a difference in black and white. That was the first time I heard anybody call somebody a n*****. I didn’t even know what the word meant. I still don’t. So I feel strongly about this."

"The bottom line is, Axl is not prejudiced. There is no prejudice in this band. It’s just a tale of what happened to a kid from Indiana, okay? And just being scared off his fucking ass by what he finds in the big city."

Have you played it live?

"We’ve never done it live."

Would you include it in the set on your next tour?

"I doubt it. Well, no, in fact. It’s been said. That song was that song. I can’t see us ever doing a song like that again. Not because we’re chicken shit to do it, just because that was then. There’s nothing left in our lives like that."

"What was the other horrible thing you wanted to ask?"

Donnington.. I hate to drag it up, but I’m still curious. How do you feel about that now, in retrospect?

"It makes me cry every day, if I think about it. I saw the whole thing!"

He takes a long pause.

"I saw the whole fucking thing. It crushed me, man. We stopped, remember we stopped? Because we saw the kids go under. We were screaming, ‘Back up! Back up! Back the fuck up! And the mud was about a foot deep, and the other kids there, they couldn’t tell whey were stepping on people. They thought it was just mud."

Do you blame yourself in any way for the deaths of those two fans?

"Well, of course, I totally felt it was our fault for months, and a part of me probably will feel that way for the rest of my life."

But was there anything that you could or should have done that day?

"Well, no. But look at it this way, Mick - if we weren’t playing that day, maybe it wouldn’t have happened. I mean, I’m not saying it was totally down on us. I’m just saying, if we’d missed the plane or for whatever reason hadn’t made the gig, maybe those two guys would still be living today. I have to deal with that for the rest of my life."

Okay, what can you tell about the next Guns N’ roses album?

"What do you want to know?"

The release date would be nice!

"Ha-ha! Oh man, I don’t know about that. We’re going to the same studio we recorded ‘Appetite’ in, we’re gonna use the same producer (Mike Clink). We’re using the same everything. The sound we got on the last album was so awesome, I mean, why change? I’m even using the same old amps and things."

For luck?

"No, man! Because they sound so great."

So you’ve got 35 finished songs - are we really talking about a possible double album here?

"Okay, here it is - It will be a double album if we can last that long. We’ve got the studio booked open-ended, so we’ve got plenty of time. It just depends what shaper we’re all in after a couple of months."

Do you know what you’re gonna call it?

"I think ‘Girth’ or ‘Heinous’ would be a great name for the record. ‘Girth’ Ha-ha! We could have a special logo done of a big fat dick. I dunno. We actually have a song called ‘Girth’. We’ll probably change the title, but we call it that because it’s so fucking heavy."

Can you give me an example of the other song titles?

"There’s a really cool song called ‘Yesterdays’ that West (Arkeen co-author of It’s So easy amongst others), has written the lyrics for. And a big ballad by Axl called ‘November Rain’ that he’s been waiting to record for a long time. He’s got about another four big ballads, as a matter of fact, that he wants to record. Another one called ‘Just Another Sunday’, a great song that we wrote eons ago. And lots of other stuff, but I don’t wanna say too much because none of us really know what we’re gonna do with all these songs eventually. I’ll send you a fucking postcard."
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