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1992-04-DD - Interview with Slash and Duff

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1992-04-DD - Interview with Slash and Duff

Post by Soulmonster on Tue Jun 21, 2011 4:15 am

Transcript of Duff's part:

To his neighbors, Duff McKagan-the living incarnation of King Crimson's 21st Century Schizoid Man-was brother to seven other kids. To the hungry dinner crowd, he was a budding chef of some renown. On any given Monday, he was the drummer in one local band; Tuesday, perhaps several thousand miles away, he was a guitarist in another. When he left behind his fashionable punk roots in Seattle to move to L.A. at the age of 20, he became known as a hot bassist on the scene, which is how millions know him now, in Guns N' Roses. Always ready to do whatever it takes in order to play at the drop of any of his several hats, Duff put on his thinking cap for an intensive discussion of his musical identities.

GM: Does being a drummer and guitarist influence you as a bass player?

Being a drummer gives you a great insight. I know exactly what's going through Matt's head on any riff. I still play drums.

GM: Does that language become part of a bass language?

Sure. I use bass not only as a singing instrument, I also use it as a percussive instrument. I'm no Steve Vai on bass, but the beginning of Sweet Child sings. The more abrasive songs, like the beginning of Right Next Door To Hell is what I mean by percussive.

GM: Do you enjoy listening to Billy Sheehan?

I completely respect Billy and he also respects my playing. We're friends. It's two different ball fields. For somebody to look down at somebody else because "he's not technically as good as I am" is wrong. I play bass kind of like a lumberjack would cut down a tree. In music in general, there's room for everything.

GM: You are a guitar player and now you're playing bass. Is it any less difficult?

That's a great misconception. In the general scheme of things, you're saying people don't respect bass players as much as guitar players, because there's two less strings, right? Maybe I even thought that way along time ago. But there's a definite art to playing bass, and to sticking to that art of being the bass player and keeping the groove. I love playing bass. I'd much rather play bass than a guitar player.

GM: When you first switched to bass, did you think "Oh, this will be easy"?

No. I'd move to L.A. in '83, and I knew there were a million guitar players, a lot of whom were technically better than I was. So I sold all my stuff up in Seattle and bought a bass and a little combo bass amp, and I was going to play bass, basically, because bassists were hard to find. I used it to get my foot in the door. The first person I met in L.A. was Slash.

GM: How did you meet?

Through an ad in the paper. The ad said something like, "Guitar player looking for a bass player: Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Dolls, Led Zeppelin, and Fear. Call Slash." I liked the name Slash, so I answered the ad. We met in Canter's deli. I had to learn a whole new train of thought of attacking music. It is a whole different ball game. I don't know if this is a good analogy, but a guitar player is more of a ballet dancer, where as a bass player is more of a street dancer,. Or a guitar player is a jig saw, where the bass payer is the lumberjack that cuts down big trees.

GM: Had you decide to switch to bass when you knew you were moving?

The day before I moved.

GM: What were you doing in Seattle?

I moved to L.A. when I was 20, but I'd been touring in punk bands since I was 15. I started out on drums, but I was often times in two bands, where I'd have a gig in San Francisco playing drums and the next morning you'd find me with my thumb out hitchhiking to Portland, to get to my other gig playing guitar.

GM: Were these original or cover bands?

Original bands. The first single I played on was with a band called the Veins, not to be confused with Vain. It was '79, and I was actually playing bass then. Then I played drums on a single in a band called the Fastbacks, who are still around. I was about 15, going on 16. I played drums on a few records of a band called the Fartz, which were a very popular cult hardcore punk band. If you listen to those records, you can see where a lot of speed metal comes from now, 'cause were talking '79/'80, when there was no such term as speed metal.

GM: Why did you make the move out to L.A.?

Why did I move out of my nice, safe, Seattle surroundings? Because it was safe and nice and comfortable. I flipped a coin. It was either New York or L.A. and it was heads to I went to L.A. My car never would have made it to New York anyway.

GM: Were you making music you wanted to make in Seattle?

Sure, but I started getting a bit to comfortable. Then I started getting fidgety. It's really easy to sit in your hometown and grow up. I felt proud, then envious, of Soundgarden, Nirvana, and all those cats, that they got to stay home and the record companies moved up there to them, and gave them away to put more noise on a vinyl, without them having to move to L.A. and having to go through that.

GM: So you moved to L.A. and met Slash.

I met Slash the week I moved there. He had some songs, I had some songs. Steven Adler was playing drums. The band was called Road Crew, so we played the song. "We Are the Road Crew," by Motorhead. We played Mama Kin by Aerosmith. I think Back Off Bitch was one of the songs. We're rehearsing, were humping our gear down to this tiny little place that doesn’t have storage. Even if it did, we weren't able to afford to keep our stuff there, and it was in a bad area. I don't know if I would want to keep anything there. We never actually did a gig because we couldn't find a singer. I was going to sing, but we didn’t have a P.A., so that’s about as far as it got. Road Crew was very short-lived. Maybe two months. Then I met Izzy and he moved in across the street. I lived in this real bad neighborhood in Hollywood. I was working as a cook in Black Angus. I was a dishwasher when I was 13, and a prep cook. By the time I was 18, I was a full-line chef. So with Izzy, we see each other walking down the street, and I think he saw me carrying my bass and he goes, "Me and a buddy of mine (Axl) just got a band together. Do you wanna play bass?" I said, "Sure" I'll try anything once. So I went out there, and there was a drummer and another guitar player. I dug Izzy's whole vibe and Axl and I instantly hit it off. After we had done a couple of gigs in L.A., I booked us a tour. I said, "I'm going to see if this works." I came into rehearsal one day and said, "Okay guys, let's tour. I've hot all these numbers for all these clubs up and down the West Coast and Canada." Axl and Izzy were like, "Yeah!" We knew this guy with a car, so we knew we could get there. But the drummer and the guitar player left the band. The first gig was coming up in about four days, so it turns out Izzy and Axl knew Slash and Steven. I said, "Hey, let's get Slash and Steven in the band." So we rehearsed for three days and made the first gig. That was that.

GM: Any songs from that road trip make any of the records?

All of them. Back Off Bitch was one. Axl started November Rain back then, a good quarter of the Illusions is from back then. I was reading reviews where people think we sat around trying to write songs that match Appetite, when they don't know realize that the songs were from a long time ago. We didn't have the time or money on Appetite to record a lot of them. We said, 'We'll keep this and this for the next record.'

GM: What amp were you playing through at that time?

The first amp I bought was the Gallien-Krueger 800RB. Just the head. That's when my sound started taking form. I was blowing speakers left and right, so I had to steal speakers out of music stores. I didn't know that the 800RB took a 400-wat EV speaker to take that much power. Now we're playing bigger places and all that, so I use three 800RBs.

GM: When you're alone, what do you play?

I never play bass alone. I have never once done that.

GM: How would you become a better bass player if you never practiced, or played alone? How did you try to achieve what you wanted to achieve on the bass?

I don't rehearse by myself. That doesn't mean I don't rehearse. Slash and I rehearse, sometimes eight hours a day.

GM: How good did you want to be at your instruments?

Every instrument I've played, I'd always attack it as opposed to being technically great.

GM: How much do you need technique to be able to interpret what's coming from the heart?

In music, you don't have to do anything exactly right. If it feels good and it sounds good to you, that's rock 'n' roll music. That's what it's all about. Even if nobody else likes it. But, if you don't spend time enough time to get your fingers to do whatever it is you want them to to, you can't do it. I was fortunate to be from a large family who were all very musical. I got a lot just from hearing my brothers and sisters playing. Eventually I'd play something I heard of the radio, or something my brothers and sisters were playing, like a Jimi Hendrix record. I could figure out the chords in five minutes, without ever learning a chord in my life. I was gifted with that instinct.

GM: Tell me about working with two different drummers.

Very important question. When we went to try out drummers, I got really depressed, because it's hard, especially for me, as I used to play drums. I know what goes through a drummers head, and I know how it should be. It was really scary, 'cause Steven was a drummer since the beginning of the band. We're used to our style.

GM: Did you try out all the drummers?

Yeah, we did, as opposed to just talking to them to know they weren't right. They reied out with Slash and me. Since our albums weren't out we'd usually have them learn 'Jungle,Brownstone, maybe Paradise City-things they might be familiar with.

GM: Did some of the drummers try to play Steven's stuff?

Yeah, and in some signature rolls he does, like at the end of Paradise City, you have to. We put a lot of weight on Matt's shoulders, because we were slated to go into the studio and record these 38 songs. All in all we did 35 to 38 songs. And we still have that punk rock thing in the can, that other album we recorded.

GM: Other album?

We recorded a punk rock cover record. It's coming out next year sometime. We play one of them live by the Misfits. It's a song called, Attitude. We recorded New Rose, by Damned, Ain't It Fun, by the Dead Boys, Down On the Farm, by U.K. Sub, I Don't Care About You, by Fear. I don't remember what else we did. We all had a great time with it.

GM: Is the record more live than Illusions?

We did a bit more live. We didn't have to articulate as much as our own stuff. I sing on Attitude and New Rose. Axl and Michael Monroe trade off lines on the Dead Boys song. It's something the band has always wanted to do, and we just did it while we were in the studio, as opposed to regrouping and learning the songs over again, and coming back a year from then and doing it. Matt had four weeks to learn all these tunes, and they weren't recorded, we had to show him the songs, as opposed to just giving him Appetite and saying, "Learn these songs for the road." But Matt had all the nuances of these songs, like Coma, which has 50 million parts.

GM: As much as you knew the other guys weren't right in five seconds, did it take five seconds to know Matt was right?

It really did. We saw him playing in the Cult. We didn't steal their drummer away. We talked to Ian first. It was their last gig of the tour, so it fell right in place. I was crossing my fingers, 'cause he seemed perfect. Then when it came to the audition, I was like, "Okay, yeah!"

GM: Was personality a piece of the puzzle?

That's as important as playing, really. There were a couple try-out rehearsals with him, and then we hung out, and he was instantly one of the bros.

GM: When working in the studio, is the big thing to lock up with the bass drum?

Definitely the bass drum. Of course, my bass amp and cabinet are in a different room, but I'm in the same room with Matt. I use a lot of eye contact. When he hits a crash, I watch exactly when he hits the crash, but first and foremost, its with the bass drum.

GM: What were your favorite rhythm section grooves on Appetite and the two Illusions?

Probably Brownstone or Rocket Queen on Appetite and everything, really, on Illusion. With Matt, you can't go wrong on anything. We have a serious backbeat groove, especially live. If we were to record all the songs right now, there'd be a lot more groove to it, and it'd be a lot heavier.

GM: Did you record both records in a similar fashion, from the bass point of view?

No. We record really live, so everything was pretty much keepers. I fixed up just a couple of little things. We'd do two or three songs a day. We recorded all those songs in a 30 day period. Songs like Estranged and Coma would be whole day things.

GM: Were you physically in top shape?

Yeah! My calluses were all there, brother! I had to rehearse with Matt six or eight hours a day. Even with Steve, before we do a record, I'd like to go in at least two or three hours early with the drummer and rehearse, and then have Slash and Izzy come in.

GM: When you're playing for keeps, how much are you being aggressive and going for the best, and how much are you saying, "This is the record, I just want to play the part right?"

It's always aggressive. (Producer Mike) Clink won't let you be otherwise. When I'm in the studio, I'm ready for war.

GM: Does the E-flat tuning give you any problems with strings flapping?

If you went down another half step, you might start running into a few problems. Tuning down, you get a thicker, heavier sound. The basses that I use, the Fender Jazz Specials, are slightly different. My basses are made an RCH longer, to allow for the strings flapping. My particular model was only made a for a year or two. It's got sort of a Jazz neck and Precision body. It has a Precision pickup and a Jazz pickup in the back. The first bass I bought, the white Fender Jazz Special, that I bought at the Guitar Center, had inadvertently been screwed up when they made it. As opposed to being perfectly conical, mine was half egg-shaped. Somebody at the shop filed it to much. I was so used to that bass, that when I went to try other basses, something wasn’t right. It's like, wait a minute, something's different with these other Jazz Specials. I went down to the custom shop, and sure enough, they spun it through the graphic computer and found what was wrong-or, for me, right-with the bass. So now I have all my necks custom made exactly like that one.

GM: The sound of the bass on Illusion I and II seemed fuller than on Appetite.

That's weird, because I used everything exactly the same.

GM: It might have been the mix, but it seemed to growl more.

Wow. I've just become "Duffer." I tried to match the sound, because I loved the sound I got on Appetite. Mike Clink and I worked at it. We didn't record at the same place. Maybe we did get a bit more balls out of it, but I've played with the same equipment since day one. I use exactly the same equipment onstage that I record with. I'd done a lot of recordings before Appetite, but not playing bass and not with the budget we had for Appetite. This was the big deal, and I had time to actually sit down and go, "Okay, now I want to get a sound that I can live with when I'm 65 years old."

GM: Do you record with a direct input?

And I mike. I have my old stand-by 2x15 EV 400-watt speaker, in an Acoustic cabinet. I use one GK 800 RB head, just mike the bottom 15, and then DI. When we go to mix, I always push up the live sound just above the DI. That gives it a nice round sound.

GM: How did Mike Clink help get that sound?

The magic about Mike is, he gets on tape exactly what's being played. That's what rock 'n' roll recording is all about. It's simple, dry; that's it. Don't mess with it. Don't trigger any samples on it. I would never allow that to be done. Just record the band, live We're not a studio band. He saw that, and we knew that, so you just press play and record. He got all our sounds perfectly.

GM: Was recording the basics in 30 days important to you? What if you needed more time?

We had 30 days booked at A&M to do the basics, and we didn't want to go some place else to continue. I liked that pressure. To me it's good.

GM: After you're done with your part, how much do you participate?

I'm basically the only one Slash will even let in the studio. He doesn't like anybody around when he records. He get's real nervous, but I drop by. Sometimes he'll call me and say, "Come down man, and listen to this thing I did." Who am I to tell Slash what to do? But I love playing with the guy. I might make a suggestion here and there, which he listens to, 'cause he knows if I make a suggestion it's valid. I don't know where he comes up with his stuff. His solos are never random, off-the-cuff solos. He thinks, he maps them out, but they're not contrived.

GM: What's your take on the six string bass?

Slash played the six-string on two songs. I was gonna play it, and he was screwin' around with it. He has a completely different attack to the six-string that I do. I said, "Slash, why don't you give it a try?" He was havin' fun and he was attacking it in a real cool way, like he attacks a guitar. I don't think there's any use for it in the usual context of a band. Five-string basses were originally made to compete with all the low sounds on the new synths. It doesn't get that original, good rock 'n' roll bass tone. The strings are closer together. I'll tell you, in rock 'n' roll, a bass guitar has four strings and non-active pickups. It's just you and the bass and a cord.

GM: Most bass players stick to one bass for a real long time.

I just retired my original white bass. It's at home. But, like I said, I had to get the other basses made exactly like it. Me and John Paige at Fender worked together. It took along time. I didn't know it was gonna be this difficult.

GM: Do you feel that you want to be that much better because now you have a brighter spotlight?

I'm not a spotlight monger. That's not what I play, but I know what your saying. I've been put in the spot now. There's just three original member's left, the kids up front are checking out a bit more, and their is a heavier load on my shoulders. I'd me lying if I said there's no pressure, but I don't think any of us really feels it. To us, when we go out and play, we're still just the band, even though we're playing bigger places and getting all this press. But, when you're the talk of the town, you've gotta yell a bit louder, I guess.
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