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2019.12.10 - Classic Rock - Interview with Duff

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2019.12.10 - Classic Rock - Interview with Duff Empty 2019.12.10 - Classic Rock - Interview with Duff

Post by Blackstar on Sat Dec 21, 2019 11:28 am

2019.12.10 - Classic Rock - Interview with Duff 2019_120
2019.12.10 - Classic Rock - Interview with Duff 2019_121

DUFF McKAGAN

With an album of his own and climbing back on board the Guns N’ Roses crazy train, 2019 has been a fulfilling and enjoyable year.

Interview: Paul Elliott

It has been a busy year for Duff McKagan, with the release of his solo album Tenderness, a few low-key gigs to promote it, and a return to being the bassist in Guns N’ Roses for the completion of the Not In This Lifetime tour, a marathon global trek, begun in 2016, in which McKagan and lead guitarist Slash were reunited with singer Axl Rose after two decades apart.

McKagan enjoys having his hands full. As he tells Classic Rock: “You know the saying: ‘fortune shines on those who put in the work’.” And as he reflects on this year, his thoughts also turn to the good old, bad old days of the 80s, when Guns N’ Roses conquered the world with the biggest-selling debut album of all time, Appetite For Destruction.

What in 2019 has given you the most satisfaction?

The Guns N’ Roses shows have been great – really long shows, and it’s been a lot of fun. And with my solo record the GN’R guys have really backed me in this thing.

Your album is mostly acoustic, with what you call a “sociopolitical” theme. It’s nothing like Guns N’ Roses. What kind of reaction were you expecting?

Of course I thought about what the reaction would be, but it wasn’t the main concern. I’ve done these massive rock records in the past, but I think it was an okay time for me to do something different. And this all happened during the Guns N’ Roses tour, a couple of years back. The original idea was to write a book, but I had my acoustic guitar on the road, and after I wrote the first song, It’s Not Too Late, I thought I’d make it a record.

Is there a key message in the album?

I guess I was trying to bring a little peace, maybe. It’s observation without comment – observation on what is a very important time in our history.

You mean Trump’s America?

I don’t even know if I’m reacting to the current situation so much. Sometimes, if I dare turn on cable news or look on Twitter, it’s like you open that door and there’s all this noise going on, and you just shut that door [laughs]. But going around the world with GN’R, you see so much changing. We played a city in Poland where a couple of months earlier they had a rally with a couple of hundred thousand Nazis, basically. I read history, and we have seen things like this before. In the end I noticed that the quality of my life got a lot better when I didn’t look at Twitter or the TV news. Just talking with people, one on one, the quality of my mind-set got better.

You made the album with your friend Shooter Jennings, an outlaw country guy, and son of Waylon.

I’ve known Shooter since he moved to LA, around 2001. When I played him my songs he was super into it, he loved the whole concept. We worked out the whole album in five or six sessions at Shooter’s house, in his living room, me playing acoustic and him with his little keyboard, and we recorded in this cheap studio in Echo Park, no frills, nothing fancy.

And Shooter and his band backed you for your solo shows this year.

That was a different experience for me. With Guns we rehearse hard for a tour – four weeks, six days a week, six to eight hours a day. With Shooter’s guys we had one rehearsal for four hours – and that was like two hours too much! I guess you could say my songs are kind of simple.

Back in 2016, when you and Slash began rehearsing for the Not In This Lifetime tour, you were playing those old songs again, from Appetite For Destruction and Use Your Illusion I and II, and also some of the songs from Chinese Democracy, the Guns album that Axl made without you guys. How did that feel?

For me it was very cool. With every record I’ve ever made, I never listen to them after they’re done. So diving into Appetite and the Illusions stuff, songs that I played as a young man, rediscovering it all, it was really cool for me to go back and do that. With Chinese Democracy, some of the stuff on that record is brilliant – really brilliant. Axl asked Slash and I to do these certain things from that record, and when we played them with Frank [Ferrer, drummer], it was like: “Let’s make these songs the best we can make it.” It was fun for Slash and I to tear those songs apart and play them with aggression. We made them our own.

In 2014, two years before you officially rejoined Guns N’ Roses, you played bass for the band on a South American tour, standing in for Tommy Stinson, who was doing reunion shows with his old band The Replacements. You told Classic Rock that you and Axl got really close again on that tour.

Oh yeah. We had such a great time together. We played a show in La Paz, Bolivia, at an altitude of twelve thousand feet. I’d done mountain climbing. I said: “Ax, man, the air is thin up there.” Seriously, people pass out when they come off the plane. They have oxygen at the airport. And we gotta play a rock show there, in a soccer stadium where they don’t have games any more because no other team will go and play because it’s not fair. So I was taking Diamox, mountain climber shit, and I gave some to Axl. We go through this journey together, and to watch him sing up there… man, it was an amazing experience.

What has the Not In This Lifetime tour meant to you on a personal level?

It’s been one of the most enlightening times of my life. All the way through, there’s been a lot of levity. You know, when we finally communicated, hey, it’s a lot easier when you talk! And I found myself remembering how these guys taught me so much in my early days. I learned a lot from these guys about just how to be.

You’ve always remained tight with one ex-member of Guns, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin. You’ve played on each other’s records over the years. But Izzy declined to rejoin the band for the tour.

He and I have done a lot together in all the years in between. But this tour, I just don’t think he ever wanted to do it. We tried to make it work, but it just didn’t. And in a situation like this you’re really in it, man. You either get on it or you don’t, because the train’s moving forward. The good thing is, Slash really likes playing with Richard Fortus [GN’R guitarist since 2002], and Slash is somewhat picky about that kind of stuff. They get on great as far as a two-guitar player relationship goes. To be honest, I haven’t taken a lot of time to go back on the Izzy thing because we just move forward, and things are so good. And as I’ve found out many times in my life, things are supposed to happen as they happen.

But the tour did not get off to the best of starts.

Yeah, right? Axl broke his fucking foot in our first show [at the Troubadour in LA]. But he said right away that he wanted to continue the tour. As a singer, you stand up, put your shoulders back and chest out and you sing. But he figured it out. Sitting down, contracted, I don’t know how he did it. And not just got though it, he did it well. And at the same time we had other things going on…

Specifically, Axl taking on another job during breaks in GN’R’s schedule – singing for AC/DC after Brian Johnson had to withdraw from their Rock Or Bust tour.

That came out of nowhere, as we all know. But Axl had to do it. It would have been like if Prince had asked me to play because he’d lost a guy. I’d have said: ‘You know I have to do this, right?’ It was more of that than anything else.

What, for you, was the best thing about this tour?

The size of the crowds that came, everywhere we went, was really something. And the way we did it, having each other’s backs after all these things we’ve been through in the past, for me that was the coolest thing.

And as you told us earlier this year, there’s a new Guns N’ Roses album coming. If and when that happens, could you die a happy man?

Well, everything I’m doing now, I’m thinking this is part of my legacy. But I’m planning on being around for a while.
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