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1992.07.DD - Guitarist Magazine - Gun Law (Slash)

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1992.07.DD - Guitarist Magazine - Gun Law (Slash) Empty 1992.07.DD - Guitarist Magazine - Gun Law (Slash)

Post by Blackstar on Thu Dec 26, 2019 10:39 am

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Transcript:
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SLASH

GUN LAW

When Guns N' Roses flew into the UK for Queen's 'Freddie Mercury Tribute' concert at Easter, the band's manic but musical lead guitarist took time out to do a TV chat show, buy a hat and talk to Eddie Allen...

Mid-June sees Guns N’ Roses hit the UK for some of the most thoroughly hyped and absurdly well-attended gigs we’ve probably ever seen, gigs which are set to underline their status as the world’s biggest genuine rock’n’roll band. The perfect moment, then, to interrogate Slash, Stoke-on-Trent’s son turned guitar guru to a Les Paul-toting generation.

Guns N’ Roses were formed in Hollywood in 1985. By August of the following year the line-up of W. Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steve Adler had been signed to Geffen Records, who immediately released a four song EP, ‘Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide’ on its Uzi Suicide Record Co label and the Guns N’ Roses rollercoaster took off.

The band’s full length debut, ‘Appetite For Destruction’, appeared in July of the following year and, after breaking into the American Top 100, leapt straight to the Number 1 position, where it lodged for five weeks during its 147 consecutive week run.

Controversy was part of the band’s make-up from the beginning, because, as Slash points out, “We want freedom. We like to be left alone to do what we want. We’re not malicious really; the problem is when people try to control us, our instant reaction is to do the complete opposite of what they’re trying to get us to do.”

This attitude is reflected in the band’s behaviour, both privately and in public, and stories about the various members abound. But although their anarchic attitude has upset and offended a lot of people, G N’ R have managed to pull back from this course of almost inevitable self-destruction.

Drummer Steve Adler was sacked because his drug problem was affecting his playing and a replacement was found in former Cult skinsman Matt Sorum. Then, following rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin’s departure from the band, ex Kill For Thrills axeman Gilby Clarke took over the job and, with Dizzy Reed added on keyboards, an arguably more creative line-up decided on the simultaneous release of two albums: ‘Use Your Illusion I’ and ‘Use Your Illusion II’. But why release two albums on the same day?

“In addition to the new songs, we wanted to do some of the songs we couldn’t do on the first album because of time and finances. We wanted to clean the slate so that on the next album we could start afresh.”

But starting afresh doesn’t mean the Guns have gone soft. In fact Slash is adamant that the group are growing as musicians, no longer wanting to be seen as some pop novelty. As he insists: “We give a shit about what we do!”

Whilst in London Slash was invited to appear on the Jonathan Ross Show, but all did not go smoothly. “It went out live and the music director, whose name is Steve Nieve, was a complete asshole. Now, I really am a very down-to-earth, roots guitar player, and I wouldn’t consider myself technically proficient, and definitely not technically-minded. So he’s given me a chord sheet and it’s like, ‘Play that.’ Then he said, ‘It’s too loud; there’s no tone,’ which was weird because I was using a Fender amp and a new Gibson guitar. Then it was, ‘Well, you shouldn’t play that as a lead,’ and I said, ‘What do you want me here for then - just to play with the other guy?’ The other guy is like a session dude who’s been playing this TV show forever. So all we have to do is look at the chord sheet and that’s it; there’s no tone involved and there’s no style.”

The session guitarist in question was Tim Renwick. How did you get on with him?

“He’s a great guy, a really sweet guy, but what he’s asked to do is very generic and I don’t come from that side of the fence at all. I mean, they were trying to tell me how to play the thing! So what did they call me there for? I saw the show on TV and it was one of those things where the tone is really major. I don’t use anything; I just go straight into the amp even when it comes to our own records, so we can have more control. The only variation to what I did on that show is in being able to pick and choose exactly which guitars I want to use. When it comes to amps I can usually pull it out of an old Marshall, but I like to use my own because I’m familiar with it. I change guitars like crazy - different guitars for different songs - and I also use, talking about tones, the tone knob. I’ll turn it all the way off and recreate what Schenker used to get with his wah pedal sort of stuck in that in-between position. I have an Explorer and a Flying V, those old ’58 ones, and I just turn the knob down on the tone and it sounds a lot like that. It’s very nasal...”

How many different guitars do you think you used on the last albums?

“This last record was a stretch of the imagination as far as guitars go, because I had the financial means to experiment, whereas on ‘Appetite For Destruction’ I used pretty much one guitar for the whole record. Then when we did the ‘Lies’ EP I used different acoustics and a Telecaster and stuff like that. If you give me the choice to go through different guitars I’m really into it, but I went through something like twenty guitars before I found the one that I used for ‘Appetite’, none of which I owned - all borrowed. But I finally got this one Les Paul which I used for all the hard rock stuff on the two albums that we’ve just come out with; I used that same guitar for the chord stuff and anything real chunky.”

I’ve read somewhere that you said you try lots of Gibsons but only find the odd one that works for you...

“Well, see, in a studio old guitars are great, because there my ear is real keen. I can hear, because of an element in the wood or maybe in the amp, that there’s no way we’re going to achieve any kind of sound with it; it’s just not going to happen. But when we’re playing live I don’t lake any of those guitars out any more because they’re too precious. Gibson build me guitars all the time, but they’ve only come up with so many that are actually usable; I send the other ones back. I’ve got a new double-neck that I’ve been using because I put my old one away. I’ve also got one Les Paul Standard that’s my main guitar and I’ve had that ever since I signed my deal with Gibson six years ago - they haven’t been able to duplicate it since. I have one that’s like the B version of that, and I’ve got a goldtop which I also use. I recently got a black Standard which they never lacquered, so it’s completely matt black, it’s really great looking and on the back it’s got ‘Hold this for Slash’ etched in it. I got it before it was finished and I said, ‘It’s great, leave it.’”

The resurgence of interest in the Les Paul has been largely attributed to you; how do you feel about that?

“That's what they say. But I’m very humble about what it is that I do, and I listen to my own stuff and I judge it accordingly. When other people give me compliments or give me praise about my playing I don’t really know what to say, because I still haven’t reached the level where I’m able to pull out of the guitar all the stuff I want to.”

But that’s one of the things guitarists always have to aim for.

“Well yes, it would be boring otherwise. So at this point, although I’ve reached this status in a band, it has nothing really to do with my guitar playing. And then Gibson’s going, ‘Well, you just brought the Les Paul back,’ and I’m, like... ‘What?!’ I mean, it’s a certain kind of sound that you can only get from a Les Paul, and I realise that the whole flash, speed guitar style that Eddie Van Halen brought around, really messed Gibson up, business-wise. And I’m the only guy I know who’s selling a lot of records that’s playing a Les Paul at this point. But that’s no reason for me to believe I brought the Les Paul back; the Les Paul was always there, it’s just that no one was using them...

“You know, with the home-made Strat style thing that was going on, and the Jacksons and all that, to this day the only guitar that’s remotely like that that I can deal with is a BC Rich, and then only the old ones. Otherwise, nothing has that kind of weight to it. And even the copy Strats didn’t sound like Strats. I don’t think anybody was paying attention to the textures of necks and all that, and of course a lot of your feel - your bends and stuff - come from the neck. So it’s really nice to have a solid guitar that, instead of it playing for you, you have to actually get into it, something like a woman, otherwise it’s not going to perform. And I like that feeling in a guitar. The Les Paul has its flaws, but you work together.”

So basically you’re a traditionalist when it comes to equipment...

“Well, it’s gotten to a point where everything’s almost computerised, and I have no knowledge of computers and no patience for the technical side. You know, Steve Lukather’s a friend of mine and he’s got a rack that’s this high and a pedal-board that’s a mile long, and if I go and jam with him at a club or something it scares me, because it’s like a space station. When I started, all I knew how to do was take the guitar, tune it and plug it into a Fender amp, and I never took it much further than that. When I tried something like a BOSS pedal-board, something new and different, I never settled with it. But now my tech’s got my amps worked out in a way that I don’t even know how to turn them on!

“We have to use a wireless on stage because of the amount of movement, and that’s about as complicated as I’ll get. A lot the of the class and appreciation for the instrument is gone now. A lot of the kids don’t come up with that feeling; they’re not into really appreciating the instruments at all. It’s all speed and finesse, and if you can play fast and bring some feeling out, fine, but you should appreciate it because of the guitar and the amp you’re going into as opposed to the fact that it’s technically clever. It’s the same as the music business itself; it’s like they’re putting out records just for the sake of it, and so the whole thing goes hand-in-hand.”

You’ve mentioned your success; how has that changed your musical perspective?

"For me it’s all a big adventure. Every day at soundcheck it’s like, what angle do I stand in front of the amp to get a certain sound? That’s the whole fun of it. When Guns started, it was always a matter of dynamics, and I still don’t really get out of recording what I can get out of playing live, because of the spontaneity of that situation.

“It’s all about attaining this certain vibe, making it sound the way it sounded in your head, or getting the attack across. You actually get into pulling that off, and to me that’s like... it’s almost like a hobby; it’s like putting a boat together in a bottle and getting in there and really fine-tuning it...”

Do you approach songwriting with the same attitude?

“Well, that’s one of those questions that I don’t even feel I deserve to be asked. It’s hard for me to picture this thing as big as it is, because it’s so basic to me and it’s really hard to explain. You get in there writing and you think you’re the worst songwriter in the world, and then you write one cool tune, like Jungle.”

Do you have a writing formula?

“Well, I never tape anything; I keep them in my head and the good ones stay there. At this point I’ve got all these really cool riffs, but I’m patient; I’ll keep them in my head and play it at soundcheck, and if it doesn’t sound right I won’t use it.

“So there’s that sort of innocent element in songwriting, and then some of the stuff is really stupid, like Sweet Child O’ Mine, which was actually a joke. I was going (sings the opening notes) and Izzy started playing chords and then Axl got into it and that’s where that song came from. So there are so many different scenarios, but I don’t really take songwriting that seriously until we start doing vocals, and then I usually put riffs together. It’s real simple, real basic.”

What’s most important to you in a song?

“Melodies, that’s my big thing. Like, I don’t practise. Well, I try to keep my chops together, but I do it by going out and jamming with other people, as opposed to sitting at home and working on scales and all that stuff. When I do sit home and play it’s either to put a song together or to connect a riff, or if there’s a note in my head and I don’t know where it is, I have to find it. And when I’m trying to get sounds and tones I can’t do it at home because it’s not even related to what I do live.

“Axl works on his piano songs for ages. He’ll play a part and sing along, and we don’t know where it’s going to go and six months later, ‘I’ve got an arrangement!’ All the guitar lines in the song Estranged were based on the piano. It was like, ‘Okay, keep playing that, it’s coming,’ and then there it is.

“So my thing really has to do with songs. There are so many metal bands in the States, where it’s really just instrumental guitar riffing and I really don’t come from that school of thought. I think it’s just a matter of attitude and integrity. If you can be true to yourself and your sound, then that’s all you can do; your best try is all you can do.

“And it’s not necessarily what equipment you use or whatever; you can do it in a million different ways. I think the thing that’s really lacking these days is that people aren’t really putting the time or the imagination or the emotion into it.

Are you flattered by other bands claiming Guns N’ Roses as an influence?

"Well, influence is one thing; I mean, you cease to be a human being without influences, but trying to emulate something is impossible because everybody is an individual. It’s your own personal thing and you get out of it what you put into it. So when somebody sits there and disregards their own potential and just tries to emulate somebody else’s, then it starts to sound very homogenised and predictable.”

Do you see the new line-up as a change for the better?

“Well that’s always been a sensitive subject, because Stephen had, I wouldn’t say no metre, but very bad metre; he used to watch my foot to keep time! And because we were all really young then, we had a kind of aggressive, almost punk attitude; it was great, very brash and very abrupt. But it wasn’t like, say, the Ramones, where we were just going to keep doing that forever. So after we did ‘Appetite’ and ‘Lies’ and toured, and because Axl, Duff and I really do love all kinds of areas of music, we all had different musical things we wanted to achieve, we got to a point where Stephen... well... you know...

“But I noticed that some of the immediacy of our sound was lost in losing Stephen; it almost had a touch of anxiety to it. With the situation of Stephen leaving and Matt coming in, I did listen to see what changes were happening in the attack of the band, and all of a sudden it turned into a very precise, big thing, and it was like, ‘God, we can do all kinds of stuff with this.’ And I like that because I feel like I’ve matured and I’ve been able to do a lot of things that, with Steve, we couldn’t have done. I mean, I did a song on a Les Paul tribute record that’s coming out. I wrote this tune and Stephen could never play it; it was a very ‘black’ groove thing and he could just never get it right, and so I shelved the song.

“And there were a lot of other songs that went by the wayside because of that, which has a lot to do with why the ‘Illusion’ albums sound so diverse. There were so many things that we wanted to do that were stifled by the group as it was. So releasing these two albums simultaneously was a big orgasm for us...”

You’ve worked with Iggy Pop and Lenny Kravitz on projects of theirs, and of course you played on Michael Jackson’s Black Or White, although I understand you didn’t actually meet him until well into the project...

“No. It’s got to be almost two years ago that there was a phone from his office to my office. It was one of those things like, ‘Michael would like to have you play on his record,’ and of course I was very flattered. So they said they were going to be at such-and-such a place to do this and when I got there I found out that they’d block-booked time at all these different studios for two years, and Michael would only come in on occasion. So I said to the producer, whose name I can’t remember, ‘Well, what do you want me to play? Can I get a tape?’ and that’s when the guns went up! I said, ‘I just need something for reference.’ There were no vocals or anything, no real arrangements; a lot of it was drum machine stuff, completely the other side of the fence for me. It was like, ‘Okay, I'll adapt.’ They said ‘When are you available?’ and I was just starting the ‘Illusion’ record, so I said, ‘On Sundays, I can play any Sunday.’ They said, ‘We’ll call you right back.’

“So I did one session and there was no music whatsoever. I just made up guitar to these drums with some guitar chords that the producer had put there; that’s all I had to work with. So six months goes by and they call me: ‘Can you come down?’ I said, ‘When?’ 'We’ll call you back.’

“So another couple of months goes by and I never went back to finish the project so I just wrote it off. And then suddenly Michael’s office called me and said, ‘Can you do this one song? Michael’s not going to put it on the record unless you play on it.’ This was right when ‘Use Your Illusion’ came out and I was on my way to Africa - I wanted to get out of town because the hype was getting too much - so I said, ‘Well, I’m leaving for two weeks and I’ll be back on such-and-such a day,’ and they said, ‘We can’t do it.’ And then Michael calls me - ‘Hi, it’s Michael’ - and he asked me personally, finally, to do it. I said 'Well, listen, I’ve put back this trip for weeks, I’ve cut so much time out of the only vacation I’ve ever had.’ So he held back the release of his record so I could do it!

“I went from Tanzania to Kenya to Amsterdam, with a six-hour layover to LA, from the airport to the record plant, and started this tune. And he was there, him and Brooke Shields, and he was great, and that’s when I finally met him. Then his record came out and I did a tenth anniversary MTV thing with him and played the song Black Or White, but gave it that sort of rock feel. And he says I played it on the record, but I didn’t really; I played on the beginning where the little kid is playing air guitar. That’s me.

“But there’s another song, called Give In To Me where it’s all my guitar; all my leads and everything. And I’m doing a video with him when I get back from England. But that’s how we met, and now we talk on the phone all the time. He sent me a couple of TV sets. He’s a funny guy, you know, very distant, but very personable. Sometimes I don’t know exactly what his motives are, but when I talk to him he always seems really sincere and I take him at face value.”

And you’re obviously not intimidated by the scale of it all...

“No. I mean, I’ve been judged so much, not so much by the public, but by perceptions that the public get from the press, so at this point I’m not about to go judging somebody as talented as him.”

Was it left to you to do your own thing on these recordings?

“The Michael Jackson thing was a little different, probably more business-like than with Lenny Kravitz or Iggy Pop, where we just went into the studio, Duff and me, and ripped out four songs in one day and had a great time doing it. And I just did something with Carole King; she’s doing a new record and that was just a case of going to her home studio and putting a solo on a particular song. It’s usually just, have a couple of drinks, hang out, no real deadline or schedule...

Have you got any other guest appearances coming up?

“I’m going to be doing something with Stevie Wonder, which is more like the Michael Jackson thing except that this time I called him! I'd got a phone call before the Michael thing came up, saying, ‘Stevie Wonder wants you to work on his record,’ and I said, ‘Yeah? Of all people that would be awesome to do!’ Then I ran into one of the guys that was engineering his new album and said ‘Oh, you’re working with Stevie Wonder; ask him if he’d like me to play on his record because I would love to do it.’ And Stevie said ‘Yeah.’ So I’ve got that coming up. What was the other thing I did? Oh yeah, Bob Dylan. Basically it’s just a matter of going into the studio, hanging out and putting something on tape.”

You obviously enjoy the challenge.

“I love it! It’s great. Everybody in Guns thinks of it as our band, so for each of us it’s our own solo project in a way, but when you go out to play with other people, especially accomplished musicians, you learn tons of stuff, so the whole thing’s exciting. I’ve never been intimidated; even when I first started playing guitar I was never intimidated by other guitar players. As soon as I learned how to plug the thing in I was playing in bands because it was always fun. I never looked at it the same way as some people I know, who are really tense all the time about it. It’s fun and when you’re around people that are amazing musicians, instead of being turned off by it you stay cool and watch and take in what you can, and it’s like a subconscious influence making you work harder without even thinking about it.”

What about your conscious influences?

“When I was in High School, that first Van Halen record came out and it was like a real kick in the ass, a shot in the arm, so to speak. And everybody was trying to figure it out. They put those pictures in magazines for the fingering and a lot of people were so freaked out because they couldn’t pull it off, or maybe they pulled it off to the extent that they just copied it because that’s all they knew how to do. But I said, ‘It’s cool; just let it be what it is and just do your own thing,’ so I never copped that wham bam guitar style, which really was Eddie’s..."
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