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2000.09.07 - The Houston Chronicle - Life's 'Grand' In Slash's Snakepit

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2000.09.07 - The Houston Chronicle - Life's 'Grand' In Slash's Snakepit Empty 2000.09.07 - The Houston Chronicle - Life's 'Grand' In Slash's Snakepit

Post by Blackstar on Tue Mar 17, 2020 3:57 am

Life's 'Grand' in Slash's Snakepit

MICHAEL D. CLARK

It makes for scandalous TV movie dish to imagine former Guns N' Roses lead guitarist Slash out of a job.

That somewhere, the best hard-rock ax man of the late '80s is wandering the Los Angeles backstreets looking for a gig, a guitar dangling from his shoulder, a curly black mane tumbling in his face from under a crooked top hat, a cigarette dangling loosely from his lips...

He limply knocks on the doors of old G N' R haunts like the Troubadour and Roxy asking for one last shot. As the doors are slammed, he sullenly wonders how fame can be so fleeting and how a superstar band can disintegrate.

Yeah, a great story, but hardly true.

Tipping a glass at a Madison, Wis., pub before a gig with his band, Slash's Snakepit, he is the voice of rejuvenation. His senses are stimulated like an up-and-coming rock star finding his way for the first time.

Any trace of the 35-year-old superstar of G N' R – a heavy-metal band once so huge that the current god of thunder, Metallica, opened for it - dissolved with that band's demise. "I am so ecstatic right now because I have been here before," says Slash (born Saul Hudson in Stoke-on-Trent, England), sounding celebratory talking into his cell phone. "The record's not even out yet, and we're going out there and playing it for everyone."

For the first time since he left G N' R five years ago, Slash's Snakepit is fielding a lineup that its namesake feels could be a lasting foundation. The new record, "Ain't Life Grand," will be in stores Oct. 10, but the group is bringing the slither den to audiences of thousands each night opening for AC/DC.

The two bands will play Friday at Compaq Center.

Perhaps Slash subconsciously does see a little of past good fortune in his future. His signature guitar turns of squelched feedback-to-raid sirens once combined with G N' R vocalist Axl Rose's churlish screams to make hard-rock history in the '80s. If he's privately making comparisons, he's publicly guarded about it.

"A retro outlook is a waste of time," Slash says. "I won't tear apart the albums that we did because Guns is still very close to me."

Today Slash knows that going No. 1 like G N' R's major-label debut, Appetite for Destruction, did in 1988 isn't likely. The possibility of selling 15 million albums, as "Appetite for Destruction" did (it's been on Billboard's Top Pop Album Catalog chart for 472 weeks and counting), just isn't real for heavy metal right now.

Even if G N' R, on some extreme outside chance, got back together to give it another headbang, it would be near impossible to reach those numbers. Not that there's a worry of that happening soon.

Slash addresses the idea of working with Rose again (a question he has had to answer daily for five years) tersely: "Probably not."

Members of Guns N' Roses started walking away from the band after it stalled creatively following "The Spaghetti Incident," a 1993 collection of punk covers that turned out to be the band's final album.

The decision for Slash to split ultimately came down to a difference in creative direction. He wanted to stick with the Stratocaster old-style rock that had built G N' R. Axl was more interested in testing the limits of computer technology on music.

"(Axl and I) had 11 rehearsals together around 1995," Slash says. "Through those, we learned what we needed to know." Slash still talks to some of his former G N' R mates - guitarists Gilby Clarke and Izzy Stradlin and bassist Duff McKagan - but says he and Rose haven't spoken since those sessions.

Rose has been something of a recluse since the demise of the band in 1993. He's a strong believer in psychotherapy, past-life regression and New Age medicine. Musically he has been working on the next G N' R album, the techno-enhanced "Chinese Democracy," for six years - with no end in sight. For Slash, leaving G N' R meant freedom and consistency: freedom to work on music that he calls "against the grain," meaning not conducive to what pop trends are; consistency to put together a band that he feels will be together to record several albums into the future.

The new lineup of Slash's Snakepit for "Ain't Life Grand" is made up of virtual unknowns in similar musical circles.

Guitarist Kerri Kelli once played in Ratt, and drummer Matt Laug has worked behind Alice Cooper. Teddy "Zigzag" Andreadis played keyboards on past G N' R tours, and Johnny Blackout played with Slash in his short-lived cover band, Slash's Blues Ball.

The key element, however, is vocalist Reed Jackson. Even Slash allows that finding a voice that complements his guitar as well as Rose's was a tall order. He says he auditioned several hundred singers from all over the country before finding Jackson right in his own L.A. neighborhood.

"I don't know exactly what it is I'm looking for in a singer, but I know when I hear it," Slash says. "I think someone was intentionally hiding him from me. It took about two seconds to know he was right."

Slash's Snakepit was initially created five years ago as sort of a pastime between G N' R albums. It featured Slash and ex-Gunner Clarke on guitar, Matt Sorum on drums, Dizzy Reed on keyboards, Mike Inez from Alice in Chains on bass, and vocalist Eric Dover from Jellyfish. It was dubbed "snakepit," after the name given to Slash's in-house studio where they rehearsed.

A quickly recorded album, "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere," was put together in 1995. Geffen, still hoping that G N' R would continue to be a cornerstone franchise for the label, showed good faith by releasing it.

The result was a disorganized record of loose jams dotted with heavy blues guitar influences descended from the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith. It rose to No. 70 on the Billboard charts on name recognition alone, but it quickly dropped when it didn't measure up to the tight, raging gloss of G N' R. Now Slash admits that "It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere" was a project spawned from boredom. The songs were demo-quality at best and weren't ready for release. He refers to the new "Ain't Life Grand" as the official debut from Slash's Snakepit.

"It was the result of wanting to get back to business when Guns got held up," Slash says. "I was supposed to return to my day job, but I came back and didn't like my day job anymore." "Ain't Life Grand" is much more complete and a more worthy companion to the G N' R catalog. "Been There Lately" is about as close a reference to the past as Slash allows. But with Jackson's soul-tattooed vocals, the song bears more a resemblance to Southern blues rock.

With its tinkling-toy opening, "Serial Killer" is a dark thriller. Other standouts - "Landslide" and "Just Like
Anything" - are a convergence between Soundgarden feedback and Living Color's experimental blues and funk beneath teeth-baring guitar beats.

Describing himself as an anchor without a ship before this new Snakepit, Slash is now relieved. He keeps going back to the stability of this band and how painful it was to watch members of the original G N' R leave, only to be replaced by uncomplementary pieces.

He has the jitters when he goes onstage again.

"That's a good sign," Slash says. "If I don't have jitters, it usually means I'll (stink)."

Mostly he missed the work. He'd already planning for the Snakepit's own headlining tour after the AC/DC gig runs out and says the band will be right back in the studio after that. A long layoff between albums, as was G N' R's penchant, does not seem likely.

"I worked as hard as I could on those albums while we were making them," Slash says. "Now I don't even own copies."
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