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2001.07.DD - Classic Rock Revisited - Slash: Life After Guns N' Roses

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2001.07.DD - Classic Rock Revisited - Slash: Life After Guns N' Roses  Empty 2001.07.DD - Classic Rock Revisited - Slash: Life After Guns N' Roses

Post by Blackstar on Mon Apr 13, 2020 3:18 pm

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW FOR CLASSIC ROCK REVISITED

SLASH: LIFE AFTER GUNS N' ROSES - STILL ALIVE & WELL

A pivotal force in the Eighties' most dangerous rock band, the ex-Guns n' Roses gunslinger bares his soul in this candid interview.

By Joe Lalaina

You knew you could count on Slash to keep the true spirit of Guns n' Roses alive. While Axl Rose has been dabbling with industrial sounds in his revamped Guns n' Roses, as evidenced on "Oh My God" from the End of Days soundtrack - and people are still awaiting Guns n' Roses' new album Chinese Democracy (if it's ever released!) - Slash sticks to his guns on Ain't Life Grand (Koch), his second outing with Slash's Snakepit, an album deeply rooted in the gritty bluesy fervor of vintage Guns n' Roses. "I'll probably never stray too far from the same bluesy hard-rock path I've always traveled," Slash declares unwaveringly. "Guns n' Roses came together in complete desperation to do what it was, collectively, that I thought we wanted to do. As time went on Axl's interests became more spread out, but I really didn't know it until later.

"Me and Axl never got along, but I never really disliked him. It was always the camaraderie of the band as a whole that kept us together. When the band's popularity exploded, Axl became more and more isolated once other people started getting involved. Those people weren't doing us any good. With the exception of the other original band members, whom I am all still friendly with, I don't want to talk to any of those people anymore. I haven't talked to Axl in more than five years." Strolling around a control room at New York's Sterling Sound during the mastering of Ain't Life Grand, Slash lights up with joy when the album blares through the monitors, as the producer and mastering engineer listen intently. "This is a great party record," Slash beams, holding a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. "The album is not to be taken serious in the sense that it is the be-all, end-all statement from me for the new millennium. I just wanted to make a really good rock & roll record that would be fun to listen to again and again."

Ain't Life Grand was produced by Jack Douglas, who back in the Seventies and Eighties was among rock's premier producers. Douglas produced some of Slash's favorite albums - classic-rock gems such as Cheap Trick, Aerosmith's Rocks and Toys in the Attic, and John Lennon's Double Fantasy. "Working with Slash was something that should've happened years ago," adds Jack Douglas, as Slash nods in agreement. "It's funny how things work out, because I was looking to work with somebody who was really rockin' hard, which is something I can relate to. And that's exactly what Slash is doing. I helped with some lyrics and melodies and he worked on the rockin' end of it. I got to do my thing, and Slash was open enough to let me do it."

"And it worked," interjects Slash. "On Snakepit's previous record [It's Five O'clock Somewhere (Geffen, 1995) - recorded by former Guns n' Roses producer Mike Clink], there wasn't the same kind of involvement because we just wrote the songs and Mike put them on tape for us. Mike didn't necessarily produce it because we had just two weeks to do it, and we didn't work on anything together prior to recording the album."

During pre-production for Ain't Life Grand, Douglas spent six weeks at Slash's home studio in Los Angeles sorting through roughly 30 songs in various stages. "Some of the material that Slash and the band had come up with were completed thoughts," explains Douglas, "while other things were just riffs. We took the strongest stuff and worked nine hours a day developing the songs. I wound up co-writing several of them." "Jack was the glue that got the whole band to go, 'Okay, we're not kidding,'" adds Slash. "Jack provided some really good input, and his history lends itself to knowing how to capture exactly what I wanted. Jack Douglas was actually the guy I wanted to have produce Guns n' Roses way back when."

Without question, Ain't Life Grand proves that you can take Slash out of Guns n' Roses, but you can't take Guns n' Roses out of Slash. "You can really tell by listening to this album how much Slash contributed to the Guns n' Roses sound," Douglas remarks. "Luckily, it's Slash, so I think people would expect no less from him." For a guy who has sold more than 35 million albums in the U.S. alone with Guns n' Roses - a decade ago the world's biggest hard-rock band - Slash doesn't come off like some cocky rock star. On the contrary, Slash is sincere, down-to-earth and very amicable. No longer engulfed by a heroin addiction that clouded many of his days with Guns n' Roses, Slash's soulful style shines throughout Ain't Life Grand. And like his guitar playing, Slash speaks from the heart. During the following interview with the notorious guitarist, he answered any question or addressed any topic with utter frankness. Have a beer and sit with Slash as he takes us through his current state of mind, the glories and hardships of fame and, of course, the soap opera of Guns n' Roses.

Joe: So what, exactly, led to your departure from Guns n' Roses?

Slash: It came to a point where I just couldn't continue working with Axl anymore. Somewhere along the way we got disjointed. I had a hard time relating to him, and he had a hard time relating to my single-minded, one-focus approach. Our breakup is as simple as that. I don't have a good hypothesis for why musical differences happen. Every band goes through it.

Joe: So your breakup was more musical than personal?

Slash: It was both. It was personal because it was musical, and musical because it was personal. It was also because of the degeneration of what I considered the real guts of the band - Steve [Adler, drums], Izzy [Stradlin, guitar] and Duff [McKagan, bass]. The degeneration of my backup, my hang. Axl was always more intense and isolated than the other guys in the band - the rest of us were more kickback and casual. The depletion of members eventually took a toll on the band.

Joe: What gives Axl the right to use the name Guns n' Roses today? The other original members are all gone.

Slash: We had a revised contract stating that if the band breaks up, Axl could keep the name. Izzy and Steve were already gone, so Duff and I said, "Yeah, go ahead - we don't want it. If Guns n' Roses breaks up, what are we gonna do with the name?" At this point, it's Axl's bag. I think it would've been cooler had he come up with his own name and left Guns alone. So in case we ever do get back together, the name Guns n' Roses wouldn't be tarnished.

Joe: The Guns n' Roses song "Oh My God" from the End of Days soundtrack doesn't really sound like the Guns n' Roses people know and love.

Slash: When I presented my typical off-the-cuff riff writing to Axl back around 1994, he told me he didn't want to do that kind of music anymore. He told me he wanted to do something that was a cross between Nine Inch Nails and Pearl Jam. Axl was very adamant about pursuing that direction, and I think that was the beginning of the end for me. I'm a huge Axl fan - our musical direction just doesn't see eye to eye. In any case, I do want him to do well with what he's doing. I'm focusing on my own career now, and I don't keep up with what's going on with Guns anymore. It's like divorcing your wife - you're not expected to hang around and look at family photos. But I do run into Guns n' Roses fans on the street all the time. And that is what I miss most about Guns - the fans. They are so genuine! I feel disappointed in the sense that we sort of let them down

Joe: Was your breakup with Axl what initially influenced you to form Slash's Snakepit?

Slash: At first it was a side project. But once I parted ways with Axl, it became a career move. Snakepit was really put together just for fun, basically. When it got to the point that the Guns n' Roses schedule wasn't looking to do anything in the near future, I decided to go out and tour behind It's Five O'clock Somewhere. When the tour ended I was supposed to commence work on the next Guns n' Roses project, which I sort of hesitantly did, even though I knew that Axl wasn't ready. I did about 10 rehearsals with various guitar players - people I didn't like. Duff was there. He wasn't happy. I wasn't happy. And that's when I finally quit and made it public that I couldn't do it anymore.

Joe: How would you compare the songs on Ain't Life Grand to your previous album with Slash's Snakepit?

Slash: It's Five O'clock Somewhere was done on the fly. It was just fun and very casual. Instead of hanging out at the corner liquor store, smoking cigarettes and watching the chicks go by, we went to the studio and wrote lyrics and music and recorded everything that night. Ain't Life Grand, on the other hand, is a career move for me. I mean, this is my new gig! With all the guys I hooked up with, I found people that I knew were going to be there for the long haul - people I jammed with before, and just guys I thought would make up a great band even though, individually, they're all great musicians in their own right. Rod Jackson, the singer, was the guy who clinched the band. Rod is such an amazing singer - he sounds like a cross between Steve Marriott and Otis Redding. The hardest slot to fill in any band is the singer, and I struggled for the longest time to find the right one. A lot of people can play instruments, but not a lot of people can sing. To be a good singer, you've got to do it from here [pounds chest]. You can fake playing guitar, bass and drums, but you can't fake singing.

Joe: After coming off the multi-platinum successes of Guns n' Roses, were you disappointed that your first album with Snakepit wasn't a hit?

Slash: It's Five O'clock Somewhere sold about half a million records internationally - I have nothing to fuckin' complain about. I know I made some money off sales. But I really don't pay much attention to how many copies an album sells, and I don't own any of the gold and platinum plaques that have been given to me when I was in Guns n' Roses.

Joe: What have you done with them?

Slash: I've given them to friends - people who appreciate them a lot more than I do. To me, they're just stupid-ass shrines that you put on your wall to recognize endeavors you've made. It's makes you think, "Okay, my work here is done." I'd hate to think that I'd put a plaque on the wall to identify how many records I've sold. That wasn't the goal in the first place.

Joe: But aren't album sales important to you?

Slash: You've got to understand: When Guns became super successful...as far as I'm concerned, it was just a fluke. It was just the right time, the right band, the right attitude. Simple as that. It was a good band, though. But we didn't get together to change the world, which we sort of did. Speaking on my behalf, I just loved doing it. And then when success came around, we had more - and bigger - gigs. And constant touring. It's extremely satisfying for me to play before enthusiastic audiences. That's my kick in the ass. And I was also given the facilities to always be able to go in and record and do what it is I love best - all the time. I've also seen how selling a million albums versus 15 million can change your whole trip.

Joe: What do you mean?

Slash: The more successful you become, it's harder to keep your head straight and just play for the fun of it. When you've sold 15 million records, everybody you're surrounded by is caught up in the financial end of it, and about the spectacle that you've become. The kids are the only ones who recognize you as a good rock band. They don't care about how many records you've sold, or how much money you've made. So realistically, when it gets out of hand, it's not as much fun as when you had to work for a living. Becoming hugely successful takes you away from your original roots, but you can't knock it. You've got to mentally play that game. You just want to be able to keep playing, and then hide in your hotel room and party with some chicks. The main thing is to be able to play to the best of your ability. But when everything is said and done and the tour is over, you walk back in the streets and everybody recognizes you and thinks you're a multimillionaire even though you've wasted half your money on the tour, or other things. You really don't have any mental feeling of accomplishment except for knowing that the last gig was a good one, and the crowd loved it.

Joe: Your guitar work on Ain't Life Grand holds up well to your work with Guns n' Roses.

Slash: I'm happy with it myself. As a guitarist I'm really lucky, because I managed to survive. I didn't really have any identity outside of Guns n' Roses when I first started, and then I started getting recognized as a half-decent guitar player. I've managed to keep my head above water over the years. Obviously, I'm the guy from Guns n' Roses, but everyone knows me as Slash "the guitar player" as well. I've gotten session work as a result of it. I didn't necessarily get paid for all of it - I just dig playing. Musical satisfaction means more to me than making money. Money has nothing to do with music. I only get concerned about money when the electricity goes out. Then you have to do acoustic records. [laughs]

Joe: It must be hard to keep track of how much money you're supposed to be getting once your success skyrockets.

Slash: Trust me, I've been ripped off. Guns got ripped off, big time. My business sense was always pretty good, but when Guns got too big and there were too many cooks in the kitchen, it was really hard to control it. There were huge entourages and worldwide tours. There were huge losses and gains - all the variables on enormous amounts of cash going in every direction. I mean, you just cannot keep up with it! It was a lot easier when I working with a club promoter and doing it on behalf of the band. Now I sort of just watch what my one-fifth of Guns' percentage is and then try to be smart as far as Snakepit is concerned.

Joe: Why do you think musicians are so vulnerable to being ripped off?

Slash: Once you're a major success, there is so much happening around you that you really can't keep on top of it. Basically, you go from your dressing room to the stage to the dressing room to the hotel. You're really not aware of everything that's going on around you from a business point of view. It's hard to be creative and then walk around counting a bank roll. [laughs] Musicians don't really focus on that. But nowadays, a lot more of them do. I learned a lot from growing up around musicians and tried to retain some information about what they might have gone through. It's the same with drugs, too. You learn a lot about what not to do. You learn a lot about the guys you grew up listening to, and you see what happened to them and try not to make the same old stupid mistakes.

Joe: What have you learned from Guns n' Roses regarding the ins and outs of playing in a professional rock band?

Slash: That you can never be too smart. I thought I learned all my mistakes from my mentors - that is, people I grew up listening to. I was smoking cigarettes, ditching school and totally no-holds-barred as far as rules were concerned.

Joe: Speaking of mentors, you once said that you want to be like Keith Richards, and there are similarities between you - you both play raw, gutsy blues-based rock, you both often sport a cigarette and a drink in your hand, and you have reputations as guys who like to party.

Slash: What I admire about Keith really has nothing to do with image. To this day, Keith continues to have a backbone: He's still in the same fucking band he's always been in. I've hung out with him only a few times. Keith emphasizes the motto that I try to live by, but as an older, more experienced guitarist - which is to say, he's been through it all but continues to maintain his focus. No matter what happens, he's always Keith and you couldn't pry it from him with a crowbar. Keith doesn't bend, and that applies to me, too.

Joe: So, there are similarities between you?

Slash: I make no comparisons, but that's what I respect about Keith. I don't think he likes me, though. Keith thinks I'm very "L.A." I think he doesn't give me my due, because I'm so much younger than he is. Once I get a few more years under my belt without having succumbed to the whole fucking rock & roll cliché, I think he'll respect me.

Joe: You come across as very intelligent and clear-headed, and not at all like the party animal as you're often made out to be. Is it because you've been there, done that?

Slash: I have my own personal maintenance kind of thing, which is not necessarily the healthiest way to live. But I know that some of the stuff I've done was very detrimental. It got to the point where I was smart enough to realize, "Hey, I'm not gonna make it if I keep doing this." I knew I was gonna lose everything, die or fade out. Then the law recognized my situation one day and reminded me of that fact, and that's when I sort of straightened out.

Joe: You're alluding to your former heroin addiction. Right?

Slash: Yeah. I knew I had to stop. I've been arrested a bunch of times, but there was one time when I was going to be incarcerated for a while. So I knew that I had to finally wean myself off of that crap. Nowadays, I'm content with just cigarettes and a few drinks.

Joe: Are you happy with the Guns n' Roses album that was released in 1999, Live Era '87-'93?

Slash: I stand behind it proudly. It's the best fuckin' live record released in years. I think the last good live album I heard was Aerosmith's Live! Bootleg [1978]. Not many bands put out live records anymore. When I first got into listening to rock & roll before I even started playing guitar, I used to buy live records because I couldn't afford to purchase a band's entire catalog. I figured the best way to hear a band would be through a live album. So Live Era '87-'93 was really important to me. I really didn't know we were even that good a band until I heard the live stuff.

Joe: How old were you when you first started buying rock albums?

Slash: I think I was 11 or 12 years old, in 1976, which was the greatest time for being a kid growing up listening to rock music. Bands like Aerosmith, Ted Nugent and Cheap Trick were happening. And out of Europe - Led Zeppelin, AC/DC and the Rolling Stones were around. And then, bam, right at the beginning of the Eighties, it all took a really gnarly turn for the worse.

Joe: What happened?

Slash: It was around that time when MTV first came out, when bands like Culture Club, Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran and the Pet Shop Boys became popular. That was the "new" music, and it was horrible. The Seventies' bands - boom! - just literally disappeared.

Joe: It was an achievement that Guns n' Roses managed to break through in midst of the "new wave" explosion.

Slash: Guns n' Roses was the result of only five guys that could have gotten along together, in Los Angeles, as a band. We all had the same dislike for what was going on currently in the early Eighties. We all had pretty much the same tastes - everything from Kiss to Thin Lizzy, and underground bands like Hanoi Rocks and the New York Dolls. Aerosmith broke up, heaven forbid. AC/DC lost Bon Scott. John Lennon was killed. And then all these plastic bands came out. We put a band together against all odds at a time when the environment didn't welcome us with open arms. We were against the grain to the point where even rock bands of our own peers didn't like us. We said, "Fuck you!" That's why we had such a violent attitude, I suppose. And we had bad habits, and this, that and the other. And then around that time other L.A. bands like Motley Crue, Dokken and Quiet Riot started to surface - we hated all of them. When Guns got together we were doing our own thing, and for some reason we went from being way in the bottom of the barrel, under the barrel, actually, to becoming extremely popular. We attracted all different types of people with different musical tastes - we had punk and heavy metal people, the "hair" guys. We had pseudo-folk kind of people, some of the pop people. So on and so forth would come to our gigs for whatever reasons. I think we were more of a spectacle than anything. [laughs] Guns was a product of its time, but it was genuine and not just a fabricated thing.

Joe: Guns n' Roses debut album, Appetite for Destruction, has to this day sold more than 15 million copies in the U.S. alone. You must certainly be proud to have an album that has been certified platinum 15 times!

Slash: I didn't think the album was going to sell even 15 copies. [laughs] I didn't know a platinum record signified that your album sold a million units. Back in the Eighties, record-industry producers tried to impress us by showing us their collection of gold and platinum records. We were like, "Do you have anymore Jack Daniels?" [laughs] But don't get me wrong - when we did make it big, it was great. But when all was said and done, we were told that we had to invest our earnings in a home. And from then on, everything took a whole weird direction. That's when everybody in the band moved into different houses and bought cars. Speaking on my own behalf, as long as there were tour dates ahead, or a record or video to be made, I was happy.

Joe: How do you perceive your music with Snakepit in the scheme of what's going on in music today?

Slash: Rock & roll is currently going through another one of those periods of how it was like when Guns first started. There's nothing happening now that I can really relate to. I'm just going to do what I do regardless. I'm really proud of the new Snakepit album. It was a real accomplishment to put together a band with a bunch of guys who all get along. That's not an easy task, believe me.

Joe: So you really don't like any new bands these days?

Slash: The only tolerable thing I can listen to is the radio. As far as the video medium, I end up watching the most depressing VH1 Behind the Music things about rock stars I listened to while growing up. As far as new music, I went to see Kid Rock, and I liked it; the guy's got balls, stamina and an attitude that's real. I like Rage Against the Machine because it's brash. I've never really understood the whole thing about Korn from a musical point of view. Because I listen to music for music's sake, even though I love attitude. I can't understand why you would take the tone out of the music and just make it this crunchy thing that sounds like what it might sound like inside a sausage grinder. But then again, if you'd compare what I do to, say, the London Philharmonic, it might be the same extreme.

Joe: Why haven't we seen a Behind the Music on Guns n' Roses? That would be interesting.

Slash: VH1 hasn't approached me about it, but I'm sure they have enough information that it will come around at some point. But I'm not gonna be one to stand behind it and say, "Yeah - go ahead. Do the Guns story." Please, I don't want to hear it.

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