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Welcome to Appetite for Discussion -- a Guns N' Roses fan forum!

Please feel free to look around the forum as a guest, I hope you will find something of interest. If you want to join the discussions or contribute in other ways then you need to become a member. We especially welcome anyone who wants to share documents for our archive or would be interested in translating or transcribing articles and interviews.

Registering is free and easy.


1996.09.05 - Unknown Source - Interview with Duff

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1996.09.05 - Unknown Source - Interview with Duff Empty 1996.09.05 - Unknown Source - Interview with Duff

Post by Blackstar Sat Aug 08, 2020 10:46 pm

Duff McKagan Interview September 5, 1996

I had the opportunity to interview Duff a week or two before the Neurotic Outsiders album came out. Unlike most of the interviews I've done, I got to do this one in person when the band came through New York on a promotional stop. To be honest, I expected to meet a total dipshit, whacked out on god-knows-what. I vaugly remembered reading an interview with Duff in Rolling Stone back when his ill-fated solo album came out, and he must have been truly wrecked when the interview took place. Unsurprisingly, the writer played it up and made Duff look like an pathetic moron.

It was a real surprise, then, to meet the 1996 model Duff--the guy was downright charming (and let's face it--when was the last time you heard that word used to describe any member of Guns N' Roses?). Funny as hell, sober, personable and self-aware of the silliness of rock and roll (but not, thankfully, self-conscious of it), Duff was really a lot of fun to talk to. Sure, some of the Guns gossip he passed on to me quickly became out of date--who knew that Slash would get fired from Guns a few weeks later--but it's fun to read anyway. Enjoy this one; I did.

CLIVE: Well, I'm sure you've been asked this about 20 times so far today, but how did you all get together?

DUFF: Well we were all friends to begin with.

(A pair of cute English women in their 20s walk through the room to patio door.)

Duff: See you guys.

Girl: See you later

Duff: Good luck getting out in the sun.

Girl: Thank you.

(They give him a massive pair of smiles then leave. Duff turns to me with a raised eyebrow and a grin.)

Heyyy... Yeh...

Duff: I'd met John through Steve; Steve and I rode mountain bikes together. Matt knew everybody--in L.A., Matt knows everybody. Matt's kind of like, you know, very L.A.

Kinda shmoozy...

Duff: Very shmooze guy -- and I mean that endearingly!

Yeah (I laugh)

Duff: He just is, he can't help it. So Matt got a call from Sal, the manager of the Viper Room, to put together a band or entertainment for this charity for this guy, Ray, who had cancer. So we got together. John, too, was making a solo record at the time, which was kind of a blueprint for the band, because we all had a tape of it. We just played some of those, played covers that we all agreed upon, and with us, especially John, Steve and I, we all have an understanding musically that Iggy's God and you know... So it was really easy to pick the covers that we did, and we just went and played.
But what happened when we went down to the soundcheck -- and it's so rare that you get guys you play with... The odds of us being friends and then there's chemistry are so high, the odds are. It's lucky if you get one band in your lifetime where the chemistry is just there. There's always one guy -- I've been in 30 bands before Guns, and there's always one guy. So we did the soundcheck and its, 'Ahhhh.' This chemistry came over, those little nuances...

That vibe thing.

Duff: Totally. So -- boom -- there we were and we played the gig and it was awesome. Sal asked us to come back and start playing Mondays. In Hollywood, they don't come in to see you because you're from different bands or that you're famous, like Keanu Reeves --n obody comes... (breaks out laughing) I don't mean... (cracks up again)

No... (laughing)

Duff: Just for example. So the band was really fuckin' good. I mean, I'd go to see the band.

Yeah, I saw you guys in November when you were here...

Duff: Oh, right!

...and that was a real good show...

Duff: Yeah right! was really cool.

Duff: Yeah, and it's fun. Fuck it, it's fun! So that's how it came together.

Was there any defining moment where it's like, 'Hey, well maybe this could be something more than hanging out or something to do'?

Duff: We knew record labels started coming down. All of us have been through it; we all know who's who, but the thing is that we all looked at it from a distance this time. We just went. 'Ahh, OK, oh we're hip. We're hip in Hollywood, too. By the way, guys, we just got an invitation to so-and-so's house for a party.' All that shit. And it's funny to us. So the defining moment was when Guy Oscay said, 'Can we take a meeting?' That was, 'Oh, so a record...'

So it became more serious then at that point.

Duff: Yeah, but we were still pretty 'Sure, we'll do a record.' Defining moment was doing basic tracks and we heard how good it sounded--we were (imitates rock voice), 'Wow, all right!'

Where were you recording?

Duff: This great studio in North Hollywood called NRG, it's fuckin' awesome. They've got this new room; it's like a Moroccan vibe, so the vibe was really cool and the room is big and live. I mean, you can throw a mic anywhere and it'll sound good. Any kind of mic too, I think, man, on any instrument! The room is just really nice.

So you feel that added a lot to the record itself?

Duff: Ehh, it..

Maybe not.

Duff: We did some demos... fuck it... I have a studio at my house, and they sound great, but it was nice to be all in the same room. My house, you can be all in the same room, but it's kind small.

Cramped up.

Duff: Yeah.

How did you end up working with Jerry Harrison?

Duff: Well, we had to get a producer. And with Maverick, this is the first time I've ever played the game. Producer, let's do an MTV-ready video, as... Not that Guns didn't do that...

Yeah, I was about to say!

Duff: But we did things to change MTV and change video.

Those epic videos...

Duff: Right -- here, we just did a video for this. And it's just, 'Let's go do a video.' It's kind of like I guess what a normal band would do. Get a producer, a name producer, and right now, it's mid-90s or whatever. It's like, who produces the record is half...or 30 percent or whatever you want to say it is. So names came up -- Ric Ocasek, Chris Thomas -- but we were in a hurry and Jerry Harrison's name came up. We were, 'Woah, that's interesting.' He came to a gig in San Francisco. I don't think he liked us; that's my opinion.

(I laugh)

Duff: But then he came down to L.A. and his wife came with him, and she was 'You've gotta do this record!' (We laugh) But, but, you know, so once he started with us, he just loved it. And it was really cool with Jerry, because here you have a guy who was in the New York original scene. You know, Modern Lovers and then into Talking Heads. So it all made sense: Then there's Steve Jones. After Steve, you have the Duran Duran guys -- they listened to the Sex Pistols record and made them realize they could play instruments. There's that! Then Guns took... well, I played in 30 punk bands and that was to me the ultimate punk band, Guns was, in '87. This was like, 'OK, fuck you, we'll make a record and just destroy everything.' (I laugh) It was like that.

So it was sort of a whole history culminating...

Duff: Totally! Yeah, so in the control room, some of the stories were just awesome, and it just all fell into place! And Jerry's just brilliant in terms of vocals, just getting a performance out of a guy.

Which is actually a question I have for you. I interviewed John about his solo record, and we did the interview on, I think, the second day that you all were recording Neurotic Outsiders.

Duff: (Surprised) Oh...

He said that he'd had a hard time recording the vocals for his own record, so listening to this and hearing some of the songs re-done again, it's a very... it's a lot more...

Duff: Well that's a lot of John, too. He fuckin'... He went in hard. He took it seriously. He went in and saw Ron Anderson, his vocal coach, like every other day or something ridiculous, and just dug in. And then Jerry helped him. Jerry realized how hard he was working, and said, 'OK.'

Cool. Now, do you approach your vocals...

(Matt and John enter the room, acting like hillbillies, with arms over shoulders, etc.)

John: Time fer doin' der photosheoot now, Duff!

Matt: C'mon now, Duff!

Duff: What are we doing?

Matt: Photoshoot, man. Well, something for a CD-ROM. Blender.

(Tape stops)

Matt: I can wait if you want. No big deal.

Duff: Hey, Dennis. Did you get my bag?

(Tape stops)

Duff: OK, we can go on...

You were saying about your vocals...

Duff: All right, I've sung in punk bands, but I've never considered myself a singer and I never will. All right, I'll sing. Fuck, I've sung in front of 150,000 people. And it's never freaked me out, because I don't take it seriously, you know? 'Sure! Gimme a mic; I'll sing the song.' And I've taken a couple of lessons just so I don't... I did my own solo tour, and I had to. But I was, 'Oh, fuck! I gotta stop doing blow, man! I gotta sing, I gotta stop doing blow!' (We laugh) That's how serious I was. (rolls his eyes) That was a long time ago.

It's a different situation at this point?

Duff: Yeah, it's different now. But anyway, I approach singing as another sound, another abrasive sound. (cracks up) So I just go in, I sing and I scream, it's done, and I go, 'All right, how was it? Great? OK, cool. I'm done, right? OK, next guy. Next track.' So I definitely don't it like John... I mean, fuck... maybe I should. (perky) Maybe I will!

You never know...

Duff: I love to do it on stage, I love to do rockin' songs on stage. I would never, I don't know if I could sing a ballad. (laughs) It's just not in my... I don't know.

I know what you're saying. So how was it recording this as compared to being in the studio with Guns or one of your bands beforehand?

(Foreign room service guy appears in doorway, looking for the publicist to sign a receipt. Duff turns to the guy and points to the other door)

Duff: The woman. The woman.

Guy: Eh?

Duff: Yeah, the woman? You know, the woman.

Guy: Ah, well nobody's there.

Duff: Oh, nobody's there. I'll sign. Whaddya got here?

(He signs)

Duff: Shit. Cheap.

Guy: Thank you very much.

(Guy wanders off)

Duff: The ease in which we did this. I mean, Guns, when we do basic tracks, it is boom, boom, boom, boom, but... I mean, shit, Axl's a real singer. Slash is a guitar player who takes his solos apart and puts them back together. So there wasn't that... When we went and did guitar parts over, what little overdubs we did, it was like bing, bang, boom.

So you did a lot of this just live in the studio?

Duff: Yeah. Absolutely. And vocals of course were overdubbed. And some of Jonesy's solos. Really not a lot of overdub, guitar-wise. Not a lot. But it flowed. I guess probably we weren't that heavily serious about it, because we took it...not lightly, but we just did it and didn't really think about it. It was done.

This isn't the day job, as it were.

Duff: This is not the day job. This is the fun job. I'm not saying that Guns ain't fun, but its a lot more serious, the energy's completely different. Like tonight -- we go out tonight, we got under our belt we've got a record we're really proud of and we're gonna go out and fuckin' play and have a great time tonight. There's a difference there -- with Guns, it's fuckin' intense.

(Publicist miraculously appears with Duff's lunch)

Duff: All right! It is bizarre going from one... (to publicist) thank you!

Publicist: Any time.

(Duff talks in between bites of food for the rest of the interview)

Duff: Going from energy to the next in one single day, because Guns are working from midnight to five in the morning. You sleep a few hours and then you go and do the next day. So it's kind of trippy.

In terms of the seriousness thing that you were talking about, in a couple of cases on this record, you're singing Steve's songs.

Duff: Yeah.

So is there's any kind of...

Duff: Reason?

Well, do you feel any kind of responsibility to get this...

Duff: Yeah, well, Steve to me is a kind of mentor, a musical mentor.

So is there like a pressure then there as a result of that?

Duff: Yeah, man! When Jonesy said (imitates Jones), 'Mate, will you sing for me, sing my song,' whew... When I grew up, the Professionals were like Kiss to me, so I was like, 'Oh fuck. OK man, I'll do it.' I had to detach myself and just go, 'OK, fuck yeah, I can do this, no problem.' But personally, (shuddery) 'Is this OK, Steve?' (I laugh) The songs were out of his range -- well, they're out of my range too. But well, fuck it -- he asked me to do it, I'll do it, you know? I don't care.

In terms of doing the songs that were re-done, like from John's record, obviously I don't know what Steve's songs sounded like, was there an effort or a conscious decision to make them sound different than what the originally sounded like, like on John's record?

Duff: We just recorded what we played live, so that was how we depicted John's song, as a band.

Yeah, because they certainly have a lot more bite this time around.

Duff: Yeah, and that's how we play. Jonesy dropped making his solo record because we crushed his stuff; that's what he'll tell you. He said, 'Fuck it.' It's a great, really good band, made of good players. And we know how to...

... put a song together.

Duff: Yeah, and we know how to rock, too. (almost humble) A lot of bands don't know how to rock.

No, it's true.

Duff: I'm proud of it. I mean, it sounds like a really sophomoric kind of thing to say, but we know how to rock, and there's just so many bands, you just go, 'C'mon guys! Man, fuckin' rock! Let it go!'

A little bit more would make it really happen.

Duff: Let it go! We just know how to let it go as a group.

You know, I saw the Sex Pistols when they were here in town and that was one of the things that I was really surprised about, 'cause it's one of the most famous records in the world...

Duff: Yeah.

...But I always thought it sounded kinda tinny or restrained or whatever. I mean, I was 9 when all that happened so I'd hear it and go, 'This is the record that changed the world?' But they got on that stage and they just blew out the place! It's exactly what you're talking about.

Duff: Yeah, right? I thought they were fuckin' awesome, man.

I was really surprised -- in a cool way.

Duff: Yeah -- good rock band! That's what they were... are, whatever.

When I saw you all in November, Slash and Billy Idol came out, and reading some of the press clippings that I was sent from MSO, they said that you've had various other people come out. Was there a specific decision to not have people guest or show up on your album at all, just to make it you guys?

Duff: Hmmm. Well, yeah, we decided, 'Yeah, fuck it, we can do it ourselves.' You don't need anything else, because then you're starting to look at like more of a cabaret show. We said, 'We'll fuckin' do it ourselves, man.' Let's be a band.

Why the name change for the group?

Duff: Ah! I guess not to be confused with the Pet Shop Boys and Boy George. (I laugh) I don't know; it was too long. Really simple, to the point. Fuck it, shorten up the name. I was uncomfortable with the 'Boy' in the name myself.

How long were you in the studio?

Duff: Basically, we did it in six days.


Duff: 19 songs. There's like seven other tracks.

So those are going to show up as B-sides?

Duff: Yeah, there's this cool song -- I think it's cool 'cause I wrote it... (We laugh) ...called 'Seattle Head.' I think it's the B-side of 'Jerk.'

What's your opinion on bootlegs?

Duff: I grew up with bootlegs. There's so many that you can't... I don't now. It's not that big of a deal to me.

Yeah, whenever I ask that, people are always very one or the other; either they're 'Yeah, whatever', or they're really against it.

Duff: I think they're healthy for a band, man! You know you're happening when there's bootlegs out there.

Fair enough, 'cause Guns is definitely one of the most bootlegged groups.

Duff: Oh yeah...

Do you end up ever hearing any of these?

Duff: Sure. I remember we did a sweep of some city, it was so fun to do. Went in all these stores and they just freaked out. (I laugh) They just wanted to... and I went with them, and they wanted just to see how many there were out there. I forget who it was, it was our management or something. We did this sweep, and so I got all these records of us, bootleg records (laughs), and you know, some great packaging! A lot of them are just shit, a lot of them are just a walkman just held inside a coat. So that's a bummer if someone's going to spend that much money, but I think they're healthy for a band and they're healthy for a scene.

What is everybody up to after this finishes, I mean, do you see this group as an on-going thing?

Duff: Yeah, why not? I don't see why not. I'm sure, well, of course it depends on how well the record does, but certainly we're all friends...

You're all going to see each other anyway...

Duff: Yeah, might as well go play a gig.

So where do things stand with Guns?

Duff: Oh, we're back together! We've been working for about two months, no, a month and a half. We've got a lot of songs. Our problem's never been material. (I laugh) We're actually trying to get it down to 12 songs. We might be going in and start recording, probably in October.

Wow, so you're aiming at next summer?

Duff: Spring. And Axl's playing rhythm guitar, it's fuckin' awesome. Who better? We solved our own problem. Who better knows what should be there than one of the guys in the band, so he's been playing. I mean, he plays guitar a little bit, and it's great because he plays so innocently! He doesn't even know -- he'll say, 'What note is this?' 'It's an A.' (I laugh) 'OK. So I go to the A and I go to the... what note is it?' 'F sharp.' '...and I go to the F sharp.' And it's cool! He knows what it should sound like, so it's real cool. It's a lot of hard work right now.

Is that in terms of shaping up the songs?

Duff: Just uh, yeah. We work long hours, but we always have when we actually get down and get shit done. And it's a different energy, man. We work late at night. Start at midnight and go to five or six in the morning.

Well, certainly you all have had, what, it must have been maybe four years since the last time you all recorded. Are things different in that respect, in terms of coming in with a new song or this or that?

Duff: Hmm... all the same. It's all the same, we sit in there and just hack out shit.

I suppose in at least certain ways, the music scene's a bit different than it was in 1987 when you all brought out your record and such. I mean, where do you think Guns...

Duff: Now, in 1987, when we put out a record, there was absolutely no place for us to fit in.

You kinda made your own niche and everybody rode in with you.

Duff: We just do what we do man, so we're going not like all of a sudden... Why would we go now and... I don't know if this is what you're getting at....

I'm not sayin' 'Are you gonna change your style' or something like that; I'm just curious where you see yourselves.

Duff: OK, we never thought in those terms.


Duff: We just never have, and I'm glad we haven't, 'cause I mean, what a drag to be in a band that thinks about that.

Second guessing it. OK, well that's it on my end, unless there's anything that you think I should have brought up or you just want to mention.

Duff: You've interviewed John too?


Duff: Oh, for something else!

Yeah, for his solo record, 'cause we did a story on that and his record label.

Duff: OK, I'll throw in, for those who don't know Steve Jones and what he's done, there wouldn't have been a Guns N Roses, there wouldn't have been all these bands from Seattle, there wouldn't have been... it just wouldn't have been the same if it wasn't for Steve Jones. You can only guess! Steve Jones created a guitar sound that -- and a generation of guitar players -- that Steve Jones and Johnny Thunders. Guys my age, a whole generation, who then started playing in the middle '80s, late '80s. I hope this band... people should... if you get this record, please look into what Steve has done. Look into the Professionals and the solo shit, and just really research and then start listening to his sound. You'll go, 'Oh fuck! That's where this band got its sound from!'

'Cause that's where it all came from.

Duff: Yeah! He's really never... in America, it's Eddie Van Halen was the guy who influenced a lot of players.

Hmm. Yeah, I guess over here, it wasn't until recently that I realized, the Pistols were much bigger overseas. More people might have gotten an influence over there, but over here, it's almost sort of like a semi-cult thing, so its not as evident as it is with a Van Halen.

Duff: Yeah! And now that cult has turned into the biggest pop thing. Punk rock is pop music now, popular music.

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