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2004.03.DD - Bass Player Magazine - Welcome Back To The Jungle (Duff)

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2004.03.DD - Bass Player Magazine - Welcome Back To The Jungle (Duff) Empty 2004.03.DD - Bass Player Magazine - Welcome Back To The Jungle (Duff)

Post by Blackstar on Fri Aug 21, 2020 2:03 pm

2004.03.DD - Bass Player Magazine - Welcome Back To The Jungle (Duff) 0403xx10
2004.03.DD - Bass Player Magazine - Welcome Back To The Jungle (Duff) 0403xx11
2004.03.DD - Bass Player Magazine - Welcome Back To The Jungle (Duff) 0403xx12

Welcome Back To The Jungle

Duff McKagan


The scene: Late afternoon at a hit-making recording studio in North Hollywood. Intense energy buzzes around the building. A guitar player known as Slash sits inside the green room drinking coffee. Duff McKagan emerges from Room A looking balanced and full of positive energy, having just completed tracking with Velvet Revolver, a powerhouse band featuring former members of Guns N’ Roses (Duff, Slash, and drummer Matt Sorum) and former Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland - an explosive combination of talent and history, and a group of men not without their demons.

One of history’s most volatile and exciting bands, in the late ‘80s Guns N’ Roses brought it’s high-energy, sleazy blues riffs and attitude to a mass audience with huge hits like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine.” At a time when metal hair bands pumped out formulaic commercial pabulum, GNR provided a shot of honesty and reckless excitement into the music biz. Unfortunately for their fans, the band’s best-known lineup self-destructed shortly afterward, scattering the members in various musical directions.

Since departing from the Roses camp, McKagan has been living in Seattle with his family, studying finance, and touring as a vocalist and rhythm guitarist with the band Loaded. We sat down with Duff to discuss his new project.

Is your playing different with Velvet Revolver compared to GNR?

Bass is a very important element of a band; if done right, it can be awe-inspiring. With Scott’s complex melodies, I can’t get in the way, so I am playing simpler. Not that I’ve ever overplayed in the first place - I’m not going to dazzle you with really fast runs - but I might hold back on runs that I would have done before with Guns N’ Roses. I play more back in the pocket with Matt now. The songs that we’ve written aren’t extremely difficult to play, but the most important part about them is that they all have this deep pocket, the deepest pocket I’ve ever played in. It’s important for me to be in the pocket; if I’m not, then it’s all going to fall apart. It’s all about the groove, man.

How would you describe the chemistry you have with Slash and Matt?

It’s intangible. It goes all the way back to when Guns N’ Roses formed - there was a different first lineup, with a different guitar player and a drummer, and it wasn’t great. As soon as Slash and [drummer] Steven Adler joined, it clicked. In the first five minutes we could tell; there was like electricity in the air. After Adler, we went through a lot of drummers but we just weren’t finding that guy with the connection. We finally saw Matt playing with the Cult; it was their last gig on the tour, and Slash and I went down to check it out. We were blown away. The three of us just have this special thing when we play together.

How did Velvet Revolver come together?

Slash, Matt, and I played at a benefit in Los Angeles for our friend Randy Castillo. Josh Todd from Buckcherry got up and sang with us, as did Steven Tyler from Aerosmith. It felt good to play with Slash and Matt again. We had kind of forgotten about the chemistry we have together.

What is the Velvet Revolver sound?

Matt is always saying, “We’ve got to keep it modern,” so he is always listening to records and coming up with great drum beats. With him it’s easy just to find the groove, and then all of a sudden there’s the song. Then Scott comes in and sings a melody. He is a master melody writer; he can write a melody over a turd. And [guitarist] Dave Kushner adds a whole other element; he’s got all these effects. He is a classic rhythm guitarist. To play with Slash you can’t play like Slash - you have to play in a whole different place. [Former GNR rhythm guitarist] Izzy Stradlin played completely different from Slash; when Slash was hitting down, Izzy was hitting up, and it worked. Dave came in and knew what to do. Whether our sound is modern or not, it’s our own thing. It’s us.

How do you write songs?

It’s really a band process. Nobody ever brings in a complete song. Slash might have a riff and he’ll just start playing it. Maybe we’ll play the exact same thing, or maybe we’ll turn it upside down. Or Matt will start a drum beat, or I’ll bring in a bass thing. It’s a band process.

Do you have a daily practice routine?

Hell no. For me, playing bass without drums or other instruments - just to practice bass - is so unfulfilling. It doesn’t make me any better of a player. Instead, I’ll strum an acoustic guitar at home. I like my playing to be a little rough around the edges. I’m not technically the best bass player in the world, but I grew up with a musical family, so I know how to feel - and that’s so much more important than anything else. I worry that if I get too good technically, I’ll lose something in my feel.

Do you stay up to date on music technology?

We recorded this album to tape, but we used Pro Tools as well. Matt and Scott are great at it. I try not to get caught up in Pro Tools; I’d rather play a song all the way through than sit there and edit parts together. We tracked this record as a live band, and on most of the tunes, we didn’t use a click track. Sure, some of the tracks speed up at the end, but they do so for a reason: because the music and the feeling are getting more intense. I think the listener wants to hear that, too.

You’re studying finance. Do you see a correlation between math and music?

Yes. Math to me is easy. I didn’t graduate from high school, so in college I’ve been taking algebra and business calculus - lots of math. It just makes sense. It’s a puzzle, like doing a crossword puzzle. There is totally a correlation with music, absolutely.

What is the connection exactly?

None of us reads music - we never have - so we have to remember sequences and stuff, how many verses, where are the choruses, is your verse going to lead to a pre-chorus? How many times? Not that we have an equation for a hit song; we don’t. We’ve done songs that mathematically don’t make any sense, but they still make sense. I don’t know how many formulas I have in my head and how many songs I remember how to play - too many - but with music, you’ve got to put feeling into the math.

What are your expectations regarding Velvet Revolver?

We know how high the bar is raised, so we wouldn’t have done this unless we were confident. Initially we were hesitant to say anything officially; we said, “Oh, we’re just jamming together.” But once Scott came in and sang the first song with us, it was like, “Okay, now we can go ahead and do this.”

Are you looking forward to getting on the road?

Playing live is what this band is made for. This is going to be Old School in the way that we are real players. It’s not politically correct; it’s going to be questionable what will happen every night. Scott is a rational and sane guy, mild-mannered in everyday life - but when the guy gets onstage, he is fucking great. Stone Temple Pilots are a great live band, but the other guys don’t move; Scott was the mover. In Velvet Revolver, everybody moves and there is a lot of energy. Scott, Dave, and I all do martial arts together, so there is a whole other intensity level that we know we each have. Martial arts are pretty violent and the workout is intense. That brings a lot to this band.

How so?

If you’ve ever played a sport like football, sometimes there’s that one teammate you can count on to knock the shit out of somebody else. All three of us are that guy - so we can all count on that guy being onstage. And for me, going onstage is almost like going to war. It’s combat.

It sounds like the tour will be entirely different from the GNR days.

Absolutely. I don’t remember the Guns tours. There are literally stamps in my passport where I’m like Whoa - I went there? I’ve toured a lot since the Guns N’ Roses days, since I’ve been sober, with the Neurotic Outsiders and Loaded. Touring when you know what’s going on is a lot more fun. It’s a lot easier than trying to cop drugs in every city you are going to.

What do you think about the current state of music?

I wish I could say there are a lot of new bands that I absolutely love, but the groups I love are guys that are my age - bands like the Foo Fighters and Audioslave. I really like the new Jane’s Addiction record. Some great bands have come out in the last ten years, but they are underground. I love the Refused, and Queens Of The Stone Age are a perfect example of a great, dangerous rock band, especially if you see them in a small place. They are great players, but you never know if one of those guys will jump off the stage and kick your ass - I love that! I miss that about a band. When I see the Queens, I am so glad I play rock & roll. BP

Appetite for Distortion

Duff McKagan’s main bass is an inexpensive mid-‘80s Fender Jazz Special with Seymour Duncan Hot Stack pickups and Rotosound strings. “Before we started recording I was playing a Music Man bass instead, to get more of a growl,” he says. “It was great live, but when we made the Velvet Revolver record I went back to playing my Fenders.” A longtime devotee of Gallien-Krueger amps, Duff’s current tone is based on the classic G-K sound but with a bit more aggressive rasp and bite. In the studio and on the road, he’s using a 2001RB head into two G-K RBH 4x10s, an 800RB head into a G-K wx15 for distortion (G-K is designing an 8x10 for touring), and for extra bite, a Marshall JMP guitar head, THD Hot Plate power soak, and a Marshall 1x12 guitar cabinet. “The combination of the Gallien-Krueger bottom and the Marshall growl is perfect for me,” says Duff. “I still own and us the G-K rigs from the Guns N’ Roses days. They’ve never broken down on me.”

McKagan uses Dunlop Tortex picks, straps, and straplocks. He sometimes also goes through an MXR —80 distortion box, and he used a Z-Vex Woolly Mammoth on the tune “Set Me Free” from the Hulk movie soundtrack. “Those are great pedals. On the road with Velvet Revolver I’ll probably end up using some delays and stuff, but not a lot. Mostly I go for a straightahead sound. I’m not going to get too trippy.”

Thanks to tech Mike “McBob” Mayhue for help with McKagan’s gear details.


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