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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.


2008.10.16 - Subba-Cultcha - Duff McKagan On His New Band, Sobriety And Elton John

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2008.10.16 - Subba-Cultcha - Duff McKagan On His New Band, Sobriety And Elton John Empty 2008.10.16 - Subba-Cultcha - Duff McKagan On His New Band, Sobriety And Elton John

Post by Blackstar Sat May 22, 2021 11:34 am

Duff McKagan
The legend Himself...

Duff McKagan on his new band, sobriety and Elton John…

It’s warm out. I’m wandering the streets of Fitzrovia, quickening my step a little as I realise I’m in danger of running a bit late if I can’t find Gibson’s offices, but I’m earlier than expected. As I’m buzzed into the building, I recognise the Gallows sauntering down the stairs as I make my way to the third floor. Inside, it’s bright and cool, the sticky atmosphere of London’s streets shut out by the sound proofed walls and windows. I’m lead into a guitarist’s heaven, a room stacked to the rafters with Gibson guitars old and new, framed pictures of Zakk Wylde and Slash adorn the walls, their Gibson’s in hand.

Duff, I’m told, is running late. A producer from XFM is waiting to interview him too, and has been for a while. She’s worried he won’t turn up at all. Two hours later, I’m beginning to lose hope too, but the intercom chatters into life and sure enough Duff arrives, his PR in tow, and amongst introductions and corrections that no my name isn’t actually Simon, he apologises for his tardiness and begins to check out the guitars he intends to hire for tomorrow night’s show at the Islington Academy.

With XFM up first, twenty minutes later I have my slot with the man, about twelve minutes only, the tight schedule even tighter now. I’m lead into a small room where Duff waits, nibbling a sandwich, tucked into the corner of a shallow sofa. He’s here promoting a tour and a new record (the ‘Wasted Heart’ EP) with his side project Loaded. With Guns N Roses left long behind and Velvet Revolver seemingly on a hiatus, Duff has picked up his guitar to front a band he started some eight years ago.

“Tell me a little about the recording of the new album, do you have more control now playing the guitar rather than the bass?”

“Erm, you know, it’s never been about control,” he replies, putting down the sandwich. “Songs just happen and I’ve always mainly written on a guitar, for Guns, for everything I’ve done with the Velvets. I don’t really write songs well on a bass. I’ve written some heavy riffs but not full songs. It’s a bit difficult for me so I’ll take a guitar with standard tunings or weird tunings that inspire something…so it’s not really about control. I don’t wanna go down that road. In Loaded, it’s more purely my songs I suppose. In Velvets and Guns there have been purely my songs, like ‘It’s So Easy,’ but the more you have other guys to feed off…I had some songs that I brought straight into Loaded that were basically done, but what’s different about this Loaded record as opposed to ‘Dark Days, the first one, is that we did it as a band and the production. Mike Squires [guitarist in Loaded] brought in this amazing riff and vocal idea on ‘The Executioner’s Song’ which is just killer, like wow! Yeah! It all sounds like Loaded and Rouse [Jeff, bass player for Loaded] brought in some great things…I had a song I couldn’t hear a vocal melody for and Jeff wrote some lyrics and a melody for this song, it’s called ‘Sleaze Factory’ and will be the first single off the album.”

Listening to the Loaded repertoire, there’s more a feel of punk than the all out rock of Guns N Roses or the Velvet Revolver, gone are the exorbitant solos of Slash and the long ballad-esque epics Axl Rose brought to Guns N Roses.

“So does the Loaded repertoire reflect your own personal taste in music more? Maybe more so than what you did with Guns N Roses?”

Duff hesitates slightly before answering, eyes sparkling behind his glasses as he fiddles with his Blackberry.

“I’ve enjoyed in my career so far the ability to do all the stuff, you know,” he says, putting the Blackberry back in his pocket and sitting back on the sofa. “I have Loaded, with which I get to play small places and it’s packed and it’s more punk rock, if you wanna call it that. Punk rock to me is an ethic, it’s a way you carry yourself and do things, it’s not about fast music and stuff. But, I don’t worry about…I don’t think I’ve ever had to worry about writing a hit song. I don’t worry about ‘Is this gonna get on the radio?’ I don’t care.”

“You just enjoy what you write?”

“Yeah!” Duff answers, enthusiastically. “If it doesn’t get on the radio? Oh well! We’re still gonna go out and play!”

“So having played in some of the biggest venues on Earth, with Guns N Roses, do you think that you prefer playing in the smaller, more intimate venues now? Or do you miss the rush of the big stage?”

He smiles. “ Well, ok, I’m in this nice cushy seat where I can go ‘well, would I prefer a stadium?’ I’m sure if I was playing some stinky little club I’d be going ‘fuck that! I wanna play big stadiums!’ You know, it’s just different. Stadiums are great because there’s a huge roar. Great because you can make an awful lot of money and that doesn’t hurt anybody, you know. But you’re sometimes fifty yards away from the front row and because of the lights in your face, you can’t see anybody, you’re so far away you can’t see them, the lights cut you off and it’s dark out there. All you hear is this roar. It’s surrealistic. You’re just playing on this big stage, and here’s your band, and OK, well, you kinda get used to it, but I remember all Slash and I wanted to do, once we made ‘Spaghetti Incident’ [Guns N Roses album of punk covers], was to go play that record in small clubs, take Guns N Roses back into the clubs. Just make it a frenzy to get into the show and lets just get back next to our audience, you know, lets do that, we needed it. I have my band Velvet Revolver and we play big theatres and arenas, so this is great, but I have Loaded which I can get into some really small places with and get back amongst the fans. All the things I’ve ever done, I don’t prefer one over the other really. Right now, I’m loving the fuck out of Loaded and having one of the best times I’ve had in my life of playing music.”

We pause for a second as Duff continues his lunch, the sandwich falling apart in his hands.

“Slash recently released his autobiography, have you any plans to do the same?”

“No,” he laughs. “I don’t have any plans on that. His biography is funny because it showed me that, OK, this is what he was thinking. I mean, none of us can remember how it really went down. There were a lot of points where we were just too fucked up. People tell me stuff I did that I have no recollection of, and so, he had to piece it together…it was funny this process with him and the guy who actually wrote it, I can’t remember his name, I get calls all the time ‘So this time when this happened when this guy was there…’ and I’m not sure. It would be guesses as to what actually happened.”

“So it would be more fiction than autobiography?”

“I thought of writing a book years ago, after I got sober. People are telling me great stories of things I did, cool guys would tell me, like the guys from Soundgarden - ‘Remember when we were on tour, when we went and did this insane shit?’ And I don’t remember.”

“Not at all?” I ask him.

“Not at all,” Duff says. “Tell me more, it may spark something…after years of hearing stories from people…Elton John told me, when I saw him a year and a half ago here in London, and he came up to me and he goes ‘Duff, man, it’s great to see you, you look so good, I’m so glad you’re sober’ and I’m like, one, Elton John knows my name, and two, that’s really nice of him to think. He goes, ‘Do you remember man at Wembley Stadium? At the Freddie Mercury thing?’ I said, ‘I remember playing it,’ he goes ‘At the side of the stage I was holding you up at the side of the stage, I was physically holding you up. If I hadn’t you woulda fallen straight over.’ I’m like, ‘Wow! Elton John held me up at the side of the stage at Wembley Stadium and I don’t remember that!’ So that would be the book, me going out and interviewing all the great people that I did really fantastic shit with…”

“And finding out what you really did?”

“Yeah, and I’d call the book ‘All The Shit I Don’t Remember.’”

“So then, “ I ask. “If Guns N Roses were to take to the stage again today, and considering you are all self confessed recoverers from alcohol or drugs, do you think the performance would still be the same? Would there still be the same magic there?”

“Oh yeah! That was always my fear when I was faced with…to quit alcohol. I had two choices, quit or die. And I thought to myself, I guess my career’s over, ‘cause I didn’t think I was gonna be able to play. It’s the biggest misconception in the world. You play a lot better, you feel the emotion and the energy a lot stronger, I have more passion than there ever was when I was drinking. So if you put Slash, myself, and Izzy, and Axl, and whoever on drums on the same stage…I mean, I’ve played with Izzy a bunch over the years, and we’re both sober guys…and it’s killer! It would be better than it was, in my opinion.

The conversation turns to Noel Gallagher’s recent assault on stage by a fan. Duff hasn’t seen the clip yet, but has heard about it. I ask him, “Has anything like that ever happened to you?”

“I’ve been hit on the head with a bottle,” he says. “In Sacremento. On a Guns tour. Someone threw it from way up on the top tier, all the way, a full bottle, it came down and hit Matt’s [Sorum, former GnR drummer] floor tom, picked up speed and hit me in the temple, knocked me out.”

“How long were you out for?”

“I was out cold!” Duff says, taking a final bite of the never ending sandwich. “But I don’t think it was for very long, like fifteen, twenty seconds, but I got up and was like ‘Fuck it! Let’s play man!’, but they took me to hospital. I got concussion.”

“So you have you played to a hostile audience?”

“I’ve played hostile audiences, yeah. We played with Guns N Roses a gig in the LA Street Scene in 1986 and we were playing with before, erm…Fear were playing, and Social Distortion, and they had to move us over to play with Fear when we were gonna be playing with Social distortion, who were more of the same vein, but Fear were hard, you know, I loved Fear. So we’re opening for Fear, and I’m thinking ‘Awesome!’ And it was hostile…we weren’t scared because we were so full of piss and vinegar, and I was a punk rock guy, and I’m looking at all these skinheads thinking they’re just posh rich kids from the suburbs. They were spiting at us and we were spitting back.”

“So did the gig go ahead?”

Duff looks at me as if he can’t believe I’m even asking him that question.

“Fuck yeah! We played!”

With the clocking ticking, there’s not long left so I decide to ask a little about Velvet Revolver. “At VR gigs you’ve been covering old Guns N Roses songs. Do you get the same buzz still playing the old songs now?”

“I don’t consider that a cover. If I was playing ‘Purple Rain’ that would be a cover. It’s great though, when you go into these songs, people lose their shit. I love that. I love playing those songs. Great songs. And the guys in Loaded like playing them too…and I guess it’s covers to them. For me, playing something that I was a part of isn’t a cover. It’s in this other ether place, I love it. With Velvet Revolver we play ‘Mr. Brownstone’ and ‘Patience’, and it’s great.”

At this point, Duff’s PR enters the room to tell me our time is up.

“One final question?“ Duff offers.

“Ok, if you hadn’t made it as musician, what career would you have followed?”

“Doctor, that’s what I would’ve pursued,” he answers, grinning.

It’s hard to imagine one of rock n roll’s greatest ever hellraisers working in medicine, and having met him, it’s hard to imagine he could have been anything else but a rock star. After some twenty years in the music game, millions of records sold, one exploded pancreas, burnt intestines and god knows how many tales he’s forgotten, Duff is a man reborn. He’s sober, has a financial qualification and despite it all, clearly still loves his job. Well, who wouldn’t?

With thanks to Duff Battye and Jon Luis Jones at Duff PR.
Further thanks to Martin Long.

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