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1997.01.DD - Bass Player Magazine - Interview with Duff

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1997.01.DD - Bass Player Magazine - Interview with Duff Empty 1997.01.DD - Bass Player Magazine - Interview with Duff

Post by Soulmonster on Wed Jun 22, 2011 5:42 pm

What’s a musician to do when his enormously high profile band hits some rough patches and his bandmates start having trouble working with each other? Duff McKagan has one answer. While taking time off from a sidelined Guns N’ Roses, McKagan helped to form Neurotic Outsiders, a punky Los Angeles-based quartet that includes Duran Duran  bassist John Taylor, plus fellow Gunner Matt Sorum on drums, arid Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones. The band was originally put together to headline a benefit at the trendy Viper Room, with proceeds going to a cancer stricken friend of the club’s man­ager. Duff & Co were invited back to perform on Monday nights, and after several successful gigs they recorded their self-titled debut album for Maverick.

The other personnel of Neurotic Outsiders might seem unlikely bandmates for someone famous as one of the hardest of hard rockers, but McKagan, who plays guitar in the band, is enthusiastic. “Doing stadiums just gets ... out there,” he says. “It’s surreal. You’re playing to the horizon, with people as far as you can see. You go back to your hotel room and go, ‘Fuck! I just played in front of a hundred thousand people!’ So playing in a club again was really a gift for me; I needed it. This band reacquainted me with why I started playing in the first place.”

Nostalgia aside, it was a smooth transition for the 32 year old. “We were all friends any way,” Duff explains, “and when we did our first soundcheck, it just fit -even though we’d never played together before. I grew up listening to Steve Jones; that’s how I learned to play. Same with John; he grew up in England listening to punk rock. Actually, the Pistols gave the guys in Duran the idea of starting their own band. So we have a lot more in common than meets the eye.”

Born Michael McKagan in Seattle, Washington, Duff comes from a large, musically inclined family. His first instruments were guitar and drums, which he began, playing in local punk rock bands at age 15. It was only when he decided to move to Los Angeles in 1984 that he switched to bass. “My drum kit was kind of a piece of shit,” he recalls, “and I knew I wasn’t really that good at guitar. So I sold my equipment, bought a bass and an amp, and came down to get my foot in the door.”

Duff met guitarist Slash and drummer Steven Adler through an ad in The Recycler and formed a short-lived band called Road Crew. McKagan later hooked up with vocalist Axl Rose and guitarist lazy Stradlin and created a second group, Guns N’ Roses. GNR soon brought Slash and Adler into the fold, and Duff got his first opportunity to play bass in a serious band-and to flaunt some long dormant influences. ‘I grew up listening to stuff that influenced me on the bass later,” he says. “Sly & the Family
Stone, the James Gang, Prince . . .I went to punk gigs, but I’d also go to see Grandmaster Flash. So there are funk elements in my bass play­ing, but they’re always applied to straight-a-head rock.”

After six albums and many a sta­dium gig, though, it seemed as if Guns N’ Roses was shaking itself to pieces. Adler and Stradlin were replaced amid public episodes of misbehavior, juicy tabloid accounts of alleged hijinks, and rumors of major drug abuse. So what happened to the band that had produced the largest selling debut album, and launched the longest tour in the history of rock music? “Nobody knows, not even us,’ McKagan admits. “We came from poverty together and wrote songs that were or songs- we didn’t write them just to get signed, and we didn’t write them to sell. When we did get signed, the album didn’t sell at first. Then boom- it hit a year later. So we toured and toured and made two more records and they hit; we were playing stadiums before we knew it. When the tour was over, huge egos had been created, and we weren’t prepared for any of it. So a lot of shit happened.”

Despite the turmoil, reports of Guns N Roses’ demise have been greatly exaggerated, according to Duff “We’re back in,” he announces “We’re writing new stuff, and we’re going to make a record and tour next summer’ The two years apart actually took the edges off some of the issues, and we’ve handled the other issues flat out - maybe not in the best way, but they were handled. Now the amount of tension in the band is perfect for creating what we do.”

As for his approach to the bass, McKagan says his early experiences as a guitarist and drummer have influenced his style - to the extent that he admits to having a style. "Everything I do is a mixture of everything else,” he shrugs, “I don’t think I even know what a bass player’s technique is. I play with a pick, and I have a weird way of slap­ping which I guess nobody else does, I’m doing some of that on the new Guns album. It’s not Flea or anything; I mean, I can’t pretend to do ‘white boy funk,’ and personally I’m not very into that. What I do is just an ... applied abrasiveness how’s that?”

Duff plays Fender Precision and Jazz basses through four Gallien- Krueger 800RB amplifiers He toggles between them with two splitters- a Whirlwind and a custom Bradshaw -and adds a dash of chorus with a Yamaha SPX90. After he received his first advance front Geffen in 1987, Duff went to Guitar Center in Los Angeles and bought what thought was a stock Jazz Bass Special. Once Guns N’ Roses began to tour, he needed another instrument as a back up. “I told my tech I wanted one exactly like mine, so he got me one, but the neck was completely different. It turns out someone had filed the neck on my original bass, and it was more egg shaped than round. So I removed it ad sent it to the Fender Custom Shop; they measured it, and now the necks they make for me are the only ones like’em - just because I was so used to that first neck.”

Juggling his roles in Neurotic Outsiders and the newly rejuvenated Guns N’ Roses eats up a lot of time, but Duff says he’s content with the way things have turned out. As for the often despairing tone of his 1993 solo album, ‘Believe In Me’ [Gef­fen] - a negativity also found in much of GNR’s material - McKagan thinks he’s entering a new phase in his career. “There were always glimpses of hope in our songs,” he offers, “but I’ll tell you what: the solo album was a snapshot of my life then. I wasn’t really in a coherent frame of mind, but now I’ve had a couple of years to breath. It was hard for me to just stop working after being so busy in music for 14 years of my life, but it did let me take care of some health issues. I’m sober now, so I’m much more aware. Also, I apply myself a lot more than I used to. I would hope it’s all a natural progression, and I hope we’ve all matured. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve only just started playing music.”
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