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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.


2011.04.18 - Ultimate Guitar - Duff McKagan: 'Music Is Always Gonna Be Part Of My Life'

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2011.04.18 - Ultimate Guitar - Duff McKagan: 'Music Is Always Gonna Be Part Of My Life' Empty 2011.04.18 - Ultimate Guitar - Duff McKagan: 'Music Is Always Gonna Be Part Of My Life'

Post by Blackstar Mon Nov 15, 2021 12:54 pm

'Music Is Always Gonna Be Part Of My Life'

In the past year or so, Duff McKagan has been busy. He recorded and released The Taking, the third album from his solo band, Loaded. He finished an autobiography detailing everything from the joys of parenting to the horrors of addiction and in-between putting that together he found time to write a weekly column for The guitarist/bassist/writer/singer wrote for several months with Jane’s Addiction and even found time to jam with old bandmate Axl Rose in a one-off appearance in London.

There are few musicians in the world who have had the type of success Duff experienced with Guns N’ Roses and then to a lesser extent with Velvet Revolver. The success and excess of GNR almost killed him but he somehow managed not to become just another rock casualty statistic. Instead he got sober and more importantly remained sober. And now is one of the hardest working players around.

UG: You’ve had this pretty extraordinary success with Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver. You’ve been involved in recording a lot of albums. Can you still get revved up when you release a new record? Are you able to muster up the same feelings about the release of The Taking as you did when Appetite For Destruction came out?

Duff McKagan: I think probably the biggest release for me was like the first punk rock single I ever made in 1979. It’s the first time your music’s on a record that other people can hear. People were buying it and it got distributed in little punk rock record stores around the country and that completely freaked me out. But I was young and it was really exciting and really amazing. Then I made records and EPs in my early career and moved to LA.

Where you eventually formed Guns N’ Roses and released Appetite For Destruction.

The Appetite was my first major label release and it was funny because we made the record we wanted to make and that’s all it was about. And that’s the rewarding thing. We knew when we went out and started touring that record that we made the record and that was the representation of us. It got through to vinyl and we were happy if nothing else and only for that reason. It was like, “That’s our fuckin’ record.” There was success that came a year later after that.

What did that success feel like?

Everything was a first like, “Wow, people are dressing like us.” That was weird you know? And it went from that cute sort of like, “Wow, this is strange; people recognize me at the supermarket” to a kind of alienating thing. Really music has been for me over my career and it’s about the record you’re doing and is that truth getting through? I’m always gonna write songs and music is always gonna be part of my life. I’ve made some records and maybe the whole thing didn’t get through right and those are the records you try not to make. But I think with Loaded and the last two records and this one with Terry [Date], fuck, it was kind of epihpanerial [an epiphany] when we started recording the actual songs because we had made demos of all the songs for.

Producer Terry Date was an important part of the process?

Just the way he mikes up and watchin’ him go to work with the mic on a kick drum and an overhead mic and the way he mikes up a guitar cab and the bass. It’s like, “Oh, shit, he’s getting’ ready for somethin’ here.” You know what I mean? Like he’s puttin’ on the warpaint and you could tell and I’ve made enough records where I was like, “Oh, this guy really fuckin’ knows what he’s doin’.” And then you get nervous: “Are we up for it? Am I up for it? I know those guys are up for it but am I gonna be good enough?” I think as an artist you always live in that [uncertainty]. You’ve gotta be exceedingly confident but you always live with this weird sort of self-doubt; at least I do. Whether it’s writing music or writing poems or whatever. It’s like I have, “Is that any good?”

Even after all the accolades with Guns, you still feel unsure?

And VR and everything; sure. Of course. But I think it makes you better; it makes you keep getting better. I wouldn’t know what it’s like just being completely comfortable like, “No, that’s good enough” because if I start doin’ that, it’s gonna suck. I know that. So it’s a challenge doing every new record to answer your question.

When Guns did break up did you think, “What am I going to do now?” or were you looking forward to the freedom?

Historically, I made the Believe In Me album while we were on the Illusions tour. But after I left I was sober and everything in life to me was brand new so there was no sort of, “Oh, my god” shit. There was, “Oh, what’s fuckin’ out there?” I was going to school; I was doing martial arts; and I had just met my wife and I was exploring what it’s like to be in a relationship where you’re actually fuckin’ there and present. You know? Having kids and moving on. Loaded happened in ’99 while I was goin’ to Seattle University and we would just kinda go out and play in Japan; like on my spring break, we played in Japan. One thing to led another and school, Loaded, and being a father … being a father, the band and school in that order happened. You never know what’s gonna happen in your professional life and especially mine; I had no plans and there was nothing in the cards. Like me and Slash and Matt [Sorum] are gonna get back together and play because there was that kind of stigma around us like, “Oh, what are you gonna do? Go find another singer?” And when we played a benefit show in 2003 [a concert to commemorate the passing of drummer Randy Castillo], we kind of threw all that out the window. It was just that first moment of the three of us playing in the same rehearsal place … again. Sort of an anger, you know? We really knew at that point but not before. It was like, “OK, well, this is kind of meant to be and let’s explore this some more.”

You, Slash and Matt put together Velvet Revolver and recorded two really good records.

I’m glad we did and we made a couple really strong records. I don’t know if they really represent what we could be. Maybe the first record was, nah, I don’t know if either of those VR records are really representative and maybe we haven’t made that record yet and maybe one day we will.

You moved on to once again pursue the Loaded project and now you’ve just released the third album, The Taking.

These last two records from Loaded [Dark Days and Sick] are really representative of the growth of this band and I’m really proud of this new record. I’m really happy that Terry Date came onboard.

Was Terry Date someone with whom you wanted to work?

He wanted to work with us, which was kind of crazy. He heard some of our demos and Terry and I have a lot of mutual friends; we’re from the same city [Seattle, Washington]. But he and I never worked together and never even gone to the same barbeque. We’d seen each other and met each other at the Sea-Tac Airport once and we kinda brought that all up. “How is it that we’re not good friends?” because we were both friends with Kim Thayil and all these other people. So he heard through Isaac [Carpenter], our drummer, a couple songs from our demos and he just really wanted to do the record. In this day and age he’s kind of a forward-thinking producer in that we’re not on a major label and a majority of rock bands are not on major labels anymore. Therefore producers aren’t gonna get that $150,000 or $200,000 upfront, you know? Those old days are gone. So he partnered up with us on this thing and he got us into Studio X in Seattle for a great price and we made this record as sort of a team and it was a really, really great experience.

You had worked with Martin Feveyear on Dark Days and Sick. What did Terry Date bring to the music that was different than what Martin brought?

We would have made a fuckin’ great record with Martin. I stick with the guys that are my friends and loyal guys and Martin is that guy; he’s our tour manager and sound guy. So it was kind of tough when this thing came up with Terry. So we had have an open conversation with Martin and go, “Dude, this is an opportunity to do a record with the great Mr. Terry Date and not that you’re any less great” because Martin is fuckin’ great. But maybe it’s the name recognition and the angle to this record; this record is harder than the rest of ours and I think we need that guy that understands dry fuckin’ brutality. It was a really tough record to write lyrically and the songs were kind of hard fought and beaten out of the guitars.

What do you mean?

“Follow Me to Hell,” “Lords of Abaddon,” and “Your Name,” they’re not chords that are recognizable to a guitar teacher teaching a student; they’re made up weird chords. I think it’s a really interesting way to write and that’s the way I write.

You’ll just put your fingers on the fretboard and see what comes out?

I do, yeah. Martin would say, “Dude, do one of your chords; find one of your chords.” Sometimes I just find something that works and that’s the way I write.

You did some writing recently with Jane’s Addiction. What was that like?

I went in and wrote with Jane’s right before we did this record. We were done writing the Loaded record and there was a space of about three months where between writing the Loaded record and recording it, I had freed up to help Jane’s with their new record. I started just sending ‘em my weird fuckin’ songs and they loved ‘em. You know, Dave Navarro plays guitar weird and he’s fuckin’ great. He was like, “Dude, this is great. These are fucked up chords; what the fuck are you doing? This is how I play.” I didn’t really grow up with the kind of G, A, B major chords. I mean I know ‘em but it’s more about inventing stuff.

You and Jane’s Addiction seemed like a really good fit. What happened?

Oh, I just went into write with them. My main band is Loaded and I think things got a little out of control and especially on the Internet and on the sites. Not that I go and visit all the sites but I do interviews so I know what’s said on the sites. So I was left to answer some of these questions like, “What? So Loaded is not a band?” And I’d have to answer it and explain it over and over and over. I write a column for the Seattle Weekly and I wrote a column and said, “OK, for all of those that are questioning whatever I’m doing, here’s the final story.” I simply went into write with them; there were a couple gigs booked that were booked when Eric [Avery, former bassist] was still in the band and I played with ‘em. I talked to Eric first about it like, “Hey, here’s the deal; they want me to play these gigs.” I respect Eric way too much just to go,” Yeah, fuck yeah, I’ll go play” without talkin’ to him. So they are guys I’ve known since the ‘80s and I’m friends with them and it was a great experience for me.

Getting back to Loaded, you’d mentioned “Follow Me to Hell” a moment ago. Is that your inner punk coming out?

Well, “Follow Me to Hell” is my inner fuckin’ pissed off dad coming out. It was really written about that story about this girl Chelsea down in San Diego last year who disappeared; she was like 15 and then they found her dead. He was released early from prison, a child predator guy. I’m the father of two girls and that was like my rage came out in that song instantly. I saw the story on CNN that morning and I went over to Isaac’s studio and we were doing the demos and I had this little weird chord progression: G# G F# G with an A overtone. So on the E string it’s just G# with an open A on it and it’s basically what you’d do, what any man would do to a fuckin’ child predator if he had him alone in a room for five minutes. And in my case I’m already there; “Found my way to hell so I’m gonna bring you there with me.”

If you go back to your Beautiful Disease album, you can hear those same types of weird chord progressions on songs like “Rain” and “Hope.”

Yeah, how do you find a chorus out of that weird and dissonant verse. How do you find a melody in a chorus after that? The songwriting journey is one that can be rewarded and it goes back to “How do you find excitement about making records all these records later after Appetite?” And it’s a no brainer for me; it’s just a challenge always and it’s all about song and I don’t think I’ve written that perfect song yet.

And again that exploration goes back to your earliest records. “Hope” almost sounds like a Dave Matthews song.

I’m not one to be afraid of what somebody might think of me or some nice little category they might have. If you look on my iPod, I don’t listen to one kind of music. When I play live it’s all pretty aggressive and that kind of thing but when writing and listening and the records, it’s sort of a journey; it should be a journey. And I think in terms of a record still. Like I said, I have kids who are 10 and 13 and the older one, she only buys one or two songs from a record. And I asked her, I said, “Grace, why do you only buy one or two songs?” And she said, “Well dad, the rest of the record sucks.” And I said, “Really?” I don’t remember which record it was but I said, “Let’s listen to the rest of the record” and she was kinda right. People don’t make full records anymore so maybe it’s a dying breed and maybe it’ll be born again. Maybe that’s what’s gonna make the difference between a good new young rock movement is commercial bands making full records.

You’ve brought up drummer Isaac Carpenter several times. What does he bring to the groove of Loaded that’s not the same as what Geoff Reading brought?

They’re two completely different guys: Geoff Reading is a fuckin’ great drummer and a great band guy. I think it was a simple matter of economics and a home situation. He had a new son, a baby, and it was a situation he had to get back to. And he’s got full custody now of the boy so it was a personal thing. It was like, “Oh, fuck” because we were out in the middle of a tour when this was goin’ down. Like, “Shit, OK, dude, go do what you gotta do. We need to get a drummer.” One of my favorite records was Loudermilk’s The Red Record and my first choice was, “Well, let’s see if we can get Isaac. Yeah, right, like we’ll get Isaac.” And the next thing we knew he was sittin’ behind a drumkit. He plays everything; on “Wrecking Ball” on this record he played all the guitars. He’s a great songwriter and Pro Tools and recording are second nature to him. He did all the drums on this record in a day-and-a-half, in less than 36 hours, and he edited it all himself within those 36 hours. Which is just kind of like, “What?” And that’s the record that you have and all of the bonus tracks that we did. He’s just a force; you can’t contain him. You just hope to get the best out of him at that moment; he goes a million miles an hour and you just try to capture a little bit of the dude when you can. But he’s a force.

It sounds like you’re becoming more comfortable with your voice on The Taking. That you’re interpreting your own lyrics in a more concise and creative manner.

Yeah, interpreting, that’s a good way to put it. Gaining confidence and finding your comfort range. We recorded all the demos in Isaac’s studio and he’s like, “Dude, do that fuckin’ Duff McKagan thing.” And I’m like, “What is that? What is the Duff McKagan thing?” And he goes, “Dude, you know, you fuckin’ sing high.” I said, “I don’t really sing high, Isaac” and he says, “Yes, you do.” And then he would make me write something a whole step higher. He’d go, “Just transpose it up” and I’m like, “Dude, no, that’s way out of my range” but he pushed me to push my range at least and maybe there was a method to his madness. Sometimes we’d bring the songs back down a full step and all of a sudden I was more than comfortable with it. I know I can go out and play every night and not lose my voice.

Singing on the road is a different animal than singing in the studio.

That’s a big thing, you know? We toured for Sick and we went to Europe and played 42 nights in a row or something like that. And my voice, where I sing, I don’t lose it. Check out a guy like Dave Grohl who sings the way he does. He told me one time, he said, “Yeah, I go out and I blow my voice out the first two nights of the tour. I blow it out and I can’t talk for a whole day and then my voice is fine.” And maybe I’m that kind of guy where you just don’t think about it too much and just fuckin’ go. You’ve gotta be careful; air conditioning and shit like that but don’t be too precious about your voice. Just go out and fuckin’ rock.

You actually played with Dave Grohl on “Watch This,” the track from Slash’s last solo album. What was that like?

Yeah, we’d never played together; been friends with him for a long time and we never played so it was great. He hadn’t played drums for a little while and I hadn’t played bass; I think I just got off the Sick tour so I was playing rhythm guitar. So we were both going, “Oh, fuck, are we gonna suck?” He doesn’t suck and it was a great classic Slash chord progression thing, riff, and we just kinda sunk into it and had a good time. We laughed through the whole thing; that guy is kinda like Isaac grown up. Has like three things goin’ on at all times and has kids and a beautiful wife and a beautiful home. He is THE example with capital T, H, E.

What did you think of the Slash record?

Oh, I thought it was great. I was happy for him because obviously I’d known him for a long time. I know he wanted to make this record in like 1992 and he finally got his feet underneath and pulled himself together. A lot of these songs he’s had stashed away for a long time. I thought it was really great.

Certainly you know that Steven Adler played on “Baby Can’t Drive” from the Slash record. He talks about it in his book, My Appetite For Destruction, and talks about you in the most positive ways.

I haven’t read that. Is it OK?

It was a very cool book.

I saw Stevie in London a few days ago; I hadn’t seen him for a couple years.

I had interviewed him a while ago and he sounded really great. He had amazing things to say about you like, “When me and Duff first got together, we clicked instantly.” Do you remember the first time you met Steven Adler?

I do remember the first time I met him, of course. I met Slash over the phone; his name was Slash and I answered an ad in the paper. It was 1984 so I thought he, like me, was a punk rock guy and I went to Canter’s to meet him and he said he had this drummer, Stevie, and I went and met these two longhaired dudes and I had short blue hair. And I just moved to California and in Seattle I didn’t know any longhair rock dudes so it was kind of culture shock for me. They were probably a little surprised by me, too, with blue hair. But it wasn’t important what we looked like; we sat down at the table and we just talked about music and that was the common ground. We were young but we were grownup as far as, “Yeah, I’m interested in your idea musically.”

And what was Steven like?

Steven was instantly a happy guy and I was new and didn’t know a fuckin’ soul. So havin’ two friends was more than I had five minutes earlier in LA. Yeah, we clicked as friends instantly and when we played together it was great; it was a great groove. And then he and I developed a thing; we really worked hard on it to develop a rhythm thing and discovering what we were.

Were you good during those early rehearsals or did Guns N’ Roses just gradually become a great band?

I don’t know if we were good but there was a feel that was definitely there. That’s what we went after. I don’t know if we were good technically at all. I don’t know if we ever got good technically but we always had a feel.

There’s a great feel on the track “We Win” from The Taking album. The chord changes are very simple – E B and A - …

That’s it.

But the melody is pretty intricate. How do you come up with vocal melodies?

My lyric melodies are always by the riff or the chords and that was something Isaac was playing and it was that half step [the rhythm guitar plays a sort of Cheap Trick half-step riff in the verse], that rub, that really helped me find the melody. I don’t ever just sit there and go, “OK, this melody; no, that melody.” It either comes or it doesn’t and that melody came. And that’s a classic when we got to the chorus and Isaac was like, “Dude, do that fuckin’ McKagan thing. Where you’re fuckin’ up high and do the thing.” I turn to him and go, “Alright, what dude?” So it went up and that song just wrote itself.

You’ve finished your own memoirs?

I wrote a book; I wouldn’t call it a memoir at all. There are a lot of those. I’ve been writing for the last two years now and I write a lot and I decided in writing my Seattle weekly column there was some discovery in there; when you write something there are statements and then you’ve got to follow it up by supporting things. You look back in your rearview mirror and it’s easy to accuse others of your own faults. And in writing, I started to discover my part and really be kind of honest about my own part in my demise in drugs and alcohol. Maybe it wasn’t everybody else’s fault this whole time. It starts off in the present day being a father and it goes back to how did a guy like me get so into those stages of addiction and then how did I get my way out. Two of the biggest common questions to me are, “How much did you fuckin’ drink and how much drugs did you do?” and “How did you get sober?” So it’s not really my Guns N’ Roses story; it’s not my story about my relationship with Slash or Scott Weiland. It’s about my journey down and my journey back out. That’s it.

Talking about Scott Weiland, might there be a third Velvet Revolver record?

Well, in a perfect world there would be that record that’s just fuckin’ raw and brutal. But we’d have to have a singer and it would have to like it was in 2003 and 2004 when it just seemed right and things appeared in front of us. We can’t force it so I don’t know. To be honest with you, I don’t know.

And finally, you jammed with GNR in London recently for the first time in 17 years.

It was a bumble you know? No pun intended. Yep, I did. I go to London a lot for non-music related business and I stay at the same hotel every time I go and Axl’s room was next to mine this particular time when I arrived. So it gave us a great opportunity to reconnect and that was it. One thing led to another and I’m onstage and looked out at all the people and went, “Oh, I’m gonna have to answer interviews about this.” There’s nothing more to it than that really.

Did you remember the songs? I’m kidding.

Yeah, we played “You Could Be Mine” and that was like, “Oh, shit, I haven’t played that for a long time.” I didn’t have in-ears [monitors] like the rest of ‘em and there were no amps onstage and I did it by rote. That’s it; good job. See ya, pal.

Interview by Steven Rosen
Ultimate-Guitar.Com © 2011

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