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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.


2017.06.01 - The StageLeft Podcast - Interview with Richard

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2017.06.01 - The StageLeft Podcast - Interview with Richard Empty 2017.06.01 - The StageLeft Podcast - Interview with Richard

Post by Blackstar Tue Jun 13, 2023 6:10 pm


Interviewer: Okay, welcome to The StageLeft Podcast, lifting the veil on the music industry by telling the stories of those of the unique vantage point, and what a vantage point we have on today's episode is we're joined by a man who's been a member of the truly legendary Guns N' Roses for 16 years, traveling to every corner of the globe to play colossal concerts with one of the most iconic bands of the past 30 years, and has not only played on but has songwriting credit on the most expensive album ever recorded, Chinese Democracy. Our guest today has played on innumerable other significant projects including the Dead Daisies who won the first band to plan Cuba after the trade embargo was lifted, and he's highly regarded across a plethora of genres which has led to collaborations with Puff Daddy, Rihanna, Thin Lizzy. Our guest today is the go-to guitarist when the hip-hop scene took off in New York City. Today we're finding out who the man is behind the guitar and how he goes about working with Slash on complimenting guitar fix to create the best sound for the band, and we will get advice for those on the periphery of the music industry trying to break through, and we'll be finding out what Axl Rose's brilliant response was when our guest today informed Axl he couldn't join Guns N' Roses as he had to instead fullfill touring duties with none other than Enrique Inglesias. So it is a pleasure to say that our guest today is none other than Richard Fortus of Guns N' Roses. So thanks joining us Richard, how's it going?

Richard: My pleasure. It's going well.

I: Good, good, good. Thank you. And so you've just got back from playing gigs I believe in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and Dubai, and quite different cultures and landscapes-

Richard: And Japan.

I: And Japan as well, there we go, fantastic. So you must get a very unique snapshot as you tour different cultures and different landscapes, [?] from one country, playing to sixty thousand people and then packing up and moving on to another one. What challenges does that give you as a touring artist and how does audiences differ from country to country?

Richard: Just on this tour, on this leg, I think the difference between, you know, Japan has a very unique audience and their response generally is very, very polite and well-mannered, they're very proper and they sit and are very attentive and very focused, they listen to the band and then when the band is thinking it's done with a song then they'll clap, there's no clapping or singing along or anything like that during the song, they're silent and they're focused and sitting down, and then afterwards they'll, you know, they'll clap but it's very different than with something like, just opposed to, South America where it's just bedlam. I mean, they're singing the guitar solos, it's crazy. Very, very different. Australia's audiences are very good in that sort of Australian pub type way. They're pretty rowdy and like to have a good time and are passionate about the music. And then where else did we get from Australia and New Zealand? We went to Singapore, there's a lot of expats there, you know, it's really become... Singapore's completely changed from the last time I've been there, which have been... you know, God, I [?] been in Singapore for like 16 years and [?] completely different. But yeah, it's just a very varied audience, you know, there's are people from all over the world and same with Dubai. So yeah, I mean, that's on this tour alone, each audience is different quite a bit.

I: Yes, it sounds incredible and do you get an opportunity to see much of different cultures and countries while you're there or-

Richard: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I always get out and see as much as I can. We're always looking for interesting things to do. But you know, a lot of these places... I don't think, there's no place I hadn't been already on this tour. But I still try and get out. Playing Thailand... it was the first time I've actually played in Thailand and Thailand is probably my favorite place in the world, so it was great to finally be able to play there because I used to go there quite a bit, used to go every year, and just on holiday. So it was really nice to play there and have all my friends come up.

I: And you obviously have played some enormous colossal gigs with Guns N' Roses and obviously you've played gigs with all your other projects as well and the stadium shows planning to, you know, 60-70 thousand people sometimes even more than that, how do you compare them to the smaller shows, the kind of smaller, sweatier kind of club shows that I know you still play, from a sound point of view on stage and is there anything particular that you miss from doing one compared to the other?

Richard: It's a very different experience. Playing face to face with people was obviously going to be much different than standing on a huge stage where you can barely see people's faces, you know. The great thing about being on our own stage that we travel with and that we build every time, it's consistent, you know, is that just that, it's consistent. It's like a second home, you know where you are, there's no surprises, the sound is always the same because we use all in-ear monitors. So it's very consistent and that's nice.

I: It's a recent theme on the stage a podcast talking to musicians who using in-ear monitors because most musicians who we, you know, we have a lot of musicians listening to the show, not all of them get the privilege or the opportunity to using in-ear monitors. What are the advantages and disadvantages from your point of having used both?

Richard: Okay, I've been using in-ear monitors since I was with the Psychedelic Furs and that's the last twenty years. No, actually, I guess with the Daisies for most of it I didn't use in-ears and also with Thin Lizzy, touring with Thin Lizzy I didn't use in-ears and boy it was really refreshing to not use them. Because it's a lot less clinical and under a microscope then when you have in-ears in. That being said, the advantage to use is that you play like you're under a microscope, you really pay attention to the subtleties and nuances and the details.

I: Do you miss an opportunity to communicate with the band in some way by not having in-ears?

Richard: You know, it's a little bit of a hassle, on stage it's not that big of a deal, we've got talkback mic set up around the stage so all you do is you walk up to the microphone and you step on a button and it isolates  so only the band can hear it.

I: Wow.

Richard: Which, you know, in the hands of Axl can be pretty difficult because he just tells jokes [laughs] while we play, which can be pretty distracting if you're, you know, playing a solo or something and he's telling a joke. So that's a bit of a challenge and that's generally what we're communicating about, we're actually usually telling jokes to each.

I: I've got a quote from you here, you said, about playing, you said, "I'm always nervous, I mean, before I go onstage I'm nervous and I've been doing it for so long for my whole life but I feel more at home on stage than I do off stage," and why is that? I mean, who do you become on stage that you aren't off stage?

Richard: There's a sense of being in control that comes on stage, in with being on stage, for me. And I don't  know that that's something I experienced all the time off stage and it feels very comfortable. It's really difficult to put in words the feeling when you walk out on stage and you're flanked by your friends and it just - I don't know, it's an incredible feeling.

I: Another quote from you that I'll read out and I'd like you to elaborate on it if possible is, "And you can rehearse and rehearse forever and it's a different set of muscles that you use on stage." Can you elaborate on that?

Richard: You're never going to, no matter how much you rehearse a song, you're never going to be prepared for stepping on stage, the only thing that prepares you for stepping on stage and playing a great show is playing a bunch of shows. It is a different set of muscles and actually, I might have said that but that's actually a Tommy Stinson quote.

I: Ah, okay.

Richard: But I know I have said that before because it's absolutely true. But I don't want to take credit away from Tommy.


I: Okay, so going back to your early [?] in St. Louis, is that right?

Richard: That's right.

I: And you're there now I believe?

Richard: I am. I'm home for two months.

I: Exciting. I know when we exchanged emails I could tell the excitement of being home again. And I mean, touring obviously with Guns N' Roses must be amazing and a unique experience. After doing it for so long and with so many different bands, how do you approach the mindset of touring now and compared to when you were 20?

Richard: I think what's ultimately more important to me and the biggest change for me in my life is that of having children. Because when I was single and didn't have kids I couldn't wait to be back on the road, you know. That was when I really felt I was living life, you know, and the rest becomes sort of waiting around to tour, even though I was always very busy in the studio and whatnot, and I loved that, but there's obviously so many spoils to go with touring and, you know, that I was enjoying quite a bit at that time. And now it's just completely different, now it's, you know, I love doing it but it's just very different for me.

I: Paint a picture of what it is like touring with Guns N' Roses in 2017. Do you all travel together or is it all separate?

Richard: Yeah, yeah, we all travel together and I guess for me, you're always looking for things to do, you know, I think it's harder for Slash and Duff, or sorry, Slash and Axl, to go out and enjoy a city, you know.

I: Because they are recognized, right, everywhere?

Richard: Yeah, I mean, Slash always looks like Slash, Duff can throw a baseball cap on and personality-wise he just has a great way of assimilating and not sticking out. I think it is harder for Slash, Slash is just such an iconic image, you know. And the same with Axl, and for different reasons. I don't know, it would be tough I think to have that and to not be able to go out and really enjoy a city. But generally Duff and I will hang out, will go out, look for stuff to see and do. You're always looking for ways to occupy your time and to get to know a city. I run every day so for me that's a great way to get to see things that you normally don't get to see.

I: I wouldn't recommend going running in Bangkok with that humidity, that would be-

Richard: You know, it's not the humidity, Bangkok's really difficult because there's no sidewalks right, you know. It's a difficult place to walk let alone run. Yeah, it's pretty impossible to run there. But every place else on this tour was great. Singapore was great running, you know, Australia is awesome.

I:  Sounds amazing. So you're back home in St. Louis now and I believe, growing up, your father owned - was it a record store? Is that right?

Richard: No, no, no. He was partners in a company that made musical instruments.

I: Oh right, okay.

Richard: So they made guitars and they made amplifiers and that's how I was exposed to music at a young age.

I: Was your dad a guitarist?

Richard: He wasn't, he was an accountant.

I: Oh right, right.

Richard: And had nothing to do with music other than he worked in that business. But I was around a lot of people that were musicians, that worked for him, and that really is what influenced me and got me... but I think my love of music goes back even before that.

I: So you got an autograph at the age of 8 years old, was it Paul Stanley from Kiss? Is that right?

Richard: Wow! Where did you hear that?

I: In this picture it says, "To Richie, keep practising and maybe you'll be playing with us," is that something-  

Richard: That's right. Did I post that on Facebook?

I: I can't remember where I found that research from.

Richard: Yeah, I actually came across that photo not long ago.

I: Have you still got it? You got it?

Richard: Yeah, yeah.

I: Amazing.

Richard: [?]

I: Was that a big moment for you? Was it before then you went into music?

Richard: Yeah, yeah. I was young, I started on violin when I was about four and really became obsessed with rock and roll about seven or eight and-

I: Tell us about your aunt, so is it right your aunt found Jesus and decided to disown her record collection and you kind of inherited this record collection through that process, is that right?

Richard: That's right. I benefited from her being born again and finding Jesus and wanting to part ways with all of her secular records-

I: [laughs] Which included-

Richard: -which I embraced. Yeah, bands like The Beatles and, you know, all the classic Rolling Stone stuff, [?], Black Sabbath and... I inherited this great collection and that really shaped my young musical mind.

I: It's funny how little things that happen can shape people's futures, you know. Maybe your future would have end up the same but that's a hell of a record collection to kind of just land-

Richard: Yeah.

I: Another band you mentioned that you liked back in the day was Damned and we had Monty Oxymoron from The Damned on on a previous episode, who is great fun. What did that band in particular mean to you?

Richard: You know, The Damned was not as big of an influence as bands like The Clash or The Police or, you know, the Furs [?], U2, Echo and the Bunnymen-

I: Bunnymen, really? Wow, cool.

Richard: Yeah, and getting into bands like Black Flag and Red Cross and, you know, that was a big deal, too, The Dead Kennedys and-

I: Who influenced you as a guitar, who were you trying to emulate, who in your bedroom kind of pretending to be when you were kind of, you know, 14 years old at the time?

Richard: 13 or 14 was before I was really into that stuff, it wasn't until I was about, well, 14-15 is when I first heard The Clash. And that took me a different direction but before then it was classic rock like, you know, I guess, guitar players like Mick Taylor and Santana, John McLaughlin, Steve [?], Robert Fripp, [?], Fripp was definitely a huge influence on me.

I: Yeah, we had Visconti talking about working with Fripp with Barry a while ago. Amazing, amazing player. Another incident that I kind of picked up in my research, I don't know if this is true or not, but you bought your first guitar at the age of 12 and you were selling drugs, is that right at the age of 12 to the age of [?]?

Richard: [laughs]

I: Is that real?

Richard: Yeah. You dug deep. Yeah, yeah, and I bought it from... actually, I got a good deal on it because it was a guitar that my father's company had-

I: You got a good deal and what about like the whole how you got into that... you don't have to kind of detail how you got into that world, but that's an especially young age to be kind of-

Richard: Yeah, but that's just where... I mean, it was that time and where I grew up, you know, in the Midwest. That time, it was a lot of bored kids, you know, just looking for adventure.

I: Yeah, and I mean, so at an early age looking into this kind of rock-and-roll lifestyle, if you like, a cliché, right, but so your father was an accountant, how did he feel about when your career started taking off and when you started really showing an interest in his world, was there anybody saying, "No, Richard, we want you to be an accountant," you know, was there-

Richard: No, he always said, "It's a great hobby," you know, "but you need something to fall back on" and-

I: Which was what?

Richard: But he never really pushed me. I got a scholarship to Southern Illinois University and I started going when I was out of high school but I just wanted to take music classes and my band then was doing really well and I didn't really have any interest in anything but music and that was my focus. And, you know, I guess also in business but really it was music business stuff and there was no real classes at that time for things like that. So, you know, after a few months I just... they wanted me to take academic classes and I had no interest in... like I said at that point my band was starting to take off and had a lot of record company interest and so I just sort of went with that. And it wasn't long after that that we signed with Atlantic and I started touring.

I: And your family were behind you, so when you started signing record contracts and stuff like that your family were fully behind you doing that as a career at that stage?

Richard: You know, I had moved out at a young age and really sort of didn't pay any attention to what they said.

I: That's a good attitude to have in some ways because we have a lot of young musicians now and it's like so much pressure from like, "No, you've got to kind of get a proper job," and that kind of thing and it's just really interesting to ask people like yourselves who took the kind of risk and took the plunge and, you know, playing the dream gig now that young musicians would love to play, if they have ever had that pressure themselves.

Richard: Yeah, you know, it's a different time in music, too. God, man, that's a tough road at this point. Yeah, I guess it always was and it seemed somewhat impossible or unobtainable back in the day when I was just starting, but, I mean, it was so grassroots at that time, you know, putting up fliers, and it wasn't about YouTube hits, it wasn't about your Facebook profile, it was really, you know, about just getting people to your shows and signing with a major label. And it's a very different story now.

I: Yeah, I think it's a subject we might touch upon later on actually. And one area you talk about, being involved in a scene, and I know you speak quite nostalgically about this in other interviews, and not in too much detail so I'd like to kind of focus on this is, and you speak fondly about time in New York when hip hop really took off-

Richard: Well, you know, hip hop was taking off, I was in the hip hop when I was, you know, in my later teens, I guess, in St. Louis, and it was around a lot, you know, even in high school. Hip hop was a part of the musical landscape and it was new and exciting and, you know, half the kids in my school were black, half were white, and it was kept that way as part of the... it was a magnet school so they had to keep it 50/50. So I was exposed to a lot of funk music, New Parliament and things like that when I was in high school, and hip-hop I always enjoyed, you know, from Sugar Hill and then when Public Enemy's first album came out, I mean, that changed everything, you know, [?], the first NWA album, you know, the Eazy-E stuff, all that was a big part of my growing up as well. And then when I got to New York, I don't know how I got into that, I guess I was doing so many sessions that, you know, it was inevitable that if a hip-hop artist was working with a producer and they needed a guitar player I would get a call, because I was sort of the go-to guy in New York. And I ended up doing a lot of that stuff, you know, working with everyone from the Wu-Tang guys to Puffy stuff. Yeah, you know, whenever someone needed guitar in New York, New York hip-hop, I seemed to get calls.

I: That's an amazing reputation to have. Incredible. You obviously worked with Puff Daddy and Wu-Tang, you mentioned there, were there any new challenges in your playing or can you think of a time where you were playing a different style of music or with a different type of band and it really challenged you as a musician or or how did you accomplish what you wanted to accomplish at a young age enough that you could then just adapt where you needed to?

Richard: There's always challenges, there's always challenges. I'll tell you some of the biggest challenges: going to Nashville, like, getting a call in New York and asking me to come to Nashville and doing sessions in Nashville - which I didn't do much of but, you know, I did a few times where I would go to Nashville and do sessions to albums. Because I think producers wanted something different I guess, you know, and I would get calls and go out there and that was very challenging and very stressful and very different than the system in New York. You know, when you're in Nashville it's a totally different vibe, you know, it's a factory, they're just churning things out, it's incredible. And the level of musicianship is just unreal. And you go into a session there and the producer will put a demo cassette on, you listen to it, you know, there's like this [?] cassette, you know, the medium of demos [?] and we would listen, we'd all sit around and listen to the demo and then - I'll never forget this, the first time that happened to me I was in the control room with all these great players, we're listening through and they listened to the song once and, "Okay, let's go ahead, let's do it," and nobody had been writing anything down, they just went out to the studio and played it back, which I found incredible. People were making notes, you know, but nobody had an instrument and they just went out and did, it is incredible to me. I mean, that's so different to how the recording process went in New York where I was generally called in after the bass, drums and keyboards were down and a scratch vocal, and then I would come in and play on top of it. And, you know, you experiment, you sit there, you try [?], you try different pedals, using different guitars, until you find what is going to work best for the track. In Nashville you have your sound, you have your clean sound, you have your rock sound, and that was it.

I: You've also done some stuff, I believe, around doing film scores, is that right?

Richard: Yes.

I: That's a really interesting area, give us insights to, you know, let's say someone's a really really good musician, accomplished musician, and then have to sit down and write a film score for the first time or piece of music, what are the new challenges that kind of leave you scratching your head when approaching that?

Richard: Well, I mean, working the pictures is a completely different animal. I got into it because a lot of the sessions that I was doing in New York, probably most of them, were either for TV or TV commercials, or for movies. That's generally what I was doing. So I then started a company, I was getting asked if I'd be interesting in composing for different jingle houses or TV themes, doing TV themes or something like that, and you demo on them and then, you know, as you become more advanced you win a few and it sort of takes off. And that's what I did and I started my own company and we had a studio, had a partner that I worked with, and then we had a few people, you know, it just grew and grew, had a few people working for me, [?] were working in different studios in our main studio, and it just sort of grew. And through that I started doing more film stuff. It is a very, you know, when you're working with commercials it's a very different thing because you're dealing with such a finite time frame, you know, you've got 30 seconds or a minute at most, and same with TV themes, but then when you start scoring shows you've got more room, and then when you do movies it's a totally different time. But that's how I got into it, was through advertising.

I: So for things like that, do you often get the blueprint in advance or the images in advance and you write over it or is it-

Richard: Sure.

I: -kind of library-

Richard: You're scoring to picture.

I: Right.

Richard: So generally they're not cutting to your music.

I: Yeah. It's interesting because Quentin Tarantino did an interview with a guy called Jonathan Ross who's well known in the UK and Jonathan Ross challenged him as to why he never gets someone to compose a score on his films and Quentin kind of backed off and backed off and backed off and eventually said, "It's because I don't want anyone to have more power than I do over my film." Was there ever any examples where you kind of completely pitched it wrong and stuff was maybe misinterpreted or the music kind of made images be interpreted in different way than what the director was thinking?

Richard: You know, there's always times when you're gonna go back and forth, I mean, that happens all the time. But getting it completely wrong, yeah, I guess so, I guess so, but, you know, you sort of work in stages, you do a mock-up or something and say, "This is the type of direction I'm thinking," and occasionally it's like, "Well, that's really not the feeling I had, I was looking for something," but generally before you start out there's this discussion, you know, it might be over coffee or it might be a director sending you placement music, you know, with music that he had in his head, the type of thing. And then you're basically going in and doing something with a similar feel, or trying to capture that feel. A lot of times that's generally how it is. And then other times you'll speak through it, you'll talk through it, you'll say, "You know, this is what I'm hearing for the general theme," or, "for this character's theme," and then they'll say, "Well, you know, that sounds great," or they'll say, "You know, I was thinking about this," and you sort of work through it that way. That happens even when you're doing sessions, you know, it's about communication, and I think that's why some people work a lot and some people don't, because it's about communicating and if a producer can, on a session, can say to you, "This is the type of sound I'm looking for, I'm thinking like a Tommy Bolin meets..." you know, I mean, like, "I'm thinking this type of sound," like, "I'm thinking [?] meets [?]," whatever references they're gonna throw at you and you know what they're talking about and know how to achieve that. That's a that's a big thing and that's why I think I've been able to work because I have that language, that reference point.

I: Interesting. You talked about when you worked with Rihanna, you said that one of the challenges was actually kind of she had so much kind of solid ground to cover because you have so many different effects on the original recordings that kind of thing, how does someone go about that? Let's say if you would give advice to a young musician who perhaps doesn't have much of a budget so, you know, I'm guessing in the situation with Rihanna you're allowed to buy the pedals that you think are going to create the right sounds and that kind of thing, and how does someone go about that and what advice would you give them because that must be really, really difficult with different artists?

Richard: In this day and age to do a pop gig I would almost always take either an Axe effect [?] or a Kemper profiler [?] so that I could cover a lot more sonic territory, you know, than just taking a Marshall or just taking a Twin with a bunch of pedals. And not only does it minimize your footprint as far as production and what's needed, you're going to be much more in control and much more able to cover everything you need to cover, and also be able to automate it so that it could run off of a master sequencer so all your changes could be programmed and then you run by the sequencer or the master clock. Because all those... you know, it's a totally different thing to what I do with GN'R where there's no track, there's no sequence parts. You know, all the pop gigs are all playing to track.

I: So it is a slightly different world to GN'R.

Richard: Completely different. You know, I wouldn't use a digital imager on GN'R, I wouldn't use it with Thin Lizzy, there's no place for it. Because it's about the subtleties, you know, it's about working your volume knob on your guitar, you know. I don't use multi-channel amps on GN'R. I have a single-channel amp and I work my volume control. And there's so many subtleties in that, you know, in working the volume that Slash and I both do and, you know, that goes away with a digital amp. But, you know, if you're with Muse or with Metallica where there's dramatic shifts, that stuff works great. You know, Metallica switched to using all Campers [?] and so did Muse, and so does a lot of other bands, because it's consistent, you know, and controllable.

I: You mentioned about working with Slash, you spoke about it in the past, quite interesting, how you work on making sure that what the two of you do really, really fits well sonically. How do you go about that and is it something that is continuously ongoing or once you've nailed Sweet Child O' Mine that's it and you never touch it again?

Richard: No, it's constantly evolving, I mean, because you're always searching for something better, you know.

I: And is that led by Slash or do you feel there's a responsibility for yourself to-

Richard: No, no, no, it's just-

I: So you don't think you got to recreate exactly what's on the record from a sound point of view and that's it?

Richard: No, no, no, if I was just trying to recreate simply what was on the record it wouldn't be a constant search, you know, it would just be sticking to one thing and making it the same every night. I think I'm always, and Slash's the same, we're always trying to make things better, we're always trying to make it bigger and work better together, separate our tones, separate them but somehow make them better for ourselves and more inspiring to play.

I: When you first join the band, and this is obviously before Slash rejoined, how did you divide up the guitar parts because there's kind of times where you're playing guitar solos and someone else is playing on another occasion. How do you divide those up? Was that a particular process you went through or?

Richard: Everybody sort of had their role, I guess, and we would divide it up accordingly. And, I don't know... it changed with every incarnation. You know, it is a difficult thing to divide up and who's going to cover what ground, you know, but I don't know, there was no rules, it went song by song.

I: You absolutely nailed the... I found a version of you absolutely nailing this solo in the middle of November Rain, it's from a show where Axl, he's a piano that's floating over a crowd, I don't know if it was some-

Richard: Yes, Slash took that away from me [laughs].

I: Oh right, I was going to say how did that conversation go down, how did that go down when that happened?

Richard: Well actually, you know, when I started playing that first solo of November Rain, Robin was playing it and Axl had asked in the middle of the tour, he said, "Hey, can I hear Richard play that?" and that's when I started playing it.

I: [?] working with Slash, he's obviously a great guitarist and he's got obviously his really laid-back persona if you like, is that the case offstage and when he's addressing his work or is he an intense character?

Richard: He's intense when it comes to music. He loves to play and he wants it to be perfect. And when I say "perfect", he wants the band to be at our best and he will rest at nothing till he feels that we're doing our best, we're in our best place and able to put our best foot forward. So he wants to be as well rehearsed as possible, and I agree with that. When you step on stage the chance of him having to actually think about anything like that is gone, and then you're faced with all your other set of issues that occur during a live show. But the music is second nature as possible.

I: Is that how you approach it as well?

Richard: No, he's much more thorough than I am. He loves to rehearse, he loves to spend... we spend a lot of time rehearsing with this band, more than we ever did before he was back in the band, and you know, it's hard to fault anybody that want it to be as good as possible, you know, and I'm all for that. And it definitely works, I mean, I think this band has never sounded better than it does right now.

I: Tell us about the audition because you, I believe, were playing [?] with Enrique Iglesias, is that right? And you had to jump in a cab to get a flight over to LA for the audition with Guns N' Roses through-

Richard: Yeah, I had a car waiting for me after, I think, we played three or four nights at Albert Hall and went straight offstage into the car, to the to the airport, and flew to LA, got off the plane, went straight to the rehearsal and then hung out with Axl all night just talking about music, listening to music.

I: Did you feel that was still part of your audition, in many ways? I think you were sat in a car listening to music, is that right?

Richard: Oh yeah, yeah, absolutely. I mean, every gig I've ever done most of the audition is how you relate to somebody and how you... and when I've auditioned people I know after meeting somebody I know what they're gonna play like. Just from their personality.

I: What songs did you audition?

Richard: It's been awhile. I know Rhiad and the Bedouins was one, from Chinese Democracy, there was a few Chinese songs on there that I auditioned with, as well as, you know, Paradise City and I don't remember what else was up there.

I: Obviously, Chinese Democracy was, when you auditioned, was seven years before it actually been released, had you been sent different versions of these songs then prior, to kind of learn them or how did that work?

Richard: Sure, sure, yeah, with earlier versions.

I: Wow. So you had to tell Axl then that you actually couldn't join the band straight away, is that correct?

Richard: Well, I know what you're talking about. He had said, "Hey, we're gonna start rehearsals in two weeks," and I said, "I can't do it, I'm in the middle of a tour," and he responded and said, "You know, that's"... he thought about for a second, I could see him sort of, like, I could see him thinking, "Are you kidding me?" but then after a think about for a second he said, "That's okay, we'll wait for you because I know that you won't do that to me, you won't leave me stuck," you know. Because it's really that's what... in this business, that reputation of being somebody that will jump ship to take another gig is a really bad reputation to have and, you know, I've agreed to do gigs before for no money and then had something else come up and under no circumstances will I go against that and bail on somebody that I've committed to. So, you know, there's been a few times when I've had to go back and say, "Hey, this came up, I was offered this," and almost every time if they are understanding and they say, "Man, you got to do it, don't worry, we'll find somebody," you know. But there's been a couple of times when people were like, "Wow, I was really counting on you," and I have to say, "Well, then I will honor it."

I: Did you have any reservations at all about joining Guns N' Roses, which I know that sounds like a crazy question because it's a dream gig for a lot of people I'd imagine, but you know such reputation as the band as they were for, kind of some crazy lifestyles, you know, the famous stories of Slash, the legend says he died for eight minutes after a heroin overdose and you had, you know, Buckethead in the band who, for those who don't know was an amazing guitarist who literally put a KFC bucket on his head and performed with a KFC bucket on his head and sunbathed, actually, believe it or not, I was told as well by someone who was in Rio once. And yes, so it's pretty crazy lifestyle, things are pretty mad, was there any reservations that you had-

Richard: I've never heard that about the sunbathing but totally believable.


Richard: Were there any reservations? And did Slash really die for eight minutes, is that possible?

I: Well, that's... yeah, exactly. That's my view-

Richard: I thought five minutes was the max without brain damage.

I: Yeah, to be honest, I have the same view, but there was lots of research, I did listen to all the older... I think actually the minutes kept going up and up and up and up for every MTV News report at the time but and-

Richard: Right.

I: I think I have the adrenaline-

Richard: I mean, I've never discussed it with him, so-

I: I think he had the adrenaline shot in his heart like in Pulp Fiction, I don't know if you know it, but apparently that's what brought him back to life. But yeah, so it's a crazy lifestyle,  was there anything that you thought, "Oh, you know what, this could end badly," or, "this could not be a good thing"?

Richard: At that time, no. I mean there's nothing crazier than what I've been involved with. And at that time it was, you know, Tommy was a good friend, I knew Robin, I new Brain, and I was excited to play with those guys, you know, I mean, it really was.... I mean, at that time if I were going to put together my dream band, it was probably pretty much that band. Robin's a great talent and Tommy is an incredible musician and, you know, one of my closest friends, and playing with those guys is sort of a no-brainer for me. And as I'm sure you've read, I wasn't a big Guns N' Roses fan when I joined the band, I just didn't know much about them. I mean, I knew, obviously, I knew all the hits but I didn't know any albums, it wasn't really in my genre, you know, it wasn't where my attention was focused. And I sort of lumped them in with the other LA hair bands, unfortunately, because it's not what they are and as I started listening to it I was really excited about it because it's definitely more up my alley than I had originally thought. You know, it's very Stones influenced and very classic rock influenced as well as being very punk rock influenced - that's my background.

I: Let's talk Axl. He's obviously a great legend and I've done loads of research the last three weeks and my perception from outside is the super charming, really talented guy, very endearing character, and cares so much about his music, you've said in the past about his integrity, super sensitive character comes across to me, he has left a lot of gigs unfortunately when kind of minor things have gone off. Working with a big personality for the first time, what are the challenge is in that situation? Were you aware of any of that stuff? And this answer doesn't necessary have to be about Axl but how do you deal with a musician coming in and working with a big personality, big reputation, and what challenges are there in that situation for someone like yourself or a session musician?

Richard: I mean, obviously I was very aware of his reputation. Geez, I'm from St. Louis, you know, where their biggest riot occurred. In fact, in July will be the first time that we actually play St. Louis in 26 years.

I: Wow.

Richard: So I'm really excited about that. But, there's challenges but I don't know, you sort of have to go into everything weighing that reputation with a grain of salt because somebody's public persona might have little to nothing to do with reality, to who they really are. And that's just been my experience. Anybody that's passionate about music I've never had a problem getting along with.

I: You've obviously got a very close relationship with Axl because I think you said that you was one of the first people he texted to say that the whole kind of ACDC thing was going ahead and you've worked with him for many years, I wonder if you could talk us through your memories of the fondest memories of recording Chinese Democracy, an album that huge kind of hype and expectation, did you feel any expectation or hype around that? And, cuz, did you write the chorus for Better? Is that right?

Richard: Yeah, yes, I did but no, it all happened very quickly and organically, like, I went in and did my parts on the album, for the entire album, in probably two weeks,  if that, honestly. You know, I did everything very quickly, all those songs were written for the most part, you know, there were parts that maybe were open, but.... And the way Axl likes to-

I: Were you creating any parts that didn't exist before? Because I know there was loads of different versions of those songs, so what was your [?]?

Richard: Yeah, I mean, there were some parts that I was just sort of doing my take on that were already written and there were other parts that there wasn't anything, that I was just... But, you know, there were also two other guitars on there so I had to find my space. It's just like doing another session in a way, you know, where you're going in, you're listening to things, and just, you know, finding your place in it.

I: It's surely the best mindset to be in and it sounds like the producer or Axl created that kind of environment, which is perfect for that, which is great because from the outside it always seemed like this big, big, big project, Chinese Democracy, most expensive album, I think, ever produced, lots of different producers, players, songs scrapped and restarted, that kind of things, it's good you didn't feel like that-

Richard: I think Axl's vocals were probably all done in a very short period of time as well, once he knew what he wanted to do he went in and it did it. And he's an incredible talent, it doesn't really take him that long to do, you know, he'll experiment with... He does a lot of experimenting. When he writes songs he likes to take pieces and somehow fit them together. And that's sort of, from my take, the genius of Axl Rose. And you can go back to the beginning with that and how he would say, "Let's put this bit, why don't we try putting this here while we try putting that over here," and really just sort of assembled things. He has a real knack for that.

I: Tell us about Better. Was it case that it was missing a chorus or did you come prepared with something-

Richard: Yeah, yeah, Axl wanted something for a part, you know, he was like, "Hey, in this section, do you have something that could go in there?" and so I just came up with that part.

I: Was it something that was pretty pre-existing or did you just come up with a straight away?

Richard: No, I think I just came up with it, you know, I played through it a bunch and came up with a part I liked, and he liked it, too. He had ideas as well, you know, a lot of the stuff that I... when I came in to play on it, he had ideas of what he wanted, you know, just like any producer, it's like the feel that you want or the vibe that he was going for.

I: You sing a lot in harmony with Axl at the live shows that I've seen some coverage of, what's it like singing with Axl because, I mean, you're a super talented vocalist, like, as a soloist, I've seen kind of solo gigs of yours or with bands and you're a really talented singer and you could do, you know, this thing in your own right, which you do in some cases, and what's it like singing with Axl and sharing those vocals is that-

Richard: I disagree, I don't think I have a great voice at all and it's sort of a means to an end for me. And really the majority of the vocals live are Dizzy and Duff, now. I used to sing a lot more but most of the vocals are covered by those two guys, the backups are covered by those two guys and they're both really strong singers. And Melissa as well.

I: What would a single musician working with Axl learn that they wouldn't learn from working with anyone else?

Richard: That's a tough one. That they wouldn't learn from anyone else? I mean, like I said, I think the genius of Axl is his ability to assemble songs from different parts and make them feel cohesive as a song, and I've never seen anybody be able to do that in the same way.

I: He's a super talent. And you recorded - I know this is a question probably asked every day - are you recording new stuff at the moment or is you not allowed to say or what is the deal with that?

Richard: We haven't started recording anything. I mean, when I say that, as far as in a studio doing an album, you know, we've been recording a lot of stuff, just ideas, sort of assembling ideas. But not going into a studio and actually tracking a new record.

I: Do you think it will happen?

Richard: Yeah, I do.

I: That would be great. That'd be amazing to hear. Thank you so-

Richard: It's sort of too good not to happen at this point [laughs]. That's how I feel about it. This band is a force right now, and I definitely hope that we do and I think we're all sort of counting on it,  we're also planning on it.

I: Can't wait to hear it, it sounds absolutely amazing. Thank you for speaking so honestly about Guns N' Roes. Thin Lizzy, a band that you loved, I believe, and you played with them as well because... Didn't they support Guns N' Roses on a tour, is that right?

Richard: They did after I'd already toured with them.

I: Oh, so you toured with them before. Right, okay, fantastic. So that must have been-

Richard: Yeah, and then when they opened for us I'd go out and play a couple of songs with them.

I: Nice, nice. How was that? That must have been an incredible experience.

Richard: Playing with Scott Gorham is just one of the... and Brian, definitely one of the private pinnacle of my career, you know, just because at a very formative age those records were so important to me, that band was, you know, it doesn't get any better for a guitar player to be able to play those guitarmonies with Scott, you know. And to play Gary Moore's parts and Robbo's parts, that was a fantastic experience and I'm really, really happy that I was able to do it, that I was asked to do it, and was able to.

I: It's lovely to hear you speak about, like there's a real emotion behind playing some of those guitar solos and what that meant to you in your kind of formative years listening to that music. Is there ever a place where you kind of go out of the zone, when you're playing have you ever been kind of overwhelmed in a way where you're kind of like, "I can't believe this is happening, this is so amazing," and you just then rely on muscle memory or is it something you just got to constantly focus on?

Richard: Oh yeah, it happens all the time [laughs] I mean, playing on this tour when you're playing in front of a hundred thousand people and you just see this stadium that is packed, it's overwhelming at times when you're looking around going, "How did this happen?" [laughs] For me it's still like... it's amazing. And you know, I look at Slash and [?] walk on stage, it's just like be looking out, it's like I just I get the same feeling from him, and Duff as well, you know. It's like, "How? Really?" [laughs] "This is real." It still blows me away. But yeah, standing on stage with Scott there'd be times when it was just like, "God, I am playing with Scott Gorham," you know. I don't know, it still... yeah of course it really gets you.

I: Fantastic. You played a gig in Cuba not so long ago, I believe, was that a unique new experience? I mean, some bands had played there, I mean, one that gets overlooked is a British band you may or may not have heard of, called the Manic Street Preachers, and they played there when Fidel Castro was still alive and he kind of joined them on stage and greeted the crowd and that kind of thing and I know Rolling Stones played there, and that kind of thing, but yours, I think, was one-

Richard: Those are English bands, they could have played there at any time.

I: Yeah, yeah, no, I get that, yeah. That's a fair point and so-

Richard: Nobody plays there because you can't make money-

I: Yeah.

Richard: So the Stones went in and after we done it, ironically, you know, when the Daisies went, our bass player was Darryl Jones and-

I: Oh, wow, yeah.

Richard: -and Bernard [?]  was singing with us, so a year later the Stones would do. We sort of set that template, we went in and thought, "Okay, this is an incredible experience we're going to film and do as much as we can," we put out a book, we filmed the whole thing, made a documentary about it, and that's what they did as well. Not saying they stole our idea [laughs] Obviously, they did it a little bigger, but I think definitely that's the way... and to be honest, GN'R has talked about doing it, because that would be a bigger event, because, you know, Guns is such an American band. That would be a big deal.

I: That would be absolutely incredible.

Richard: It was a tremendous experience. You know, we recorded at a studio there, we recorded three songs off of our album, the one the Daisies album were recorded in Cuba.

I: Yeah, getting Guns there would be absolutely incredible.

Richard: It would be-

I: Such an iconic gig, that would be such an iconic gig. Okay, we'll begin to wrap up, because, I mean, thank for your time, a couple of last questions that we like to ask most people who we have on here. How do you think you would evaluate this period of your career when you look back on it in 20 years time?

Richard: Hopefully it won't be [laughs] the height but at the same time I can't imagine anything being bigger, you know, because it seems like we're setting records everywhere and it's incredible. It's just the excitement around this has just been overwhelming, you know. I can't imagine topping it. But my career, I've been really fortunate in my career, in that it just consistently steps up and up and up, you know, where I haven't really stepped backwards much, you know. So I feel very, very fortunate for that.

I: what ambitions do you still have left?

Richard: I'd like to do an album with this band. But as far as playing...  I hope to do some, you know, I have not written and played on an album that is legendary, you know, in my opinion, I haven't done an Appetite record, you know. And I hope to do that some day. That would be amazing.

I: Final question, what fears do you have for the music industry and how might they be addressed?

Richard: There's a lot of fear at the moment. It's an exciting time. There's been a leveling of the playing field. It's exciting because it's given a platform to artists to develop and release music that, you know, that, had it been 20 years ago might not have had that opportunity, and some of that stuff is the stuff I find the most inspirational. I don't know. It's a very different landscape it. For somebody like me, my career has changed considerably because when I used to not be able to afford to tour or because I was making so much as a composer and as a session musician, now it's a totally different thing, now it's the opposite, you know. The whole industry is different in that way, that as bands, you know, bands used to put out... we used to tour to support records, now we put out records
support tours. And the days of being able to sit back and collect royalty checks just this is not happening, you've got to be out playing live because that's where your income comes from now. But, you know, in the same respect, it's exciting because it opens new avenues and there's new challenges. I don't know how to... I mean, those are fears and as well as-

I: -opportunity.

Richard: -solutions, yeah.

I: So I did say it was gonna be last question, I forgot one question and it is really generic one but I think it'd be really useful, what specific advice would you give a) to a young guitarist and b) to a musician going into the music industry?

Richard: I hate that question.

I: Hah!

Richard: Because it's so different to where I'm at now into how I got into this business and why. I think really the only thing you can do as an aspiring young musician is to try and find like-minded musicians to play with and to get recording devices, get your computer set up to be able to make music and to do something really unique. And that's the only way I think you can really get anywhere at this point. The part that I don't know is how to... because what works now, what's going to get the attention of a larger market, is not the way it used to be, where, you know, I used to, like I said, my first band we would put out flyers, we would go play clubs, and you played a club and then the next time you go back you hope that the audience doubles, and when you go to a new city you play the first time to five people and hopefully there's ten people the next time, just keep going back and keep going back, and it's not that way anymore. And people aren't leaving their houses, you know, people aren't going out to support loud music as much.

I: So true and, I mean, is there anything you think young musicians might be naive to that given your experience and where you are in your career young musicians might be naive to that you kind of say, "You watch out for that," or anything like that?

Richard: It feels like the days of the rock star are over, you know. It's becoming harder and harder, I mean, you have pop stars but that's a totally different thing. I think all you can do is try and create music that's completely unique and something different, because whenever you try and jump on a bandwagon, whenever you try and do something like somebody else, it's way too late. You know, doing something completely unique, that's not like anybody else out there.... I don't listen to much new metal or anything like that, you know, I listen to new rock bands, I guess, but most of the stuff that I listen to is more the indie type of stuff and, you know, I see so many bands now where I listen to them I'm thinking, "God, they're exactly like the Cure," or, "They're exactly like Jesus and Mary Chain," or, "The Bunny Men," like just down that line, you know, that that period of time and it just seems so contrived to me. I'm much more excited about hearing bands that are doing something really unique. And that's constantly what I'm searching out.

I: That's a great answer. Thank you, thank you so much. What are the show you've got [?], I know you play in London, are you playing any other kind... Is there a tour for Guns N' Roses coming up?

Richard: Yeah, we're playing all over Europe this summer. I think we do May/June/July in Europe and then we come back to the States, we have 10 days off, and we start in the St. Louis on July 27th in the State-

I: That's gonna be a big one.

Richard: -and we do all the markets that we didn't play here, and a bunch of shows in Canada, and then I think we're going back to South America after that.

I: Fantastic. Were I'm perched right now I can pretty much see the Olympic Stadium in London that you are going to be playing couple of nights in the summer so yeah, it's going to be amazing this summer, I know you are playing a lot of gigs. Thank you so much for taking the time to appear, it's a testament to your hard work and skill that you've been playing such a great variety of shows with some amazing musicians for such a long time, you're living the dream, keep on living the dream.

Richard: Absolutely.

I: And thanks for being such a great guest on the StageLeft Podcast.

Richard: Yeah, hit me up in the summer and we'll see if we can meet up.

I: [?]

Richard: Great, thank you very much.

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2017.06.01 - The StageLeft Podcast - Interview with Richard Empty Re: 2017.06.01 - The StageLeft Podcast - Interview with Richard

Post by Blackstar Tue Jun 13, 2023 6:15 pm

Excerpts from Alternative Nation:

Guns N’ Roses guitarist Richard Fortus discussed why it is hard for Axl Rose and Slash to go out in public while on tour due to their fame in a new StageLeft podcast interview. Check them out on iTunes and Facebook. Alternative Nation transcribed Fortus’ comments.

“We all travel together. We’re always looking for things to do. It’s hardest for Slash and Axl to go out and enjoy a city. Slash always looks like Slash, Duff can throw a baseball cap on. Personality wise he just has a great way of assimilating and not sticking out, whereas I think it’s harder for Slash because Slash is just such an iconic image, the same with Axl, for different reasons. It would be tough I think to have that and not be able to go out and really enjoy a city.

Generally Duff and I will hang out, we’ll go out and look for stuff to see and do. You’re always looking for ways to occupy your time, and to get to know a city. I run every day, so for me that’s a great to get to see things that you usually don’t get to see.”

He also discussed joining GNR in 2001.

“At that time Tommy [Stinson] was a good friend, I knew Robin [Finck], I knew Brain, and I was excited to play with those guys. At that time, I think if I was to put together my dream band, it would probably pretty much be that band. Robin is a great talent, Tommy is an incredible musician and one of my closest friends, playing with those guys is sort of a no brainer for me.”


Guns N’ Roses guitarist Richard Fortus offered an update on GNR making a new album in a new StageLeft podcast interview. Alternative Nation transcribed Fortus’ comments.

“We haven’t started recording anything, when I say that, as far as in the studio doing an album. We’ve been recording a lot of stuff, just ideas, assembling ideas, but not going into a studio and actually tracking a new record.

He added that he thinks a new album will happen.

“Yeah, I do. It’s sort of too good not to happen at this point, that’s how I feel about it. This band is really a force right now, and I definitely hope that we do, and I think we’re all sort of counting on it, and we’re also planning on it.”

He also discussed Axl Rose’s genius when it comes to songwriting.

“I think the genius of Axl is his ability to assemble songs, from different parts, and make them feel cohesive as a song. I’ve never seen anybody able to do that in the same way.”

He also praised Dizzy Reed and Duff McKagan’s backing vocals live.

“Really, the majority of the vocals live are Dizzy and Duff. I used to sing a lot more, but most of the vocals are covered by those two guys, the backups, and they’re both really strong singers, Melissa as well.”

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2017.06.01 - The StageLeft Podcast - Interview with Richard Empty Re: 2017.06.01 - The StageLeft Podcast - Interview with Richard

Post by Soulmonster Sat Jul 15, 2023 9:51 am

Finally did this. A good interview.
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2017.06.01 - The StageLeft Podcast - Interview with Richard Empty Re: 2017.06.01 - The StageLeft Podcast - Interview with Richard

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