APPETITE FOR DISCUSSION
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APPETITE FOR DISCUSSION
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.

Cheers!
SoulMonster

2017.08.21 - Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon - Interview with Alan Niven

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2017.08.21 - Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon - Interview with Alan Niven Empty 2017.08.21 - Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon - Interview with Alan Niven

Post by Blackstar Sat Feb 10, 2024 2:35 am

Guns N' Roses month continues at Rock Talk. This time, Mitch sits down with former GNR manager Alan Niven to discuss the band's breakthrough album Appetite For Destruction, the band currently and more.
In the episode's second interview, Quiet Riot drummer Frankie Banali discusses the band's new album Road Rage, the current change in singers, their QR album, Kevin DuBrow leaving the band, W.A.S.P. and more.
Oft L.A. Weekly columnist Art Tavana join Mitch for this week's rock talk segment to discuss Guns N' Roses.


The interview with Alan Niven starts around 14:00 minute mark, after the conversation with Art Tavana.



Transcription:
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Mitch Lafon: Speaking of great stuff, we are celebrating 30 years of Appetite for Destruction. The album came out in July of 1987. Last week we spoke to the mixer, Steve Thompson, who of course also mixed Metallica's And justice for All, worked on Tesla's first album, Mechanical Resonance, as the producer has done a whole bunch of other great stuff. So you know, go check out Steve's discography. You'll be completely, completely amazed and blown away. But this week we are going to speak with original manager Alan Niven. And just a great conversation with Alan. His thoughts are always very lucid, very clear, very direct. You will get a kick out of his story. So without further ado, here is the one, the only, former manager for Guns N' Roses, Alan Niven.

Mitch Lafon: We are speaking with former Guns N' Roses manager Alan Niven. Alan, always a great pleasure to talk to you and, as you know, we speak almost every day, so don't think I'm not going to ask you the hard questions.

Alan Niven: Well, the hardest question of all is are the Habs ever going to have a ice hockey team that's going to threaten the dominance of American ice hockey teams and our possession of the Stanley Cup?

Mitch Lafon: (Laughs) No, at this point there is no Canadian team prepared to win a Stanley Cup, though unfortunately the Toronto Maple Leafs seem to be positioning themselves better than any other Canadian team to have a chance in the next five years, which breaks my heart immensely.

Alan Niven: As much as this might shock you, I am going to suggest that you might be pleasantly surprised at how far a Canadian team will go this year. I think this year we're going to see a Canadian team maybe even get to the final.

Mitch Lafon: (Laughs) You mean get past the first round. But we are here for Appetite for Destruction, the 30th anniversary, which of course means we are both getting very, very old which is terrible, but… (laughs).

Alan Niven: Well, absolutely. I mean, I think you and I both thought that getting old would take a little longer and it is mildly shocking to think of it as 30 years passed since the release of the record. And it's mildly shocking to me that I've just sent celebrations to Curly, to Slash, for his 52nd birthday and when I first laid eyes on him, he was merely 19. Where does the time go?

Mitch Lafon: Yeah, I know. It goes too fast. But I think that it does underline, though, something very important, is the fact that this album has maintained a fan base, has maintained interest, and has stayed relevant for so long. So let's start there. Why has these songs, this collection of songs, stayed relevant for so long?

Alan Niven: I think there are a number of factors involved, Mitch. I think one factor is the lack of the emergence of a truly great rock and roll band since 1990. I know this is probably going to upset people, but the grunge era out of Seattle didn't bring an awful lot of joy. It seemed to be soaked in misery from my limited sense of perspective. Not much to celebrate in that form of music. And there's been no great rock and roll band to come out since, so that's one factor. Another factor is that it's a genuinely good rock and roll record. I still play and adore the first Led Zeppelin record, which to me has a sense of vitality that is timeless. And part of the success of Appetite is the fact that it had an authenticity to it, it had a vitality to it. I think all those factors play in there.

Mitch Lafon: It really does. So talk to me about your involvement. When did you get wind of these first demos and start thinking, “Okay, I want to work with this band, there's something here that's interesting to me”?

Alan Niven: Well, first of all, I didn't want to work with the band, because I was very focused on another circumstance and I didn't want to split my energies and compromise both entities with having to put energy into two different entities. I first got ahold of demos of the band in the summer of ‘86 and they came from Tom Zutaut at Geffen, and you could tell that there was a very punkish energy there. There was nothing to suggest that this band would translate well into the contemporary radio world at that time, which was very much ruled by the feel and sound of, say, Bad Company. The songs, there were some really good songs there. For me, it was the personalities that got me interested more than the demos. It was the characteristics of Slash, and Izzy, and Axl.

Mitch Lafon: You've often said that Izzy's the heart and soul of the band.

Alan Niven: I would excuse... hold on, hold on. Excuse me for interrupting. I've never said that. What I always say is “heart of the soul”.

Mitch Lafon: Okay.

Alan Niven: Not “heart and soul”. It's an important distinction to me, but he is the heart of the soul of the band.

Mitch Lafon: Okay. And what is it that he brought to Appetite for Destruction that made him the heart or made him so unique?

Alan Niven: The simplistic way to say it is, if Guns N' Roses were cool then Izzy was the freon. What I loved about Izzy was that he had an insouciance that informed the syncopation of his rhythm playing. He had a street vernacular in his lyric writing that was unimpeachable. And for me, as a rock and roller, he was entirely authentic.

Mitch Lafon: He really was. There are out there demos of Mr. Brownstone and a couple of other songs that you did with Michael Lardie of Great White. Talk to me about those demos and what's the story behind them.

Alan Niven: Well, it's not a demo. The original mix of Brownstone was done by Michael and myself. And the story there was that Mike Clink had spent two weeks trying to get a mix to Zutaut at Geffen and had not been able to deliver anything, and the poor guy was absolutely exhausted by this time. And I got a phone call from Tom, who was concerned that maybe Clink hadn't been able to catch anything worthwhile on tape. And I was in the middle of another production and I just said to Tom, “Look, just go down to Rumble, pick a roll of tape, send it down to the studio we're working in, and we'll take a look at it.” And this box arrived, and Michael and I were in the middle of doing overdubs on an album called “Once Bitten…” And we stopped what we were doing, we stripped the board, we set for a mix, and we did a real quick mix of Brownstone in about four hours. And the band were waiting up in Tom's office for word and I just called and said, “I think you'd better come down here,” and then just put the phone down, kind of leaving them in suspense. And it was actually only Izzy who came down. He was the only one who had the nerve to come down at that point. And when we did playback of the mix, by the time we got to the chorus, Izzy was just flying out of the sofa behind us like an ICB, you know, a (?) rocket pumping its fist in the air. Because Mike had got it on tape, he'd done a brilliant job of recording the band and it was there, it was just [that] Mike was really exhausted at that point, hence the first mix of Appetite was actually Brownstone and it was actually one that Michael and I did. And it ended up being used by Geffen on a lot of B-sides of singles all across Europe. So, you know, if you go looking at vinyl stores or flea markets, you might be able to find a 7-inch vinyl or a 12-inch vinyl that'll have that on it.

Mitch Lafon: The band had gone through a lot of different producers before choosing Mike Clink. They had considered Manny Charlton, they had considered Spencer Proffer, Paul Stanley of KISS. Were you involved at all in the choosing of a producer?

Alan Niven: Yes. Obviously, I was very interested to know what Tom was thinking. When I first signed on, they were actually recording at Pasha. And my understanding at the time was that Spencer Proffer was lined up to do the record, and, personally, I was a little dubious about that. I asked to meet with Spencer, and apparently I was not of sufficient significance in those days for him to give me his time. So I met with his assistant, which made me even more dubious. So one of the first things I did was suggest that maybe we should keep looking. And Tom came up with the idea of Mike Clink, and given that Mike had worked with Ron Nevinson, and given that Mike had worked with Michael Schenker, I knew that he was, one, an extremely good guitar engineer and very good at working guitar, and secondly, having worked with Michael Schenker, I knew he was capable of dealing with the difficult. So, in my mind, he was qualified. The other thing about Mike was that he’s a really naturally humble guy, he doesn't project a super huge ego. And that was a quality that both Tom and I admired in him in this circumstance, because if we had a Roy Thomas Baker type ego, I know that we would have had conflict between band and producer. And Mike was obviously proven to be really good at letting the band be the band and catching the band. And he did a brilliant job.

Mitch Lafon: He certainly did. But you also had Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero in there on the mixing. They of course had done Tesla's Mechanical Resonance and And Justice for All - well, in fact, that came out after, I believe.

Alan Niven: Yeah.

Mitch Lafon: But why not use Steve and Michael to be the producers? Because they had a proven track record. They were pumping out sort of massive album after massive album. Why not go with those two guys? Why just sort of push them off to mixing? Maybe that's not the right word. Why just have them mix it and not produce it?

Alan Niven: In my best memory, at that time they were known as remix specialists. I think they'd done some work with the Rolling Stones, for example, and their reputation was predominantly as mixers. They also lived and worked in New York, and Tom and I very definitely wanted to record in the band's hometown of L.A.; we wanted to keep it close to home. So, originally, when Mike was selected, Mike Clink, we thought that Mike would be doing the whole project, that he'd mix his own work as well. We only went looking for somebody to mix the record after it was apparent that Mike had been completely sucked dry and had had quite enough of dealing with Guns N’ Roses music at that point (laughs). So it wasn't that we were pushing them off or that we always intended to have somebody do the mixes and somebody do the recording. It was just a natural evolution of circumstance and a very fortuitous one. Because Thompson and Barbiero were amazing to watch, because they worked manually and it was almost like a dance routine in front of you as they tried not to collide with each other as each would adjust a knob here, a fader there, as the mixer's going down. And what I loved about that was that they were very much connected to the feel of the tracks, because they were so physical and manual in the way that they did it.

Mitch Lafon: No Pro Tools back then, it was all by hand. Now, you mentioned that-

Alan Niven: They preferred not to use automation. They felt that they connected better to the fluidity of the energy of a recording by working manually.

Mitch Lafon: Which I think you would agree with, and certainly something I agree with. I mean to get a, to capture a live feel, it should be live. It can't… you know. Now you mentioned that Mike Clink was exhausted towards the end of it, he couldn't - you know, he was tired of dealing with Guns N' Roses. The album itself sounds very live, very fresh, very off the floor. Was it that way or was there a lot of takes and comping mixes and sticking things together? Or was it really much a live record? How difficult was it to capture each song?

Alan Niven: Mike understood the direction that he got from Tom and I, which was to keep it as vital as possible. He would have it - you know, when he did basic tracks, he’d be looking for the drum track that had the best feel and vitality to it. If he could maintain as much of the bass track or as much of the rhythm guitar as he could on that, he would. So the approach was to keep it as vital as possible and not to get bogged down in overdubs. It's your basic tracks that really inform the feel, and if you can get good rhythm tracks, then, when you're laying over your lead guitar, when you're laying over your overdubs, when you're laying vocals over that, you've got a good vital energy that will support an overdub that has got some blood and some perspiration in it. You know, but that's not to say that there was not – there was a lot of time spent doing vocals and Mike spent a fair amount of time with Slash too, getting what they were happy with. But the basic tracks had the energy in them. With Steven, I would say that [he’s] not necessarily the most proficient technical drummer in the world. But the thing about Steven was that he brought an ebullience and a sense of joy to playing to the band that quite honestly hasn't been matched since. And he could play with a swing, and that's in those tracks.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah, that really is. And you know, we've mentioned how Matt Sorum afterwards was sort of the human drum machine and he's very much in the pocket. But Guns sort of built its reputation on that loose swagger, that sort of imperfect drumming sound of Steven Adler. It's incredibly difficult to capture that afterwards. It's something that's sorely missed with the band. Tom Zutaut recently did an interview with L.A. Weekly and he talks about how songs like November Rain, Don’t Cry, Reckless Life were all ready for the album but not included for various reasons. In your recollection, how many songs other than the 12 that made it were prepared for the album, and was it difficult choosing and casting aside certain ones? Tom certainly thinks that Reckless Life should be on there, but I have a hard time thinking, well, which one do you take off if you put that one on?

Alan Niven: Well, for me Reckless Life is very much of the pre-Appetite period. It’s a punk song with a punk attitude. And I think it's fair to say that Appetite had moved on from what you can hear on Live Like A Suicide, for example. So I had no problem with Reckless Life being held off. And one of the considerations that we had at the time when Appetite was being constructed was that it would be very smart to hold on to two or three songs for a second record so that we would have an opportunity to confound what was called the sophomore jinx. A band comes together, they spend a year or two writing their initial songs, they get a recording contract, suddenly they run through a video, they're out on the road supporting their debut record, they're working, working, working. They come back from that album cycle and the first thing a record company does is say, “You need to go back in the studio and record a new album. We can't lose momentum”. “If you lose momentum, people forget about you” is what the record companies used to say, and they'd rush you into the studio to do another record and get you back out there working. And an awful lot of bands would come back after that initial album cycle and they'd be exhausted, mentally and physically, and not have the energy to construct a really good catalogue of songs for a second album. And a lot of bands suffered from that, from a second album blues.

Mitch Lafon: Right, the sophomore jinx. The infamous sophomore jinx.

Alan Niven: Exactly. So part of the thinking was, let's hold over some songs so we've got a basis to start with for a second album. November Rain was very near and dear and significant to Axl. And there was a sense of, you know what, if we hold this back, it gives you more time to finesse the arrangement and be absolutely satisfied the song is going to be the way you want it. And if we've got a couple more songs, what was it, You Could Be Mine and Don't Cry, we've got something to start with for a second album. So, from my point of view, I was really content to hold back quality songs because we had a good album, and if we had something in the larder when we came back from our excursions that would be to the good.

Mitch Lafon: Is there any song on the album that you consider not relevant, you know, just, “Eh, it's there, but we could have done without it”?

Alan Niven: No, the album is the album. And for me a record is something that, if somebody starts to play it, I don't want them to lift the needle or turn the machine off until they've taken the whole journey. And for me, Appetite took you on a little journey. And that, to me, is the mark of a good record.

Mitch Lafon: David Geffen. Obviously, the album came out on Geffen Records. How instrumental was he in getting this album out? Did he give the band and you and Tom a lot of pressure? Was he more hands-off? Could the album have succeeded on any other label if it had not been on Geffen?

Alan Niven: That's more than a singular answer. Initially, let's take David's influence on the working process. David had no direct influence on the working process except for one, which was obviously critical. He was prepared to spend $365,000 on a debut record, which I found simultaneously terrifying, because that is a huge royalty hole to dig out of, and, at the same time, I was pleased that we were going to get this record done. But that was an awful lot of money to spend on a debut record, and obviously he allowed that. Any other record company would have probably pulled the plug once we went past spending $100,000. So there's part of your answer. I don't think another label would have put up with that kind of expenditure or a band with that kind of reputation. I think the band would have terrified most of the other labels. In terms of “would the band have succeeded on another label once the record was finished”, that again I doubt, too. There was a lot of serendipity to certain aspects of the development of the record. And bear in mind that Eddie Rosenblatt in December of 1987 took me out to lunch and informed me that the label wanted to have the band come home, and start preparing their second record and record their second record. And at that point we were at approximately 250,000 units sold. So there was an aspect of, we even survived Geffen because the company policy was, “we've sold a quarter million albums, we've basically recovered our money, now it's time to look at a second album”. And I looked at him across the table with a certain amount of annoyance and frustration. And I said, “Eddie, we're at a quarter million sales in six months without any AOR airplay and without any MTV airplay. Can you imagine where we might get to if we got a little of both?” And I was thinking, you know, we could maybe get this thing up to gold. You know, what did I know? I know nothing at all ever. But there was a big push from myself and from Tom to stay with the record in the coming year. And part of that push was harassment of MTV by everybody to give the video a play because they'd never played it. Another thing that we did was we had an offer to play the Santa Monica Civic as a Christmas show at the end of ’87, and I also had someone come to me and offer to play Perkins Palace, which was a smaller venue in Pasadena, and play more than one night. And I chose to go with the Pasadena shows, because I felt that if we could do multiple nights in Pasadena, it would be more of an event over the holiday period. And we ended up squeaking through four nights at Perkins Palace. And the executive at Geffen noticed that we played four nights, which was more than one, you know. Had we done one at Santa Monica Civic, they would have gone, “Okay, well, they can get a few people at Santa Monica Civic”. But they were impressed by the fact that we played four nights at Perkins Palace. That had a sense of event. And it was the holiday period, and a lot of people came out to look and see what was going on, and David Lee Roth turned up to check out a show, and so on and so forth. So there was a really good buzz over that. And so, coming out of the holiday period, we had a psychological momentum to stay with the record and keep supporting it. Had I sat there at the lunch table and said, “Yes sir, I'll do as instructed”, who knows where the band would have gotten to or what they would have been. But Tom and I both felt that, nah, we're not giving up on this sucker right now. Are you kidding me? A quarter million records after six months with very little support, you're smoking crack if you think we're coming home. We're staying out there.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah, and it's also a debut album. I mean, it's not the tenth album by Bruce Springsteen or anything, it's a debut. But you know, that whole MTV thing, they are a content-based service provider, they needed videos, they needed content to show. Why do you think they were so resistant? Because they had Headbangers Ball, they had Riki Rachtman, they had all those guys pushing the Def Leppard’s and the Bon Jovi’s and the Poison’s-

Alan Niven: Headbangers Ball didn't exist then.

Mitch Lafon: Okay. Well, I’m Canadian, so I have no idea what actually existed (laughs). We had The Power Hour up here.

Alan Niven: Yeah, all that, the Headbangers Ball and Riki Rachtman came in the wake of the record exploding in 1988. So, whoever was programming, they were a little more anglo-centric. They were still playing a lot of English bands, you know, English pop bands and so on and so forth. I did send a rather acerbic fax to John Cannelli, who was VP of programming at the time, suggesting that, instead of being so enamored with English pretty boys, maybe he should be aware of an all-American band that is lighting up the area between Manhattan and Beverly Hills. And fortunately, he took it all in good humor. Cannelli and I ended up being really, really good and close friends. But there was an intimation on my part of, you know, these ephemeral pop boys out of England don't cut it, how about a real American rock and roll band, John? Be aware of what's going on. And he had a little bit of a guilt circumstance because - that also dropped the ball on a song called Rock Me, and they’d hardly shown that on MTV either, and of course AOR radio just blew up with that song, and that was a huge disparity between what radio was doing and MTV were doing with that particular song. And, you know, I had to give them a little bit of grief about that, too, because they did not come to that party either. So, it was a moment, and the circumstances were fortuitous.

Mitch Lafon: Now, speaking of fortuitous, you know, the album is out for six months, seven months. It has a very punk ethos. There's It’s So Easy, Out Ta Get Me, you know, sort of this dirty rock and roll in your face. And yet, it's the one song that sort of doesn't fit, in a sense, Sweet Child O’ Mine, sort of the lovey ballad with the guitar riff. It’s too long, it's six minutes, it doesn't fit the format of MTV and all this. It's the one that sort of turned it around for the band, right? I mean, that's the one that sort of changed everything when that became the single.

Alan Niven: Well, I'd differ with you there.

Mitch Lafon: Okay.

Alan Niven: And I would say that Welcome to the Jungle, the video of Welcome to the Jungle, was the turnaround at MTV, because that ignited a tremendous response straight away. I actually went to look at that video not so long ago. I hadn't seen it in decades and I sat and watched it. And I thought, you know what, it passes the test of time. You know, obviously it’s a really good song, but it was also an intelligent video. And you know what, people talk about dangerous bands. My assessment of that is, a dangerous band is one that - if any band is ever dangerous. As far as I'm concerned, somebody with a sawed-off shotgun is dangerous. Bands are bands. But in terms of a band being called dangerous, the element and factor that I think makes a band “dangerous” is intelligence matched with viscerality. And if you can see that there's an intelligence behind a band, then you're required to think and respond and wonder what is going on, and, you know, hence that ridiculous terminology of dangerous band. And I think that video has an intelligence to it. It had a whiff of politics to it. It certainly had a whiff of sociology to it that matched the content of the song. And that video made a mark. So when we got to Sweet Child - and bear in mind, Welcome to the Jungle we were given a budget of $75,000, which sounds huge these days, but actually it was not enough for us to get the production company we want to work with to shoot the video that we wanted shot. So I had to piggyback that shoot on the back of another shoot and amortize costs between both video shoots to realize the storyboard that we wanted for Jungle. When we got around to Geffen saying, “Okay, you can shoot another video”, they gave us a whopping budget of 35 grand, and that was it. And Nigel Dick and I looked at each other and said, well, we've got to do what we've got to do. But from my point of view, I wasn't too upset because it meant that we basically had enough money to shoot the band and not shoot a whole lot of palaver and storyline. So it was going to be about the band, which is always the best aspect of any video. So that limited us to our approach. And the irony of it was, when Nigel and I were doing preparation for the video, we were both worried that we wouldn’t be able to get enough of good footage in one shoot that would be overnight, and we'd probably get about four or five hours of shooting, if that. And Nigel came up with a really inspired idea and he brought, I think it was three Bolex 16mm cameras to the shoot and he had a grip, load them with 16mm black and white film, and anybody who was on the shoot could pick up one of those Bolex’s and shoot B-roll, so the idea being that we'd make sure that we had enough B-roll. Well, when we got to edit-

Mitch Lafon: At this point there was an interruption in the phone service, but we got Alan right back to finish this story and more about Appetite for Destruction.

Mitch Lafon: We are back with Alan Niven, got a little disconnected there on the phone, but we were talking about the Sweet Child O’ Mine video shoot and we got to the three cameras and I don't know what they're called. Bolex, is that what they're called?

Alan Niven: They're called Bolex’s. They're a 16mm camera. And Nigel came up with this brilliant idea of having a grip load three Bolex cameras that anybody who was on the shoot could pick up and shoot B-roll while the main camera was used to get the main aspect of the video. And when we got to edit, and the reason we did this - you know, I don't know if this dropped out or not, but the reason we did this is we were worried if we'd have enough footage on a four or five hour shoot to be able to get a decent edit together, so hence Nigel's inspired thinking. And when Nigel and I got to sit down in the edit bay and look at all the footage, I looked at Nigel and I said, “Listen, do your primary edit”, which was a combination of color footage and black and white footage, “and then once we've done that, we're going to do another edit purely black and white, except for the very, very last shot”. And the irony is that we only had this budget of $35,000, but we ended up with two videos of the song. And when MTV played the primary video, it connected really, really well with the audience, primarily because it was basically just the band. And I remember getting a phone call from John Cannelli informing me that we were about to hit burnout on the video, at which point we delivered the second video and we got a whole new lease of life behind the song on MTV, which is one of the things that helped drive it to being such a success. So again, I'd love to say that it was genius and premeditated from the beginning, but at least we were smart enough to take advantage of what developed in front of us.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah, you really were. What was the other video that was being piggybacked on? Was it a Great White shoot or…?

Alan Niven: Yeah, so it was a Great White shoot. It was Lady Red Light. And that was piggybacking Welcome to the Jungle on to Lady Red Light, which meant that I used the same director and the same crew for four days, so there were two days on each video and we could amortize the cost of the videos, which meant that we could then get what I wanted to get shot on Welcome to the Jungle, because the budget that we had from Geffen would not allow us to get to do the storyboard that we wanted for Jungle. So by piggybacking it, we managed to cut corners and costs, four-day rentals on equipment, etc. etc. And we managed to get the storyboard of Jungle that I wanted to get.

Mitch Lafon: Well, that's brilliant. Now, as the record is being made and there are ups and downs and producers that are being chosen and songs being written, what exactly is your role? Were you there from the get-go, listening to every demo, getting in the studio and making suggestions? Or did you sort of show up every three months and say, “Oh, okay, well, you've got three good songs, keep going?” What was the exact sort of day-to-day involvement with the making of the album?

Alan Niven: Well, in terms of the material for Appetite, one of the things that was a huge positive to me was that the band could obviously write. And they could write some really excellent songs. And the other band I was dealing with, I had over time slowly become one of the main writers in the band to make up for lack of skills there on the part of certain individuals. So I was really happy that I wouldn't have to have that kind of involvement with the band, and it wouldn't split my energy and it wouldn't compromise, and I wouldn't be trying to get myself into two different head spaces. They wrote really, really good material. That said, obviously I paid attention to the songs and, you know, obviously, you know, mentally in my own mind checked them off and went “That's a good song,” “that's a good song”.  There was one song though that I was a little concerned about, and I felt that it was going to be an important song, and I felt that there needed to be something said about it. And that was actually Welcome to the Jungle. And originally it was, to my memory, a verse-chorus, verse- chorus, verse-chorus. And I felt uncomfortable about that arrangement, and in a pre-production rehearsal I asked Slash and Axl to look at that. And they came up with a really tasty little guitar bridge to break up it being just verse-chorus, verse-chorus, verse-chorus. Now, that was the only time that I ever had a comment. I did question Axl about Rocket Queen, you know, because it's so overtly two different states of mind and I said, “Are you sure you want them in one expression or are they two different songs?” And Axl said, “No, definitely it's one song with two states of mind”. And I said, “Okay, fine”. You know, you know what you're doing.

Mitch Lafon: He certainly does, because that's one of the greatest songs. In ‘88, I had a chance to see Guns open for Aerosmith on an extension of the Permanent Vacation tour. Now, I know that has maybe nothing to do specifically with the making of the album, but how important was that tour? Because when I look back on things, at least from my Canadian perspective, that tour seems to be the one that brought them to the greatest attention and, you know, apart from the Welcome to My Jungle video, apart from Sweet Child O’ Mine, it put them in front of people in seats. Was that tour important? Or was that just sort of another cog in the process where Jungle got it started and Sweet Child pushed it along? Or was it sort of a make-and-break kind of tour for them?

Alan Niven: In a number of respects there was an aspect of make-and-break to it. We’d had a couple of misadventures. There was an AC/DC tour that I’d personally secured for them. It seemed to elude the agent we had at the time, who I think was playing politics, but we got the opening on an AC/DC tour. And then we had an incident in Phoenix and AC/DC went, “We don't want any part of this band”. We were out with Iron Maiden, which wasn't necessarily the most sympathetic of combinations, but at least I could keep all my smackheads on a bus, and keep an eye on them, and keep them alive, and keep them mobile and away from their dealers. And that had gone down the tubes, and from my perspective, we had to go out on at least one more tour to see where this record was going and the only one available was Aerosmith. And, of course, Aerosmith at that time were all rehab fellas, you know, so, in the ordinary circumstances, the likelihood of Tim Collins taking on GN’R to open for guys that he had rigid control over to keep them from their habits was very slight. But we were label mates, and I went to Eddie Rosenblatt and I said, “We need the Aerosmith tour and you've got to deliver it for us.” And David Geffen and Eddie Rosenblatt basically beat Tim Collins up and insisted that he take out GN’R, so thank you David and Eddie. And off we went on the Aerosmith tour, which Axl did not want to do at the time. However, from my perspective of my involvement with the band, that tour is the highlight of my experience with the band. That was the highest moment, the magic of, and the incredible response being manifest by the audience. I used to feel bad for Aerosmith having to follow GN’R on stage, because GN’R would suck all the energy out of huge audiences before they hit the stage. But that was an incredible tour and it remains in my memory as the highlight of my experience with the band.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah, and now I would agree that they were sucking the energy, except I saw them in Saratoga Springs, New York, open for Aerosmith, and I think they walked off after four songs or something, because somebody had thrown a bottle (laughs).

(Alan Niven laughs).

Mitch Lafon: But from the Canadian perspective, that's where they became just more noticeable. There was just something about that combination, because I remember the buzz at the time was “Oh, the next big thing is going to open for Aerosmith. Next tour Aerosmith will be opening up for them”. And I just remember thinking, “Well, that's silly. Aerosmith is not opening for anybody. Aerosmith is the greatest band ever”. But yeah, no, no, but I'm just thinking I'm trying to recollect those days of 1988 because there was just those two together. There was an energy there and you could tell that that was sort of like, okay, Guns is not just an opener. They're not just five kids.

Alan Niven: Yeah, and the guys in Aerosmith, too, took a big shine to GN’R. And I think part of that shine was that they were having to make these incredibly saccharine and processed records for Geffen under John Kalodner, and I think part of them looked with envy at GNR, who were not being forced to do that and who were going out there and being a very raw and visceral band, which once Aerosmith were themselves to a degree. And I think they looked at that and said, you know, “They're our little brothers in a way”. There was a really good relationship between both bands.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah, there was. And there was an irony also that, at that time, Metal Hammer magazine had somewhat dismissed Guns N' Roses as being the poor man's Aerosmith. And when they got on that tour, they showed that they weren't the poor man anybody. They were Guns N' Roses.

Alan Niven: Exactly. And it's like going, you know, I could be accused of saying, “Oh, Guns N' Roses, were your attempt to have your poor man's version of the Rolling Stones?” No, the Rolling Stones are the Rolling Stones. Guns N' Roses are Guns N' Roses. But my perspective after a year or so with the band was that they had the potential and the talent to have the kind of career and build the kind of catalogue that the Rolling Stones had. And they very much had personified the attitude that had turned me on about the Stones, which is utterly anti-authoritarian. And they espoused the worth of every soul, including the souls of urchins from under the street, which I think it's elemental in rock and roll, it's that blue collar heart of rock and roll. And I think they shared that with the Stones. And of course, to me, Aerosmith were - when I first looked at them, I thought they were a poor man's Rolling Stones.

Mitch Lafon: Right. Which is the irony there. Aerosmith are the poor man's Stones and I think of the math, you know, Rolling Stones greater than Aerosmith, Aerosmith greater than Guns N' Roses. And yet, none of that is true. They're all equally...

Alan Niven: None of that is true. You know, when we're evaluating bands, we have this capacity to make those glib and unfortunate comparisons, “Oh, they are poor man’s this, they’re poor man's that”. In certain cases, sometimes we're right. I mean, the New York Dolls to me are a wretched and incompetent version of The Rolling Stones. You knew what they were trying to be, but they just didn't have it to be it. But with the Stones and Aerosmith and GN’R, each of those bands had a true essence of rock and roll within them that they eventually defined with their own personalities. You know, and that essence of rock and roll, as far as I'm concerned, is anti-authoritarian and the best of rock and roll is produced by bands who become the voice of the disenfranchised, who speak a little bit of truth to power. And I think all of those bands have that ability.

Mitch Lafon: And I also don't know if the word is irony, but I want to underline when you said that, you know, AC/DC didn't want anything to do with Guns N' Roses back then…

(Alan Niven laughs).

Mitch Lafon: After what happened last year, apparently they do. Here's a question that you might not have been asked before, but record companies like to repackage and repurpose stuff. If there was ever a Guns N' Roses Deluxe Edition, and I'm pretty sure that within the next 30 years, there probably will be one, because that's what we do. We repackage. What would you like to see on it? Would you like to see sort of the original demos of November Rain on there and You’re Crazy, the slower version? I mean, how would you see it? Or what would you do if you had the decision-making power to put out a deluxe edition?

Alan Niven: Well, you're talking to somebody who's a little bit Catholic in that I believe the decisions have already been made in the construction of the original album and its form. And repackaging to me is just marketing and an aspect of “never mind the quality, feel the width”. You know, it’s, to me, I don’t like it. I don't like repackaging at all. What I would be curious about would be to have Use Your Illusions made into one album and see how that worked out. Because I think there is one really great album in Use Your Illusions, but I'm still skeptical about the fact that there are two.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah. Well, that I'll agree on. There's a lot of bands out there that have put out double albums - double studio albums, not double live - and on every single occasion, every single occasion I go, wow, it's great that you gave me 25 songs but I really would have preferred like the best 12. You know? (laughs).

Alan Niven: Yeah, well, it's interesting. You know, back in the day when we had vinyl, and of course most of your listeners probably don't know what vinyl is, you'd have approximately 20 minutes per side of an album. And I found it very interesting. There's a lecture thing that you can find on the internet called the TED Talks, and they're very stimulating and interesting lectures. And the guy who puts them together limits the TED talk to 18 to 20 minutes, because in his research that is the maximum amount of time for concentration and comprehension-

Mitch Lafon: Attention span. Yeah.

Alan Niven: And that if you go beyond 20 minutes people start to glaze over, which I find interesting. You know, it's an A and a B side. And I still fervently believe that the best record is the one that ends just before you want it to, and you reach out to hit replay rather than look at your watch and go, “Oh, here's the 15th song here?” Because, for me, an album is a form of self-expression and I'm a firm believer that 40 to 45 minutes is the length of time that the album listening experience supports. And I like a record that lasts about that long, and then I'll listen to a different one.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah, you know, and I will have to totally agree with that. I remember back in the day listening to Aerosmith Rocks, and KISS Destroyer, and all these albums that were done within 38 minutes. And then they invented CD, and suddenly everybody was doing 17 song albums, and it went from “Wow, I heard Rocks and I'm done and I can go play tennis” to “Is this thing still fucking on? Holy crap. Does this ever end?” (laughs).

Alan Niven: Yeah.

Mitch Lafon: And in the late ‘80s we got a lot of CDs that were like, “Is this thing ever going to end because I really got stuff to do?” And it's too bad. And I'm glad to see bands like The Biters and stuff like that are coming back to that ethos of less is more. Less is more.

Alan Niven: Yes, absolutely. Less is more in certain contexts. And as far as the record goes and repackaging goes, those marketing decisions that contrary to - and I don't want to sound ridiculous and pompous here, but it goes against the art of constructing a record. Because, to me, a record is a journey, it takes you from A to C, hopefully, and if you start adding on, you know, this mix of that and this mix of that, it's just, to me, an aspect of quantity over quality for no purpose that compromises the sense of construction and the art in that construction.

Mitch Lafon: Well, because there's a lot of talk in the fan community that it would be nice to have it repackaged with The Ritz show, you know, the infamous Ritz show. I guess from your perspective, The Ritz show should be released but as a standalone and just live in its glory.

Alan Niven: Yes, absolutely. And the other aspect is, you know, the joke back in the day is there's no such thing as a demo, there are only unreleased masters. Because once you record something, anything, and the record company sign you to a contract where they swallow the copyright of that, if you're successful, they'll release any band's greatest farts if they think they can make a profit out of it, which undermines the whole creative process as far as I'm concerned. But a demo should be a demo and should remain so. It's kind of like, would Picasso sell his charcoal initial constructions of his paintings? Probably not. But it's that thing that, you know, there's initial charcoal dogs on a canvas, and when somebody starts becoming a famous artist, it starts to crew value because somebody wants it, and if somebody wants it they'll pay for it. Somebody will pay for it and somebody will sell it to him. But is it valid? I question that.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah. And, you know, we'll leave it at that because we've done a little over 40 minutes here of just talking about one album, which is challenging for me, I have to say. Normally I jump around from topic to topic. At this point, in a normal conversation, we would have been knee deep in talking about different singers, and different this, and Guns N' Roses and Great White. But it is a great album. And is there anything we missed? And then we'll get a final word on… what do you think of the state of Guns N' Roses in 2017? Everybody in 2015 said it'll never happen. In 2016, it did happen with Slash going back. And everybody said, well, it's not going to be good. And to me, it's great.

Alan Niven: Mitch, who could see this coming? And I've had a number of people in the last week tell me that the show in New York was fantastic.

Mitch Lafon: Yes, of course I was.

Alan Niven: I think part of the reason why it was fantastic was because it was confined in a smaller building, which amplifies the power and everybody has said that Slash was sublime and he is definitely playing the best of his life. His playing at the moment is magnificent. And I have to take my cap off to Axl. Who saw this coming? That is an incredible workload that he has gotten through already and now they're playing over three hours. I don't know how he's doing it. I don't know if they're injecting him with the Virgin's blood, but whatever they're doing, he has taken on an incredible workload and brought it. And let me tell you, when the reunion - and I have a hard time with the reunion because, from my personal perspective, if Izzy's not there, it's not truly Guns N' Roses reunion. But when this thing first got rolling, all the conventional wisdom was that maybe they'd get through five dates before it imploded and exploded. And I just have to say that I'm mildly in awe at the moment. I'm absolutely amazed at how many shows they've done. And I'm really stunned at the workload that Axl has shouldered, and I think that's… I can't figure it out. I can't figure out how he's done it. He's in his fifties. I’d draw the analogy that, you know, people like Pavarotti sang long and hard at the performance well into the later years. But a rock and roll show of three and a half hours, that’s a lot to take out of any human body and it's a lot of work when you're in your twenties. When you're in your fifties, it's amazing. I'm really stunned by it.

Mitch Lafon: And I'll add that not only is it difficult at that age, but a lot of the shows have been in these outdoor settings and a lot of these shows have been done in these incredible temperatures where it's going to be, you know, 90 degrees outside, 100 degrees outside and the band has... they have gone through all the elements and they've done it. They're just doing it. And I will also say for the record that you take those Chinese Democracy songs - you know, Chinese Democracy, Better, This I Love - and you put Slash's guitar on them, and they have that magical element. They become de facto Guns N' Roses classic era songs. They just sound absolutely wonderful with Duff, and I’d like to say I don't want to forget Duff. With Duff's bass playing and Slash's fingers on those songs, it's just a great show. It's just a great show.

Alan Niven: It really is. And the one thing that I do know is that Slash is playing at his peak at the moment. Who knows where he'll be in two or three years, but he is playing absolutely at an excellence.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah. All of them. And, hopefully, they will reconvene in the studio and create some more studio magic but… until then, we have live magic and I’m perfectly at ease and happy with that. So, there we go. Thank you. Thank you for everything, by the way.

Alan Niven: Oh, you're very welcome. It's always a pleasure to talk with you.

Mitch Lafon: And the Montreal Canadians will win a Stanley Cup… sometime in the next century, I'm sure of it. I probably won't be here to see it, but…

Alan Niven: (Laughs) Unfortunately, I have to inform you that they suffer from the curse of the blade and they are not going to win for a long, long time.

Mitch Lafon: Yes, and I'm here to remind you that-

Alan Niven: Edmonton will be more likely to raise the cup before the Habs.

Mitch Lafon: That I'll agree with, by the way, because that general manager has stitched together and cobbled together a little dangerous powerhouse that nobody pays attention to because they're not the New York Rangers and they're not the Los Angeles Kings and they're not the Toronto Maple Leafs. They're just this backwood town, but they've got a lot of firepower and the moves they've made this summer is going to make them that much better. They are not going to be bounced. What was it, the first round or the second round this year? They're not going out that early this year. We will have some May hockey in Edmonton.

Alan Niven: I would not be surprised if they made the Stanley Cup finals in this coming year.

Mitch Lafon: Yeah, and if not this year, definitely in the next two or three, because as Conor McDavid and that team gelled and they smoothed over the little holes that they had, yeah, it's going to be a great team. And of course, I was just going to say, we all know that hockey is a much, much better sport than soccer and or rugby will ever be, and there's no debating that (laughs).

Alan Niven: And that's when I say thank you very much, Mr. Lafon, and good night.

Mitch Lafon: Thank you, sir, always a pleasure. And it is now time to go buy some milk for the kiddies.

Alan Niven: There you go (laughs).

Mitch Lafon: Merci, bonsoir.

Alan Niven: You're very welcome.

Mitch Lafon: Bye-bye.


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2017.08.21 - Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon - Interview with Alan Niven Empty Re: 2017.08.21 - Rock Talk With Mitch Lafon - Interview with Alan Niven

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