SLASH DISCUSSES GN’R, HIS NEW SOLO ALBUM, DIVORCE, DAVID BOWIE AND VELVET REVOLVER
Brian Hiatt of Rolling Stone spoke with Slash about the Guns N’ Roses reunion and his new solo album. Highlights from the interview appear below.
RS:How did you manage to make a Conspirators album with all the Guns touring you’re doing?
Slash: I started preproduction on this new material, and then I went back on the road [solo]. At some point, Axl and I hooked up on the phone, and then we met for a little bit and started talking about doing Coachella. Just for the fun of it, because we were sort of back on friendly ground again. That turned into a whole f–king extended tour, which is still going. So all that material sat on the back burner. On our last big break, I got back together with Myles and everybody, and we revisited those songs, picked out the ones that we still wanted to work on, and then I’d written some new stuff. We just put all that together and just rehearsed and, y’know, got the arrangements and all that shit together. And we’ll do some touring in September. And Guns goes back out in November. And then we’ll go out in January with Conspirators. And we just go like that.
RS: Your first solo album was a sign of doom for the original Guns. Is there any message being sent by releasing this project now?
Slash: No. It’s really just that we started it and then I put it on the back burner, so I’m just finishing it up. But, I mean, at the same time, I wanna keep that going as something that I have outside of what Guns N’ Roses is doing.
RS: In the old days, your sobriety was most at risk when you were sitting around – have you moved beyond that?
Slash: Yeah, no, I haven’t had a problem with that. I’ve been really fortunate that I finally got to that point where I was just over it. And I haven’t had an issue since then. I haven’t had the desire to go back and do that.
RS: Have you stayed sober since 2006?
Slash: Yeah, so it’s been going well. All addicts and alcoholics have to always know that it’s there. And I think, probably I’m at my weakest if I don’t have a bunch of shit going on.
RS: Did you really think that Coachella could’ve been it for the Guns reunion?
Slash: Originally, it was just to do those first couple of shows, and that was a gas. I missed being on a stage with Axl and Duff [McKagan]. I missed that combination. It whet the appetite to do more.
RS: So are you in Guns N’ Roses, or are you just playing with Guns N’ Roses?
Slash: Oh, that’s an interesting question. From the moment we started playing together and embarking on this journey, I would consider it being in Guns N’ Roses, not just being hired to play Guns N’ Roses songs.
RS: So technically, legally, is it a band again?
Slash: I’m in the band — there is no contractual anything at this point. So however you want to look at it.
RS: I really enjoy seeing you play the Chinese Democracy tracks. What’s that like for you?
Slash: Um, I mean, it’s fun playing them. There’s nothing weird about it. It’s not like I’m playing something out of my comfort zone. I’m very conscious of maintaining the integrity of the recording, but still doing it the way that I would approach it.
RS: You guys are still adding to the set list, which suggests this is an active collaboration.
Slash: We work really well together, and we’ve worked really hard since we’ve gotten this thing going. We put a lot of heart and soul into it. We’re not just phoning it in.
RS: Axl said you and Duff might play on new Guns material. True?
Slash: I think probably the best way to look at is, if something happens, then it happens. There you go.
RS: Specifically, he said he was playing you songs, and that you might end up on it.
Slash: Yeah. You know what? I’m not lighting that fuse.
RS: Your old friend Marc Canter suggested there is some connection between your recent divorce and your ability to reconcile with Axl.
Slash: No, it had nothing to do with — neither one had anything to do with the other. At least on my end, y’know.
RS: It was always was a challenge to find someone else you could play with who wasn’t Izzy, so how does it work with Richard Fortus?
Slash: Richard has got a great sensibility. He’s very much a rock & roll guitar player, but technically, he’s an amazing guitar player. He’s very rooted in the kind of rock guitar we were all influenced by. So it makes him very, very easy to work with. He’s not going through the motions, he’s not posing, you know, so to speak. So, that’s how that works.
RS: What’s it like playing with Frank Ferrer? He doesn’t sound like Steven Adler or Matt Sorum. He has his own thing. What’s the vibe there musically?
Slash: Well, no, he doesn’t play like either of those guys, but he’s been doing it for longer than I was ever in the band [laughs]. So he’s got his thing on lock, yeah.
RS: The tempos of the old songs are up. Was that something you and Duff pushed for?
Slash: I think it was just high energy, because now things have started to settle down a little bit more. I felt like there was a lot of energy from those, you know, from Coachella through the first U.S. tour that we did, where everything was very sort of uptempo and just sort of manic. And I think that was just from a collective high energy from where we were at that time. It wasn’t intentional, the speed. Unless it was — I’m trying to think. There might have been a couple songs, you know, because I like to speed everything up anyway, you know.
RS: What can you say about the Izzy situation on this tour?
Slash: Uh, I’m not gonna go anywhere near that. I thought what he had to say about it, from what I saw – I didn’t read the whole thing – but the basic come away, I thought, was well handled.
RS: You’ve tried to get him involved with various things in the past.
Slash: I mean, there was a point there, well before Velvet Revolver started where he was interested in doing something with that. But, we were looking to get a front guy, and he didn’t want to deal with the frontman kind of thing. And we were definitely headed into the get-a-front-guy direction. But it wasn’t a big issue, you know. There’s never been any kind of disappointment or anything like that. At least on my end.
RS: Are these the only Guns shows you’ve played sober?
Slash: From ’86 to ’94, there was definitely not a day or a show that I was sober. The interesting thing, and I talk to Axl about this too, is there haven’t been any moments onstage that take me back to the past. It’s the same people, for the most part, and a lot of the same songs, and it still seems like a new experience. Which is probably a testament to the frame of mind I was in back then.
RS: Does that mean some of your memories are gone?
Slash: I have clear memories of stuff, and then I have not-so-clear memories of stuff [laughs].
RS: Back then, you could play quite well when you were messed up.
Slash: I was a very functional alcoholic. I mean, when I was on tour, it’s always alcohol. I knew better than to try and carry a [heroin] habit on the road, knowing that if things don’t go as planned, and you’re gonna be sick and all that miserable s–t. So, it was just alcohol that I was dealing with. Which is its own demon, but I mean, I was good with it [laughs].
RS: In Duff’s book, he says that he and Axl both rejected the music you wrote that ended up on your first Slash’s Snakepit album, It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere. Do you think, in retrospect, they were right?
Slash: Hmm. I mean, I’m not even sure what was going on there. It was just stuff that I was writing. I don’t think it was necessarily, like, I don’t remember ever presenting any of it as new Guns N’ Roses.
RS: In your book, you say you did.
Slash: I mean, I know there were a couple riffs, but then, those probably didn’t go anywhere, so then I was just like, “OK, fine, I’m just gonna go do this.” And that’s more or less what happened. No one was particularly excited about doing those songs, so then the rest of the record just was other new stuff that I was writing, and I just sort of went that way.
RS: Eric Dover, the singer for that project, was really talented.
Slash: Eric was great, and I love [bassist] Mike Inez, and it was a cool little unit. But then, there was a point when we were on the road, and Eric really wasn’t comfortable. He’s a guitar player, and he can sing; he’s a good singer, but he wasn’t comfortable as a frontman. And there was a point there, during the tour, um, where I became aware that he really was not; he was out of his comfort zone, having to go up and front the band, so that was sort of that.
RS: Your mom was African-American and your dad is English. You joked that “it’s weird to be a rock musician who’s black and
British, because a lot of British rockers want to be black.” But what does your background mean to you?
Slash: It’s never been part of my makeup, to be able to differentiate myself from anybody else because of color. I went through a lot of that as a kid — in school you’re pigeonholed into being more aware of your background. When I started doing my own thing, especially playing guitar, it wasn’t so much of a thing. I never really cared to have to identify one way or another.
RS: So you don’t think of yourself as black?
Slash: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. It was always confusing on school questionnaires. [Laughs] You know, “other.”
RS: How do you feel about guitar becoming less important in music? There hasn’t been a new guitar hero for a while.
Slash: Yeah, for the most part, guitar is not considered as important an instrument to a lot of this music as it might’ve been before. And that’s happened before. I think even when the sort of New Wave thing started happening in ’78-’79, there was, like, a getting-rid-of-the-guitar, “f–k Led Zeppelin” attitude. My mom had a boyfriend when I was a kid who was all about Elvis Costello and Devo and anybody that wasn’t Led Zeppelin. Punk rock was all guitar with nary a guitar solo. But with New Wave in the Eighties and MTV, it became less and less important.
At this point, you’ve got somebody like Jack White who definitely has kept guitar at the forefront and kept it relevant – because he’s got some great ideas and his songs are good and his whole direction is something that people f–king dig. Then the guitar all of a sudden works great. So it really depends where the guitar sits with the artist that’s performing. Like, if the songs are really good and the band dynamic or whatever makes it sound special and the guitar is a part of that, people relate to it. But I don’t think anybody’s really into guitar for the sake of guitar.
RS: The Greta Van Fleet phenomenon is interesting — they’re opening for you guys.
Slash: It makes me really happy to see it. I wish they didn’t sound so much like Led Zeppelin, but still, the idea of f–kin’ four kids getting onstage and just playing their f–kin’ asses off with just a couple amps and a drum kit, and just playing their instruments, as opposed to having all this other f–kin’ s–t going on, you know, that’s really healthy, and I think that’s inspiring. It definitely makes a lot of kids who are doing the same thing, that no one’s ever heard of . . . it gives them hope to be able to get somewhere.
RS: Your mom dated David Bowie, and you guys developed an adult relationship. Did you get to say goodbye?
Slash: No, not at all. A year or so before [his death], I was trying to get him into a horror movie I was working on [laughs]. And that was the last time I spoke to him. He was a very cool fuckin’ character. He’s somebody that you really could look up to. He was an icon that really deserved that moniker.
RS: You had a hard time with him, but how did you react to Scott Weiland’s death?
Slash: As crazed as that whole period was, I was still shocked to hear about Scott. But yeah, Velvet Revolver was no fun. I have nothing positive to say about that experience except that we did write some cool stuff.
RS: Your parents’ divorce was such a major thing for you — did that put any weight on your own recent divorce?
Slash: I was younger than they were. How old was I? I think I was like eight. And I just remember it being traumatic, and there was no support system, really. My mom was working, my dad was off doing his thing. And so I stayed with my grandma. So I definitely tried to be way more in contact with them, way more hands-on when my ex and I split up. You just kind of try to be there for your kids.
RS: Do you still have a defibrillator in your chest?
Slash: It’s still in there, I’ve never taken it out. The battery ran out a long time ago, but my heart came back to normal. They could take it out, but they would have to detach the leads to it, which are attached to my heart which is more of a risk than just leaving it in there.
RS: You’re obviously lucky to be alive and in decent health, given what you put your body through.
Slash: The motivation to play is what saved me, because when I first got really sick I was on the road opening for AC/DC, and I had to cancel. It was the first time I had to cancel anything, and I was so f–king frustrated. So when the doctors go, “Well you have, like, maybe six weeks [to live],” and they put me in physical therapy, they put me on some drugs. And the doctor who put the defibrillator in me, was like, “OK, just try to stay on the straight and narrow for a little while.” And I was so motivated to make up those dates that that’s really what saved me, and I got my s–t back together. In 2005 to 2006 I went to my deepest, lowest point, and I was just, like, this sucks. There’s no recapturing the glory, it’s just not gonna happen.
RS: Why have you been able to stay alive and sober when so many people just disappear into the abyss?
Slash: I think about it sometimes. I was on a crazed suicide mission for the longest time. I just did not give a s–t. So, everything had to be testing the f–kin’ boundaries all the time and pushing the limit all the time, and I didn’t think twice about it. I had enough incidents that should have scared me out of that, you know, but I just didn’t care. So then there was a point there where I realized I’m just not going anywhere. You get to a point where your addictions become such a massive burden, and you’re so f–kin’ miserable, that if you’re fortunate enough to come to terms with it, it really aids you in quitting. [Laughs] Because there’s really nothing to gain out of any of it. And if you’re not gonna f–kin’ quietly pass away from an overdose or something and you keep having these times, you end up in the hospital, and you keep coming back. Then you sort of come to grips with, like, “If I’m not going anywhere, I might as well make the best of being here.”
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