Total Guitar - January 1997
By Gary Graft
"I love bands. Its
just that getting all the gears to work at the same time sucks."
Gary Graft talks to Slash in his last interview before the split with
Guns N' Roses
Slash is walking the floors of his Hollywood home - a leased place, as
the house he owned was damaged in the last major LA earthquake. Today's
"Where the fuck is that other sock," the lanky guitarist
mutters as he packs a suitcase. Seems we've caught him on the way to Miami,
where he'll take part in the press junket for the film Curdled, a new
Quentin Tarantino outing whose soundtrack features some new Slash music.
At this point he has no way of knowing that the films abysmal opening
- a mere $1,200 during its first weekend in New York - will doom it to
a straight-to-video future. Slash is jazzed to be notching another adventure
into his guitar strap.
"You know," he says with a laugh, "all things
considered, for a little scraggly-haired guitar player wandering around,
I do okay. I go to the weirdest places, man".
That he does. During the past year or so, Slash has supplemented Guns
N' Roses' occasional get-togethers with a full plate of his own activities.
He recorded and toured with one band of his own, the ill-fated Slash's
Snakepit,a and formed another one, Slash's Blues ball. And while it only
seems like he's jammed with every other player on the planet, he's made
his way into disparate array of situations, sharing stages with Guns mate
Duff McKagan's Neurotic Outsiders along with senior state mens like Les
Paul, James Brown and Bobby Blue Bland. "He's a maniac,"
McKagan says. "That guy'll play anywhere, at anything...He'd probably
play at a department store opening if someone asked him." Slash's
own take on his workload is relatively simple.
"It's too much fuckin' fun, and life is too short," he explains.
"When things are getting too slow, you can always find a day in the
week or a weekend to go out and play...If you don't take chances, you
don't know what it would turn out like."
Even, he adds if it not always Paradise City.
"Yeah, sometimes it can be bad, but rarely is it not fun,"
Slash says. "The first gig I had with Les Paul, was six years
ago. I got up and jammed with him at Fat Tuesday's. He basically wiped
the stage up with me; I never wanted to be off stage so badly... "But
it was an experience, a lesson definitely well-learned. I've played with
him three times since and it got better and better. I know now you've
got to pay attention, don't get ahead of yourself and play in the situation,
Anyone who knows even a bit about Slash understands that his entry into
the music industry was inevitable. Born 31 years ago in Stoke-on-Trent,
young Saul Hudson was raised by rock 'n' roll. His father, Anthony, designed
album covers and now works in the video realm, most recently with Smashing
Pumpkins. His mother, Ola, designed clothes, including the suits David
bowie wore in the film The Man Who Sold the World; she's recording an
album of her own now, which Slash - who plays on it - describes as
"a Sade kind of thing, dance music but with a little more to it than
that." He remembers, and still owns, the music he listened to
growing up, the Rolling Stones' Let It Bleed, Cat Stevens' Tea For The
Tillerman, Led Zeppelin's first, a Carly Simon album he can't remember
the name of. The first album he picked up all by himself? That would be
Aerosmith Rocks, an album he warmed to at considerable personal expense.
"I was infatuated with this older girl when I was in junior high
school," remembers Slash, who by that time had moved to Los Angeles.
"She was like the impossible catch; she had another boyfriend. I
finally managed to get over to her place, and that's the record she played.
So after working so hard to procure this woman, she puts on this record
- and that's all we did! We listened to it four or five times, and I rode
home on my bike, and that was it for me. "That record was right up
my alley - my discovery record as an individual as opposed to something
my parents played for me."
The fledging guitarist had his first band, called Tidas Sloan, together
by the time he was 15. He'd move on to groups called Road Crew, Hollywood
Rose (his first with Guns singer Axl Rose) and a host of others. Then,
as now, he would play with whoever asked.
"The only way I ever learned was by playing under somebody else,"
he says. "Even when I had my own band, I used to go out and jam
with people. I don't know where I got the nerve from; I don't remember
thinking about it too much, either. I'd just go out and play with people
who are 10 times better that me... "I'm still working at it. You
can't accomplish the instrument to the point where you no longer have
to have some sort of musical ambition. There's always something new to
Ask Slash to detail those lessons and he demurs. Strike that; he downright
refuses. He's not keeping secrets though; Slash simply doesn't sweat the
"I normally don't think about it,"he explains."I
go in and sort of adapt. When I'm practising at home, I like to play a
lot of chromatic stuff. I stop in between different notes and come up
with different ideas and stuff. I'll play however many notes in succession,
and all of a sudden I'll catch four and realise there's something there...and
I'll start fucking with that. Rocket Queen is indicative of that approach
- basically just sitting around and playing, maybe zoning out, watching
TV and playing guitar at the same time. All of a sudden, the ear catches
something. Welcome To The Jungle has a lot of that, too. It's more or
less the same kind of way I've always written; if I'm just tying notes
together, not really paying attention, when you catch onto something you
start there and begin working on an actual tune."
But what if he forgets that handful of notes?"You know what, I'm
not lazy but...I just remember it," he says. "When I
did Snakepit, I had a studio in my house, and it was great to in and record
stuff. But since the earthquake, I don't have a studio. So I'm basically
doing what I did in high school. I do have two DAT players now; I play
through one while the other records it. That's how I wrote Obsession,
the song for this movie, Curdled."
Where's The Band?
The thing that's surprising about Slash's approach is that for a guitar
hero, he has a hard-set band sensibility, treating his laying - even his
solos - as another part of the soup.
"I've never liked overbearing long guitar solos or guilt-oriented
music to the point where you say "Boy, where's the band?""
"The band is an integral part of where the guitar is coming from;
without the band, the guitar is not there. That being the case, when you
do a guitar solo - even a long one - it's influenced by the way the band
works, not the other way around.
"When (drummer) Steven my was in Guns, he used to watch my foot to
keep time. That's what I mean, if you're gonna take the fuckin' time to
go out and be a group, you've got to play like one - not like Hendrix
who had the guitar up front and it didn't matter where the band was or
Sting, where all the other musicians do is wonder "Do I still have
Now that's a fine philosophy for Guns N' Roses, or even Snakespit or Blues
Ball. But what happens when Slash gets something like that Curdled project
- where he's free to create on his own accord? He laughs at that question,
fully comprehending the contradiction.
"Don't get me wrong; I love bands," he says. "It's
just that getting all the gears to work at the same time sucks. So it's
nice to have an outlet that, when you do approach it, you're not tense
or pissed off worried about the last week of rehearsal you had when everyone
didn't get on. If you have this outlet, you can come in very cool, ready
to listen to anybody's ideas without being bitter or anything."
We know that Guns N' Roses has been nothing if not the most volatile band
on the planet (do you think Oasis took its lessons only from the Kinks?).
And our man Slash's main gig has been on something of a respite since
its Use Your Illusion tour wound down in 1993. With exception of some
oddball oldies projects - The Spaghetti Incident LP (which, by the way,
features a Slash vocal medley of T-Rex's Buick Makane and Soundgardens
Big Dumb Sex and the remake of Sympathy for the Devil for the interview
With the Vampire film - the Guns have been firing only sporadically. But
the group has been working hard of late, with every intention of releasing
a new album in '97. And the band's guitar ranks have swelled to three
- with Rose picking up an axe of his own.
"That tripped me out when I first came back," Slash says.
"I figured 'Okay, that's where his focus has been. I haven't really
talked to him about it, to tell the truth. I guess he's just been sitting
at home, figuring out chords or something. Maybe he's been taking lessons."
So how is he? "How's Izzy?" Slash asks with a laugh."I'm
avoiding the question." Well, is he better than Mick Jagger on
guitar? "I've never paid attention to Mick Jagger playing guitar,
so I couldn't compare them. Rose's sound is a lot more synthetic than
anything I would get anywhere close to. That's about all I can say."
So far, Slash and McKagan say the band has worked up about 16 songs, and
the bassist reports that: "the material is really strong...This
record is going to fuckin' rock. There's nothing like the chemistry of
Guns when we're in the same room."
But Slash warns of potential chemical alteration in the future.
"Right now we're in sort of a trial and error period,"
he says. "To me, the group is actually Duff and Matt and Axl.
Where I stand is not etched in stone." Oh. "I can't say
it's all working out perfectly," he continues. "That's
part of the illusion of looking at five different personalities onstage
and seeing them actually get on. It's not as easy at it looks. Over the
last year, everybody has gone in different directions. Putting us all
back together in one room is not simple."
There are issues, he says. He was unhappy with the Sympathy For The Devil
remake, mostly due to tinkering on Rose's part after Slash had recorded
And then there's the matter of Guns' second guitarist. Guns has been working
with a friend of Rose's, a guy Slash firmly says he 'can't stand'.
And then there have been the rumours - Zakk Wylde, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani...
"Steve Vai - I have no idea about that one. He might have to take
my place is anything weird were to happen," slash says. "As
far as Zakk is concerned, he was there. I rehearsed with Zakk for like
two days. I think he is a great guitar player. The problem is taking two
lead guitar players and trying to get a lead-rhythm thing happening. We
play the same guitar style at the same volume. There's no texture there.
"It'd definitely be the same thing with Vai, having two overly -
I wouldn't say flamboyant - but two aggressive front guys as lead guitar
players. We'd both be doing the same thing at the same time, and it would
lose its personality. The guitar playing shouldn't be excessive; it should
be one of the instruments in the band."
Slash, in fact, is putting his money on a return of Izzy Stradlin, Guns'
original guitarist who split in '91 amid much acrimony but came back to
play some shows on the Illusions tour after now-departed replacement Gilby
Clarke suffered an injury.
"It works that way," Slash says. "If you have
someone who plays like Izzy and someone like myself, you play off each
other. You have two textural things, a different mentality."
War Of The Roses
So where does all this leave Slash - and Guns N' Roses? It's hard to look
at this band without a feeling of opportunity squandered. At the turn
of the decade, they seemed poised to take over the world. Appetite For
Destruction, their major label debut, has sold more than 13 million copies
worldwide. A follow-up EP, GN'R Lies, was another multi-million seller.
And the two-part Use Your Illusion extravaganza was the most highly anticipated
release of its year.
But an astounding proclivity towards self-destruction - substance abuses,
erratic performances (sometimes coming onstage hours late), internal squabbles
- has sullied the band's position. The chemistry McKagan mentions may
gel again, and Guns N' Roses may re-emerge as the exciting, combustible
hard rock outfit it once was. But until that happens, one can't help but
wonder where Guns N' Roses will stand when it does offer new music to
the alternative-saturated marketplace that hasn't shied away from abrasive
or aggressive performers during the intervening years.
"Guns is one of those things; it'll basically always be the same
things it's always been," Slash explains. "We might spend
too much as far as the studio is concerned, but whenever we go out and
play live it's the same thing - very brash and energetic.
That's the reason I don't like to spend time in the studio, but I can't
seem to convince the lead singer of that...Axl likes to ponder everything
and spend a lot of time with it.
"When I talk about the individual personalities and so on and so
forth - this is a group whose members have a really strong individual
outlook. When we get together, everyone had to compromise. That's why
Duff and I work outside of the band so much. When you're in the band,
you have to sit there and work together, and deal with the idiosyncrasies
of everybody else. "A good song transcends all that, of course. When
you wind up with material everybody collaborated on and meshed together
on, you've had a success. So it makes up for it. Sometimes."
A Guns N' Roses without Slash, however, seems like a decidedly lesser
"It would be egomaniacal to say that," he says. "There's
no animosity between the guys in the band, put it that way. But I've been
out if it for so long, and there's a reason why that hasn't changed all
that much. I'm trying right now; if it works out I'll be ecstatic...And
if it doesn't, I don't want everybody to think it's a done deal and everything
is fine. If they turn around and I'm not in the band, I don't want everyone
to say 'He Lied'."
We've has some tastes of where Slash can go outside of Guns N' Roses -
on Michael Jackson's Black and White, on Carole King's live album, on
his own Snakepit project. Of the latter, Slash says;
"I have no regrets. It was basically a really good time."
But its clear he craves something more. Slash's Blues Ball keeps his feet
in the garage rock realm, at least. Comprised of players he knows in Los
Angeles, Slash formed the group to play "my favourite old rock
and blues songs" at a festival in Budapest, Hungary. They did
Hootchie Kootchie Man, Funk 49 and Superstition - 25 songs in all, worked
up during two rehearsals. "It was like a throw-together bar band
in front of 23,000 people,"Slash says with a laugh. "We
had a great time."
Jackson hasn't been in touch lately - "He only calls me when he
wants some sort of wacky guitar thing." Slash reports - but the
guitarists did try his hand at James Brown's funk. "I did a show
with him in Memphis on his birthday,"Slash says. Then there was
the jam in Miami with Nile Rogers and his latest Chic entourage.
"I played stuff I normally wouldn't think I would play,"
Slash says. "That was a really cool gig. I like the environment,
just being around this loose, musical kind of thing."
Bobby Blue Bland, also in Memphis, was a different trip - a "pure
lead guitar" experience, as Slash tells it. With a foible or
two. "At first I asked Bobby 'Do you have a tuner or something?'"
"He looked at me and said 'You got ears, man' So then I go onstage,
and I said 'What do I plug into here? There's no chord!' Finally someone
gave me a chord and it was great...But that's just a reminder that if
you want to play, you have to be ready for whatever unexpected occasions
arise. You have to learn to adapt to any situation, no matter what it
The film's quick nosedive notwithstanding, Curdled gave Slash an even
wider berth to experiment and adapt. The two songs he wrote and recorded
for it - the instrumental Obsession Confession and Obsession, sung by
Marta Sanches - bring Latin and Caribbean flavours into Slash's playing
for the first time. That was something he picked up from watching rushes
Tarantino sent him
"I don't think it's really radical fusion jazz or anything,"
he says with a laugh. "There's something about blue-style guitar
playing that fits into a lot of ethnic music. The Spanish chord changes
are more of less the same basic style, so it feels very natural to me.
It's not like I'm playing advanced flamenco guitar; I'm not that technically
proficient. But I have a feel for it, I think."
And maybe it couldn't have come at a better time. "I'm really
sort of into just doing it on my own,"he says. "I went
to go see another flick and thought 'I could write something great for
that.' Then I went 'Oh, God, I'm getting way too involved in all this
shit. But, you know, you don't have to have a singer or anything. You
don't have to worry about a complete band concept. You can just put the
music together and play your ass off on it."
And long may he continue to do just that. TG
GUNS N' ROSES: THE OFFICIAL STORY
Just one week after Total Guitar spoke with Slash, the split with Guns
N' Roses he warned of came true. Here's how Paradise City came crumbling
On Oct 29, Axl Rose sent MTV US a fax saying Slash was out. He said Guns
currently comprises of Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Dizzy Reed; but, he
warned, if the others irk him, he'll pull the plug on guns - he still
plans to release the album slated for 1997. Rose owns the Guns N' Roses
name and says Slash has been out of the band's business partnership since
the end of 1995. Slash's reply - also a fax to MTV - stated that
"Axl and I have not been capable of seeing eye to eye on Guns
N' Roses for some time. We tried to collaborate, but at this point, I'm
no longer in the band."
Caught on tour in the US, Steve Vai quickly - and vehemently - scotched
any rumours about him taking Slash's spot. "Can you imagine me
in Guns N' Roses?" said the man who's played alongside David
Lee Roth and David Coverdale. "I like Guns N' Roses. I like Axl.
But I've worked with enough singers like that for four lifetimes."
Slash's fax holds out the possibility of working with Rose in the future
- but that seems highly unlikely...