|Since the release of "The Spaghetti Incident?" in 1993, not a lot has occured in the camp of what was once coined "The Most Dangerous Band In The World". The departures of guitarists Izzy Stradlin and Gilby Clarke have left GN'R without a full or workable line-up. Izzy pursued his own direction with the Ju Ju Hounds, whilst Slash got together his Snakepit Experience. After Slash's recent performance at Donington, Paul Henderson cornered the axeman to find out what the bloody hell is going on!
What were you getting out of the Snakepit tour that you weren't getting out of touring with GN'R?
"For one thing, it's not supposed to be that big a deal. To verbally express how I feel about what I'm doing and the situation that's developed in Guns N' Roses is really hard for me. I know how I feel about it, but it's really hard for me to put it into words.
"When we first started, we're talking about a band that was bunch of guys with more or less nothing except a real fucking hunger to do whatever it is that we do. Which is basically a very aggressive hard rock fucking band - I'm looking back on it now; at the time, I would never have been able to tell you this - that was completely dedicated to doing exactly what the fuck we wanted. And this is probably one of the reasons why we're so notorious at this point, because we went against everything that was going on at the time, and stuck to our standards. It wasn't intentional, we didn't know what we were doing.
"I mean, that's what rock'n'roll to me is. You don't have to be a musician to have what I consider to be a rock'n'roll attitude; it's a way of doing things, y'know?...
"But there becomes so much other stuff involved, that the only reality for me was to be on stage - that was it. The rest of it was just some sort of fantastical nightmare. And some of the guys are into it and some aren't.
"I really haven't changed my point of view since we first started. So when the GN'R tour ended after two and a half years of being in this unrealistic environment of limousines and jets and playing stadiums and all that, I got home, and just knowing from past experience that given enough time I'm gonna go back to my old ways of doing drugs and y'know, just fucking up with time off.
"Being married, there's a certain responsibility there to a little tiny degree of domesticity - I have to look out for the woman, y'know. And that was sorta cool. Most of the chicks that I would hang out with are pretty much a bad influence, cos that's the kind of girls I'm attracted to for the most part!
"So I went back to work. I built a studio in my house, I kept myself busy. I had the first multitrack studio I've ever had, so I was like a kid in a candy store, and I started playing and recorded all this stuff. At the same time, with Axl that whole trip that we'd just taken had really become a part of him, to the point where Axl is as much a rock star in his own mind as he is in the public eye. I didn't really understand all that.
"So when I started writing material that was more or less back to roots Guns N' Roses... I didn't really have the chance to do that with "Use Your Illusion", because with that we were going through so much of a mish-mash of all kinds personal changes and this, that and the other. The fact that we completed those albums is unbelievable. You might be able to go to a store and buy it and listen to it, but you'll never be able to understand the emotional turmoil that was going on from adjusting from being some piece-of-shit club band to all of a sudden being like, quote, "The biggest band in the world" and having that attention thrown at you, and having the pressures that go along with it and all this ridiculous stuff.
"Anyway, we accomplished that and then we took off on this world-wide fucking mega-rock star thing. So then we come home, and I'm writing material that's just the same as the kind of material I used to write in the old days, and Axl's whole trip was...
"Everybody used to go, "What's gonna happen when Guns is no longer.. when a new fad comes along?" or whatever. And I'd be, "I don't give a fuck". And I watched it happen, and it didn't matter to me. With Axl it mattered a hell of a lot. Next thing you know, he wants to be Pearl Jam, right? Why? I hate Pearl Jam anyway, so what's the point? And it's great to watch Pearl Jam going through what they're going through, cos I'm going, "See Axl?"
"We do what we do the best that anybody does. Let's just go out and do a club tour, a theatre tour, and fucking get back down to where we have some validity with an audience that we can relate to. But Axl was all fucking.. he wants to be on MTV, he wants to do Unplugged, he wants to be this, he wants to be that. So we didn't see eye to eye, and that's where a lot of that bullshit got started, and of course it was blown out of all proportion in the press.
"I played him the material that I was writing, and he was like, "I don't wanna do that kind of music." The stuff that he was into, I couldn't understand. So I took the material back - I was cool - and at the same time I started jamming with Matt (Sorum) at home. And Gilby was still my mate - I didn't have anything to do with him being fired from Guns - and we met up with Mike Inez, and all of a sudden I realised we had a band. I'm making a short story long here! And Eric (Dover) had this really innocent, natural, very "retro" kind of voice. And I was like "Cool!" y'know - play my ass off, the band's great, Eric sings the way he sings and so on - and we did an album in a short amount of time. And then I booked a tour, and at this point Axl turned around and wanted the material back. And that's where the big shit started, because I told him, "Dude, it's gone. If I remember correctly, it was turned down flat." And that's where we got threats of lawsuits and this, that and the other.
"Anyway, I took off and did the Snakepit tour - it was supposed to end in June, but because it was so much fun I kept adding gigs."
Is it accurate to say that doing the Snakepit project has been something of a life-saver for you in some ways?
"To get back to a place where I feel like I'm still struggling is the greatest feeling. I don't think I would have made it had I not done that. I think my situation would be worse - having to deal with Axl and Guns N' Roses - had I just hung around and waited. It's been a real shot in the arm."
How much work towards the next Guns album did you expect the rest of the band to have done when you finished the Snakepit tour?
"When I left town, Axl and Matt and Duff and I had worked on new material. I hadn't heard Axl sing anything, but he was there while we were fucking around jamming.
"And we tried out different guitar players, did that whole bullshit thing with Zakk (Wylde)... Just to get that story straight, it's nothing against Zakk, it was just not the right... I love jamming with Zakk on his own, as a separate entity, but in Guns N' Roses it doesn't sound right.
"Anyway, they were supposed to keep working while I was gone. That's why Matt didn't come on tour with us, because he was supposed to help keep that foundation for them to jam. Well they only jammed like twice since I was gone, so no one had really been doing anything."
There have been rumours about Izzy writing for the next Guns album, leading to further rumours and speculation that he's going to re-join the band. How much truth is involved there, and how do you get on with Izzy these days?
"Izzy jammed with Snakepit in Chicago, and we did a Stones song, and it was great to see him. But Izzy quit Guns because of the same bullshit that sort of forced me to take off for a while.
"He's been writing; he wrote some stuff with Duff. He wants to write songs, but he doesn't wanna deal with the whole thing. And it took me a while to finally get to the point where I couldn't handle it either, y'know?
"He wants to write material, but he's not really sure what he wants to do. He's so laid back. He doesn't want to deal any pressure. Izzy does what he wants to do.
"As much as has gone on, and as much as I resent Izzy for quitting and all that, and leaving me in weird spots where I had to find a replacement weeks before the next leg of a tour, or if he didn't play on the "Use Your Illusion" records - which is for the most part true - looking back on it, Izzy's Izzy."
What do you mean he didn't play on "...Illusion" albums?!
"I had to double guitars up for him on most of it. He didn't play very much."
Have any songs actually been written for the next GN'R album?
"Yeah! We've got tapes of what Axl considers great songs, which from my point of view is just me playing the guitar! I haven't heard any lyrics or any vocals, so I don't know what a song is until then. You know what I mean?"
How long can Guns afford to leave releasing a new album before people start to lose interest?
"Thinking about how people are gonna react, or how long we can be away and so on, is really only an afterthought considering just getting the band together to make what I consider a good record, and take it from there. If we have to start all over again, fine, so be it. I have no problems with that; I'm just doing it now, with another band. As long as the integrity and the quality of the band is naturally there, where we don't even have to sit there and think about it, that's what I'm into.
"I'd love to be on the road right now doing my fifth album or whatever, but the way things are and the way Guns N' Roses has always been - which is that it'll be done when it's done - the most important thing is to do a cool record. And if we have to work that much harder to establish the fan base or whatever, that's going to have to be the way it is. If we were gonna be working on an annual basis - every year: "Here's a record" - and star turning out crap, that would be more disappointing.
"But I have to tell you one thing: I do want to get a Guns N' Roses record out as soon as possible, so we can do a tour and so that I can then go back and do another Snakepit record afterwards. It's developing into being such a good band."
If you recorded a bunch of songs and then realised that it somehow wasn't right, would you still put it out?
"Well, like that stupid "Sympathy For The Devil" track we did - granted it sort of sounds like Guns N' Roses, but it was my vehicle to help get the band into one room. But who shows up? It's Duff and Matt and me who do the whole track, then Axl did the other bit by himself a week later. That wasn't my idea of something that we should've released, and it definitely wasn't what I was hoping for to be the thread that was going to get the band back together and get us inspired to get out and do it.
"On the next Guns project, once we get into the right frame of mind, I know we'll do a great record."
The right frame of mind is the key, right?
"That's the only real key - to get everybody going, "Let's do this"; "That's cool"... Cos we've always written as a band, so if I make up something, that spurs somebody else's interest, and then all of a sudden everybody is happy and having a good time playing. That's a rock'n'roll band!"
If you can get everyone in the right frame of mind, you can almost see an album coming out perhaps not quickly, but fairly painlessly.
"Painlessly! That's the key. And I've seen it happen, trust me."
Do you think there's any possibility at all that there won't be another GN'R album?
"Er... You're talking just to me. If you were to have all of us sitting here, our different views on the next Guns record would all be very individual. But from my point of view, I just wanna do a brash hard rock record, with maybe one ballad on it. Ask Axl the same question and you'd get a completely different answer.
"In all honesty, I think Guns is one of those bands that will just be around forever. It'll always be in some state of turmoil here and there, but because we're so close in a lot of ways - even with Izzy being gone; I've seen him, he replaced Gilby when he broke his wrist, and he played with us on the Snakepit tour - and we've gone through so much together, we naturally fucking feel like family. It's just the little bickering shit that goes on over ideas and this and that and the other, and it's something that's an obstacle that I think we've always conquered whenever it come up. So I think we'll be around for ever."
Isn't the friction somehow almost a necessary component of a successful band, like with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in the Stones, for example?
"Well as much as Keith hates me right now for fucking telling his in-laws off, Mick and Keith were really instrumental in keeping my head together about the lead singer/lead guitar player relationship. I was in the studio with them when they were doing this last record, and I sort off watched from the sidelines as they were working, and we're not the only ones that go through it, y'know?
"In order to be a singer you have to be an actor, and in order to be an actor you have to be a visionary. Whereas with guitar players we really just wanna play; we just wanna get the record done so we can go out and do it live. There's just a conflict there, and it's just natural.
"I don't give a fuck about doing epic videos and so on and so forth, or talking about my ex-wife or ex-girlfriend. It's part of Axl's trip - he sees what he's singing, y'know? If you asked me to recite the lyrics to, say, "Don't Cry", the only things I can think of are "Don't cry" and "Talk to me softly". I don't fuckin' know the words. I don't even know the words to the songs I fuckin' wrote in Snakepit!"
The "Use Your Illusion" pair of albums were in some ways probably difficult albums to record. Has the experience of doing those put you off going back into the studio to do another Guns record?
"No, I love being in the studio. Recording the albums wasn't hard, it was recovering from major drug problems. Like everybody thinks that Axl is a major drug addict. that's never been the case. Axl's never been addicted to anything - except maybe cigarettes. it was Izzy, myself and eventually Steven. Duff never had a drug problem; he had an alcohol problem as of late, which he's since physically had to stop. Izzy and Steven and I were the ones with the drug problems, which were a result of going from nowhere to being a big rock band, and then coming home at the end of a tour and going that way. I've never been strung out on tour ever.
"And then there's like the accountants and all these people, all these people who are part of the business, telling you to invest your money - "You have to buy a house."
"I bought a house. I went through the closest thing to what you'd call suicidal depression after I'd laid in my bed in my house by myself, staring at the ceiling for days on end, not knowing what the fuck to do with myself. I couldn't hang out on the street like I normally did, because everybody looked at me differently, treated me differently, and I didn't like it. It was really hard.
"The Use Your Illusion's is the result of conquering what Kurt Cobain couldn't. We lost Steven - Steven's not come back since. Izzy got back into it and realised that's not what he wanted to be; he wanted to be back with the old days. I got back into it and realised I didn't wanna go where Axl was going, but went anyway because I like to play, and we're a band and I'm part of the family, and I'll do whatever I can.
"That's what "Use Your Illusion" was all about, which is why that is, to us personally, such a special record. Granted there was too much material, there's too much production, there's this, that and the other, but it's a result of something that most people will never see into, which is a bunch of guys going through a really fucking ridiculously self-indulgent period of trying to get the band back together as a result of being successful.
"Y'know, I always complain all these new bands out there whining, and singing these songs about shit that some of them hardly even know about. And all their albums are fucking depressing. It's like you finally work up to a certain point where you make it, and then you whine about it! I understand the feeling, but you gotta get through it and get over it and keep working."
How do you feel about the prospect of doing another GN'R tour?
"I'd love to do it. I just wanna change things a little bit; that's why I wanted to do the club tour for "The Spaghetti Incident?". But I don't where Axl's head's at, so I can't give you a real answer as to what it'll be like. I really need to sit down and talk to the guy about how we're fucking gonna find some common ground here. I don't mind going back and playing the odd stadium, but I would like to keep us more of an indoor kind of thing. We need to figure out how to establish more of a common ground with the kids that we're playing for, because I feel the same now as I did way back when, where you just go out and hang out with 'em and you feel so comfortable. This "above ground" kind of rock star status that say, Bon Jovi enjoys, I don't really get into it.
"But the one thing I don't wanna do talking to you is come across like I feel depressed or pessimistic about the whole thing; I feel very optimistic, I'm just not sure what's gonna happen. I just wanna be able to go and do it and know that the spark is there, because when the spark's there it just flows."
Doing your own thing - as have Izzy and Duff, who have also done their own albums - has obviously been very beneficial for you in lots of ways. Do you think it might be good for Axl if he did something like that?
"I wanted him to. You have to know Axl to understand what I'm getting at. Axl's the kind of guy who over-thinks everything. Sometimes it's fucking classic, and sometimes it's just...whatever. And that's cool. But there was a point there where Axl goes: "I'm gonna do a solo record, and I'm gonna get Trent Reznor and Dave Navarro, and the drummer from Nirvana..." and so on. And it's like, he doesn't even know half of these people. He's just pulling them out of the sky. And I was like, "Cool! Do your thing. That way you'll get it out of your system, and when you get back we'll just be Guns N' Roses."
"I wished he had done it, because then it would have really fucking taken some of the air out of the bullshit that we've been going through."
Looking at a hypothetical scenario where GN'R split up, who actually owns the Guns N' Roses name?
"As far as contractually - and this is a discrepancy between myself and our attorneys - apparently Axl owns it. Now I should have known that, because I could have then said: "Okay." I don't give a fuck who owns the name. But I find out later that Axl legally owns it - apparently.
"It" like everybody is on Axl's side from the business point of view, y'know? Everybody's scared that they're going to get fired. Because if Axl decides that he can't work with you you'll get fired, no matter what I say! I can fight till I fucking turn blue, but I won't be able to get anything done with the band if Axl won't work. And that's how the latter part, from "Use Your Illusion" till now, has been. And that's why we had big blow-up dolls and background singers and horns! It was ridiculous. It was an experience, but what do we end up doing? We took it back down to the skin and bones tour which was just us. Duh - we should have done that in the first place."
The way that you want to record and the way Axl wants to record are obviously very different.
"Well I work with the band; I don't work with Axl when we record. I work with the band and we just jam the stuff live, and Axl goes in and spends... Well last time it was a year in the studio, just adding and adding. I don't necessarily agree with that, but Axl's so talented he can go in and whip it out like that. But everything has to be perfect. Sometimes some of his ideas - like a harmony or something - I can go along with, but all the additional stuff...
"Use Your Illusion" sounded amazing when it was just the basic tracks. It was fucking great. But then by the time all the tracks were done it was like impossible to fucking mix it, and it came out sounding... The more stuff you put on tape, the less "big" it sounds. I tried to tell Axl that but he wouldn't listen. But I'm not gonna do it that way this time, and that's what we have to talk about.
"I have the rough mixes, which are more or less the basic tracks and the basic overdubs - very simplified and try - and those fucking rock! You could come over to my house and I'll play you "Use Your Illusion" before it went into the mixing stage, and you'd be like, "Fucking what?!" It's very brash. But this is before synthesizers and all this outside stuff got involved.
"I really try to understand where Axl's coming from when he gets into that. It's a self-expression that, because our personalities are so different, I can't fucking understand. And he probably can't understand why I want to keep everything so natural. But it's just because I know the band - on a players' level or an emotional level or an expression level - is fine when it's naked on its own. When we play live, it's right there, y'know? That's as good as you're gonna be, no matter what you put on it."