|Former Guns N' Roses bass guitarist Duff McKagan's hellraising days are well behind him. These days he prefers to spend time in his home studio, or admiring the view from his hilltop Hollywood mansion. Katherine Turman gets the grand tour.
It wasn't long ago when a 20-year-old Seattle transplant by the name of Duff McKagan was living in a tiny, cockroach infested apartment off a seedy part of Hollywood Boulevard near the infamous Guitar Institute Of Technology. Fast forward a decade or so and the lanky bassist has been around the world a few times as one-fifth of notorious rock 'n' roll band, Guns N' Roses, with the quintet fulfilling their appetite for destruction and then some.
Years of success and excess took their toll, but now solo, sober and settled, with a strong new record, 'Beautiful Disease', ready to roll, McKagan has a new lease on life. While the singer/songwriter now has the proverbial house on the hill - overlooking Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley - he's the same easygoing, down to earth kid who moved from Washington state to live out his rock 'n' roll fantasies in Los Angeles.
Back when Duff bought his home, McKagan's criteria were vastly different to what they would be today. In 1990, the tattooed hellraiser was concerned about drinking and driving... and not getting caught! And of this house, McKagan explains, "There are secret ways into Hollywood - no cops, no main street. It was seriously important then."
Now, however, more important is a safe haven for his young daughter, Grace. The home as a party pad is a thing of the past, but if these walls could talk...
"In Seattle back in my formative years as a musician, I played drums in the Fastbacks, bass in the Veins, and guitar in this other band. I couldn't figure out what I wanted to play. I got a record by Prince and was like, 'Wow, this guy played everything.' All my older brothers and sisters liked James Gang, Sly And The Family Stone, Hendrix, Vanilla Fudge... Maybe it was mainstream stuff, but they were hippies. I liked the soulfull and ripping stuff and Zeppelin, too. I saw Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel when they came to Seattle, but mainly I was into Prince and I still am.
"So this studio started as 'I'll have my studio and if nothing else I'll record stuff [like Prince].' I thought that I would learn how to run all this stuff so I can record in the middle of the night. I had this romantic notion that things will come to me and I'll run downstairs and capture it. If we said right now, 'Let's record something,' I could get by. I have my little manual here. I found this board and all this outboard gear and mics from this studio that was closing down. I think Tom Petty did 'Freefallin' on this board and it's the exact same kind of board we did 'Appetite' on, so I knew it worked.
"I bought this house in 1990 and added the studio on. Back then, I used to shoot my guns off the balcony! The day I was moving in here, my roommate and partner in crime - and I had a pig and three dogs, too - we were hitting golf balls in the early afternoon then one hit the fence, ricocheted off and bam, right back into my window. I couldn't stop laughing!"
MANNING THE MICS
"When we do basic tracks, those are here in this bedroom. There's patch bays in the closet. It's awesome, like a James Bond house! Do you remember this coat? [Duff goes to the closet and pulls out an ancient black and red leather "pimp" coat.] There's isolation booths for all the amps. The drums sounds wicked in here, because we shotgun mics off the tile bathroom! Of course we do guitar overdubs in the control room, but vocals in here. I did all of 'Beautiful Disease' here. The only thing we didn't do was mix. It's nice to get away as I was here six days a week, 10 hours a day for a long time. My band consists of Paul Roessler, Michael Barragan and Dez Cadena. I met Michael through mutual friends. Dez [now rhythm guitarist] and I met when we sang a song with the Melvins, but I'd seen him in bands before. I remember when he joined Black Flag. We're brothers. He's a good guy. Paul [keyboards] was a recommendation... Michael played in this band the Morning Glories and Paul was the singer, plus Paul was in Twisted Roots, DC3 with Dez and he played with Nina Hagen for the last eight years."
LETTING OFF STEAM
"I'm actually a shower guy, but there's nothing like a bath once in a while... Well, we did this gig last Tuesday at our rehearsal room, just to play in front of some people. I, of course, after all these weeks of practising, get a cold and I almost lost my voice. So I'll get into a hot bathtub with steam to help my voice. When I first got this add-on on the house, I came up at night and I hadn't seen it yet and the lights of the Valley were beautiful. I'll tell you exactly how I designed this room. We were on the road, and I was talking to the architect back and forth as I was staying at the Four Seasons hotel and this is sort of modelled after their bathrooms. A nice hotel bathroom! Two sinks, that door there... This was a carport and storage area before."
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
"I worked out today. I used to be an athlete when I was a kid. I played football, basketball and baseball. I was good at all three. But I hated jocks by the time I was in ninth grade. That same year I was in a band called the Veins and we opened for Black Flag, before Dez was in the band. When I got my head back on straight, I was 29. I met a sensei, Benny The Jet, he's the middleweight world kickboxing champion. I also started mountain bike riding, and got one of the guys from The Stone Roses into it, and he broke his collarbone and they had to cancel all their gigs. Ooops. So I was getting into martial arts stuff, very hardcore training.
"He took me down to nothing, like boot camp, and built me up a little each day. He would crush me, then say something... a mental pick-up while he was building me physically. It's brought me peace of mind. Like my analogy is this: I drive a lot and a lot of people are very aggressive on the freeway. I see it all the time, but it doesn't affect me. I feel sorry for them. Back then, I probably would have a gun or a baseball bat.
"On the road, I bring a jump rope and gloves, and if we're staying in a high rise I'll run the stairs a billion times. I do light weights only as I don't want a big chest. I mostly do push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups, hitting the bag and jumping rope. Yesterday I ran three miles, did two miles on a Stairmaster at full speed. I think this is the best shape I've ever been in - no red meat, low fat, high protein diet. It's a lifestyle."
DUFF'S IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT
"I'm not really an old car guy. I went to this car show with these guys, Matt Sorum [ex G N' R drummer] and I saw one of these, just like this. I was like, 'Fuck, that's bad ass.' I went out and looked for one I could fix up. I found one yellow with a vinyl top, so I stripped it, fixed up the engine, put in bigger pipes. It took two years to paint it - there's like 12 coats on there, better than a BMX paint job - and they're known for their paint jobs. It took so long to finish I nearly fell out of love with it, but the car is amazing. It's got the original interior. I haven't broken down in it yet, but I know it will happen. I've had it about four years and it's only about 81,000 miles on it. I've got a speed boat now. That's my new project."