|By Joshua Sindell
The past few years have been hard for ex-Guns N’Roses guitarist Slash. He’s had to come through a fatal bust-up with Axl Rose, divorce, the loss of his record deal and the unfortunate discovery that he’d earned nothing from the two-year Use your illusion world tour. Now he’s finally ready to talk about it all.
The Sunset Marquis hotel, located just off LA’s Sunset Strip, is quiet for now. It’s early Saturday night and, as night falls, it seems that most guests have left their rooms to explore the city’s nightlife, leaving the foyer, swimming pool and hotel bar devoid of life.
Slash walks in with a minimum of fuss. With his ever-present black hat atop a head of long curls, a sleeveless black t-shirt, leather jeans and red Converse All-Stars tennis shoes, he looks the same as he has for the last ten years. Guns N’Roses’Appetite for destruction burst onto an unsuspecting scene in 1987, but for Slash time seems to have stood still.
His handshake is firm and although he’s kept us waiting for several hours, he apologises so sincerely for the delay that it’s hard to blame him. He drops into a poolside chair, ready for business.
« Everything’s great ! », he says in his soft voice. « I’ve finally got my band straight and went through this whole thing with changing record labels. And I’ve been taking care a lot of my business myself. »
Slash’s new album with Snakepit comes out in August, although he cant’t reveal the name of the label issuing it. It’s called Ain’t life grand ?.
«The record is killer and the band is killer », enthuses Slash. « I don’t have any whiny fuckers in the band any more ! »
He takes a drag from one of his imported Gitanes cigarettes, which he will chainsmoke throughout the conversation. He feels that the album title is an ironic comment on the way his life has been during the latter half of the past decade. The 90’s weren’t an easy time for the man born Saul Hudson in Stoke-on-Trent, England. Although there are certain things that Slash can’t discuss about his former band and bandmates, there’s much that he will say - his resentment at Guns singer Axl Rose’s megalomania spilling out during the course of the evening.
« Guns was the antithesis of everything that was going on in the music at that time, 1985 », he says. « The 90’s were a drag, because I watched whatever unity we had in the band go downhill. I split that and I was stupid enough to get married and get divorced right at the same time I left Guns. »
I mention that he seemed to disappear, in much the same way as Axl Rose has, once his first Slash’s Snakepit album, It’s 5 o’clock somewhere, and tour were complete. Slash disagrees, claiming that he’s been jamming and done sessions work with different people in far-flung locales.
He says he just got back from being Michael Jackson’s side-man for two massive shows in Korea last month. He’s gigged with his own Slash’s Blues Ball band, covering 70’s rock tunes long into the night. He claims that this is satisfying for him.
« I would show up at concerts here and there, just to keep myself above ground. I get a sense of accomplishment out of that, out of meeting cool people and getting inspired by certain people. I find it always helps me to remember the reason I do what I do. »
Slash is incredibly humble for a man who was an integral part of the biggest rock band in the 80’s. He’s quick to reject inquiries about his fame, dismissing them as « rock star questions. »
« I just like to play guitar. It wasn’t about business, or trying to be cool on Sunset Strip, or getting the cover of fuckin’ Rolling Stone, or any of that. It was about just getting together with a bunch of guys that could cause something. Even if we weren’t all on the exact same page as far as direction goes, somehow we managed to make a band that was a mixture of everything - of attitude. At the time, the five of us were the only people who could have made up Guns N’Roses. And that I’m proud of. »
You can hear that pride when he speaks of the wild early days, when GN’R gigs were the place to be seen.
« The word got out that there was this band and we had this huge audience in LA comprised of all the different fads that were going on - old shool rock n’roll people, punks, Beverly Hills High School teeny-boppers, model chicks, drug dealers, it was great. When the 90’s rolled around, Axl got really, really into the whole trip and became a more exaggerated version of someone I already knew. Nothing that Axl does now surprises me. It’s just a bigger, more exaggerated version. That’s where he was headed. But the rest of us didn’t give a fuck, because we liked doing what we were doing. As long as we could do that, we were fine. The Use your illusion world tour was supposed to be the high point in our lives - when you’re one of the biggest rock bands in the world and you’re headlining with Metallica and doing stadiums, and you can do basically whatever the fuck you want. But somehow, some way, between management and Axl and whatever other elements that were involved, when the tour ended we had lost a ton of money. Which was fine, but seemed kind of senseless. I just wanted to go back in and do another record and keep going, but we just never fell back in sync. So I just quit. »
The first Snakepit album was not exactly well-received when it appeared in 1995. Slash, himself, claims that he basically took a demo tape and turned it into an album.
« I’ve always been into being in bands », he shrugs. « I’ve never been into being a solo guy. People were coming up to me telling me that I should form some kind of supergroup, but I didn’t want to do that. I love jamming with friends, anywhere from the Baked Potato jazz club in LA to playing with Boz Scaggs in Cleveland, from big festivals to small clubs. Anywhere where there’s a guitar handy. »
Snakepit today is made up of completely new faces from the previous incarnation - drummer Matt Laug, bassist Johnny Griparic, guitarist Ryan Roxie (who’s currently on tour with Alice Cooper’s band) and singer Rod Jackson.
« When I decided that I was going to do Snakepit again, I had to find the right musicians that I felt comfortable playing with and they had to be a band », explains Slash. « It’s called Slash’s Snakepit only for legal reasons, otherwise it would simply be Snakepit. »
At the time of the Use your illusion albums, Nirvana still hadn’t released Nevermind. The hottest rap star in the world was MC Hammer. Soundgarden and Alice in chains were rising stars. Since then, we’ve had a whole new crop of stars - from Korn to Limp Bizkit to Marilyn Manson - appearing on the scene.
Slash says he admires bands like Rage against the machine, but that it doesn’t matter to him if today’s audience ‘gets’ him or not.
« If the record industry had taken a really weird turn - like, say, polka was the really big top 40 sound - then that would have been rough for me ! », he laughs. « I just do what I do, and I never put a label on it. It seems like there’s enough support for me to put this record out. I wouldn’t sign with anybody until I could find the right place. I paid for the record myself, and I wasn’t about to sell it out to just anyone. The recording industry, from the majors to the independants, has changed so much. The reason I left Geffen was that there was no place for me. It’s become a hip-hop label. »
His resolve was strengthened by Geffen’s failure to sell GN’R Live era 87-93 album last year. But then, he adds, whad did he care, it’s not his band.
Slash says that the new Snakepit album has its fair share of songs that tell the dark side of drugs, sex and violence.
« They’re just a bunch of ‘get up and go’ songs », he says. « Been there lately is about coming back to your apartment after you’ve been away for a month and there’s all this shit that’s been going on when you let somebody use your place. Simple. Everybody can relate to that. »
Rumours of rampant drug use were part of life in GN’R. But Slash shrugs when asked if he considers himself a survivor.
« I never think about myself in that way. Sometimes we’ll sit around and reminisce about how many times we woke up in the hospital - ha ha ! But I don’t like to take myself that seriously. I admit I’ve been lucky. I don’t like to make the same stupid mistakes more than four times ! »
He’s not one to make claims that sobriety is the one and only answer either. Both being addicted and being straight are « too confining ». « And it gets boring », he says, « when dealers are always getting busted when you’re jonesing. It’s a pain in the ass. »
Recently, Kerrang reported the rumours sweeping LA that the classic GN’R line-up - Slash, Axl, guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and drummmer Steven Adler - were secretly rehearsing together in Phoenix. Slash hasn’t seen the story, but he had heard about it.
« If someone comes up to me and asks me if GN’R is going to get back together, I say that if it was the original band and if everybody could straighten their heads out enough to be in the same room to do it, then I would do one show if the situation was right », he says. « We’ve been offered millions of dollars to re-group. Originally, I thought, ‘Shit! A couple of days of rehearsal and then go out and play in front of a really excited, enthusiastic audience? Might be fun. But when we recorded a Stones song (Sympathy for the devil for the Interview with a vampire soundtrack), Axl didn’t even show up. So everybody lost interest. If it was the original band, and Steven Adler could get his shit back together, which I know he’s been trying to do since time began, since I still talk to him all the time. But, the chances of that happening are pretty much nil. »
Slash lights another cigarette. Its embers shine brightly in the darkening night air.
« I wouldn’t quit what I’m doing now to go back to Guns for any amount of money », he says. « It’s not about the money. »
Is it really Guns N’Roses without him in the band?
He thinks for a moment.
« I can’t answer that. I just wish the fucker would get the fuckin’ record out so I could see why he took something so cool and systematically, destroyed it. I want to hear where he was headed, and what he was trying to communicate that none of us in the band could relate to. »
Can he pinpoint the exact moment when things went sour between him and Axl?
« Yeah », he smiles. « It was before Guns even started ! I mean, he’s a brilliant man. I’m a huge Axl fan,, but he’s got one way of doing things which I just don’t understand. »
Despite the recent rash of press attention devoted to uncovering the whereabouts of the hermit-like Rose, Slash says that he’s ignored much of the commotion. After all, he says, he’s « lived through it ». He says that he devotes his life to his muse and takes everything in moderation.
« The main goal is to find an even balance », he concludes « and not to go too overboard. If you’re seriously going to do something with your time while you’re alive, then you should try not to fuck it up by doing something that you don’t totally need to be doing. »
Thanks to Laura for this article!