|By Philippe Lageat
The last time we saw each other, it was in 1995, in Paris, when you were promoting your first solo album, Itís five oí clock somewhere. It has seemed like an eternity...
Yeah, I guess it must have seemed like a long time to you! Five years is not peanuts. But, to be honest, I havenít felt time go by. Once I was done with recording and promoting the album live the way it deserved it, I came back to Guns NíRoses and tried my best to work and get along with Axl. Unfortunately, we didnít make it and so I simply ended up leaving the band. I toured for a few months with Slashís Blues Ball, which was not a serious project but something I made just for fun, and then I decided to reform Snakepit, with a revamped line-up. That took me a lot of time. I also took part in many sessions to record a few solos for some friendsí albums. So little by little, a new Snakepit started to appear. We wrote and recorded an album. Honestly, everything went really fast, I didnít feel like I was hanging around at all. Besides, it took me forever just to leave Guns NíRoses. Contractual and legal questionsÖ
I can imagine the decision was really hard for you to take...
Not so much actually. All in all, I was only a fifth of Guns NíRoses. I couldnít go on like that. It just appeared obvious to me that I had to leave, it was a question of survival. Itís been four years alreadyÖ I havenít talked to Axl since. Now that I think about it, I remember I divorced at about the same time ! (laughs) Letís say I went through a difficult period of my life. Now things are much more stable : weíve just finished recording a new album produced by Jack Douglas, whoís got an incredible resume. As a matter of fact, at the time when we recorded Appetite for destruction, I wanted him to be our producer, but every Gunner had his say on the matter and it didnít happen. So with Ainít life grand, Iíve kinda come full circle!
Your schedule with Guns NíRoses was busy to say the least. But though you kept on working after your departure from the band, you hardly toured at all...
Thatís true, and thatís what I felt the most frustrated about : I never stopped playing but I didnít do what I would call touring, I just played a few shows here and there, just forÖ A simple question of survival, I guess.
How come that the current Snakepit line-up is completely different from the one who recorded the first album?
I gotta tell you something : Itís five oíclock somewhere was the result of friends jamming together, mainly members of Guns NíRoses. We were often jamming at my house, near my snake breeding : thus the name Snakepit sounded appropriate to us. Gradually, we recorded a few demos, then an album. And , very quickly, I came to think about who could come with me on the road. Because most of those people who had helped me in the studio had contractual obligations, Matt Sorum in particular. So I hired ę temporary Ľ musicians to help me out.
Whatís up with your former singer, Eric Dover?
I met him recently. He was supposed to work with a member of Jellyfish in a band called Imperial drag.But it didnít work apparently. In 1995, after touring with Snakepit, I thought I was gonna come back to Guns and put this solo project aside. You know how it all ended. So I decided to totally revamp Snakepit, and Eric just didnít come up as a possible choice for this second line-up. His first participation was only a coincidence : he was in the right place, at the right time. And this adventure appealed to him. But when time came to think about things in the long-run, to get involved body and soul in a ę real Ľ band, it appeared he was not the right guy for the job. I wanted musicians who would be totally dedicated to Snakepit, who could really focus on that.
Can you tell us about your new line-up?
Right, Rod (Jackson) replaces Eric on vocals, he was the last guy to join the band : I auditioned an incredible number of singers before eventually finding the rare bird. The funny thing is that weíre practically neighbours in Hollywood ! But, stangely enough, I had never heard of him, we had never even met each other. Johnny G is on bass, we were already playing together in Blues Ball. We both discovered Matt Laug (drums) by going to clubs. As far as Kerri Kelli (second guitar) is concerned, I first met him when he played with Alice Cooper. Thatís it. Now you know everything!
How would you describe your new album, Ainít Life Grand?
Itís exactly in the same vein than Itís five oíclock somewhere. Good hard rock riffs, the type of music Iíve been loving since I was fifteen. Obviously, the main change comes from the new line-up, from this melting-pot of strong personalities. This new record wonít surprise fans but is necessarily different from the previous one, due to what Iíve just said. We spent quite some time learning to know each other. I would bring ideas and the other musicians added their personal touch. Like in a ę real Ľ band. Contrary to the first album that was nothing but what I considered a Guns NíRoses album.
Rumour has it that certain songs on Ainít life grand were originally composed for Guns and that Axl rejected them...
Thatís untrue. Always those rumoursÖ Just like some of my compositions featured on albums by Lenny Kravitz or Michael Jackson, Snakepitís songs couldnít be played by GNíR.
Itís Five Oíclock Somewhere was distributed by Geffen. This second album will be released on the label Koch. Why this change?
Geffen became Interscope that is anything but a rock label. So I left, took my mastertapes along, and searched for a record company that would work at a more human scale, that wouldnít be affected by the corporate circus yet. Then I found Koch. They signed me even though Ainít life grand was already recorded and I had chosen the title, the artwork, etcÖ Thus they didnít have the opportunity to poke their nose into our business and will just release the album. We managed to step over this whole bureaucratic shit.
How did you manage to obtain the opening slot with AC/DC in the US ? A lot of bands - and not the worst ones - would give anything to have this chance...
Opening for AC/DC constitutes the fulfillment of a dream. We had signed for a deal with Koch, had finally managed to agree on a release date (our album was originally supposed to come out in February), and we were all eagerly waiting for a tour to begin. First, I split with all my former business relationships : manager, lawyer, agent, etcÖ I detached myself from all the people I had been working with for years, in order to definitely sever the bond I had to Guns NíRoses. I didnít want to work with people who would have an idea at the back of their mind. Thatís why I hired new employees and the first thing I asked them was to create a concert schedule. Shortly after, our agent gave me the list of bands who had planned to tour in the States this summer, and I was almost petrified when I noticed the name AC/DC. I sent our album to their management and they liked it, so they proposed the opening slot to us. Itís amazing ! In Snakepit , we all practiced on AC/DCís songs when we were starting to play!
What did you think of the first two shows you gave in Grand Rapids and Auburn Hills?
Everything went smoothly, even though itís extremely difficult to open for such a band. Because AC/DCís audience is quite exclusive. So we do our thing, without thinking too much, we go straight ahead. Then we join the crowd and watch AC/DC play, the best rock band Iíve ever seen. Thatís good, because it forces us to give our best. I hate to talk about the business aspects, but thereís no denying that opening for such a big band is the best promotion I could ever have. So many people have the opportunity to hear your musicÖHowever, Iíll repeat what Iíve just said, itís above all the fulfillment of my dream as a kid.
What do you think of Angus Young as a guitar player?
Heís amazing. I ripped him off for my best solos ! Itís funny, yesterday evening, the DJ played the cover of Whole lotta rosie that Guns had made live in between the two shows. A cover Angus has probably never heard about. I never told him about it. We met each other the other day, just said hi. But weíre gonna tour for two months with AC/DC, so weíll have time to know each other. Weíre all dying to jam with them!
On each of those nights, you played a Guns NíRoses song (Itís So Easy in Grand Rapids and Mr Brownstone in Auburn Hills). Do you intend to cover Appetite For Destruction in its entirety?
No ! (laughs) These two GNíR songs are the only ones weíll play on this tour because they blend with our repertoire. Unlike Sweet child oímine, which I can hardly see myself covering. Before hitting the road, we all listened back to GNíRís discography in order to choose our own favourite tracks. But we were careful not to choose songs which obviously bore the ę Guns NíRoses label Ľ : it would be impossible to play Welcome to the jungle or Paradise city because, in peopleís minds, these songs belong to GNíR. So we decided to merely play the songs you mentioned.
By opening for AC/DC, you find yourself on huge stages again. How do you feel about that?
Itís a strange feeling. Lately, Iíve mainly played in clubs or theaters. Itís great to be able to express yourself on a big stage again. But we know that in two months weíll leave the arenas and go back on the club circuit. We tour with AC/DC in the US, but weíll headline in Europe, without them. I miss Europe. But I know weíre getting closer to it and I just have to be a bit patient.
Isnít it too frustrating to play only 40 minutes?
Yes, itís hard. Youíre just starting to warm up and itís already time to leave the stage ! But you gotta play the game, adjust to the situation and do your best during this short period of time. I don't want to hear anybody complaining. Itís a job. And we knew from the start that it wouldnít be easy.
The hard-rock world has gone through multiple waves during these last five years. What do you think of the current scene, of the new bands?
I havenít really had the time or the desire to check them out since I was focused on Snakepit. In L.A., thereís absolutely nothing exciting going on. The music industry is going nowhere. Itís exactly like in 1985, when Guns was just starting : no good band manages to get a deal and they end up disintegrating by lack of exposure, while record companies release loads of shit!
Recently, Guns NíRoses has been the object of several tributes, more or less successful. For example, the tribute-album Appetite For Reconstruction. Have you heard it?
I have an interesting anecdote to tell you on this topic : one day, a barman in New-York told me how much he loved Guns NíRoses and asked a friend to buy Appetite for destruction for him so I could autograph it. When the friend came back, he handed me this Appetite for reconstruction that you mentioned. I hallucinated when I took a look at the credits and realised that all the washed-up has-beens of the West Coast, the losers, the ex-somebodys were all gathered on this shitty record ! (laughs) Even Tracii Guns plays on most of the tracks. Fuck, this album is basically the record all these guys dreamed of making one day ! So I didnít even bother listening to these covers. It can only be crap anyway. Itís really fucked up. I donít feel honored or flattered whatsoever. Itís all about money.
Iím sure, however, that you were curious to hear the new Guns NíRoses song, Oh my god...
Yeah, I heard it when I went to see the movie End of days. And I donít have any real opinion about it. Hereís how I feel : Iím dying to hear anything that Axl will release, these songs which more or less accelerated the split of GNíR. I wonít systematically say anything bad or reject something I wasnít a part of. After all, although Axl and I were often in disagreement, sometimes we shared the same points of view. But we tended to become unnatural when we messed up the line-up, when we introduced foreign elements to rock. Thatís why I felt at peace with myself when I left the band. And when I heard Oh my god, it convinced me that my departure had been a wise decision and that Axl and I were definitely no longer on the same wavelength musically. I really canít wait to hear what he has written since we split up. Thatís his work, he lives for it and doesnít do anything else. The other day, I met Izzy at my birthday party and asked him : ę So, whatís up with him ? Ľ. Everybodyís asking themselves the same question. (laughs) None of us has really changed over the years. Except Axl, of course...
When you look back on it, donít you ever think : ę what a waste ! Ľ?
No. Because I left the band when it was still cool. I donít have time to regret anything, life is too short and goes on, with or without Guns. I still have a lot of things left to prove. Actually, the only thing that bothers me is what our true fans think : ę You had everything to be huge. Why ? Ľ The problem is that behind this facade, there was a strong tension. It was easy for me to plug my guitar and play. It wasnít so simple for Axl. He was always fucking everything up. It had gotten to a point when we spent all our time fighting and we went backwards musically. I felt it coming, I already felt it during the recording of Use Your Illusion.
Snakepit is a real breath of fresh air in comparison...
Yes. You canít imagine how much fun I had on the Itís five oíclock somewhere tour. I felt like when Guns first started. I wasnít trying to recapture a kind of magic, I just played with no holds barred, the way I like it. We toured for four months, I met thousands of kids and had a huge kick. So you can imagine how brutal the transition was when I came back to Guns. Very quickly, I thought : ę Fuck that, itís annoying. I want to play without torturing myself. Ľ Snakepit opened my eyes. Itís my band, but above all itís a band, a real one. That wants to have fun and go forward. I left Guns out of love. Out of love of music and being on stage.
Translated from French by Laura, thanks!