|By Shawn Hammond
While Axl Rose continues to push the new Guns N’ Roses towards industrial music, former GN’R rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke remains true to the raw, classic-rock roots that thrust the band into the spotlight in the first place.
His new solo album, Swag [Spitfire], is packed whit greasy guitars and hedonistic tunes that showcase Clarke’s songwriting and vocal skills.
"Guitar players tend to forget that vocals are what draw people into a song," he says. "Even when they’re also the singer, they’ll concentrate way more on recording and playing guitar, and their vocal melodies tend to mirror their guitar lines. But if you make the vocal and guitar melodies different, they’ll intertwine and make the song flow. Sometimes it’s a good idea to start writing around a simple, folk chord progression before you bring in the riffs."
Clarke also looks to different grooves for inspiration. "To give songs a different feel, I’ll often use interesting drum beats to push me somewhere new," he explains.
"’Margarita’ was a complete feel song - I wrote the song around a Latin beat I had heard - And ‘Broken Down Car’ was build around Gene Krupa’s rumbling beat on Benny Goodman’s 1936 hit ‘Sing, Sing, Sing.’ My favorite solo on the album is on that song, too. It has a bit of a rockabilly sound, and I love the tone. I used my ’68 Tele whit a bridge-position PAF through a ’62 VoxAC50 head and a ’69 Marshall basketweave cab loaded whit Celestion Greenbacks. Whenever I needed a Bell-like, clean tone on the album, I used that setup."
"Crocodile Tears" finds Clarke squeezing some sweet chicken-pickin’ into his testosterone-fueled rock. "Over the last four or five years, I’ve been playing stuff I wouldn’t call country-because I could never admit to that - but it is Stones-y sounding," he says.
"Some parts have to be slow and sleazy, and plucking whit you fingers is the only way to get that feel. To get that grungy tone, I also used a Danelectro 56-U2.That’s my noisiest guitar. It doesn’t stay in tune, but it just has this dirt."
Other guitarist used on the album include a stock ’91 Gibson Les Paul Classic ("the workhorse"), a Zamaitis single-cutaway with Duncan ‘59s (used for most solos), and a 1971 Martin D-35. Clarke strings his guitars with Ernie Ball RPS.011s, and prefers .96mm D’andrea rounded-triangle picks.
For most of his solos, a ’62 Fender Deluxe was the amp of choice, and for dirty rhythm tracks, Clarke used a Marshall JCM800. "I mike amps the same way I always have - I choose a speaker, point a Shure SM57 at the center of the cone, and then put a Sennheiser 409 right next the SM57," says Clarke.
"The 57 is the best guitar mic ever made, but the 409 adds a little bit of bottom. With that setup I rarely have to add EQ from the board. Between the two mics, I get everything I need."
Effects were kept to a minimum - Clarke used a Marshall Bluesbreaker, a CryBaby wah, and a MXR Phase 90.
Although it has been nine years since Clarke left Guns N’ Roses, he still values what he learned during his tenure. "I never noticed this until I was in GN’R and learned their songs" he says, "but their solo sections are always a new part of the song. Too many people get locked into soloing over a verse or a chorus, but Slash never does-and I love that. Ever since I started doing my own albums, I’ve tried to make the solo section a part you never heard before. That really helps the solo stand out. Also, I always improvise solos. I just keep doing takes until one feels good."
Although he works hard to keep his playing fresh and interesting, Clarke isn’t concerned with breaking new ground on his solo records. In fact, he admits he makes records mostly to have a reason to tour.
"I still love standing up in front of a crowd," he says, "and strapping on my guitar, and hitting that first chord."
Transcribed by: Daniel