|Appetite For Self Destruction
Guns N’ Roses were the biggest rock’n’roll band of the late 80s, yet they released only one truly great album.
Slash tells Jonathan Wingate how they threw it all away
Guns N’ Roses arrived at the perfect time. They looked and acted exactly like the chaotic, narcotic and bad-to-the-bone band that they really were – just what the music world was in desperate need of. They were sleazy where most rock bands were cheesy. This was 1987 – when schlock rock and poodle haircuts were considered cool, and bands like Motley Crue and Poison were as good as it got.
Axl Rose had a criminal record for countless misdemeanours in his native Indiana. Born William Bailey, he had changed his name at the age of 17, and called himself Axl after a band he was in with future Guns guitarist Izzy Stradlin (real name Jeff Isbell) back in Indiana. Slash was born Saul Hudson in Stoke-on-Trent but grew up in Hollywood, where he went to school with drummer Steven Adler. Slash’s father, Anthony, designed album sleeves, while his mother Ola was a clothes designer who had made David Bowie’s dress for his The Man Who Sold The World LP.
Guns N’ Roses originally got together in 1985, when Slash and Adler saw Rose and Stradlin playing in an LA club called Gazzari’s. The last piece of the Guns jigsaw fell into place when Seattle bass player Duff McKagan replied to a classified advertisement placed by Slash’s band, Road Crew. After rejecting catchy names like Heads Of Amazon and AIDS, they finally settled on the name Guns N’ Roses.
They played relentlessly and delivered dirty, raw rock’n’roll at a time mainstream rock music was at its lowest point. Early Guns gigs ran with the refreshingly frank ‘Fresh From Detox’ strapline under their name of their fly-posters. They spent their time either writing, rehearsing or doing drugs. Guns N’ Roses literally lived in a fleapit – a low rent room behind a guitar shop near LA’s Sunset Strip.
When RC met up with Slash, he’s slumped on a sumptuous sofa in the all-together more salubrious surroundings of a huge hotel suite in Kensington, wearing his trademark leather top hat and trousers. He is in the UK for a week, yet the only things he owns in the room are a vintage Gibson guitar and a half empty vodka bottle on the coffee table beside his heavy-duty biker boots.
“I came here pretty much in the clothes I’m standing in,” Slash explains. “It’s a long story, man. My girlfriend and I got into a fight and she locked me out of the bedroom…so I just came here pretty much as is. I did get new stuff when I arrived in London, though,” he says with a wicked, grin, triumphantly pulling out a miniscule Harrods bag. “I just got some socks.”
GN’R released 10,000 copies of their first EP, Live?!* Like A Suicide on the Uzi/Suicide label early in 1986 and immediately attracted attention and a level of notoriety that usually takes years to achieve. Following fierce competition from a string of companies, they eventually signed with Geffen, relocated to the marginally healthier surroundings of the Hellhouse – a run-down two-storey house in West Hollywood – began work on their debut album in Los Angeles that summer, with producer Mike Clink. Clink only had one rule in the studio – no drugs. Today, Slash says the strongest stimulants going into his body while they were making Appetite were “Jack Daniels, coffee and Marlboros.”
By the spring of 1987, they were touring the US supporting Iron Maiden, though they pulled out after singer Axl Rose lost his voice and Slash was bundled off to Hawaii to kick his heroin habit.
“The hardest part for me was when a tour finished,” Slash reveals, a large vodka and orange dangling in his hand. “That was when everything went t shit. My drugs problems always started when we weren’t actually doing anything with the band.”
They played their first British shows at London’s Marquee in June ’87, and finally unleashed their astonishing Appetite For Destruction that August. Axl Rose lifted the album title from a painting by Robert Williams, which depicted a demonic robot standing next to a disheveled woman who had been assaulted and left with her knickers round her ankles. Several retail chains refused to stock it and the image was swapped (after 30,000 copies had been pressed up) for a more family-friendly shot of a crucifix emblazoned with the Gunners’ skulls.
Appetite For Destruction sold slowly at first, and things only really exploded for Guns N’ Roses when MTV put ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ on heavy rotation. Both the album and the single hit the top spot in the US more than a year after the album’s release, and it was another year before it reached UK pole position. When he turned 23 a couple of weeks after Appetite got to No. 1, Slash was presented with a cake iced with the words: ‘Happy Fuckin’ Birthday, You Fucker’.
Having initially stalled at No. 67, ‘Welcome To The Jungle’ eventually became a UK Top 30 hit in November 1988. Then they cracked the Top 10 four months later, with ‘Paradise City’.
GN’R released a mini album, GN’R Lies (which added four acoustic songs t the tracks from their first EP) in December ’88, and, in February 1989, with Appetite at No. 2 and GN’R Lies at No. 5, they became the first band in 15 years to simultaneously have two LPs in the US Top Five. In March, they were pulled from the bill of an AIDS benefit gig in New York after a group of gay activists took exception to Axl Rose’s homophobic lyrics on their song, ‘One In A Million’. Although Guns were a huge commercial draw by this point, they were still dogged by difficulties at every turn.
Their reputation had begun to overshadow their music. Rose was voted Worst Male Rock Singer and Worst Dressed Male Rock Artist in Rolling Stone’s awards for 1989, although they were also given the title of Best Heavy Metal Band. Rose got married to Erin Everly (daughter of Don Everly) and divorced her less than four weeks later. He also developed the habit of turning up late for gigs and getting into fights with everyone from the police to his neighbour, who he hit over the head with a bottle when she complained that the music coming from his house was too loud.
Slash was always different to the other Gunners. He was imbued with an outlaw spirit, a pirate with cool hair and a Gibson guitar round his neck – the closest thing the 80s had to Keith Richards. If you look closely at the rear sleeve of Appetite, Slash is the only Gunner not covered in cosmetics and hairspray.
“I actually lived out of that room that we took that picture in,” Slash smirks from behind a cloud of cigarette smoke. “It was shot in our studio. I didn’t have time for fucking make-up. The clothes I was wearing were all I had.”
The group started work on the follow-up to Appetite For Destruction at the end of 1990, and soon dispensed with the services of Steven Adler, due to his predilection for hard drugs. Adler sued the band, saying that it was them who got him into drugs in the first place.
In September 1991, Guns N’ Roses simultaneously released their sprawling Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II albums. Both reached No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, on both sides of the Atlantic – the first time anyone had achieved this since Jim Croce in 1974.
Then, out of nowhere, Nirvana’s Nevermind arrived and changed everything. Suddenly Guns’ antics started to look slightly out of step with the times. They hit back with an album of punk covers called The Spaghetti Incident, which reached UK No. 2 in 1993. But there was no getting away from the fact that Guns N’ Roses weren’t firing on all cylinders.
After waiting around for more GN’R activity, Slash occupied his time by forming a new outfit, Slash’s Snakepit, releasing his first album, It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, in 1995.
He’s currently working with Duff McKagan, ex-Guns (and Cult) drummer Matt Sorum, and Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots in a new band, Velvet Revolver. But he’s acutely aware that it’s him that people are looking at.
“Obviously, it’s got to be quality fucking cool shit for me to put my name on it. To be honest, I think everybody’s getting a little bored with the syntheticness of what techno-pop has become. Every decade, there’s this sort of phase, and that’s why I’m so unaffected by it. I just do what I do, regardless of what the current trend is.”
After The Spaghetti Incident, Slash wanted to carry on with Guns playing red raw rock’n’roll, whereas Rose had other ideas and wanted t update their sound by integrating industrial music into the mix. Slash’s departure was officially announced by Rose when he sent a fax to MTV.
“It took a lot for me to quit,” he says, lighting up yet another cigarette. “It probably started with the depletion of band members. It was a very hard band to put together. First, we lost Steven, then Izzy quit. We kept going, did the whole two and a half year tour. Videos started to go awry, money was being spent … management was bad. I mean, a lot of fucking shit that I would never have expected I would have been stupid enough to go through, you know?
“A rock’n’roll band is such a simple concept, but it just got to be so complex in the end,” he continues, refilling his glass. “And at the end of the day, I had nobody to go home to except Axl. And we literally didn’t see eye to eye on anything at that time.”
What was the final straw?
“Well, I wasn’t really aware of where it was going, but it didn’t look good, let’s put it that way, man,” he confesses. “It’s a two guitars, drums, bass and vocals band – always had been. Guns N’ Roses just started going in a direction that I couldn’t really understand. There was no emotional content for me whatsoever. So, as long as I hung in there, there was a certain point where I was basically suicidal.”
“Yeah,” he replies immediately, sucking the last dregs out of another cigarette and stubbing it out in the overflowing ashtray in front of him. “I came home from rehearsals at 5 or 6 am one day. I went to bed, woke up and thought I was gonna have t kill myself … somehow. Luckily enough, I went back to sleep, and then I woke back up in my regular headspace and made some phone calls. Now, if I had the shit that I had around a few years ago, I’d be dead,” Slash avers, making direct eye contact for the first time in out two hours together.
“Leaving was a lot harder to do than it seems. I’m still dealing with it because of legal stuff. I still see Izzy, Duff and Steven. It’s all cool, I haven’t seen Axl simply because we have nothing t talk about.”
Axl Rose has been threatening to come back with a new Guns N’ Roses album for years, yet the world is still waiting, if not exactly with bated breath. He returned with a new line-up on New Years Even 2001, but Axl’s manager took Slash’s name from the guest list for the gig, saying that he didn’t want his client to be any more uncomfortable than he was already. Last year, Axl’s Guns N’ Roses went off on their first world tour for eight years. Their reemergence after such a long hiatus did little but prove that everyone except for their most diehard fans had moved on, as people invariable do.
“You know what, man?” says Slash as he drains his drink and gets up from the sofa for the first time in the interview to shake hands. “I’m just waiting for him to come out and do his record. It’ll just be interesting to see what we fucking tore that whole thing apart for. Axl definitely had his own agenda … and still does. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m having a real good time doing what I’m doing. I just want him to be happy too.”
Initially, Guns N’ Roses hoped to shift a million or so copies of Appetite For Destruction. It went on to sell 15 million in the States alone. It still sounds scintillating 15 years later.
Thanks to Gypsy