The legendary guitarist is about to release his first self-titled solo album, which features an impressive array of guest appearances. In this interview, Slash talks about the process of making the album, about his own appearances on other people’s records – as well as the media-infused feud with his former Guns N’ Roses bandmate, Axl Rose.
To a degree matched by very few musicians, Slash has enjoyed the chance to perform as a guest on the records of both lesser known acts and of some of the biggest names in music history. The list is long, but at the very minimum Michael Jackson, Bob Dylan, Ray Charles and Iggy Pop ought to be mentioned.
While on a break from his currently singer-less band, Velvet Revolver, Slash has composed and recorded a solo album, and now it was for his colleagues to make guest appearances on his record. Among the guests you will find Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Chris Cornell, Dave Grohl, Fergie and once again Iggy Pop.
You’re a month away from the release of your album, and you’ve been in this situation plenty of times before. How does it feel this time?
- This time, it’s a little bit different. It’s been very liberating, and one of those experiences, where I don’t have any input from outside people. And it’s sorta nice. I’ve been in bands and dealing with record companies and shit like that for so long – and it’s all fine, but I finally came to a point, where I just wanted to do something by myself for a minute. It’s good. I’m excited.
Did you personally invite all the collaborators, or did any of them approach you, wanting to be on the album?
- No, no one came beating down my door! (laughs)
I heard Steven Adler (Slash’s childhood friend and the original Guns N’ Roses drummer, who was fired from the band in 1990 due to his drug habits) did.
- I told Steven I was making a record, and he did say that he’d love to play on it, and I went, “you keep your shit together, and we’ll see”. He is on it. There’s the main album, the first thirteen songs, and then there are six other ones. And in the UK, there are two bonus tracks, and one of them is the one Steven played on – with Alice Cooper, Nicole Scherzinger and Flea as well. So that’s a cool little number.
Lemmy’s lyric is the favorite
I understand that the singers wrote their own lyrics. Did you ever have to ask them to change any lines?
- I didn’t. I really wanted for the singers to feel completely comfortable and just do their own thing. I never even thought to change any of their lyrics! (laughs)
But you did read them before they recorded them, right?
- I did read most of them. I’d write the music and then send the demo to the singer, and then we’d get together and collaborate on the arrangements, and I got pretty familiar with the lyrics at that point.
Did you ever have any specific singers in mind when you wrote the music?
- No, I’d start with the music, and then that would inspire the decision on who to call.
Who’s your favorite lyricist of all the singers?
- They’re all so different. I think my favorite lyric – because it’s so close to the heart – is the one that Lemmy did for Doctor Alibi. It’s so me, and it’s so Lemmy. And I love the lyrics that Ian came up with for Ghost. I like Fergie’s lyrics a lot. I love the chorus. Iggy Pop’s lyrics are great. I thought the potentially most controversial lyrics on the whole record were from Ozzy, ‘cause he had some stuff to vent in his song. The great thing about making the record was that every singer has his or her own distinct style, so every session had its own vibe to it. It was a lot of fun.
Did any of the singers surprise you when you were in the studio with them? In terms of being exceptionally good, or simply just different from what you expected?
- I was really surprised by Adam Levine’s delivery. I knew he was a really good singer, but when he came in and actually sang that song – it’s very angelic and all falsetto and technically a difficult song to sing – he did it so effortlessly and perfectly from one end to another. There was no having to redo certain parts over and over again. So that was a trip. Myles Kennedy surprised the shit out of me. He’s amazing! I didn’t know a lot about him before. I seemed to be the last kid on the block to discover Myles Kennedy.
You got a singing credit on Buick Makane (from the 1993 Guns N’ Roses cover album, The Spaghetti Incident?). Did you ever consider handling the vocals yourself?
- No, I had to have my arm seriously twisted to do Buick Makane! (laughs)
Do you regret it?
Do you like what you hear?
- It’s okay. But I didn’t enjoy doing it. I don’t like singing.
But you used to sing backup vocals in Guns N’ Roses.
- From time to time. I wasn’t the go-to background singer, but on occasion I would do it.
Fergie is amazing
Some of your hard rock fans might be a little concerned about the Fergie track, ‘cause she’s a pop singer and everything.
- Well, they’ve been concerned about her. I’ve been hearing about it – they’re thinking that I’ve gone pop, and I’m just like – wait ‘til you hear it, and then you’ll get it. I never would have thought to use Fergie until I heard her sing a rock n’ roll medley in the middle of a Black Eyed Peas set three years ago. I was like – wow, she’s got a bitchin’ voice. She’s actually one of those people that probably would have been a rock singer, if certain things had been a certain way. But she’s amazing, and she was really eager to do this. I think that when people will hear it, it will make more sense.
You’ve worked with a lot of people throughout your career. Who’s your favorite collaborator that you ever worked with?
- Iggy Pop on this occasion was great, but the first time I ever worked with him on his record, Brick By Brick (released in 1990, featuring Slash and Duff McKagan as both performers and songwriters), that was a huge experience for me. The biggest, most memorable one was Ray Charles (a re-recording of God Bless America, released in 2002), working with him for a period of time. He’s one of the all-time, fucking great musicians and songwriters, and I was very honored and humbled to work with him. Michael Jackson was cool (Black Or White and Give In To Me, both off of Jackson’s 1991 album, Dangerous). I really dug working with Lenny Kravitz, when we did that record (Mama Said, released in 1991, featuring Slash on Fields Of Joy and Always On The Run, with a co-writing credit on the latter). I can go on!
Do you have any memories of working with Robbie Williams, who’s really huge in Europe, as I’m sure you know?
- Yeah, I know. Actually, I’m his neighbor, so I know Robbie very well! (laughs)
Oh, I thought you bought his house?
- I almost did, but I ended up buying the house across the street. He kept the house. I worked with him on an idea for his new record. I think he’s working on it now.
He just released one this fall.
- This fall? It’s out? Oh. Anyways, I worked on something for that and I did a demo for him, but I don’t know what happened with it. But Robbie’s great. I was watching a video of his yesterday, and he really has a very original unique thing going on. It’s very him.
Do you talk about Stoke-On-Trent (the English town both Slash and Williams are from) a lot?
- At one point we were playing a lot of poker over at his house, and his parents and some of his friends had flown in, and my dad came down. So all of us were from Stoke, and that was sort of a trip! (laughs)
You’ve worked with Mike Inez from Alice In Chains, Dave Grohl from Nirvana and Chris Cornell from Soundgarden – all members of “grunge” bands, as it were, whom music journalists loved to describe as the genre that took over from what Guns N’ Roses was a part of. What are your thoughts on this, and is it even on your mind when you’re working with these people?
- No, there’s a sort of camaraderie with all those guys that I know from that era. There wasn’t a conscious thing going on – like a rivalry thing between the decades! (laughs) There was definitely a movement that started happening in the 90’s, a shift from the 80’s hair metal thing. But Guns N’ Roses was such a big band at that time, so it didn’t really have anything to do with us. It didn’t affect us, ‘cause we were touring stadiums, you know.
You were too big to care?
- It just didn’t really faze us. And at the same time, there was a lot of turmoil going on in our band that was totally unrelated to those issues, so when we broke up – I guess you can sort of call it that – a lot of people said, “oh, grunge killed Guns N’ Roses”. It had nothing to do with that. But no, there’s no concious weirdness with any of those guys.
Still anxious before the show starts
You’ve been writing songs for three decades now. Do you feel as inspired now as you did in the 80’s?
- You know, it’s weird with me. I really love what I do, and I feel extremely motivated. So because I was making this record under different circumstances, I felt more inspired than normally. Not more than when I first started, but for a while.
Is there anything different about writing songs now, compared to, say, 25 years ago?
- I think I have a better grasp on it. I’ve always been good at writing hooks and riffs, but I never really looked at the whole song as much as I do now. And I think I’m a better player now, so I really think that I’m sort of evolving.
Do you feel more confident?
- (giggles) That’s a good question. I’m still ultra-insecure, so…
Oh, you are?
- (laughs) Yeah!
But I bet you don’t have any clue about how many concerts you’ve actually played throughout your life.
- No, but I still get just as nervous going on stage now as I ever have.
Why do you think that is?
- It’s just a combination of raw nerves – wanting to do a good job, not being as totally confident as you would like to be – and then the pre-show anxiety. And then once you’re out there, it all sort of dissipates, and you’re just doing your thing.
Is it a worry of letting down people?
- Something like that. It’s not that paranoid, palms are sweaty kind of thing, where you think you’re gonna go out and fall flat on your face! It’s more the desire to wanna do a really good job.
Fan of Paradise City, Disney scores and Them Crooked Vultures
Coma (the ten minute closing track on Use Your Illusion I, released in 1991) is my favorite song – in the whole world actually…
- Oh, of all songs? (surprised laughter) Coma’s pretty cool. It was pretty epic. Believe it or not, I heard it on the radio a couple of months ago. I was sitting in my car, and I had just pulled up to my driveway, and it came on, and I must have sat there for ten minutes listening to that song. I hadn’t heard it in a long time. It’s a long song!
Yeah, it’s my favorite way of killing off ten minutes.
- Yeah! But anyway, what’s my favorite song? There’s so much music, dude, I couldn’t even begin to answer that… ‘Cause if I named one song, then I would have to name a million others!
Fair enough. How about of the ones you’ve written yourself? One where you think you hit all the right spots?
- I’ve always been a big fan of Paradise City (from 1987’s Appetite For Destruction). It has an upbeat, sort of positive note to it, even though it’s about as nasty and raunchy a song as it can get. But there is an anthemic upness to it, which is an interesting combination for a band like Guns N’ Roses. So I thought that was a cool little trick! (laughs) It wasn’t intentional, but listening back to it, I can hear that.
Do you listen to any bands or genres that might surprise people?
- Obviously my openmindedness for all things musical seems to surprise people. But I don’t think there’s any kind of hidden, guilty pleasure that I listen to that would make people go, “oh my god!”. I love Disney scores. I think they’re fantastic. And Warner Brothers and all that cartoon stuff.
You’ve recorded a lot of cover songs in your career. What’s your fascination with cover tunes?
- I think doing cover songs is just sort of homages to the originals – and also a way to play a song that you probably wish you wrote! (laughs) Or maybe it’s a different take on a song, or whatever, but they can be a lot of fun.
Does it feel different playing other people’s songs?
- Not really. I don’t recall investing a lot of thought into that! (laughs) It’s a kick to do it, and the pressure’s a little bit different when you do a cover song.
The media-infused feud with Axl Rose
What’s the question you get asked most frequently by Guns N’ Roses fans when you meet them?
- Fuck… The obvious one is the reunion question. Without a doubt.
What’s your response to them?
- That’s almost like asking me the question! That’s a way around it!
I didn’t even intend it like that. I won’t hear your response then. I think that some fans enjoy rooting for either you or Axl. Kind of like sports teams. But I think there’s a big, silent majority that don’t wanna think of Guns N’ Roses like that – and just wanna focus on the music rather than “Axl vs. Slash”. What are your thoughts on that?
- Well, the “Axl vs. Slash” campaign I just noticed recently. And that’s sort of otherwordly for me. I can’t even comment on that. But I think that the ones who just see it as one whole entity of music – that’s more along with what I would wanna go with. I think getting involved in other people’s issues and taking sides when they have nothing to do with you is sort of… pointless.
Whenever you talk to someone about Guns N’ Roses, there’s always gonna be someone that says, “oh, they’ve sucked since Slash left”. Do you ever catch yourself thinking, “get over it”?
- That fans should get over that aspect of it?
Yeah, since you haven’t been in the band in a decade and a half?
- Well, you don’t know, at that point, why anybody even bothers to comment on it! (laughs) I appreciate people who are loyal to the original band and all that kind of shit, but all things considered – and everybody’s entitled to their opinion – I can’t really get interested in the dynamics of what everybody’s thinking.
When you and Axl were in the same band, you stood together against the press and all its lies – and you wrote the song Get In The Ring (in which several members of the press are mentioned by name, released on Use Your Illusion II in 1991). When you were no longer in the same band, my theory is that the same malicious press thrived on getting the two of you to be against each other, throwing fuel on the fire.
- There definitely is a sort of perpetual fascination with keeping that animosity heated up – which is why I don’t like to talk about it! (laughs)
I understand, and actually the whole point of asking these questions was to try and get beyond that whole thing.
- There is nothing going on anyway, so anything that’s seen in print is really the result of someone’s insistence on coming up and talking about shit that doesn’t really exist.
So I’ll stop!
- Yeah. (laughs)
What current bands are you excited about?
- The only thing that’s come out that’s really new that I think is really great is Them Crooked Vultures. I think that’s fucking awesome. I haven’t heard any new rock n’ roll stuff that I’m excited about. There’s not a lot of it, commercially, coming out anyway. And a lot of the stuff that’s happening on a more street level, I’m not totally aware of. I’ve been held up, making my record.
The music business has gone down the toilet
You’ve been doing interviews for a quarter of a decade now. Do you remember ones that really stood out?
- I know that I’ve had some really ridiculous interviews that have been – for whatever reason – sort of crazy. Some drunken ones. I had a Howard Stern one that was so bad that I had to call back the next day and do it again.
How do you feel about the whole situation, having to do 17 interviews in a day?
- That’s something I can deal with. It’s a means to communicate that you’ve got something new, and I believe in it in that sense. Even though sometimes it might seem tedious, it’s part of the job, and I don’t hate it. Because… It works.
What’s the best thing about the music business of today, compared to that of, say, 20 years ago, in 1990?
- Absolutely nothing! (laughs) The music business has really sort of gone into the toilet ever since the Internet thing. And the Internet is great! But the transition from old school, how the business used to work, trying to adjust to the Internet, there’s no exact format for that yet. So right now, the music business is in a really bad way. It will all probably get sorted out – and become non-existent to the point where it only exists on the Internet – I’m not really sure. But until they get an exact formula for how it works, it’s a mess. In the 80’s when we got signed, you still had little record companies and there was a certain synergy going on. So until it gets rectified, we’re in the toilet! (laughs)
Are you trying to work against that with your own release?
- I saw no reason at this point to actually do anything with a record label. Nowadays, record labels just want way, way too much. But I got RoadRunner to distribute it here in Europe, and it’s a really cool setup. But I had to pay for my own record! (laughs)