The guitarist gives his first extensive interview on reuniting with GNR and explains why he’s not quitting his solo career
Sheep . . . sheep . . . Axl. You can see some amazing things out the window of this mansion-turned-hotel in rural England, where Slash is currently hanging out in a backward Thrasher cap and talking up his new album, Living the Dream, with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, due September 21st. But he and his other bandmates have traveled to this vast green estate because he’s playing the nearby Download Festival tomorrow with Guns N’ Roses — and he hasn’t, until this 90-minute interview, talked in depth about their fantastically successful reunion. He doesn’t want to detail exactly how he and Rose mended their relationship after two decades of estrangement, and when I mention Guns N’ Roses’ unexpected punctuality on every night of the tour, he snaps. “All right,” Slash says, “I’m getting sick and tired of talking about this shit.” But he keeps talking.
How did you manage to make a Conspirators album with all the Guns touring you’re doing?
I started preproduction on this new material, and then I went back on the road [solo]. At some point, Axl and I hooked up on the phone, and then we met for a little bit and started talking about doing Coachella. Just for the fun of it, because we were sort of back on friendly ground again. That turned into a whole fucking extended tour, which is still going. So all that material sat on the back burner. On our last big break, I got back together with Myles and everybody, and we revisited those songs, picked out the ones that we still wanted to work on, and then I’d written some new stuff. We just put all that together and just rehearsed and, y’know, got the arrangements and all that shit together. And we’ll do some touring in September. And Guns goes back out in November. And then we’ll go out in January with Conspirators. And we just go like that.
How does it feel to be trying to write big rock riffs with the genre so far out of the mainstream?
You have to find ideas that turn yourself on, because no one out there is putting stuff out that turns you on like when you first started. Or anywhere close. It makes you work really hard — you’re still sort of kicking your own ass to do something good.
Your first solo album was a sign of doom for the original Guns. Is there any message being sent by releasing this project now?
No. It’s really just that we started it and then I put it on the back burner, so I’m just finishing it up. But, I mean, at the same time, I wanna keep that going as something that I have outside of what Guns N’ Roses is doing.
Is the idea to make sure you never have any time off?
I mean, for the most part, yeah. And I’ve been producing horror movies too. It’s a little crazy, but it’s way better for me to be fucking busy running around and doing that than for me just to be sitting around [laughs].
In the old days, your sobriety was most at risk when you were sitting around – have you moved beyond that?
Yeah, no, I haven’t had a problem with that. I’ve been really fortunate that I finally got to that point where I was just over it. And I haven’t had an issue since then. I haven’t had the desire to go back and do that.
Have you stayed sober since 2006?
Yeah, so it’s been going well. All addicts and alcoholics have to always know that it’s there. And I think, probably I’m at my weakest if I don’t have a bunch of shit going on.
Did you really think that Coachella could’ve been it for the Guns reunion?
Originally, it was just to do those first couple of shows, and that was a gas. I missed being on a stage with Axl and Duff [McKagan]. I missed that combination. It whet the appetite to do more.
So are you in Guns N’ Roses, or are you just playing with Guns N’ Roses?
Oh, that’s an interesting question. From the moment we started playing together and embarking on this journey, I would consider it being in Guns N’ Roses, not just being hired to play Guns N’ Roses songs.
So technically, legally, is it a band again?
I’m in the band — there is no contractual anything at this point. So however you want to look at it.
I really enjoy seeing you play the Chinese Democracy tracks. What’s that like for you?
Um, I mean, it’s fun playing them. There’s nothing weird about it. It’s not like I’m playing something out of my comfort zone. I’m very conscious of maintaining the integrity of the recording, but still doing it the way that I would approach it.
You guys are still adding to the set list, which suggests this is an active collaboration.
We work really well together, and we’ve worked really hard since we’ve gotten this thing going. We put a lot of heart and soul into it. We’re not just phoning it in.
Axl said you and Duff might play on new Guns material. True?
I think probably the best way to look at is, if something happens, then it happens. There you go.
Specifically, he said he was playing you songs, and that you might end up on it.
Yeah. You know what? I’m not lighting that fuse.
Can you clear up exactly how all of this happened? What were your first conversations with Axl like?
Yeah, I know everybody wants to ask me stuff like that, but in the Guns N’ Roses world, I’ve found that . . . I’d just rather not even get into it. Because at this point, it’s like, Guns N’ Roses is, and that’s basically all that really needs to be said. I don’t like to get into the dynamics of how . . . ’cause it always gets misconstrued. And the superficial stuff that people want to look into, it always seems to rise to the surface; and it’s hard to get away from that after years and years and years of being that band that had, uh, that kind of media dynamic going on. So, I just sort of avoid it.
I mean, obviously you don’t want to say anything to knock this all off course . . .
I’m not worried about fucking it up. I just don’t think that there’s really any information that is necessarily important. The fun of this has just been playing, not talking to the press. And it’s been great! There’s really nothing . . . it’s been something that I definitely would have bet against. . . . Having Axl and I get back together and sort of work out our differences and start moving forward, was sort of a shock. . . . And it’s been really a wonderful experience, and I’ve been having really a great time with it, and everybody’s been getting along great. And the fuckin’ fans have been amazing. And it’s just sort of a blessing to have it go that way, you know, especially a band that’s been around – or not around, depending on, you know, all the different lineup changes and all that kind of stuff — for so long. So, it’s been really nice to be riding this wave.
Your old friend Marc Canter suggested there is some connection between your recent divorce and your ability to reconcile with Axl.
No, it had nothing to do with — neither one had anything to do with the other. At least on my end, y’know.
It was always was a challenge to find someone else you could play with who wasn’t Izzy, so how does it work with Richard Fortus?
Richard has got a great sensibility. He’s very much a rock & roll guitar player, but technically, he’s an amazing guitar player. He’s very rooted in the kind of rock guitar we were all influenced by. So it makes him very, very easy to work with. He’s not going through the motions, he’s not posing, you know, so to speak. So, that’s how that works.
He needs to find stuff to play that complements what you do, right? Isn’t that the hard part?
There’s never been a lot of forethought into that. You just sort do it, and if it works, it works, and if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. That’s a key thing.
What’s it like playing with Frank Ferrer? He doesn’t sound like Steven Adler or Matt Sorum. He has his own thing. What’s the vibe there musically?
Well, no, he doesn’t play like either of those guys, but he’s been doing it for longer than I was ever in the band [laughs]. So he’s got his thing on lock, yeah.
The tempos of the old songs are up. Was that something you and Duff pushed for?
I think it was just high energy, because now things have started to settle down a little bit more. I felt like there was a lot of energy from those, you know, from Coachella through the first U.S. tour that we did, where everything was very sort of uptempo and just sort of manic. And I think that was just from a collective high energy from where we were at that time. It wasn’t intentional, the speed. Unless it was — I’m trying to think. There might have been a couple songs, you know, because I like to speed everything up anyway, you know.
My sense is that maybe Matt Sorum always knew that he was never going to be involved with this reunion. That it just wasn’t in the cards.
I never really talked to Matt about it. I’ve seen him, but we haven’t talked about it.
What can you say about the Izzy situation on this tour?
Uh, I’m not gonna go anywhere near that. I thought what he had to say about it, from what I saw – I didn’t read the whole thing – but the basic come away, I thought, was well handled.
You’ve tried to get him involved with various things in the past.
I mean, there was a point there, well before Velvet Revolver started where he was interested in doing something with that. But, we were looking to get a front guy, and he didn’t want to deal with the frontman kind of thing. And we were definitely headed into the get-a-front-guy direction. But it wasn’t a big issue, you know. There’s never been any kind of disappointment or anything like that. At least on my end.
Are these the only Guns shows you’ve played sober?
From ’86 to ’94, there was definitely not a day or a show that I was sober. The interesting thing, and I talk to Ax about this too, is there haven’t been any moments onstage that take me back to the past. It’s the same people, for the most part, and a lot of the same songs, and it still seems like a new experience. Which is probably a testament to the frame of mind I was in back then.
Does that mean some of your memories are gone?.
I have clear memories of stuff, and then I have not-so-clear memories of stuff [laughs].
Back then, you could play quite well when you were messed up.
I was a very functional alcoholic. I mean, when I was on tour, it’s always alcohol. I knew better than to try and carry a [heroin] habit on the road, knowing that if things don’t go as planned, and you’re gonna be sick and all that miserable shit. So, it was just alcohol that I was dealing with. Which is its own demon, but I mean, I was good with it [laughs].
Duff was also drinking back then.
Yeah, we just drank 24/7, so we were always on this sort of even [keel], you know? It’s funny looking back on it, some of the stuff. Like I said, I don’t really have any regrets about it, it was what it was. I mean, there was some stuff that might have been handled differently, you know, in crucial moments toward the end there, had there not been such a major dependency going on. But I’m not one to sort of dwell on past stuff.
It was a lot to deal with. On one hand you could say, “why did they break up?” On the other hand, it’s amazing that you got so much done, given everything. I mean, you could look at it both ways.
Yeah, a lot of stressing was going on.
In Duff’s book, he says that he and Axl both rejected the music you wrote that ended up on your first Slash’s Snakepit album, It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere. Do you think, in retrospect, they were right?
Hmm. I mean, I’m not even sure what was going on there. It was just stuff that I was writing. I don’t think it was necessarily, like, I don’t remember ever presenting any of it as new Guns N’ Roses.
In your book, you say you did.
I mean, I know there were a couple riffs, but then, those probably didn’t go anywhere, so then I was just like, “OK, fine, I’m just gonna go do this.” And that’s more or less what happened. No one was particularly excited about doing those songs, so then the rest of the record just was other new stuff that I was writing, and I just sort of went that way.
Eric Dover, the singer for that project, was really talented.
Eric was great, and I love [bassist] Mike Inez, and it was a cool little unit. But then, there was a point when we were on the road, and Eric really wasn’t comfortable. He’s a guitar player, and he can sing; he’s a good singer, but he wasn’t comfortable as a frontman. And there was a point there, during the tour, um, where I became aware that he really was not; he was out of his comfort zone, having to go up and front the band, so that was sort of that.
On the new Appetite for Destruction boxed set, you guys pretty conspicuously left off “One in a Million,” while including every other song on Lies. What can you say about that?
We collectively decided that it just didn’t have any place in that box set. It didn’t take long. There wasn’t a big roundtable thing over it.
Your mom was African-American and your dad is English. You joked that “it’s weird to be a rock musician who’s black and British, because a lot of British rockers want to be black.” But what does your background mean to you?
It’s never been part of my makeup, to be able to differentiate myself from anybody else because of color. I went through a lot of that as a kid — in school you’re pigeonholed into being more aware of your background. When I started doing my own thing, especially playing guitar, it wasn’t so much of a thing.I never really cared to have to identify one way or another.
So you don’t think of yourself as black?
Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. It was always confusing on school questionnaires. [Laughs] You know, “other.”
Do you have any thoughts on, say, Black Lives Matter?
I think racial injustice, across the board, is just ugly and sad. I can totally relate to the black side of it, because I do remember a lot of that from when I was a little kid. And also how I was raised, there was a certain fear of racial prejudice in my family. When I watch what other people are still going through, it’s sad that we’re still fucking dealing with this thing. Especially right now, this is an ugly little period. Hopefully it’s gonna end soon.
How do you feel about guitar becoming less important in music? There hasn’t been a new guitar hero for a while.
Yeah, for the most part, guitar is not considered as important an instrument to a lot of this music as it might’ve been before. And that’s happened before. I think even when the sort of New Wave thing started happening in ’78-’79, there was, like, a getting-rid-of-the-guitar, “fuck Led Zeppelin” attitude. My mom had a boyfriend when I was a kid who was all about Elvis Costello and Devo and anybody that wasn’t Led Zeppelin. Punk rock was all guitar with nary a guitar solo. But with New Wave in the Eighties and MTV, it became less and less important.
At this point, you’ve got somebody like Jack White who definitely has kept guitar at the forefront and kept it relevant – because he’s got some great ideas and his songs are good and his whole direction is something that people fucking dig. Then the guitar all of a sudden works great. So it really depends where the guitar sits with the artist that’s performing. Like, if the songs are really good and the band dynamic or whatever makes it sound special and the guitar is a part of that, people relate to it. But I don’t think anybody’s really into guitar for the sake of guitar.
But you are.
I mean, I dig guitar. It’s the thing that excites me. It’s what I do. And I’ve been doing it for a long time, and I’ve never lost interest in it. I’m not really part of sort of the contemporary mainstream anyway. I’m still sort of just doing my thing in my own little corner, the way that I am right now. But I think that there’s a definite appetite for rock & roll. It just needs to be done by people that are delivering it in a genuine, sincere way with the spirit of rock & roll. And I know that sounds cliché, but there is an attitude. It doesn’t even have to be Marshall [amps] and fucking all that for the attitude to come across. It’s that sort of “fuck you” attitude, which, in this day of Instagram and all this other kind of shit and everybody’s looking for attention. . . . It’s a very strange time.
No up-and-coming musician could live the way that Guns were living before the band was signed, because it would all end up being narced on via social media.
Oh yeah, yeah. I mean, it would seem like you were doing it intentionally, or whatever.
The Greta Van Fleet phenomenon is interesting — they’re opening for you guys.
It makes me really happy to see it. I wish they didn’t sound so much like Led Zeppelin, but still, the idea of fuckin’ four kids getting onstage and just playing their fuckin’ asses off with just a couple amps and a drum kit, and just playing their instruments, as opposed to having all this other fuckin’ shit going on, you know, that’s really healthy, and I think that’s inspiring. It definitely makes a lot of kids who are doing the same thing, that no one’s ever heard of . . . it gives them hope to be able to get somewhere.
You seem to really enjoy working with Myles Kennedy. What is it about him?
I did a solo record [in 2010] where I had all these different singers. And one of the guys that I had sing on that record was Myles Kennedy. And I’d never met him. I’d just been hearing a lot about him. At that time, I think Zeppelin had flown him to see if he wanted to do something with them, or whatever. So, I thought, “this guy’s gotta be pretty good.” But I wasn’t really familiar with him. Turned out that when I was in Velvet Revolver, Matt Sorum had suggested him at one point to audition, before we started working with Scott. But Myles never showed up. He got cold feet or something at the last minute and nothing ever came out of that.
Anyway, so I called Myles, and I’d done pretty much the whole record, but I had two songs where I hadn’t figured out the right voice. And I thought, “Well, I’ll give this guy Myles a call.” So I called him up and told him I’m doing this record, and would he be interested in hearing a piece of music? Maybe he might wanna sing on it. And so he said sure, and I sent it to him. And a few days later, a week later, “Starlight” came back, and I put it on and I go, “This is fucking really good.” I went to Eric Valentine, who was producing, and said, “Is it just me, or is this really fucking good?” And he goes, “No, this is great.” Myles has this sort of easygoing, kind of laid-back kind of demeanor. And creatively, we just sort of synced up really quick.
Your mom dated David Bowie, and you guys developed an adult relationship. Did you get to say goodbye?
No, not at all. A year or so before [his death], I was trying to get him into a horror movie I was working on [laughs]. And that was the last time I spoke to him. He was a very cool fuckin’ character. He’s somebody that you really could look up to. He was an icon that really deserved that moniker.
You had a hard time with him, but how did you react to Scott Weiland’s death?
As crazed as that whole period was, I was still shocked to hear about Scott. But yeah, Velvet Revolver was no fun. I have nothing positive to say about that experience except that we did write some cool stuff.
In Duff’s book, he writes about trying to reconcile how young he was when he got up to all these wild adventures with his experiences raising kids. How’s that been for you?
Yeah. What a strange trip that is. The first thing that comes to mind is . . . I’m not a dad by design. I’m a dad by default. Which means I haven’t really had any real parental aspirations or fatherly aspirations until the time came, and bam, there it was. And it’s great and everything, but I hadn’t immensely prepared in advance for any of it. And so when the kids were really young, I put my book out, and one of the things when I started promoting the book, was, “So what are you gonna do when your kids read it?” Because, apparently people thought it was a little edgy.
And I was like, “Oh, they’re never gonna read it.” Because I was thinking how I remember kids to be, and they don’t give a shit what their parents did. Well my oldest is now a drummer. So at some point recently he read the whole thing. So, he can’t help it but be like, “Well you said. . . .” And I’m like, don’t do as I do, do as I say! But I’m not that guy, I’m not that dad. That would be the wisdom that they would impart to their kids. But for me, it’s sort of like, “Well, yeah, but you know, you don’t necessarily wanna do that. I mean some of that stuff was really stupid, and I’d like to be able to tell you the difference between fun and smart and fun and stupid. Y’know, I feel very hypocritical, saying what you can and can’t do.”
Does it give you different insight into what was going on with you back then?
It’s such a different time. Obviously, I came from the very liberal, very open-minded Sixties. When I moved to L.A., my mom was in fashion and my dad was in art and music and stuff. So, there was a very bohemian, very loose existence. My dad, who’s very well read, was reading all these child psychology books on how to raise kids; it was Dr. Spock at the time. And so there was this whole thing of treating kids as adults and letting them do their thing. And so I was raised in that, I was out running around. And my parents totally cared about me, but they just trusted me to make my own decisions at a very young age. And I was just out there. And then, by the time I started doing any really bad stuff, at that point I was like 13, 14 years old. And my parents had split up at that point and I was just out on my own. They never knew what I was up to. Ever. There were a couple times I got busted for this and that they knew. But, other than that, they didn’t know what I was up to. Nowadays, you don’t let your kid fucking three feet away from you without knowing what they’re up to. So it’s a whole different kind of existence.
Your parents’ divorce was such a major thing for you — did that put any weight on your own recent divorce?
I was younger than they were. How old was I? I think I was like eight. And I just remember it being traumatic, and there was no support system, really. My mom was working, my dad was off doing his thing. And so I stayed with my grandma. So I definitely tried to be way more in contact with them, way more hands-on when my ex and I split up. You just kind of try to be there for your kids.
Do you still have a defibrillator in your chest?
It’s still in there, I’ve never taken it out. The battery ran out a long time ago, but my heart came back to normal. They could take it out, but they would have to detach the leads to it, which are attached to my heart which is more of a risk than just leaving it in there.
You’re obviously lucky to be alive and in decent health, given what you put your body through.
The motivation to play is what saved me, because when I first got really sick I was on the road opening for AC/DC, and I had to cancel. It was the first time I had to cancel anything, and I was so fucking frustrated. So when the doctors go, “Well you have, like, maybe six weeks [to live],” and they put me in physical therapy, they put me on some drugs. And the doctor who put the defibrillator in me, was like, “OK, just try to stay on the straight and narrow for a little while.” And I was so motivated to make up those dates that that’s really what saved me, and I got my shit back together. In 2005 to 2006 I went to my deepest, lowest point, and I was just, like, this sucks. There’s no recapturing the glory, it’s just not gonna happen.
In other words, it was fun once, but it was never going to be fun again.
And that’s the thing. When it was all happening for me, it wasn’t about trying to escape some damaged past memories, or anything like that. It wasn’t like I had anything to hide from or any of that kind of shit. It was just for the pure fun of it, and it just turned into a thing that, it was like someone told me about the hair of the dog — like, “Oh, if you drink from the time you get up to the time you go to sleep, you’ll be fine every day; you’ll never have a hangover.” And then when you get turned on to other stuff, it becomes something that you physically and mentally depend on, that you’re not really looking out for in the beginning, and all of a sudden, you’re there. But it wasn’t because I was miserable, it wasn’t because I had all kinds of of skeletons in my closet that I was hiding from.
Why have you been able to stay alive and sober when so many people just disappear into the abyss?
I think about it sometimes. I was on a crazed suicide mission for the longest time. I just did not give a shit. So, everything had to be testing the fuckin’ boundaries all the time and pushing the limit all the time, and I didn’t think twice about it. I had enough incidents that should have scared me out of that, you know, but I just didn’t care. So then there was a point there where I realized I’m just not going anywhere. You get to a point where your addictions become such a massive burden, and you’re so fuckin’ miserable, that if you’re fortunate enough to come to terms with it, it really aids you in quitting. [Laughs] Because there’s really nothing to gain out of any of it. And if you’re not gonna fuckin’ quietly pass away from an overdose or something and you keep having these times, you end up in the hospital, and you keep coming back. Then you sort of come to grips with, like, “If I’m not going anywhere, I might as well make the best of being here.”
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