“I do all my interviews in the toilet,” announces Slash over the phone from the bathroom of his hotel room in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where the former Guns N’ Roses guitarist is opening up for AC/DC with his resurrected side-project-turned-main gig, Slash’s Snakepit. The bathroom offers two things that Slash has always held dear — great acoustics and relaxation. Despite the reputation he earned with GN’R as a hell raiser, Slash insists that these days, he’d sooner relax with his beloved serpents and soak up, of all things, cooking programs on cable than club hop. Not that he doesn’t ever get out, mind you. A recent visit to the Whisky in Los Angeles yielded a chance encounter with actor Billy Bob Thornton, who tossed back drinks with the rocker all night and ended up buying his Beverly Hills home. “He’s the new scourge of the neighborhood,” laughs Slash.
Slash isn’t on the phone to talk real estate, however. The subject at hand is his new rough and tumble Snakepit album, Ain’t Life Grand, the follow-up to his 1995 blues-metal debut It’s Five O’clock Somewhere. But as excited as he is about where his new outfit and album might take him in the future, he also speaks candidly about the heady legacy of Guns N’ Roses and all the other things — namely, cigarettes, snakes and guitars — that make Slash well, Slash. “My mom thinks it’s a phallic problem,” he laughs.
Let’s start with your new album. How does Ain’t Life Grand compare with your first Snakepit album?
I’m really proud of the first one, the way it was done. It was a really by-the-seat-of-your-pants record, and it was based totally on the fun of doing it. It didn’t have any fucking prolific connotations or any of that kind of shit. It was just what we were having a good time doing. And I took it on the road and booked us 108 gigs in four months in four continents. And so that’s what that album is about to me. And so when I came back and I rejoined up with Guns and I saw the state that was in, it was like, I had just tasted life out there and knew I couldn’t hang here — this is fucking going to kill me. So I went and I started playing around a lot and meeting a lot of different musicians, and then I had this fly-by-night band which ended up touring for about seven or eight months, and that wasn’t supposed to be taken seriously either, but we were getting all these calls to book more gigs. And finally I was like, I got to put Snakepit together, that’s what I’m going to do. That’s going to be my day job.
How did you come across your new singer, Rod Jackson?
The funny thing about it is there’s a song called “Been There Lately” on the record, and it’s loosely based on this place called the Hollywood Billiards, which is a pool hall in Hollywood that we all lived at, at one time or another, and I never met this guy. I went through 200 fucking singers literally trying to find somebody for Snakepit, and this guy turned out to be around the corner.
Do you find you have to write songs all the time? Is music always in your head?
Yeah, music’s in my head all the time. I don’t necessarily write all the time. I’ve been trying to figure this one out. I like to keep my guitar around, keep my fingers moving, but I usually get my ideas or whatever in my head. Then I go reaching for guitars so I can go figure out how to do it, and that’s how I more or less practice.
Where do you tend to get your best ideas these days? Is there a place where you write songs the best?
No, not really. They come out of nowhere. It could happen while we were in the middle of a song, when I just happen to hit a certain lick by mistake. I’ll remember it and go back after the show and try and remember whatever it was that I was retaining for the forty-five minutes, or whatever. But usually when it’s quiet, when nobody’s talking, and the cooking channel’s on. And then I can think.
You watch the cooking channel?
Does your girlfriend make you, or do you do it because you love it?
You know what? I got hooked on it — I have a sleeping disorder — I go to bed really, really late; I get up before I go to bed, let’s put it that way. And so with my ex-wife, when I first started going out with her, she would sleep like a normal person into the morning, until it was 10 or 11 whatever, and I’d be up at 6, and I started watching the Discovery Channel and they had Great Chefs of the This and Great Chefs of the That, and I started getting hooked on that. And I don’t cook. When it first came on, it was just like “Oh, my God. A twenty-four-hour cooking channel.” I think that ended my whole social life right there. I became a fucking recluse.
The image of you watching cooking shows is gonna mess some people’s image of you. Just so we know we’re dealing with the real Slash here, do you still wear the top hat on stage?
Uh huh. The same one . . . I think the only thing that’s not gear-oriented that I ever endorsed was Black Death vodka — the one with the skull in a top hat. They picked me out real quick.
Another Slash signature, which you actually share with Keith Richards, is your dramatic on-stage smoking. Is there an art to it? Do you still smoke on-stage all the time?
Yeah. Even though it seems like you are naturally put there and it seems so normal, it’s really a fucking spastic gig. And so, for me personally, a cigarette and a cocktail sort of like normalizes everything. That’s how you do it — you just sort of clench it in your teeth and just do what you’re doing, and that calms you down. Because otherwise you’d be a fucking wreck.
You ever burn yourself?
I do it all the time — usually because it falls down the front of my pants.
You’re still a snake man too, right? How many do you have now?
I have no idea. They pop up from time to time. We have like forty, fifty — it changes all the time because they have babies and everything. But they’re all living at my girlfriend’s house.
And she likes them, then, right?
No, she’s tolerating them. What happens is, when I’m going on the road, it’s always very hectic because my whole psyche’s sort of going, “I hope my snakes are OK,” so I’m on the phone constantly going, “Are the snakes OK? Everybody alright?”
What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?
I get the impression from people that don’t know me that I’m like scary or an asshole or unapproachable. You get some people with shaky hands sometimes. But I think the thing that’s really cool is you have an opportunity to break down that barrier and be actually a nice person and it fucking kills the whole image. It’s cool. Definitely if you live and breathe and think that you are that, then you become a parody of yourself. And I think most of the failed rock stars I ever met were the biggest disappointments just because of that one simple thing.
Given your desire to break down barriers, how have you come to terms with the larger than life legacy of Guns N’ Roses? You guys were among the last great rock stars, almost like Led Zeppelin types.
You’re saying that and I’m going, “Really?” You know, you don’t have that same perspective that everybody else does, so you start reading shit or hearing about stuff that somebody read and you go, “Really?” One thing I can honestly say about the band, is that it took us years before anybody even recognized the fact that we could actually play. Everybody just wanted to see us fall over ourselves or fight with somebody or get drunk or something. And then if we didn’t do it, someone would make something up.
Do you think the band can be summed up in any one song?
The best indicative of Guns N’ Roses songs from where I’m coming from is probably “Paradise City.” That’s like right up my alley. And that was one of those songs when, as far as the guitars are concerned, that I wrote without even having to think about it.
Is there a song that always reminds you of Axl Rose every time you hear it?
A Thin Lizzy song, “Thunder and Lightning.” It always reminds me of him.
What do you think it is about groups like GN’R and the Clash that make people still hold out hope that they’ll get back together the way they were?
We were listening to the Ramones on the bus yesterday, going down memory lane and remembering all these shows like in New York and in L.A. where I’d seen the Ramones play these songs. And I was going, “Now Dee Dee’s guarding his garden out in L.A., and he won’t come out of the house except when he mows the lawns.” And you go, “What are you going to do now?” That’s a horrible thought. One of the greatest sacrifices that you make when you signed on for this job is that you give up everything else, your whole entire existence is rock & roll, and if you stop doing it, what the fuck are you supposed to do?
For what it’s worth, I do hope you guys end up on the same stage someday, at least once.
For the fans and for the excitement of the whole thing, if it was the original band and we all had some sort of meeting of the minds and we were going to do one show and schedules permitting . . . you know, I’ll be around. It’s not like I’m going anywhere. But I don’t have time to wait around for it for any reason other than just doing it for fun.