Ahead of Guns N' Roses appearance at Slane Castle over the weekend, we look back at this 2014 exclusive interview with guitarist Slash, as he spoke to Ed Power about being sober and jamming with Rory Gallagher.
WHERE do you start with Saul Hudson, the guitar-slinging hard-rock anti-hero known to the world as Slash? He’s lived the clichés of rock and roll with zealous abandon — thrashing hotel rooms, dallying with groupies by the dozen, overdosing on a heroin and cocaine speedball that plunged him into cardiac arrest for eight minutes. That he is still around to marvel at the ridiculousness of it all rates as a fair-sized miracle — a fact he is entirely cognisant of.
“Trust me, I have absolutely no interest going down that road any more,” he says in an exclusive interview with the Irish Examiner to promote his excellent new record, World On Fire. “I wore out on it. I burned through the whole thing. The prospect of going back in that direction — [if tempted] I instantly think about the low points, think back to where I was at before I cleaned my act up. It doesn’t interest me.”
He quit booze and chemicals eight years ago. Married, father to a young son, it was as if a switch had flicked in his head. Enough was enough. He got sober overnight, and has stayed steadfastly on the wagon ever since.
“Obviously doing what I do, I’m around [hedonism] all time,” says Slash, whose March 2013 Dublin Olympia show was attended by close friend Charlie Sheen and an entourage of buddies and bros. “Actually I’m fine with that [having drinks around]. I don’t want to be in a pristine, squeaky clean environment — it would drive me crazy. Ultimately I have no interest in finding myself at the bottom of a bottle of Jack with a needle point in my arm.”
Slash does not appreciate questions about his time with Guns N’ Roses, which is a shame because (obviously) that’s all we want to know about — the glory days of Appetite for Self Destruction, the difficult years leading up to the bloated and pompous Use Your Illusion double LP, the rising tide of bad blood that finally prompted his departure in 1996. The problem, as Slash sees it, is that if he says something about singer Axl Rose it will be reported back to Axl, the solitary original member of GnR. Wires will be crossed — bad relations soured even further. He does not wish to go there.
“I’m not bored with the fascination with [Guns N’ Roses music]. What I’m bored with is all the brouhaha with stuff the media have no idea what they are talking about..the causing of unnecessary conflict between the original members. It’s just a lot of drama and sensationalism — everyone is trying to capitalise on that. I’m sick of it.”
Speaking to me several years ago, Duff McKagan, the GnR bassist was more forthcoming — about Rose, especially. He was eager to address several of the stereotypes that had grown around the singer, known for his eccentricities.
“You don’t talk to the media... the media starts running a little crazy with things. There was a Rolling Stone story about [Axl] a few years ago that painted him as a Howard Hughes sort of figure. And everybody used that as the template to write about Axl. None of it is true,” said McKagan.
“You know, he’s just a guy caught up in events. He was the singer of that band. And that band got bigger than anybody could have imagined. And being the singer you are the focal point, rightly or wrongly. You are. There is nothing that can prepare you for that…. If you call it ‘reclusive’ — that’s one person’s angle on what it was. Or if you want to say, he saved himself, that’s another story,” said McKagan.
An amateur psychologist might trace Slash’s history of chemical dependency and general excess to his peripatetic upbringing. He was born in the UK in 1965, the son of a music stylist mother and artist father.
The family moved to Los Angeles when he was six; by the time he turned 10, his parents had divorced (his mother subsequently dated David Bowie for several months).
You sense the break-up hit him hard. He began to run wild, drinking and smoking pot and, by his teens, developing a chronic shoplifting habit. He discovered music at high school and though his salvation in some ways (playing guitar was the only discipline to which he could properly devote himself) it contained the seeds of his downfall too.
From the start, Guns N’ Roses were in love with excess. Early in the group’s evolution, Slash cultivated a dynamic heroin habit. The death of a close friend by overdose turned him off dope for a while; instead he drank non-stop, more or less, routinely downing a bottle of whiskey for breakfast.
Eventually the novelty wore thin — so, of course, he returned to heroin. His memories of GnR’s glory years are thus bittersweet, punctuated by the recollections of smack highs and lows, of hangovers and the desperate lengths he would go to in order to secure a fix.
Slash is good company, his speaking voice the laconic croak of an old warrior. For a Los Angeleno he swears a lot, lacing his sentence with F-bombs the way an Irish person might. He actually has great warmth for Ireland, growing enthused when asked about his friendship with Cork guitarist Rory Gallagher.
“He wasn’t a big influence the first time I picked up a guitar. I became familiar with him through other guitar players. By the times Guns started, I was really well versed in Rory Gallagher.
“Not long afterwards he came to Los Angeles and played at the Roxy. That is where we met. I had no idea he would know who I was. In fact, he did. We got up and jammed at the Roxy, went back to his hotel and jammed on an acoustic,” he recalls.
“I was really shocked to learn he was no longer with us — it sort of freaked me out. The song ‘Avalon’ on the new record is very much influenced by him.”
What are Slash’s memories of Guns N’ Roses 1992 Slane Castle concert? It was one of the biggest shows they ever played — and, with the band arriving late, one of the tensest the venue had witnessed.
“Axl Rose nearly induced a nervous breakdown,” Henry Mountcharles later wrote in his blog. “He arrived late. My son Alexander had a beer with Slash to calm his nerves. The manager was so laid back he was fishing backstage in the river Boyne. However, it was a magic show. It kicked off the nineties. Rock and roll.”
“It was a big one,” recalls Slash. “It’s such an interesting thing: The size of the venue doesn’t matter, really. It is about getting in front of an audience. I get nervous any night anyway. You can go in front of tens of thousands and it’s not unlike getting in front of a crowd of 300 people. You still have that initial stage fright.”
Slash has a habit of hooking up with dramatic frontmen. During his time in Guns N’ Roses he witnessed several riots sparked by Rose’s refusal to go on stage on time (the singer has not changed his habits, forcing a Dublin audience to wait over an hour in September 2010, then briefly storming off after an empty plastic glass was chucked in his direction).
Slash’s next band, Velvet Revolver, was no less dramatic — singer Weiland had a history of egotism and heroin addiction (Weiland left the group in 2008 on less than friendly terms).
After Velvet Revolver, Slash decided he wanted a low-profile professional life. He released a solo record with a cast of singers and players (among them Black Eyed Pea Fergie and Foo Fighter Dave Grohl).
It was while touring the LP he met vocalist Myles Kennedy. They got on tremendously — it was a relief for Slash to be around a singer who didn’t expect the entire world to bend to his will. One thing led to another: now they have a band, Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, and are about to put out their rollicking new album, World On Fire.
Slash is grateful for the third act of his career. However, you sense he is slightly wary of matters getting out of hand. The band will this autumn embark on an arena tour of Europe (including Dublin’s O2). It’s fantastic to be in demand, he says. And yet, he hopes the project does not metastasize into another juggernaut. He’s had enough of that.
“People don’t talk about this – the bigger you get the more you have to deal with stuff you really don’t want to. There is a lot of shit that goes on that takes away from the fun of playing. I learned a lot about that [with Guns N’ Roses]. Granted we had things pulling in the wrong direction during that time, making it harder than it had to be.
“Ultimately, since Velvet Revolver I’ve been striving for simplicity, as opposed to making things unnecessarily complicated. Keeping it simple is difficult but not impossible if you know what you are about.”
* World On Fire is released September 12. Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators play O2, Dublin on November 10. View related content on Slash here.
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