Thursday, March 25, 2010

Have Guitar, Will Swagger: An EXCLUSIVE interview with guitar hero SLASH!

An EXCLUSIVE interview with SLASH
(an edited version of this interview appears in Discussions Magazine)

    Some people were just born to be cool.  I was not one of them, but, thankfully for the rest of us, Saul Hudson was.  Better known as guitar slinger Slash, Mr. Hudson fought his way through the L.A. club scene in the ‘80s before his ascension up the charts with Guns n’ Roses. With GnR, Slash became more than just a Rock guitarist: he became a Rock hero, an icon who has influenced a new generation of guitar players. When things went south in GnR with Axl, Slash set out on a successful career with both Slash’s Snakepit and Velvet Revolver as well as guest appearances on a wide variety of musical projects.
     Now, 23 years into his career, Slash has recorded his first true solo album, and what an album it is! Slash, the album, is a Rock smorgasbord. While Slash and his band lay out the meat and potatoes, he brings in a great cast of vocalists to add different flavors to this aural meal. From Lemmy (Motorhead), Iggy Pop and Ozzy Osbourne to Ian Astbury, Myles Kennedy and Chris Cornell, the album is filled with great tunes and great performances.  Surprising names that pop up on the album include Fergie (Black Eyed Peas) and Adam Levine (Maroon 5), both of whom turn in some of the finest performances on the album. In fact, Levine’s “Gotten” is the best thing on the record, and that’s saying a lot. From back to front, Slash has created an album that will cater to his Hard Rock fanbase but also shows many other musical sides of an artist who constantly amazes.
     I was lucky enough to catch up with Slash and discuss his career and new album. Although Slash with a guitar in his hand is just as cool as Dirty Harry Callahan with a .44 Magnum, he’s a humble, down-to-earth guy who is eager to praise the talents of others while still remaining  modest about his own (extraordinary) abilities. On record, he lets his guitar do the talking but now it’s time to find out what THE MAN is really all about!

SPAZ: After three successful recording acts, why did you decide to do a solo album now?
SLASH: Well, I’ve been in bands and been sort of navigating that kind of terrain for my whole career… since I was 16.  I love being in bands! But after dealing with what the Velvet Revolver situation was, with Scott and management and all that kind of stuff, it got to be frustrating. Inevitably, we parted ways with Scott and that last year, that last album cycle with Velvet Revolver, was just frustrating. When Scott was gone and I came home when the tour ended prematurely, I needed to do something on my own, just for my own sanity. (Laughs) The Velvet guys, we all jumped in and started writing music, which was killer, and looking for singers pretty soon after the tour was over, so we got back to work. But I just needed to do something on my own to have control, be the master of my own… ship. (Laughs) For a minute!

SPAZ: How is this album different than your work with Slash’s Snakepit, which some considered a solo project anyway?
SLASH: The thing about Snakepit, and because I’m such a band guy, that was a project that I just spearheaded.  It was the record company that put Slash’s Snakepit on there because I originally just wanted to call it Snakepit. It was a real band: everybody got splits five ways and everybody was responsible for decisions. It was basically the same as Guns ‘n Roses, except it wasn’t as big and it was a lot more fun at that time. (Laughs). But it was still up to everybody to steer that thing. And in both incarnations of Snakepit, it was treated that way.  This was different. This was me on my own, I sat around and wrote the material, I made all the phone calls, I hired the drummer and the bass player, (producer) Eric Valentine… and this has been my responsibility, top and bottom, all the way along: the whole idea and concept. So, to me, that’s really a solo record.

SPAZ: Were the songs on the album fresh musical ideas or had some been sitting around for just the right project to come along?
SLASH: Actually, there is a couple old ones that came from the early Velvet Revolver days that I thought were really cool and Scott didn’t care for them at the time. We had God knows how many songs before Scott came in. And when Scott came in, there were only a handful that made it to the first record. So, there were two songs that I thought were really good all this time: “We’re All Gonna Die” and “Ghost” were both music that started from those Velvet Revolver days. Also, there’s two songs that came from just sitting around hotel rooms during the last Velvet tour. The rest of it is all new.

SPAZ: How did you go about picking the vocalists? Did you write this album with certain vocalists in mind?
SLASH:  People ask me if I had a wish list, and if I had started out with a wish list, this record would never have been made! (Laughs)  The singer choices were dictated by the music.  So, I would write something and be working on it and then say “Who does this sound like? Who would sound good on this?”  Basically, I’d establish, in my mind, who I thought that was, then contact them and see if they were interested. Then, I’d put together a proper, presentable demo and send it out to them. And that’s how it was done.

SPAZ: Did you handle the lyrics as well?
SLASH: No. The songs were delivered as musical templates and also as an open canvas, lyrically and melodically.  Some songs were sent in two or three parts in the arrangement where it was totally open ended or I’d have something that I arranged from front to back but was still open to interpretation.

SPAZ: Some of the artists, such as Ozzy, Lemmy and Iggy, seem like perfect choices yet people might be surprised by Fergie and Adam Levine, who normally wouldn’t be associated with you. In fact, “Gotten”, the Adam Levine track, is probably the best song on the album!
SLASH: It’s a piece of music that is not like anything you’d expect me to write anyway… for the most part. It’s got a certain element of Blues to it, but it’s also got kind of sing-songy chord changes that people aren’t familiar with me doing.  When I wrote it, it was one of those kind of songs that I probably been embarrassed to show to my band had it been a group situation. And actually, I was apprehensive to send it to Adam. But I was really attached to it and I kept dicking around with it for months. It was one of these new songs that I was just trying to get together, figuring out how it was going to go.  And then finally, I just got the nerve up and called Adam because he was the voice that just seemed to me would be the right voice for it.  He’s got an amazing voice. With Maroon 5, it’s all good and everything, it’s not something that I would listen to on my iPod but I recognize his voice as being pretty phenomenal. So, I finally called him up and sent him the song and was expecting the worst, but he really liked it. I went over his house and we just sat down and he showed me what he had and we did very little work to it. Actually, it was one of the coolest recording experiences on the record because, in that high, angelic falsetto voice, the way he sings that, he did it pretty much in one take and it was really a trip to watch him do that. That’s how that went: he seemed like the right guy for the song. Now that we’ve done it, I don’t regret having made that decision at all.
     With Fergie, when I first met her, I did a fundraiser in L.A. with the Black Eyed Peas. This friend of mine called me up and said “You should go jam with the Peas tonight. Their doing this thing!” And it was me, Snoop Dogg and a couple of other people.  And I do this sort of Funk thing because… I just do! (Laughs) So, I went over there for soundcheck and what we were doing was this little rock medley which was like a Zeppelin song, a Heart song and a Paul McCartney/Guns ‘n Roses song, but she wasn’t there. I really thought that Fergie was either Black or Puerto Rican just by listening to her on the radio.  But when she showed up, I was really surprised to see this white chick from Orange County with blonde hair! And then she went into “Black Dog”, the Zeppelin song, and just blew my mind. I was not expecting anything like that.  And it’s such a genuine Rock voice that, she’s got to have one of the best Rock ‘n’ Roll voices that I’ve heard in the last 20 years. So, that stuck with me.  I’ve actually jumped at the opportunity to play with Black Eyed Peas, to play with her, maybe half a dozen times since then. So, I had this one song that I wrote for a scene in a movie, which was in a strip bar, but I decided to keep the music because I thought it was really cool and I though it would be perfect for Fergie, so I sent it to her. I went over her house and she played me what she had and it was really, really cool. The Fergie thing was something I knew I wanted to do with her and had a piece of music that was appropriate.

SPAZ: Do you like the fact that you’re stretching out and showing people you’re more than just Rock ‘n’ Roll riffs? That you can do much more than that?
SLASH: Well, it definitely was an outlet for me to be able to do whatever I felt like doing because when you’re in a band, there’s certain limitations and parameters that you have to adhere to for the better of the band and it’s all good. After years and years and years of adhering to the band rule, I just needed somewhere to get some of these different things that I like to do out. I do a lot by playing on other people’s records, but there’s a certain amount of emptiness that happens. It’s like being a surrogate: you do this thing for somebody and off it goes and that’s that! So, I definitely had this idea where I wanted to do something with people working with me. And having the freedom to write whatever I wanted gave it a lot of variation, style-wise.

SPAZ: Were there any recordings with other vocalists that didn’t make the album?
SLASH: Almost. We snuck another song on there in the last couple of weeks (after the advance copies were sent to the press). There’s two songs I did with Myles Kennedy and both of those songs were pieces of music that I didn’t know who was going to sing them. So, that song “Starlight”, that was something I wrote on tour with Velvet and I was really thinking it was very cool. I couldn’t think who was going to sing it and ended up making the whole record before I was faced with that dilemma again: who is going to sing this song? And I thought I was gonna have to shelve it. At the last minute, I thought about this guy that I’d been hearing so much about but wasn’t real familiar with, but I’d looked up online to see what he sounded like, which was Myles Kennedy. So, I just took a chance on that. Almost everybody else on this, I really knew their voice very well, but he was the wild card! I sent it to him and he called me back he said he really dug it and it was “right up his alley”. So, a few days later he sent a demo back with his vocal on it and it was phenomenal. Myles was sort of a revelation for me: he’s one of the hottest Rock singers that I’ve heard come out in a long time.

SPAZ: Apart from the guest vocalists, who plays on the album with you?
SLASH: It’s mostly Josh Freese (drums) and Chris Chaney (bass). On the song, “Starlight”, Steve Ferrone played drums.  I did a session with Ronnie Wood and Steve was playing drums and I was, like, “That guy is fucking phenomenal!”  So, Josh couldn’t make one of the sessions so I called Steve Ferrone up. There’s an instrumental on the album and I’ve got Duff (Mckagan) and Dave Grohl playing on that. Other than that, it’s Chris and Josh.
SPAZ: I’ve heard that you’ll be touring the album with Myles handling all the vocals?
SLASH: I was so enamored with Myles’ voice and he’s a really great guy. He’s a guitar player so he’s got a very even disposition as a singer. So, I was like “You wanna do a tour?” I was in the process of auditioning singers to do the tour so they had to be able to do Guns ‘n Roses stuff, Velvet stuff, Snakepit stuff and a couple songs off this record. And Myles said “Yeah!” He’s the perfect guy because he, easily, can handle all that.

SPAZ: Are you planning a one-off performance that will feature some of the artists that appear on the album?
SLASH: I definitely want to do that. We were talking about doing it in April, actually, but decided to push it back a little bit later so we can do it in a certain kind of venue. So, at some point, we will do this concert where I can get as many artists off this record as possible.

SPAZ: Time Magazine voted you as the second greatest electric guitar player behind Hendrix. How did that make you feel?
SLASH: That’s a tough one. I’m really flattered and really glad to be put in that kind of light. But at the same time, and as a strong of a feeling, one of humble embarrassment because all the guys that are underneath me are guitar players that are pioneers and guys that I was totally influenced by.  It just doesn’t compute properly! I don’t take it too seriously, and I am very honored by being mentioned as second to Jimi Hendrix, but at the same time, let’s be realistic here. Because I’m really active right now and high profile, I think a lot of the public that voted on that were just sort of like….you know…. (Laughs). It’s nice. I’ve never actually physically seen it. I only know about it because people talk about it so that gives it a certain amount of surrealism.

SPAZ: Do you realize that there are so many kids out there who look up to you like you looked up to your idols all those years ago when you first picked up the guitar? Is that an easy thought to comprehend?
SLASH: That’s another hard one. I meet kids on the street and they’ll tell me that they’re influenced by me and that’s tangible. That’s huge because I remember all the guitar players, of course, that I was influenced by, what it was like to meet them and how important their influence was on me for how I ended up playing. So, when I do meet people who say that, it’s really huge, but when you talk about it in a ‘bigger picture’ kind of sense, it’s just about as surreal as the Time Magazine poll. (Laughs). I feel really fortunate that there are kids that are telling me that. It’s weird; it makes you feel you have a responsibility to work harder at the guitar!  I don’t see myself as that good. I have my moments. I think my good moments are great, when I really hit it on, but I’m not that consistent. It’s not like Eric Clapton, where every time he picks up a guitar he does a certain thing and he doesn’t have to think about it. For me, it takes a lot of work, like a work of progress and it will probably be like that forever.

SPAZ: What’s next for Slash?
SLASH: I have this tour to do.  I got into making the actual album and that is where my focus was.  As much fun as it was to do it, looking back on it, it was a pretty big project. It was a little like producing a movie: so many moving parts. So, now it’s just a matter of doing the tour and going out with Slash on the marquee and to have to do all that. You know, I’m a little nervous about how well that’s all going to come together.  I’ve got a great band, got a great setlist…. But I’m very insecure! (Laughs) I’ll feel more confident about it after the first gig.

SPAZ: What is currently spinning in your CD and DVD players?
SLASH:  Well, as far as DVD players, I’m doing the Pay per View at the hotels kind of deal. (Laughs). The last movie I watched, which was really actually disappointing, was Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans, which somebody had said was really good… but it was horrible! As far as records, the new Them Crooked Vultures record is amazing. I’m loving that!

Thanks to Slash

Special thanks to Jacki Feldstein, Anthony Balboa, Craig Swedin and David Rayburn.

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