"The near-mythical aura that surrounds him was stripped away in that 40 minutes": What happened when Axl Rose gave his first TV interview in more than a decade

Axl Rose on That Metal Show
(Image credit: VH1)

It’s 5.30 in the morning on Sunday, October 30, 2011, and I’m sitting in a locker room in Miami, Florida usually reserved for the NBA’s Miami Heat basketball team. I’ve gone nearly 24 hours without sleep when I’m woken from my semi-stupor by the sound of a VH1 producer telling me: “He’s coming! He’s coming!” A minute later I’m standing face to face with one of the most press-shy, reclusive rock stars of all time: W Axl Rose. How on earth did this happen? 

I have an interesting history when it comes to Axl Rose. One of the first ever leaks for Guns N' RosesChinese Democracy album happened on my radio show in 2005, when American baseball star (and massive Guns fan) Mike Piazza played the song IRS on my show. That night we were unsure if what we even played was legit until the next day, when a cease and desist order was served. 

A year later I was hosting the same radio show in New York City and had a studio packed with guests including Sebastian Bach. During the course of the night, Sebastian started getting text messages from Axl Rose. At that point it had been 13 years since the two had spoken, so Bach’s excitement was genuine. One thing led to another, and Axl joined us in the studio and hung out on air until around 3.30am. That night made news around the world, and stood as the only real interview from Rose in a very long time. 

I didn’t have much contact from the Guns camp after that. There were a few attempts to do a second interview but it just never worked out, and I thought that night would stand as my lone chapter in Axl Rose’s history.

Fast-forward to early October 2012. I get a call from VH1’s head of music and talent, Rick Krim, who explains that Axl’s new manager, Peter Katsis, has reached out to see if we can help promote Guns N’ Roses’ November and December US dates. Rick offered him an interview spot with Axl, and told me that if it happened it would most likely be one-on-one style, done in a hotel suite at an early stop on the tour. This was in contrast to the more loose style interview that is the spirit of That Metal Show, in front of a live audience with my comedian co-hosts, Jim Florentine and Don Jamieson. I wasn’t optimistic that it would actually happen.

Nevertheless, dialogue continued between Katsis and Krim. I was truly shocked when I was told flights were being booked to Miami.

Guns N’ Roses kicked off their tour in Orlando on October 28. We were set up to hopefully catch Axl in Miami at the American Airlines Arena the next night. Our set was constructed in one of the team’s locker rooms, and at around 8pm I saw Axl walk into the building and he gave a quick wave as he walked to his dressing room. I was encouraged by the fact that he was in the building at an early hour by his standards. Maybe this thing would happen at 8.30, we would be watching Guns by 10, then back to the hotel? Yeah, right.

Axl Rose onstage during the Chinese Democracy tour

(Image credit: Ethan Miller bia Getty Images)

The next nine hours or so would prove to be an exhausting process, loaded with conflicting information. At one point we were told Axl would come to our area before taking the stage. 

At midnight, the house lights in the arena faded and Guns took the stage to opener Chinese Democracy. In my mind there was zero chance that Axl would walk off stage at 3am and then want to sit for a TV interview. I was ready to head back to my hotel after watching a few songs, but my producer, Jeff Baumgardner, was not giving up. Katsis had told him Axl would likely come and join us post-show. And Axl’s closest advisor, a woman called Beta Lebeis, had told me during the show that she would bring Axl to see me. 

At 3am the final notes of Paradise City rang out from the stage, and the next phase of our waiting game began. Some of his band and crew began telling us he was unaware of any interview and it was highly unlikely he’d be doing it. But Katsis insisted Axl would come over before leaving the venue, so we continued to wait it out.

The stage was broken down. Sunday morning rolled around. But Axl was, by all accounts, still in his dressing room. Fernando Lebeis, Beta’s son and now GN’R tour manager, assured us that Axl would be coming shortly. We returned to our makeshift studio. Then, at about 5.30am, Axl arrived with Beta, Katsis and guitarist DJ Ashba in tow. After nearly 15 hours in the arena, we had our Axl Rose interview.

Axl looked refreshed and ready to go, showing no signs of the late/early hour. Ashba was on set at Axl’s request. The only thing we were requested not to discuss was a reunion tour. The interview was to help promote the current tour, after all. That said, during the interview Axl himself mentioned many former GN’R members. 

We talked for nearly 90 minutes. He seemed to have his guard up just a bit when he first came in. He knew me, but not Don or Jim, and several times said he was unaware we’d been waiting all night/morning to do the interview. Once he settled in, though, he quickly became the same guy I had talked to five years ago: telling stories, laughing, self-deprecating at times, and once again being one of the guys. Once Axl got going he seemed to be willing to continue as long as we wanted. We ended up ending the interview because we were running out of tape after shooting so many people all day. 

Since the interview has aired, one of the biggest and overwhelming comments I’ve heard was how good it was to just see Axl being a regular guy. This near-mythical aura that surrounds him, not to mention the never-ending stories and rumours, were all kind of stripped away in that 40 minutes he was on TV. 

Much has been made about the time Axl finally showed up for the interview, and the idea that he ‘intentionally’ made us wait. I truly do not believe that to be the case. We went with no promise of an interview, let alone a time it would happen. 

I can honestly say I found Axl to be a good guy who truly loves music and also has a strong belief in the band he is fronting. And I’m glad that, in the time we did have with him, people got to see a side of Axl Rose that many didn’t know he had.

This feature was originally published in Classic Rock 166, published in January 2012.  Trunk Nation is broadcast weekly on Sirius XM.  


Highlights from Axl Rose’s interview on That Metal Show

On his perceived lateness
: [I’m] not complaining, not to be a wuss, or whatever, but there’s a lot of times on the day of a show that things start to go wrong… And so you’re trying to sort through that and get yourself in the right head space and physical whatever… It’s more like sports, and having to play the big game. I think we’re getting better. 

On being inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame
Axl: I don’t know what it means in terms of me with the old band, with the old line-up. I dunno, if we were to be invited, what they’d ask of me. It’s an honour to be on the nomination. 

On the popular perception of him as a ‘Dictator’
Axl: Beth Nussbaum was interviewing us, and Izzy [Stradlin] called me “the Ayatollah” in the interview, and it just rolled from there. It didn’t hit me that I should nip this in the bud or confront it… A lot of people think that I sue everybody, but the reality is that I get sued a lot and I don’t sue anybody back – [laughing] not half as much as I’d like to! 

On Get In The Ring
Axl: That was Tom Zutaut and Duff McKagan’s idea, cos there was this blank space in the song and they were like: “Why don’t you just go in and go off on Andy Secher and Bob Guccione, Jr?” and da-dada. And I did, and everybody was happy with it. But when it hit the fan, everybody disappeared. 

On feeling the pressure while making Chinese Democracy
Axl: I saw a post online. Steven [Adler] hadn’t put out an album at that time, and someone said: “Axl and Steven are having a race to see who can put their album out last.” I loved that. 

On playing with Duff McKagan in Seattle in December 2011
Axl: Tommy [Stinson, GN’R bassist] just handed him a bass to play You Could Be Mine…I ran out there and I had no idea – I looked over and there’s Duff. It was great.

Eddie Trunk

Eddie Trunk is a satellite and syndicated radio/TV personality with a daily show on SiriusXM. His career began more than 40 years ago with a rock and metal show on New Jersey's WDHA, and he's since worked for Megaforce Records – where he earned executive producer credits with acts including Anthrax, Manowar, Overkill, King's X and Ace Frehley – and hosted Friday Night Rocks and Saturday Night Rocks for WNEW in New York City, as well as Metal Mania and That Metal Show on VH1 Classic. Eddie is also the author of Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Vol 1 & 2.