Duff McKagan: “Who would play me in a movie? Brad Pitt”

Duff McKagan
(Image credit: Scott Dudelson)

Martial artist, financial expert, lifelong punk rocker –  few musicians have such a diverse portfolio as Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan. We caught the Seattle-born four-stringer in a rare moment of downtime to talk bad mushroom trips, Hollywood biopics and a watching aging punk legends throw their toys out of the pram up close.

What’s the worst thing about being in a band?

“Not getting to spend enough time with your family. Easily.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

“Fuck! So many. My wife said something when we first got together that has really stuck with me. She said, ‘99% of the stuff you worry about never comes true.’ It’s fucking true! You wake up at three in the morning worrying about stuff that never actually happens.”

When was the first time you felt like a rock star?

“I don’t think I have yet…” 

What?! You are in Guns N’ Roses, mate!

“Yeah, but I don’t like the term. The bands and the crowd are so in it together and ‘rock star’ always felt like this thing above it all. And I’m not that. I remember doing a signing when we first came back with Velvet Revolver, Slash and I, and these kids were going, ‘Legends! You’re legends!’ Really? Legends? We were only 40! It’s strange to think in those terms.”

What’s been your worst experience on drugs?

“I was about 15 and I took too many mushrooms. Mount St Helens erupted in front of my face, and then trolls crawled out of my heart. I was in the back of my friend’s car, totally overdosed on psychedelics, and hoodlums started beating up on our car… while I was watching trolls climb out of my heart. But I had tickets to see the Iggy Pop show in my pocket and I was getting there no matter what! I just watched Iggy and he brought me out of my bad trip.”

When was the last time you cried?

“I could tell you a story that would make you burst into tears now. But, to make it easier, I’ll say when Prince died. I was in Mexico City in my hotel and Axl called my room and said, ‘Put the TV on.’ The news was coming through that Prince had passed, and I wept.”

Is it hard to wind down after such a mammoth tour with GN’R, and then head into another solo project?

“Well, I’m not going straight out on tour. I’m not Slash! That guy lives on the road. I wrote most of the songs for the new album [2019’s Tenderness] on that tour – it was originally going to be a book of my experiences and thoughts, but I always had my guitar with me during down time and it evolved.”

What do you think about the recent spate of rock biopics that seem so popular?

“I don’t know. I kind of like to have my memories of those people unsullied. I am a huge Queen fan, so I saw Bohemian Rhapsody and if it had been a blank screen with two hours of Queen’s music I’d have loved it, but there were some obvious factual inaccuracies that I could have pointed out. But I don’t want to be that guy. I’ve seen The Dirt, too, and it kind of captured the darkness of the 80s Sunset Strip scene. I’m going to watch the Elton John one when it comes out and I’ve got Lords Of Chaos on my watchlist. But, really, I spend my whole life in rock and roll – I’d rather read a history book.”

Who would play you in a film?

“Brad Pitt. Who else? Come on! I’m joking. I don’t know, I don’t think about stuff like that… so let’s just keep it at Brad Pitt.”

You were sat next to John Lydon in that recent video when he had a flare-up with Marky Ramone. What was that like?

“Oh god! That was embarrassing. It was meant to be Iggy, and since I am in the documentary, Punk, talking about the stuff that I know, I agreed to be on the panel. Last minute I hear Iggy isn’t going to make it, and that Lydon is going to be there instead. It isn’t cute, it isn’t poignant. He was the smartest guy in the room for a long time, so it bummed me out. It was goofy! And then when he went for Henry [Rollins] my Black Flag fanboy nearly came out and I was going to do something, but my wife and my daughter were there so I had to check my actions.” 

Published in Metal Hammer #324

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.