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Slash on GN'R, Axl, Izzy, Scott and the rest - the ultimate interview

Slash
(Image credit: Ross Halfin)

After all this time, getting on for a seemingly unlikely 35 years, Slash still can’t quite believe what happened. 

“I thought the band was fucking great,” he says of Guns N’ Roses. “It would have been a band that I would have listened to had I not been in it. I would have had the T-shirt, right?” he says with a laugh. “But I saw it as being a cool cult band. I didn’t have any fantasies of it being anything super-huge. 

"So none of us, I think, was prepared for what it turned into when it did. I thought it was a great band with a certain energy and a certain chemistry, but I didn’t know that one record would become what it became – that it would sort of transcend…” 

When Guns N’ Roses’ debut album Appetite For Destruction was released on July 21, 1987, Slash, the cat in the top hat on lead guitar, was just two days shy of his twenty-second birthday. Two weeks after he turned 23, the album hit No.1 in the US. It would become the biggest-selling debut album of all time. It made Slash rich and famous, and defined him as the guitar hero of his generation. 

All these years later, as he talks to Classic Rock via a Zoom call from his home in Los Angeles, he is in buoyant mood ahead of the release of the new album he has made with singer Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators

“We recorded everything live in five days,” he says enthusiastically. “I’ve always wanted to do a record like that.” 

He is also still buzzing from his latest tour with Guns N’ Roses. It’s now six years since he reconciled with singer Axl Rose and rejoined the band, along with bassist Duff McKagan, after an absence of 19 years. “All things considered,” he says, “it’s been fucking awesome.”

Over the course of our hour-long conversation, Slash speaks openly about his life and his career, the good times and the bad. He’s always had a kind of unruffled cool about him, and after all the interviews he’s done – more than he could ever remember – there is nothing much that can faze him. 

He has a soft speaking voice and a sharp mind, his voice rising only when he laughs at one of the many absurdities that come with a life in rock’n’roll. There is only one subject that disturbs his easy flow, a subject he is reluctant to discuss – the new Guns N’ Roses album, currently a work in progress.

It was all so different when this writer first interviewed Guns N’ Roses in Los Angeles in March 1987, four months before Appetite For Destruction was released, when no one outside of the band’s inner circle had heard the album. That interview was with all five members of the band: Slash, Axl, Duff, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin and drummer Steven Adler. 

When the talking was done, Slash took out his Walkman to play a track for me – a rough mix of It’s So Easy. Some time later, during a photo session at the band’s infamous communal home, known as The Hellhouse, I heard other songs from the album, played at deafening volume on Duff’s ghetto blaster. 

As Slash recalls to me now: “I remember you came in really early on. At that time we hadn’t even mixed the record.” 

But that was then. Now, wary that whatever he says is ripe for clickbait, he declines to go into any kind of detail about the album that Guns N’ Roses are making. He does, however, answer every other question head-on: questions about his relationship with Axl; about the supergroup Velvet Revolver and the death of their singer Scott Weiland; about his dual roles with GN’R and The Conspirators; and about his long struggle with alcoholism and drug addiction, of which he admits, 15 years after he got sober: “I’m really fortunate that I’m still here.” 

He begins by recalling how his journey in music started – of how the young Saul Hudson, a mixed-race kid, born in London, relocated to LA, found his calling.

Alt

You’ve portrayed your childhood in LA as being chaotic – your parents separating; your mother Ola dating David Bowie; a bohemian atmosphere in the home; you becoming, in your own words, a “problem child”. It reads like the classic rock’n’roll rebel’s story. 

Yeah, I suppose there’s stuff about how I came up that sort of points in the direction of how I ended up turning out. Looking back on it, as a kid I had problems with stereotypes of regular society, at least here in the neighbourhoods I was growing up in. So yeah, Ithink I was a problem child in that context. But as a person… I was a decent person. I just had problems with parents, teachers and policemen. 

Really, the only thing that made me into being a musician was music. I don’t think it was escapism from life, that whole cliché. It was just that suddenly I discovered the passion to play music, and the music I was turned on to was the hardest rock I could get my hands on. 

And that just took me in the direction I went in. I don’t think it had a hell of a lot to do with my upbringing. But at the same time, I never had any kind of therapy back then, so who knows? I’ve had therapy since then, but not about that. 

When I first interviewed you, in 1987, you said how much you hated LA

Actually, I have wonderful memories of LA from when I was seven years old all the way up to when I was twelve. I was kind of raised in the LA music scene and it was great. I watched it go through these music trends in my short little lifetime up to that point. But what it turned into in the eighties was something that was unrecognisable from an integrity point of view and a creative point of view. 

The whole thing had just sort of been diluted. I have to say, in hindsight, that at least it was exciting in the eighties, at least there was a scene. Right now there is no LA scene. But there was a huge scene going on in the sixties and right through the seventies. It was really identifiable and really musically revolutionary. And in the eighties it just turned into this other thing.

You’re talking about hair-metal. But let’s be truthful, in the early days of Guns N’ Roses you had the big hair and the make-up too. 

I fucking hated the whole scene, man. At least if you were in the UK you had some cool bands that represented the eighties, at least from a rock’n’roll and metal point of view. You had some really cool, credible music coming out. But in Los Angeles it was just bullshit. And we were coming up in the midst of all that. 

Everybody was fucking converting to the industry standard to get a record deal and get girls, this whole thing. Where our band was coming from was the antithesis of all that, and it’s something I’m really proud of.

Back then, it was the five of you against the world, a real gang. 

Yeah! Shit, every so often I’ll think about that. In passing it will pop into my mind how we managed to get wherever we managed to get to, and I’ll go back to the beginning. It was this collective drive that we had, this camaraderie, and this passion for the kind of music that we did, and also this attitude of fuck everything else that’s going on and all the obstacles and all the bullshit in the music business in LA at that time. 

There was a thing that we had that drove us, you know? And it was unsaid. It wasn’t like we sat around and talked about it. It was complicated and simple at the same time. And it was really cool because it was one hundred fucking percent genuine. 

Guns N’ Roses were known as The Most Dangerous Band In The World. In reality, you were mostly a danger to yourselves. You personally could have died many times. Steven Adler’s drug addiction got him fired from the band. Duff McKagan almost bled to death when years of heavy drinking led to a burst pancreas. It seems like the smartest guy in the band was Izzy Stradlin, who got clean and then had the balls to walk out of the biggest band in the world in 1991. I interviewed Izzy then, when he was making his solo album with the Ju Ju Hounds, and he was so happy to be out of Guns N’ Roses, away from all the drama that was around the band. How did you feel when Izzy quit? 

At that time, the fact that he quit wasn’t an issue. There was no judgement about any of that. With Guns N’ Roses it was basically just show up and play. I don’t think anybody judged anybody else on how they behaved outside of being able to show up and do the gig. I was admittedly resentful of that whole trip with Izzy leaving, because whatever had gone on for him that forced that sudden change, I was like, man, I died eighteen times prior to that! It didn’t faze me! But when he quit, he was looking at us going: ‘These guys are gonna fucking die!’ 

My whole attitude was like: ‘I’ll get on with it. Don’t fucking worry. I’ll manage.’ So there was a certain kind of resentment there – of not really understanding or appreciating where Izzy was coming from. In hindsight, I still sort of feel the same way, I guess, about that. Like, don’t worry about me. But it’s hard to really understand exactly what that was all about.

It’s a good turn of phrase: ‘I’ll manage’. 

Ha ha. But there was an issue, obviously, with Steven too, right? And with Steven we knew that he was not gonna make it. And still to this day, looking back on it, he would not have made it. Steven is only now just starting to get a grasp on things. So different people have different reactions, different people handle things differently. 

There’s that line in Welcome To The Jungle: ‘When you’re high you never ever wanna come down.’ Do you miss all of that? 

I don’t miss it. I have fond memories of it all. But also, having finally wrapped my head around why I wanted to get sober, and really getting a grasp on that whole concept, it was a really positive change in my life. Had I not changed course when I did, I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve done in the last fifteen years. So I fully appreciate that, and I’m humbled by the fact that I was able to get some clarity. So I don’t miss it, but I don’t have any regrets about it.

What was the motivation to clean up? Was it having kids? 

No, it wasn’t so much having kids, although that definitely played a part. You know, it was all fun and games until it wasn’t. And then you’re trying to figure out why you couldn’t keep going down that road. You’re having a good time and everything’s great, and then without knowing it you cross a line somewhere where it becomes a mental and physical burden that you have to deal with, and you start to become so completely dependent and your life just starts to spiral out of control. And as a musician you start to lose focus of what it is that you’re supposed to be doing. 

It wasn’t easy, then? 

No, it was fucking hard! And it took a long time, it really did. It took from the realisation of being that person somewhere in the mid-to-late nineties, all the way up until 2006. Going through that realisation that you’re just too fucked up and dysfunctional, you really struggle with that reality. You’re in denial. 

You say you don’t have any regrets about all those wasted years, but surely there must be some things in your life that you look back on with remorse

Well, there’s definitely moments that I have memories of that I don’t savour – things that I’ve done, which I’m not gonna get into. But there’s nothing catastrophic, and nothing that I would wish I could go back and fix, because it’s just not realistic. I just don’t believe in carrying regrets for things that happened in life that don’t have a massively negative effect on somebody else. 

You know that one thing that changed the trajectory of your life that you wish you hadn’t done because you wish you’d gone in another direction? I was fortunate, I didn’t have that. I ended up doing what it is that I wanted to do. So I have personal moments that I don’t really appreciate so much, and they’ve stuck in my mind and I’m reminded of them from time to time. But you just have to chalk it up to experience and you move on. And I have done. All things considered, I don’t believe in harbouring regrets for the rest of my life.

When do you remember being happiest? 

There’s lots of periods when you’re the happiest, and then there’s periods when you’re not. You have those moments of elation, however long they are, and then you have those periods which for whatever reason are the opposite of that, and that’s just life. You just have to hang in there and stay in the boat.

And what about your lowest point? Was there ever a moment when you didn’t care if you lived or died? 

Yeah. There was definitely a marked period from 2000 going into 2002 that was like that. And then there was another period like that around 2005, 2006. Prior to that there was a lot more… chemical control. So you could drown your sorrows a little bit easier. 

I was going through struggles with getting sober from 2000 through 2006. There was a lot of topsy-turvy shit going on during that time. Trying to sort your life out. That was definitely a period of unknowing. But in the nineties, if you ever felt like that you could fix it.

Your decision to get sober and drug-free was in the last days of Velvet Revolver. And some years later, in 2015, the singer in that band, Scott Weiland, died of an accidental drug overdose. Looking back on those years you spent with him, what emotions do you have? 

Velvet Revolver was always a difficult situation. I’m proud of the fact that we managed to pull that together and had a couple of cool records. But it was difficult because I never really managed to establish a solid footing with that band. There was a lot of shit going on, man. A lot of people involved with the band had a major agenda. And Scott was difficult. 

All things considered, he was irretrievable. Everybody had told me about that when the band first started, but I just did not know anything about Scott up until I started working with him. It was sad to go through that and how that all turned out. But like I said, we had some good times in that band too. 

A year ago, your son London and Scott’s son Noah formed a band together, Suspect208. But the band has split now

Yeah, it didn’t last for very long. I think they had stylistic differences. But it was cool in the moment. 

It was just a couple of years after Velvet Revolver split that you made your first solo record with a bunch of guest-star singers, one of whom was Myles Kennedy. You’ve now made four albums with Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators. After all the trouble you’ve experienced with singers in the past, it must be so easy to work with him

Myles is just a really nice, very mild-mannered guy, and extremely gifted. One of the reasons we got on so well from the very beginning was that he’s really a guitarist who sings. And we have very similar laid-back, low-key personalities that gel really well. 

I’m a glutton for punishment – I love singers. You have to work around some of their idiosyncrasies or whatever. I understand that. Because to be a singer and stand in front of audience with nothing but a microphone, there’s a psychological thing there that I can’t imagine trying to do. 

So I give singers full space to be able to do what it is that they do. But with Myles, he’s basically very much guitar player-like, so we relate to each other on that level, and then he also has this incredible voice and range. So I understand how Myles works, and we’ve just had this very cool, smooth kind of relationship since 2010.

When you were first getting to know him, you never feared that there must be something wrong with him? 

Ha ha. Actually I don’t think that ever crossed my mind. He and I met over text and email at first. I sent him some music, and he sent it back. And I was so enthralled with that recording that I flew him out to LA and we did a couple of songs on my first solo record. And he was just a pleasure to be around. And that’s just evolved into working together in the context of a band. I don’t think I ever really thought about, like, when’s the shoe gonna drop, you know?

This new album, 4, has a lot of energy to it. 

It was the first record I’ve been able to do in my career where we set up a back line in a big room and just mic’d it up and recorded it. Myles was in a booth right next to us, so you could actually see him, and we just did it like that. So this is the result, warts and all. It is a live record, basically.

You’ve also been touring with Guns N’ Roses – and working on a new Guns album, as Duff McKagan confirmed to Classic Rock some time ago. How do you juggle that with working with Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators? How do you separate the two? 

It’s something that you just figure out. Doing a Guns tour, the focus is all on Guns N’ Roses. And as soon as that’s over, I switch gears and go into preparing for whatever the Conspirators are doing. So by force of necessity, you have to be able to juggle all of that. With this particular record, after the Guns tour that we did back in 2018, 2019, I went out with the Conspirators and we wrote a bunch of stuff on the road. 

I was about to do another Guns tour and then come back and then do the Conspirators record, but then the Guns tour got cancelled because of covid, so during this endless break I got busy in the studio and we got this record done in Nashville. That was done last fucking April, but I had the Guns tour, and Myles had a solo record and a tour to support that. So we had to put it on the back burner till now. 

You’re going back on the road with the Conspirators this year. Why not spend some time at home? 

I did! Ha ha. Because of covid we had a forced break, and historically I’m not good with time off. I’ve had a lot of issues with that in the past. But I’ve finally learned how to deal with it. I was basically centred at home, and actually for the most part enjoyed it. Fortunately my significant other and I get along really well, so that was kind of a revelation. I thought: “God, man, if I was with my ex-, one of us would be in prison!”

Were there any songs or riffs on the new Conspirators record that you thought: “Maybe I should save this for the Guns N’ Roses album”? 

No. Guns is a completely different process. That happens more like collectively sitting around and Guns going: “Okay, we’re gonna make a record”, and sort of compiling ideas in that moment. But we haven’t really done that yet. So I just did the Conspirators thing because I’d written all this material for it.

Two new Guns N’ Roses songs, Absurd and Hard Skool, were posted online in 2021. These are songs from the Chinese Democracy era. What was the thinking behind that? 

You know, that’s a whole other interview!

Can we at least get the story straight – were these songs re-recorded with the current GN’R line-up? 

The bass and the guitars are all re-done, for the most part, but the original drums are still intact, and the vocals. 

Will these songs be on the new Guns N’ Roses album? Or do they at least give an indication as to how that album is shaping up? 

Hmm. I don’t know. Like I said, that’s another interview. That involves a whole other mind-set to get into. Basically, the material [Absurd and Hard Skool] was there, and I just got in there during covid and re-did the guitars, Duff did the bass, and we went from there and just put it out. 

And there’s some more stuff coming out too. But there’s not sort of a mental trajectory. It’s just that Axl wanted to get this material done because it was sitting there. He said: “Okay, we can rehash it.” So there you go. 

It’s six years since you rejoined Guns. When this reunion happened, did you believe, deep down, that it would it last this long and that everything would go as smoothly as it has? 

Um, no. When we got together, Axl and I really got over this major sort of hump of negativity that we’ve been carrying around for years and years. It was a real simple, relatively short conversation that we had, which pointed a lot of fingers in the direction of shit that we were going through in the past, and people we were working with at the time. 

So we got past that, and we decided that we would honour these requests to play [annual US festival] Coachella that we’d been getting for years. That was really the main driver – to get together for the fun of it, and do the Coachella gigs. I didn’t really have any expectations, but it was such a magical kind of thing, such an overwhelmingly positive experience, that we just started doing it in earnest across the planet. And it’s continued for a pretty long time.

When you were first planning this reunion, Izzy was going to be involved, but he pulled out, just as he did when Velvet Revolver was starting up. Izzy was such a key figure in Guns N’ Roses. Did he explain why he didn’t want to be a part of it again? 

I haven’t really talked to him since then. There were a lot of different issues that I’m not really going to get into. We wanted it to work out, but we couldn’t seem to meet eye to eye on the whole thing. So it just never happened. 

You’re able to juggle Guns N’ Roses and the Conspirators, but how did you react when Axl did the same back in 2016 – stepping in for Brian Johnson on AC/DC’s Rock Our Bust tour just as Guns’ Not In This Lifetime tour was starting? 

In the moment, when it first came up, it was a little jarring, I have to say. I was super-proud that he was doing it, but how that was gonna happen and go right into the Guns thing, I really didn’t know. But anyway, it worked out. So it wasn’t like a big deal. I don’t think we ever really discussed it, but in the back of my mind I was wondering how this was all going to come together. 

Most people say Axl did a great job in AC/DC

Yeah, he did. I came out to a gig in London, and it was phenomenal. I was blown away, especially when he sang the Bon Scott stuff. That was a very proud moment, actually. You didn’t feel weird seeing your singer with another band? Not at all. It was AC/DC, man! The fact that he got asked to do that was very cool. And he worked his ass off doing it, too. He really adhered to the whole AC/DC regimen and pulled it off.

The big question is whether Guns N’ Roses can pull it off with the new album you’re making. You’ve said you can’t really talk about it, but can you say, for sure, that it’s definitely happening?

Yeah! There’s new Guns material coming out as we speak, and we’ll probably keep putting it out until the entire record’s worth of stuff is done and then put it out solid.

Nobody is expecting another Appetite For Destruction, of course. But how does this sound: fifty per cent Use Your Illusion I and II and fifty per cent Chinese Democracy? Is that the kind of thing we can expect?

I really don’t have the vantage point to be able to have that perspective. I’m just not able to sort of objectively look at it like that. It’s just what it is. But it’s cool. I’m enjoying working on the stuff and having a good time doing it.

Finally, let’s talk about you and Axl. You’ve said that from the first time you met him he was an enigma. You just had to learn to live with his volatile nature. Has that changed at all? Has he mellowed with age? 

Well, without getting into a long diatribe about that, we got together and started working again, and he’s the same person, but… I consider myself to be pretty professional. In all these years that we’ve been apart, he’s become super-fucking professional. 

And he’s never missed a beat during this whole time. So it’s been great. There has been a sort of synergy that’s been happening this last six years that we never had in our first incarnation. Everybody is older and wiser now. 

Is it really that simple? 

You know, I haven’t really stopped to think about what it is. It’s just happening, so let’s just move on with it.

Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy And The Conspirators’ new album 4 is rout now.

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”