Slash has been a rock’n’roll star for a long time. He’s seen it all, done it all and, for all intents and purposes, written the script. But life for Slash now is a world apart from the chaos and drama that defined his time with Guns N’ Roses. He’s long sober. He’s a devoted husband, family man and father of two. He’s forged a successful working partnership and friendship with Alter Bridge man Myles Kennedy and fellow Conspirators Brent Fitz and Todd Kerns. He’s on the verge of releasing his third solo album, World On Fire. In short, life for Slash
Which is where we come in. Over the course of the last nine months (is there any coincidence that the gestation time for a new album is the same as that for a baby?) Classic Rock has been eavesdropping on and spending time with the guitarist to discover what the diary of a rock’n’roll star in 2014 really looks like.
For starters, long gone are the days of banging strippers in the studio control room. “You know what? Everybody wants to talk about that shit,” Slash tells us with a wry smile. “That never happens. And if it does, records don’t get made. Maybe in hip-hop it’s different. But in rock’n’roll, the way I’ve always been, no matter what was going on, was just focused on the music.”
And if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the time we’ve spent with him, it’s that Slash’s passion for the music we love really is paramount. “The corporate pop thing is really taking over the industry,” he says. “The only genre that’s managed to stay fucking true to its school is hard rock and heavy metal. So there’s a certain solidarity there. I’m loving being the fucking underdog and just doing rock’n’roll for rock’n’roll’s sake – without being part of that whole thing. It’s interesting times.”
Interesting times indeed. And we’ve been with Slash all the way for this new record – from the studio to press calls, from home to gigs and beyond.
It all began last October…
October 7: “Pre-production on next record officially starts today!”
When I did Apocalyptic Love I had Pro Tools on my laptop and I’d make demos on the road and at home. This time I put all the ideas straight into my phone, and thought that when I came home I’d make demos in my studio there.
But then I thought, ‘fuck all this Pro Tools shit! Why don’t I just get together with Brent [Fitz, Conspirators drummer] and Todd [Kerns, bassist], go to Mates Rehearsal Studios and just do it?’ I’d go in and say, ‘here’s a riff’. We’d work on it and the songs just started to materialise.
October 19: “Halloween bash at Rick Baker’s place…”
Even before Stan Winston, for me Rick was my hero. When he was still really young he did this film called The Incredible Melting Man. This guy gets radiation poisoning and slowly melts away, literally. All this flesh and blood. It was a fantastic piece of work. And he did the 1976 King Kong which had some amazing make-up effects.
October 23: “Larry King Now…”
It was such a privilege to hang out with Larry. Anyone you watched on TV or listened to for a great length of time, you always feel honoured to be in their presence.
October 23: “Great pre-pro session today. The next few months are going to be a gas!”
Stone Blind and Withered Delilah were two of the first songs we worked on. 30 Years To Life and World On Fire were really early on in the pre-production process too. The nucleus for Too Far Gone actually came in pre-pro for [last album] Apocalyptic Love. We played it over and over again in the studio, fleshing it out, adding to it. Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen was rehearsing next door, and I went over there an hour later to say hi, and he was playing the riff.
October 24: “Check out the LA Times article about LA Zoo’s Komodo dragons.”
I’m on the board of trustees at LA Zoo. They do such great work and occasionally they’ll ask to put my face on something, like their reptile exhibit LAIR – they said, “you really are the guy for that!” I’ve also been on the campaign trail for Billy The Elephant for a while. They’ve built this exhibit called The Rainforest Of The Americas and it’s fucking phenomenal, really nice.
October 27: “Guested with Beth Hart in LA…”
I love to play, and I do get to jam a lot. When you hang around with great musicians these opportunities just come up. I’ve played with Beth a couple of times, she’s so talented.
This was a fundraising gig for my kids’ school. We rehearsed at Dave Grohl’s studio, and we did a very obscure Ike And Tina Turner song – Whole Lotta Love! – and a Janis Joplin song, too.
November 7: “Dug out my Studer. To those who don’t know, it’s a tape machine.”
I’d always intended to record to tape. When Elvis and I had initial conversations about him producing, I asked if he could do it. And it turned out he’d been a recording engineer at NRG Studios in LA and was a real tape guy.
I was gonna build a studio out of the room we were rehearsing in at Mates. I had everything set up – I’d gone to different studio suppliers and set the wheels in motion to make a full-blown studio, and had my Studer ready to go. But we realised it wouldn’t be done in time, and when we went out on the road it’d all just be sitting there, so I decided not to do it.
November 8: “Getting some serious work done with the Conspirators. Putting in the hours…”
Bent To Fly was written in the dressing room of the Conan O’Brien show in September, before Myles and I went on to do Nothing Left To Fear. Shadow Life had started back when we did Apocalyptic Love. You’re A Lie was completely written, we were in pre-production and about to start recording the album. But the main riff that made up the chorus of the song wasn’t doing it for us, so I rewrote it and we ended up with a great chorus – all good. But I loved the riff we dropped, and every now and then I’d revisit it and try and re-work it, but nothing came to mind because I always associated it with that song. We buckled down in the rehearsal room this time, worked on it and it evolved into an entirely different song – Shadow Life.
November 18: “Kings Of Chaos at Avalon Hollywood for the Dolphin Project.”
I’m big on all species when it comes to cruelty – elephant poaching, sharks, dolphins, you name it. Prior to this show we’d played South Africa. And we’d rehearsed for that, so I knew all the songs, so we just showed up and played. It was cool, it was fun, and the gigs in South America – Paraguay, Mexico – later in the month were just crazy.
December 3: “Alright, we’re a band. Down the rabbit hole we go!”
From October through to this point we were writing, taking it slow. We’d work for three days, then I’d go off and play somewhere and come back. Around this time Myles and Elvis came in to the sessions and we started to really buckle down and fine-tune the songs to get them together. Beneath The Savage Sun started from a riff I wrote just sitting on a bed in a hotel room, but through the writing process it got to be this massive, epic thing. The middle section was an unrelated piece I’d written and had a hard time finding among all my shit. But when I did find it and put it together with the main riff it made for a great breakdown.
December 11: “Always an extreme pleasure to see and jam with Billy Gibbons…”
That was a Camp Freddy private thing, for some investment bank or other, I dunno! I think I did another one in Atlanta too. Billy’s awesome. He was and is a big influence on me. He’s just one of my favourite guitar players.
December 14: “12 songs in, a couple more to go.”
You don’t know anything about what you’re doing at this stage – you’re just doing it. The final song titles didn’t come until we were in the studio doing vocals, and the album title didn’t come until we were done mixing. Right after that I was stressing about what was going to be the cover…
December 20: “Killer day in the studio. Shit is sounding badass. Reconvening in Jan.”
We were all stoked by how it was sounding by the end of the year. Me and the family just had Christmas at home. I’d taken them to South Africa with me when I was there with Kings Of Chaos earlier in the year, we went to Kruger National Park. We spend so much time going places and I travel so much for work, that no one wants to go anywhere in the holidays!
January 6: “Back in the saddle. Not too rusty after a couple of weeks off. Great to be back in the studio.”
We were in good shape and rested, and got back into it quickly. When we got back we knew that what we had was a solid arrangement. Probably the loosest thing on there is Safari Inn. That’s a riff I’d play all the time on tour, but every time we played it I’d just solo over it for, like, half an hour! So it never got to develop into a song. It ended up with me deciding to just make it an instrumental.
January 9: “Good times at the Whisky A Go Go 50th Anniversary with Lita Ford.”
Lita and I knew each other in the 80s but we didn’t have a history. We met more recently and this was the first time I ever played with her. We did The Runaways’ Cherry Bomb, which is one of my all-time favourite rock songs. God, the picture my imagination conjures up with the little girl called Cherry Bomb goin’ “Hello daddy, hello mom, I’m your ch-ch-ch-ch-ch cherry bomb!” It’s just great.
January 13: “Last week of pre-pro. Really excited about how it’s coming together.”
The way Myles works, you don’t know what his lyrics are until you get to the studio to record his vocals. Mostly in pre-pro you’ll just hear random words so he can get the rhythm, the phonetics of the song. You get the melodies as he develops them, and they’re awesome, then the lyrics come later. The Unholy inspired some dark lyrics and subject matter from him. It’s different from all the other songs on the album.
When I score a movies I write from a completely different part of my brain. It’s this open-ended thing, influenced by the visuals in the script, and there’s a thematic thing too. I don’t write like that for bands, it just doesn’t occur to me. I sat down on the couch one night and thought, ‘What would happen if I wrote something for a movie, made it a song and steered it to what I’m doing with the band’. And that’s where The Unholy came from. I remember walking to rehearsal thinking, now I have this other thing.
February 1: “Stoke City beat Manchester United 2-1!”
It’s about time! That was a big one. I do keep up with Stoke City. I have a friend in London who sends me their scores – along with pictures of girls with big breasts.
February 2: “Truth be told, I cannot get enough of The Walking Dead…”
I never really paid attention until October, when you put the TV on anything that’s vaguely Halloweeny. I thought zombies were all played out, but then they played The Walking Dead from the beginning – I TiVoed it and became a complete addict, watching three or four episodes a night.
February 3: “Listening to rehearsal demos in the car. So excited about this record!”
We’d record demos as we rehearsed, I had them all on my phone and I’d listen to them over and over again. My poor kids suffered through this whole record from its inception. But they still like it. I’d be driving them to school or football, with the radio on, and they’ll be like, “Dad, put your record on!” London’s favourite song was 30 Years To Life.
February 7: “First day of tracking at NRG Studios.”
We recorded the rhythm tracks at NRG Studios in LA. The first day for me was a lot of sitting around. It was Elvis, his engineer Jeff Mols and Brent and Todd getting drum and bass tones. While they’re doing that I’m in the other room playing my guitar and watching TV. Elvis is a smart guy, very gifted. I’m a workaholic in the studio, but I don’t have the technical prowess to run the session, so who I’m working with dictates the extent that I can do that.
We were pretty fast in pre-pro, especially as we wrote this many songs, 17 of them. And once we got in the studio it all went pretty fast too. Brent finished his drums by the 13th and Todd’s bass parts were done by the 20th. They did a great job. When it came to the vocals and guitars I didn’t want to spend the money at a big commercial studio in LA. Elvis had his place, Studio Barbarosa in Florida. I just had to pay for plane tickets over and a fee.
March 3: “Killer first day at Elvis’s studio. Great guitar sounds right off the bat.”
Studio Barbarosa is nice, and really well-stocked gear-wise. Elvis’s wife remodelled the interiors and it’s a cool spot, just 50 feet from their house. It’s a good place to work because it’s in Orlando, and unless you’re going to Disneyworld there’s nothing else to do! They have theme parks there, a lot of tourists, it’s a Mecca for American consumerism. Myles and I stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel and they were wonderful – they really took care of us and let us stay there for free. We had a good time, but pretty much all we did was record.
March 4: “Recording riffs with Elvis today.”
I hate to be at the mercy of a guy who’s like a deer in the headlights about recording guitar. [Apocalyptic Love producer] Erik Valentine was one of the first people with any real understanding of the organic way of capturing the sound of my guitar, without using plug-ins or outboard gear. But Elvis is so passionate about recording guitar tones, he has such a good grasp of how to do it. There’s a sound I use where I turn the tone down on the rhythm pickup on my Les Paul Gold Top or my [main guitar] Derrig. It’s a very sustained, rich sound. And he really wanted to pull that out and capture it. We really got that on the out solo to Battleground.
Elvis is one of the only guys I’ve let play my Derrig. When someone else plays your guitar you automatically get defensive, but I realised he was really going for subtle tone things in his gear, as well as my guitar, so I let him do it. I’d walk into the studio, he’d hand me my guitar after dicking with it for about an hour, and it’d sound great. Elvis works as hard or harder than I do. He actually pushed me, which is pretty much unheard of.
March 8: “This shit sounds so badass! I am beside myself.”
The way it worked, I used my regular sound for the guitar in the right-hand speaker, and I make up a sound for the guitar in the left. So I started using a lot of different guitars for that. On 30 Years To Life I play slide on a Les Paul Junior. I used Elvis’s Gibson ES135 on a bunch of them – Wicked Stone, Stone Blind, Beneath The Savage Sun. There’s a Les Paul 12-string on The Dissident, and a Fender Bass VI on Dirty Girl. It’s like a six-string bass with thinner strings, so you’ve got that and the bass doing the main riff, and it sounds really, really heavy.
Elvis has great outboard gear, little recording things that were helpful. He had Orange Amps, a Hiwatt, a Mesa Boogie, so when I was doing the speaker-left guitars we started using these. Usually I have another guitar player, but I did all the rhythm guitars myself on this album, for pretty much the first time.
March 13: “Awesome jam with Wayne Kramer, Doug Pinnick and Robby Krieger at SXSW!”
I flew to Austin for a day and jammed, which was really, really cool. It was a tribute concert to Jimi Hendrix, who got his commemorative stamp. We did Purple Haze, Red House, Foxy Lady and All Along The Watchtower. Wayne’s awesome. I’ve jammed with him a lot over the past six years or so. I’d never met Doug before and he was amazing, I can’t speak more highly of a guy who I’ve worked with ever.
March 23: “Guitars are all finished. Knee deep in vox. Myles is kicking ass!”
I’d done the majority of my guitars before Myles got there, so I was pretty much done. He recorded the ballads first, as I recall. Battleground was very early on. It’s the longest song on the record and it sounded awesome. I waited for him to finish all his vocals so I could come in and adapt the guitar leads around them. When the vocal melody’s on tape I can improvise around it. If it’s not I could be stepping all over it, just playing my ass off. The last guitar part I recorded was Bent To Fly.
April 4: “Recording is finished!”
Brent came down and did percussion, Myles finished his vocals [on the 3rd] and Todd came down did some backing vocals, and that was the very last thing we recorded. I think we were all together in Orlando for one day, and to celebrate we went to The Palm, the steak place at the Hard Rock Hotel. It was very satisfying to put the last cross on the sheet. All in we had 16 songs and Safari Inn, the instrumental. Most of the songs had weird working titles all the way through recording: Stone Blind was called Cheap Dick, 30 Years To Life was Fast G, Wicked Stone was F#U. World On Fire was I Wanna Pull Your Hair – it always had a sexual connotation. After this we packed up, and I went home.
April 8: “Word’s out! I’ll be performing with Aerosmith today.”
That was the official announcement of our tour with Aerosmith. We announced at 8 that morning that the gig was at the Whisky A Go Go, a first-come-first-served kinda deal. It was fun to get up there in a small place like the Whisky and play to a fucking packed house with those guys. They did three songs, then I got up and did Mama Kin, Train Kept A-Rollin’, and even an impromptu version of Welcome To The Jungle. Steven [Tyler] wasn’t there for soundcheck, and Joe [Perry] and I worked it out but thought we weren’t going to do it. Then during the set Joe fell into the riff so I joined in, and Steve started singing. He didn’t know the words though!
April 8: “Just listened to the first mix. It kicks ass! Elvis rocks.”
The mix process had started right after we finished recording. Elvis was working out of his studio in Florida, and I’d be at home in Los Angeles with my phone, waiting for him to send me his first pass. So there was a lot of waiting for something to come, then driving around and listening to it, giving comments and going through the whole process again. Sometimes it was done in five or six passes, but usually two or three. I listened to it all driving in several different cars – my car, the family SUV. I have my Pro Tools set-up where I can listen to music in a studio environment, but the car’s where everybody hears it.
April 12: “Great gig with Motörhead tonight. Packed house. Good times.”
This was Club Nokia in LA and I was struck down with the worst fucking flu that day, probably from being overworked by this point. I played three shows with them – Club Nokia, then I flew out to Palm Springs two days later, did Coachella, then drove all the way back, then two days later went back and did it again. Coachella’s not such a metal destination so I wondered how they’d go down, but they fucking loved it, it was awesome. I’m a big Motörhead fan, I love Lemmy. Aftershock is the best fucking hard rock record that’s come out in recent memory.
May 3: “Mix is finished! Mastering next weekend. Artwork set.”
All this time I hadn’t had the title for the record, it literally came right before I picked the cover. In the back of my mind there was this quest for the right phrase or word to sum up the whole record. Then I was looking at the song titles and World On Fire started making a lot of sense. I didn’t tell anybody any of this.
For the cover I was thinking, something chaotic, something busy. I had the album cover for Why Can’t We Be Friends and The World Is A Ghetto by War, and a couple of other albums with a similar vibe, but I wanted something more manic. So I had a look at work by lot of different artists I liked, stuff they’d already painted, because it was already way too late for them to paint me something new.
I follow Ron English on Instagram and he does a lot of amazing, whacky stuff, so I called him up and asked him if he had anything that was total pandemonium! He sent me five or six things, one of them was called Road Story which was a blueish grey, and the other was called Cerebral Celebration which was this fiery red. They were both similar, but World On Fire and Cerebral Celebration just came together, and it was like magic.
May 15: “Mastering is done!”
I’m a fuckin’ busybody – I get involved in everything to do with the record. I went over to Sterling Sound in New York, because Elvis had used mastering engineer Ted Jensen there before, and I was really pleased with the job he did. There were little things that popped out in the songs, not that we’d overmixed but that just fit well with the extra EQ from the master. I remember Shadow Life was the quietest song on there for some reason. Ted had to bring that up to the same volume as the others.
Even as we were mastering I was still deciding which order the songs would go in on the record. In fact that was probably the hardest thing about making the album. I started as soon as the mixing was done – it meant putting a sequence together, driving around, endlessly changing a song here, a song there. This went on for two weeks. Finally I had a sequence. I asked Brent to send me his ideas, and switched it again.
Mine started with Stone Blind, which had been our plan all along, and I was saving World On Fire for the middle of the album, to keep the energy up. Brent had it as the first, which was the obvious thing to do, but I thought, he’s right – just kick ’em in the teeth from the onset! That meant changing the entire sequence again. It might sound crazy but it’s such an important thing – it’s a science. You gotta keep the ebbs and flows of the tempos so you don’t lose interest in the middle. Look at it like a graph. You want it to peak and dip, and to keep the ballads separated. You can make or break a song by where you place it on the record.
Every single song we worked on is on there. For Apocalyptic Love we did the same thing but we put four of the songs on the deluxe edition only, so in a way those are four songs you end up losing. For this one I thought, You know what, let’s just put ’em all on there, and that’s what we did.
May 17: “Tickets available for the headline dates in November.”
It’s more or less the same pattern as before: we have the record, we know it’s going to be released in September, so let’s plan the tour. The Aerosmith tour took us into September. We had issues with October because Alter Bridge has some dates, so we arranged to play Europe from November.
May 19: Saw Godzilla for the third time. Gets better every time.”
I’m friends with the producer, so I saw screenings and went to the premiere. They did such an amazing job on the CGI for this one, it’s an awesome movie.
May 30: “Classic Rock Fan Pack on the way!”
As an artist, if an already great magazine like Classic Rock is going to do an issue that’s wholly dedicated to you and your record, you can’t really ask for anything more than that. I’ve had fan packs for my last few records, ever since I’ve been doing the solo thing, and it’s the coolest thing having these come out. It’s sort of like buying a vinyl package back in the day actually, but with way more shit in it. If you’re a fan it just makes sense.”
June 2: “A fabulous time at the Houses Of Parliament. Cool acoustic set and album launch.”
How surreal. It was the label’s idea, Roadrunner suggested it. I was like, “If you can make that happen, then sure.” I didn’t think it would happen, but it did. That was fun. I’d never been there before and I found out the MP there [Mike Weatherley] is a big metal fan. It was very surreal to me. Having been around for so long, that was always a place I wanted to check out. So I’m surprised they let me in, let alone invited me to play!** **
July 16: “Happy 200th issue to Classic Rock magazine.”
It’s an honour to have been involved with Classic Rock magazine to this extent over the last few years. ** **
July 17: “There’s not much in life cooler than jamming with Aerosmith in Massachusetts.”
Funnest show of the tour so far. Joe is one of my favourite guitar players. He just has this unorthodox, self-taught style which is wholly unique to him, and it’s always intriguing for me to watch how he does it. And, y’know, it’s always inspiring for me, if we’re playing together, just to have that kind of energy around. And I think my enthusiasm for the whole thing gives him a little bit of a boost too. So we have a good time. We play well off each other._ _
The Art Of The Matter
Artist Ron English dissects the artwork of Slash’s new album.
The mind-bending masterpiece below is the cover art for Slash’s World On Fire album. It was created by artist Ron English, who also worked up the cover art Slash’s 2010 album Apocalyptic Love.
On joining up with Slash again, Ron explains: “We were thinking of doing a vinyl figure [based on the 2010 album cover], so I called him to see if he was up for that. He was mixing [World On Fire] at the time, and realised he hadn’t come up with an album cover yet.” The World On Fire artwork is based on Ron’s Cerebral Celebration piece, and there’s even more to it than first meets the eye.
The album cover is meant to represent the inside of your brain. So there’s all of this brain-looking matter in there. When people look at you and go: “What are you thinking about?” And you think: “You really wanna know?” It’s usually just complete chaos and things are morphing into each other. That’s what my brain is like, anyway.
There’s some stuff in there that’s his and some that’s mine. Like there’s my smiley face with Slash’s hat on. With creating my stuff I build models, light them and build a big set and develop it into a painting. With this, if Slash wanted something different I would get different elements, photograph them in the same light and blend them in with Photoshop.
The whole thing and the use of items like the unicorn is a collision of mythologies and pop culture. We’re creating new mythology through pop culture. People might not think of it that way and might not think of Cap’n Crunch being like Apollo. These pop culture figures embody some meaning that is disseminated through their image.
I like the part-creation myth that ties in [with the Sistine Chapel]. That all ties in with the dinosaur as well because the dinosaur is a chicken. A lot of scientists have come to the conclusion that tyrannosaurs rex never went extinct, it evolved into what is now the modern-day chicken… For some reason I thought that was hilarious.
There’s cows in there that are half human. I did this thing where I made fake products and put them in stores, and one of the products was human milk. It’s playing with the idea that we would be nauseated by the thought of drinking human milk, but if there’s another animal then that’s perfectly fine.
The Simpsons are a huge part of our culture. Slash liked that [from the original Cerebral Celebration piece] as well so we kept it in. Both Slash and I have appeared in The Simpsons as ourselves. We’re both part of that club. That’s pretty cool.There’s cows in there that are half human. I did this thing where I made fake products and put them in stores, and one of the products was human milk. It’s playing with the idea that we would be nauseated by the thought of drinking human milk, but if there’s another animal then that’s perfectly fine
The meaning behind the doll head is that it’s like she is pulling this melting doll head because now she is an adult. She’s trying to get rid of her old way of thinking. That’s probably something that I should indulge in as well. I’m like the world’s oldest ten-year-old.
Slash likes monsters and dinosaurs. We kind of come from the same place. I guess we’re similar in age. I know what his aesthetic is, he likes old Disney kind of stuff and he likes it when I paint things that glow a different colour around them. He likes all of the blend-y, colourful stuff. We share a very similar aesthetic.
The tank represents an image of invading. The toy soldiers link into that as well. It all links back to how culture is invading your whole mental space.