The Slash Interviews: The Making Of The Debut Solo Album

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We meet at the Gibson guitar building in London’s West End one chilly winter’s afternoon.

You know the man in the top hat and shades is there before you even see him. There’s a visible buzz in the building, from the secretaries primping their hair to the various guys that suddenly all have business on the same floor, standing around trying to look cool. Not that Slash appears to notice. “Hey, man,” he drawls by way of greeting to the Classic Rock team, “what’s happening?” as though a roomful of cameras and microphones needed some explanation.

We are here, of course, to listen to Slash’s new album, which the former Guns N’ Roses and current Velvet Revolver guitarist has only just completed recording. Indeed, so hot-off-the-press are some of the mixes that even he’s still deciding which he likes best. No easy decision, as the 15 tracks – including Classic Rock’s exclusive bonus track Baby Can’t Drive – that comprise the first Slash solo album are among the finest anyone is going to hear this year. But then, if you’re reading this you’ll already know that. In fact, you’re probably listening to it right now! So without further ado, let’s get into it, as we invite Slash to talk us through his superb and multifarious new collection./o:p

What was the thinking behind making your first solo album?

Originally, the concept that I had was that I would love to do a record where I would get a bunch of these people that I know and get them to play on a song that I wrote. That was as complicated as it was. So originally it was people that I had established a relationship with over the years – like Iggy Pop, Lemmy and Ozzy, those three guys are like three of my heroes that I’ve known for a long time; icons that I’ve had a lot to do with and have had a lot of influence on me in some shape or form.

Then it was other people that I worked with that I didn’t know so well. What I did was, I wrote the music, I made demos that were presentable and then after having written the songs I picked who I thought should sing. They had to write their own lyrics because I wasn’t about to go down that road. [Laughs] I still had that fear of people not showing up, but really it ran great. Everybody was really, really wonderful.

You didn’t play it safe with the singers you chose, either.

No. I think the major thing about this record is, I’m very insular, I don’t communicate my feelings about a lot of different things. I do when I’m playing, though. That’s the best way for me to get an emotional release. But I think in doing a solo record, a lot of times, like in Snakepit, which was my own little band, I sort of jammed within the confines of my comfort zone.

But after being so frustrated with the Scott [Weiland] situation and just feeling so stifled, this was really me enjoying the separation from that kind of anxiety, you know? [Laughs] Just me saying, what would be fun? And having a really good time. I really needed the outlet because Velvet Revolver, as far as Duff [McKagan] and Matt [Sorum] and Dave [Kushner] goes, was great. But [the rest] was such a nightmare. Like, I had to suffer through that to put a record together where I could really sort of put my best foot forward./o:p

Who produced the record?

Eric Valentine, who produced the Queens Of The Stone Age album, Songs For The Deaf, which Dave Grohl did drums on. Eric also did a whole bunch of other stuff, like All-American Rejects and Smashmouth, and some real obscure stuff. I started looking at all these other producers and I was given a box of CDs of like every [good] record that’s come out in the last 10 years, from different artists and different producers. The only guy that looked like he had the versatility to cover this much different material was Eric Valentine. So I had him come over to the little dingy garage where I was working and I gave him the demos. And he got it! Like, he listened to the songs without necessarily knowing who the singers were gonna be but he really got the music. We had a great working relationship from that point on.

Talk us through the tracks, beginning with opener Ghost, featuring Ian Astbury of The Cult.

I remember in, like, 1987 the girls that I was sleeping with at the time were really into The Cult and the Electric album. Then it turned out that the first Guns N’ Roses tour was opening for The Cult. I really love those guys because we were like tough kids and street smart but on tour we were naïve, over-eager, urchin kids just letting it rip, and it must have been interesting for them to see us. We’d always get fucked-up and pass out in their hotels cos they always had nicer rooms and all this stuff. And they were very cool.

Ian was really patient. He and I ditched the cops one time together and this and that. There was a certain vibe The Cult always have, and I had this one song and I hadn’t seen Ian in a long time but I sent it to him. Then, in his very sort of Queen’s English kind of way, he got back to me in an email saying how much he liked it. Then he went and booked himself into a little demo studio in New York and put a vocal down, and sent it to us. It was great so when it came time to do the real vocal he flew in and it was just great to be in his presence and actually see how fuckin’ great he really is. He’s very intense about his work but as a person he’s very open and got a great sense of humour.

You can do anything these days with the new recording techniques, take people who can’t sing and make them sound like they can. All these different people that I used on this album all came in and used their true voice and were just great, you know? Ian was done, literally, in half an hour./o:p

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_Slash and Friends in 2010. Pics: Getty _

One of the most explosive moments on the album occurs early on with the Ozzy Osbourne track, Crucify The Dead. How did that come about?

When the last Velvet Revolver tour ended, I got a call from a film director called Olallo Rubio. He was making this film in Mexico called This Is Not A Movie. He sent me the script and it was very dark. It’s a cool independent movie that stars Edward Furlong, who was the kid on the motorcycle in Terminator 2 listening to Guns N’ Roses, and Peter Coyote. So I took on the task of composing the music. Then three of those pieces were developed for songs to be used on this album.

The music for this track with Ozzy came from the intro music, this one riff that kept making me think of Ozzy. It’s a really great performance from Ozzy too. He really takes the bull by the horns and gets aggressive, and I don’t really hear him do that [often], do you know what I mean? Like he’s really trying to say something, and there’s a lot of anger in his lyrics. It’s an interesting thing because he did sort of get diluted in this whole sort of TV kind of whatever. And not through any fault of his own, he was just thrown into it. But I’ve done a couple of performances with him now where he’s as dynamic and commanding as he always has been.

He did this song and now he’s working on his next record, and he won’t do anything on the TV now. Like he won’t even do interviews. He’s gonna focus on getting that all straightened out. I think he’s on a mission. I mean, I haven’t seen anybody do what he does to an audience, like manage to turn them into his disciples. [Laughs] If you needed somebody to marshal an army, Ozzy would be the guy.

Beautiful Dangerous, featuring Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas, is another surprisingly big moment. There were a lot of raised eyebrows about her inclusion but she sounds right at home.

The track that Fergie is on is an original song and it’s very sexy, but it’s also very hard. It’s sort of a love song, really, like, seductive but hard, you know? The music, I wrote it as a stripper song for the soundtrack to This Is Not A Movie that I was scoring. Right now the film doesn’t have any distribution – that’s being sorted. But anyway, I had this one piece of music that was in the stripper scene, where these girls are stripping. This was way before Fergie even came into it. But I own all the music for the score and thought I’d see what I could do with it on the record too. I thought, this would be a good song for Fergie, so it’s a very stripper-type beat and with her voice and, like, heavy, heavy guitars.

It’s sort of like, all these girls that I’ve worked with. Fergie’s just dynamite. Trust me, she’s done an incredible job here. I sent Fergie an arrangement for the song, and that’s the one we’ve ended up using. It’s perfect for her bad-ass voice, and she gave me a fuckin’ stunning performance. I mean, she sings great when we do Paradise City live but to hear her sing with her own lyrics on a rock song, on this album, it’s just unreal!

From there we move on to a more reflective track, Promise, featuring Chris Cornell.

Musically, it’s a different track. I was really surprised when I sent it to Chris. It was one of those things where you put pen to paper without knowing what you’re gonna write. And I sent it to him, not really knowing why I picked him for that particular tune; it’s a very unorthodox piece of music. I didn’t really relate it to anybody but his voice popped into my head. Then a couple of days later, he sent back this really surprising lyric that fitted perfectly. I was really blown away because I had no idea what to expect, I just threw caution to the wind, knowing full well he could send it back and say, “This is crap!”.

So I was really impressed with that, and it was also cool because I hadn’t really heard him sing like that in a while, because he’s been doing some other kind of stuff. This was Chris really rocking. He came down to the studio and he was great. He was sort of sick; he had some sort of allergy thing going on. And he’s a very meek kind of guy, sort of quiet, but with an amazing fuckin’ voice.

Just to be in his presence while he was doing it, it was great. Because you see guys around all the time, you know, Ozzy’s another one – I see Ozzy all the time and you forget. Like when they’re actually performing and if you’re in close enough proximity you can really get a vibe on how awesome these individuals are. Chris was like that. One of these guys I see all the time, you take it for granted. Then he’s actually doing it. Like, wow!/o:p

Slash and Fergie at the 2010 Sunset Strip Music Festival

One of the other really nice things about the album is that it finds you working with a younger generation of rock artists too. One of the best examples is By The Sword, featuring Andrew Stockdale of Wolfmother.

Andrew Stockdale is a great singer. He’s the genuine article. I haven’t met too many young singers that are that committed and know what they want and how they want it to sound. He’s just completely focused and understands what it is he’s doing and what it takes to do it. Just natural, by ear, you know? A really cool kid who just fuckin’ feels it. I’d never met him before but that was one of the few people I was like, “You know who I’d really like to get? ”I had to put feelers out to find him. We just put that song together with a couple of acoustic guitars. He was recording up the street from me so I’d just drive up there, and we’d do stuff while he was taking a break from his session. Then he came down and belted it out, and it was great. It’s weird; it’s sort of new and old. A big moment, but it’s a simple recording too. It’s sparse but there’s something about it, a certain energy.

The track Gotten, featuring Adam Levine of Maroon 5, finds you forging new musical paths with a younger and but somewhat less expected collaborator. Did you know him before?

No. This was another acoustic thing that I wrote on Velvet Revolver’s last tour and again I thought, “Who the fuck is going to sing that?”, especially with that crazy rock bridge. And I think it was Samantha Ronson [DJ and younger sister of producer Mark Ronson] that suggested Adam Levine. Adam Levine’s got an amazing voice and I know the guy because he was on the same label as Velvet Revolver. I was a little reluctant at first but I knew he had the voice for it. So I thought about it and went outside my little rectangle [laughs] and called him up and went round to his house. We played it on an acoustic and he just fuckin’ had these ideas about the vocals and how he wanted to do it. So I went into the studio and laid down the actual track and he came in and put down the vocal. It was one of the most inspiring sessions watching someone sing a whole song in one take – and he had a cold at the time.

One of your real-life old friends, of course, is Lemmy of Motörhead. Tell us about his contribution, Doctor Alibi. The lyrics are classic, bad-minded Lemmy while the music sounds like vintage GN’R.

It’s the simplest rock track on the record and it’s one of my favourites. I love Lemmy to death. The longer I know him the more I really appreciate everything about him. He’s always been one of my huge heroes. So I sent him the song, which was pretty much the same as you hear it now, same arrangement, I just sent him the music. And he called me up a couple times and goes: “Does it need this? Shall I do that?” I’m like, “Lemmy, just do whatever you want!” He showed up at the studio, I got him a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a couple of bags of potato chips. Everything he does and represents reminds me a lot of how I got to be the way that I am.

The lyrics are fuckin’ brilliant because they’re about how the doctor told him that his hard living, he’s gonna have to stop or he’s gonna die. So he went to another doctor who said, “Just keep doing what you love” and he’s like, “That’s the answer that I wanted!” He just told the story beautifully in this three-and-a-half-minute song. It reminds me of my whole trip to the point where the doctor said, “You have six weeks to live.” Up until then, you couldn’t have told me anything. I just really related to it. Anyway, so that was a special moment. Just very, very cool./o:p

Unusually for a renowned instrumentalist, the only instrumental track on the album is your collaboration with Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters/Them Crooked Vultures fame, and your GN’R/Velvet Revolver pal Duff McKagan, titled Watch This. What’s the story there?

This is an instrumental with just me, Dave on drums and Duff on bass. I originally sent it to Dave for him to write some words and sing on, but he wouldn’t. Dave just does not like to sing on other people’s stuff. He said that he did it once before on some track and that it came out horrendous. Plus, he’s really into his drums right now. We did this right when his Them Crooked Vultures thing was happening. So at that point I got into the idea of making it an instrumental and I started writing what melody parts are in there. Then Dave finally came off the road and we all got into the room and did it. Really live, hammering it out! It took, like, four takes to learn it and get it together. And Dave’s an amazing drummer! So it was very spontaneous.

The guitar solo was the same, just two takes, and one of those takes is what made it on there. I don’t usually do that kind of stuff; I’m not one of those guitarists that does instrumentals. I usually play in the gaps between the vocals, but this is something else. I thought: “Can I do an instrumental?” My producer said: “Well, as a guitarist, it would be nice if you did.” Sometimes guitar players get so amped-up on the whole deal of playing fast it doesn’t have an emotional side to it. It’s important to feel what you do, too.

Another nice surprise is Hold On, featuring Kid Rock. Lots of attitude, but no rapping, and a wonderfully tuneful song with searching lyrics.

That’s based around a riff I found at the end of the last Velvet Revolver tour. I had a Zoom recorder with me on the road, and there were a load of ideas that I started to go through once I had the time. This was the last riff on there, and was less than a minute long. And I had no recollection of even writing it. [Laughs] It was one of two ideas I sent to Kid Rock, and it was the one he went for. This was actually one of the few real collaborations on the record. We worked together on this from scratch, and built it up. Kid’s really in tune with what he likes and what he doesn’t, so that made it a lot easier to deal with. And he totally has his shit together, a complete professional. I love the way this track turned out.

Heavy metal fans will love the track Nothing To Say, featuring M Shadows of Avenged Sevenfold. Who knew you could shred too…

I was influenced by Black Sabbath and that whole dagga-dagga-dagga [heavy guitar] sound that bands like Metallica and Megadeth make. I’ve always wanted to do it but I’ve just never been in a band where I could do that. So I did on this track, and it’s a fast metal kindof thing. I got the guy from Avenged Sevenfold to sing it because I wanted to have representatives of different generations, as many as I could get that I knew. So there’s, like, my contemporaries, there’s new kids on the block – no pun intended – and then there’s some of my old hero guys. So the kid from Avenged Sevenfold, M Shadows, is great because he’s got a good grasp of melody but he comes from a metal background and his band’s a real metal band. He was one of the guys I didn’t know but he was great when he came down.

Apparently his band are big Guns N’ Roses fans, which I think is why they let him go away and do this one-off, you know? But I didn’t really know anything about all that when he came in. We listened to the music. I have this little demo studio at my friend’s garage, really unassuming, dingy little place. It was really just a bunch of little ideas at that point; the main part and a couple of changes, and so we constructed it in that garage that night – really just two guys working it out. Then I found out later that he’s like a diehard Guns N’ Roses fan. But he put a lot of work into it./o:p

It’s great also to find the inclusion of former Alter Bridge vocalist Myles Kennedy on the album. Not only a great singer, but the one artist you actually recorded two tracks for the album with: Back From Cali and Starlight.

There’s a few songs on the album that I wrote for Velvet Revolver that Scott didn’t like and this one was put together while we were on our last tour. A lot of the music was written in hotels and buses and this one has a really nice Southern feel. So when I decided to do the solo record I had all these songs that I was planning on doing and I demoed them, and this one I couldn’t figure out who to get for it. It was really bothering me. At one point I thought, “Fuck! I’m going to have to shelve it.” But I’d just recently been introduced to Myles Kennedy. He was the singer that Led Zeppelin was auditioning, he was in Alter Bridge, and I wasn’t familiar with him. But I called Myles up and asked him if he would be interested in singing one song. I sent it to him and I had no idea what to expect, I really wasn’t that familiar with his work and I’d never met him. Three days later he sent me an email with the track on it and it blew my mind. So I flew him out here the day after I got back from England from the Classic Rock Awards and we recorded the song. It was exactly what I wanted. We got on so well that, at the last minute, I did a second song with him for the album. It’s only just been added to the track listing, and is called Back From Cali. Again, like Starlight, it was something for which I couldn’t find anyone suitable – Myles nailed it. Now he’s going to be in my touring band too, so the whole thing really worked out better than I could have hoped.

A brand new name for a lot of people will be that of Rocco DeLuca. Yet the track you recorded with him, Saint Is A Sinner Too, is one of the most sophisticated-sounding musical moments on the entire album.

This was another piece of music from This Is Not A Movie that I scored. Originally this was a piece composed for a desert scene in the film. So I owned the music and I wanted to get somebody sort of like Thom Yorke [of Radiohead] or something like that. A friend of mine, not knowing that I was looking for a vocalist said, “You’ve got to hear this CD” and it was this guy, Rocco DeLuca and he’s got this beautiful voice.

So I looked him up, played him the song and he wrote some lyrics and sang it and that was that. He’s a really cool guy, he’s got this band called The Burden and he goes around playing coffee houses and bars. It’s very raw. A lot of this shit I can’t do with my other bands, so this sort of forced me to touch on things that I like to do that I can get away with on my own record. It’s one I would want to play live. I started writing this on an acoustic. Joni Mitchell was my first big influence. My dad worked with her so I used to go to Joni Mitchell sessions all the time.

I actually did another acoustic instrumental for a movie called Obsession/ Confession and it’s currently being played on adult contemporary radio [in the US] and nobody can believe it’s me. So I got other stuff I like to do that’s really cool that’s not Marshalls and Les Pauls, but this one with Rocco is really special./o:p

You have played with Iggy Pop occasionally over the years, but this is the first time that you’ve ever released anything you’ve actually written together. It’s called We’re All Gonna Die and I’m sure Iggy will forgive us if I say it’s one of the best things he’s done in ages. Working with Iggy was great. I have a history with Iggy that goes way back. I first met him in a mental institution with my mom. This was when I was a kid. My mom had to explain to me, so I could understand what the hospital was and why he was there. He was crazy because of the drugs. That was my introduction to Iggy and I always remember him, at that point, being this sort of sad, sweet little guy. That’s the vibe that he gave off at the hospital. But later as I got to really know the Stooges and Iggy Pop, his music became a huge influence. He’d got this bigger-than-life persona. Then Duff and I ended up playing on his Brick By Brick record and I got to meet him as an adult, and he was just such a sweet, gracious person. Which is one of the great things about rock’n’roll people. All the really great ones that I’ve met, Lemmy included, are really gentle, really well-mannered, articulate, intelligent people. Even the craziest ones – Iggy being one of them. So Iggy’s always made a good impression on me. We’re friends and I’ve done a lot of live appearances with him. When I was doing Snakepit one time, Iggy and I wrote this song and Lenny Kravitz was on it too, this song called Everybody Burn Out. It was a piece of music that I had and Iggy wrote his lyrics and Lenny came down to the studio when we were in New York and put down these harmonies. Nothing ever came of it but the words were great! Anyway, I ended up doing the music to it on another song for [the second version of Snakepit] and I always felt bad, like I’ve got to do something with Iggy one day. So this was my opportunity to do it. I called him up and sent him the demo and the next day he calls me up and he’s singing at the top of his lungs into the phone, with the demo playing on the stereo in the background, telling me how it goes. Man, it was just the most innocent, excited, exuberant, rock’n’roll moment and it set the pace for the whole record. Then he flew in and put his thing down and he was like the first guy to kick this whole thing off. It was really cool and everything ran like clockwork from that point on. The bonus track is Baby Can’t Drive, featuring Alice Cooper, former Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and original Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler. It’s a tremendous way to finish a wonderfully full-on album. Another girl that shocked everybody that I used on this record was Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls. All my hardcore fans are like, “Oh my god, what have you done?” [Laughs] They don’t know what it sounds like yet though. That song is Alice Cooper, Flea, Steve Adler, and Nicole Scherzinger. I wrote this music and sent it to Alice, and Alice and his son Dash wrote this song, Baby Can’t Drive. It’s about a spoiled daddy’s girl with the car keys, who’s texting while driving along with her knees and all of this stuff. It’s very sort of tongue-in-cheek lyrics and I wasn’t sure exactly what to make of it, direction-wise. Then I thought what would be great would be if we have this bratty-sounding girl vocalist and they do this duet kind of thing, and I thought of Nicole Scherzinger. I did a gig in Las Vegas where she got up and sang the most amazing version of [Zeppelin’s] Whole Lotta Love that I’ve ever heard anybody do! She was, like, the highlight of the show. So Nicole knows her stuff when it comes to rock, it’s just you would never know it cos she was in Pussycat Dolls. There’s also something really sexy about her, speaking as a perverted guy. [Laughs] It’s great, cos I have, like, this promiscuous musical relationship with Nicole and Fergie. It’s nothing to do with physical sex – just that, to me, a girl, at her peak emotionally, singing rock’n’roll, just does it for me. So it’s been an interesting experience. This track also has Steve Adler on it. He actually hadn’t been in a recording studio in 10 years. But he did a great job. Steven was always underrated in Guns N’ Roses but he provided a type of groove and a type of energy to GN’R, and the Appetite… record particularly, that is half of its fuckin’ charm. A lot of people don’t even recognise that. When he came in and played on this track that feel and that sound was instantly there. It was a trip to see because I hadn’t played with him in so long.

Where next once the album is out?

This whole experience has been very liberating, so I’m gonna tour on it too, I’ve now decided. Even in finding the band to tour on it, for some reason, is way different, say, from having to find the singer for Velvet Revolver. It’s just more open-ended. I mean, it’s rock’n’roll so it has to be within the confines of rock’n’roll but it doesn’t have to be this guy. So it’s been interesting and fun. This whole thing has just been a whole lot of fun.

On tour, will you play just the material from this album or will you open it out to include other facets of your career?

Everything, because I’ve got so much material. I’ve got Guns stuff, I’ve got Velvet stuff, I’ve got Snakepit stuff and I’ve got the stuff from this new record. And Myles Kennedy is the guy that can sing all that! When he came down to the studio, we hit it off and got to talking about the tour. I mentioned I didn’t have a singer in place, and asked if he’d be up for being the man and he jumped at it. Which is great because what Myles allows me to do is give an extra dimension to the songs I plan to do. I’m gonna have stuff from this solo album, Velvet Revolver, Slash’s Snakepit and also Guns N’ Roses – he’ll bring to it all a genuine freshness. Which is another reason why I’m really looking forward to it. It should be amazing!/o:p