It’s been another spectacular January day in Hollywood.
Cloudless skies and waves of golden sunshine washing over the Angelenos as they go about their morning, seemingly oblivious to their climatological good fortune. This morning, I will be meeting with iconic guitarist Slash to discuss his forthcoming second solo album. The interview is happening at the Hollywood studio where the album is being recorded and, quite understandably, its location is a closely held secret until the afternoon before the meeting. Initially, there is some confusion – I cannot locate the studio. As I slowly cruise along the boulevard where the address should be, I see nothing but a couple of tiny, rundown shops and an alley that looks dark and menacing, even in the bright sunshine. Not even the car’s GPS will acknowledge the studio, replying “No such address exists.”
Another run around the block and I’m back at the sketchy alley. Abandoning both fear and common sense, I slowly pull in, past a massive hip-hop mural on the right and some overflowing dumpsters on the left. And there I see it – inconspicuously tacked beside a one way glass door is a building number so dark that one has to pull up close to read it.
This is the place.
It’s still quite early and, having confirmed the location, I head up to Sunset Boulevard to find a cozy cafe where I can review my notes one more time. After all, this is Slash I’m interviewing – in recent months, he has earned headlines for his induction into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, for the surprise reunion of his band Velvet Revolver with mercurial frontman Scott Weiland, for the release of his critically-lauded Made In Stoke live album/DVD, and for his burgeoning career as a movie mogul with new production company Slasher Films./o:p
Then there are the jaw-dropping tales of rock’n’roll excess, his lurid 2007 autobiography, his many all-star collaborations, and sales figures that dwarf some countries’ populations. In such circumstances, there is no such thing as over-preparation.
There has already been one telephone interview with Slash, which passed by at lightning speed. Patched together via his management office, we chatted easily about his legendary guitar collection, and at the 19th minute of our allotted 20 minute conversation, a voice chimed in, “You’ve got time for one more question.” There is nothing casual about these interviews – Slash’s time away from the studio is not easily ceded and it is therefore critical that every second of discussion is maximized.
The time arrives to return to the studio. Locking the car several times, I approach the door and am met by a smiling thirtysomething guy with a thin goatee and a black Austin City Limits T-shirt.
“Hey man, can I help you?”
“Hey there. Classic Rock magazine, here to see Slash.”
“Yeah, he’s running a little bit late today. He just called in to say he’s about twenty minutes behind. There’s another interview he’s gotta do with a film crew, but when they’re done, he’s all yours. Why don’t you come on in and I’ll show you around.”
Our host extends a hand with a broad grin and says, “My name’s Trevor. I’m the studio manager. I gotta tell you, Classic Rock is one of the few magazines I go out of my way to read. You guys are the best out there.” Clearly we have happened upon a gentleman of utmost sophistication. We are now friends for life./o:p
Through the glass door is a bright hallway with white walls stretching high up to the ceiling. The corridor on the left is home to some neatly-arranged equipment, including an open guitar case housing a lone Les Paul. Taped inside the case is a hand-drawn cartoon of a man in a top-hat – a Slash original.
“Is that..?” I ask.
“That’s it,” says Trevor, as we approach one of the most famous guitars in history. Slash used this axe on Appetite For Destruction, the Use Your Illusion albums and countless other iconic recordings. The ubiquitous notes of Sweet Child O’ Mine, Paradise City and Welcome To The Jungle were all issued from this very instrument. Though it is now used exclusively for studio work, coin-sized chips in its lacquered finish and myriad dents and scratches along the side tell many a harrowing story of its days on the road. If this guitar could only talk…
“Why don’t I let you set up upstairs? You guys can chat in the lounge,” Trevor says, as I follow him down a corridor full of guitar cases, turning tightly up a flight of stairs at the end of the hallway. At the top of the stairs opens a bright lounge with more white walls, sparsely adorned with a couple of simple sofas, a table and an electronic drum kit. There is zero clutter. It all looks very Swedish.
“Brent practices his rolls and fills there,” Trevor says, leading us to a table at the other end of the room. Another kitchen is upstairs. “This OK?” he asks.
It is indeed, and I set up my modest recording equipment, fighting the urge to review my notes one more time.
Trevor leads me back downstairs into another lounge – this one with with another kitchenette to the left and a couch facing a flat screen television over to the right. There are gold records hanging on the wall, and by the door is a glass display cooler packed with energy drinks. Beneath the flat screen is a small table with an assortment of books, including a Beatles biography and Dr Daniel J. Levitin’s tome on the neuroscience of music, This Is Your Brain On Music. Improbably, there is also a can of bear repellent.
I follow Trevor into the main studio, which he advises is the same room where the Jackson 5 recorded bubblegum blockbuster ABC, along with a number of other monumental recordings by artists like The Doors. Auspicious ghosts haunt this room. A three-man camera crew have assembled on the studio floor, where Slash’s other guitars are lined up in front of a row of Marshall amplifiers. Even with the power off, rock’n’roll courses through the room.
Everybody gives the guitars a reverential wide berth. To the left is a small room with large windows that look into the studio. The tiny room is lit by fairy lights strung across the ceiling, above stacks of monitors that could conceal a Trojan army. Over the door are the spray-painted words, ‘Slash’s Box’.
A number of drums lie disassembled across the room, one of which is adorned with charcoal grey Celtic knots. This is where drummer Brent Fitz earns his keep./o:p
The camera crew set up their shots and we repair to the kitchen, where Slash’s manager Jodi pounds away at her laptop. Jodi might well be one of the busiest people in Los Angeles. Her client is not only in the final stages of recording a hotly-anticipated album, but in the past three weeks he has participated in Velvet Revolver’s unexpected reunion show, recorded the intro music to the NFL conference championship game, and continues to field inquiries about the impending induction of Guns N’ Roses to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, a subject of which he is apparently quite weary.
Managing any of these affairs would tax one’s schedule, but Jodi’s got it all on her plate. While it might be understandable if she were a bit brusque with the scraggly journalist standing before her, she is downright pleasant and enormously accommodating.
We review the guidelines for the interview: one hour, max. Also, Slash is not yet ready to discuss the songs, track-by-track. Otherwise, we’re advised that the 60 minutes are fair game for whatever business we need to accomplish.
At this moment, the hallway door opens and in walks Slash: Ray Ban sunglasses on, black leather newsboy cap reining in his black mane and a black leather coat over a black button down shirt. Black jeans with leather swatches complete the outfit, confirming that, although he was born in Stoke-on-Trent, he has long been California-fied.
He walks into the kitchen and nods to the room. I extend a hand with an introduction.
“Hi. Slash,” he replies, delivering a steroidal grip and a vigorous shake. Then he’s off to tape his segment with the film crew.
Twenty minutes later, he reappears, coffee in one hand, bottle of water and iPhone in the other.
“We good?” he asks.
“Let’s do it,” I say, and the two of us walk down the hall and up to the lounge.
Hat and sunglasses still on, Slash ambles over to a sectional sofa and plops down. He screws his face at his phone and apologizes, explaining that he needs to quickly reply to an email. He has recently switched from Blackberry to the iPhone, and the text entry learning curve has not been as swift as he would like. He clarifies that he is not a guy who plays video games on his phone, although he does use Twitter.
I mention seeing a Tweet from Slash late the previous night that simply read: “Goosebumps say it fucking all.” Over 1.2 million Twitter followers were thusly apprised of Slash’s reaction to what he had just heard in the studio that evening.
I ask what he was referring to, and he puts down the iPhone and begins gushing about new vocal tracks from singer Myles Kennedy that have him well fired up. As he continues to talk, we flip on the recorder…
Your “goosebumps”… What caused them?
Eric Valentine sent me roughs from a couple of songs that Myles [Kennedy] had just sung, and they’re just fucking awesome. His performance is, like, exquisite. That’s the only word for it.
Was that the first time you’d heard those songs?
It was the first time I’d heard the finished vocal. When he’s in the studio singing, I don’t like to sit over anybody’s shoulder – I like to let them do their thing because I don’t like anybody sitting over my shoulder when I’m doing the guitars. So I don’t hear it until he feels like he’s finished, you know? Then I’ll hear it here [at the studio] or they’ll send it over to my house via email. I’ll listen to it and that’s it – we move on to the next one.
So you prefer to do your parts alone?
Well, this is the first time I’ve ever done this. I’ve always played live in the studio. We set the bass and drums up and everybody plays together. But I hate headphones, and it really affects my performance because it just sounds small. It’s not rock and roll with headphones on. You need fucking volume. You need to feel it through the floor and shit.
My M.O. has always been to play with the band to keep the energy together, and then re-record the guitars in the control room. On this record, we built a room in the studio – in the live room – where I can play with monitors instead of headphones. I can play really loud with the monitors on, but it doesn’t bleed into the drums and stuff.
So you’re in the control room…
No, no, I’m playing in the room with the band, but it’s in a little separate booth that I have these monitors in, and I play at fucking earbleed decibels. And we record that. Does that make sense? So what I’m playing live is kept for the record, because it still has more energy and more of an immediate feel than when you go in and re-do them in the control room, which is a much more controlled atomosphere. For me, I’m primarily a live player, so I try as hard as I can in the studio to simulate that feeling, but when you’re in the control room, it’s just hard. I mean, you play great, but you don’t play with that kind of abandon where you do when it’s kind of just ripping, you know? And raw.
So you’re feeding off of the other guys?
Well that’s how live situations work. It’s sort of the chemistry between the different guys, all coming together, and that produces a great fucking spontaneous performance.
You guys went old school on this – you’re going analogue…
Yeah, we did on the last one, too.
What do you prefer about the old school approach?
You know, people don’t realise it, but everybody’s so used to their iPods and digital at this point, that they just accept a thing for what it is. But if you were to listen to an analogue record by a rock’n’roll band, and listen to the same record recorded digitally, it’s night and day. It’s just a warmer, more saturated, real sound. It really captures what’s happening in front of the microphone.
With digital, it’s what it sounds like… It’s really crackly and hard and sort of abrasive, you know? And it’s cold-sounding.
You guys are all pros – this isn’t anyone’s first rodeo by any stretch – but do you feel any pressure doing analogue? Because you can’t go in and do the little cut and pastes as easily.
Well, I mean, fuck. That’s the whole thing you know? You’re supposed to be able to play that shit. So we go in and, like, in this situation, we spent the better part of making this record in pre-production, writing and rehearsing. Then we just come in here and blow it out, because we know the song. And so we just perform it, and if there’s a really amazing take but there’s a blatant mistake, and we really wanna keep the take – like we do sometimes three or four or sometimes six takes of a song – and if there’s one performance that’s amazing, but there’s one little thing that’s on another performance, you can edit that and put that in.
So we have those old school tricks, but it’s really about capturing the performance. It’s gotten to that point in modern music now, and I’m not talking about pop music for radio and rap music and any kind of DJ-oriented stuff… Digital’s fine for that. I have no issues with digital. But for a rock’n’roll band trying to capture a moment and trying to sound like what a rock’n’roll band should sound like, you can’t just go in there and play the drums here and have the guitars flown in from here, and then piece together a bass part, and sit there tweaking on ProTools on the guitar solo to get all the notes into place. That’s what a lot of people are doing nowadays and it sucks all the life out of it.
People don’t know any better at this point, because you listen, for the most part, to what’s contemporary. The majority of people don’t spend their time listening to old records, you know? They listen to what’s current and a lot of people don’t realize the difference. And it’s not like I’m trying to force that down anybody’s throat, but for me personally, I just don’t feel comfortable with the way the finished product sounds when you’re splicing a whole record digitally together.
I like the sound of as live a performance as possible – as cohesive a performance as possible. And I like the challenge of having to be able to play all the parts. To me, that’s normal. That’s part of the fun of it.
So did you write this record with the goal of being able to play all the songs live, as they sound on the record?
I write… [Pauses] You know, I sort of just do what I do. It’s not that I really think about it, but I do write songs to be performed live. I mean, I could orchestrate everything and make it really lush and complex, but then if you can’t reproduce that live without adding eight other guys on the stage, it’s not worth doing to me. So we just keep it raw.
When you start recording, is there room left for improvisation?
Well, the song is the song. There’s an arrangement that you work on and then every time you play it in that live scenario, you know what the chord changes are, but you dick around with different things as they come to you. So you might play it once and trip over a new idea, and then you incorporate that into the next time you play it, and then a new thing comes, and you just keep making shit up. You keep going until you get into sort of a groove.
But even having rehearsed all this stuff, there’s still room for new ideas to come in. Even if they’re not massive song-changing ideas, which sometimes they can be. But you gotta record it sometime [Laughs].
You work out all those bugs and you fucking sort of take a fucking rolling pin, and you sort of go through it until you weed out all of that stuff, like, “Oh, I’ve got a huge new idea!” You keep rehearsing until you finally get rid of all those and you finally come to a place where you’re comfortable. And even then, you record three to six takes of the song, and every single one’s got little different things in it.
What’s the sound that you were shooting for when you started?
Just an honest sound, you know? I’m not overly-ambitious or adventurous when it comes to, like, sonics. Get a real great drum tone, a good bass tone, a good guitar tone and play it. [Laughs] And have it sound as indicative of what went down as possible.
So what in your mind are the characteristics of a great rock song?
A great rock song? A great rock song should take you somewhere. It should put you in a mood. One of my favourite sayings at one point was “It should make you want to either fuck or fight,” you know? Or something.
It should have some emotional impact on you. And it should be played at high volume, and it should be, you know, rock’n’roll. It should be fun and bring out something in you that wasn’t on the surface before you listened to it.
‘Old school’ albums had themes to them. Is that the case with this record?
I don’t know. [Laughs] I don’t know. There’s no preconception of that. Like, I’ve been working on the album cover, and they’re, like, “Are you gonna name the record?” And I’m, like, “It’s my second solo record, so I have that in the bag, it’ll be the new Slash album, no matter what.” But you can’t know what the overall vibe of the whole record is until it’s finished. Then you can sit back and get a perspective on the complete body of work. So it’s hard.
There’s definitely no underlying theme to the album but the songs definitely have their own unique story to them – whatever the lyrics are about, and the sort of drive in the music. You know, a song sort of has its own energy and its own sort of direction. But as to what the whole record is about, as far as tacking a label on it, we’re not there yet.
So it’s not an album of triumph or redemption?
Well, I’ve thought about that. There is some triumphant thing to it. It started from the last solo record, when I was just doing this one-off project on my own and discovering myself. Because it was the first time I’d really done a solo record, where I brought in the people involved and had an idea of what I wanted to do and actually did it.
And then I had to tour it. I couldn’t conceive of making a record without doing a tour. It doesn’t make any fucking sense to me. I enjoy the recording process but it’s a lot of work, and it’s tedious and it’s slow. It’s a very controlled environment. And so you fucking break out and do a tour and all this fucking shit comes together live, you know, that’s the purpose to making a record, to me personally.
So I put a band together to do a tour. I put a band together with a bunch of people I didn’t know. And I live in LA and know everybody, musician-wise – almost everybody, as far as rock guys are concerned – what everybody sort of sounds like and what their trip is, and I ended up with these guys that I didn’t know. There was a magic thing that happened instantaneously, a very sort of spontaneous chemistry that happened. I took that on the road to support that record and sort of discovered that this band was the real deal. And I had a fucking blast, doing this year-and-a-half tour, like, six nights a week, and playing in every fucking country, just about. I just… I can’t complain about any of it. Which is, for me, if you know anything about my history, a shot in the arm, you know?
Along the way I discovered that if I was going to make another record, this is who I would do it with. So I started writing on the road. When the tour was over, I got together with [drummer] Brent [Fitz]. And I’d been sending material to Myles, so whether we were on the road together or whether he was out with Alter Bridge, I was always sending him new stuff, and if something sparked his interest, then he could write something and send it back to me, and we got sort of a nucleus of songs like that.
When the tour was over for me, and for the band, Brent and Todd [Kerns, bassist] and I got together and started working out some rough ideas, you know, as a three-piece. And then Myles got off the road and we started working out the songs. Now we’ve arrived at this uniquely original thing, our own record together – written and arranged by us – and so it is sort of a triumphant thing, cos it’s very cool.
Was it important to you to create music together as a group?
I think that the way that it works for me is that I like to sort of come up with an idea, and put together the subsequent ideas that go along with that original idea – where it seems to wanna go. I think I’m a good composer. I’m good at putting musical parts together, but I’m not what you’d call the quintessential songwriter. I don’t sing.
I don’t even like to hum to myself, alright? So you couldn’t call me a songwriter, but I can put together a piece of music that harmonically sounds pleasant. But somebody’s gotta sing it, and that’s what’s gonna make it into a song.
And so I just put these ideas together and send them to Myles, and if he hears something, then that’s what inspires the arrangement and all that, putting vocals on it. And then he’s a writer as well, so he might have his idea and we might put those together and work it out with Brent and Todd.
So I mean, I like working in a group situation. In my solo world, it’s nice because whatever idea I have, I get to sort of exercise it and see where it goes, and not have a bunch of guys going “Nahhh…” Which is what a band really does. In my experiences, you put something out there and it either flies or it doesn’t. In this situation, I can pick and choose whether it flies or not.
So some stuff might not necessarily be the best idea, but I tried my hardest… (laughs) You know? But I take the risk of falling flat on my face or fucking soaring, you know? I don’t have anybody else dictating whether or not it’s gonna work.
So this is freedom for you. Mmm hmm. It’s definitely a liberating experience. I know the other guys have been around and they have their own styles, but it sounds like Myles is your creative counterpart in the band – is that fair? Yeah, he’s definitely my like… “Muse” is such a weird word… But yeah, he’s the guy that I’m handing the ideas to and looking to do this. So what about his style works for you? He’s just… Myles is interesting because he’s not the kind of singer that… I mean, he’s not a raspy, hardcore, heavy dude. He’s really, really melodic, but he’s so gifted, and the way he sings is so musical that it’s very inspiring because he’s got this amazing range and this sense of melody and this, that and the other, and overall he’s just a great musician. And he’s a great guitar player. So he sort of takes what I do, which is usually pretty abrasive and in your face and hard rock, and he gives it a sort of levity. He’s an interesting counterpart for me. When you’re coming up with riffs – heavy stuff – are his vocals in the back of your head, or can you conceive a tune without thinking about the other guys? Well, I make up stuff initially just for myself. You know, I’ll think this is a cool hook, and as I start to flesh it out, I’ll sort of think of the piece with Myles in mind, but I don’t know what he’s going to come up with. A lot of times he’ll come up with something that I’d never in a million years think of, you know? So it’s always a crap shoot. But I’ve never heard Myles come up with anything bad. Does he have discretion and freedom with the lyrics? Can he pretty much do what he wants? Yeah. We work out the music and we rehearse the stuff and I sort of know where it’s going. But he’s pretty quiet in rehearsal. I sort of hear the basic melodies and we’ll sit together, sometimes at my house – everybody’s living at my house right now – and he’ll play me an idea and see if I like it or not. But he has pretty much free reign to do his thing. When I hear it after the fact, if there’s an idea or something that I have, then I’ll suggest it, but he’s pretty much captain of his own ship. And you have no problem giving creative power to the other guys? No. You sort of know, when you hook up with musicians for a long term kind of thing, it’s basically based on the confidence that they know what they’re doing. So unless I have a very specific bass part or a very specific drum part in mind, I tell those guys, “Here’s the idea. Do what you want with how you want to play it.” And I know these guys are fucking amazing, awesome rock guys, so they’ll come up with what they come up with and it’ll work, you know? There’s a quote that you gave some time ago, when you looked at some old GN’R footage, you said that you saw “hunger and attitude.” What do you see when you’re playing with these guys? It’s a very similar kind of thing: “hunger and attitude.” It’s like, Guns N’ Roses was a unique thing unto itself – especially the first few years, where it was really just fucking starving and out there – but that desire to go out and play, and that desire to fucking do an amazing job and fucking kick ass and everything, that’s very prevalent in this band, which is why it’s been a lot of fun. Different band, but there’s a similarity in that sort of attitude and vibe. I know we’re not going to be going through tracks at this point… (laughs) I’d love to be at that point where we could go through the record… There are three tunes you guys have talked about… You haven’t heard those three songs? No. Not yet. Hmmm… maybe I can get ‘em to play them for you. Halo and Standing In The Sun and Bad Rain were short, simple, arranged songs that were really easy to do. As soon as we got out of rehearsal, we came in here and started doing some rehearsal in here – some pre-production in here – and we put those songs together and decided to record those because they needed the least amount of fucking busy work. So they’re simple arrangements and whatnot, and Myles was going on the road, so we wanted to get those three songs together to get an idea of what we’re doing. And so we recorded those and while Myles was on the road we did pre-production on the other 12 songs, and then Myles came in and we started really hashing out the details.
What’s [producer Eric Valentine] like to work with?
Oh, Eric’s great. I was given a box of CDs from a multitude of producers to listen to, to see if there was anybody that I was interested in working with. Cos I didn’t want to work with anyone that I’d already worked with. In there were three completely different albums from this one guy, and that was Eric.
The key record out of those three – because it was a very eclectic few records that he was involved with in this box – was Songs For The Deaf, by Queens Of The Stone Age. It’s definitely the best produced record – the best sonically put-together Queens record. And so I thought, “This guy’s interesting…”
At that time I was working on this crazy fucking concept – which is totally intact in my mind – and it’s only now that I look back at how crazy it was. Like, I’ve got all this music, I’ve got all these different song ideas – some are complete arrangements, some are three parts and everything in between – and I’m going to have these different singers that I’ve already thought of sing on all these songs. I’m going to get together and work out the arrangements, and let’s go make a record. Which is a really foreign concept.
So I had these demos together that I’d made at my friend’s house, and I had Eric come down and we met, and I gave him all this material. And he totally got it.
So he was integral to me being able to get that first record together, because I had to call the artists personally. Some of them I knew really well and some I didn’t know at all, and, like I said, everything in between – pseudo-relationships or whatever – and I had to call them up and ask them if they want to play on a piece of music, then send it to them, get their response, then hook up with them. And that was for, like, 20-some odd songs. And once I established with all the different artists that yes, we were gonna do this, I sat down and worked the songs out.
Then I had them come in here – I hired Josh Freese and Chris Chaney as the rhythm section – and we’d work up the song at noon and have the song recorded, instrumentally by five or six o’clock. And then have the singer drive in or fly in from wherever they came from and sing it the next day, and that was how the whole record went over a long period of time.
Anyway, he had the wherewithal to make it such an easy process. It could have been a huge fucking disaster, but we pulled it off. And he just gets great fucking drum sounds, he gets great guitar sounds and he’s really, really intelligent about pretty much anything when it comes to pretty much anything. The guy’s a rocket scientist.
But from a musical point of view, like heart and soul, and from a technical point of view, he’s really, really fucking brilliant. We get along great because whenever he has an idea, it’s already crossed my mind, and vice versa. So we just work really well together.
A lot of producers nudge the artist towards a new perspective on the music or their own playing. Has he done that with you at all, or does he bring out what’s already there?
He just basically captures what’s already there, but if he has an idea or if he hears something, he’ll tell me. It’s not like he’s trying to impose his own ‘producer’ angle and take it into a whole different direction, or put his own big stamp on it.
But he definitely keeps everything in tune and if he has an idea – if something doesn’t seem to work for him or is bugging him – he’ll let me know. As things pop up here and there, it’s great, because he’s not somebody that I feel is trying to push anything on me, you know? It’s for the benefit of what we’re doing./o:p
Is there anything that you learned from the first solo record that has made this one a better process for you?
When you work with people for an extended period of time, you start to learn how they think and how they hear things and so on. And so the benefit of having the first experience is that you’re more familiar with the terrain the second time around. And that’s a whole bunch of different bits and pieces. I couldn’t really tell you or define one big thing that I learned from one experience to the next, but I’ve been sharpening my tools, ever since I first started, about how to produce a record and how to record it and all that kind of stuff. And it’s always been based on the same principle, which is rock’n’roll, live – capture it, you know?
The last one I did was a pretty unique experience under the circumstances, and so I subconsciously learned a lot, for sure. There were a couple of things that I picked up along the way, and I think I’ve subconsciously put that into the next project.
If you’re recording a take and, say, three quarters through someone misses something, given the way that you’re working , do you all go back and do another take?
Yeah, the way we do it is if somebody makes a mistake or misses a part, it’s usually not all four of us [Laughs], so we just keep playing. It’s sort of a speed bump, and then we’ll go back and play it again, and we’ll keep playing until that doesn’t happen.
You mentioned the artwork. So you’re involved with that as well?
I’m always involved with the art process.
What do you enjoy about that?
That’s what I did before I started playing guitar, besides racing bikes and stuff. I was raised in an artistic family, where everyone was an illustrator or a painter or whatever, so that was my talent when I was a kid. I think I enjoyed it, and I still do it, but it was something I took for granted. It interested me, but not enough to make a career out of it. So it’s always been something that I’ve had in my back pocket to keep me occupied or if I get inspired to use it, especially in a band when we needed flyers or posters.
So I’ve had something to do with the artistic element of every band that I’ve been in. I’ve always been there for that. So on this one I designed the album cover concept and I’m working with a guy who does album covers…
Yeah, how’d you know?
Just a little homework.
What did you like about him?
He was the same as with producers – they gave me a list of different guys who do this and I went on all their different websites and I just liked his body of work. It spoke to the idea that I had in my mind of what I wanted to do for the cover of the new solo album.
So once the album’s released, then what?
Well we’re booking the tour right now. The album comes out in May, and we’ll start touring in May, same as I did last time, trying to play in as many places – especially places I haven’t played – as possible.
It’s great because I’m sort of in control of that. Agents and promoters and that stuff very much dictate where you can and can’t play, but being in a band, collectively you have to agree that you all want to go here or there, so a lot of places get missed. But in this situation, all the guys love wherever. So if we can play there, and there’s an audience, then we should go.
There’s a lot of places that get overlooked all the time, so we’re trying to sort of get that all together and hit as many places as we can. I’ve never been to South Africa. I’ve never played in South Africa, I’ve never played in India, you know? There’s a lot of different cities in Europe where I haven’t been or where I haven’t been in a really long time. So we want to just hit some of these not necessarily obscure, but places that aren’t on the beaten path.
Any idea how long you’ll be out there?
We’re slated for a year, so that’s a start.
That’s a good long tour. I know this might be jumping the gun, what with you just finishing work on the second one, but do you think there’s going to be a third album?
I would imagine so, you know? We had a really good time making this last one. The way it is, my schedule’s totally wrapped up in this right now. But when we get done, Myles has his Alter Bridge commitments and so on and so forth, so everybody’s gotta do what they gotta do, and then if we can all reconvene at the right time and make another one, then yeah.
Is it safe to say that this looks like your permanent solo band?
Yeah, right now it totally does. I don’t see any reason why anything would change. All these guys are great.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Exactly. That’s always been my motto. People are always trying to force the fucking square peg into the round hole…
Let’s talk football. You played the Superbowl halftime show with Fergie in February 2011. What was that like?
That was a fucking experience. That was awesome. The Black Eyed Peas are friends of mine. I’ve known them for awhile, and I love Fergie to death, and I love Will… I love all those guys. But they come from a musical thing that people don’t… I mean, what I do and what they do are two completely different sides of the fence. So when they asked me – Fergie is a great fucking rock singer – so when they asked me to do it with her in front of all those fucking people, I figured I was taking a little bit of a risk. But because they’re friends of mine and because it was the Superbowl I figured, “Eh, I’ll do it.”
I was on tour with Ozzy at the time, so it was fucking crazy. I had to fly there in the winter, but to be a part of that fucking production is such an experience. It’s unreal. And for eight minutes of performance time!
With over a hundred million people watching…
You don’t think about the hundred million people watching, though./o:p
You just think about what’s going on in the moment /o:pin front of you. If you thought about a hundred million people and if you could imagine what that looked like, it would be really intimidating.
You did the NFC Championship [an NFL semi-final playoff game that decides which team will be playing in the Superbowl] this year, too. How did that happen?
A friend of mine – an engineer that I worked with in the Guns days – called me up. He works for FOX, and has been there for the last 13 years or something, and he asked me if I wanted to play the FOX theme for the playoffs. And they have this whole little special thing, and it turned out to be more involved than it initially sounded.
But it was fun to do. I walked into the studio one night after I left here and I jammed on some guitar and did the FOX theme, and the following week went out to the Rose Bowl and stood in the freezing cold in the middle of the fucking stadium there and played along to it and they filmed it and incorporated it into the segment. Which I missed!
It was cool.
Yeah, I was watching the fucking other game. I just think that rock’n’roll and football fit together great.
Who’s gonna win the Superbowl?
Fuck… Well, with the Green Bay Packers out… I couldn’t believe that. They must’ve choked or something. Anyway, now that it’s the Giants and New England, I think probably because Eddie Trunk’s a buddy of mine and he really, really wants his Giants to win… because I’m not really with either one, I’ll go with the Giants. [The Giants won, 37-20!]
**One final question, because it’s on everybody’s mind lately… How did it feel to be inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame? **
You know, it’s weird. When the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame came up for the first time, as far as Guns’ involvement is concerned, it was suggested to me in 2005 or something… No, 2007, that Guns was going to be there. It was when we were there with Velvet Revolver, doing the Van Halen induction. It was too big a thing for me to put my head around, but it did put a little thing in my head.
So when the time finally came that we were gonna be nominated, I was like, “Cool.” That, in itself, was nice – that we’re eligible and we’re actually nominated, great. Then I put it out of my mind. When we actually got inducted, you know, then it became more of a reality.
But it’s weird, because it’s 25 years since the band came out and so little has happened over the last 20 years. I mean, from ’87 until ’96 I was involved, and then from ’96 until now I haven’t had any real ‘whatever’ for it. So it’s hard to really appreciate it, but at the same time you’re like, “What the fuck is the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame anyway?” It’s weird – you think about different accolades that you get, and there’s academies involved, but who is it that dictates what’s good and not good?
Because there are so many that haven’t made it into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame that should be, you start to think of this committee of people… I know a lot of them – they’re bigwigs and they’ve invented this society of theirs where they decide who’s eligible to be in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, which they made up. You know what I mean? So it’s very strange. At the same time, I don’t mean any disrespect. I’m honored by it, but I’m just not sure how to accept it.
Do you have any preference over how it all might go down?
No. Not really. With GN’R, even if there was a preference, you never really know what’s gonna happen.
As the conversation starts to wind down, Jodi appears at the head of the stairs and politely advises that we have arrived at the 60 minute mark. I finish up my final questions, and as I stand to begin packing up the recording equipment, Slash disappears down the stairs before I can properly thank him for his time.
The sun is now spilling in through a high window overlooking the upstairs kitchen, and warm sunlight splashes over the couch and across the room, where an acoustic guitar is propped up against the wall. A yellow legal pad thick with notes sits on the table beside a well-worn guitar pick. In a little while, Myles Kennedy will be sat here, working out more lyrics for the final push. As I pack my notes into my bag, I hear my name called from downstairs. It’s Slash – he wants me to come downstairs. And I’m not one for making people wait…
Downstairs in the kitchen, Slash is punching text into his phone while Jodi sits on the couch catching up on her email.
“They’re getting the stuff ready for you to hear the tunes,” Slash tells us, gesturing towards the control room.
As we wait, we chat about the NFL some more. The conference championships have just decided the two teams that will fight it out in the Superbowl. Slash says that while he is not an avid football guy by any stretch, he tends to follow Wisconsin’s Green Bay Packers, whose playoffs were cut short with an unthinkable collapse against the New York Giants. His team now out of contention, he says that while he’s not personally invested in the Superbowl, because his friend Eddie Trunk is such a ferocious Giants fan, he’ll throw his weight behind them.
I express grave concern in this selection, advising that I’m from New England and that while Eddie Trunk is indeed a peach of a guy, the New England Patriots are a team far more deserving of the title.
Slash chuckles and acknowledges that in truth, he’s fine no matter who wins.
“We’re ready,” calls the voice down the hall.
Slash leads me into the control room. Like most control rooms, it is dominated by a sound board the size of a commercial airplane wing. Unlike most control rooms, this sound board was built by Eric Valentine. In fact, he has built two such boards, both of which are in this studio.
The soundboard faces a closed circuit TV hanging from the wall, with speakers on either side of it that would eclipse a Mini Cooper. Behind the soundboard is a couch; the floor is a tangle of wires, cables, pens and guitar picks.
Eric Valentine, a tall, quiet guy with an easy smile, stands to the side behind a laptop. He welcomes me in and I move towards the couch.
“No, no – sit here, in the chair,” Valentine advises, pointing to the producer’s chair in front of the soundboard. “You’ll hear it better from here.”
Slash then excuses himself, stating that he hates sitting down and reminding me that just as he hates people looking over his shoulder in the studio, he prefers that I hear the cuts without him looming over the experience. With that, he’s gone.
Valentine prepares to cue up the first track, after cautioning that the volume is paint-peelingly loud and, should I find myself in distress, the volume knob is the gigantic black one on the soundboard in front of me.
With that, the opening notes of Halo explode through the room. It is majestic.
There is something about Slash’s style that is inimitably his own. It is more than the blues scale, but not quite heavy metal. It is Slash’s own flavour of rock’n’roll. The deafening volume is perfect because, as Slash has pointed out, rock’n’roll is best served up with plenty of volume.
Three finished tracks are unleashed, all of which sound dirty, muscular and straight-up awesome. Kennedy’s vocals are astonishingly potent, fitting perfectly with the speeding ticket-inducing jams pouring forth. Of course, Slash’s trademark nasty, bluesy melodies are all over these songs, driven by a thunderous rhythm section.
Even Valentine, who has heard these songs hundreds of times, cannot help but grin and bob his head as the music cascades through the tiny control room. He looks like he’s hearing the songs for the very first time, which gives one an idea of how excited Slash and his team are for the release.
Back in the kitchen, Slash is looking over a take-out menu while one of the studio guys patiently waits for the order. We chat about the songs, which Slash is clearly excited to get into the ears of the public. Indeed if these three songs are representative of the balance of the album, then we are standing at ground zero of a massive release.
Goodbyes are exchanged and Slash stands up and extends his hand. This time I’m prepared for the vice- like grip. He affably inquires when the next meet-up will be. I’m not sure, but if it means hearing more tracks, then the sooner the better.
On the way out the door, walking past the guitar cases, I peer into Trevor’s office, where three black T-shirted guys are goofing around and laughing easily. The band has just arrived to begin work for the day. Introductions are made, and handshakes are exchanged.
These guys may have been through this once before, but there’s something very different about this album, and everyone seems to know it. You can see it in the sly smiles tugging at the corner of everyone’s lips. The album will be out before they know it, and then they’re off to see the world again – maybe even places like South Africa and India. The year ahead will be unlike anything any of them – including Slash – has ever experienced.
Outside in the alley, there is no sign that only feet away, what could be one of the decade’s biggest musical statements is being produced. Out here it’s just the dumpsters and graffiti. But only a few metres away, a group of men are preparing to step onto the tail of a comet./o:p