Skip to main content

Ex-Guns N' Roses man exposes the madness of the Chinese Democracy era: "The chaos never died"

GN'R 2002
(Image credit: Gie Knaeps/Getty Images)

When session drummer extraordinaire Josh Freese quit Guns N' Roses in 1999 to hook up with Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel in A Perfect Circle, guitarist Buckethead recommended his former bandmate Bryan 'Brain' Mantia to Axl Rose as a potential replacement. The Californian drummer would go on to spend six years in GN'R, re-recording all Freese's parts on what became 2008's Chinese Democracy album, and experiencing all the chaos and drama which came hand-in-hand with sharing studios and stages with the mercurial Rose.

Opening up about his stint with the LA hard rock legends in a new interview with Rolling Stone, Mantia says "It was all kind of this rollercoaster" and adds "I totally felt like the chaos never died."

"I wasn’t a fan of the music so much," the drummer confesses, "I was just a fan of Axl and his vibe... I saw this video where Axl was yelling at the audience, 'Hey, can someone get that guy? Fix that!? No? Fuck it! I’ll fix it.' And he dives into the audience. I was like, 'Holy shit, this guy is rad'."

Asked for his memories of GN'R's incident-packed 2002 US tour, which saw riots and no-shows, Mantia says "I was into it."

"I joined the band because of that attitude and because of the aura that was like Led Zeppelin," he tells writer Andy Greene. "I loved it. Everyone else was sitting there, freaking out, like, 'Oh my God. Axl is two hours late!' I was sitting there eating an ice cream like, 'Who cares? Maybe we won’t even play! That’s even better! As long as the money comes, who gives a shit?' I totally felt like the chaos never died. I was so into the vibe of that. He might have been brilliant. He might have freaked out onstage. I was into it."

"Each tour had their own little thing. They all had chaos. Every three days, you never know what was going to happen. We had some of the best shows, some of the worst shows. It was all kind of this rollercoaster. That kept it interesting to me."

"And Axl would give everything into that show," the drummer notes. "I’ve never seen that fuckin’ dude wimp out ever."

Sharing his personal memories of the recording of Chinese Democracy, Mantia seems highly amused by the chaos of the sessions, which were reputed to have cost a staggering $13 million.

"I think I have the record for the drums being set up the longest at [Los Angeles recording studio] the Village," he tells Rolling Stone. "That’s where they did Tusk and all the Fleetwood Mac albums. I think my drums were literally set up there for about four years. They were set up, ready to play. I did the Tom Waits tour and Real Gone during that. And it just kept going. I’d get the call.

"I just loved the fact that I was in Guns, but I was doing other things, like taking golf lessons every day and learning computers and programming and orchestration and music theory. And then you get a call like, 'Hey, Axl needs you.' I was like, 'This is the closest I’m going to get to the Zeppelin thing. Who gives a fuck? Make it go forever. This is the coolest thing, that it took 10 years'."

For the full, highly entertaining interview with Bryan Mantia, visit RollingStone.com

Paul Brannigan
Paul Brannigan

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.