The “Library Room” at Sphere Studios in Hollywood is an enormous space, instruments carefully stored while one side is stacked wall to wall, floor to ceiling with dusty hardcover books. The studio is gorgeous — aesthetically gleaming and technologically state-of-the-art. The contrast between the very-now equipment and the old books is a fascinating one.
It makes for the perfect venue for an interview with Slash. The guitarist best known for his work with Guns N' Roses is famously well-read, his laid-back demeanor belying the fact that there's a lot going on behind the mirrored sunglasses he rarely takes off. Former Guns drummer Steven Adler swears that he's a genius. Myles Kennedy, vocalist with Slash's current solo project, describes him as a “cerebral cat.” Perhaps most tellingly, Duff McKagan, the musician who has worked with Slash more than anyone else thanks to their shared GNR and Velvet Revolver endeavors, refers to his old friend as a “solid motherfucker.”
It's a gorgeous afternoon in Hollywood when the man born Saul Hudson in England bounds into the Library Room for this interview, a beaming smile etched on his face. We've never met face-to-face before but he welcomes us like an old friend, a casual comment about the Misfits shirt we're sporting leading to a brief chat about the punk legends' recent reunion shows and Slash's regret at missing them because of his own mega-reunion tour.
Instantly the conversation feels easy, and only an eventual holler from his publicist halts it. Later, when Slash has gone away and thought about the interview, he makes a phone call to elaborate on something that he thought he might have brushed over a little too nonchalantly for his own liking. He was needlessly fretting — his original answers were carefully considered, intelligent and honest. But it speaks volumes that he puts that much time and energy into articulating what he wants to get across. That's rare for an artist of Slash's stature.
In person, the fact that Slash is such effortless company sits interestingly alongside the nagging feeling that he's also larger than life. That's a tough balance to pull off — Iggy Pop is one of very few examples we can think of. Slash is somehow simultaneously one of the coolest motherfuckers on the planet and one of the most humble.
He's also blessed with an enviable work ethic. He could have been forgiven for taking a break between stints of the ongoing Guns N' Roses Not in This Lifetime tour. The band have, after all, been playing 2½-hour sets each night. Any opportunity to stop and breathe would, you might think, be embraced. Not so — at the age of 53, the ever-youthful Slash is a ball of creative energy. So somehow, during holidays and the like, he found time to record Living the Dream, his fourth solo album and third with Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators, due for release on Sept. 21.
“We [Guns N' Roses] did an arena run in the U.S., which finished after November, so we had most of December off for Christmas,” Slash says. “We were off from January to May, so let's go and do this record. I started rehearsals for this last year's run [with Guns] in May. Some of the ideas for the [solo] songs, I had written and actually had some preproduction back in 2015, and then the Guns thing happened and everything stopped. We revisited some of those songs, which actually took on a new life a couple of years later. And then I wrote a bunch of new stuff over Christmas and in January.”
It's a phenomenal achievement, because the album doesn't feel in any way like a rush job, a shoehorned obligation between the undeniable magnitude of the “big gig.” Rather, it works on a number of levels: It's a statement that the man himself has lost none of his artistic spirit, his creative drive and, even in his cleaner 50s, his famed rock & roll 'tude; it's evidence that this group of musicians (with Kennedy, bassist Todd Kerns, drummer Brent Fitz and guitarist Frank Sidoris) have evolved into a finely tuned machine; and it just might be the best full-length record that Slash has been involved with since the Use Your Illusions in '91.
That's all particularly impressive when considering that he's been switching between two bands — touring with Guns' McKagan, Axl Rose, Richard Fortus, Frank Ferrer, Dizzy Reed and Melissa Reese, and then jumping into the studio with the Conspirators. The guitarist says that kind of “personnel gymnastics” is the payoff for years of experience, including session work, with a lot of different musicians.
“He has a characteristic that few have
“I've learned how to adapt to different situations in the moment,” Slash says. “You don't have a lot of time to fuck around when you're doing somebody else's sessions, or if somebody's coming in to work on your thing and he's only there for a day. You just learn how to do that. The Conspirators guys, I've been working with from 2010 until 2015-16, and then got back together with them in 2018. We have a certain natural chemistry that we fall into, and Guns has its own thing that became immediately apparent the first day of rehearsal back in 2016. So it makes it easier to fall into it, given the amount of experience. But you also learn to do it quickly — you learn how to get up onstage and jam with somebody on a regular basis, or just do sessions. You're pliable.”
It was in 2010 — two years after the dissolution of Velvet Revolver, eight years after the end of the Slash's Snakepit band and 14 years after he left Guns N' Roses in acrimonious circumstances — that Slash released his first, self-titled solo album. That record saw him working with a variety of vocalists, names as prestigious as Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Chris Cornell, Iggy Pop and Ian Astbury, as well as the likes of Fergie, Adam Levine and Kid Rock. Only one singer got to appear on two songs, and that was Alterbridge frontman Myles Kennedy.
“He's a really laid-back, easygoing, unassuming, no airs, no rock star attitude, kind of guy,” Slash says. “I took to him immediately, and we recorded the studio version of 'Starlight.' He just was great. I asked him if he would do the other piece of music, which was a song called 'Back From Cali.' Having done that, he went back to Spokane, and I'm like, I've got to figure out how to do a tour for this record. There's no way I'm going to be able to get all these people to go out on the road. So who could sing this record, Guns stuff, Velvet, Snakepit, all that shit? That guy Myles could do it. I knew he was in Alterbridge and didn't have high expectations that he would do it, but I called him up anyway and he surprised me, said he'd love to.”
Kennedy recalls that, prior to the inclusion of the late, great Scott Weiland, he had been asked to throw his hat into the ring for the Velvet Revolver vocalist position, but that didn't work out. But great things come to those that wait, and his two tracks on that solo album led to three full albums as “Slash with Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators.”
“As a player, I think that he's got something extremely unique,” Kennedy says. “He has a characteristic that few have, which is that you can hear Slash play one note, and you know it's Slash. It's the same thing with B.B. King when he was alive. The sound of that vibrato, the way he attacks the string, you know it's him. That to me is the most telling sign of a truly great musician. He's one of the best rock & roll players, period. I've felt that way for a long time, especially working with him and seeing that he has almost an endless well of ideas, so that's definitely inspiring.”
In 2012, the same year as the first of Kennedy's full albums with Slash, Apocalyptic Love, Guns N' Roses was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Axl Rose refused to be involved in any performance, but Slash, McKagan, Gilby Clarke, Steven Adler and Matt Sorum showed up, joined by Kennedy. The singer took that responsibility very seriously.
“Initially, the magnitude of that led me to decline the invitation,” Kennedy says. “I remember them talking about it, midweek prior to when that happened. Those are impossible shoes to fill, so at first I didn't do it. The more I thought about it, about them accepting the award and not being able to play, I thought I'd give it my best shot. I was just happy that they were able to not just get the award but also play some songs. People seemed to be happy and, from my standpoint, it was just the right thing to do. It wasn't easy by any stretch of the imagination.”
After three albums, the songwriting relationship between Slash and Kennedy has evolved into something that, based on the trust that has organically built up between them, is remarkably seamless.
“I'll start the music part, and then he'll start coming up with the melodies and then the words,” Slash says. “To give credit where credit's due, when I come up with an idea, it's really the input from Todd, Brent and even Frank on this record. They just do with it what they will. Sometimes I might have a bass line or a drum idea. Maybe another guitar part. But for the most part, they just make up their own stuff.”
That chemistry is evident from the first note of Living the Dream. There's also a genuine hunger, a raw energy, on display on this album that is reminiscent of Guns' classic Appetite for Destruction. Even opener “The Call of the Wild” has a hint of “Welcome to the Jungle” about it. Not that Slash is trying to ape his heyday in any way; rather, it's proof that he's champing at the bit, even now, to create snarling, hard-hitting rock & roll.
“I would say that, going in to make this record, we were eager to get back together, because we had been apart for obviously a year and a half,” Slash says. “Maybe that plays into it. We also did it at this little studio that I put together, where it was 'our place.' We could just go in there and we didn't have to block out time or any of that kind of shit. It was our room to do what we wanted with, so there was a lot of comfort there. It was tiny but fun. We were just having a good time.”
Slash, with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, is about to embark on a monthlong tour for Living the Dream, kicking off at the Whisky A Go-Go on Sept. 13. Bearing in mind the fact that Guns N' Roses have been playing some of the biggest arenas, stadiums and festivals in the world, the Whisky (an old haunt for Slash, of course) will provide quite the intimate setting.
“I'm looking forward to playing in intimate spots, because I've been playing stadiums for literally two years now,” he says. “It's nice to change it up. Normally, I would say that I like to play smaller venues as opposed to stadiums, but this last Guns tour has proved to me that you can make a stadium into a much more personal event, if the people really fucking dig you. It's an interesting thing. We did stadiums back in the day, but the crowds this time around were really off the hook, across the board, from every country. But that said, I'm looking forward to going in and doing these little theaters with the Conspirators because it's just going to be fucking fun. It's very raw and everybody's on a small stage — it's just primal.”
In the past, this band have performed a hefty number of GNR songs in the set but, now that the guitarist is back in his old band, he says that won't necessarily be the case. He's getting those songs out of his system with Axl and Co., so he can focus on his solo material here. Maybe there will be a couple, he says. To keep the crowd happy. Perhaps one Velvet Revolver song, and one by Snakepit. But that's all.
Keeping the people happy isn't a responsibility that Slash takes lightly, but it's become increasingly complicated. The music industry climate of today is very different when compared to that which existed when Slash was originally a member of Guns N' Roses. It has truly changed beyond all recognition, and there's not a lot that the musicians and labels can do about it other than knuckle down and adapt. Slash started his own label, Snakepit Records, in 2010 as a vehicle for his own music.
“I don't want to sign on to a big major,” he says. “I just started my own label, and I have majors distribute. That works great for me — I'm in control and my own boss. I don't have to pay everything I make to somebody else. It's a crazy business right now, especially for up-and-coming rock bands.”
Back in the Napster days, Metallica's Lars Ulrich (a friend of Slash's) caught a lot of shit for warning the world that free music would spell the death of the music industry, but he was scarily on-point. He genuinely doesn't get enough for credit for calling it, in fact.
“All the warning signs were there, and the record business didn't want to hear it,” Slash says. “At this point, you've got your big commercial artists that are in your sort of upper echelon of Top 40 that the labels pay out these massive advances to, and they get their money back in every way possible. Then you have other artists that, if they don't conform to the Top 40 standard, they've got one shot. If they don't make it, they're out. There's no A&R people, there's no one going out to all the venues looking for new talent to develop. All things considered, even with Guns N' Roses, there was the nucleus of a great group or a great artist that needed to hone in their skills and put out one, two, even three records before they really fucking hit, but there was promise and they saw that and they had the vision. That just doesn't exist anymore.”
That brings us neatly to the subject of Guns N' Roses, who will kick off the next leg of their international tour in November. Slash is fairly confident that the band will continue as a working entity for the foreseeable future, saying, “I feel pretty optimistic that we'll get something going sooner than later.” He stops short of confirming there will be a new record, but he does so with a twinkle in his eye.
New GNR music featuring Slash plus McKagan would inevitably get a lot of fans excited. After all, during his first stint, Slash's top hat was as intrinsically linked with the band as Axl's screech, hard partying and late start times. And up until his departure, it appeared that Slash was beloved by his bandmates. That's a trend that would continue later.
“Slash is six months and one day younger than me,” says classic-era drummer Steven Adler. “I met him in eighth grade. He is probably one of the nicest, sweetest, smartest guys I've ever met. I love and adore him, and he means the entire universe to me. I'm sad that I'm not working with him. All I ever wanted to do was work with him. I know when we first met at junior high school, and he came over to my grandmother's house, and I showed him my guitar that my grandmother gave me, he asked if he could borrow it. Within one week, he was playing songs. That's how smart and talented he is.”
“Slash and I seemed to play well together,” says Gilby Clarke, who joined GNR in time for the Use Your Illusion tour, replacing Izzy Stradlin. “The only thing I found odd was that we were both Les Paul, Marshall guys. Sometimes when we would hit a big money chord onstage, I couldn't tell who did it. When I switched to Vox AC30 amps, I think it helped me define my sound within the band. We carried that on to Slash's Snakepit and my solo record following the GNR tour. Years later, in the YouTube era, I found our 'Wild Horses' solo bit from the Live in Tokyo videos. I think that says it all of how we played together. I don't remember ever rehearsing that. I'm pretty sure we went out one night and just jammed it.”
Alice In Chains bassist Mike Inez played on the first Slash's Snakepit album, It's Five O'Clock Somewhere, and he refers to the guitarist as his “brother.”
“With Slash, he's a great lead player but he has a lot of funk groove in his playing,” Inez says. “A lot of time, the Marshall amps mask his feel a little bit, but he has a pocket and a groove that's really special. Between me, Matt Sorum, Gilby Clarke and him, we had a really good thing — it was easy to track with Slash and Mike Clink on the boards.”
McKagan says not only is Slash one of the all-time guitar greats but he's also extremely shy and modest.
“Slash is a man of few words,” he says. “He doesn't really need to talk, but it all comes out. I have played with him for a long time, and sometimes that's the only way we communicate. I don't know where it comes from with him, he won't even talk about it. We've been through so much together, ups and downs and sideways. We've stayed in a trusting place. I know if something happens with one of my kids, I can call him and he'll be there. I could write a book on that fucking guy. But then I could just use two words — badass motherfucker.”
Anyone who has caught Slash and Duff back with Guns N' Roses on the recent tour knows how special this band can be. Those pointing out that Stradlin and Adler (or at least Sorum) are missed have a solid point, but Richard Fortus and Frank Ferrer are undeniably doing a great job, after years with the Slash-and-Duff–less version of the group. They might not be the “most dangerous band in the world” anymore — Axl is getting up onstage on time night after night. But they're a hard-hitting, monstrous rock & roll band again. It has surprised fans and critics, however, just how many songs from Chinese Democracy, the album Axl's GNR recorded minus Slash and Duff, have been in the set.
“They're good songs, but they're different guitar playing–wise, obviously,” Slash says. “It was fun to do. I think that was really interesting for me. All things considered, I know how 'Paradise City' goes. I improvise a lot within the context of the songs, but there's only so much I can do with that, inside of that arrangement. The same with 'Welcome to the Jungle,' and any number of old Guns songs. It was fun to take on the Chinese Democracy stuff because it was all new for me. I thought we really sounded good doing it.”
Slash also has enjoyed forging a guitar partnership with Fortus, somebody he describes as “awesome.” Which is great because, let's face it, it could all have been a bit awkward.
“He and I complement each other really well,” Slash says. “I think Rich has brought out some of my best guitar playing, just playing with him, because he's so accomplished technically and all that. We wanted to get it focused more in a feel for what Appetite really sounded like. We just slowly but surely evolved into something that captured that but still seems new and fresh. It's been an interesting ride and a lot of fun.”
“There's a reason that Slash is a legend,” Fortus says. “As a guitarist, the players that I always held in the highest regard are those that took chances. Those that stretched out every night and never played the same thing twice. Hendrix, Beck, Van Halen — those guys kept pushing and stretching their limits on a nightly basis. Slash is exactly that. I have the incredible good fortune of being able to listen to him nightly and stand inches from him, and have a musical conversation with him. He's definitely made me a better musician.”
On paper, none of it should have worked. People left, people were fired. Some people were brought back, others weren't. Some people remained from the interim version, others didn't. Slash admits that making it all happen was a bit chaotic, but somehow the whole thing has not only worked but thrived.
Slash 2018 seems to be a very content dude, and that's not surprising. He's back with one of the biggest and best rock & roll bands in history, selling an enormous number of tickets around the globe. He's on top of the world. Meanwhile, he's able to scratch every creative itch with his tremendous solo work alongside Kennedy and the Conspirators.
And he's doing it all from his L.A. home base. He may have been born in England but he was very young when he arrived in a vibrant Los Angeles in 1971.
“I catch myself at certain moments going from point A to point B, and go, 'I really love L.A.,'” he says. “I moved to Los Angeles at a great time for the music business. All the really cool stuff that I was exposed to as far as the music business was concerned, that played a major part in where I would end up way later. So I really do appreciate Los Angeles. It's not one of those things where I complain about it like most people do.”
The feeling, good man, is mutual.
Living the Dream is released Sept. 21. Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators play on Thursday, Sept. 13, at the Whisky A Go-Go, though the show is sold out.