Slash on His New Album, Working With Bands: ‘It Doesn’t Need to Be So F—in’ Complicated!’
He’s one of the most identifiable characters in rock 'n' roll, and when you hear that Slash is putting out an album called 'World on Fire,' instincts tell you that the music contained within it is very likely to match the intensity conveyed by the title.
The legendary guitarist has been on the road this summer, something which came a bit out of the blue and in front of touring that was in the works to follow the Sept. 16 release of 'World on Fire.' But when you consider that the touring invite came from Aerosmith, there’s no question why Slash decided to pack up his road cases a little bit early for some extra traveling.
He spoke with Ultimate Classic Rock to talk about his powerful union with Alter Bridge vocalist Myles Kennedy, the 'World on Fire' they’ve created, touring with Aerosmith, working with Bob Dylan and the fight for worldwide success with Guns N’ Roses.
Clearly, you’re a guy that still believes in the concept of albums. This is a long one at 17 tracks. How did you go about getting your arms around all of that to get an album sequence that you were happy with that made it sit well as an album for you?
You just hit the nail on the head. You know, people go, “Was it hard to put all that material together,” this, that and the other. The writing of the songs and the pre-production and the arrangement, recording it and all of that kind of stuff, it was nothing -- that was all fun. But the one thing that was hard was getting the sequence together. That took me changing it and driving around town every day of the week of, like, two and a half weeks, just trying to get it so it flows. The sequence of a record, any song can be a good song, but if you put it in between the wrong couple of songs, it can hinder that song -- at least the first impression that you get. Because it just doesn’t have the right flow or the right rhythm as you’re listening along. Anyway, it’s a big deal to me, so it got done. I was still sequencing it after the mastering, calling the mastering lab, “Hey, you know what? I just had a second thought!”
The solo stuff that you’ve put out so far is music that you’ve released independently on your own label, and I think that certainly gives you a lot more leeway as far as being able to say “Hey, I want to put out a record with that many songs,” with a running time that’s nearly 80 minutes. You have that freedom.
Yeah, I think at this particular point in time, all of the worst qualities of the record business are running it at this point. I don’t want to be in the clutches of any corporate record company telling me what I should or shouldn’t be doing. [Laughs] So I decided when I sort of took a hiatus from Velvet Revolver and started to do my own thing that I was going to be my own label.
This current band seems like it has established itself much more quickly than your last couple of projects. You put a lot of energy into Slash’s Snakepit, which included a good amount of touring. Velvet Revolver had some good success out of the gate with the first album, but that chemistry didn’t seem to stick. Your present work with Myles and the Conspirators seems to have staying power and forward momentum that was perhaps somewhat of a missing link previously. There don’t appear to be any roadblocks in your present situation. From your perspective, what’s different this time around?
Well, funnily enough when I started working with the Conspirators and Myles, it was something that I hadn’t planned on doing. I hooked up with Myles on the first solo record that had all of the different singers on it. I’d never heard him before -- I’d heard about him, but I’d never met him, and I’d never really heard him sing. But I’d been hearing about him for so long that when I was almost done with that record, I had a couple of songs left over and I couldn’t think of [anybody who could sing them]. The way that record was made is that the songs would dictate the singer and I would just call that guy and send him the song and it would work. But in the case of these two songs, I had no idea who should sing them and I thought, “Well, the record’s finished, I’ll just take a chance and call this Myles guy and see what happens.” So I talked to him, and I sent him one of the instrumental arrangements and he sent it back with a vocal on it a few days later and I was just floored. We got to know each other in the studio doing the studio version of that song, and we had that instant chemistry on a personality level and also on a songwriting level, so I asked him if he wanted to do the tour that I was putting together to support that album, which I had no idea what I was going to do. He said yes, which surprised me, because he was in Alter Bridge and I thought he’d say, “Well, I’m in another band” and blah, blah, blah.
So he came on to do it and then I was auditioning drummers who I know, because they’re all in L.A. and I’ve played with them a million times, but I was trying to find the right drummer for this. I got pointed in the direction of this guy, Brent Fitz in Las Vegas, who I’d never heard of. So I called him and I met him, and we played together and he was the perfect guy. Then some guy from Canada introduced me to Todd Kerns, so when we had our first rehearsal, we had a week to put it all together and go out on the road. There was that spark that happens when everything just falls into place and you enjoy everybody’s company and you’re just having a really good time and the band just seamlessly knows what to do together. We’ve just been going ever since and I think it’s just one of those magic moments where I was given a reprieve and the right guys to work with.
Your success as an artist has definitely been earned. It seems like you’ve really racked up a lifetime of lessons learned with everything that you’ve done up to this point. There was a lot of sweat and effort that went into each of the projects that we spoke about previously and as I understand it, the process of making Guns N’ Roses a successful band took time as well. There’s a lot of folks that just think that band happened right out of the gate.
All things considered, it never really goes that easily when you try and do something. You just sort of jump into things and see what happens. You know, like you mentioned Snakepit, and for me that was an escapism, it was really more of a band, it was Matt [Sorum] and Mike Inez and myself, and it was really to find some solace from all of the big heavy duty Guns N’ Roses mega-band thing that was happening at the time, just something simple and fun. But as far as going on the road with it was concerned, everybody was, like, “Well, you’re in Guns N’ Roses, you can’t go on the road” and I said, “I’m going and doing it.” I put together a whole new band and I went, [and] the record company pulled me off the road [later] anyway. Then you fast forward to something like Velvet Revolver, which really should have been great, but then we had certain sort of unpredictable stuff that happened along the way, and it just became a little bit too complicated. So at this point, it’s just been going really great. I have to say, there have been no unnecessary hassles. Everybody just wants to play and really what it comes down to is getting to that point of simplicity. It’s just a rock 'n' roll band -- it doesn’t need to be so f---in’ complicated! [Laughs]
The Guns N’ Roses thing was interesting to me, because at that time there was still artist development, and there’s the perception that you have two or three albums to make it at that point. So to hear that Guns N’ Roses almost got dropped about a year after the release of 'Appetite for Destruction' is pretty unbelievable. How did that go down?
I didn’t know about it at the time. I found out about it later. We didn’t sell any records until we had that success with 'Sweet Child O’ Mine' and the videos. As a band, I don’t think we were out there trying to figure out what the big hit single was going to be or anything like that. We were just out there playing and didn’t know what the red tape situation was back at home. I guess it wasn’t selling any records and the label wanted to drop us, but the amount of devotion and passion for the project that the A&R guy and the manager had sort of kept it going. Then all of the sudden, we did find success on that record and then it turned into something else completely different.
What was your approach to capturing this new album, compared to the recording process for 'Apocalyptic Love?'
The last record was actually performed in its entirety live with almost no overdubs. Just raw. This one was actually done live again, but then I went back in the studio and did the guitars in the control room and sort of controlled the sound of it. Other than that, the records are pretty much the same as far as the approach is concerned. [We worked with a] different producer [Michael 'Elvis' Baskette], though.
For you, what’s important about having a producer in the picture for you, with this band or just generally?
It’s a big thing for me. I would love to say, “You know what, I could be a producer and just get a good engineer.” It’s possible, but I just have a very short attention span. I’m not fascinated by the recording process and I’m not into it from a technical point of view. There’s a lot of things about achieving certain sonics that I don’t know and I don’t really care -- I just want to get it done. So I need somebody there who can sort of just let me concentrate on playing and jamming with the guys and capture that. Also, [it’s important] having a producer as just one person you trust that has an opinion that’s not necessarily yours. That’s why I like having a producer.
Was there a demo process or did you guys go straight into recording these as songs for an album?
Well, the first one, the 'Apocalyptic Love' record, I made demos at home. Myles would be out on the road with Alter Bridge, so I’d send him demos, and if he was into it, he’d put some vocal ideas on it and send it back. Then I would start going with the band and working these ideas up. It’s a very slow, arduous process, making demos, so this time around I had all of my ideas that I recorded on my phone out on the road. You know, anything that comes up that’s cool, I record it and move on. So I had accumulated more than a handful of ideas over that last year and instead of doing demos, I just went in the studio and started working them up with Brent and Todd in rehearsal.
With this band and what Myles has going on with Alter Bridge and then the stuff that you’ve got going on, you’re really able to do an admirable job of making the scheduling work.
Yeah, somehow because we started out that way, I think it’s been sort of established that Alter Bridge is doing this and we’re doing that and we just somehow sort of co-exist together. There’s certain times, like Myles just did a couple of gigs with Alter Bridge on the days off that we have with Aerosmith. We just make it happen. I don’t want to impede on what he was doing before I met him. He obviously likes doing what we’re doing as well, so we just have to make it work. Plus, I dig being the mistress.
One thing that really resonated with me seeing the show last night was seeing the free-form nature of this band. It’s no revelation to anybody that you wouldn’t fit into a band that cranked out three-minute pop singles.
Watching you stretch out for 10 minutes plus on the solo to ‘Rocket Queen’ was interesting, because it’s clear that no matter what you’re playing, music still takes you to another place where that is. You’ve got songs on this album like ‘Battleground’ and ‘The Unholy’ that stretch toward the seven-minute mark. It doesn’t seem like you’re ever keen on being tied down, and it seems like with this band, the levels of restriction are nearly nonexistent.
I don’t know how to verbally put the feeling that I get when I walk into a room with these guys and just start to put down an idea. They pick up on what it sounds like or what it feels like and they get their own interpretation of it and we just go. There’s not a lot of discussion involved -- it’s all very fun and laid back and it happens relatively quickly. The song takes the form that it’s supposed to take at the end. It’s hard to explain. Some songs come together and they’re only three minutes long because that’s what kind of song it is and some of them are like, let’s just keep going with this. To me, there doesn’t have to be a real rule.
You’ve been out on the road touring with Aerosmith this summer. That has to be a real thrill for you to be out with those guys again.
It’s a blast. I don’t want to geek out too much, but it’s great to be ... Obviously, with a band that had such a massive influence on me when I was first picking up the guitar, but also being with guys who I have a lot of respect for that I’ve become really close friends with over the years, and you have that sort of family vibe out there where it’s two genuinely sort of rock 'n' roll kind of entities that are still around. To be able to go out there and just create that environment is really cool.
Yeah, it’s one of those things that I try not to act like that when I’m around him, but you definitely want to pinch yourself. Those are the guys that really sort of made me who I am at this point.
You toured with Aerosmith in the beginning years of your career. What’s it like touring with those guys now compared to back in the day?
With the exception of all of the booze and chemical influences that our particular band had going on at the time, it’s not too much different. There’s an image that people get when they see something like that out there and there’s the magazines and the photos and whatever that fuels that. But really when it comes down to it, it’s just all about getting up and playing every day, no matter how f---ed up I was ever.
What are your touring plans for this fall once the album’s out?
The record comes out in September, and we’re going to do some promo for the album. We’re going to do some underplay gigs, which I can’t really announce yet, and then in October, I have to go international overseas and do some promo over there, and then in November, the tour starts in Europe. November and December, we tour in Europe, and then we come back and Myles goes out with Alter Bridge, I think in January, and then February we start doing Asia, Australia, South America and all of that kind of stuff and then we come back to the States in the spring.
I know that you played on a session for Bob Dylan on the ‘Under the Red Sky’ album. As I understand it, it doesn’t sound like it went that great.
It was a great learning experience. It was just a great experience -- I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. But what happened was I had gone and done a session with Don Was and Iggy Pop for the ‘Brick by Brick’ record, which was f---ing awesome, one of the all-time greatest studio experiences for me. Not long after that, Don called me up and asked me if I wanted to play on this Dylan thing. So I was like, Bob Dylan, you know -- I grew up with Bob Dylan big time and I would love to go in there and do that. So I went down to the studio in my typical sort of feet forward without thinking about it kind of style. I got there and there was a bunch of A-list celebrity type musicians there and they gave me the song, which was a real simple I-IV-V progression, and I put a guitar solo on it that I thought was one of my better one-offs, but I had also put an acoustic rhythm track on there as well for the guitar solo section. A few days later, I asked Don, “So, do you have a rough mix of the song that I did for Dylan?” and he goes “Yeah, I’m going to send it to you.”
He sends it to me and the song goes along and here comes the solo section, with acoustic strumming -- no guitar solo and I’m like, “What happened to the solo?” and he goes “Well, Bob thought it sounded a little bit too much like Guns N’ Roses.” But given the same session knowing what I know now and having the amount of experience that I’ve had since then, I probably would have done it differently. Because my style, I just used to do Guns N’ Roses on everything -- that was sort of like my thing. But over the years, I’ve learned a lot of different things, playing with different people. That’s how that helps -- it keeps me from being just one-dimensional.
You met George Harrison at that session too, right?
Yeah, George was there.
When I was watching the show last night, your intro for ‘Not for Me,’ you can almost hear a bit of George in your tone on that intro.
I love George’s playing. It’s funny, because as a kid, I was always into the guys that you were talking about, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Angus Young and all of that. I grew up obviously with the Beatles and George Harrison’s solo stuff, but I never sat down and actually learned any of Harrison’s stuff. It’s funny, because I listen to him now that I’m a little bit older and I really identify with all of his guitar playing -- like over the last 20 years. I really started to identify with his guitar playing and there is a lot of it that influences me. Even if it’s from a distance where I just hear it -- I don’t even sit down and try and learn it, I just pick it up by ear.
Everything that you’ve done has given you a lot of chances to work with a lot of different folks and that’s certainly important.
Well, it’s great, because as a guitar player in rock 'n' roll, you can get very much stuck in one groove. Having the opportunity to be able to go out and play with a lot of different really great players and different styles and stuff, it just keeps it from ever falling into that [area] where you’re just doing the same thing over and over again. You know, if you’re in a band especially, you tend to play your own stuff. You try and write different types of things to keep it interesting, but you’re still in this one group. So when you go outside of that and just play with different people, it helps you sort of blossom as a player. Also, it keeps you humble and you learn how to adapt to different people’s environments, different styles, different personalities and all of that kind of s---, so you never think that you’re just so cool, because you’re just cool in that band.