By Carol Anne Szel
One of the founding members of arguably the most groundbreaking and controversial hard-rock band to emerge from the famous ‘hair-band days’ of the late 1980s, Duff McKagan has since re-emerged on the music scene in a big way. He’s teamed up with fellow Guns N’ Roses band mate Slash in the acclaimed band Velvet Revolver for a few years; his own band, Duff McKagan’s Loaded, released its second record “The Taking” on April 19.
With Duff handling vocals on “The Taking,” the band is rounded out by Jeff Rouse on bass, Mike Squires on guitar, and drummer Isaac Carpenter on drums.
After more than 100 million career albums sold to date, a Grammy, an American Music Award, and sold-out shows around the world, we catch up with Duff in Seattle, at home with wife Susan and two daughters, where we talk about everything from music to his indie soundtrack flick to, the E! reality TV show “Married To Rock,” that ran last year — and a lot of other highlights in between.
The cover has a real visual impact, lifeless hands bound behind one’s back. Have you ever felt like your hands were tied musically or personally?
DM: I think the hands really signify being just kind of bound to something that you had heartache and anger. You know the anger on this record with “Your Name” and “Lords of Abaddon” are about the anger stage in a relationship where you’re breaking up. You go through the heartache; you go through the deceit lying to yourself, lying to the other person. The anger, that’s why there’s the fracture.
What was your inspiration for the songs on this release?
DM: Well, what we discovered after we recorded this record. After we recorded it, not during the songwriting.
We all experienced as a band a situation where we couldn’t talk about it. There was a guy that was on our tour bus, on our last tour, I’ll just say that … he was on our tour bus because that will leave it ambiguous. And his wife, we’re really good friends with. And they went through a fracture in their marriage and an eventual divorce. But they became better friends afterwards.
But the thing is, we watched this heartbreak stage, but we couldn’t say anything to him or to her, we couldn’t be confidants on either side. And it was like Zen Buddhism, you know? We were really just sitting there watching it happen.
We didn’t even realize we were going through this thing, and I don’t want to sound corny or anything, but we started writing songs and the first thing that came through was the song “Easier Lying.” And it was like ‘okay, we’re gonna … well that’s a subject we all know.’ And then the next song was “She’s An Anchor.” Then “Indian Summer.” And these were things about this relationship. It’s almost a concept record.
But it was really wonderful to see this couple become better friends ever. Because we knew them both and we were like ‘no, you guys are friends, all of this is wrong.’
It’s great that you were able to feel so much, get through this hard time with them.
DM: Yes, and wouldn’t get involved. And it was good for us as a band, because Mike Squires wrote the first lyric for “Easier Lying,” he wrote that lyric. He’s a great writer. So that really informed me and we just went into it. I’m the main vocal writer, but not the only vocal writer by any extent.
You spoke about “The Taking” being a concept record. Now it’s the Internet – one song at a time. How has that changed for you over the years?
DM: Well, I buy records … I buy records. And I listen to them as such. As a body of work. You know, but I’m no dummy. I have two kids and I live in the modern world now. And my daughters, they don’t ever illegally download music. But they’re on my iTunes account so I see what they download. I think a lot of younger artists, that’s kind of instilled in them; well, you’ll have one hit.
So the album was kind of written on the road?
DM: To put it simply, yes. I mean we came home from tour and we had other things, we put together ideas and kind of finalized things. Then we demoed everything in Isaac’s garage, he’s got a great pro-tools set up there and he’s got a real drum kit. So we can demo stuff really live, you know, put some life into the songs. And Terry Date (producer) wanted to do our record, and I love Terry Date’s story and his history and he records really dry and harsh. And I think the story was really harsh and the record is heavier than the ones before.
How did you decide to go with Terry Date as producer?
DM: He heard a couple of our songs, a couple of our demos … through Isaac. And I’m from Seattle, he’s from Seattle, he and I have so many mutual friends but he and I have never hung out, gone to the same barbeques, nothing. It was the oddest thing. And we’ve been around for a while now. Man, we’d see each other at airports or whatever, and say ‘how come we don’t hang out together, what’s the deal?’ And so finally he heard some of the demos and he contacted my manager and said ‘I’d really love to do this record.’ He gets kind of our deal. He just gets it, he gets it that we’re a band, have a sense of humor, that we’re dark, but it was really a family record. Our band, we’ve been buddies for a long time now.
To be honest, it’s the longest band … I kind of just realized this, and it’s the longest time I’ve been in a band – ever.
As opposed to your short-lived and turbulent time with Guns N’ Roses.
DM: I wouldn’t be here talking to you if there wasn’t GN’R. I get my whole history; I understand where my place fits within all of it. I mean I would have been playing music regardless, for sure, all of my life whether I was successful at 21 or not.
On the topic of real life, your reality show “Married to Rock,” you and your wife were the sanest couple on there! Will there be any more reality TV in your future?
DM: Well, I’m sort of the reluctant … I come off as the reluctant grump a little bit. But I’m not a grump at all. TV is not my medium, but I love my wife, so I will do whatever makes her happy and that’s okay. She protects me in the thing, like she knows that I don’t really want to be in the thing, so she makes sure I’m in it the least, which is what I want.
How do you balance a normal home life and family in the often-hectic lifestyle in music?
DM: Well, I’ve been through a lot of crap. And I met Susan, frankly, honestly, after I got sober. Not that I haven’t had trials during our marriage, and I’ve had challenges. But we’ve been together now for a long time, and I know she’s got my back. We have fun with it, you know, my family goes on the road, my little daughters have been all over the world. It’s just the glass-half-full syndrome with us. It’s like ‘OK. Check it out, we can go to Europe!’ or if it’s in America, we can go and bring our dogs. We do what we can do and make this work and make it a family vacation. It’s great for the girls and their education, because they’ve seen the world. Many times. So they understand that we live in a world, not just the United States, and all that stuff’s really good, I think. They understand that if I’m spitting onstage, they let me have that space. They know I need to release from another angle, they know that it’s not personal, and all that kind of stuff.
Are you planning a tour now?
DM: We’re playing all the festivals starting June 1 in Albania, you know, then all the European festivals and all that stuff.
I understand you are also releasing a feature film, “The Taking” this summer?
DM: It’s just one of those coffee ideas. A lot of times I’ll have some amazing coffee ideas. Coffee ideas are when we’re all sitting around drinking coffee or we’re on the phone and drinking coffee and we’ll solve all the world’s ills and come up with some of the best ideas that, thank God, by 10 a.m., they’ve gone by. A lot of them are just insane ideas. But this film thing – it was at the same point as we were listening to this record and we realized this thing sounds cinematic: ‘We gotta make a movie!’ People love our sense of humor in our webisodes, so we’ll make a real long webisode and it will be about Issac getting kidnapped and we have to raise money to get him back because we have a gig that night. So it’s kind of a nod to ‘Hard Day’s Night.’ Just a madcap journey through a day of us trying to raise ransom for Isaac, and it’s all to the soundtrack of the record. We’ll see how it comes out, there’s some really, really great vignettes already. It’s mostly done I think.
So you get theatrical with all this?
DM: I guess. It’s not really theatrical. We had some fun and we had a great filmmaker who got our vision and we did the film for beg, borrow, and steal, so here we are.
Who is producing it?
DM: Jamie Chamberlin. He worked on the series ‘Sex & the City’ for five years, and he’s a Seattle guy. He did a little indie movie. Billy Gibbons and Iggy Pop saw whatever it was and got a hold of this guy Jamie. He loves rock music. He did a ZZ Top movie-like DVD and was with the band for two years. We’re managed by the same people as ZZ, and came up with this idea for the movie. Our manager said, you know this guy Jamie Chamberlin lives in Seattle and he might be a guy to talk to. Jamie came down and loved the idea, and he’s been the champion of this thing really.
Well, is there any final thing you’d like to say to your legions of fans out there about “The Taking?”
DM: I don’t have anything final to say, just go get the f**kin’ record! That’s my final thing. GM