By Carol Anne Szel
Slash, with his trademark top hat and thick, curly, raven black hair hanging over his dark sunglasses (and occasional cigarette dangling from his lips), looks more like a character out of a graphic novel than a hard rock guitarist slinging a Gibson Les Paul for a living. He’s played the rock and roll bad boy in Guns N’ Roses, the band that brought him fame that began in the late ’80s with the breakthrough album Appetite for Destruction. But as he has matured his craft over the decades, he has fit in exceedingly well collaborating with other renowned musicians, such as the late Scott Weiland and Velvet Revolver, Carmine Appice’s Guitar Zeus and, of course, Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. Perhaps nothing can top the lightning rod that was Appetite for Destruction, but the latest album by the Conspirators, 4, is further proof of Slash’s innate ability to produce quality music with his rock and roll peers.
Slash spoke to Goldmine about both his recent creativity and a lifetime in rock and roll.
GOLDMINE: When did you write material for this latest album with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators?
SLASH: I wrote a whole lot of stuff during the COVID period of time. But the majority was written during the last tour. We write when we’re on the road; we had compiled a lot of music from the last tour in 2019, so the majority of this is from then. There are a couple of songs on it that were written during the pandemic. It was written pretty quickly, regardless. Once I started putting it all together during the pandemic, it came together pretty fast.
GM: So, you write mostly on the road?
SLASH: Yeah, I mean, as a rule it’s for no other reason other than it’s how I fill my downtime when we’re touring. And then just put the stuff together after the tour and then put out the record for the next tour! (laughs) It works out that way. This record, we had a conversation about how cool records were done in the ’60s and ’70s… a record that was really live where the backline was in the room. And we just did it that way.
I mean, I’ve been wanting to do that since 1987. I always wanted to record Guns that way, I would have loved to have done Velvet Revolver that way — you know, anything I’ve worked with that way. But most of the engineers won’t do it, because you know the bleed from the amps is going to get on the drums, blah, blah, blah. And I understand that philosophy; it’s not that I disagree. But I said, “How come they could do it back then and why can’t we do it now?” The band’s all really good musicians, we can play from one end of the song to the other without making a mistake, so in terms of rock and roll at least we can get away with it. But, you know, they just tend not to do it.
So, I’ve always recorded live in the studio and then gone back with the songs with headphones and had the amps isolated. But we always played together for the energy, and then I would go back and redo the guitars and that was sort of par for the course. So we actually set up the backline (with) guitar, bass, drums, guitar — set up like that. And we’d do it in three takes, sometimes even two takes. We did the whole record basically in five days. It’s just cool to do it that way because for a rock band to have it sort of flying by the seat of your pants, it’s that energy that happens when you guys are all playing off of each other in the moment. It’s not necessary with pop music; it’s not the same kind of thing. You don’t need that urgency. But for rock and roll, it’s great; you can capture that spur-of-the-moment kind of vibe. We had the f**kin’ best time doing this record. It was quite an adventure.
GM: You guys have been together 10 years!
SLASH: Yeah, I know, which is actually a trip. It freaks me out. I mean, it doesn’t feel like it. Ten years is a long time for a band.
GM: And this album’s out on deluxe vinyl.
SLASH: We’re putting it out on vinyl, and on cassette, too! Well, I mean, vinyl I’ve always insisted on doing. And, I mean, for the most part I’ve always been adamant about recording analog anyway. I remember when I did my first solo record in 2010 there was hardly any tape to be found. But we scrounged it up and did it that way, to tape. And then the subsequent records with Conspirators were all done that way.
But now there’s a lot of tape around because what vinyl has become; it’s sort of having a renaissance and kids have really discovered how good it sounds. Compared to the MP3s they were listening to for so long. Vinyl has had a resurgence. Then the cassette thing has sort of made a comeback as well, the generation now is discovering them and I guess thinking they’re cool. So, I figured we’d just make it in cassette, too.
GM: It’s great that the fans nowadays can sit down on the floor with a vinyl record like we used to do, stare at it and read the album cover. There’s just something magical about that!
SLASH: Yeah! I mean, I came up that way. I was in a very sort of musical family. Not musicians, but both my parents were in the music business, so we had a massive record collection. One of the great things about listening to records was putting it on and really listening to it, as opposed to listening to it passing by while you’re doing something else. And then sitting down and looking at the liner notes and art and whatever was going on with the jacket, the lyrics. And yeah, that was all how it was. And I think things started going worse when we got into CDs. The thing got compacted. Then from there we got into streaming and it’s really lost its character. The process of listening to music has really lost its sort of romantic kind of personal feel to it. Appreciating music should be more than just sort of like listening to it on your phone! (laughs) It seems to me that the audience is willing to invest as much as possible into listening to music. It’s the industry that has really changed.
And the convenience of MP3s at the time … I mean, I totally get it, all these different platforms for listening to music in such a convenient way. But you lose a lot. There are elements that are missing. And once you discover that and you start to research what it really should be like, you’re “Oh wow, I didn’t know this was so great!” That’s what’s going on right now. But in the music industry, if anything becomes popular, they f**kin’ put it out by truckloads, you know? And it was cheaper for them, being distributed digitally.
GM: You’re sort of pioneering Gibson Records, which is such a great idea.
SLASH: I know! It was almost like too good to be true! I was like wow, I mean, I was searching around my brain, like “What could be wrong with this picture?’ And there was absolutely nothing! It’s a really great idea. And I know them really well, obviously. I know it’s obviously a very musical company. It’s all about musical integrity, as opposed to, you know, sort of like Top 40 success. So, all in all, I think it’s just really a great fit. I’m excited about my record with them, and then I’m also excited about where it’s going to go from there.
GM: Do you still have the original Guns N’ Roses cover from Appetite on vinyl?
SLASH: Well, you have to understand — I mean, it’s like this for all the records I do — I don’t collect any of it. If you were to come to my house, you’d be hard pressed to know I was in a band. Or at least any band you had heard of. I mean there’s instruments around, but I don’t have any, like, souvenirs or anything special from the releases over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever owned the Appetite for Destruction record. And even if I did, I didn’t live anywhere, so I wouldn’t have any place to put it! Granted, I did have a lot of records I’ve kept. But I just never was one to sort of really collect records of the bands that I’m actually in. Does that make sense?
I mean, you make a record, you go through this whole process of creating the music and working on it with the guys and developing it. Then you go into the studio and you record it, then go in and mix it. And then the final process is mastering. And once that’s done and it’s off to be released, you’ve moved on. You know what I mean? It’s like you’ve gone through everything you need to on that material, and the only thing you have to look forward to at that point is going out and performing it. And, so, I don’t really get in my car and listen to it eight million times when you’re mixing and mastering. (laughs)
GM: And then you get to play it every night.
SLASH: Yeah, you play it every night, so the material’s always there. And it’s exciting if you hear it on the radio or something. But I don’t listen to it otherwise.
GM: You don’t just throw it on and listen to it?
SLASH: No. And then there’s ... and other musicians can attest to this... if you put on music in general you kind of get sucked into it. But if it’s your own material... it’s like if you’re at a gathering or something and they were to put your record on, it’s sort of funny. You don’t really want to walk in somewhere and they’re playing it.
GM: How do you deal with all your fame? I mean you said if I walked into your home I wouldn’t know if you were in Guns N’ Roses or Conspirators. How do you handle what’s been over 30 years of fame for you?
SLASH: It’s an interesting question, because someone like me, who is not really into fame for fame’s sake or that kind of thing, you have to appreciate that your path has brought you to having whatever recognition for whatever it is that you do. You know, you have to appreciate that. When someone has some sort of attachment to you for what you produce. So, I might not always be comfortable in a public situation, because my personality doesn’t lend itself to that. But I never, you know, I always appreciate the fact that it’s because of whatever I did musically. It’s a double-edged sword kind of thing. I don’t like the sort of attention. If I’m not playing guitar, I try not to draw attention. But at the same time, you can’t resent it, because it means something for what it is that you do.
GM: You do seem like a sort of mellow person.
SLASH: I’m a mellow person in relax mode, but if I’m working, I’m not. When I’m playing, I’m not. If I’m not playing, yeah, I’m pretty laid back.
GM: What do you think about onstage to keep yourself going?
SLASH: There’s no specific ritual for me. There’s a certain amount of preshow anxiety, which is just the anticipation of going out there. A little bit of preshow jitters, too. I’ve always had that. But I just hang out, play my guitar and whatnot, when the moment comes. I mean, you could be exhausted. You could be in the dressing room and you don’t feel like going out there and playing for two and a half hours. But then that moment you walk up there, everything changes. There’s not a lot of physical or mental preparation for that. With the exception of like going to the gym, the physical aspect of it. You just go out there and everything changes. I mean, that’s how it works for me personally, but everybody’s different.
GM: I guess you feed off the crowd when you get out there onstage?
SLASH: Yeah, the energy definitely comes from them. And it’s a give-and-take thing. Back and forth.
GM: You spoke about the gym; how do you stay fit physically and musically after being out there for decades?
SLASH: Well, as a player I stay fit just because I play constantly. I’ve always got a guitar around, and I actually feel like I’m going to forget how to play if I go a day without touching a guitar. (laughs) So, I’ve always got a guitar around. Especially when I’m on tour. I mean, for me, being on tour, one of the reasons why I love it so much is because it gives me a chance to be able to open up playing-wise. That I can’t do when I’m at home or in the studio. There’s much more of an adventure and that sort of playing live in the moment that you’re doing things that you wouldn’t ever think of just sitting there. There’s something about all that energy and spontaneity, so that’s where I do the most growing as a player. Just playing all the time is how I keep it all together musically.
And then physically, you just have to do something to get your blood pumping. I try to do it every day if I can, but I hate it with a passion. I don’t think you’ve met anybody that hates it as much as me, but you have to do it. But I can’t stand it. I’m trying to control the psychological aspect of it or whatever it is, but it just doesn’t work for me. But you have to do it because it’s what makes it possible to give it your all for two to three hours a night for months on end.
GM: Do you think it helps doing a project like Conspirators, (then back) with GnR, that you feel refreshed with music? How is it to go back and forth?
SLASH: You know, there’s really nothing to that. I love doing GnR, and when I go to do Conspirators I just sort of switch gears. And when I’ve done Conspirators and I go back to GnR, you just switch gears again. I don’t think one really feeds the other in any kind of real way. Sometimes, you know, if I’m playing with the Conspirators, I’m looking forward to doing these theaters and that environment that sort of lends itself to that band. There’s something I love about that very personal… um, where you’re just toe to toe with people. But then going back into Guns N’ Roses you sort of love that epic kind of big arena or stadium kind of environment. So, maybe as you go from one to the other you sort of miss the other, back and forth like that.
GM: You said you come from a musical family; what was that like?
SLASH: Well, it’s the reason I ended up doing what I do for a living! I mean, I have great memories. My mom was a clothes designer all through the ’60s through the mid-’70s, and she worked with a real myriad of amazing artists from Stevie Wonder to Helen Reddy to the Pointer Sisters to John Lennon to David Bowie. All these artists that I was around and I was in that environment all the time. But then also, my dad was an album cover graphic designer working with Asylum Records with David Geffen when I was a kid. So, I was living up in the Canyon, we were friends with Joni Mitchell, Dave Crosby, and like all these people in the Canyon that my dad and my mom as well, were working with.
So, I really had this sort of musical upbringing as well as character upbringing. You know, the artists that I was around in the ’60s and early ’70s were really, really great people. I mean, great artists. Great songwriters. But, also really great individuals. Very, very cool. And it was a healthy experience for me. As fascinated as I was by watching them set up at the Troubadour or wherever, when we’d go down there, I didn’t have any aspirations to be a musician. I mean I was racing BMX when I was 14 going on 15, and I wasn’t really in that environment anymore and I picked up the guitar. But as I started to establish that as my thing, I had all this experience to draw from.
It was funny. When Guns N’ Roses signed with Geffen, I knew David. It was so weird. (laughs) But he hadn’t seen me for some time, so he didn’t know that one of the guys in this band that he was signing was somebody that he knew… I made a point of not saying anything to him, because he’d only known me as a little kid. After we signed the deal, I knew he’d try to manipulate the deal in his favor. (laughs) But I’m still friends with David to this day. It was great knowing him back when, you know, when he was managing Linda Ronstadt and my mom was doing her clothes. He was managing Joni Mitchell and all these people, and that’s how I knew him. So fast forward to being in a band on Geffen during the last really great period of the record business, you know. Because after that everything really changed.
GM: Do you see any of the artists from that old generation? Do they come to shows?
SLASH: I saw Joni, it was a while back though, and it was nice to see her. I hadn’t seen her in a really long time. There was a big gap. You know Jackson Browne didn’t know I was that kid way back when. I saw him back in 2000 or something like that. He’s phenomenal. So, it’s an interesting kind of thing.
GM: What’s the biggest difference between playing with Myles and Axl (Rose)?
SLASH: It’s really not something that you’re conscious of, because they’re just two very different people, you know what I mean? So, there’s nothing about either one of them that makes me think about the other. Myles sort of does what he does, and he’s got a very specific personality. Axl does what he does, and he’s got a very specific personality. And I never really think about the similarities and the differences.
I’m looking forward to going out doing the states with the Conspirators. It’s been a while, so I’m looking forward to that. It’s gonna be good. I’m excited about it.
GM: What do you think about Guns being a classic rock band being around 30-plus years now, alongside the Stones and Zeppelin in rock legends?
SLASH: I don’t. The only tag I think about is, you know, as far as the classic reference is concerned, is when we’re played on the classic rock stations! (laughs) You know, because you don’t realize that you’re there. Because when you’re in a band you’re just in a band, and there’s no real time limit around it. You know you don’t, like we were just talking about with the Conspirators; it’s hard to believe we’ve been together 10 years. I just don’t think about it.
So, with Guns, it’s just a continuation of when we first got together, you just keep doing your thing. And then all of the sudden if you stop and think, well, it’s 2022, you see how much time has gone. You just really don’t do it. I’m just glad we’re still around!
Get the Goldmine Collector's Edition (above) of the April/May 2022 issue that this interview appeared in, with alternate cover, slipcase and exclusive 8x10" photo print from photographer Mark Weiss of Slash hanging out on the Sunset Strip during the late '80s.