Straight shooter

Softly spo­ken and ul­tra-po­lite – what else would you ex­pect from Vel­vet Re­volver gui­tar hero Slash? From one of the fore­most prac­ti­tion­ers of he­do­nis­tic rock’n’roll ex­cess to clean-liv­ing mu­si­cal col­lab­o­ra­tor, he tells Brian Boyd about his jour­ney

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

‘IT IN­TER­ESTS me that I’m still alive,” says Slash with a crooked smile. “The drugs did ac­tu­ally kill me a few times, but I was al­ways re­sus­ci­tated. “I thought I’d bet­ter not push it too far with the drugs, so I gave them up. But then the drink al­most killed me. I was given three months to live at one point – and that was if I was lucky. And I sup­pose hav­ing a car­dio-de­fib­ril­la­tor fit­ted into your chest to keep you alive at age 35 is a bit on the young side . . . But the up­shot is, I’m clean and sober now.”

Ev­ery­thing about the gui­tarist screams “rock star”. Dressed in his reg­u­la­tion black top hat, wear­ing sun­glasses on a gloomy day and smok­ing in a no-smok­ing area, you would have no prob­lem pick­ing him out as the only rock star in a busy Dublin ho­tel.

Now 42, Slash says that peo­ple are al­ways sur­prised when they meet him in the flesh. “Be­cause of all the bad boy sto­ries and all the tales of he­do­nis­tic ex­cess, peo­ple think that I’m go­ing to be rude and snarl at them, or that I’m still re­ally messed up,” he says. The re­al­ity is he’s a softly spo­ken, ul­tra-po­lite, thought­ful and con­sid­er­ate gui­tar hero.

Hav­ing achieved iconic sta­tus with Guns N’ Roses, he now plays with Vel­vet Re­volver who have three ex-Guns N’ Roses per­son­nel in their ranks. De­spite be­ing aug­mented by Scott Wei­land (ex- Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots) and Dave Kush­ner (ex-Wasted Youth), Vel­vet Re­volver have suc­cess­fully ne­go­ti­ated the tricky “su­per­group” la­bel and have re­leased two big sell­ing al­bums and tour to full are­nas.

“I think we got all that ‘su­per­group’ stuff on our first album,” he says. “We were just seen as be­ing Guns N’ Roses with a dif­fer­ent vo­cal­ist, but with this album, Lib­er­tad, we’re far more gelled as a band, and we toured for al­most two years solid af­ter the first one, so there’s a real sense of us find­ing our sound. I think the next album will be very in­ter­est­ing.”

Most all of Vel­vet Re­volver have had well­doc­u­mented sub­stance abuse prob­lems – they’ve all now left that be­hind. Slash could write a book on the sub­ject (and in­deed has): “I’ve been in sit­u­a­tions where most of the band were clean but I wasn’t, and I have been in the sit­u­a­tion of be­ing clean when other peo­ple aren’t. Ev­ery­one knows the his­tory of this band and what we’ve all been through.

“All I can say is that the only way this band works is that we are all in the same place. If you have one guy go­ing off the deep end, then it can only be a mat­ter of time be­fore some­one else dives in too. So all of us be­ing this way works. It’s ei­ther that, or we all get fucked up (laughs). It’s a dif­fi­cult is­sue, but I do have some knowl­edge about it.”

It’s dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that Slash grew up in the some­what less than rock’n’roll en­vi­rons of Stoke-on-Trent. His par­ents were both in­volved in the mu­sic busi­ness and he didn’t move to Los An­ge­les un­til he was 11. Any An­glo-af­fec­ta­tions he had have long since disap- peared. Wor­ship­ping gui­tar greats such as Hen­drix, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page, Slash is a self-taught gui­tarist who still doesn’t like play­ing scales and isn’t one for prac­tice. “What I do is play all the time in­stead,” he says. “And I re­ally have to play be­fore a show, be­cause if I don’t then I feel that I won’t re­mem­ber any­thing. It’s strange, but it’s true.”

Al­though the band he made his name with – Guns N’ Roses – have never of­fi­cially bro­ken up and con­tinue as a go­ing con­cern with dif­fer­ent per­son­nel, Slash doubts whether he will ever col­lab­o­rate with Axl W Rose again. “I re­mem­ber the first ever re­hearsal with Vel­vet Re­volver,” he says. “We had formed to play a char­ity show and we started off by play­ing a cover of God Save The Queen by The Sex Pis­tols. We just had this pow­er­house sound, it was very heavy and loud rock’n’roll – and we all felt that it was go­ing to work.”

Their in­di­vid­ual pasts were still catch­ing up with them, though. When they recorded their first album, lead singer Scott Wei­land had to record his vo­cals un­der po­lice su­per­vi­sion and had to re­turn each night to a lock­down detox cen­tre. “This didn’t re­ally worry any of us,” he says. “I sup­pose we had all been there be­fore and knew what was go­ing on. Other bands might have wor­ried about that sort of thing, but we didn’t.”

Last year, Slash pub­lished his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, an ac­claimed mem­oir that sur­prised many. “I think peo­ple were sur­prised at how much I had man­aged to re­mem­ber,” he says. “It was some­thing I had wanted to do for a long time and mainly be­cause there is so much ru­mour and counter-ru­mour out there about me and Guns N’ Roses.

“I did use a ghost writer and the idea was that he would frame my story into some­thing that could be read but as time went on, I took more and more con­trol over it. I re­ally wanted my voice com­ing out. I think get­ting clean and sober had a lot to do with do­ing it. What’s the word they use – cathar­sis?”

There have been talks about film stu­dios buy­ing up the rights to the book, but Slash is be­gin­ning to get cold feet. “I don’t know, be­cause it’s all about real peo­ple and real events. They would have to get some­one in to play Axl and some­one in to play me. I’m a bit hes­i­tant about it all – but I think it would make a great car­toon!”

Hav­ing spent the pre­vi­ous day try­ing to down­load some mu­sic, Slash ad­mits he hasn’t got to grips with the dig­i­tal age. “I think I’m in de­nial about all the changes in the mu­sic busi­ness and so is the busi­ness it­self,” he says. “I still have a very old-fash­ioned approach to how mu­sic is recorded and put out. I haven’t em­braced the whole dig­i­tal thing. I re­ally did think that it would be the same as when CDs first came out – that peo­ple would even­tu­ally get used to the change and things would settle down. But this re­ally hasn’t hap­pened.

“It’s prob­a­bly just as well that this is all hap­pen­ing now and not back in the 1990s be­cause Guns N’ Roses never made any money from tour­ing. We were al­ways get­ting fined for show­ing up on stage three hours late.”

Slash plays the Am­bas­sador, Dublin with Vel­vet Re­volver ear­lier this month. Pho­to­graph: Alan Bet­son

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