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
‘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