A LULLABY FOR THE WICKED
YOU JUST HAVE TO GO FOR BROKE. PLAY WHAT YOU FEEL IN THAT MOMENT AND GO WHEREVER THE TRACK IS TAKING YOU.
FRESH OFF A CAREER-DEFINING REUNION TOUR WITH GUNS N’ ROSES, THE UNDISPUTED KING OF THE RIFF IS BACK – TOPHAT AND ALL – WITH A SLICK NEW SOLO ALBUM. LADIES, GENTLEMEN AND SO ON, PLEASE WELCOME… SLASH.
Ask the average punter who Saul Hudson is, and you’re almost certain to be met with an apathetic shrug. Change your tone to Slash, however, and eyes will light up. “Oh yeah! The dude from Guns N’ Roses! With the sunglasses and the tophat!”
In three decades of rock’n’roll debauchery, the London-native shred head has become more of a character than a human being – seriously, did you know that he’s 53 years old? Many don’t, because unlike some of his less genetically blessed bandmates (sorry, Axl), Slash hasn’t aged a day since he first tore through that iconic “Sweet Child O’ Mine” riff. He’s timeless; a living legend amongst mere mortals in his class.
Much of that can be ascribed to his almost cartoonish aesthetic – the ragged, untamed hair; that tophat-and-sunnies combo; a Gibson Les Paul pressed against his chest and a cigarette always dangling from his lip (well, until he quit smoking a few years back).
But underneath the silvery, no-damns-left-to-give veneer lies a father and fretboard enthusiast not too much unlike ourselves. Slash is idolised to the barracks, but Hudson is just a gifted dude with an affinity for a good axe. He sleeps eight hours, butters his own toast and slips into his leather pants one leg at a time.
On the phone to AustralianGuitar, he’s decidedly easygoing. He laughs at our jokes and shares little stories of his day-to-day. It almost doesn’t feel like this man could be responsible for some of the most outlandish tales of excess in rock’n’roll history.
Because all things considered, it makes sense that Slash is so immortalised in his character – for the better chunk of two decades, he lived that storybook lifestyle through and through. “Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll” wasn’t just a mantra for Slash, it was the average Tuesday night. To most of us, he was living the dream.
But when you actually sit down and think about what ‘the dream’ is, you have to consider: is it that chaotic grandeur of doing coke on private jets and pelting champagne bottles at green room walls (the ‘80s were wild, but so absurdly tinted rose), or is it the simple fantasy of being able to run out onstage night after night, pick up a guitar tailored to your exact wants and needs, and share your passion of playing music with the world?
At least in the present day, Slash doesn’t skip a beat in leaping at the latter.
Thus brings us to solo album #4 – the third ‘featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators’ –
Living The Dream. The origin of its title is political, but its timing couldn’t be any better. In 2016, after just months shy of 20 years away from the mantle, Slash made the daydreams of yesteryear’s rock fans come true by returning to Guns N’ Roses for their monumental Not In This Life time tour: a stint that kicked off as a few lowkey festival and arena shows in the States, but quickly erupted into a two-year conquest of stadiums the world over.
Now, Slash’s career certainly wasn’t suffering beforehand. His project with Kennedy was (and is) an international smash hit, and the outfit have dominated theatres everywhere from Dublin to Dubai. And before it, the deadpan debonair had toyed – to varying levels of success – with projects like Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver and a 2010 LP that saw him buddy up with everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Fergie.
But that 2016 Guns N’ Roses tour brought Slash back to his rightful stature at the tippy top of the rock’n’roll food chain. Once more, he was larger than life. Living the dream.
With the tour now behind him (the future of Guns N’ Roses isn’t all too clear – Slash’s publicist advised us against prodding – but all signs point to further activity with their reformed lineup on the cards), Slash was revitalised with creative ferocity.
Production on LivingTheDream began the moment those last shows wrapped up, and the end result is a body of work that is at once loose, livid and as from-the-hip as records from his punkish youth, and meticulous in ways that only a virtuoso with fingers as storied as Slash’s could riff out.
Spanning 52 minutes of fist-to-face hard rock and not a second of filler, the record serves as somewhat of a ‘greatest hits’ for the talents Slash has to show off. There are fierce and fiery blasts of riff-driven mania (“My Antidote”, “Sugar Cane”), a smoke-soaked ballad that could make even the hardest of souls tear up (“The One You Loved Is Gone”), and more scalp-ripping solos than you could pelt a distortion pedal at (our favourite is on “Mind Your Manners”).
Contributions from Kennedy and rhythm guitarist Frank Sidoris only tighten the mix a millionfold, and when the trio gel on cuts like “Slow Grind” and “Boulevard Of Broken Hearts”, it becomes clearer than ever: The Conspirators isn’t some mere side-project that gathers for a jam when Slash isn’t tearing it up with the Gunners and Kennedy is on a break from making boomer hearts melt in Alter Bridge. This is first class fret destruction, and those who aren’t yet converted will find it hard to shrug them off after this record.
Ahead of its inevitable inclusion on a slew of 2018 ‘Album Of The Year’ lists, we endeavoured to learn a little more about how LivingTheDream came to life, where its new flavours of tonal magic come from (spoiler: ‘new’ might not be the right word here) and just how the hell Slash keeps coming up with these genre-defining solos.
After almost forty years of playing the guitar, what does it mean for you to be living the dream?
Well, the title of the record was more of a sarcastic statement in reference to politics, specifically what’s going on in the US right now.
But in terms of my own personal experience, it’s sort of appropriate because I’m doing what it was that I set out to do when I was 15 years old. I’m playing every night and making records and touring them all around the world. That’s what ‘living the dream’ meant to me when I was 15, so I guess it makes sense at this point.
How long has this album been in the works?
A lot of the ideas for it started to pop up during the WorldOnFire tour in 2015, but we hadn’t gotten too deep into the arrangements at that point, and a lot of the songs were only really completed in 2018. We had a riff here and there and a couple of chord ideas for a lot of the material back in 2015, and then the Guns N’ Roses tour started, so I took a detour from my own stuff and did that for a couple of years.
But then at the beginning of 2018, myself and the rest of the guys got together during a Guns N’ Roses break and revisited some of the ideas we had from before. I’d also written some new stuff over the Christmas break, so we had a fair bit of material to get into.
So yeah, nothing was close to what you’d call ‘finished’ – especially not in the lyric department, because I don’t think Myles had even started writing at that point – but some of the origins definitely came from 2015.
Do you think having those extra three years led to a better album in the end, since you had more time for those song ideas to live and mature in your mind?
No, because we had a couple of those ideas that we were working on, but when the Guns N’ Roses reunion thing came up, all of the Conspirators stuff – all that material, the whole thing – just sort of shut down. I hadn’t even thought about any of that material again until early 2018, when we decided to go into the studio and get back into it.
Because you have to be 100 percent focused on either one. I’m either doing Guns N’ Roses and that’s all I’m thinking about, or I’m doing stuff with The Conspirators and that’s all I’m thinking about. You’d burn out quickly if you were trying to do both at the same time.
Understandable – that Guns N’ Roses tour was no weekend side-project! Do you think that whole experience had much of an influence on your creative mindset when you went back into the studio?
Not that I could consciously say, but I mean, there was a lot of jamming going on during that Guns N’ Roses tour. So wherever I was as a player in January 2018 was definitely influenced by the fact that I was playing all night, every night between 2016 and 2017.
There isn’t a direct correlation [between the Guns N’ Roses tour and LivingTheDream] that I can identify, but at the same time, I was playing every single night with Guns, then came straight off that tour and started working with The Conspirators right away. So from a stylistic point of view, I’m sure there’s some semblance of an influence there.
What was the creative dynamic like between yourself and Myles this time around?
I think we set a… I guess you could call it a sort of ‘creative precedent’, as far as how we worked in the very beginning, which is where I would just come up with whatever ideas I had musically and turn him onto them, and if they struck a chord with him, he would start coming up with some melodies. And that hasn’t really changed in all these years, because it’s a formula that just
works for us. So this record is just an extension of that same sort of MO.
So did Myles come back for the rhythm guitars on this album as well, or did he only do the vocals again?
No, he doesn’t like to play the guitar in this particular outfit. He did on the ApocalypticLove record, but we’ve found that he just likes to concentrate on the vocals and the lyrics and all of that stuff. So he didn’t contribute musically to this record, or [ WorldOnFire]. Frank Sidoris played the rhythm guitars on this record – he’s