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Interview with Rocker Slash
Aired February 16, 2011 - 06:30:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANJALI RAO, CNN HOST: It doesn't get much more rock and roll than this. Drawing in Hong Kong's followers with songs from his latest album, this long-time rocker is no stranger to blowing away fans with his guitar skills.
Still revered for his part in the hugely popular rock band, Guns and Roses, and now firmly a rock star in his own right with his band, Slash's Snakepit, and Velvet Revolver. He's worked with some of the rock scene's biggest names. And, despite his public battle with alcohol and drugs, is now a family man and a father of two.
This week on TALK ASIA, we catch up with Slash in Hong Kong, where he talks to us about the current landscape of rock and roll:
SLASH, MUSICIAN: A lot of young guys are sort of grabbing on to the sort of fame and success before they really get their chops together.
RAO: His battle with addiction and his time in rehab:
SLASH: 'Cause I went in not fighting it -- sort of surrendered to it, as the saying goes.
RAO: But he wasn't' so keen to discuss one of his more highly publicized faffs.
SLASH: If we get into this conversation, we're going to be done, you know that?
RAO: Slash, welcome to the show. It's fantastic to have you with us.
RAO: Now, your latest album, Slash, is out and that's why you're here in Hong Kong. You're going to be performing songs from it with the singer Myles Kennedy.
RAO: What's it like, being back on the road?
SLASH: Well, I've been -- we've been on the road, but it's great. I mean, I was on the road with Velvet Revolver all the way through most of 2008. Then, I made this record and just went straight back out. So, during that period where I was just working on the album, I didn't really -- you know, it was only a year and a half, or something like that, before I was back out again, so -- I love being on the road, so.
RAO: When compared to some of the other singers that you've worked with, Myles Kennedy is actually relatively unknown and he does actually seem a lot lest mercurial as well. Why did you decide to work with him?
SLASH: I was making my record and I basically had finished recording 17 songs, I think it was. And, with all the different singers, everything was done and the album was finished, and I had two tracks left over that I thought, musically, were great. And I couldn't think of who was going to sing it. So I thought, well, let's try Myles, and see what happens.
So I sent him one of the demos, and he put a vocal on it and sent it back, and it's the song called "Starlight".
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SLASH: And it's a really great song and, needless to say, I was really impressed. You know, we just did a really successful two-month tour in Europe and we're doing this Asian tour, and we do Australia, and then we do the U.S., and South America, and all this stuff. So it's been really, really cool.
RAO: You got some huge names on "Slash" the album. Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop -- is it true that you were going to ask Michael Jackson before he died?
SLASH: You know, see, you have to be careful what you tell people sometimes, because it always gets -- people only hear what they want to hear. I'd mentioned the -- Michael -- his name went by in my mind in passing at one point. But I didn't have any material for him, and he was about to do those '02 concerts. So I knew -- I just -- it never entered my mind to actually call him. It was a passing thought.
RAO: You did, though, collaborate with him a whole bunch of times on stage?
SLASH: Yes, yes, we had a good working relationship.
RAO: Yes, and the first time that you ever appeared on an album of his was "Dangerous", right?
RAO: It was given to me. What was it like working with him, you know, when you found out that "The King of Pop" wanted to work with you?
SLASH: Where we started really working together was when we shot a video together. We did the MTV Awards together. We did a bunch of shows in Japan, some shows in Germany, some shows in Italy, and, you know, a bunch of stuff like that. And that was where we got to really get to know each other and work with each other.
He's just a phenomenal, I mean, obviously, phenomenal performer. And I just sort of went out and did my thing. So it was sort of like an unsaid thing that we were just, you know -- you play whatever you want to play, and you're going to do whatever you want to do, and that's how we got on.
RAO: You're widely considered to be one of the greatest guitarists ever. You seem to sort of dispute that.
SLASH: I'd like to be.
RAO: Come on, you're just being modest.
SLASH: No, I'm not being modest. I 'm working at it all the time and I have my good nights. You know, when you really connect with the instrument and everything just comes out on an emotional level very naturally through your playing. That's, you know, a great night. And I think the reason I love touring so much is you're chasing that high around all the time, trying to have another good night.
And then, on my off nights, you know, it's not -- it's not necessarily all that great, so I'm working -- still working at it very diligently.
RAO: Let's go back to your pre-Slash days. You know, you had a typical LA '60s upbringing, in that there was zero typical about it at all. Talk to me about what life was like then, when you were living in this celebrity jungle and you were just cheeky little Saul Hudson.
SLASH: I was sort of in the midst of that whole sort of rock and roll LA thing, you know? And that was, you know, it was a lot of fun. A lot of really -- I mean, it was a really creative, really inspired time and the people were really great. And the '60s had left a pretty strong mark on everything, even in the early '70s. So it was very -- a lot of freedom and a lot of open mindedness and so on and so forth. But it was very cool, you know?
And because of that, I was given a lot of freedom as well, and so I turned into a terror by the time I was 12 or 13 years old.
RAO: Yes. I mean, just reading your book, you were quite the scallywag. Racing BMXs and smoking weed, and shoplifting --
SLASH: Oh, so you did read the book? Ok.
RAO: Told you I did.
I mean, how do you look back on those times. Were they happy days?
SLASH: You know, I had a great time. I had some ups -- you know, up periods and down periods. I mean, like anybody else. And it wasn't always a ton of fun, but when I was having fun, I was having as much fun as you can get away with, man.
RAO: Now you and the eventual drummer of Guns and Roses, Steven Adler -- you met as kids and you wanted to form a band. You took up the guitar. What was it that you loved so much about that particular instrument?
SLASH: My dad is a huge rock and roll lead guitar fan. I didn't even really know that until recently. Everything has to have a guitar solo in it. So, when I was coming up, the music that I was primarily listening to was my parents' music. And that was all different kinds of -- from, you know, from the Doors to the Beatles and the Stones and Bob Dylan all the way over to, like, Isaac Hayes and Stevie Wonder, and, like, everything in between.
And, so, when I picked up the guitar, suddenly, just playing a couple of notes really, really spoke to me. It was almost like I should have been doing it prior to that. You know, it was something that just felt really natural. And, as soon as I could put together the, you know, three or four notes that made up, like, sort of a rock and roll lick, you know, like a Chuck Berry kind of thing, I was off and running. Just completely taken over.
RAO: Coming up, we find out whether Slash thinks there'll ever be a Guns and Roses Reunion.
RAO: Guns and Roses had a pretty hard trot, initially, getting signed. But when you did, thanks to -- particularly to MTV's obsession with "Sweet Child of Mine" on your first major album, "Appetite for Destruction". Suddenly, you were the biggest band in America, but you couldn't stand that song. How is that even possible?
SLASH: Well, I mean, OK, you have to understand, like, Guns and Roses' sort of roots as a group was very sort of hardcore rock and roll kind of thing. Very up, sort of in-your-face kind of thing. And very brash and very hard rock, you know?
And, if we did a ballad, it would be something very slow and bluesy, and druggie, and depressing, or whatever. But, "Sweet Child of Mine" was the first up-tempo ballad we'd ever done. And so, it was very poppy in that sense. And so, it took me a while to get past that.
And I play it now, and it's a lot of fun to play and everybody loves it. But in those particular days, it just seemed sort of the antithesis of what the band really was about, you know?
RAO: Is "Paradise City" still your favorite Guns song?
SLASH: It's one of them, yes.
To me, "Paradise City" is very indicative of a certain period of Guns and Roses where it really sort of, you know, it represents the band the way that it really should, you know? But, you know, I love all the Guns and Roses songs.
RAO: Really? Every single one?
SLASH: Pretty much, yes.
RAO: Which other ones in particular?
SLASH: Just pretty much anything that we recorded, I really like because it has its own identifiable sound and certain kind of thing to it, which is as attractive to me as it has been to, you know, millions of people worldwide over the years. If I wasn't in that band, it would have been my favorite band.
RAO: That's a good way to look at it. Guns used to play sold-out arenas all over the world for years. Did you ever get sick of playing the same songs night after night? I mean, you must have played "Sweet Child" thousands of times.
SLASH: No. Not that I recall, you know? There's something about -- I think I'm blessed in the sense that I really, really dig playing and the energy of every given night is different, you k now? And so, you sort of approach each show as a -- sort of a new day kind of thing.
And there's certain ways of playing, or just getting at playing the same song. Or maybe finding stuff that you can play that you didn't play on the record that you might discover in the moment. You know, stuff like that. And so, even to this day, I still love playing, you know -- all that stuff that -- whatever it is that I've been recording, I still really love playing it.
The only time I think I've ever gotten sick of playing Guns and Roses songs really was during -- after having played them in Guns and Roses, and then in Snakepit, and then playing "It's So Easy" and "Brownstone" in Velvet Revolver. Because even in clubs or whatever, where I have to go up and jam, those were like the standard song that everybody knew and that everybody could sing. And I did get sick of playing those two songs. And, at this point, I don't play them in our set, you know.
RAO: The other members of Guns and Roses -- Duff, Izzy, and Steven -- have all contributed to your most recent album.
RAO: What was it like, you know, playing with them now as opposed to back in the day?
SLASH: Well, I mean, you know, like, Steven Adler was the one that I haven't played with in something like 20 years. And so that was really -- that was a special day. It was actually Steven and Flea, who played bass on that track. And the three of us all knew each other when we were first starting out. And we all used to hang out in the same neighborhood.
So it was very cool, all these years later and everything that we've been through, as established musicians -- professional musicians, to go in and play. Because, you know, back in 1980, or whatever it was, Michael Balzary, was playing trumpet. Steve was playing guitar, and I was just about to -- because Steven played Guitar before I did. And he turned me on to the guitar.
So there was this thing going on where we were all on bicycles or skateboards and about to become musicians, you know? So that was cool. And then, you know, working with Izzy, it was just that song really screamed "Izzy" to me. And it was nice to see him and hang out with him. I hadn't seen him in about a year or something. But we've done a lot of jamming over, you know -- since he left Guns and Roses back in '93 or whatever.
And then Duff and I have been in Velvet Revolver this whole time, so it was one of those kind of things where, working with Dave Grohl on this particular song, it just seemed the guy to call to play bass on that particular track was done. So it's, you know, good times. Definitely.
RAO: Conspicuously absent, though, from that group is Axl Rose.
RAO: You know, things did get really rather nasty, it seems. You know, I suppose perpetuated as well by stuff that was said in the press. And people just, you know, embellished and all of that.
SLASH: Yes. I mean, it gets blown out of proportion for sure. It doesn't -- I mean, it's not something that I think about until somebody else brings it up.
RAO: Wow. But everybody must bring it up.
RAO: When's the last time you spoke to him?
SLASH: It hasn't -- I haven't spoken to him since I left the band, still.
RAO: About 15 years?
SLASH: It's been 14, 15 years, yes.
RAO: Are you philosophical about everything that happened?
SLASH: I really don't have any response to any Guns and Roses questions having to do with that at this point, because it's redundant. You know, there's nothing -- I mean, it's been a long time, so I don't really have anything to philosophize about it.
RAO: Yes, I guess.
SLASH: It's really sort of a dead issue.
RAO: Still, though, I mean, Duff said, actually really recently, that as far as any reunion with the original line-up of Guns -- never say never. What about you? Do you say "never"?
SLASH: Well, yes. I used to be really sort of negative about it, because I just don't see it happening, but at the same time, you never know. I mean, a lot of things happen that you weren't expecting, so it's probably a little, sort of negative of me to be completely like, "It's not going to happen", sort of Grinchy about it.
But, I mean, nothing -- no efforts have been made to try and do anything about it, you know. So, I guess you just leave it to chance. You know, maybe it could, maybe it won't, whatever.
RAO: Axl still obviously gets asked about it all the time. And he still sounds like it's, you know, really raw. Particularly his anger for you. And he recently called you "a cancer", which was pretty bad, I think.
SLASH: If we get into this conversation, we're going to be done, you know that?
RAO: OK, fair enough.
SLASH: Because I won't play that game. I'm not about to spend any amount of time dwelling on that.
RAO: No game playing. Indeed. Absolutely.
You did go from a huge, world-famous, massive success of a band and walked out. Was it difficult to get back on the horse after that?
SLASH: No, I think, when that happened, it was so difficult prior to that. So, as soon as I walked out, it was a huge weight off my shoulders. So I was really sort of relieved, so that the first thing I did was just spend the next -- that was in 1996 -- so I spent the next four years just jamming -- just out there enjoying that freedom.
And then had some sort of health issues in 2001, but -- and then, after that, then started putting a band together and then suddenly got into this whole thing with Duff and Matt and doing Velvet Revolver. And did that, obviously, up until 2008. And then I've been doing this thing. So I've managed to keep myself pretty busy, you know? So, it's been good.
RAO: Coming up: Sex, drugs, and rock and roll -- Slash opens up about beating his addictions.
SLASH: I was really done sort of, you know -- with that sort of merry-go- round of drugs and alcohol.
RAO: You know, despite all the good fortune that's come to you, you've had this serious Heroin addiction for years. And that was quite aside from the half-gallon plus vodka binge that you were doing on a daily basis -- where on earth did you find the time to do anything -- and the wherewithal -- to do anything constructive?
SLASH: Because I was a productive junkie. I think my primary focus was always -- I was driven by music. And so I did have these distractions, but I managed to be functional as best as I possibly could. And stayed on top of it, because I was really driven to do these things that I love to do. And that's always been the case with me.
It's not necessarily the case with everybody, so I'm sort of fortunate that way. And that's probably what helped clean me up at the end of the day -- was it started to get in the way of being able to do what it was that I wanted to do. And, after a while, all that stuff does catch up with you.
RAO: What was rehab like for you?
SLASH: It was good. It was very cathartic. I think the main reason -- I mean, I'd established in my mind that I was finished with all that stuff. And the main reason, really -- my thinking, at least, at the time, for going to rehab was just to get away from everybody and just have a month where I could get my head straight. And that's exactly what Rehab did for me.
And it gave me some insight into a lot of other things. You know, because I went in not fighting it -- sort of surrendered to it, as the saying goes. And sort of just went in and open mindedly looking at what it had to offer. And it was good. It was a healthy, whatever it was, 30 days, or something.
And I did -- I got a firm grasp on what I needed to be doing. And that I was really done sort of, you know, with that sort of merry-go-round of drugs and alcohol -- that sort of roller coaster.
RAO: Is it hard being around, you know, everybody else doing it? Because you're still doing the rock and roll. It doesn't have the rock and roll lifestyle.
SLASH: No. No, the lifestyle is the same, I'm just not strung out, you know?
RAO: But you don't even smoke cigarettes anymore.
SLASH: I haven't so far.
RAO: Well done.
SLASH: Still chewing the gum.
SLASH: But, no, I hang -- I have to hang out in the same kind of environment because it makes me feel comfortable. So, no. I haven't changed much, I've just sort of dropped being a prisoner of all these sort of addictions that I had going on.
RAO: OK, so sober since 2006. I guess the most sort of stark physical reminder of everything you did to yourself was that you've got this, you know, defibrillator that gives your heart a jolt when it decides "oh, God, I've got to give up the ghost".
RAO: How hard does that thing have to work?
SLASH: Oh, well has -- it's never really been a problem. It was put in there because it didn't look like I was going to make it. And they thought, well, give him a fighting chance, we'll put that in there. And especially if I was to fall off the wagon, which I did.
But I never had a problem with it. The only time I had any issue with it was -- I did some shows with Michael Jackson in 2001, and I just had that thing put in, and I forgot to mention -- it didn't even occur to me to mention to the doctor that my heart rate goes through the roof when I get on stage. There's an adrenaline rush.
So I got up there, and the thing was going off. And at first, I didn't know what it was. I thought I was standing on a bad ground or something. So, it's like, you know, getting a, you know -- you've seen defibrillators on TV and the sort of impact that they have. It's an internal thing.
So, it's pretty dramatic and it did it about five times both nights for these two shows. So anyway -- so I went back to LA and we adjusted it, and I haven't had issues with it since. And it's sort of cool. You know, you never know -- I could fall off the wagon tomorrow. It'll probably come in handy. But I actually -- I asked them if I could take it out recently and he was like, "why bother at this point?"
RAO: You've got two young sons. I guess you'd have to be a, you know, "Do as I say, don't do as I do" type of dad, right?
SLASH: Yes. We'll get to that.
SLASH: They're too young right now, but I'm sure I'll be crossing both those -- those bridges with both of them at some point in time.
RAO: Would you ever want them to read your book? I mean, there's a lot of details in there.
SLASH: I, well, I mean, all things considered, I think when they get to the age where they could read that book, they're not going to be interested. They're going to be too busy with things that they want to do and not really concerned about what dad did, you know? I'm almost positive of that. Knowing my kids already -- the way that they think.
RAO: Slash, this was a great pleasure meeting you. Thank you so much.
SLASH: Nice meeting you too.