His long, curly hair has become his trademark, sort of like Mick Jagger‘s mouth, and his riffs still resonate back from the heyday of his former band, Guns N’ Roses. Hailed as one of the best guitarists of all time, Slash is back with new band Velvet Revolver – and he means business.
musicOMH caught up with Slash and his former Guns N’ Roses cohort (now fellow Velvet Revolver band mate) Duff McKagan and discovered that the swagger of old is still very much intact…
“The music that’s happening in the entertainment business right now has turned into such a major scene. But as predictable as all that is, in the medium that we call rock ‘n’ roll, it’s just dead.”
So Slash and his fellow bandmates are set to revive rock and all that goes with it, including attitude. And when you’ve got bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum in the band, the task seems easy. Reunited for the first time since the Use Your Illusion albums and tour, the three former Gunners “sort of fell together – it’s a long story,” says Slash. “A friend of ours died two years ago, and there was a fundraiser for his family. All his friends were going to play. Matt and I were going to play as well. So we put a band together.”
“The moment we… played a few chords, that chemistry, that inexplicable thing came back” – Duff Mackagan on how playing with Slash at a gig for a friend two years ago led to the birth of Velvet Revolver.
First on the list was Duff. “He came down from Seattle. We got a couple of guys from Buckcherry to sing and play rhythm guitar and we threw a quick set together.” The old feelings resurged. “The response was huge and it was just a magical evening.” The “magic” was also felt by Duff, as he explains: “I had totally switched my focus to getting a degree in finance from this high-brow university. But the moment we got in and played a few chords, that chemistry, that inexplicable thing came back.”
They knew they had something but weren’t sure about the line-up. Slash explains that working with the guys from Buckcherry “didn’t work out but Duff had a guitar player in his band who happened to be a friend of mine – Dave Kushner.” The former Suicidal Tendencies musician had all the necessary qualities, including the ability to play with Slash. “Not everybody can play guitar with Slash,” Duff explains, “and there are only probably two guys in the world who can. We found the second guy. The other guy was Izzy (Stradlin, ex-G ‘N’ R).”
The auditions for a singer went less smoothly – even former Skid Row screecher Sebastian Bach didn’t make it. Then along came former Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland. “He just walked in the room and the presence was amazing,” Duff remembers. “He’s the best rock ‘n’ roll singer in the world.”
“He just walked in the room and the presence was amazing” – Duff Mackagan on former Stone Temple Pilot and now VR frontman Scott Weiland.
Slash instantly knew he had found his singer: “It wasn’t like some major rock star that just walked in, but it was this guy who had a lot of charisma and this great, cool voice.”
Joining the band may have been a career move for Scott (“He wants to be an unrattled rocker,” according to Duff), but also a means of catharsis. The singer’s much-publicised battle with drug addiction and its consequences are the main theme in the lyrics. Slash believes that Weiland’s documenting of his problems is: “… definitely therapeutic because when you can express yourself about a subject that’s on your mind and when you have an outlet like singing, if you use it, then you’re definitely getting s**t off your chest.” And since the former G N’ R boys are no strangers to drugs, they are able to help Scott fight his demons. “We support him completely. If he ever needs us, we’re there,” says the now-clean Slash.
The painful, moving lyrics contrast with the aggressive sound of Velvet Revolver’s debut album Contraband. “It is aggressive compared to our other stuff – more aggressive than angry in the truest sense than anything that’s out there. It’s going to be very infectious,” he promises. He may be right, although they’ll have to go some to reach the same heights as G N’ R did. Nevertheless, Slash refuses to compromise music for marketing.
“I haven’t talked to Axl in years, since the day I left” – Slash on his lack of relationship with his former Guns ‘N’ Roses band mate
“We were always just us. But at this particular period in the business, there’s a whole, big conformity thing going on and everybody’s trying to sell themselves out. And the priorities for doing music have changed, I think. The reason people do it now is so they can be seen… We’re just going to do the same thing that we did back when Guns started, which is do the exact opposite of whatever everybody else is doing.”
Speaking of Guns N’ Roses, their sound may be (re)discovered on the recent Greatest Hits, an album which Slash and Duff had no say in whatsoever. “None of us are really happy about it,” Slash says. “But I don’t want to dwell on it anymore. It’s just out, what the f**k.” Duff continues: “We had no say in any of it, none of us did. And there are five covers out of the 12 songs, so enough said. We wouldn’t have done that.”
G N’ R singer and now only original member Axl Rose’s involvement is unknown. “I haven’t talked to Axl in years, since the day I left,” says Slash. “I’m sure [Geffen records] went to Axl at some point, but at the same time, Guns N’ Roses owes them a lot of records, so I doubt they’re going to ask a lot of questions.”
But fans will. They are bound to draw the inevitable similarities between Velvet Revolver, Guns N’ Roses and Stone Temple Pilots, both music- and name-wise. Slash, however, insists that the name of the band is simply composed of “two cool-sounding words. There’s no double entendre.”
No relation between a gun and a revolver, nor a sex pistol, then? “Hey, good, I never put that together! But it doesn’t mean anything,” Duff reiterates.
The name may not, but the band certainly does…