Interview: Slash Talks About 'Live: Made in Stoke—24/7/11' and His Video for "Back From Cali"
On July 24 of this year, guitar legend Slash played Stoke-on-Trent, England, the day after his birthday. This concert held a special significance for him, because he was born in Hampstead (he was known as Saul Hudson before he was Slash) and he had grown up in the area until he turned 6. It’s fitting then that he played a career-spanning set, covering his work in Guns N’ Roses, Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver, and his recent Slash CD, which he recorded for posterity’s sake on the just-released double-CD and DVD set Live: Made in Stoke—24/7/11. Dueling with the soaring vocals of Myles Kennedy, who splits his time between working with the guitarist and Alter Bridge, Slash sounds positively electric on the album, wailing on GN’R classics like “Nightrain” and Slash songs like “Back From Cali” alike. Proud of the concert, the axman spoke to Revolver today about it and his live performance of the latter song, which you can see here.
REVOLVER What did it mean to you to be playing in Stoke-on-Trent the day after your birthday?
SLASH It was cool. I’ve been wanting to play in Stoke since probably since Guns did its first U.K. tour back in, like, 1988. Because it’s such a small place, it was never, like, a choice destination for any of the promoters or agents. So this time around, since it was my own solo thing, I made sure that it was on there. And it just seemed like a fitting location to shoot the DVD. It was close to the end of the tour, so it just made sense. It was a great experience doing the gig and it turned out to be, you know mistakes and all, a pretty cool live show.
You lived there until you were 6. Do you have memories of there?
Yeah, ’cause I got to L.A. in 1971. I went to school there and I had great memories from there. It’s one of those things where it’s a very cozy, close-knit, small town. Very English: shit weather, very green, though, and very personable, and everybody knows everybody. And I have my whole British side of my family there, aunts and uncles, and it was very traditional. Moving to L.A. was a fucking shock, you know? [Laughs] So I always had a soft spot, still do, for Stoke and England in general. But it was obviously in the cards for me to move to L.A., ’cause I don’t think I could have managed to get where I’m at, at this point. I just don’t think I would have made the same decisions. Maybe I would have, who knows? I mean Lemmy’s from Stoke, so’s Robbie Williams.
Did any of your family come out to that show?
Yeah, my uncle and cousins and aunts and friends of the family and all that. There was a definite after-show get-together that was a lot of fun. The show was in Stoke proper, which is the name of the city, but the town that I’m from is actually called Blurton, which is just this sort of small village within the city. And I was gonna go into Blurton that night and go see my old, but by the time everybody had got done carousing, everybody was too drunk and it was too late to make the trek, plus apparently the bus wouldn’t fit on the street. [Laughs] So we would have had to do some walking, so we took off for, what was it, Liverpool after that.
Does your family know you as Slash, or do they still call you Saul?
They definitely call me Slash. It’s hard to explain why that is. I think because the person they knew as Saul was this little boy, and they haven’t seen me since then until I became Slash and Slash is sort of, for the most part, sort of bigger than life. They like that aspect. [Laughs] I’m still Saul in the family sense. But they call me Slash because it’s more exciting, I think. They’re just all very, very sweet and very fun-loving people. And when I come into town it means there’s a concert, [laughs], you know there’s something fun to do, you know?
What does “Back From Cali” mean to you?
When Myles wrote the lyrics “Back From Cali,” and I’ll be honest I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on lyrics, but because he’s from Spokane, and just because of his personality I can totally see him being eaten up by the debauchery in Los Angeles and begging for someone to fucking retrieve him. [Laughs] That’s basically it. I’m from L.A. and I’ve been here obviously long enough and I’m very used to the extremities of L.A., especially in the sort of music and entertainment circles and so on, and you can get sucked into it. But Myles is really, he’s not really that type of guy. He’s quiet and sort of a little bit withdrawn. Not as a singer. He’s a really nice guy and sort of naïve in his own way, so I can see him getting sucked into the L.A. thing and just going “Oh, God, help me,” you know?
I know that that’s something that you’ve already gotten past in your life already?
No, that’s the thing. It’s still very much a part of my life, I’m just not the center of the drug-and-alcohol thing like I used to be. In other words, I was the highest and the drunkest one, and so now I’m not; I’m the sober one. But the shit around me hasn’t changed at all.
Was it an easy song to write, musically?
Well, the way that I got hooked up with Myles in the first place, was I had written and recorded this whole solo record with all these different artists, and I had two pieces of music that were, in my mind’s eye, really cool or had tons of potential. But I couldn’t think of the right vocalist to sing them. Myles’ name had been popping up for years, but I had never met the guy, didn’t even know what he looked like. And then something had happened where he got called down to work with Led Zeppelin for something, and I just was like, This guy must be good. [Laughs] So I just took a chance and just I thought, Well, what about the Myles Kennedy guy? And called him up and told him what I was doing and sent him the music for “Starlight.” About a week later, he sent back the demo with his vocal on it, and I was just floored. So I flew him into L.A., and we recorded the song. And when he went back to Spokane, I started mixing the record, and I was actually at the mastering stage, and I thought, That other riff I have might be really good for him. So I sent him that, and he sent me back the song “Back From Cali.” And it was at that point when he did the final vocals for that, that I started thinking, I’m out looking for singers to do this tour, and he’s probably the only one good enough to sing the diversity of the show, which is like Guns stuff, Snakepit, stuff from the solo record, and Velvet Revolver. He was the only person I could think of that could do that. And I didn’t even know him that long; it was just a hunch. So I asked him if he wanted to do the tour, and off we went. That’s how we got together and “Back From Cali” just sort off happened like that.
What did doing this career-spanning tour mean to you?
It’s sort of a liberating. Since I first started working on that record, it has been extremely liberating compared to what I’ve been doing in the confines of a democracy in a band, you know? So, it’s been sort of cool. ’Cause in a band, the band itself sort of dictates a lot of different things, at least the bands I work with, which is a good thing. Everybody has an opinion and everybody gets heard. So it’s nice to get out of that for a minute and just do whatever it is the fuck I wanna do, you know, and take responsibility for it one way or another.
Now you are working on a new album.
Well, we recorded three songs already. And we did that before Myles took off [with Alter Bridge], just to sort of have some stuff in the can and be able to let the people that are gonna be distributing the record get some idea of what it sounds like. And those are killer, all right. So, now we’re in preproduction again doing the remaining 14, 15, 16 songs that we have until Myles gets back. And it’s a really fucking great record. Musically, it covers a lot of ground and it’s got a lot of depth. From a writing and player’s standpoint, it’s been probably my most adventurous record I’ve done to date. In some ways, in other ways it’s just so straight-ahead rock n’ roll, that it’s very simplistic. But it’s very diverse.
You’ve been writing music almost 30 years now. You wrote the Guns N’ Roses song “Rocket Queen” back in 1983. Do you ever get tired of playing it?
It was actually written before [one of Slash’s early bands] Road Crew, which was way before Guns started. Any of the Guns stuff that we do I haven’t played in so fucking long that I don’t get tired of playing it. I don’t remember ever getting sick of playing any of the Guns songs, especially Appetite songs. Even back then. I hate to record something I don’t like, ’cause then that’s when you dread playing it later, [laughs] you know?