Axl Rose on Inspiring Ghost Rider, Playing With Duff, Admiring Jagger | Revolver

Axl Rose on Inspiring Ghost Rider, Playing With Duff, Admiring Jagger

Guns N' Roses frontman: "I don't Gmail"
axldeankarr.jpg, Dean Karr
Guns N' Roses' Axl Rose performing at the 2014 Golden Gods Awards
photograph by Dean Karr

"We were making jokes backstage that after I went out to get my award, you were gonna shove me in a tube or something, like in The Running Man," Axl Rose says with a laugh. "Gotta go down below and fight or whatever..."

Much to Rose's relief, upon accepting his Ronnie James Dio Lifetime Achievement Award, Revolver did not send him, statue still in hand, to battle any subterranean warriors. But following laudatory speeches from comic legend Andrew "Dice" Clay and a spirited Nicolas Cage, Rose did indeed get right to work. The singer and his Guns N' Roses bandmates—guitarists DJ Ashba, Bumblefoot, and Richard Fortus; keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Chris Pitman; drummer Frank Ferrer; and original Gunner Duff McKagan (filling in for current bassist Tommy Stinson, who is off on a reunion jaunt with his old band, the Replacements)—took to the Golden Gods stage to close out the show in grand fashion, plowing through a nine-song, hour-plus-long set that featured plenty of Appetite for Destruction ("It's So Easy," "Welcome to the Jungle," "Paradise City") and Use Your Illusion ("You Could Be Mine," "November Rain," "Knockin' on Heaven's Door") classics, with a few 21st century Guns tunes (the Chinese Democracy tracks "Better" and "This I Love") thrown in for good measure. It was a dynamic, career-spanning performance, as befitting an artist who had just been honored for a lifetime's worth of musical achievements.

Which is not to say that all those achievements are in the past. As Rose tells Revolver in this rare and exclusive post-Golden Gods interview, there is still much work ahead for Guns N' Roses, both onstage and, he reveals, in the studio. So while he was happy to accept his Lifetime Achievement award, he also makes it clear that he is still far from done.

"Hopefully there'll be at least a few more years," Rose says, "and then we can judge everything a little better." He laughs again. "If I'm lucky!"

REVOLVER Congratulations on winning the Ronnie James Dio Lifetime Achievement Award.
Thank you. It was actually kind of a surprise to me. And I appreciate it and stuff, but, personally, I don't feel like I've done enough of anything to have a lifetime achievement award. But that's just me. I know other people were really happy for me about it so that was a good thing. I just feel like, you know, it's been a long, slow process beyond comprehension with Chinese Democracy, but it's still moving forward and there's a lot more that we hope to do.

It was a nice moment when Nicolas Cage came out to present you with the statue.
He's a big fan. We hadn't met before, but it's my understanding that he reached out wanting to do it. So it came together and we met before the show and it was really cool. But I didn't hear anything that he or Dice said about me onstage. It didn't come through my in-ear [monitors]. And really, anything they did say that was complimentary, it's probably better that I didn't hear it so I wasn't more embarrassed.

One thing Nicolas Cage did admit to was that he prepared for his role as Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider by studying what he called your "cobra-like onstage movement."
He told me that before the show! Because we were talking about some of his movies and I said I really liked the second Ghost Rider. And so he told me about it. He said it was kind of like I was in his movie.

So when you watched it, did you stop and say, "Wait a minute…"
[Laughs] I don't know about that. Though I would like to have some of those abilities…

How did Dice become involved in the presentation?
I've known Dice for a long time. But I hadn't seen him since we played the Gibson Amphitheatre [in L.A.], back in '06, I think. And I don't exactly know how everything came together with his speech, but he did ask me before the show if I had been Gmail-ing him. And I was like, "Nope. I don't Gmail." So somebody's been Gmail-ing Dice, acting like they're me.

The headline act at the Golden Gods typically plays four or five songs. Guns N' Roses did over an hour. It was like a show within a show.
We wanted to do that. We were very happy that you guys allowed us to do that. We were glad to be asked to do it and we had fun with it.

And yet for Guns it was actually a pretty short performance—you've been known to play gigs that run close to three hours. Why is it important to you to give fans that type of show?
When we do that, as a band we know we gave at the office. We gave the most we could and we gave what felt right. And, generally, we like to give people more than they feel they paid for. I don't think it's necessarily fair for people to expect that from us, but there's something where we feel good when we did it. Like we rose to the challenge and we delivered and we didn't take the easy way out. We like that.

Is there a song of yours that is your favorite to play onstage?
I can't really think of anything that's a favorite. I just kind of look at whatever particular show we have to do as a whole. But one thing I do like to do when I'm not playing or singing onstage is I like talking through the microphone into the other guys' in-ears and telling them jokes and stuff to try to mess up their playing. [laughs]

Really? Who's the easiest to mess with?
DJ and Dizzy. I'll talk to them during their solos. That's always a lot of fun…

Duff told us that it's been a great experience for him to play with Guns again.
It went really well. He worked really hard on the parts and he liked playing the newer songs from Chinese. And you know, it's pretty funny because we'd go to talk about certain things from Illusions, and there's things he doesn't remember, there's things I don't remember. We kind of finish some of each other's memories sometimes. And the Duff that played these shows with us isn't really the Duff that I knew from what I'd call "Old Guns" or the Appetite lineup or the Illusions lineup. Because with this band, with this lineup, everybody goes out and tries to do their very best, and every guy's on. I don't have to tell the other guys what to do or anything, they do it on their own. They push each other really, really hard. That also pushed Duff, and he liked the challenge of that. And he got along with the guys really well. He and some of the band and crew were doing their yoga together during the days we were out there, so…

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Nicolas Cage (right) presenting Axl Rose with the Lifetime Achievement Award
photograph by Rob Fenn

I would imagine that's not what was going on in earlier years.
Back in the day? No. Definitely not doing yoga. [Laughs] That's when they would drink as much as they could. And they had this game they would play where they would jump over this ditch and slam themselves into a fence. And then slide down into the ditch, kind of in a coma. That was their version of exercise back then.

It was great to see and hear you and Duff pairing up on the vocals in "It's So Easy," just like in the old days.
That was a fun thing about some of these shows. Because there's also things like that little line in "Civil War"—"Peace could last forever." Duff wrote that line, and he sings it. And I've always been a fan of Duff's voice. There's a punk element to it and a sincerity to it. I like hearing it.

Do you envision you and Duff doing more work together?
It's possible. I don't know yet. It depends on scheduling, or what shows Tommy [Stinson] wants to do with the Replacements and stuff like that. And you know, almost everybody in the band has some kind of issue going on, personally. There's people who have lost family members. Other people are dealing with separations. Sometimes court gets in the way. Real life!

Where do things stand as far as recording new Guns N' Roses music?
We recorded a lot of things before Chinese was out. We've worked more on some of those things and we've written a few new things. But basically, we have what I call kind of the second half of Chinese. That's already recorded. And then we have a remix album made of the songs from Chinese. That's been done for a while, too. But after Vegas [Guns N' Roses is performing a residency at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino that runs through early June], we're going to start looking very seriously at what we're doing in that regard.

Back when you were first starting out with Guns, what was your idea of what success would look like?
Well, I think Guns N' Roses achieved a lot of that. There were things that you were disillusioned by, but there were a lot of other things that would be considered achieving success. The amount of sales. The amount of people that were into it. Things like that. But I think that as much as we tried to be on top of the business, we were very naïve businesswise. I think there were things we could have done better, and I feel the labels and the attorneys and the A&R men all knew that. But they wanted the band to be set up in a way where they could attempt to manipulate it. And that didn't really work out for anybody. Including them. You know, we still have not done what I consider a legitimate U.S. tour [with the current lineup] because of prior managers and agents attempting to manipulate it so that it wouldn't be as successful as it could be. In order to try to steer me toward wanting a reunion [of the original lineup].

You feel that people have pushed you to try to make that happen?
Well, I feel there's people in the industry who feel that they can make some money off that. So that's what they want. Even our last U.S. arena tour, that was put together by yet another manager and agent, and then we eventually let that person go and took the tour over. But at the time of taking it over, most of it was already in place. So then we made it work for us, but had it been set up the way we feel it should have been from the beginning it could have been more successful than it was. But once it's in place, there's no fixing it. And the laws are set up so that managers and agents are protected to do what they want. The artist has to go along with it or he's the one who's sued.

When you look back over your career, do you have any regrets?
I think saying you don't have any regrets has become a popular thing for a lot of pop stars or whatever over the years. But I never buy that. So yeah, there's things that could've been done better…or not. At the same time, I don't know if I would have been able to do a lot of things, as far as with Guns N' Roses and who's in it or not in it and how that's gone, any differently.

As Revolver's Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, who else in your opinion deserves the statue?
It's hard to say. Mick Jagger? To me, Mick Jagger is one of the greatest athletes who ever lived, just for how much he puts into it onstage. I went and saw the Stones in Vegas on their last tour and it's like, how hard they work at it, it's there. It's evident.

Like Jagger, can you see yourself still doing what you do at 70?
I'm starting to get there! You know? [Laughs] Bastard makes you work for it, doesn't he?