Slash never expected this to happen: He's back in Guns N' Roses after two decades of exile, reunited with singer Axl Rose and bassist Duff McKagan for a close approximation of the band's founding lineup, playing the old hits and deep cuts at stadiums and festivals around the world. The guitarist even seems happy and relaxed about it all, but the man beneath the top hat isn't taking anything for granted.
For one thing, GN'R are no longer the perpetually trashed band of misfit rockers they were back in the crazed Eighties and early Nineties. Slash is clear-headed and sober in our current millennium. That leaves a lot of free time and energy for other projects, both musical and cinematic, including as producer of his first horror film, Nothing Left to Fear, in 2013.
The irony of Guns N' Roses coming back together in 2016 is that it happened just when Slash finally had a personal band that was built to last: the hard-riffing, if awkwardly named, Slash ft. Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators. So, when GN'R's hugely successful Not in This Lifetime Tour took a break this year, Slash immediately reconvened the Conspirators to record a new album, Living the Dream.
He'd been through a post-Guns round of success and agony with the supergroup Velvet Revolver, which broke apart amid the usual acrimony and lead-singer dysfunction in 2008. The Conspirators are different, allowing Slash an open-ended outlet to record and tour under his own name, with some musicians whose company he continues to enjoy. And he's confident both bands can co-exist into the future, even as the vague, but real, possibility of creating new material with Axl and Duff hangs in the air.
Until then, GN'R has dropped a 30-megaton monument to its own history with Appetite for Destruction: Locked N' Loaded, a box set celebrating the three decades since the band's 1987 debut album. Long-suffering Guns fans can wade into a mountain of music and ephemera that includes the original album and early EPs remastered, more than two-dozen previously unreleased demos and original songs, plus skull rings, GN'R buttons, patches, posters, guitar picks and other mementos to take you right back to the Sunset Strip of the middle Eighties. (Less expensive and less expansive versions of the remastered classic are also available.)
Slash recently sat down with Revolver at Sphere Studios in North Hollywood, wearing dark aviator shades, black curls past his shoulders and a devil's head pendant over his chest. Surrounded by electric guitars and book cases, the guitarist was ready to break his preferred silence to discuss GN'R and his ongoing commitment with the Conspirators.
WHEN YOU FIRST HAD YOUR BAND THE SNAKEPIT IN 1994–95, IT SEEMED LIKE THAT WAS MEANT TO ONLY BE A SIDE PROJECT TO GN'R. BY THE TIME YOU INTRODUCED THE CONSPIRATORS, IT SOON BECAME YOUR MAIN OUTLET.
SLASH After Velvet Revolver fizzled out, I thought, I really want to do something on my own — put it all together, control it, not have to answer to anybody. So I did the solo record [Slash, 2010] with all the different singers on it. And that was a blast.
At the end of the recording sessions of that record, I had Myles Kennedy come in. I didn't know Myles and I really wasn't familiar with his voice. So when I heard him sing two pieces of music, I was like, "This guy's amazing." I asked him if he wanted to do a tour for this record, because he had the range to cover all the material on that album, and also do Velvet Revolver, Snakepit and Guns N' Roses.
Then I met [drummer] Ben Fitz and [bassist] Todd Kerns, and we had this great little rock & roll band. There was a really great spark that happened from the first rehearsal with all those guys. We really became a unit, and we've been going strong ever since.
THEN WHAT HAPPENED?
This miraculous thing happened where Guns N' Roses more or less got back together. We ended up touring for a year and a half before there was a break. And I thought, during that break, I want to bet back to the Conspirators and do a record.
The Conspirators is something very near and dear to me that I will continue to do. At the same, all of a sudden Guns N' Roses is back together and I want to do that. When I did the Snakepit thing, it was just a side-project to do after the last big Guns N' Roses tour [in 1993]. It was a different thing altogether. It wasn't very stable. [Laughs] I was just doing it for fun.
WHAT IS IT LIKE TO HAVE TWO MAIN OUTLETS NOW?
This all really just happened. The Living the Dream record with the Conspirators is great. And having just spent two years with Guns N' Roses has a great awesome thing to it as well. So now it's a mater of juggling between the two. I don't know what the future brings. But it seems doable.
WITH GN'R, THERE'S A LOT OF BUILT-IN INTEREST AND EXPECTATION AS A GIGANTIC BAND. IT MUST CHANGE WHAT YOU HAVE TO DEAL WITH.
Actually, with Guns N' Roses, it's sort of self-enduring, self-maintaining. It's relatively easy. We get together and we work and we get on the road and work our asses off. It's been a real simple touring experience. It doesn't require a lot of thought about how to this or how to do that. We just keep going.
HOW DID THE NEW CONSPIRATORS RECORD COME TOGETHER?
I write when we're on the road in dressing rooms and on the bus — wherever I happen to sit for any span of time. I had a couple different ideas. We jammed a couple of things at soundcheck. We had a couple pre-production sessions where we started working on some of these ideas. Then the Guns thing happened and everything stalled.
Then we got back together in 2018. We went into a room, and I made up a riff right there on the spot just so we had something to play. Because that's always an awkward moment: What's the first thing we do? I've been gone a year and a half. I made up something that ended up being a song, "Mind Your Manners."
DO YOU WRITE SPECIFICALLY THINKING OF A PARTICULAR BAND?
What happens is that when I'm out with Guns, I'm completely focused on Guns. I'm not thinking about new material for the Conspirators. If I made up anything, it would be more for Guns N' Roses because it was in that time. But when we took that break, I switched gears and started thinking about the Conspirators and writing with that in mind.
HOW IS THE MUSIC THAT ORIGINALLY INSPIRED YOU STILL PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
With rock & roll, the thing that turned me on to start playing in the first place, that will always be the core of what I want to do with any band I've been in or I'll be in. [Laughs] With the Conspirators, albums can have some diversity, but it's still centered around hard-hitting rock & roll stuff. With Guns N' Roses, it's the same kind of thing. I do write some stuff outside of that realm, because I've been working on things that have to do with horror movies and thrillers. It tends to be orchestrated. That's because I'm thinking on a whole other wavelength.
WHAT'S THE MESSAGE BEHIND THE ALBUM TITLE LIVING THE DREAM?
There's never any universal theme that ties the material together. Each song is in its own little space. The title of the record is an offhand sarcastic remark about the state of the world at the moment. In light of everything that's going on, you couldn't help but say something.
I thought it was funny, considering the climate we're in right now. I don't focus anything on politics musically or as a concept. The word "dream" gets thrown around a lot. I thought Living the Dream was appropriate for what we've seen going on. Not only in this country, but other countries as well.
WHEN YOUR LAST RECORD CAME OUT, THE FIRST PART OF YOUR TOUR IN 2014 WAS WITH AEROSMITH. GN'R HAS TWO COVER VERSIONS OF THEIR "MAMA KIN" ON THE NEW BOX SET, SO YOU HAVE A LONG CONNECTION WITH THEM.
I've been friends with the guys in Aerosmith since 1988. That's when we really met. Prior to that I was just a big fan. I know for sure the Aerosmith Rocks record was a catalyst to turn me on for what I do now.
YOU WERE ALSO CLOSE TO LEMMY. WHAT IS HIS LEGACY FOR YOU?
Lemmy was such a fucking awesome individual. We were good friends since we met in 1987, which is when Guns first went to London. Motörhead was doing a record. We went down to meet them for the first time and we all hit it off. Lemmy and I kept in touch and became good friends over the years.
He was such a great example of what rock & roll was all about. You can put on all kinds of labels — heavy metal, hard rock, whatever — but he embodied the spirit of what rock & roll is. For years and years, I could be anywhere in the world and somehow Lemmy was there. The planet is a lesser place without him. I really miss him a lot.
WITH GUNS N' ROSES, YOU'RE ALSO IN A BAND THAT MEANS A LOT TO PEOPLE. HAVE YOU GIVEN ANY THOUGHT TO YOUR OWN HISTORY?
I never stop and think about what my contribution is to all this. Being part of Guns N' Roses — when I was out on the road with those guys the last couple of years, I was reminded of the significance the band and the records have had for people. That is almost a surreal kind of feeling.
Being involved with something again 20 years later, after being away from it for so long, and going out and having the enthusiasm and love that people have shown the band, it's very humbling. You feel very fortunate being involved in a situation that has stood the test of time for that long.
HOW DID GUNS GO ABOUT CREATING THE MASSIVE NEW BOX SET FOR APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION?
The box set was for the 30-year anniversary. We wanted to put everything in there that we're aware of. There was stuff we had in the can that no one has ever heard — plus some live stuff and different things that the band has done and put in this one package. It was fun to get all that stuff together. It was cool to sit there and remaster it and hear that stuff again for what's been years and years.
THE FULL-SIZED BOX ISN'T JUST MUSIC, BUT ALL THAT ARTWORK, JEWELRY AND MORE.
[Laughs] A lot of people were complaining about the price of it [$999], but there's so much stuff in there. And the box itself is this wood thing that's hand-done in leather. You can get all the material in a less grandiose package. It's really cool. For me personally, it was cathartic to get that stuff out there.
WAS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU FOUND WHILE PUTTING IT TOGETHER THAT SURPRISED YOU?
There was some stuff from the Marquee [in London, 1987] — I never actually heard it until just recently. We'd just recorded the [debut] album. It hadn't even come out yet.
Another one of the things that was really cool was a song called "Shadow of Your Love" that we used to play in 1985. It was one of the earliest songs that we played together. It was part of the set back then, and as the Appetite lineup started writing those songs, it got phased out of the set and we didn't play it again for a long time.
We went into the studio with Mike Clink to see what that would sound like, that was the song that we did with him. That was the test track. We didn't put it on Appetite so it floundered all these years. To go in to remix and master that and release it after all this time — for me, it was, "Wow, this is a trip!" It's got a certain energy to it. You definitely get the spirit of the band from way back when.
THE FIRST THING GUNS N' ROSES DID AFTER REFORMING IN 2016 WAS PERFORM AT THE TROUBADOUR IN WEST HOLLYWOOD, WHERE A LOT OF YOUR EARLIEST SHOWS HAPPENED.
It wasn't even the gig so much as showing up for soundcheck and being in this venue that we got our start in. I have a history going back there to when I first moved to Los Angeles — 6 or 7 years old and going with my parents to see Linda Ronstadt. That afternoon loading in and getting set up for soundcheck, that was a very surreal moment for me.
A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE SURPRISED WHEN GN'R DID VELVET REVOLVER'S "SLITHER" THIS YEAR ON THE ROAD. HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?
When we first started rehearsing, we had a pretty lengthy set list. And we had a list of songs which we called "alternative tracks." And "Slither" was actually on there two years ago, but we just never did it. And then we started rehearsing for this last European festival and stadium run that we did. Axl said, "Let's try Slither." We just fell into it and he really dug it.
But in a lot of ways for myself and for Duff, it also had a little bit of homage to Scott [Weiland]. All in all, it was a really cool and cathartic thing to go out and play that song after all these years — especially after losing Scott and playing it for all these people.
FOR A LOT OF BANDS THAT REUNITE, MATERIAL DONE WITH ANOTHER BAND MIGHT BE OFF-LIMITS. IT SEEMS TO SAY SOMETHING ABOUT THE STATE OF GN'R THAT AXL WOULD SING A VELVET REVOLVER SONG.
There was a really great camaraderie from the get-go — since we got back together. It's been really healthy. Doing something like that is very much in line with how harmonious the whole thing has been. It's a little bit of a statement to how the band is working together.
YOU HAVE ANOTHER BAND, BUT AXL DOESN'T. SHOULD WE ASSUME THAT MEANS YOU WILL BE RECORDING NEW GN'R MUSIC TOGETHER?
We'll see what happens. It's really early to tell what we're going to do with Guns N' Roses and new material. We want to do something. We've been on the road this entire time. We have another leg coming up in November in Southeast Asia, Dubai and South Africa. Then we're going to start looking at what the next step is going to be.