By Brian Ives
“I don’t think interviews [are] anyone’s favorite part of being a musician,” Slash said, as he entered the Radio.com studio in New York for, well, an interview. Slash was here to promote World On Fire, his recently released third solo album and second with backing band Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators.
It may be true that many artists aren’t fans of interviews, but the iconic guitarist can be particularly shy, as evidenced by the fact that he’s frequently hidden behind an explosion of curly hair, often paired with a top hat and usually shades as well. But when reminded that he’d had a good experience with Radio.com when he was promoting his last album, and after promising not to bring up the names Paul Stanley (who aired a decades-old beef with Slash in his recent memoir Face the Music) or Axl Rose (what else is left to say, anyway?), he relaxed.
And once we got going, he was even downright happy to talk, opening up about his current band, his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Guns N’ Roses in 2012, the future of Velvet Revolver and the state of rock ‘n’ roll in 2014.
Radio.com: You introduced your new album with edgy, NSFW lyric video for “World on Fire,” which has an element of danger that most music videos don’t have.
Slash: The director sent me a treatment, and I was like, “That’s more involved than just putting the lyrics on the screen.” It was a one day shoot in his house. I’m really sick of the standard issue video these days. I was really happy with it. Someone asked, ‘Why is it so tacky?” Well, that’s the beauty of it. We definitely pushed the envelope on that one. I’m glad we’re not trying to get it on MTV. She’s having sex with a hood ornament!”
The video struck me as something Guns N’ Roses would have done. You don’t really see that element of danger in rock music today.
One of the things about rock ‘n’ roll at this particular point is that it has become very safe and predictable. I miss that element of pushing the envelope. But at the same time, in other genres, I have seen that. There’s a Lil’ Jon video [“Turn Down For What,” with DJ Snake], it’s the most hardcore, suggestive video… it’s beyond suggestive.
Do you think rock ‘n’ roll will get less safe at some point?
I think maybe we’re in a time right now where something like that will happen, there will be some new young band that’s gonna stick it’s middle finger up the a– of the music business and be the voice of the people and bring rock back in that way. It’s hard to know how it will happen. But it will. The thing is, we’ve seen everything. And you think nothing’s going to shock anybody anymore. You don’t want to be the band sitting around trying to figure out how to get noticed. That’s wrong. You have to get noticed because what you do naturally is just against the grain enough that people will go, “Oh my God, what is that?” But so much stuff is acceptable now that wasn’t ten years ago.
A lot of artists are just concerned with being in the public eye. Surely you’ve been asked to be on a reality show.
A bunch of times. I think, “Why would you think I would do that? You’ve got to be f—in’ kidding me!” I did do a mentorship on American Idol, which at the time, I didn’t want to do. But they told me I could do it my way, so I said OK, and it was an interesting experience. But I don’t really subscribe to the whole talent contest thing.
You’ve been with your current band (Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators) since you started touring for your self-titled album in 2010. When did it start to feel like a band?
It really started to feel like a band in that first week of rehearsal in 2010, when I first started working with these guys. There was a great enthusiasm, these guys have great rock ‘n’ roll chops. It’s just been getting better and better ever since, and I think it shows in the difference in the two records we’ve done since [2012’s Apocalyptic Love and the new World on Fire]. Now we have a comfort level and familiarity with each other, but the spark has been there since the beginning. Once we started touring, it became clear to me that if I made a new record, it would make sense to do it with these guys. And it took on a life of its own from that point.
Obviously, you had quite a history at that point, between Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver. Did you get the sense that any of the guys in your band were fans? Were they geeking out?
Nobody talked about it. What was really funny was that later on, it became clear to me that [bassist] Todd [Kern] is a phenomenal singer. Initially, I didn’t know that. At some point, I got wind of the fact that he had been in a cover band that was able to play all of Guns N’ Roses’ songs, and that was sort of funny. So I started picking him to play certain Guns N’ Roses songs that Myles didn’t necessarily want to sing.
I guess you could relate to Todd possibly being starstruck? Since fairly early on in your career, you were guesting on records by Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper.
You could be starstruck, but you have to be cool, because you don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Nobody really likes it when they’re doing their thing and someone comes in and starts asking all these questions about the records that you made in the past.
I saw the first date on your summer tour with Aerosmith. Myles does not have an easy job: Besides singing songs that Axl and Weiland made famous, you threw in “Ghost” from 2010, sung by Ian Astbury of the Cult, another pretty distinct and well-loved singer.
When we first went on tour, I wanted to do songs from my back catalog and also songs from my then-new album, which had a diverse group of singers. But I had this gut feeling that Myles would be able to pull it off. It was a good hunch.
A lot of people may have learned that when they saw HBO’s broadcast of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony from 2012, when Myles filled in for Axl during Guns N’ Roses’ performance. I think a lot of fans were sold on Myles after that.
I never even thought of it that way. I never saw the performance on TV, I never watched it. There was a point where none of us were planning on being at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. At the eleventh hour, Duff [McKagan] and I decided, we should really go. I said, “Duff, why don’t you sing, we’ll do ‘It’s So Easy.'” And he said, “What about Myles?” I asked Myles and he was like, “No, I don’t wanna do that.” I was like, “I get it, I just had to ask.” But then, early the next morning, he said, “You know what? I will do it.” And it worked out.
If Guns N’ Roses was your “act one,” and Velvet Revolver your “act two,” you’re now a few years into “act three.” Not many people get and act two or three. But you’re starting to accumulate a pretty big solo catalog.
It’s nice to have songs that you’re doing currently that people are excited to hear so you don’t have to just lean on your past. There’s some feeling of accomplishment that the new material is doing what it’s supposed to do.
It was pretty gracious of you start calling the group “Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators.”
When I did the solo record with all the different singers, it was literally a Slash record, because there was no “band.” But when I started working with Myles, the first thing I did was introduce his name, because you want to know who the singer is, regardless of how famous the guitarist is. Not too long after that, I thought I had to give a name to the rhythm section, and so when we did Apocolyptic Love, that’s when we put the name “and the Conspirators” in.
You’ve had some cool guitar partners in the past: Izzy Stradlin’ and then Gilby Clarke in Guns N’ Roses, Dave Kushner in Velvet Revolver. You play all the guitars on your records, though.
I was never striving for a two guitar team. Before Guns, I was always in a single guitar band. In Guns, Izzy and I just fell together and it was great. We never had to discuss guitar parts, we never had to work things out, it was very haphazard. I knew what my part would be, and he knew his part, and it just worked. When Gilby Clarke came in, he just did Izzy’s parts. With Velvet, it was the same thing [as with Izzy], I did my thing, Kushner did his thing. But he had a lot of effects and avant-garde sonic stuff going on. But now, I just want to focus on the riffs, and I just have Frank [Sidoris] come out and play second guitar with me on tour. We went through a lot of guitar players trying to find the right guy.
Finally, people want to know about Velvet Revolver. Is it still an ongoing concern, is there any future for the band?
The Velvet thing, a lot of people are asking. It’s been very active, under the radar. Nothing has happened, as far as getting a new singer, so there’s nothing really to talk about. But there is activity going on. At some point, the right guy’s gonna walk in the door, and at that point, we’re going to make another Velvet record. We made some cool music with Scott [Weiland], but it was really, really hard to keep it together with that lineup.
I imagine you have some empathy for the various problems he’s experienced, but I guess that empathy has to end somewhere.
When you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face, there’s a point where you either have to get it together or, we’re not going to suffer through that.