The original guitar hero returns to Tyneside this month as Slash prepares to play a sell-out show in Newcastle. SIMON RUSHWORTH caught up with the man in the hat
GUNS N Roses were finally inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame earlier this year, but it’s a subject Slash – the striking guitarist synonymous with the band’s glory days – is reluctant to discuss.
In fact, his infamous former band is one of a number of taboo conversation topics strictly off limits as he promotes a second album of critically acclaimed solo material in as many years.
As one of the most amiable men in rock settles down to talk music, he flatly refuses to deal in any discussion involving GnR, Axl Rose, drugs, alcohol or addiction.
It’s clearly time to concentrate on a new chapter in the career of the ultimate modern-day guitar hero and with a stunning new record in the bag, it’s easy to understand why the past is an unwelcome distraction.
Or at least the past where the period between 1985 and 1995 is concerned, when GnR went from riotous wannabes to the biggest rock band around to a washed-up and bitter parody of their former selves.
Slash is happy to go back to where it all started, even if he’s put in place a self-imposed ban on mentioning anything to do with Axl. And it all started in his bedroom with a one-stringed guitar.
“I took up the guitar because I liked the guitar,” he explained. “Plain and simple.
“It was all about the instrument rather than any consideration of the professional aspect. For me, because of who I am, the guitar would still be as inspirational now as it was back then. But I was inspired by the sound of the 60s and 70s guitar music that I’d heard. That exciting break in a rock song when the guitar takes over, just hit me. I was brought up in an era where the Yardbirds and the Stones and Hendrix had dominated, and the guitar was king. But I had no aspiration to become a guitar player proper until I picked it up as a 15-year-old. I was enjoying playing the guitar without realising or imagining that’s what I was going to do.”
What Slash went on to do was sell millions of records the world over as one fifth of the self-styled “most dangerous band in the world”.
However the ‘classic’ GnR line-up had disintegrated by 1995 and while Axl continues to front a band of hired hands by the same name, Slash has well and truly moved on.
If Velvet Revolver remains on the back burner then his reinvention as a solo artist continues to gather pace. A star-studded self-titled debut in 2010 featured a slew of renowned singers, but it was the least famous of a much-heralded group who left the biggest impression on Slash.
“I had no idea what I was planning on doing after I made the album with all of the guest singers,” he added, “but I knew that involving so many people on that record would be a one-off. I had no intention of doing a repeat performance of that record.
“On the first solo record, I had a couple of songs that I had decided to include but I just couldn’t find anyone right to sing them – or at least any so-called big-name singers.
“I had heard of Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge lead singer) but never heard him sing. In the end, his versions of those songs came out amazing and at that point I asked him if he wanted to do the first tour.
“I was then introduced to Brent Fitz (drums) and he introduced me to the bass player. Suddenly I had this great band and we played some shows on the road.
“A handful of dates became a year and a half and Myles and the band had become part of the family.”
In Slash’s eyes, he has moved on again with the release of this year’s Apocalyptic Love. Whereas his first solo album was presented as the guitarist introducing his celebrity friends, there is a real band behind his latest record. “At this point I feel as if, more than delivering a solo project, I’m part of a band,” he agreed as he extolled the virtues of Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators (the rather awkward moniker given to his colleagues).
“Each member has an input into the songwriting project and looking towards the next record, I don’t see that changing. We’re on the road for a while, but I’m in the early stages of recording ideas and logging them for future use.”
With GnR on a cycle of one album every decade and Velvet Revolver showing no sign of following up 2007’s Libertad, it’s just as well there’s more Slash material on the way. Kennedy will again be key to the songwriting process. “I do the music first and then, depending on the situation, I record it and send it to Myles,” added Slash, as he offered an insight into how his new band gets down to business. “He might come back to me with some more ideas – maybe stuff to make his vocal work – and then whenever we get the chance we sit down together and work on the songs.
“I come up with a basic bunch of ideas and then spread them around. In the case of the new album, we went into the studio after a month of rehearsals and recorded everything live. That’s why it’s such a spontaneous sounding record.
“There are no set rules on how we write and record.
“I just come up with some riffs, record some music and see what Myles makes of it.”
See what you make of it at Newcastle’s Academy tonight. Just don’t mention Axl Rose.