Interview: Slash Discusses His New Solo Album, 'Apocalyptic Love'
It’s the evening of Saturday, April 14, and all 6,000-plus pairs of eyes inside Cleveland’s Public Auditorium are focused squarely on the man called Slash. Outfitted in black leather pants, button-down shirt and sports jacket, with ubiquitous top hat and—even though we’re indoors and Saturday is quickly turning into Sunday—a pair of dark sunglasses, he stands alone at a podium at one end of a large stage to accept his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Behind him in horizontal line formation are his former Guns N’ Roses bandmates: Matt Sorum, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler. To his left are several Les Pauls and stacks of Marshalls; further backstage, at the ready, stand guitarist Gilby Clarke, who performed in GN’R and Slash’s Snakepit, and singer Myles Kennedy, the frontman for Slash’s current solo project.
In just a few moments, after months of speculation, which has followed years of rumor mongering, prediction making and conspiracy theorizing, Guns N’ Roses will take the stage to perform. Though it’s not quite the band that anybody with even a passing interest in rock and roll had been hoping would materialize on this night, most would likely attest that, with Slash, McKagan and Adler joined by Use Your Illusion–era members Sorum (who is also inducted) and Clarke (who is not), as well as Kennedy, it’s closer to the real thing than has been offered up in many years.
But matters of percentages and authenticity are for others to debate. By this point Slash has fielded more than his fair share of questions on the subject of his former band, and has attempted to answer them as forthrightly as possible. Tonight, as he says in a short and gracious speech, he’s “do[ing] it for the fans.” He wraps things up with a quick “Let’s go play,” and the crowd erupts. As he steps back, Sorum leans into the podium and casually remarks, “That’s more than I’ve ever heard Slash talk in his entire life.”
By the time of the actual induction ceremony, it should be noted, Slash is sick of discussing this night, and by extension, the possibility of a reformation of the full Appetite for Destruction–era lineup of Guns N’ Roses, at all. “I always tried to avoid talking about the subject, but the fact is I never saw a reunion happening,” he says bluntly. It’s the week after the Hall of Fame festivities, and Slash is already thousands of miles removed, relaxing on a passenger train as it rushes from the Netherlands en route to Antwerp.
Little more than 12 hours after being inducted, in fact, the guitarist hopped a flight out of Cleveland and headed to Europe to begin a promotional tour. Because as much as that night had been about celebrating the past, Slash is very much grounded in his own present and future. Exhibit A is his new record, Apocalyptic Love, a raging, fully realized collection of full-tilt rock and roll. It’s the follow up to his successful and star-studded 2010 self-titled disc, and his second solo effort over all—though this time out he chose to give a public nod to his singer and bandmates, officially crediting the album to Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators.
As far as Slash is concerned, it’s the only band he needs right now. “The only thing that makes me a solo artist in my mind is that I have the ability to sort of run things,” he says. “And that’s basically cool because I don’t have to do a lot of arguing. But these guys”—Kennedy and the Conspirators, which consists of bassist Todd Kerns and drummer Brent Fitz—“are just really easy to work with and really professional. With this album, the amount of input that I had on behalf of any of their parts was very minimal. I just came up with whatever I came up with and said, ‘Here it is, take it and do what you want with it.’ ”
The current band came together while Slash was on the road in 2010 and 2011 in support of his self-titled album, which he recorded after his other band, Velvet Revolver, went on hiatus following a public and messy split with singer Scott Weiland. In an effort to break out of his usual routines, the guitarist chose to go it alone on Slash, composing the tracks on his own and then bringing in different singers—everyone from Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy and Iggy Pop to Kid Rock, Adam Levine and Fergie—to contribute lyrics and vocals to individual songs. When it came time to tour behind the album, he put together a backing band that included Fitz and Kerns, and selected Kennedy, who appeared on two Slash cuts—the single “Back from Cali” and the ballad “Starlight”—to handle frontman duties. Ever since, Kennedy, who also sings for the Mark Tremonti–led Alter Bridge—has been an essential component of Slash’s musical world, even as the guitarist admits he knew very little about him prior to their working together.
Recalls Slash, “For a while a few of the Velvet guys had actually wanted to bring Myles into that band, but I always showed no interest. Really, I had never even heard him sing. But then I found out he had auditioned for Led Zeppelin [for the band’s aborted reunion tour], so I figured he had to be good.” He laughs. “So I sought him out and he came in and sang on ‘Starlight,’ and I was blown away. He did another song, and I just had this feeling he was the guy to do the whole tour, because he seemed like the only guy who could sing everything—the solo stuff, the Guns stuff, the Velvet stuff, all of it. And he can. Myles is a brilliant fucking vocalist, and his range is insane. And even though he would tell you differently, the talent he has comes through pretty effortlessly.”
It was during the 2010–11 tour that the seeds for Apocalyptic Love were sown. “That tour just kept snowballing into a longer and longer thing, and all along I was writing new material,” Slash continues. “And I was thinking, What am I gonna do on this next thing? Because I knew that the chances of Velvet finding a singer right away…it just seemed like it wasn’t going to happen. Finally I said, ‘Well, the guys I’m playing with now are fucking great, and if I had to go into the studio tomorrow this is who I’d want to make a record with. So that’s what I did.”
Slash worked on songs both on his own and with Kennedy throughout the tour. In fact, several of the tracks on Apocalyptic Love, including the title cut and the first single, “You’re a Lie,” were jammed during soundchecks before gigs. After coming off the road in July 2011, Slash, Kerns and Fitz decamped to Mates studios in North Hollywood to finish up the instrumental portions of the new songs as Kennedy embarked on a short U.S. tour with Alter Bridge. Upon returning to L.A. in the late fall, the singer rejoined Slash and Co. for final rehearsals.
For Slash, the collaborative process at the heart of Apocalyptic Love was a welcome change from the solitary manner in which he composed the self-titled record. Though he admits that he enjoys “just putting together guitar ideas on my own,” he also says, “I try not to overwork it. I’ll come up with two or three parts, and that’s it. Then I like to bounce things off other guys and see what they can come up with.”
To that end, he allowed Kennedy in particular plenty of creative input and latitude. “Myles could do whatever he wanted when he was writing his parts,” Slash says. “And sometimes that even changed my parts. For instance, there’s a song on the new album called ‘No More Heroes’ that is a classic example of a 50/50 kind of collaboration between us, where I had a riff and a whole arrangement that I put together, but it was all still open to interpretation. So Myles took the chorus idea that I had and just completely raped it, and came up with a new, insanely great chorus. And that was a moment where it was like, ‘Okay, we have a good thing going.’ Because when that shit works, it makes for better music overall.”
One area where Slash rarely intrudes, whether with Kennedy or anyone else he has worked with, is the realm of lyrics and vocals. “I have no aspirations to sing,” he says. “I don’t enjoy it. Occasionally I’ll have ideas for lyrics or vocals, but I’ve found that people who actually do those things for a living will always come up with something better.” That said, there is one album in his catalog on which his own words do in fact dominate the proceedings—the 1995 Slash’s Snakepit effort, It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, recorded as Guns N’ Roses was imploding. “That was a rare case where I did do a lot of the lyric work,” he says. “There was a lot going on in my life at that time, and I had a lot of shit to get off my chest. So that’s where it went.”
Furthermore, given Slash’s track record with vocalists, it begs questioning whether at any point the guitarist had felt it would have been easier merely to assume frontman duties himself. He stops to consider this for a moment before replying. “It has crossed my mind,” he admits. “There’ve been times where, just out of convenience, I’ve thought, Fuck it. I’ll do it myself so I don’t have to keep looking for singers and going through all this bullshit. But at the end of the day I just do not want to be that guy. I feel comfortable expressing myself on guitar, and I have no inhibitions about doing that. But communicating with people in a verbal sense just does not sit well with me.” He laughs. “That said, I don’t mind yelling into a mic every once in a while if I happen to pass by one onstage.”
He may be making a lighthearted aside, but Slash would be the first to acknowledge that the stage is where he has always felt most comfortable. So much so that, during the recording sessions for Apocalyptic Love, he fostered a studio setting that mirrored a live scenario as closely as possible, in the hopes of being able to capture the sound of the band playing together as a unit on the final product.
Which is not the way it has always worked for him. Typically, Slash’s process in the studio has been to track his rhythm guitars alongside the bass and drums, only to scratch his parts and re-record them at a later date. “I’ve never been able to keep my live guitars,” he says. “And that goes back to the Appetite days.” He attributes this in part to the sterile recording techniques employed in most studios—in particular the common practice of separating band members from one another when playing, with each musician hearing the mix through headphones in order to minimize bleed between the instruments. “That really affects my playing and energy,” Slash says. “I hate headphones. To me they’re the bane of being able to achieve a real rock-and-roll feel. I don’t even like to listen to music in headphones.”
And so Slash took a different approach this time. Recording at Barefoot Studios in Hollywood with producer Eric Valentine, the band set up with Fitz, Kerns and Kennedy (who contributes rhythm guitar to much of the record) situated together in the facility’s large main room. Slash was then positioned in a makeshift shack of sorts, dubbed the “Slash Box,” built specially for him at one end of the space. The small, enclosed area also housed two large monitors, which fed in the sound from Slash’s amps, placed further away in the control room. The setup fashioned a quasi-live setting for the guitarist. “I was able to stand in there without headphones, play my guitar and have the monitors blast my sound at me,” he explains. “But I could also see the other guys in the band and have contact with them, and I was baffled enough so that we didn’t have to worry about the bleed from my monitors going into the drums.”
The result is that Apocalyptic Love is as close to a live-in-the-studio rock record as listeners are likely to hear this year. According to Slash, not only were almost all the rhythm tracks—drums, bass and the two guitars—recorded live off the floor but many of his solos were captured that way as well. “In most cases, when you hear a lead on one of these songs, my rhythm guitar drops out, just as it would live,” Slash says. “We were basically playing as if we were onstage.”
In keeping with the more direct recording approach, Slash also streamlined the gear he used on the album. His main guitar was his famed Kris Derrig–built Les Paul copy, although for three songs recorded early in the sessions—“You’re a Lie,” “Bad Rain” and “Standing in the Sun”—he played one of his Gibson Appetite signature Les Pauls. “That was because the pickups in the Derrig started squealing,” he says. “So I had to have them rewired.” As a result of their many tumultuous years together, Slash explains, the Derrig Les Paul occasionally requires some maintenance work. “That guitar just has the nicest, most biting sound, but it’s getting to be a little bit like an old lady.” He smiles. “So I have to be a little sweet with it and finesse it a little bit. It’s like we’re an old married couple.”
Slash likewise opted for a basic amplifier configuration, using just two heads—his signature Marshall AFD100 and one of his classic JCM 800s—which he ran simultaneously and then blended together. The JCM 800, which he refers to by its reference number, 39, is, he says, “a great sounding one” from his collection. So much so that, he reveals, “there’s actually a mod on the AFD amp where you can flip a switch and get the exact 39 sound.”
With Kennedy also contributing guitar to the album, Slash says they made efforts to try to occupy distinct areas of the tonal spectrum. For his parts, Kennedy employed a Les Paul Jr. loaded with P-90s, which he ran through a Soldano SLO-100 head and often blended with either a Vox AC30 or a Diezel Schmidt. “We really tried to separate things,” Slash says. “And it was great to have that other guitar element on the record. Because the fact is Myles is a fucking phenomenal guitar player. I have a certain feel and a certain way that I play, but technically Myles is actually a much better player than I am.”
Judging by Slash’s performance on Apocalyptic Love, listeners might beg to differ. Barn-burning rockers like “One Last Thrill” and “Loud and Fast” are fueled by the guitarist’s incisive, hard-hitting riffs and splattered with his trademark curlicue leads. Toss in soaring anthemic numbers like “Standing in the Sun” and “We Will Roam,” and Apocalyptic Love is perhaps the tightest and most direct collection of tunes Slash has put out since his Guns days. The album also holds its share of left turns, including “Halo,” a darkly wrought boogie rocker built on an ominous, almost Slayer-esque minor-key harmony guitar line, and “Anastasia,” which opens with an extended intro featuring Slash playing an unaccompanied, quasi-flamenco-style composition on nylon-string guitar.
When it’s suggested to Slash that it appears as if he’s currently playing as well as he ever has, the guitarist counters, “I’d like to think I’m playing better than I have in the past. Only because I think back to the early days, even the Nineties, and I can remember a lot of times where I didn’t play that great. Like, people will bring up something like the [1988 Guns N’ Roses] gig at the Ritz, and I’ll just think, That’s not really that awesome. Why do you think that’s awesome?” He laughs. “But they love that shit. But I don’t know. I think my playing is better now.”
The reason is due in part, he says, to the fact that he has been sober for several years now. “I think one of the things I have to credit in terms of my current presence of mind and my playing level is the fact that I’m not inebriated all the time,” he says. “Because you can do that stuff and have fun, and sometimes you can even have a great night onstage, but it’s not consistent, and it’s a dodgy thing dancing around that line. And getting sober a few years ago made me realize that there’s a point where you just burn out on the whole thing. It also helped me realize people don’t necessarily take you seriously because they always think you’re fucked up.
With me, for a while it was always about the party, and that was all anybody was really jumping onboard for. So what I was really trying to communicate was getting lost in translation.” He laughs. “So I had to take control of my own career from a musical point of view, a business point of view and a life point of view. And that’s been a good thing for me. I couldn’t imagine doing the work I’ve done over the last few years as fucked up as I used to be. It just wouldn’t have happened.”
Indeed, at 46, Slash is going as hard and fast as he ever has. In addition to his solo career, the guitarist has his hand in everything from a record label—the playfully named Dik Hayd imprint, which is issuing Apocalyptic Love—to a horror-movie production company, Slasher Films, which just had its first project, Nothing to Fear, picked up for major distribution. And on the guitar end, he continues to post an incredible number of guest appearances and one-off spots, from recording with everyone from Rihanna to the animated characters Phineas and Ferb, to performing with Lenny Kravitz and Joe Perry at a recent gig in Las Vegas, to boning up on a few Black Sabbath songs for a run, along with Ozzy Osbourne, Zakk Wylde, Geezer Butler and others on the upcoming Ozzy & Friends tour.
Then there’s the task of tending to the ongoing saga of Velvet Revolver, which remains in limbo since the departure of Scott Weiland in 2008. Though rumors circulated last year that the band had worked up an album’s worth of new material with singer Corey Taylor, and that the Slipknot/Stone Sour frontman looked to be all but a lock for the position, more recently it was revealed that Slash had vetoed the move. “It just wasn’t right for me,” he says. “The thing with finding the right guy is I have to be able to feel it. And there’s not necessarily always a verbal explanation for that; it’s just an innate feeling that I can’t necessarily explain. So Velvet has actually worked with a couple of people over the last few years”—other unsubstantiated names that have circulated in the press include Big Wreck’s Ian Thornley and Ours’ Jimmy Gnecco—“but there hasn’t been someone where I’ve felt, ‘Okay, we hit the nail on the head.’ It hasn’t gotten to that point for me.”
In January 2012, the band did rear its head, if only for a moment, joining up with Weiland for a four-song performance at the House of Blues in L.A. as part of a benefit concert staged in memoriam for musician John O’Brien. But Slash is quick to assert there was no intent behind the reunion other than helping out the family of a friend. “There was nothing to accomplish from doing it except to raise money for John’s family, which was the sole motivating factor,” he says. “Other than that, it was like, Let’s just try to have fun. And we did. But that was it.”
Similarly, he views the Hall of Fame performance with Guns N’ Roses as an end, rather than a new beginning, of sorts. “It was a really cool experience,” he says. “I mean, I hadn’t played a Guns song with Steven [Adler] since probably 1990. Maybe even before that, if I really think about it. So to be able to do that with him and Duff was a nice thing. But Steven was the first one to put it into words, I think, where afterward he said, ‘Now I can just put this whole chapter behind me.’ And I think for everyone involved it really put a cork in the whole reunion thing, so to speak.”
As for whether he had harbored any hopes that the full Appetite for Destruction–era lineup, with Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin, would perform at the ceremony, Slash is candid. “Ideally, I did want to do it with the original band,” he says. “And I figured it would have probably been the first and only thing comparable to a reunion that we would ever do. But that was sort of wishful thinking. I had a feeling that wasn’t going to happen.”
In a strange twist, it was the press release issued by Rose just days before the event was to take place—in which the singer declined his invitation to the ceremony and renounced his induction entirely—that sparked the semi-reunion into existence. “I was actually together with Duff when that came out,” Slash says. “So when it was confirmed Axl wasn’t going to show we decided, Fuck it, we’ll play. We already knew Izzy wasn’t coming, so Gilby was the obvious choice there. And I think I said to Duff, ‘Why don’t you just sing?’ And he actually mentioned bringing in Myles. So I went to Myles about it, and he wasn’t sure. He was like, ‘I don’t want to get put in that position, getting berated by Guns fans.’ But he came around, and the next thing you know we were on a plane. So the whole thing really came together at the last minute.”
Now that the moment has passed, and he’s back to focusing on the work in front of him, Slash is appreciative of the experience. “For a while I didn’t even want to go to the ceremony,” he says. “I just felt that if we weren’t going to play I didn’t need to be there at all, and I got pretty down on the whole thing. But once it was all happening, there was a certain kind of clarity that hadn’t been that tangible for me before. It really felt like we had accomplished something. And it wasn’t so much about any of us individually, or who was there and who wasn’t there, but rather about the band itself, and also the fans that had put us there. There’s a really vibrant sort of legacy for Guns N’ Roses that has gone on full force for all this time, and that’s something to be really humble about and grateful for.”
It’s the way Slash feels about his career in general. “I’m really passionate about what I do, and I’m fortunate that other people seem to dig it too. And if I think about it, probably the only reason I’ve managed to excel at this is because music and the guitar have always been 150 percent of my being. I know a lot of players that just don’t dig the work that much anymore, but I still do, and that’s what keeps me forging on.
He continues. “I mean, at the end of the day, it’s just real basic shit. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get a rock band together and go out and make music and play, you know? You just have to have the love for doing it. And I love doing it.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2012 issue of Guitar World. For all the features, reviews and columns from this issue, pick it up now in our online store.