Slash and Izzy Stradlin Discuss Life in Guns N' Roses in 1989 Guitar World Interview
Here's an interview with the on-top-of-the-world guitar team of Slash and Izzy Stradlin of Guns N' Roses -- from the March 1989 issue of Guitar World.
Around this time, different factions of what eventually became Guns N' Roses started jamming together.
"There was Izzy and [vocalist] Axl," Slash recalls, "and then there was [drummer] Steven [Adler] and I. And then there was us in different combinations. We weren't ready, though, and it didn't last quite long." Dissatisfied with the lack of progress, Slash quit for a time, surprising everyone by joining a black funk band.
“A real odd choice," he allows, "but definitely a good move. We didn't play many gigs -- I think we played just one -- but we jammed all the time. It really helped get my feel together, my sense of rhythm and overall approach. I'm really glad I did it. I feel it helped my attitude for when Guns N' Roses really happened."
"I was seventeen when I came out to California," Izzy Stradlin' reminisces wearily. It is another early morning -- too early, by most rock-star standards. Any broaching of his personal history elicits hardened, almost pained responses from the guitarist who, despite the early hour, insists on talking; he speaks in hushed, measured bursts, drifting off occasionally, as if at any moment he could lapse into a deep, powerful sleep.
Born in 1962 in Lafayette, Indiana, Izzy moved around as a child. "Family stuff," he snaps, without elaborating. "I grew up in Florida and moved with my mom to Lafayette. I started pissing around with a drum set, met Axl, and we hung out a lot. It was nowhere. We decided to put a band together. It was a bad time, being there. The people, the girls, it was so backward. The girls didn't even know how to dress when they went to gigs! So, the prospects were absolutely zilch.
“Axl and I were into anything that had a hard, loud beat. I think that's how we managed with all that was comin' down."
Packing his drums in the back of his Chevy Impala, eighteen-year-old Izzy decided to try his luck in California. The drums were quickly scrapped for a bass, which, in turn, was promptly exchanged for a guitar.
"It was a natural thing to do," he explains, "though I really can't explain why. The music I was into and wanted to play lent itself better to the guitar. I was always into hard stuff, the Ramones, the raw power that stuff had, the sound of the chords. So I got this Les Paul, which was real good for barre chords -- all I could really play at the time, anyway. Then I got my friend's guitar, a Gibson LG5, I think. I'd play that guitar to Ramones records forever.
"Soon after that, I got my hands on a Gibson Black Beauty, which I had for years. Before we went out on tour last year, I had to pay the rent, so I offed it!"
By the time Guns N' Roses re-formed (with new member, bassist Duff McKagen), gigs and notoriety came much easier than before. After debuting their new act at the Troubadour, the band became fixtures on the Hollywood streets, playing any gig that came their way. To all appearances, they were just one more ragged bunch of losers, going nowhere fast. But, as Slash says, there was a method to their madness.
"We basically junked a lot of our lives at that point to work on the band, to work on the music. Sure, it might not have worked, but that was the chance we had to take. We didn't know any other way, nor were we particularly interested in any alternatives. I guess we were sort of ... fearless."
Holed up in Izzy's one-room digs, the band eked out songs on whatever equipment they happened to own that week, viewing their desperate situation as necessary fodder for their compositions.
"Some of the best stuff can be written out of dire times," Izzy states matter-of-factly. "Slash and I would throw riffs back and forth, which is certainly one of his major strengths. I write on anything – I did then and I still do. I think I wrote much of the stuff on Appetite on an old Harmony. It was pretty hilarious. Stevie would set up this suitcase and drum on it. Pretty crude. I would tape-record the whole thing on this little micro-cassette recorder. It sounded real good; that's how we wrote. I think maybe one day I'll press that stuff. So it doesn't matter what you write on, PortaStudios, eight-tracks. If you have a song that can cut it, it doesn't matter."
By the time the band -- renowned for its live following and uncanny ability to manipulate the L.A. press -- signed with Geffen, the twin-guitar team of Slash and Izzy had developed into a pernicious, ferocious, aural assault squad, more reminiscent of the early Clash, Stooges or middle-period Stones than anything resembling heavy metal. The lead-guitar duties, with rare exceptions, naturally fell on Slash, who had refined his technique over the years of bad gigs and endless rehearsals.
Next to Axl Rose, whose manic, incendiary vocals put him light years ahead of his hard-rock peers (this guy means it!), it is Slash, consistently outclassing his material (That's a compliment) with witty, multi-faceted solos and transitional lines, who gives Guns N' Roses its most unique, powerful and expressive voice.
While many contemporary players -- the majority of them talented and blisteringly fast approach an eight-bar solo by locking into a hand position and using that as a base for hammer-ons and pull-offs, concluding with a vibrato-arm dive-bomb or some other attention-grabbing gimmick, Slash appears to view such displays of facility as constricting.
“A lot of what I hear just isn't very musical," he explains. "It's not that I don't like playing fast, because I do. Especially if I've been playing rhythm for a while, because then I’ll be really itching to come out and lay one on the crowd.
"I know most chord voicings, doublestops, different ways around, and I don't like to get stuck in a rut. Because I don't usually write any complete songs -- all the changes -- it gives me a lot of room to see what's going to work when I take the song to Duff or the rest of the band. I'm usually the guy in the band who's going, 'Wait, guys, let me work this part out here in rehearsals.' It takes me a long time to come up with parts that I'm happy with.
“When I write a solo, I try to hear what I'm going to play first -- that way I can usually weed out the bad ideas pretty quick. I see a lot of these guys who are in one hand position, and they'll be going as fast as they can. It's real impressive, but it doesn't sound very good."
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