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.
The solo to "Sweet Child O' Mine" is a perfect case in point. Rather than come out swinging, Slash weaves the first half into a provocative, almost Spanish acoustic-sounding splash of neatly connected melodic ideas, before blasting into a frenzied wah-wah conclusion. It's a blur of lines, a bloodsquib that rises to the challenge of Axl's tragic, Romeo-and-Juliet-tinged lyrics. In short, a mini-masterpiece.
"I knew I had to come up with something good," Slash recalls, "because the chord changes were fairly simple and straightforward. I probably use the pickup switch more than anybody else I see, which is because I don't like to use effects, really, not even a boost. So for the first part of that, I was on the neck pickup, and then I clicked into the bridge position for the crazier part.
“The second part was an overdub, and you can hear the transition, the moment where the first half is ending and the second thought is coming in. I don't mind that -- it's a record. Live, I have to approximate the second half without the wah-wah, because I don't go on stage with any effects at all – nothing -- because I'd just wind up kicking everything off the stage anyway. So I just rip into it a little differently. I don't think anybody notices, especially in the clubs.
"That's the way we recorded the album, with that thought in mind. We wanted the necessary studio polish, but with the live, raw feeling intact. It's a tricky thing."
Producer Mike Klink allowed the band only two weeks to knock out the basic rhythm tracks, all of which were recorded with the band playing together in one room with minimal baffling. Izzy preferred to play on one of two tracks, favoring feel over any discernible flaws.
“You can hear Izzy on the left speaker," Slash notes, "and I went for a stereo mix. I did my rhythm tracks with the band, but all of my overdubs and leads I did by myself in the control room. A few of the solos I wrote right there on the spot. It had its advantages, of course, but the only drawback to recording like that is that I like to use a lot of feedback -- live, I use it a lot -- and because my amp was out there in the room and I was in the control room, separated from it, I couldn't work that out. I'd still like to record the next album in that way, but I'd like to work the feedback thing out too."
Outboard "sweetening" was kept to a minimum." I don't generally like sounds that I can't get myself," Slash states firmly. "I like the wah-wah because, to me, it's a natural, workable sound effect that is very musical. It got a bad rap because so many people abused it. I like the tone that a wah-wah can produce, the way you can make it scream and cry. It sings. I don't like the sound of flangers, though, because it isn't very human or life-like. It's an automatic effect you can't control much. No matter what you do, it'll just repeat the same fluttering effect at whatever tempo you set it at."
On "Anything Goes," Slash makes clever use of yet another attention-getting novelty item: the talk box. By trading phrases with guitar and talk box, he creates a mini-operatic effect, a call-and-response segment that is exhilarating, certainly the song's high point.
“Again, people associate the talk box with a lot of misuse, a lot of indulgence. Go back and listen to what Peter Frampton and Beck did with theirs. I got mine from a guy who used to play in a disco band!"
As accomplished as their first studio outing is, Guns N' Roses appear to be in their element on stage, where they duplicate their recorded sound with an almost eerie precision. There are trouble spots – tempos speed up and slow down, sometimes breaking down completely; Slash, in particular, suffers at times from moments of over-enthusiastic audience participation: The solo to "Out Ta Get Me" is resplendent with savage, atonal bends.
During a show at the Ritz in New York in early '88, a crazed female fan reached up and grabbed hold of Slash's guitar neck just as he was starting the solo, creating a spontaneous whammy effect. Oddly, it worked. “And it just happened to be captured on film too, 'cause MTV was taping the whole thing!"
Although audiences seem to revel in such moments of mayhem (and some fans seem all too willing to help the band push the panic button), the band generally gathers itself well. There is a sense of perpetual motion to the arrangements that is unbreakable. In the manner of Aerosmith on its classic seventies releases (Toys In The Attic, Rocks), extended powerchording is kept to a minimum (Slash seems to eschew them altogether). Transitional phrases -- verse into chorus, chorus into verse -- are powered by Duff's sturdy bass-note runs, usually accompanied by Slash.
"Duff is a former guitarist," Slash notes. "That makes him real good with working out those parts. He thinks like a guitarist and won't just pump out quarternotes. Like those hidden bridges, the one in 'Welcome To The Jungle,' that roving part -- that's his specialty.
"I don't know if anything we write is visionary or anything. We just don't like to sound like other people. We're real conscious of that. We don't spend a lot of time worrying about airplay or song length, but we seem to be able to come up with accessible material anyway. Because everyone has a say in the songwriting and construction of the arrangements, songs come out pretty interesting by the time they're completed. No one has a final say, though the guy who wrote the bulk of the song can voice his opinions a little more strongly than the rest of the guys."
A Tascam eight-track recorder has been gathering dust in Slash's apartment for a short while. In his spare moments, he's been constructing riffs and song ideas in preparation for the follow-up to Appetite For Destruction. I know I should use the eight-track," he giggles, "or even my four-track. But the ghetto box I have is so much faster to get your ideas down. Real high-tech, right?"
To satiate fan interest while the band is ensconced in the recording studio, Geffen has released Live ?!'@ Like A Suicide, a live EP issued on the band's own Uzi/Suicide label before their major-label deal. Only 25,000 units had originally been issued, making it quite the collector's item (it's been fetching upwards of $100 on the black market). Featuring a rollicking version of "Mama Kin" along with four new acoustic tracks (unheard as of this writing), the EP is firm evidence of a band fully in control of its own vision and destiny.
"We're a lot of things," Slash concludes. "Yeah, we live a lot of fantasies out, I suppose. But we're not the animals people make us out to be. I drink a lot, I guess, but never during a show. I'm not drunk onstage, much to the contrary of certain reports. I couldn't be. Afterwards, sure, the after-show festivities are kind of hard to turn down. But we're a lot more dedicated and smarter than a lot of the press would indicate. We couldn't have come this far otherwise."
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