Slash Discusses Bob Dylan, Iggy Pop, Michael Jackson and Guns N' Roses in 1990 Guitar World Interview
Here's our interview with Slash from the October 1990 issue of Guitar World. Click here to see all the GW magazine covers from that year.
Rumors, tall tales, strange stories -- all are part of the Guns N' Roses mystique.
So when the grapevine had it that Slash was collaborating with Michael Jackson, jamming with Bob Dylan, trading licks with Iggy Pop and returning to the studio with Guns N' Roses, it seemed best to file the rumors alongside a recent tabloid report that Noah's Ark was built by space aliens.
But truth is stranger than fiction. Unlike most UFO and Led Zeppelin sightings, a routine fact-check of Slash's recent activities confirmed that all four reports were shockingly true.
The top-hatted one did indeed make a four-song, guest appearance on Iggy's latest release, Brick By Brick. The two rockers met and became fast friends after Iggy shared a bill with Guns N' Roses last summer. They cemented their friendship when Slash invited the Ig to Los Angeles -- on 24 hours' notice -- to appear at a benefit concert, at which the two played Pop's "Wild Child" and “TV Eye."
Later, Slash returned the favor by playing on Iggy's new album with an all-star pickup band that included Guns N' Roses' Duff McKagan on bass and Kenny Aronoff of John Cougar Mellencamp's band on drums. The guitarist even earned a co-writing credit on Brick by Brick's ''Rock and Roll'' by rearranging the music on the spot.
"Slash said, 'Okay, I think I know what this one's about, man,' "Iggy reported. "'It's about this girl, and she just wants to go all the way, she just wants to get into the shit. Okay, that's cool.' "
For the inside scoop on the Dylan session, an upcoming Jackson stint, the new Guns N' Roses project and, of course, the real poop on Pop, we decided to go straight to the unruly source.
Slash was a half hour early for our interview, explaining that he "just woke up and was bored." The reputed bad-boy rocker was articulate, friendly and polite throughout the conversation.
Obviously, you can't always believe everything you read.
GUITAR WORLD: Were you always an Iggy Pop fan?
I was a little young when the Stooges were in their heyday, but I've always been aware of Iggy and his work. If you're into this whole rock and roll trip, it's hard not to be aware of Iggy's influence. He and I initially met when we did a benefit together at the Roxy in L.A. We rehearsed a few songs the day before, then went up on stage and kicked ass. We fit together, attitude and style-wise, pretty well.
How did you get involved with Bob Dylan's new record?
Brick By Brick's producer, Don Was, was also producing Bob's new record. He was so happy with the way Iggy's record turned out, he asked me if I wanted to play on Dylan 's new project. I agreed, even though I'm not what you call a huge Bob Dylan fan, especially as of late. But I was curious and wanted to check it out. The scene at the studio was a total trip.
I walked in at about 2 p.m. and George Harrison and Kim Bassinger were there hanging out -– I did a double take on that one. Next, I noticed this little guy wearing leather gloves and a hooded surfer's sweater, which struck me as odd because it was warm out. Finally, I realized it was Dylan. I thought, "What's going on here?" Anyway, Dylan and I spoke -- he was pretty quiet. George was laying down some slide, and we started just getting drunk and stuff. Then they asked me to play a song with a pretty silly title, "Wiggle Wiggle." I just learned it on the spot. It was such a simple, yet superb I, IV, V progression that there is really nothing much to say about it.
Did Bob give you any direction?
Actually, he did. When I went to play the lead, Bob came up and asked me to play like ... [incredulously] Django Reinhardt! l couldn't figure out where he was coming from. I didn't hear that at all! So basically, I just laid down the part I thought should be there. Everybody seemed to be happy with it. It was just a funny day, but the song got done and hopefully it will make it on the album [laughs].
How did you get invited to play on the new Michael Jackson record?
I got a phone call from the guy who engineered all the overdubs on Appetite For Destruction. He said, ''I'm working on the new Jackson project, and Michael asked if you wanted to come down and play."
I was in shock! I didn't know how to react. Like, "Why me?" But what was then communicated to me was that Michael liked my playing and feel, and that's what he wanted. So I said, "Cool." I called his studio to see what was going on and they sent me a really rough demo. Apparently, they work really slowly, 'cause I waited around for another couple of months before I heard anything else. I still haven't actually played anything yet.
If the Dylan session was that bizarre, what do you think the Michael Jackson thing will be like if it goes down?
It should be interesting. I have no idea what to expect. The only thing I know is that I don't want him in the studio when I'm working out my parts. For some reason I would find that a little hard to swallow. I mean, I get kind of nervous around people I don't know -- especially in the studio. I think it would be really hard for me to play naturally with someone like Michael watching. I've got a lot of ideas of what to play from the basic roughs that were given to me. I just plan to do my best and see what happens. And then, once I'm done, I would really like to meet the guy. There's such a huge contrast in image between me and Michael that I find the combination intriguing.
Michael is known for using the hottest people. Do you feel like he might just be exploiting your current fame?
Those kind of thoughts come up in your mind. I don't have any illusions; I'm sure I wouldn't have gotten the call if I wasn't in a hot band. But I look at it as an opportunity to play. I love to play and I like to keep busy. If it's something I can get into musically, then I just relate to it on that level and not try to mess it up with any paranoid thinking. I was flattered because they said that they wanted my feel.
Regardless of anything else, I'm sure Michael is a perfectionist and very serious about making records. I'm sure his choice in musicians goes way beyond just grabbing someone who's fashionable.
This is true. From what I know they've already been working on his album for over a year.
What equipment do you use when you play these freelance sessions?
I usually pack up one of my Les Pauls and rent a Marshall from S.I.R. [a music equipment rental firm based in Los Angeles and New York].
Does the loss of control when you play outside sessions ever bother you?
Actually, I enjoy the spontaneity. I hate the kind of attitude that says, "I won't play unless my sound is like this ..." As long as people I'm dealing with are able to accept me as such, the session jells, and we get the gig done.
Compare Axl to Iggy.
Iggy sings at rehearsal [laughs]!
What's going on with Guns N' Roses?
We've got a new drummer, named Matt Sorum. The press doesn't seem to know about it, which is cool. We've had problems for months with Steven [Adler], and it was holding up the band. Once I swallowed the reality that things had to change, I started scouting drummers. We obviously couldn't put an ad out -- we would 've had the Goon Squad knocking at our door. So we started auditioning people we heard about through the grapevine.
Unfortunately, we couldn't find anyone with the right attack or feel. I was really depressed over the situation for a while. Then one night, not too long ago, I went to see the Cult. I was at the sound board, and I was thinking, "This drummer is really awesome." I think Lars from Metallica told me about him, too. I was really, really impressed. He was literally one of the best rock drummers I had ever seen.
I initially didn't contact him because he was with the Cult. But I was at an all-time low and I knew that the Cult were off the road, so I decided to give Matt Sorum a call. I went through all these different sources to get in touch with him. Finally we hooked up, he came down to a rehearsal, and things immediately clicked. It was great and he was a great guy -- the chemistry worked.
Steven wasn't a technically great drummer, but we had been playing together for so long that we had a great collective feel. His meter, however, was always changing-up and down, up and down. So we had never really played with a great drummer. We didn't know what it would feel like. Not to say Steven isn't any good -- I don 't want to put him down -- but we never really played with anybody that was awesome. Duff and I started realizing how good Guns N' Roses could be after playing with some great drummers, like Kenny Aronoff from Iggy's band. We just looked at each other after playing with Kenny and went," Wow!" Then when Sorum came down and kicked ass, it confirmed things. The band sounds about 100 times better.
The difference is insane. At one point Duff thought it was his fault. We couldn't get a decent groove going, and we couldn't figure what was going wrong. Then we thought it was the whole band! You should've seen us! Y'know, long faces and shit ... [laughs]
What's the Guns N' Roses studio game plan?
We've written about 30 songs and we're going to try to go into the studio sometime in early July with our producer, Mike Clink. In a perfect world, we'll get it done as fast as possible.
How will you approach the new Guns N' Roses record? You seemed to enjoy the spontaneous "one take" method used on the Dylan and Iggy records.
I'll probably approach it a bit differently. In general, I'm much more meticulous with my own stuff. We usually rehearse the music pretty thoroughly, then go into the studio and play it live to capture the band energy and feel. Then I'll re-record my rhythm parts in the control booth without headphones. I hate wearing headphones! Then I'll try to do my solos in two or three takes. Sometimes we combine 'em.
You'll be hearing some new Guns N' Roses real soon. We have a new song called "Civil War," which will appear on Nobody 's Child; Armenian Angel Appeal [Warner Brothers], an album George Harrison is putting together to benefit Armenian orphans. Guitar-wise, it's pretty indicative of where my head is at these days. I'm playing slower, and I'm trying to spend more time getting my head and fingers to connect with the guitar neck, as opposed to just wailing all the time. We've also recorded a version of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" that will appear on the soundtrack of Tom Cruise's new movie, Like Thunder. And that sounds pretty cool -- I like my playing on that. We're hoping that both tracks will let people know that we're still around [laughs], and that we've matured a bit.
There was a rumor that the new record was going to be a double album. Is that still a possibility?
It's still an idea, because we're trying to figure how we want to approach it. We want to put all the material out, because we're too impatient to wait for a next record, and some of the tracks are 10 minutes long.
Is there going to be much acoustic material, like on GN'R Lies?
There will be more of a balance. There will be acoustic parts, but there will not be one entirely acoustic song.
Will there be any changes, equipment-wise?
When we rehearse, I use what I've always used live -- a really great-sounding, new Les Paul Standard with .010 gauge strings and one of my old Marshall Jubilees. When I go into the studio, I'll whip out all my old guitars and find one cool-sounding head and cabinet.
I know this album has been a long time in the making. Everybody 's been going, "Where's the new record, dude?" But it's hard to explain the ins and outs of getting a group of people together that have gone from being nowhere to being so huge that they can't go outside their house anymore. People don't understand it and they don't want to understand it. They just want to hear about the whole big rock star fantasy trip.
But aren't you bringing some problems on yourself? The longer you wait, the greater the expectations.
The problem really isn't with us. Our attitude has always been, ''I'll be done when it's done, so fuck off." We had to go through a year of personal readjustment -– having to buy fucking homes and so on. When I first bought a house, I didn't even want the damn thing. I was a lot happier living out of a duffle bag. But with our success it was inevitable that we would have to make investments and all that shit. So most of time off was spent adjusting to this huge change, along with some assorted drug problems. That made it tough going at first.
I've grown up a lot, though. I always thought I would be the eternal teenager, and then all of a sudden you have all these mundane responsibilities -- like taking out the trash. That's just a basic example of something you don't really want to deal with but have to anyway. I was just used to being on the road where everything moves at this incredibly fast pace and everything is done for you. Then it stops and life begins to feel real hollow. So, it took all this time to adjust to the differences. I feel real comfortable now -- I've got a couple of dogs, some cats and a few snakes. I've actually made a life for myself outside of the road.
Did you lose sight of your music at any point?
Every once in a while I would realize, "Gee, I haven't picked up my guitar in weeks." But there were other times when all I would do is play. I don't really know how that works. There are times when you get in these creative lulls and think your life is over [laughs]. Then it all comes back.
The big problem is that while you're going through all these changes, the business side can't and doesn't wait.
How has your writing and playing matured?
I've become a lot more aware of what a guitar is capable of, and what my direction is. I understand more of what turns me on.
Does the positive or negative feedback help?
Not really. I only write things I think are cool. If somebody else doesn't like it, then my attitude is that they don't have to listen to it. Whatever musical changes we've been through have little to do with other people's praise, criticisms or expectations. Don't get me wrong -- it's great when people groove on what we do, but if everyone listened to the new record and said, "Gee, there 's no 'Sweet Child O' Mine'," I would have to just shrug my shoulders. When I listen to Appetite, which was made like four years ago, it sounds really immature to me. If I were recording it now, I would make it more subtle in some spots. But I think that's only natural: I mean, we recorded that thing four fucking years ago – you can 't help but grow.