In modern guitar music, there’s one name that can make even the staunchest of old-school apologists admit that rock ’n’ roll is, in fact, alive and well. That name – as you may have guessed from the giant picture of him to your right, the steadfirst or, well, the very cover of this issue – is Slash. Though he’s an undisputed king of hard-rock’s golden age, thanks in no short part to his historic tenure in Guns N’ Roses (who also have a new record out soon, the rarity-studded Hard Skool EP), Slash has remained one of the most relevant shredders on the prowl by virtue of a solo album slate packed from top to bottom with ferocious riffs and mind-bending solos.
The current era of Slash supremacy started ten years ago, with the landmark release of Apocalyptic Love. His second “official” solo album, following 2010’s eponymous overdose on cameos, the record marked his full-length collaboration with Myles Kennedy (of Alter Bridge fame) and an outfit of thrashy, mosh-weathered misfits dubbed The Conspirators. It wasn’t the most unpredictable pairing – the Slash album featured 14 guests, Kennedy of whom was the only one to pop up twice – but critics by and large assumed that 2012’s Apocalyptic Love would be a one-and‑done affair for “Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators”…
Then came 2014’s World On Fire… Then 2018’s Living The Dream… And now, in just a couple of weeks, there’ll be 4. The record’s ultra-blunt title is a reference to where it sits in the Conspirators’ catalogue, but it also nods to the downright astonishing rawness and bold authenticity it revels in. Slash and co. recorded it live to tape in Nashville, with key solos and some of its strongest riffs minted just hours before they hit the decks. At the core of its concept lies one Mr. Dave Cobb, the veteran producer best known for his work with country stars like Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile and Sturgill Simpson (as well as the soundtrack
for 2018’s A Star Is Born).
So, why did Slash – a hard-as-nails rock ’n’ roller in mind, body and soul – team up with the man whose best efforts are a far cry from the pyrotechnic shreddage of his client’s bread and butter? Well, in true Slash spirit, he did so for a challenge. After all, the man’s been cutting sick on six strings for over 40 years at this point – it was about time he took a switchblade to the status quo.
And thanks in no short part to its ambitious log-line, 4 is, in its final form, one of Slash’s most impressive efforts. Whether it be via the swampy, groove-laden sizzle of ‘April Fool’, the pop-leaning prickliness of ‘Fill My World’ or the grandiose sitar work on ‘Spirit Love’ – not to mention the use of a talk box on ‘C’est La Vie’, which sounds questionable on paper, but winds up being one of the record’s best passages – there’s plenty on 4 that’ll get your toes tapping, head nodding, and horns raised high.
Ahead of its crash-landing on February 11th, Slash told Australian Guitar all about the making of his most daring album yet.
What’s going down in the studio today?
Just jamming. I’m always in the studio making up stuff. [The pandemic has] been going since March of last year, right? Since then I’ve just been in the studio, writing and recording and, y’know, just doing stuff.
Surely you’ve got a solid three or four more albums worth of content by now?
Well, I definitely have a lot of new material. This record that’s coming out right now , the majority of it was written on the road in 2019, but there’s a few songs that were written during the pandemic. But I’ve also written a shitload of other stuff, which will probably present itself on the next record. It’s hard to figure out the timing of all that. But then I’ve also been working on Guns N’ Roses stuff, and there’s been outside projects too. There’s just been a lot of different things going on – it’s been busy!
Especially after how batshit crazy things have been for the past two years, how does it feel to be on the precipice of unleashing 4 into the wild?
Well to be totally honest, we’ve been sitting on it since April. So I’m really, really f***ing excited about finally getting it out. You get a little anxious, just waiting to put a record out for this amount of time. I’ve never done that before. We went in to record the album, and then because of different schedules and stuff like that, we knew that when the record was finished, it wasn’t going to come out until next year. We just had to sort of bite the bullet on that. But it was good that we recorded the album when we did it.
David Cobb is obviously known a lot more for his country stuff than his rock ’n’ roll. What made you gravitate towards Dave and his style of production?
Obviously nobody would call me a country enthusiast, but I do have a sincere appreciation for the country music of old. And the new stuff that Dave has been doing is actually some of the most down-to-earth and sincere country music I’ve heard in a long time.
I listened to his country stuff when his name came up, but he also produces a band called Rival Sons, which is a rock ’n’ roll band that I think sounds really good. The Conspirators have done a few shows with those guys, but I first heard them on the radio, and they just sounded like a really f***ing good sounding rock ’n’ roll band.
So out of the small handful of producers I was looking at, Dave definitely seemed to be the most promising. And then he and I talked on the phone, and we just started getting into this whole concept of recording live in the studio. That’s all he had to say to me, and I was like, “Yes, that’s what I want to do! I’ve been trying to do that since 1987!” I’ve always wanted to do an album live in the room, so that was the clincher for me.
So that loose, in-the-room feel this record has – was that the plan from day one?
Oh yeah. Like as soon as Dave brought it up, y’know, that was it. We went down to his studio, we set up in the morning of the first day of recording, and then we just jammed in this room like we would in a club. And we wrote and recorded the album in five days. It was f***ing great, man.
The thing is – especially as we get further down the road [with production techniques] and technology gets more and more advanced – the idea of having an amplifier in the same room that the drums are in, it’s just unheard of. Any engineer will laugh at you if you bring it up. But y’know, most rock records from back in the day, they were pretty much all recorded that way. In some way, shape or form, those bands were just guys in a room, maybe with their amps off to the side or whatever, but all recording at the same time.
In ’87, when Guns N’ Roses did Appetite For Destruction, we recorded that whole album live, but I hated wearing headphones. That was always the big issue for me, having the headphones on and then playing. I would never understand what the guitar sounded like with the headphones on, so I would have to go into the control room and do the guitars in there, with the sound coming through the monitors – that way I could feel it more.
So this was the first time I was able to set the amp up next to the drum kit and just stand in front of it with the rest of the guys, and just play. That was an unprecedented, f***in’ pinnacle moment for me.
It really captures the spirit of rock ’n’ roll, which is that raw, spontaneous energy. Above all, it’s human.
Well, that’s really the whole point of it. And y’know, I make it sound like a big deal, but it’s not. It’s not that big of a deal, all things considered. But the reason I wanted to do it that way is because for me, when I got into [playing rock music], I was always turned on by rock ’n’ roll bands that had that kind of spirit.
My first real record collection was made up solely of live records, because I didn’t have a lot of money to buy entire bands’ catalogs, and a lot of these bands I wasn’t that familiar with. So I would get the live records – which they used to have a lot of in the ‘70s – and I would get a great idea of what a band’s catalog sounded like. But more importantly, it was the energy of the band delivering [their art] in the moment. That’s always what’s turned me on, and so the farther you get away from that, the less exciting it all becomes for me.
What is your all-time favourite live record?
My all-time favourite live record is Aerosmith’s Live! Bootleg. That’s a f***ing raw, sloppy, Grace monitor live record. But there are so many other ones, too. I loved Got Live If You Want It! and Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! [both by The Rolling Stones]. Live At Leeds [by The Who] was great, too. And the Double Live Gonzo! record from Ted Nugent… Also, Woodstock. And a lot of the random Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix concerts that I got a hold of bootlegs from, they were really cool.
I can go on and on. Queen’s Live Killers was great. Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous was great. There was a Nazareth live record, too! And all of those records, they just… Y’know, you really get that energy from the band, in realtime, doing what it is that they do together. And that’s what’s always turned me on. So I think that has a lot to do with my obsession to be able to capture that in the studio [on 4].
Do you reckon that process led to this record being a little more collaborative than normal, too, being able to really bounce off of each other and play to each other’s strengths in the moment?
Playing off of each other in the moment is definitely key, right? But the way that we worked on this record, when we went into the studio to actually record it, we didn’t have as much time to do pre-production as we normally do. We usually spend a good, solid few weeks hashing out the arrangements, rehearsing and getting it all really, really, really tight – which is great, because then you go in the studio and just bang it out – but we sort of didn’t have that, this time around.
We went in with arrangements that were half done, three quarters done, and we put them together in their final form in the moment – literally when we were recording the song. Like the first single, ‘The River Is Rising’ – we had a complete arrangement for that, but as we played it, Dave was going, “Y’know, that end bit is so f***ing cool, could we put it somewhere else in the song too, so you have it more than once?” And I was like, “Yeah, we can do that,” and I just started doing a guitar solo over it. That kind of collaboration started to happen very spontaneously in the studio.
What’s your philosophy when it comes to improv in general?
I like to get in the studio and get out [laughs]. On this record, probably moreso than any of the other ones, I just pretty much improvised everything. And because we were putting the arrangements together so quickly, there were a couple of moments where we did things in the studio that I hadn’t done before.
There were some harmonies that came together for a song called ‘Fall Back To The Earth’ that didn’t exist before, that I made up on the spot right before we actually recorded the song. A lot of the guitar solos were just various kinds of spontaneous things. I didn’t sit down and work on stuff – y’know, I didn’t sit cross-legged on the floor and try to figure out parts and do that kind of thing. I don’t have the patience.
I mean, not to blow smoke, but you’re f***ing Slash, man. You don’t need to spend hours mathematically hashing out a solo.
That’s very sweet of you to say, but the thing is, I just really don’t have the aptitude for thinking too hard or working too hard on a solo. I don’t know – the energy and spontaneity is the key to making a solo fun or interesting. I work too hard on something, I lose all the pizzazz out of it.
You have literally hundreds of guitars. How do you decide what to take with you into the studio?
Usually it’s whatever guitars I have around at the moment. For this particular record, I had a couple of really cool ’59 [Les Paul] reissues that I got during the pandemic, and a ’69 reissue Flying V that I got for Christmas last year. Then I had a black Les Paul from the Custom Shop that I just got – that sounded really good – and the “Victoria” Goldtop that I’ve been using a lot lately. Those were the guitars that were in the studio during the pandemic, so I was using those for demos and whatnot. When it came to pre-production, I just pulled those guitars out and started playing with them.
Apart from those, I have my trusty Derrig guitar as well. So when we went to the studio, we took the Derrig, plus all those other guitars I just mentioned, and a sitar. I ended up doing the majority of the songs on the Derrig because it just has this thing about it when you play it. It’s really hard for any other guitar to follow it – it just has, for me personally, what would be considered the sound that I feel comfortable with.
But I did end up using the two ’59 reissues. One of them worked out great for a song called ‘The Path Less Followed’, and then I used the Flying V for ‘C’est La Vie’ and ‘Actions Speak Louder Than Words’. The Flying V is a great sounding guitar! It’s funny, because I don’t play them that often, but this one just sounded great. And it plays really good. It’s clean – it’s a lot cleaner than a regular Les Paul, so for a song like ‘C’est La Vie’, with the talk box, it was perfect. And for that kind of bluesy lick on the intro for ‘Actions Speak Louder Than Words’.
I used the Black Beauty for ‘Call Off The Dogs’, because it’s just such a raunchy sounding guitar, it was perfect for that song. And then I used the other ’59 reissue – which I’m definitely going to be taking on the road with me – for ‘April Fool’. So y’know, all things considered, I used a few different guitars. But to get back to your original question, I pick the guitars that I happen to be comfortable with during the period that covers when we go into rehearsals.
I might have a specific idea for a specific guitar, and in those cases I’ll go find the guitar in my collection and pull that out. This sitar was one of those things – I knew I was going to put a sitar in the intro of [‘Spirit Love’], so I brought it with me to Nashville.
Was that the first time you’ve ever tracked a sitar for a record?
Yeah, that was it. I’ve had that sitar since the mid-‘90s, and I’ve just never used it – mostly because it’s hard to not sound very cliché when you use a sitar. But I just cranked it through my Marshall, and it was such a good part for that sort of Eastern sound. But through the Marshall, it just sounds like something is dying [laughs]. It worked out pretty well.
I f***ing love that talk box riff on ‘C’est La Vie’ as well – where did that come from?
That was one of the songs that was written on the road during The Conspirators’ tour in 2019. I was listening back over the board tapes – what we do is, I’ll bring a riff to soundcheck and we’ll start jamming it there, and the front-of-house team will record it, then I’ll get all of those tapes back at the end of the tour just to have as a reference for when we go in to start the next record. And so during the pandemic, I listened to all of those tapes from the last tour. When we were in South America, every soundcheck, we’d be putting together that song, ‘C’est La Vie’.
It was just a riff I came up with – I don’t even remember where it started. It was actually a little bit of a tricky riff to write, to be able to execute it every time. But Myles came up with this great lyric, and we had a good 50 percent of the song written by the time I started making the demos, so I just put a basic arrangement together and sent it to Myles. He remembered the lyric, so it all came together from there.
When it comes to writing on tour, do you find that being in a different city every night inspires you to try different things and be more creative?
I think it’s actually more out of necessity, because there’s not a lot of other time that I’m able to work on something in earnest. When The Conspirators are on the road and I’m sitting around in buses and hotels and dressing rooms, I always have my guitar with me. If I’m working on a Conspirators record, the best time to do it is during a Conspirators tour, because when that tour is over, I’m gonna have to shift gears and do Guns N’ Roses, and that’s where my head is.
So did the pandemic change the way that you approached writing, or give you the ability to lock into different ideas?
Yeah. Truth be told, the pandemic forced this kind of awareness towards being patient. I mean, I’ve had to learn about patience gradually over the years anyway, but the pandemic really put things in a different perspective. I started being able to sit down and really work on the material, as opposed to just sort of rushing through it – even though if I was putting together a demo, it would have to be done within a day. I still can’t spend two days on something [laughs]. But it did give me a sense of patience, y’know, to be a little bit more calm about producing stuff.
Just as a fan of music, what shit are you vibing right now? What’s on The Official Slash Workout Playlist?
I don’t listen to music during the workout anymore because I do it over Zoom, so I can’t have the music on or I won’t be able to hear what they’re saying [laughs]. Anyway. But I’ve been listening to all kinds of crazy stuff! I’ve been listening to the entire Meters catalogue, these last few months. During the pandemic, I was listening to a lot of Buddy Guy. I’ve been listening to a lot of Brent Mason, who’s a country pickin’ Tele guy – he’s just f***ing mind-blowing.
There’s so much stuff that I’ve been listening to. I’ve been listening to old Stevie Wonder records a lot, and a lot of Sly Stone. Aerosmith’s Night In The Ruts record was in my car for like a week, and then the new AC/DC record [Power Up] was in there for what seemed like an exorbitant amount of time. And then y’know, other odds and ends, whatever.
And a lot of ‘50s stuff! That was what it was – I was listening to the ‘50s channel on on Sirius XM, and that was, like, ‘50s rock ’n’ roll songs, from top to bottom, all day long. I was really into it. If you’d ever asked me back in the day, if it wasn’t Chuck Berry, I wouldn’t know anything about ‘50s rock ’n’ roll. I wasn’t really that much of an enthusiast – but nowadays, I f***ing listen to everything. I was just listening to Eddie Cochran!