Q&A With Slash From Velvet Revolver/Guns N' Roses

Had ax-expert Saul Hudson chosen to perform under his given name, he might never have succeeded in the music business, let alone made it to the cover of the forthcoming video game “Guitar Hero III.” Lucky thing he changed his moniker to Slash.

During the Q&A below, which formed the basis of the Velvet Revolver profile in the September 20 Westword, Slash proves to be the coolest of conversationalists, as well as a man who’ll even tackle topics that don’t cast him in the best light. Talking points with the Guns N’ Roses vet include the hoopla surrounding the twentieth anniversary of the 1987 GNR benchmark Appetite For Destruction; the decision by editors at Rolling Stone to put an old Guns photo on an August cover just as VR’s latest disc, Libertad, was hitting; assorted near-death episodes experienced by him and his GNR brethren; a recent trip to rehab, precipitated by a close, personal relationship with OxyContin; exaggerations that slip into the GNR story; his frustration at the assumption that VR, which co-stars Scott Weiland, Dave Kushner and fellow ex-Gunners Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, would be a one-shot superstar project; a near breakup of VR caused largely by GNR frontman Axl Rose, who released a fax claiming that Slash had badmouthed his current bandmates during a meeting that the guitarist initially denied had taken place; his explanations for lying about the Rose get-together, which he subsequently said focused on business matters, not his desire to rejoin GNR; filling in for an absent Van Halen at a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the prospect of all the Gunners making nice for their expected induction five years from now; his excitement about “Guitar Hero III,” and the difficulty he’s had mastering the game; and his forthcoming autobiography, which aims to set the record straight on events that Slash admits he often has difficulty remembering.

That’s life as a guitar hero.

Westword (Michael Roberts): When you guys were preparing for the release of the new Velvets album, did it occur to any of you that it would roughly correspond with the twentieth anniversary of Appetite For Destruction? Or did that kind of sneak up on you?

Slash: No, we didn’t think about it. But now that you bring it up, I didn’t really make a big deal in my own head about the twentieth anniversary of the Appetite record. It’s like, whatever. But the important thing about the Appetite record was, somewhere around the time that greatest hits record came out, Duff and I were talking about, like, a special release or a re-release or something to commemorate the twentieth anniversary. That was a couple of years ago. And that didn’t happen, so that was it, and I’d pretty much forgotten all about it. And the Velvet Revolver record just came out the way it came out, and it just happened to coincide with the twentieth-year anniversary. But it wasn’t supposed to be that big a deal.

WW: Did it surprise you that everyone else made such a big deal about it?

S: Yeah, it did surprise me that everybody made a big deal about it. I don’t recall that many people making too much of a big deal about great records that had any type of anniversary. That really took me by surprise. Especially getting the Rolling Stone cover. It’s like, what kind of phenomenon is that? The way this band has been sticking around in some way, shape or form? So it’s cool, and I’m really appreciative of all of that. But I’m so busy with Velvet, and trying to keep that together, that the Guns thing is hardly an after-thought, really.

WW: You mentioned the Rolling Stone cover. Is it kind of a drag that you’re on the cover when you’ve got a new Velvets album coming out, but it’s a twenty year old photo of you in a different band? Or was it okay, because you’re pretty much the only member of the band that still looks the same?

S: (Laughs). The only drag of it is that Guns was on the cover and Velvets was on the inside.

WW: Right. You’d rather have Velvet Revolver be the main article instead of the sidebar.

S: Right.

WW: On that cover, you’re wearing a “Live Fast, Die Young” t-shirt. You guys definitely did the first part of that phrase. Is it surprising that none of you have done the second part?

S: Well, most everyone in Guns has been pretty close – at least four of us. So it’s a little surprising, knock on wood. I don’t want to jinx it. But for me, personally, I’ve been blessed. I don’t know why I’m still here (laughs). I’m not going to get into it in detail, but the calls have been so close to the point that there’s no reason I should still be here. I’ve been clinically dead and all this other shit. I remember when I was eighteen, I didn’t think I would make it to 21, and when I was 21, I didn’t think I’d make it to 25, and I never cared. I was pretty hard on myself physically. Pretty abusive all the way along. And then somewhere around 39 or 40, I finally said, “Someone’s trying to keep me here and I’d better not fuck it up. Otherwise, I’m going to be gone, and I’ll have used up my nine lives.”

WW: So you waited until forty until you thought, I really need to make a point of sticking around?

S: (Laughs). You know, there were a lot of different reasons for it. I have two kids, and even after they were both born, I was still pushing it. And at one point, really, toward the making of this Libertad record, I finally decided, okay, I’ve done it all and I’m not really getting off on a lot of the stuff I used to get off on. The quality of the stuff around and all that isn’t the same. It just isn’t the same anymore and you’ve done it all and the thrill is gone, and I need to stick around for the kids, and I’ve got a band that needs to put out a new record. So I ran my last little run and checked into rehab and said, “Let’s try and rethink this. I’ll try this somebody else’s way for a second.” So I did that for a month and came out with a lot more clarity than I had when I came in, and everything’s been cool since then.

WW: I read that the most recent trip to rehab was for OxyContin, which is the same thing Rush Limbaugh had a problem with. Is it strange to have anything in common with Rush Limbaugh?

S: The thing about OxyContin, the reason it’s so popular these days, is, it’s pretty effective stuff. It’s just like anything else in this new millennium: It’s easy and it’s effective and you don’t have to go through too much to get it if you have the right connections. All the synthetic stuff that’s available now is obviously very popular. But I wouldn’t be able to compare my trip to anybody else’s.

WW: Were you taking it for medicinal reasons? Or was it purely recreational?

S: It was recreational (laughs). Actually, it all started off when I went to the doctor to check a fucking torn rotator cuff in my shoulder, and he prescribed me Vicodin. And one thing led to another.

WW: So when you read stories like the Guns story in Rolling Stone, where your old manager is talking about the Cecil B. DeMille house and toilets being ripped out of the floor and shit in the sink, do you wonder what the hell was going on back then? Or do you think, I’d kind of like to go shit in a sink again.

S: A lot of it’s blown out of proportion. For one thing, there was never any shit in the sink. I haven’t read the article. I’m just going off what you’re saying. I can’t be bothered to go and read that shit. Some of it’s blown out of proportion, but at the same time, it was pretty extreme, and I have no regrets about any of it at this point. We had a great time. It was a great, hell-raising, white-knuckle band. That’s the way things were. But I think some people take things out of context or try to sensationalize things so that people go, “Oh my God!” We were still very human. We weren’t superhuman. And we weren’t assholes. Well, to an extent, maybe we were, sometimes. It depends on how you look at it. But we weren’t malicious towards other people or just out there to be pricks for the sake of being pricks. None of us were like that. There was an image that was built up around us. Some of it was our own doing, but some of it was because people’s perceptions of us were so kind of in shock that it turns it into a mythical kind of thing.

WW: For me, the latest Velvets album is a really step up from the first one because it feels more like a band that a one-shot superstar project. Do you feel that way about it, too?

S: Yeah, but it was never a one-shot superstar project. It just seems like everybody saw us getting together for some reason other than the reason we got together. We really got together sort of piecemeal because we were individuals looking for something real – real people to play with. And because the community is relatively small, as far as the music community goes, a couple of us got together because of a particular gig we were invited to do, and that sparked the desire to keep it going. And then Dave Kushner came into it, and we sort of begged Scott to do it, and it all worked. And we had a band pretty much the same as any fucking ambitious garage band coming out of high school. It was the same principle, but because we have such pedigrees, everybody slapped all these labels on it. For me, the first record was cool. It was what we made at the time. We made it really quick, we were really aggressive about getting out there and touring and all this other shit. We seem to have to live down a lot of rumors about this, that and the other, and when we finally got around to getting in a room and starting to work on the second record, we’d grown a lot as a band. It’s the same kind of thing as any band that does its first record and then tours clubs for three years. We had to go through a lot of time to sort of get seasoned as a collective unit and come to terms with who we all are as people and musicians. It takes a little bit of time. So for this record, I think we’re really getting somewhere. We’ve started to scratch the surface of what we’re capable of. Because you’ve got really amazing players, but the separate parts don’t matter. It’s the collective, and getting all of that to jell takes some time. You have to baste it a lot (laughs). So now it’s coming together and we’re having this great tour, and by the time we make the third record, it should be like fucking wow. There are really no limits to what we’re capable of doing.

WW: I think one of the reasons people weren’t sure Velvet Revolver would last is because they viewed you guys as so combustible.

S: Well, that’s true. But obviously having been around this long, our survival instincts are pretty good. You have to look at both sides of the coin.

WW: Somewhere in the process of making Libertad, there was the whole Axl fax controversy. You said at first that you hadn’t met with him, and then you said that you had…

S: You know what happened? When I was first asked about that, it was one of those things where I didn’t think it was a big deal, so the first thing that came out of my mouth was, “No.” I can’t remember who the conversation was with…

WW: Was it on Dave Navarro’s show?

S: Maybe. Maybe it was over at the radio show that Matt does on the same station. I think that was when I did it, and under the circumstances, I thought that rather than explaining all the circumstances, explaining why I was there, I just let it go, and I thought that would be the end of it. I didn’t really intend to lie for any other reason than that I didn’t feel like explaining everything – which is the reason most people lie, I guess (laughs). But having been there, and once this thing really came up as an issue, I had to defend myself. So it ran its course, but it was a little bumpy. It got to the point where I was supposedly so disillusioned with my group, and that I was rejoining Guns N’ Roses. What was being written, what was being blogged, what you were hearing in the media got to the point where the guys in my band started to believe it. I was like, “Fuck.” So I actually took a short leave of absence and started working on material. I was fed up with the whole thing. I wasn’t going to keep fighting and going through all that. And over a period of time, they were like, “If he was going to do that, he would have done it already.

WW: So what finally convinced them that you were telling the truth wasn’t that you made another pitch, but that you didn’t actually hook up with Axl?

S: Right. I didn’t join Axl’s band. There was nothing going on. I just stayed home, because I was working on material in the first place. So I just stayed home and did that, and everything cooled down for a while. And after a bit, I think I went over to Matt’s house and listened to what him and Duff had been working on. And that evening, we had a conversation going where we were like, “What is the point of all this? If I was going to do this, I would have done it. I wouldn’t be arguing with you guys, or lying to your face. You know?” So after that, it went away.

WW: Did all of that turmoil end up having a positive effect? Do you feel like everyone’s more solidly behind the Velvets than maybe they were before?

S: Sometimes certain conflicts or certain tumultuous events help, because if you really feel strongly about preserving a relationship with somebody, it forces you to work that much harder to communicate. And sometimes I do think that helps the bonding process a little bit.

WW: At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony for Van Halen, most of them didn’t show up, and the Velvets stood in for them…

S: Right.

WW:… and it occurred to me that it’s only about five years before Guns N’ Roses will be inducted into the Hall of Fame, too. Is it even conceivable to you that all the original members could show up on that night and set all the old hurts aside?

S: I don’t know. Really, I don’t know. It’s funny, because that came up while we were there. Having watched the whole David Lee Roth situation go down, it was interesting to be involved in another band’s bullshit (laughs). And at some point, one of the key people at the Hall of Fame came over to me and said, “You know, you guys are eligible in five years.” And I was like, “Wow, that’s a thought.” I would hope we’d all be mature enough to stand on the same stage together, but then again, you never know. I know I’ll be there.

WW: One of the things that’s going to introduce you to a new generation of fans is “Guitar Hero III,” which is about to come out. You’re on the cover and a playable character. When that was first proposed to you, what was your reaction?

S: I was over the top excited. I was going through my initial “Guitar Hero” phase. I was really addicted to it at that point, so when I got that phone call, it was like an omen. Like, “Really?” (Laughs.) I very rarely get involved in anything. You get a lot of people asking you to get involved with this, with that, and a lot of it seems like sell-out opportunities or something that’s not all that cool. Whatever it is, I usually shy away from it. So this was something I was excited about, that I could have fun with, and that I could stand behind regardless of what anybody else thought. To me, it’s the only really, really cool video game for somebody like me, who’s a guitar player, that I can really get behind. It’s got great music. The music’s really well chosen. And the point of the game is great. It’s rock and roll and guitar and all that fantasy stuff that people dig so much. It just turned me on. And it’s not violent. All things considered, games are ridiculously violent right now. So that was a good deal.

WW: You mentioned your initial “Guitar Hero” phase. It’s hard to imagine someone like you, who can actually play guitar, playing “Guitar Hero.”

S: It’s actually a lot harder to play as a guitar player. You put something in your hands that’s remotely similar to a guitar and you approach it a certain way, and “Guitar Hero” doesn’t necessarily work like that.

WW: So you had too much knowledge to be good at “Guitar Hero.”

S: I guess. Something like that. The fretboard on “Guitar Hero,” when it comes to chords, it seems like my timing is perfect, but something doesn’t connect (laughs).

WW: I’ve heard you’re also working on an autobiography. Is that right?

S: It’s actually almost done. We’re just going through the final edit right now, and it’s good. It’s a very honest day-in-the-life kind of thing from when I started all the way up through Velvet Revolver. The real motivation of doing it is because so many other people, unauthorized, unknowledgeable people are doing it and getting away with it. And it’s really taking an already volatile situation and making it even worse. There’s some things I’d like to set straight. And also, it’s a chapter I’m passed at this point. It came up a long time ago to do one. I had a conversation with someone who was enjoying all these great rock stories over a couple of drinks one night, and he said, “You should write a book,” and I said, “I can’t even imagine doing that right now,” because it seems so final. If you do a book, it’s like, “That’s it. There’s nothing else to say, there’s nothing else happening.” And after that, I was so busy doing other things. I’d kept myself so busy since then. But now I can look back on that as opposed to feeling, “That’s the end, and there’s just a void after that.”

WW: You were talking earlier about how many stories about you are exaggerated. Will the whole book be, “That’s not true,” and “That’s not true, either”? Or are there enough crazy stories that haven’t been told?

S: To be honest with you, it’s not all about crazy stories. I can’t remember three-quarters of what went on. It was hard enough to write this book based on simple facts: On this year, this happened, and on this year, that happened. So much shit went on, and it’s still like that in this band. There’s so much stuff that goes on over the course of a day, let alone over ten years. But there was some key stuff, some major things that went on, that I do remember – stuff that happened to me personally, stuff that happened with the bands, little anecdotes sprinkled throughout that I can remember. And tying it all together, it was a real challenge. It was a good thing I was sober when I did it, or I probably wouldn’t have been able to finish it otherwise.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts