When Sarah J. Edwards met Slash, she got to the bottom of misquotes, age, fame etiquette and the hell raiser from the Laurel Canyon.
The interview first appeared in BLAG Vol.3 Nø 2 printed in 2011 and has been edited for online.
Interview and Photography by Sarah J. Edwards
Art Direction by Sally A. Edwards
“You are the first person to make me laugh,” Slash states in my direction.
“Really? I love exclusives,” I answer dryly, instantly forgetting what I’d said to make him laugh.
It’s hard to equate how easygoing Slash is in relation to his life in print and on film.
He is, without question a living legend. Guns n Roses brought so many people together – even at our crazy, delinquent-filled school everyone with vastly different taste met at Guns n Roses – their music was and still is universal. What’s more amazing, is to think that 25 years after Guns n Roses formed, Slash released his official debut album.
Now looking through my camera, I pause and lean away from it, “Do you want to let it out?”
“Ok,” Slash creases up laughing, again.
“I knew it.”
24 hours before meeting Slash, I knew I’d set myself up for a challenge. I watched Guns n Roses make stadiums of people go wild and Slash rehearse with his band on YouTube and read gritty stories of the band’s past. After that, I had no clue what I should talk to him about. It was the equivalent of, what do you buy the man who has everything? Then it struck me. He’s in the perfect position to tell us all about how life – as a star – has changed with the availability of the internet, anti-aging and much more.
“Uh huh, uh huh.”
For your grilling [laughs]? I didn’t want to go over loads of old ground, so I wanted to try and do something different...
[with BlackBerry in hand] “Do you want me to put this down?”
Yes, please. Your life’s almost like a movie, isn’t it?
“Ummm...I suppose. I never really thought of it like that.”
“I suppose. I wrote a book, then people wanted to make a movie out of it. So, it’s possible.”
So, my question was if your life was made into a film, who would write, direct and star in it? “Ohhhh fuck. Ummm. [long pause] Fuck. I have no clue. That’s a good first question. Let’s move on.”
[laughs] Well, you can think about it.
“I can’t really think about myself in those terms. I would hate the idea of it, of somebody trying to make a movie of me. So, it’s hard for me to entertain the idea for more than two minutes without drawing a blank.”
[laughing] For argument’s sake, if it was made....
“I suppose Quentin Tarantino could do it, that would be interesting.”
“He could write it too. I couldn’t imagine who would star...”
It’s probably some cool unknown actor? I can’t think of anyone. When I wrote the question, I just didn’t know how I would answer it.
“Yeah and it would be really out of my character to really nail down, because I’d have to have an image of myself.”
A HELLRAISER IN LAUREL CANYON
If it happened, I wanted you to tell us about three epic points, what scene would have everybody on the edge of their seats, which one would have people grabbing the tissues and which one would have people laughing their heads off?
[laughing] It’s basically for you to tell me anecdotes about yourself, in a roundabout way.
“I would suppose the edge of the seat stuff, would be [pauses] just about any [pauses] overdoses and stuff would probably be that. Maybe when I was racing bikes and I was a hellraiser when I was 13, 14, 15. Grabbing onto cars and going over Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, which is this big massive hill. 20 of us all racing traffic, that probably would’ve been a real nail bitter. As far as tears are concerned... [pauses, laughs] This is way too introspective for me.”
Is it? Ok. We won’t do it [laughs]. Ok, so let’s talk about the album.
[takes a mouth full of coffee] “Mmm, ok.”
Does it feel strange that you’ve had so many years in the business and now you’ve got your official debut solo. Is there any kind of pressure attached to it?
“No, there’s no pressure attached to it. It’s actually more of a relief. I think having been in groups ever since I was 15 years old and navigating through so many groups all these years, I finally got to that point where I was like, I really need to do something on my own and having the ability to do that was very liberating. So, it didn’t feel like pressure at all.”
That’s good. That’s really cool.
“It was almost the exact opposite. It was a very sort of welcoming thing.”
Can we talk about the guests. I wanted to pick out Dave [Grohl] because I know him, he’s great.
“Well, Dave is... He’s one of those guys who I’ve known a pretty long time. As far as I’m concerned, he’s probably in one of the biggest rock ‘n’ roll bands of this era. He is what I would consider a rockstar of his time. He’s probably the most... He’s the one rockstar that makes a great role model. He doesn’t have any airs or anything about him. He loves what he does, he’s not wasted fuckin’ on smack, he writes great songs and he’s got a great band. [laughs] I think anybody who’s an aspiring rockstar should look to him as a role model, he’s fuckin’ classic. I like David a lot, he’s a phenomenal songwriter, an even more phenomenal drummer and our kids go to the same school. That’s how I roped him into doing this record in the first place.”
Oh, wow. That’s cool.
“Yeah. His daughter just started going there and the school called me up and they were doing this annual fundraiser and they asked me if I would play and put together a little band for it. I feel very awkward around schools, from when I was a kid – so, I’m having to adapt to all this bullshit. Anyway, I don’t mind doing it. They said, ‘Well, can you get Dave to do it too?’ and I was like, ‘Why don’t you ask him?’ They said, ‘No, you know him better.’ We text a lot, so I texted him and got him down there and I said, I’ve got this song and I actually wanted him to sing on it, but he wouldn’t sing, because he feels uncomfortable out of his sort of little comfort zone, singing on his own stuff and doing his thing. So, he was just doing Them Crooked Vultures at the time and he was really hot drumming at that point, so I turned the song into an instrumental and had him play drums on it.”
IGGY & THE BOOMBOX
“Probably more information than you needed.”
No, I like it. I love hearing these stories. Is there anyone else that you’d pick out...it would be really cool to hear if there’s an interesting story attached to any of the studio experiences. Maybe that you didn’t expect.
“Well, the most rock ‘n’ roll story that goes along with this record, well one of them is – for the first time in my whole entire career – I got to be the guy who orders the Jack Daniels and coke for one of the artists. [laughs] Which was something I always had done for me and that was for Lemmy, which was just a huge honour.”
“The one time that I really realised I was the boss, because I had to do all the fucking leg- work and the hands on shit.”
“Anyway, working with Iggy Pop. I called him up and I said, you know, I’ve got this song, I sent it to him and a couple of days later he calls me up and he goes, ‘Slash, check this out.’ He takes the phone, I hear him put it down on the table and I hear him walk across the room and he put the CD in – it had to be an old school stereo boombox or something, he sticks the CD in and then – I can tell that it’s at the top of this piece of equipment’s peak volume – I hear in the background the demo that I sent him. It’s cranked up and it’s distorted and it’s really loud and this is all over my cell phone. The intro comes in and then at the first verse I just hear him screaming at the top of his lungs.”
[laughing] Oh brilliant.
“And he sang the entire song and that was his demo and when it was over, he clicked off the machine, I hear him walking back across the floor, pick up the phone and go, ‘What do you think?’ And that was how [laughing] we put that song together.”
“It was cool, a very old school rock ‘n’ roll moment.”
“And he came down to the studio, he was the first guy who I had physically come in and sing a track, you know? He came and just sort of belted it out. We did, like maybe three takes and it was very Iggy, it didn’t really need any work. And I thought, if it should ever be anymore... what was it, what was the way I was thinking... It should never be any more complicated, the sessions that we do for the rest of this record, so that sort of set the pace for the whole album and Wayne Kramer came down and hung out while we were doing it. Wayne Kramer from MC5 and it was just a very Detroit moment.”
A SORT OF DICHOTOMY
I read a quote with you about the fact that you’re most proud about being really genuine.
[laughing] Is it?! Were you lying?
“I don’t remember ever saying that.”
[laughing] Really? It’s here! “...what I’m most proud of is that I’m genuine. I’ve never been some fly-by-night joke who just wanted to be a rock star...”
“But that could be fourth generation by the time you’ve got it.”
Let’s see how true it is. I like this quote...
“I like to consider myself as being pretty sort of down-to-earth and not being sort of full of shit.”
“A lot of bells and whistles, hoops to jump through.”
Yes. It also said you really admire people who love what they do to a point that they’ll stop at nothing to make sure it happens.
“Yes, that’s very true.”
Good. I’m glad about that. Also, that you’re really optimistic.
“I try to be. It’s sort of a dichotomy, I’m very optimistic, yet I’m always prepared for the worst.”
That’s probably the best way to be. What do you think are the keys or elements that keep you inspired with fresh ideas?
“I think that, um.. That’s a good question. I really, really love what I do and I seem to enjoy it more as time goes by and find more stuff to do with it and have points that I want to get to and sort of enjoy the journey to get there and I think that’s probably what keeps me going. I’m one of the few guys that’s been doing this – at least out of my peers – who’s been doing this, this long and am not sort of complaining and bitter about the whole thing.”
If you’ve set yourself up for the worst, then you’re also prepared to make sure that it doesn’t happen.
“I hadn’t really gotten to the point of being that analytical about it.”
[laughing] Oh, hadn’t you?
“You’re probably right.”
[laughing, kind of gobsmacked]
“I don’t really dwell on that stuff that much.”
[still laughing] Don’t you?
“You don’t really think about this stuff until somebody interviews you.”
I just got all this from reading interviews with you.
“That’s the other thing, I don’t read anything that I actually do, so. I make a point of not.”
Sally [to Sarah]: You can write anything now!
[laughing] Yeah, I know.
[laughs] “You have to.”
I wanted to talk with you about age, because I think... It’s something we’ve noticed a lot doing this new edition. A lot of artists are getting signed at an older age. People are breaking into film at an older age. It’s really acceptable to start a career in your late twenties and thirties. I noticed on your album that M Shadow’s the youngest guy, isn’t he?
“Yeah, I guess.”
I just... and this is probably too analytical as well. There’s just loads of pressure about aging, yet it’s become acceptable to do these things being older.
“I actually have noticed that. Well, there’s this obsession with age, that everything’s got to be young, but I have noticed that lately there is an acceptance and almost respectability about being older. Which I think is actually pretty cool, because I don’t think that you really have reached a point of experience until you get old enough, so the things that you say are limited until you get to a certain place when you really have a better grasp on things. So, I think being a little bit older is cooler. But shit, I’m 45, so that’s a whole different...” [let’s out sharp laugh]. Um... [pauses] I was trying to think of something funny to say then, but I couldn’t think.
“I can think of something...”
I wanted to speak about fame. I read another quote with you that said, “Some people want to get famous and then all they want to do is hang out in bars and get recognised.”
“That’s very true. I live in LA so...”
Well, I wanted to do a kind of fame etiquette guide with you, so you can guide people who might be on their way up, but I’ve got one more question before. Is that ok?
“Well, let’s hear the question.”
Ok, so, you’re in a situation where you’ve been famous for most of your career, when you first came out, there wasn’t the internet, there wasn’t mass media, there was the radio and live shows. Now you can become famous in such a short space of time, can’t you?
Well, I know it’s probably an obvious example, but look at Lady Gaga – eight months later, she’s being placed next to Madonna.
“She is, yeah.”
I just wondered how it’s changed for you. Like you were saying, you can be on Twitter and speak to people that way. Did you notice a big jump or is it something you’ve just kind of blended in with?
“I think, for me personally. I didn’t do any of this social networking, I didn’t use computers. I sort of shunned all that stuff for the longest time. I didn’t get a cell phone until like 2001. I really almost consciously ignored it and then at some point around 2004 or 2005 I started using the internet, emailing and shit like that and recently I started using Facebook and Myspace and Twitter, all that kind of stuff. I actually think it’s really cool. It’s an interesting thing, because once you go down that path everybody is hanging out there, so your exposure level is dramatically increased. I think in a way it’s good. If we’d had that back in say the late ‘80’s it might’ve been... I mean, if we’d had Twitter back in the ‘80’s when all the hair bands were around it would’ve been over-the-fuckin’-top.”
“[Twitter] is a cool sort of marketing tool, for me the coolest thing about it is, is that you can have an interaction with your audience that you didn’t have before.”
US & THEM
Do you think before there was a real ‘us and them’ thing with you and the fans?
“There was a huge, vast separation, a valley between your reality and the perception of your fans... people who were at least interested. And you’d have press releases, that were very cold. Magazine interviews that were always misrepresented, or for the most part misrepresented and all that kind of stuff. People used to think there was kind of a mystique in all of that, which I can appreciate, but with these sort of social circuits [laughs] that we’ve got, with the internet you can talk to people in real time and I think there is a much better connection. It’s a little bit more personable. I still think it maintains a mystique because there’s something about the cyber connection that really makes it sort of weird. Like, I run into Twitter people on the street and they go, I follow you on Twitter and I go [pulls away] “Ewww.” [cracks up]
[laughing] Don’t follow me in real life.
[laughing] “Yeah, yeah. But I think it builds up more of a mystique because people start to use their imaginations a lot more. I could be wrong.”
No, I think you’re right...
“I don’t know if I got off the actual point of the question.”
I like the answer. So, I wonder if you can dish out some tips for people who are just becoming famous, on how to handle it and navigate it?
“Well, I mean.. You know who Jeff Beck is, right?”
“Jeff Beck said something recently about how a lot of people, musicians and artists in general who come from one place and all of a sudden end up being famous and can’t handle it. There are a lot of dynamics to all of a sudden being recognised. Especially if you have a lot of integrity as an artist and what you’re really trying to do is create something and put it out and sort of make it available for people to appreciate and all of a sudden have a large audience, because you have a great selling record or whatever it is. Not being able to handle it is something a lot of people go through. I don’t really know what the protocol for handling that is. When Guns n Roses first became big, I didn’t have any aspirations to [or] for being, you know, famous. It was more like, if you could play infront of a bigger audience. I could appreciate that. But being recognised at the liquor store or driving your car or whatever, on the street wasn’t...it made me really reclusive. I started doing a lot more drugs and [laughs] started wallowing in my hang-ups and it was really hard. It’s taken me all these years for me to be able to sort of deal with that reality and accept it as such and just sort of plod along.”
Well, like you were saying earlier, that gap was just so huge wasn’t it, between you and the fans?
And it might be really different now.
“I think it depends on your sort of goals, if you’re wanting to become famous for the sake of becoming famous, you’ll be fine. But for people who aren’t necessarily sure what that’s all about, then it’s a sort of tricky world that you sort of have to figure out for yourself. I think the most important thing about it is, is be true to yourself and don’t be manipulated into doing things you don’t believe in and believing in the hype factor, because that’s a really dangerous road to go down.”
I’ve got some dilemmas and these are things Sally and I have kind of witnessed. So, you’re in the street with a friend who you haven’t seen for ages, how should a fan approach you? It’s about etiquette.
“Well, I’m pretty easy going. I just don’t want to be bugged when I’m in the toilet or like in the middle of putting food in my mouth [laughs]. That’s irritating, but I mean, if you just come up and you’re polite and have a non-intrusive way of going about it, it’s fine. Not everybody’s that easy going though I have to admit. For me, I see certain people I’m a huge admirer of on the street and I don’t have the fuckin’ balls to go up and say anything. So, I don’t know where these people muster up the fuckin’ nerve to walk up to people and go, ‘Hey, how are you doing? I need your autograph and a photo.”
I read this really interesting article, you know Stephen Fry?
He wrote this really interesting article on fame and about how he’ll often be out with his friends and his friends often don’t get treated [so well] by the fans.
“Errr... usually what happens is, if a fan comes up and your friend is there, they’ll just ignore them.”
“Sometimes they can be very polite. Most of my people... what’s the word for it. Most people who seem to be interested in what I do or are fans of mine or whatever, they’re usually actually pretty cool. I’ve got to give them a lot of credit. For the most part, I’d say eight out of ten times, if I’m with somebody they’ll acknowledge the person I’m with as well.”
“But that other 2% are fuckin’ assholes...”
[laughing]. This is another funny situation that we noticed. It happened in Paris. So, you’re minding your own business and you notice that a photographer is pretending to shoot a picture of their friend and their friend moves out the way to get a shot of you.
“It happens all the time. I just ignore it myself. I mean, you can make a big deal out of it, but it just exaggerates the situation. You spend more time dwelling on it at that point, than if you just sort of ignore it and let it go by. But people do do that, they’ll be sitting there with a camera and pretend they’re shooting something else and you’re sort of aware of it and you’re just like...you know, it surprises me in general about people, stuff like that.”
Well, that’s kind of it. Well, I was curious – and you did touch on it, to find out about what you think of kids’ career goals to just be famous? [laughing]
“Is this going to be a psychological profile issue?”
[laughs] I think that my questions are getting too much like that. Oh no, now I’m analytical and psychological!
“I mean... You can’t really... I would say that, half the people on TV these days are people that don’t have any particular sort of talent, they just sort of end up on TV and it’s something that they’re striving for. You can’t really knock it, if that’s what they want to do. Where I come from it was years and years of work and doing whatever, trying to hone in on your craft until you get to the point where you’re appreciated by masses of people. So, this other way of thinking is just a sign of the times. I know it’s a lot of kids dreams to be famous, [have] their name in lights, but it was usually also sort of toting some particular talent, you know? So, now it’s different, now you can get on TV for pretty much not knowing how to do anything. I don’t know if I really appreciate it that much but it is what it is.”
Cool. That’s it.
“That’s was painless. [He leans over] I was scared at the beginning.”