Everybody in the world knows Slash
as the guitarist from Guns N Roses
and Velvet Revolver
. The guy in the top hat with the cascading black curls standing in front of Marshall and shouldering Les Paul. But not a whole lot of people know him as a prolific songwriter and guitarist in a variety of different styles including metal, Americana, and Zeppelin-influenced rock. For the last two years, he has been working on a solo album, writing songs that wouldn't fit into the Velvet Revolver
repertoire and finding singers to sing them. He has brought together everyone from Ozzy
and M. Shadows
in a project that showcases the guitarist as an instrumentalist capable of burning through speed metal licks as well as laying down quasi-Stones country blues licks. This is one of the very first conversations Slash has had about the new record [untitled as of this writing, the interview was conducted in December 2009].
UG: We spoke back in September of 2009 and you were already talking about a solo record then. This project must have been a long time in the making.
What happened was I wrote this book [Slash] and one of the passages in the book, I said something about, The next record I'd like to do would be a record where I could get a lot of people that I've worked with to come and sing on my record as opposed to me always going and jamming and doing sessions for other people. And I was starting to think outside of the box at that point because the Velvet thing I knew wasn't gonna last much longer than that tour. At least the lineup that we had.
That's when you started giving thought to a solo album?
So I was starting to think of other things and I needed the outlet. I needed to do something where I was just captain of my own ship for a minute. I'm not saying that I want to do this permanently but I just needed to, after all the stuff with Guns N Roses and then Velvet Revolver, I just needed to do something to sort of get my own ya yas out.
You didn't want to do another Snakepit-styled record?
I didn't want to put together another band. Snakepit was a band; everybody wrote, everybody had equal input even though I had my name on it. I'm so used to being in a band that I just never really tried to do anything else. So what happened was we finished the tour and Scott got fired right after we walked off the stage in Amsterdam. So as soon as I got home I started compiling material and started looking at a solo record. I started writing and doing all that kind of stuff. I also scored a movie so I was spending a lot of time just sort of creating.
You were in a really musical place?
I put together a bunch of material and I started thinking who would sound good. I did one song and said, This would sound great for Ozzy or the Fergie song (Beautiful Dangerous was totally pegged for her. And that's how the whole record was.
You say that Fergie was the perfect person to sing this track you had written. You didn't have any other choices, for example, but Fergie on that music you were putting together?
Yeah, exactly. There were a few songs I didn't know who was gonna sing but for the most part I put something together, listened to it, and thought, Who would sound great on that particular track? And most of it worked out; there were a couple people that I didn't necessarily get but it all worked out for the better because who I ended up getting on it was way better than my original idea.
Were you thinking about vocal melodies during the demo stage? Did you have any rough ideas for vocals or anything?
"I'm so used to being in a band that I just never really tried to do anything else."
It was really sort of an open canvas for any singer that I chose. I was thinking more along the lines of I was putting choruses together and I'd put a bridge in. Sometimes it would only be two parts; sometimes it would be more of a song structure and just say, Have at it. It's totally open to your interpretation and we change the arrangement if need be. Whatever it is.
We will go back and get some more details on these songs. Josh Freese and Chris Cheney was the main rhythm section for most of the album. Did you know the type of rhythm section you wanted to bring in? Did you know the types of players you wanted?
Initially I thought of Josh and Josh took off on this Nine Inch Nails tour that looked like it was gonna take forever. So he was somebody that I wanted to use. I was trying to think of drummers; he was one of the guys that I really admired that I thought would be good. But he was on this tour and it was really funny because at one point when it was getting down to the wire and I was gonna go into Eric Valentine's studio and start working, I was sitting at home with my cell phone watching cartoons or something and thinking, Oh, who the fuck is gonna play drums cause Josh isn't around? and he called and said he just quit the Nine Inch Nails tour. So that's how that happened.
And Chris is just the best session player that I know so I called him up. It's weird, I know two bass players: Duff obviously played in Guns N Roses and Velvet Revolver and Johnny [Griparic] who played in Snakepit. I didn't want to use Duff so I was tryin' to think of bass players and Chris I've worked with so many times and he's easy going and he learns quickly.
Having a quality rhythm section like that must have been great for you.
Those two guys pretty much made it really easy to record this record. What I would do was whatever state of progress the demo was, either finished or however many ideas, with a vocal or without a vocal, I'd bring it in and we would learn the song that morning and then have it recorded in its entirety by that night. So we'd work up the arrangement with no sweat, no complaints, no issues, no hassle; it was just breezing. So they were a Godsend those two guys.
Josh actually used a number of different drum kits on the album?
Eric was originally a drummer and he knows drums. That's why we have his kits. [Valentine had about 10 different sets in the studio] He knows exactly what they would sound like. Eric was almost like having a bandmember because Eric, when I first met him, I picked him out of like a dozen producers.
Eric Valentine did talk about spending a fair amount of time dialing in guitar sounds and testing different amps and microphones and guitars.
We started out complicated and it ended up very simple. We ended up with one guitar [1959 Les Paul copy built by Chris Derrig; same guitar that Slash used on Appetite for Destruction] and one head [Marshall JCM800 Lead Series modded top] that drove the whole record. The main things we would find were not guitars but amps; combination of amps to do the other guitar parts. So it wasn't exactly the same as the main guitar track. And so we would have a Vox [AC-30] or a Magnatone [also a 1959 Fender Bassman was used for clean guitars] and all these different things and just trying to find a guitar sound that would sound like another guitar and complement this guitar. That didn't take that long and a lot of time I'd let Eric run with that. I already got the one Marshall/Les Paul sound and he had fun finding whatever; if I liked it we used it and if I didn't like it we'd keep dicking with it.
So it was just the Les Paul and the Marshall?
Yeah. Which was great because it's come full circle where I only owned one amp and one guitar to all this stuff I've picked up over the years and experimented with that and the other. All the way back to I only need the one amp and one guitar.
How much time did you actually take dialing in sounds and cutting tracks?
Well, it was one of the most enjoyable and relaxed kind of sessions [I've ever done]. If we started a song, we'd take one day and get all the rhythm stuff and then come in and do guitars. We'd do all of that in that afternoon and having something finished by that night. Except if it had to have an acoustic part; we'd do that the next day.
Crucify the Dead is Ozzy's track and there some cool picking parts on there with this kind of lo-fi guitar tone.
I used a Goldtop for the solo and the single note stuff; just for the intro. That was one of the songs that originally was a piece of music that I used for this movie. The movie is called This is Not a Movie and it's a low-budget independent film. It's really very cool. So I had that music that I wrote for this particular scene and then after I had written it, I was going, That would make a great Ozzy song. I sort of made a whole song out of it and sent it to Ozzy.
Ozzy actually recorded this at his home studio. Were you there when he cut the vocal?
"I put together a bunch of material and I started thinking who would sound good."
Yeah. It was great; I'm glad you brought that up. I've known Ozzy for a while; we met in the late 80s. He's one of those icons that I sort of grew up with and I've had defined experiences listening to Sabbath and listening to Ozzy growing up. It's like the background music to my life. Anyway to be sitting next to Ozzy working on one of my songs and him singing into the microphone, to have that voice just sort of casually singing right next to me was definitely an experience. It was very cool. He was writing and working on the lyrics and singing into the microphone.
Your solo had a bit of that Eric Clapton woman tone where he dials off the treble? Is that what you were doing?
It's not inspired by Clapton but I love Clapton a lot. I discovered a long time for me as part of my playing when we were doing the Guns N Roses Use Your Illusions records, turning the tone knob off on the rhythm pickup. And I did it for like Heaven's Door I think was one of the most recognizable places I used it. And so it's just become a thing with me and it pops up here and there and that's what that was. And it's just something that I've been doing that I really like; it's such a great, warm, bluesy sound.
That is exactly what Clapton does.
Yeah, but I didn't know Eric did it.
The Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins does high harmonies on Crucify the Dead?
Yeah, I wasn't there when Taylor came down and did that.
You remarked earlier on the Andrew Stockdale track. By the Sword has acoustic guitars a cool sort of guitar/vocal line that is happening.
It was the main riff and that was there before. I did have a couple of those parts but when it came to doing the verse, it sort of wrote itself because he started singing it that way and so I put the sort of guitar underneath it.
There is sort of a Zep feel to this one?
Oh, yeah, you can't knock it. But it's as cool a Zeppelin homage as I could think of. It's definitely there but it's in good taste.
The acoustic guitar is a huge part of the sound on By the Sword.
I shouldn't say this but I have to be honest it was actually a Martin. Martin sent me a brand new guitar for the studio because I needed something acoustic and it just sounded amazing. It's one of the best sounding acoustic guitars I've ever heard.
Trevor Adkinson who worked at Barefoot Studios and tuned your guitars and helped with the album, said you had to take off some of your jewelry to record acoustics?
Yeah, I had to take all my shit off.
Talking about recording your solos, Trevor took some photos of you and you stand up when you record a solo. You don't sit down. Is there a reason for that?
There are times when you're soloing that you'll tend to sit down because it's meticulous or whatever it is. But sometimes it needs to be raw energy and the only way you can really get that is to stand up. So I would pick and choose.
Having Lemmy in the studio doing Doctor Alibi must have been cool.
That was another great moment; having Lemmy come down. Because Lemmy was one of those guys that I so looked up to and I still do. When I was a kid, I was one of those Lemmy fans that would bow in his presence. And we got to be friends and he's always sort of taken me under his wing kind of thing and he's always been really cool. Lemmy is one of those kinds of guys who can have a real serious attitude if he wants to. He's actually a really nice guy in general. I always thought he was sort of intimidating but he was always really nice to me. And I've had a chance to work with him; I've played on one of their records [March or Die] and I've done a lot of gigs with em. I asked him if he'd be interested and I sent him the thing and he got it right away and he came down to the studio.
Lemmy must have been a little crazy in the studio?
We had bottle of Jack Daniels and a couple bags of potato chips and it reminded me of when I used to show up at sessions. It was great. And the song is all about how the doctor told him how he might have to quit partying and then another doctor said, No, you need to continue. It's a great personal thing; I'm really honored to have it on there.
Nothing to Say is Slash going metal. Avenged Sevenfold's M. Shadows does the vocal here and your playing is pretty brutal.
We're managed by the same people and I had this one idea that was all this duga duga duga duga duga duga [mimics fast metal lick] and that's something I've always wanted to do. I'm a huge Megadeth and Metallica fan and I can't do it in Velvet and it definitely wasn't gonna happen in Guns. I was like, OK, I wanna do this song and who is gonna sing it? Dave Mustaine came to mind and it would have been awesome with Dave but at the same time I had Ozzy and Iggy and Lemmy that sort of represented a certain generation. And I had Ian Astbury and stuff so I didn't want to go too sort of my generation and fill it all up that way. So the idea of Sevenfold came from management and I was really familiar with them so I thought, Let's give it a shot and see what happens.
What do you think of M. Shadows' performance?
"It was really sort of an open canvas for any singer that I chose."
I think he brought his A game to the table. I think this particular song is one of the best songs I've heard him do. Melodic.
Your solo was really burning. Did you have to warm up for that one?
It's that tempo of a song so you have to sort of just go there. When I did the original demo as was the case for a lot of songs on the record, all the demos had one-take solos. Right? And when you don't have the pressure of worrying about the red light or whatever it is, there's a certain laid back thing to doing demos and the performances that might be on there. And I ended up keeping the basic idea for most of the songs when I went into really do them. I was like, The demo is great and that's called demoitis. Certain key things in there I tried to keep and so that's what that solo is. It's just a real free-form kind of thing but I knew there were certain sections that I wanted to keep and try to keep those melodies close to what they originally were. It's spontaneous but I'm hearing something that I had done spontaneously before.
Are the solos on the record first-take type performances?
Yeah, the first couple takes, and just hope that you manage to capture that feel of whatever it was that you were trying to sort of emulate without learning it note-by-note.
When you really think about it, you making this type of record really makes sense. Because you have done all these different kinds of sessions and worked with different types of musicians on their albums so you do have all these different musical experiences.
I needed to get it out of my system. But the timing was such that I couldn't have made this record anytime prior to this particular period. The motivation was there but also it took all these years to collect enough credibility to call up a guy like Steve Ferrone and say, Hey, would you come down and play on a track? It was nerve wracking just to make the phone calls and see whether they would do it or not. But I'm sure it might not have been as easy had I not established these relationships with people. And it was a perfect time to do it because Velvet at least with Scott had run its course. I couldn't go through that process of auditioning singers and get that all back together to do another Velvet record. I really needed a break from the band vibe. So maybe it was in the cards to do this now.
That's where Velvet is at this point?
Still looking for a singer, yeah.
Now that the record is done and you've spent two years on your vision, is it what you thought it would be?
I didn't even know what I was doing; I really had no idea what it was gonna be like. I was actually sort of surprised at how much came out spontaneously or self-consciously; how all the ideas really sort of came. Because going into it I didn't really know. I was putting musical ideas together and I was very focused but I didn't know what it was gonna end up like at the end of the day.
Interview by Steven Rosen