If Jimi Hendrix
is recognized as the musician who put Fender on the map through his exquisite manipulation of a Stratocaster, then Slash
has to be identified as the player who brought about the rebirth of the Gibson Les Paul. When his band of misfits, Guns N' Roses
, released Appetite For Destruction
in July 1987, rock music was in the midst of the hair bands and most of those strummers were picking guitars with whammy bars. Slash
changed all of that.
Since then, he went on to record several more records with GN'R
before lead singer Axl Rose
sort of imploded. He formed Velvet Revolver
in 2004 and recorded a pair of albums, Contraband
, before that band also succumbed to the curse of LSD (Edward Van Halen's designation for Lead Singer Disease).
Throughout both band's recorded history, the man in the black hat played a Gibson Les Paul almost exclusively. Recently, he was recognized for his allegiance to the instrument when Gibson USA created the fourth Slash Model Les Paul
, this time a Gold Top Standard.
Here, he talks a bit about the new instrument, an upcoming solo album, and about the unique world of six-strings as only Slash can see it.
UG: Can you talk about your upcoming solo album that you've been working on?
It's not really much to say; I'm probably about 80 per cent done with demoes right now and probably going into the studio because it's the holidays and all that stuff, I'll probably start off the beginning of the year recording and doing vocals and all that kind of stuff. So that's basically where that's at.
So far, it's going really great and I just have to hold the reins until it's finished because it's one of those kind of things where it always sounds best when it's as simple as possible. And through the whole sort of recording process and working with engineers and this and that and the other and depending on what studio you're working in, things are subject to change. So, it's something I have to be very hands-on with throughout the whole process.
Though the recording is still in its early stages, this will be your first solo record as opposed to a solo band project? You want to bring in various singers with whom you'd like to work?
Yeah, that's what I'm doing.
That could really be something truly revealing for you as a musician.
Yeah, it's exciting; the whole prospect. And just even in the demo phase of just songwriting, it's been really exciting and rewarding and all that kind of stuff. So, it's been cool. And at the same time, a couple days a week we go down to Matt's (Sorum, Velvet Revolver drummer) studio and do Velvet Revolver stuff and that's very band-oriented. And then I come back and work on a new track for the solo record and it's just basically myself and the guy who is engineering the recording (quiet laughter). Sitting there in the middle of the night, putting shit together, it's been very, very cool.
As you are going through the writing process and putting the demos together, are you thinking, This would be a great track for
We're just now getting to that point where I'm starting to go, OK, this song is, as far as my ear is concerned, perfect for so-and-so. And that's just starting to happen because when I originally started, it was just music. But now that I've actually completed a lot of material, I'm starting to see which people the songs are tailor-made for.
Can you talk about some of the singers and musicians, in a perfect world, with whom you'd like to work?
(Nervous laughter) No, I can't; it would be a little presumptuous right now.
That is completely understandable. So, how is the approach different than writing for Velvet Revolver?
It's a different process because with Velvet Revolver or even Snakepit or Guns N' Roses or whatever, in a band situation you have this sort of collaborative effort. Where you bring in a couple ideas and everybody riffs around on that and it becomes something that is produced by the group and everybody has their mark on it and that's the way it comes out. And that's what makes band stuff so dynamic. For the solo stuff in this particular situation, where it's just me by myself, the only judge is me, you know? If I can't find a bridge, there's no other guy to go and find a bridge so I have to come up with it. So, I'm trying to be a little bit more patient when I'm writing songs. I don't like force a completed thing out in the span of a couple hours; sometimes I'll leave it and come back to it in a couple of days and work on something else. It's been working; it's been moving at a good pace but it's been relaxed enough so I'm not stressing out over it too much.
You have always said that you are, first and foremost, a band guy; you love that camaraderie and the idea of other musicians in the room. Was this solo album merely a way to keep your sanity while Velvet Revolver found a new singer and other pieces fell into place?
|"I hear melodies in my head but I hate even singing under my breath."|
I need different outlets every so often and I think having been working out sort of with the personalities within the confines of a group and the different dynamics and the different politics and all that kind of stuff for so long, sometimes you just need to come up for air. And just not have to listen to anybody for a minute. But I'll always be a band guy and like I said, I'm still doing Velvet Revolver at the same time. Like I work in the afternoon and work with Matt and Duff (McKagen, bass) and Dave (Kirshner, guitar) and listen to singers and this and that and the other, and then that evening go in by myself and just start working on separate tracks for what I'm doing.
From what you've described of the solo record, it sounds like it could really be something truly different for you.
I have to say, without getting overly excited about it, but it does sound really, really cool.
Do you ever feel like a man without a country? For whatever reasons, the bands you've been part of tend to fall apart. Do you ever think about how some guys are able to find bands that just seem to go on? Aerosmith and the Stones and that type of thing?
It's never been an issue with the band per se (lots of laughter). I mean, I've been playing with Duff for, you know, 25 years.
That is true.
But yeah, there are certain dynamics in the band that are a little more volatile than others. And, you know, I've tried to take some cues from some of the guys that I know that have been doing it with the same guys for a long time. But the individuals are different and one group's sort of dysfunctionality is different than another group's (more laughter), you know?
On your solo record, then, it's you and your Les Paul just putting down song ideas at this point? Pro Tools and programmed drums?
Yeah, just for the demoes, it's the simplest way to do it. Although when I go in to actually record, I'll pretty much do it old-school style - live drums and recording to tape and all that. But I'll probably still record to tape and go through Pro Tools 'cause it's great for editing and whatnot.
Are you playing bass parts and all the other instruments?
Sometimes; I'm pretty lazy when it comes to that. I have my bass and what you try not to do is, you know the term of demo love? Have you ever heard that? Try not to get so intricate with the demo; just try to keep with the basic ideas. So, sometimes I'll feel like I really just want to complete the whole song and I'll put bass on it. And other times, like last night, I'll just leave the guitar bits. You want to play the song for somebody so it still has room for growth; you don't want to make it so finished that nobody can come up with their own ideas.
See, that's still group thinking, band thinking; band mentality.
Do you sing at all?
I hear melodies in my head but I hate even singing under my breath.
Even on your own solo record, you wouldn't commit to one track?
You'd have to twist my arm! I did it once with Guns N' Roses, I sang on a T. Rex song (Buick Mackane) when we did that, what was it called, The Spaghetti Incident? record. That was because Axl was adamant that I should sing that particular song. I hid myself away behind iso booths and that's the way I did it. So, yeah, I don't have any plans on singing on this one. Maybe an instrumental ..
The new guitar, the Gold Top that is coming out right now, actually that's what I've been using for all these demos for a month-and-a-half. It's just a great sounding guitar. I had one in the 90s when I was touring with Guns N' Roses and I used it for all the big ballad songs: Sweet Child O' Mine and November Rain and Estranged, Knockin' on Heaven's Door and a couple of other ones. 'Cause it has this amazing sustain; if you turn the tone down on the rhythm pickup and you just have these really sweet, creamy notes that just last for days. That guitar was ripped off, I think it was like '98, out of my studio; I got robbed and I lost a bunch of guitars and I got them all back. And the only one that I didn't get back was the Gold Top.
So recently I asked Gibson to put one together for me exactly in the specs of the 1991. And that's what they built me and they thought it would be cool to put it out as a signature model. And given how cool the guitar sounds, it would be very cool. And it's got a custom pot in the rhythm position so when you switch the tone down and put on the rhythm pickup, it keeps the same exact volume and presence. It doesn't change at all; it sounds really amazing. This is definitely an exciting guitar for me.
If you sat down in a room with 25 Les Paul-type guitars, and some of them were from your own collection, could you tell them apart? Could you tell the difference between a real '59, for instance, and one of your Slash models? Are your ears that finely tuned?
|"I'll always be a band guy and like I said, I'm still doing Velvet Revolver at the same time."|
Only if I was playing it.
That's really interesting. So, if somebody else was strumming these guitars, you probably couldn't tell?
Unless it was a really obvious characteristic and I'm talking about something a guitar with soapbars in it compared to one with humbuckers. The thing with guitars and amps to some extent, is it's really the person playing 'em that makes it sound a certain way. A good sounding guitar proves a good foundation for whatever it is that individual guitar player will do but it's really about the actual player. So you can have the same guitar played by four or five different people and it will sound different.
You bring up an essential point: You've absolutely earned the right to have your own signature model guitar. But the truth is, someone buying this Slash Model Gold Top is not going to sound like you.
To an extent. When I was a kid working in guitar stores growing up, there was guys coming in and Eddie Van Halen was the flavor of the decade at that point. And they all played like him and they all learned licks off of any number of Van Halen records and all sort of gearing up for the same kind of guitar. But they sounded like somebody else playing Van Halen licks.
A question most guitarists find incredibly difficult to answer is, Can you describe why you sound like you when you pick up a guitar? In other words, what is it about your touch and your picking technique and your finger vibrato that makes you identifiable as Slash? Can you step outside of yourself at all in analyzing this?
What I was gonna say when I was talking about Van Halen was, you can take the same guitar and close to the same amp or the same amp and learn somebody else's playing or technique or whatever it is, and actually realize that at least you're starting off with the right gear (laughs). You can do that. If you're trying to do the sound of somebody, it helps to have similar kind of gear and then basically it's all about technique and stuff. But for me personally, I don't know what it is that I do. I don't know if I could stand back from it. I know there are certain things I do that are very identifiable to me - I hit hard or I attack hard; the vibrato thing is something I don't know anything about. I'm very keen on intonation and stuff like that; it's something I learned early on because I really hate bad intonation in lead guitars; it drives me insane. But I don't know too many different combinations of things that I do that I could really stand back and go, Well, you have to do this and this and this. I'm way too insecure a guitar player to even go there!
You've also remained pretty much of a purist in your approach: It's still basically you and a Marshall. You don't mess around with dropped tunings or 7- and 8-string guitars; and there aren't a lot of pedals in your rack.
A lot of it really comes from the stuff I was turned onto; the direction that I went which was inspired by countless rock guitar players before me. And that combined with whatever I might have personally that's uniquely mine. And that's pretty much it. And the Les Paul and Marshall thing was something that I just, I didn't even know that when I first started. I felt comfortable with a Les Paul so that was a start; I went through a bunch of different amps and realized that the Marshall was basically what a lot of these guys I was listening to were using but I couldn't afford it. And once I managed to get a good-sounding Marshall and I had a functional Les Paul, the rest of it was just trying to get better; which is really what I'm still doing. I'm just on this journey to get from point A to point B to point C as a player.
Interview by Steven Rosen