If anyone understands about the business of music and what it takes to succeed in a rock band, it's Slash
. The former Guns N' Roses
guitarist saw that band climb to unbelievable heights and with Velvet Revolver
he has similarly experienced strong album sales and major tours. But neither band has been without their ups and downs. In the former, he had to deal with the whims and sometimes anti-social behavior of singer Axl Rose
and in the latter the guitar player has had to contend with Scott Weiland
's repeated trips to rehab and finally his exodus back to his original band, Stone Temple Pilots
. And soon he'll undergo the usually painful process of looking for a new vocalist.
So he understands what it takes to make it in the business and how hard it is to stay there. When Guitar Center
approached him with their band competition called Guitar Center Presents Your Next Record, he was onboard. The contest was open to any bands in any style residing in the U.S. and over the age of 18. Needless to say, anybody who ever picked up a guitar or stood in front of a microphone responded resulting in over 12,000 entrants. The winner won endorsement deals, editorial coverage, and cash. But most importantly they were presented with the opportunity of having Slash play guitar on one of their songs and having producer Mike Clink
record an EP.
Slash and Clink were the sole judges of the contest and they chose as winners California rock band, State Line Empire
. The guitarist was impressed with their spirit and energy. He performed on one of their songs called Drive Me
and production superstar Mike Clink took them into the studio to work with them on several songs for an EP.
Slash embraces the idea of helping other bands and when Guitar Center asked him to be a participant in the competition, he jumped at the opportunity.
UG: What was it that you heard in State Line Empire's music that set them apart from the 12,000 other bands that entered the Guitar Center contest?
Oh, that's an interesting question. In all honesty going through the piles and piles of music that we listened to, it was one of the only bands in there that struck us having any kind of real rock and roll energy. There was a lot of material that was just really uninspired; I was really disappointed. Then there was some other cool stuff but it didn't really fit what I was trying to achieve. Which was trying to find a rock band that had just a really good, in your face kind of approach. And coming from a spirit that I relate to; where I come from. And that's something that's really crucial to me is finding people that live and breathe that energy that's not something that you can fabricate. It's something that runs in your veins kind of thing. That's what I find that's lacking in rock and roll these days in general is that kind of attitude, which is something that's in your day-to-day existence that you don't really think about; it comes through in your music. It's sort of an edge.
In some sense, though it may have been unspoken, where you looking for a 2011 version of Guns N' Roses? Some rock and roll band that could carry on the torch of what Guns first brought forth back in the day?
I think that's really tough to say. Guns was, all things considered, as much as it was like many of its predecessors, it was a pretty unique band. And I think even for myself being in Guns, it was more living it than having the perspective of knowing what we were necessarily about. So in listening to these different demos and in this particular case this one, it just spoke to me with a certain energy. But you can't really tell what it is going to be at the end of the day. So you just go with the initial vibe.
Did you actually listen to 12,000 demo tapes?
"State Line Empire was one of the only bands in there that struck us having any kind of real rock and roll energy."
Well, I had a lot of help [laughs.] I had a lot of help. In any kind of contest like this or like even when auditioning singers for Velvet Revolver or whatever, you're going to get the majority of hacks that send stuff in that aren't taking it seriously. Or just jumping on the opportunity that haven't even established any kind of real musical foundation. So you're going to get a lot of those that are hard to take seriously. So those you need a group of people that can tell the difference between something that's a real effort and something that's just by somebody who's real excited at the opportunity but doesn't have the background [laughs] or any of that together yet. So I had a whole team of people and then we narrowed it down to I won't go through all the different steps it took but we had to keep chipping away at the stone get to this last 6,000, which were the best of the bunch.
And you were once again in the studio with Mike Clink who produced the Appetite For Destruction album.
Yeah, Mike was the obvious guy to go to to do this.
What did that feel like working with Mike?
It's great. Mike and I work a lot; I've played on some of his records and I've just been close with Mike all these years. And he's the guy that knows how to capture a rock band and take something that sounds good and make it sound that much even better and keep it very honest to the band itself. He gets great drum sounds, great guitar sounds, and it's very very simple. He just has this inherent, intuitive thing about just making the right amount of punch and it's almost like a certain edgy quality that he knows how to capture and record and it just sounds really good. It's hard to say but nobody else does it like him.
Did you actually write songs with State Line Empire?
No, I didn't write anything with them. I took the one song that they actually submitted, the one that they actually won the contest with
Is that Drive Me?
Yeah. And just went in and sort of put guitars in the places where the guitars needed to be.
So you had heard Drive Me with the original guitars and then they just ducked those parts and you put on your guitars?
Yeah [laughs.] It was a really simple process; the song didn't need any input from me as far as writing was concerned. So I just put a guitar solo basically in place of the one that existed. But I mean that was actually something that was by design as part of the contest that I was going to contribute in that fashion. In all honesty, the guitar solo that was in there already didn't need to be replaced.
What was that experience like being in the studio with Mike Clink and having State Line Empire there watching you put a solo on one of their songs? That must have been pretty unbelievable for the band.
It was cool. I went down to Village Recorders in West Los Angeles and so I went down there, which is always a cool studio to work at. You're walking into a really comfortable environment with Mike Clink. My rig was there; Mike Mayhew (Slash's guitar tech) had already come down prior to my getting there and set up one of my half-stacks and I brought a guitar with me and it was very like in-the-neighborhood kind of thing. The guys didn't show up until I was pretty much done.
Yeah, I'm not real good with having people in the studio when I'm recording cause not for any reason other than the fact that I'm really easily distracted. Because of that I don't always play as best as I can when there's people standing around. So they showed up towards the tail end and I finished up what I was doing and then we hung out. I played them the track, which was a little nerve-wracking because here they are really exposing their music to all this outside influence and I'm sure a little bit trepidatious as to what that is gonna end up like. You know? And we just hung out and it was a good time and it was very quick.
You brought down the Les Paul and the Marshall.
They must have been blown away with your solo.
Well, I mean that was sort of the reaction [laughs] but all things considered I don't know really what they were thinking.
What made you want to be involved in Guitar Center's contest in the first place? The entire contest was actually crafted around you and your willingness to put your name on it and to guest solo on somebody's song.
"The whole business has turned topsy-turvy and no one can make heads or tails of how they're supposed to approach getting discovered."
It has to do with a lot of different things. For one, I'm a huge supporter of Guitar Center; I have a lot of friends [who work there.] My whole career started in and around Guitar Center in a way and I just have a really long relationship with them. And the idea initially came from them so when they came to me I thought it was a great idea. Because I'm especially because of the whole Velvet Revolver thing and the musical singer situation in Velvet Revolver very conscious of the process of looking for uniquely gifted artists in the rock vein. I mean I appreciate every sort of genre of music but for me personally obviously the rock thing is what I can relate to the most. Because there's such a lull in this business as far as rock and roll is concerned at present. We go through this thing it seems like every decade where there's a period where there's really a flatline kind of lull. Anyway I think we're experiencing one of those right now. And so just the thought of trying to find like this amazing rock band that can't get a foot in the door because no one's signing rock bands at the moment. The whole business has turned topsy-turvy and no one can make heads or tails of how they're supposed to approach getting discovered. So I just wanted to be part of this one-time shot at trying to find a really good rock band that is struggling and sort of bring them to the surface.
Did Mike Clink feel the same way you did about State Line Empire? Could he see the potential there?
Yeah. There was actually when it came down to it, there were a total of four bands on the table that we liked. And, um, one of em, well, I'm not gonna say, but anyway they were the four best out of the four caboodle or whatever the expression is. And so we ended up at State Line Empire because they just had a very solid and concise approach in sound and seemingly, direction that we just related to. And that was basically it. They had that one song [Drive Me] plus some other ones and they didn't sound like a one-hit wonder kind of thing. It seemed like all their material had just as much integrity and we just went with that. And then Mike handled going into the studio and actually getting the basic tracks and all that kinda stuff so I heard it after that point.
Did Mike Clink actually produce an EP for State Line Empire?
No, they came in with a demo with like four songs on it and that's how it started. We heard the one song and we heard more of their material after that. And Mike's gone on to record the one song but he's also working with them because that's what this is. It's a four-song deal that they get to record; not just the one. But the one song is the one that I played on.
Did you record your solo over existing tracks on Drive Me?
No, everything that's getting done is being re-cut; that song that I played on was completely re-cut. And then the other songs that they're doing I'm not sure which ones they're gonna do I'm sure they're gonna re-cut all of em. Even if it's a song that wasn't in the original four they're gonna cut it from scratch.
And on a more personal level, you're still looking for a singer for Velvet Revolver?
Yeah. Right now I'm on the road so I'm focused on that at the moment. I'm out with Ozzy right now and then I'm going to Australia, Asia and South America until mid-April and then I'll take a break and we'll see what's happening at that point.
We last spoke about a year ago about your solo album. You've had unbelievable success with the Slash album and you deserve it.
Oh, thank you very, very much; it went over well.
Interview by Steven Rosen