On the new album "World on Fire
" from Slash
featuring Myles Kennedy
and the Conspirators
, the guitarist unleashes the kind of guitar frenzy we've come to expect - and appreciate - from this fretboard wizard. Produced by Michael "Elvis" Baskette
], the album represents the third time the band - Slash, vocalist Myles Kennedy, bassist Todd Kerns
and drummer Brent Fitz
- have recorded together and accordingly the songs reveal the type of chemistry and dynamics only achieved by spending many hours together in a studio. Whereas the prior album "Apocalyptic Love
" was recorded live with virtually no overdubs, "World on Fire" is a layered slab of Marshall
riffs, acoustic and electric 12-strings and even a rare slide performance. On songs like the title track, "Stone Blind
" and "Too Far Gone
," Slash brings down the hammer with huge guitar riffs while on "Bent to Fly
" and "Battleground
" he picks clean guitars over the most haunting melodies Kennedy has ever sung. "As a musician, I like to do a lot of different things,"
Slash says. "I mean I don't want to do fusion jazz - I'm not reaching to the nether reaches of music genres all the time. But I have a lot of different things within the framework of what I like to be able to do. If I think it sounds like a good idea and it's not your straight ahead kind of thing and it's a little off kilter then these guys are totally up to it. It's fun and it's not like pulling teeth. It's like, 'Oh, yeah. Let's do this' and it seems to come together."
Here, in a lengthy interview Slash talks about World on Fire and why it's the best album he's ever made. UG: When you first began World on Fire, were you as excited as you've been starting records back in the day? Slash:
Yeah, it still means something to me. The whole process really started from nothing. I had a bunch of ideas I've recorded onto my phone during the course of the tour and that's where all the music came from. So the tour is over and you're home for a couple weeks and I'm itchy to get back to work. I called up Brent [Fitz, drummer]
and Todd [Kerns, bassist]
and said, "Let's go into a rehearsal room. I've got some ideas and let's just go jam on some stuff." It was pretty casual?
Those guys live in Vegas so they drove and we just started going in and jamming on some of these ideas I had. It was very casual but then it went straight into the sort of music conveyor belt. It just locked in very quickly and so that's exciting right there when everything starts to happen. You've worked with Brent and Todd on both the previous "Slash" and Apocalyptic Love albums. Are they an important part of what you do?
Brent and Todd are a huge pleasure to work with and really great rock and roll players. Real genuine rock guys. The s - t just came pouring out and it came together really quickly. I was sending board demos from the rehearsal to Myles [Kennedy]
who was out with Alter Bridge and he started coming up with his ideas. Then Mike Baskette [producer]
came along and we all just got in a studio together and worked through these 17 tracks. Even before you get into the studio, it can feel really good?
That's fun when everything just sorta comes together. Then when you go into the studio because we do so much preproduction, we just go in and start banging it out. I don't put a lot of thought into it. You just go in and start playing. By the time you're actually in the studio, you know exactly what to play?
I think a lot of the stress was when we did the last record ["Apocalyptic Love"]
we did everything live and there was very few guitar overdubs. There was a lot of pressure and everybody had to play everything right in one take. Was that a specific choice you made?
Yeah, that was a specific choice. It was something I wanted to do. Because when we were on tour prior to that, I realized what a great band it was and what a great chemistry it was. I thought, "Let's really f--kin' put our money where our mouth is"
and just go in and play this record live in the studio. You knew that wasn't how you were going to approach "World on Fire?"
It was nice on this record to go in knowing I was gonna do guitars later and just whip through these songs. I didn't feel the pressure of having to play the final recording and the final guitars at the moment. You know what I mean? So then it was very tight but it was very loose and it was a very quick process. For 17 songs, I think we were in there for just under two weeks. Then the daunting part comes where you have to go and do all those guitars [laughs]
. And I was doing the guitar parts for two players 'cause Myles wasn't playing guitar. You just go in and do that. I'm very passionate it and I love seeing the songs go from an inkling of an idea to a complete arrangement. You get in the studio and then see them to their fruition and get the sounds. It sounds like you really have been able to hold onto those feelings you had from making records back in the day.
I love it as much as I ever have going in the studio. Especially because I have a lot more experience these days and I know exactly what it is I want to do. Working with Mike, really I've got to give him a lot of credit because he was as into it as we were. So it was really nice to have that guy at the helm sort of as genuinely passionate about making everything sound right as we were. But also the fact that what sounded right to him was the same thing that sounded right to us as opposed to him having a completely different concept. You have all these ideas on your iPhone…
It's a Samsung
, hah hah hah. As you're listening to these riffs and little bits and pieces, do they point you in a direction musically? Is there a common thing about the music?
Yeah. Well I mean, OK, each individual idea could be anywhere from 30 seconds long to four or five minutes at the longest. But usually averaging out 30 seconds to two minutes. And basically everything was recorded on electric acoustically [the electric guitar unplugged]
right into my phone. I was sitting on a couch in the dressing room or sitting on the edge of my bed in the hotel and I'd just pick it up and play right in the phone and put the phone in my lap and do it right there. So these are really just snippets of ideas?
It's in my head what I know it'll sound like. It's really just a skeleton of an idea and just the notes put together and the rhythm but in my head I know what it's gonna sound like. I revisit everything after the tour because I put all those things in and never go back and listen to them again. Some of them are stuck in my head and they come up during soundcheck. I'd say half the songs on the record have been tinkered with in soundchecks somewhere on this planet. At what point do you go back and re-listen to your ideas?
When I revisit all the ideas, the tour is over and I chill and decompress probably for like I said about two weeks. Then you go back with fresh ears and a clean slate or your mind is at least clean and start listening to 'em. There are some things you didn't know what they were when you did it but it was just something that came to you really quickly that turn out to be real gems. There's some stuff you thought was a really good idea that might not be such a good idea later on. You hear them and I know what they can sound like. So when I go into work with the guys, I have a general idea of what the vibe is and all that. You'll show the bass player and drummer these ideas you've been collecting?
I play them the riffs and Todd picks it up immediately and he has his interpretation of it. Then Brent is the same kind of thing - he's got his sort of rhythmic idea. I might say, "Well I want this to go a certain way. I have this idea of it to go this way"
or this, that and the other. But for the most part they just sorta do their own thing and it becomes very much a collaboration in that sense. You specifically went into "World on Fire" with the idea of having multiple guitar overdubs. Did you want more focus on the guitar this time around as opposed to "Apocalyptic Love?"
When you do a record live without overdubs, there's gonna be certain places where you wished you could have [done more]
. You wanna do harmonies but we said, "We're not gonna do that. We're gonna do this this way and that's how it's gonna be"
so we never diverted from that plan. But when you go in knowing you're gonna do overdubs you can really flesh things out. That's a good way to say it.
I can pick the guitar I wanna use. I mean I didn't take a ton of guitars in the studio but I took enough different-sounding ones for different things. So you can really plan ahead as to how, "The guitar solo is gonna be on this and the rhythm guitars are gonna be on here"
and you can pick the right combination of amps for that particular sound. It's a little bit more of a process but it ends up sounding really good because you know exactly and you can make it sound the way you want it to sound. You recorded "World on Fire" on tape. Why?
Well this is the deal: when it comes to technology and stuff, I'm not one of those guys who is a stickler about old school and this and that and the other. I love technology and some of the ideas and some of the things. I think ProTools
is f--king amazing and what it does. But when it comes to sounds and stuff, I find that tape - if you can get it - sounds better. Drums sound better. Guitars sound warmer and if you can get somebody who knows how to work a tape machine, hah hah hah. Which probably isn't the easiest thing in the world.
Which is one of the key things I found out about Mike the first time we talked was he used to be a tape operator. He just had to learn how to use ProTools and all of that because that's the way everybody records nowadays. This record is gonna come out on vinyl and you listen to it on a good stereo on a good turntable, it just sounds amazing. Whereas with digital you don't have that option. I mean you can make a great-sounding record and it's all fine and no one's gonna really notice it that much. But for somebody who really appreciates great, warm tones then doing it on tape is still better to me. Your comments reflect the types of things you were saying in the "Distortion of Sound" film. Can you talk a bit more about how people listen to music nowadays and the way they're missing a lot of your guitar parts and things like that?
We don't put that much stuff on there. There's nothing on any application or any format you listen to it, for the most part there's nothing on there you're not gonna hear. Because there's just not that much goin' on. If there's a harmony and say you're listening to it on an mp3, which is probably the worst place you can listen to it, you can still hear it. You've mentioned several times how important producer Michael "Elvis" Baskette has been in the process. How was he different than working with Eric Valentine on the previous albums?
With all due credit to Eric
, Eric is awesome. That record I did with all the singers and stuff ["Slash"]
, if it weren't for him I don't think I would have actually been able to pull that off. 'Cause that was the kind of record where it should have been an impossible record to make. There was so many moving parts but it just happened together. When I first started playing Eric the demos when there was no vocals on anything, he got it. Eric is a genius and he just wasn't available at this time. It was simply a scheduling thing?
Under the circumstances when I started thinking about producers, there were no records I could of that I've heard recently where I was like, "I want to use this guy or that guy."
So the one thing I did remember was on the last Alter Bridge album, the bass and drums being f--king amazing sounding. So that's when I asked Myles, "What about the guy you work with?"
and he was like, "Oh, well..."
He didn't want to be responsible for encouraging me to go in that direction. That makes sense.
He told me, "You've got to talk to him. I don't know."
I said, "OK, thanks. Great."
So I called him and the conversation first started off with the whole tape thing 'cause that's always a big deal for any new and modern engineer. Using a tape machine is like, "Are you kidding me?"
Actually he was the tape operator at the studio we did the basic tracks at, which is what's it called? NRG?
NRG, thank you. So I was like, "Oh, that's cool."
Then we had a subsequent conversation about guitars because I found that in this modern day and age the concept of recording guitars has changed drastically. In what way?
I do a lot of sessions and I found that a lot of people just don't [care about guitars]. Guitar is an afterthought and it's all about bass, drums and vocals. Is that true?
Yeah. You can fabricate it and it's fine. Just put some distortion [on it]
. There's a lot of guitars that are made that aren't very pure-sounding. They're just sort of pieces of whatever material with strings with strings on 'em, hah hah hah. They don't have a real personality. That's not as important now as it was back in the day. If you like a, eh, I'm not gonna name names, and then you re-amp everything and by the time you hear it it's not really a guitar and an amp. It's more of a synthetic kind of a thing and that's how a lot of new stuff is done. But Michael Baskette had other ideas about guitar?
When I talked to him, he was very, very passionate about guitar tones and amps and getting a real, honest guitar sound. Whatever it was, the conversation was very inspiring. We went from there and it turned out that working with him was a really great move and it was something that must have been in the cards or something. 'Cause I really enjoyed working with him. A lot of guys when I go in the studio think well - I never even realized what they meant until recently - "Just do your thing. You're Slash."They tend to default to you and what they believe you must know?
You're going, "No, I sort of could use a little support from the technician side of things so I know what's coming out of my amp is what I'm gonna hear coming through the monitors 'cause there's a lot of stuff in-between,"
hah hah hah. "There are microphones, cables and a whole console and EQs"
and so on and so forth. And they think I just come in as is and it's all perfect and I just record it and that's about as much effort as they want to put into it. So Mike was great because he was really conscientious about getting what it was that I wanted, which freed me up to feel comfortable pushing to get the sounds I wanted. Even where my breaking point is for patience in the studio, Mike would carry it one step further, hah hah hah. How would he do that?
I would find him in the control room with my guitar on - the first time I saw that freaked me out - and he would be tweaking his EQs. We had the amp sound and all that and he would be so diligently tweaking his EQs for hours getting the s - t right. That's way above and beyond my patience level so I really appreciated it. Your main guitar on the album was the Kris Deerig replica Les Paul. What is it about that guitar that you love so much?
You know what? That guitar is actually a vintage guitar now [laughs]
and it's been around for a while and I've used the hell out of it and it's very temperamental and I've tried to keep it as original as possible but I've had little things happen. When we were doing the last record, one of the pickups started just feeding back and I started getting that ... what's that? Microphonic.
Microphonic feedback and there was nothing we could do about that. I went to Seymour Duncan
and we ended up having to rewind the pickup and using the magnets and so on and so forth. There's other things like tuning issues with that guitar and blah blah blah and it's just temperamental. But it has a certain sound to it and I can put it up against real '59s and new AFD models or whatever and it's got a very unique thing to it. Can you describe what that unique thing is you're responding to?
It's just a unique kind of a tone. It's not hollow but it has a little bit of an arc in its tone that a lot of other guitars don't have. Or that I've not recognized in any other guitars I've used as far as Les Paul
s anyway. It's aggressive sounding. I can play with the volume turned down halfway and hit it and it's got a certain snappy twang to it but it's not tinny. And when I crank it up, it sounds mean and has got a certain aggression to it without adding distortion or anything like that. It just has a certain kind of aggressive personality. Did you pull out any real '58 or '59 Gibsons for this album?
I did really for the first time ever. I've had a couple of '59
s and a '58
since the early '90s. The only time I ever used a '59 in the studio was Joe Perry
's '59 and I never ended up actually recording with it but I remember taking it out in the studio then and still going back to the Derrig
, right? This time around I did the same thing with some of the other '59s. I don't have Joe's anymore and it was the same kind of thing. The Derrig guitar sounded better than those classic Gibsons?
It's like, "It's not necessary to pull all this sh-t out 'cause I can just use this one guitar."
Although I just did a recording and I won't name the song but it was a cover song that hasn't come out and I actually did use a '59 for that particular song. But it's an old song and it's a very sweet and good-sounding guitar. That was just because it was an isolated song and I thought, "Well, I'm just gonna see which one of these '59s sounds better for this particular song"
and used it. But I could have very easily just used the Derrig.You've never felt comfortable playing Fenders?
Doing the "Use Your Illusion
" records and also doing the "Libertad
" record with Velvet Revolver
, I pulled out a lot of different guitars and used a lot of different things. I used a Strat
s, and B.C. Richs
and '58 Explorer
and Flying V
. They all sounded really good and because there was 36 songs on that record, I just pulled out everything. I was like a kid in a candy store and I went out and bought all these guitars. It's the only time I ever bought a bunch of guitars. You also played various guitars on "Libertad?"
I did something similar. I pulled a bunch of my old guitars out, different kinds, and started using 'em. But I find I'm more satisfied using the one guitar and pulling all the different types of sounds out of that. That's an interesting concept.
The challenge of trying to make a Les Paul sound like a Strat or whatever. I'm more satisfied doing that than just by using a Strat. Because when you use a Strat, it just sounds like a Strat and that's that, hah hah hah. On a video you did about the making of World on Fire, you're pictured with various Gibsons and stuff.
Right. I was just gonna get into that. I took down to Florida, which is where Mike's studio is, I took the Derrig guitar and my '57 reissue Goldtop
. Then I took a couple good sounding guitars including the Joe Perry Reissue '59
and the sister to the Derrig guitar I bought 15 years later from Alan Niven [Guns N' Roses manager]
who had another one of those Derrig Les Pauls. And I took another flametop or something. Then I took three Melody Maker Juniors
: a new one, a reissue and an old one. I took an Explorer and three electric-12 strings: a Les Paul, an SG
and a Rickenbacker
. I always take that Rickenbacker and I've never used it once. That was basically it. That's enough.
Once we got down there, when I was doing guitar speaker right it was easy - it was just the Derrig and the Goldtop basically was all I needed. But when I was doing guitar speaker left, I realized I really had to get away from the Les Paul sound. No Les Pauls were working; it was just too much Les Paul. I used the Melody Maker for slide and I ended up using the new one and not the old one. The new one sounded better than the old one, which was funny to me. What other guitars did you use?
Mike had an ES-135
, a new one he had sitting around the studio. I grabbed that and did a different amp combination than what I was using for the Derrig guitars. So it was a Marshall and an either an Orange
or a Mesa Boogie
or a Hi Watt
or whatever. Those are the amps you brought in?
I didn't use the AFD Marshall
. I used some JCM800
s. I got a bunch of new ones from Marshall and I took those on the road last year. I pulled those out and I had an old Marshall 100
- I don't even know what the model is - that I borrowed from a recording studio here in LA. I used it at a session and it sounded incredible and I asked 'em if I could borrow it when I wanted to go make my record. So they loaned it to me. I had that and whatever amps Mike had around, which was great 'cause he had old Orange 100-watt, a Hi Watt, a Mesa Boogie and a Fender. So that's more than I could use. You would mix and match amps?
I'd take a certain JCM800 and partner it with that old 100-watt and that was like my basic sound. Then I would take a JCM800 and partner it with any one of those other amps that Mike had that fit the tone I was looking for the rhythm guitar for speaker left. Then using the Gibson ES-135 for those rhythm parts?
We did different combinations and the 135 sounded amazing. It was full enough that it balanced out the weight on either side but didn't sound like a Les Paul or a Strat. It just had its own sort of tone and that worked great. I used that for a bit and then Gibson gave me an ES-175 and I used those two guitars basically for all the rhythm guitar stuff on the left speaker. You used a Rivera RockCrusher Power Attenuator and Load Box?
Yeah, and that was something I was not familiar with. What happened was we were cranking the Marshalls so loud, they were clipping the amps. So having that attenuator, which was a really good-sounding attenuator, helped that situation. Because they have an EQ on it, there's an added band of EQ adjustments you can make. If you already have a good sound, you have this additional [choice]
of options, which was really great. I think it really sort of made it sound a little bit different than just a Marshall. You mentioned earlier Myles Kennedy is not playing any guitars on this album. Why?
When it comes to guitars, I know this is gonna sound crazy but I never intended to be in a two-guitar band. When Guns N' Roses came together, Izzy
was already in it and he was already very tight with Axl
and that's the way it went. It was fine. He and I had a certain unique double-guitar kind of thing. I wouldn't say the approach was unique but the way it sounded and the contrast between our guitar sounds was unique. It turned out to be a really cool double-guitar kind of thing. But since I've been working with Izzy, I only like two guitars for live. Which is why Myles plays guitar for all the live shows.
In the studio, I'm not looking for somebody to bounce ideas off of. You can't always get two guys with two different guitars to do something noticeably unique. You can do harmonies and play off of each other but to have the kind of chemistry Izzy and I had, you don't know if you're ever gonna find that again. Myles did play guitar on "Apocalyptic Love."
When I'm working with Myles in the studio, he is a great guitar player. He and I have a good rapport but he doesn't really wanna play guitar. He wants to sing. So when we did the last record, there was a lot of pressure on him because he was out with Alter Bridge and he came into the studio when we were actually recording. So he had to learn all the guitars really fast and then he had to write all the lyrics. Or finish writing the lyrics and get the vocals done within a certain time frame. So on this record it was a pretty easy decision in just having Myles do vocals?
Yeah, on this record he was like, "I'd really rather do vocals and not have to worry about learning all the guitar parts and coming up with whatever needs to be done here."
I was like, "Cool. I'll do all the guitars"
because then I can focus on everything I'm hearing two guitars to do and the harmonies and the different rhythmic things. I know exactly what they are and I can make it sound very cohesive. You know exactly what this Slash guy will play, right?
As opposed to trying to make it like two guitars where, "Oh, this guy plays this way and this guy plays that way" [laughs]
. It's just impossible to do because you play like how you play. But you can change your tone a little bit and you can do different chord voicings and some real different rhythms and you know exactly what they are. So to me it works out well. The guitar parts on "World on Fire" were amazing.
It's one of the things I always liked about Jimmy Page
was his producing and the way he did the two guitars just worked. You just get into that guitar zone and you get ideas and you can execute them and you're not necessarily teaching them to another guy. Even if you had a second guitar player, that person would be playing your ideas anyway.
Myles is such an incredible guitar player and he teaches me stuff. I'll see him doing stuff because he's obviously way more schooled and I'll be like, "What the f--k is that?"
and it's some crazy a-s pattern and he'll show it to me. I'm like, "Wow, that's neat."
But when it comes to what we're doing as a band, he's very much more focused on his vocals than he is on the guitar. Also, Myles plays guitar in Alter Bridge so not having him play guitar with you changes things up.
Yeah, he does. Also when I write stuff and I send it to him, if he hears anything he can always put it on guitar and he'll show me what the basic is that he was thinking. So we definitely work from two-guitar ideas. Would you say the "World on Fire" track is the default Slash guitar tone?
Yeah, I would say that. There's no frills going on there. The solo had this great reckless, kind of throw caution to the wind feel about it. [Laughs]
It's just a flat-out, "This is how the song goes. This is how the solo goes,"
I guess. We had a conversation during the "Apocalyptic Love" record and you talked about not using headphones when you're cutting solos. Is that still the same approach?
I can't stand working with headphones. I figured it out though - it's not just the headphones, I like having ambient live sound and headphones are just too small and contained for me. I don't like in-ears either. Can you describe how you cut solos?
There are so many great recordings of guitars over the years and I could never understand how if the guys were playing with baffles and stuff. Now I can understand how you can get feedback and stuff and they're still using headphones but the amps aren't tucked away like they normally are these days. Talk to any producer and he doesn't want those f--kin' speaker cabinets anywhere in the vicinity of the drums. So trying to get a live sound and stand in the room with the guys, the only way you could do it was headphones and I obviously hate that. What did you do?
So what we did on the last record was we built a room inside of the room that had doors and windows and I played to the monitors and cranked away in there. I could see the guys and they could see me but I didn't have to wear headphones. I could just hear these monitors at full volume. That's how we did it on the last record and we called it the Slash Box
. The guitar riff on "Wicked Stone" had such a great feel. Does your right hand instantly lock into that groove?
I appreciate the compliment but I don't know good it is. I appreciate that. That particular song, that two-string high riff is playing a double of the riff. That was originally the riff in the first place and then the lower one came after that. I used that style a lot when I'm playing solos. We do the stretched out version of "Rocket Queen
" and I notice when I'm improvising, I'll fall into using that two-string kind of riffy thing. I think it is a rhythmic thing that just comes natural and in the pocket it just feels good. But maybe that's from years of jamming but I like that rhythmic style. The solo on "Wicked Stone" was also very cool. Again it comes out of that rhythmic thing and then begins with that descending line. Is that all in the moment?
It's all in the moment but I'll tell you something. For me a guitar solo is only supposed to be a part of the song. It's not supposed to be a guitar pyrotechnics showcase. When you're doing it, you're really in the framework and the body of the song. The first notes you hit and the first things you go for are really what you hear in that context. Usually the solo is something that presents itself in the first rehearsal. You get to the solo section part and you've sort of figured out what chord changes are gonna underneath and then you just go for it. And nine times out of ten that first approach is pretty much the way it's gonna go. So when you're recording a solo in the studio, it's both in the moment in terms of being done live in just one or two takes. But you also have a sense of what you're going to play because you've working on the solo in preproduction?
That's the way you hear it. Every take after that you do - I'm talking preproduction and not in the studio - where you're just rehearsing the song, the arrangements of the solo has already presented itself. You just play around in that kind of thing until it becomes a little bit more second nature. By the time you go in the studio, you sort of know what the first section starts with and where the middle lick sort of is and how it ends because you've been doing it sort of every day. But the original approach is always the one you end up sticking with. Would Michael offer input about the solos?
Yeah, he beat me up 'cause most guys won't. This is one of the interesting things about Mike compared to anybody else I've worked with 'cause I'll do what I would consider a good enough solo in the first [few takes]
if I'm comfortable. That's the hard thing is you have to get comfortable first. Because the song you're talking about ["Wicked Stone"]
, that end solo I remember I was standing in the control room in the corner 'cause there were other engineers and Mike was in the room. I've got to do this extended solo and I want it to be great and everything but I'm so conscious, self-conscious, that it's hard to get a solo that long without [thinking about it]
. So I'm still sort of listening to that solo going, "It could have been better."
I could have just been in the zone more. What you're talking about is the difference between a good solo and a great one?
I can do a good solo in the first three takes give or take notes here and there or the structure of the solo. It's gonna be basically the same. Mike would make me do those first three or four takes and then make me come back and do it again. You get to a point and you do three or four takes and your inspiration is gone and then you just d-ck around for another couple of takes and you know you're gonna go back to the first two. But Mike wouldn't allow you to stop there?
He would push me doing it beyond that where I wanted to kill him. And then the inspiration would come back and new notes would pop out of it. The structure would stay the same but newer ideas out of frustration or whatever it was would all of a sudden come in there. All of a sudden you have something that was better than the first take. I think when you get into your comfort zone, you have to get past your comfort zone. That is a really hard leap to make.
Like, "OK, I know how the solo goes. I've played it 80 times in rehearsal and this is basically it. This is how I've been doing it and that's fine."
He would get me to push it beyond that so that new s - t came into it that I hadn't done when I was at rehearsal. I think he was just learning me so he was just taking me out of my comfort zone. You're playing slide on "30 Years to Life"?
That's the Melody Maker
. I play slide out of necessity. If I hear a slide idea then I will focus on it but I'm not a slide player. There are some guys who are amazing slide players and it's really what they do. I always find slide to be one of those things when I do it it just sounds like me trying to be like those guys. But sometimes there's an idea where it really calls for slide and it's more the texture of the song. It's not about my slide technique so to speak or slide solo technique. I don't think I've done a slide solo in a long time but I like it for certain things and if I'm gonna use it I'll sit down and focus on it and make sure I get it together and then do it. That was a cool slide part you played on the song.
Sometimes I just use a lighter because a lighter works, hah hah. But on this particular thing, the slide that's on there is really from the basic track when we recorded it at NRG Studios. Are those clean guitars on "Bent to Fly" the electric 12-strings?
That's a Martin 12-string
. It's sort of tucked in and is more of a texture. All the 12-string we used on the record is more of a texture and it's not like a 12-string part. When you're putting acoustic 12-string parts together with distorted electrics, is it sort of an experimental process to see which sounds match and work together?
That's a good question. I know in my head how it's gonna work and then it's just a matter of mixing it. So you do one part and you go back and do the other. You know how it's gonna work because I've been playing the song in preproduction for a while and so I start to put it together in my head how everything is gonna layer. Then you just go in and do it and it's really in the mix process where you sort of balance it all out. How important was the engineering of Jef Moll [Smashing Pumpkins, Alter Bridge] on this record? Jef
was basically doing all the tape operation so he was more like the technical engineer. Really Mike was doing all the sort of hands-on miking engineering on the instruments and amps and all that kind of thing. All things considered, I don't know if Jef was in there doing stuff when I wasn't in there, hah hah hah. I don't want to discredit him because he might have been doing stuff I wasn't aware of. But when I was seeing Jef, he was always at the helm and making sure everything was getting recorded properly and working properly in the studio. You were recording to tape so keeping that gear working can be a challenge.
It's funny because we were using an old board in NRG [vintage Neve 8078 64-input including 24 1073 mic pres]
and it hadn't been used with a tape machine in so long, I swear to god it was archaic. There were all these channels and all these parts of the board that hadn't been used like that in 25 years, hah hah hah. Michael Baskette also used an old 1974 Neve 8048 board?
Yeah, but his sh-t at his place was working perfectly. It was well-tuned and well-oiled. "Stone Blind" is a big rock song that sounds nothing like Guns N'Roses and yet it's instantly recognizable as the guitarist from GN'R. Does that make sense?
I get what you're trying to say and I assume that's flattering. Absolutely.
I'm basically a riff guy and I have a certain sort of way of playing guitar I suppose. There's not a lot of guys that do that right now. Exactly right. So how do you describe that?
I don't know. I think I just do what it is I want to do ever since I picked up the guitar I suppose. I really wouldn't know what to tell you either on that one. Somebody like Jerry Cantrell
has a very recognizable approach so when you hear Jerry playing [you know who it is]
. He's not the same kind of riff guy as I am. He's not. Dave Mustaine
is another one and these guys all have their own style of writing and putting notes together. I recognize their playing just because that's the way they go about it. I would assume the one constant for me and all these different group configurations I've been in is something I've been pursuing ever since I picked it up and not everybody else does. So it might be identifiable in that sense. "Battleground" was another one of the ballads with this great, lyrical solo on it. It had a totally different sound and approach from anything else on the record.
I used a [MXR] Phase 45
for the first time ever. I used to work in a guitar store in the '80s, right? I had been seeing those orange pedals around forever and I avoided them at all costs. Why?
Because those and the flangers were so popular. For some reason when I wrote that song, I went to start playing it with the band in preproduction and I knew that picking thing at the beginning was gonna need something to sort of smooth it out. I automatically went to the Phase 45 and there it is, hah hah hah. After you've written the music and then give the song to Myles for lyrics and melodies, how do you feel when you finally hear the song completed?
Really 'cause you're starting with nothing, right? OK, you have a guitar idea but to have the other things that come with it like the right drum beat or right bass line or right vocal, you can work with people and that can never happen. You know what I mean? I do.
I've been in situations with people like that and it's not anybody's fault. It's just one's not inspiring the other and the ideas aren't coming because it's just not happening. But with Myles, Brent and Todd, it's like every time no matter what it is I come up with if it's good enough in my mind to show to them, I'd say nine times out of ten Myles comes up with a melody. There's a lot of different songs on this record that in a normal, straightahead rock band wouldn't normally work. They would hear it and go, "I don't know what to do with that but this one I do."
But these guys seem to mold to whatever I come up with especially Myles. 'Cause I can play some pretty sort of left-field sh-t at him, hah hah, and he'll go, "Oh, yeah."What makes this record so great are the less obvious songs like "Battleground? And "The Unholy."
I'm really excited about this record. We managed to do something on "Apocalyptic Love" and I listened to it for the first time in ages recently. It's a cool record but we were just scratching the surface. Now I think we've got a stride and all things considered I'm excited to get it out and do this tour and expand on these songs and see how they evolve live. Then at the same time write the next one. What has it been like touring with Aerosmith on the Let Rock Rule tour?
We started in June and we're going until the middle of September. It's been an amazing experience. Just being with a bunch of guys who you really know well and dig and have a lot of respect for. God, those guys have all been heroes of mine ever since I was a teenager anyway. And also because they're just such a great f--king band. I think - and it wasn't a conscious thing - but I just realized the other night 'cause we were doing our own headlining show, I think it's really upped our game playing with those guys. Our tour in November will be that much better as a result of having played with Aerosmith
the last couple months. That is a big compliment. Thank you for your time.
Thanks for all the kind words. I was speechless. I had high expectations for the album and you exceeded every one.
I appreciate it. Play all the good notes.
I try, hah hah hah.Interview by Steven Rosen