Duff McKagan is no stranger to the world of rock and metal, having forged a cohesive relationship with Slash, whether it be during their heyday with Guns N' Roses on 'Appetite For Destruction' (1987), 'G N' R Lies' (1988), or the 'Use Your Illusion' albums (1991), or during more recent success as a part of Velvet Revolver on 'Contraband' (2004) and 'Libertad' (2007). McKagan also leads his own outfit in the form of Loaded, which has released the following discs; 'Dark Days' (2001), 'Wasted Heart' (2008), and 'Sick' (2009). New territory lies ahead for the bassist, who has partnered with Jane's Addiction a quarter of a century into their existence.
In late January 2010, it was reported that Velvet Revolver
/ ex Guns N' Roses
bassist Duff McKagan
was penning material with Los Angeles alt rock outfit Jane's Addiction
. The departure of original bassist Eric Avery
left a vacant position, with many writing that McKagan
had joined the group. At Les Deux in Los Angeles, California on March 30th, McKagan, guitarist Dave Navarro
and vocalist Perry Farrell
made an impromptu performance at Farrell's
fifty-first birthday party.
In addition to working with Jane's Addiction, McKagan has also begun working on his memoirs, having inked a deal with Touchstone Fireside, a division of Simon & Schuster, to publish his autobiography in the fall of 2011. The man also guests on the track "Watch This" alongside Foo Fighters frontman / Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, taken from March 2010's 'Slash', the debut solo album from McKagan's Velvet Revolver / ex Guns N' Roses bandmate that charted at position three on the Billboard 200.
In the late spring, Hit The Lights' Robert Gray telephoned Duff McKagan to discuss him writing with Jane's Addiction. Since this interview being conducted, McKagan has performed a handful of shows with the band, and it's been revealed that McKagan and Jane's Addiction will record a studio album with producer Rich Costey for a winter 2011 release via Capitol Records.
Duff McKagan: Good afternoon.
UG: Good afternoon. Is this Duff?
This is Robert Gray from Ultimate-Guitar.com.
How are you?
I'm ok. How are you Duff?
Would it be alright if I began the interview?
Yeah, let's start.
How did you come to join Jane's Addiction?
Oh, ok. Yeah. No no; it's actually not quite official that I'm in the band. Just before Christmas, I went to dinner with Perry, my wife and Perry's wife. We're friends, and we're peers, outside of our bands and what not. He talked about how he was kinda bummed out I guess, because Jane's had started the writing process for the record, and then they went through whatever they went through with Eric - the original bass player who'd come back. He kinda lamented that, and at the end of dinner, he asked if I had any songs or anything like that. Basically, he was asking me for my help. So in January, I started showing him, Dave and Steven some songs - just some simple songs I had recorded - and they really liked them. We then started going in... I wasn't vying for a job, or anything. I was just helping some friends out, and I write songs - it's what I do. It's what I've done for a long time, for about thirty years or whatever. I started coming to Perry's garage with the rest of those guys, where they have a ProTools set up and so on. We just started jamming a few songs, and then went into a bigger room, writing a bunch of songs. I think that's really where things are at at this point. I'm honoured to play with those guys - it's great - but I don't want to be the guy saying that I'm in the band or any of that kind of stuff. That's probably putting the cart before the horse. It's really an organic process right now. I think a lot has been said about me being in the band, and yes, indeed there is no bass player there except for me right now (laughs). We'll see where that goes though. I don't wanna jinx anything or speak out of turn, so... that's where it's at right now.
Ok. So your role in Jane's Addiction is a trial position? To see how things go?
That's it, yeah. I've learnt man that these days you just kinda wanna... dude, it's hard for me to say anything. Rolling Stone called me about this here in the States, and the guy asked "How does it feel to be the new member of Jane's Addiction? Tell me what the first rehearsal was like". I said "Dude, that's not what it's like right now. It's just organic, and we're all peers; we came up the same time, and we're just making some music".
Obviously, you're just helping out Jane's Addiction at the moment. But having said what you have, how would you describe rehearsing with the members of Jane's Addiction? You played with the group at Perry Farrell's fifty-first birthday.
Yeah. I just played with Dave - Stephen Perkins didn't play drums. It was Perry's birthday, and this little kid band came up - the kids were roughly eleven and twelve. The surprise for Perry's birthday was his kids playing, and they played about four Jane's Addiction songs. It was really cool (laughs), these twelve year old kids playing "Mountain Song" and so on. They were really cool, really good, and after that, Perry said "Let's jam". We got up, and we played a Zeppelin song with the drummer from Tom Morello's side band - the drummer from that band got up and played drums because Stephen wasn't there. Again, a lot has been made out of that, like that was our first gig. It wasn't really a gig; we were just there for his birthday, and we got up, played a Zeppelin song, and we did play a Jane's song. It wasn't really the first Jane's gig with me though. I hate to be the bearer of bad news here to ya (laughs). The thing is a lot of stuff is made out of very little, sometimes.
Are there any other press misconceptions you'd like to refute as well?
Always, yeah. Where do I start with that? That's a loaded gun you just gave me.
As it relates to Jane's Addiction, I mean. Are there any other misconceptions you'd like to put to rest?
"I think that the songs we've been writing are really cool."
Yeah - I'm actually good looking (laughs). No. I just don't wanna jinx that thing. I think that the songs we've been writing are really cool. You know, sometimes that stuff doesn't work out because of different chemistry. Being a player, I've played with well known, great players, and it just hasn't worked out because the chemistry just hasn't been right. This thing is what it is, and it's really great, and I have learnt old Jane's songs incase there's a gig. I've played those songs with them, and that's really cool - I've never done that before. I'm sitting here, and I've played seven to eight old Jane's songs with those guys. I felt kinda weird, a little unsettled, and I couldn't figure it out. I finally realized that I'm playing with Dave and Perry and Stephen, and you know what? I've never played somebody else's music on bass - I've never done it. I've done covers, but I've done them with my own band, so it's kinda different. With me and Slash, Velvet Revolver, or in Guns, we used to cover songs, but that's with your own band. I'm actually playing somebody else's music with the original band though, so it was kinda weird, and definitely different. I really appreciate Eric Avery's bass playing though, it's really amazing. I called him and talked to him about it; out of professional courtesy I called Eric before internal rumours got to him. I said that he had probably heard that I was down playing with those guys, and that I just wanted to let him know that I really respected everything he had done, and that I wasn't in there trying to take his place. We had a really great talk. But am I joining the band? Yeah, maybe. It might happen, but right now there's certainly nothing official or anything like that.
In the press, it's being reported as though you've actually joined Jane's Addiction.
I kinda had that feeling. I told David from RotoSound that if this interview was about me joining Jane's, then it's probably a little early to do the interview. Maybe we should do this interview another time?
Oh, ok. I had been hoping you'd be able to talk about some of the material you're writing with Jane's Addiction?
Yeah, yeah dude. Sure. I mean, I have nothing to hide. Sure.
I don't mind: if you're not a member of Jane's Addiction yet, I'll report the situation how it is.
So yeah, there's no problem on that front Duff.
I've been playing a ton lately, and I've been writing a ton. I feel really good about my songwriting right now; I've been writing a bunch for Loaded, and I've been playing a ton. I played on Slash's record, and I was really, really happy to see Slash finally do his own record. I know him as a player as good as anybody does, and I've been there with him historically for a long time. This is the record he's wanted to make since the early nineties; he made some Snakepit records and so on, but I think that he really wanted to make a solo record, and he just didn't have the wherewithal. His life was too scattered in the early nineties - as all of ours were - and he's probably got himself in a great place to make his record. He's been working on it for years, and finally got in with Eric (Valentine) that producer guy, a really great producer. I don't know if you've heard Slash's record, but it's really good and I'm really happy for him. With Jane's though, it kind of came out of nowhere for me. With Velvet Revolver, we're obviously in downtime; we don't have a singer, but at some point we're going to definitely go balls to the wall with a new singer, but probably not for a year. When a band like Jane's Addiction comes along and asks you to play a part in it, you don't pass that up - you explore it. They definitely have a ton of history, and have done a lot for rock music I think. Jane's music is really different, sort of left field vicious rock, and is really, really cool. Jane's and Guns started at exactly the right time - at the same time in fact, and in the same city. We would go to watch those guys play in the clubs, and they'd see us play. If you would've told me back in '86 that I'd be playing with Jane's Addiction in 2010... I wouldn't have even thought that I'd live until 2010, but here we are, and it's great. It's really great for me; I'm in extra innings, so this is all fucking good. It's all really great.
How would you describe the material you're working on with Jane's Addiction? Compared to their past material, possibly?
My biggest concern was that if I was gonna be involved, it had be darkier and heavier and more vicious than they've ever been before. I can't be seen as the bass player who came in and made them light (laughs), or made these really crappy songs. They're getting a lot from me, because I gotta make sure of quality control, that my stamp is on it. Dude, do you understand that?
Yeah. You don't wish to be just a hired hand, and just sit there. You wish to make a creative contribution to the group's forthcoming album.
Yeah. People will know that I was involved with these songs, so I gotta make sure they're fucking great, and it's gotta be forward thinking. Those guys have always been forward thinking and setting trends, so it's gotta be a trend-setting type of record. By that, I don't mean that it's gotta be trendy. The album's gotta break trends and move forward, and it's gotta be heavy too. Perry's quite a genius singer and melody fabricator; he's really different and cool, and very special. Dave is a pretty amazing guitarist, and as for Stephen, there's no drummer like Stephen Perkins. I don't know how I would describe the music we've written. I'm horrible at describing music, but we've got some really, really cool songs, some really heavy stuff. Really Pink Floyd'ish type stuff that meanders and goes out. I think with the right producer, these songs could be really, really special.
At present, are there any plans to enter the studio?
No, not that I know of. I think there's a couple of producers that've been bandied about and talked about, and schedules have been looked at for producers. Everybody from Flood (Mark Ellis) to Rich Costey we've talked about, and everybody in between, but I'm not a part of all the decision making because it's their band. I'm just here to help, and I have the time right now to do it, so it seems like the stars have aligned perfectly for it.
Will you record at least one album with Jane's Addiction? Is that settled, or isn't that even settled yet?
If that's what they wanna do. If they wanna make a record, which I think is what they wanna do, then I'd be honoured to be a part of it. That's all I can really say at this point. How's that? How's that for semi-committal?
(Laughs) Sounds as though you want the job, but you don't want to jump the gun so to speak.
Yeah. I mean, yeah, the job. Right, yeah. It's weird for me. It's hard for me to really... I've always been the guy at the beginning of a band - starting a band - so for me coming into a band twenty-five years into their career and talking about them is an awfully weird place to be. It's uncharted territory for me, so I've just gotta watch what I say. I wanna protect them, and they're a band with a lot of integrity. I wanna try to keep that intact for them by not saying too much.
Why do you use RotoSound bass strings? What's so good about them?
There we go. With the gear I've used over the years, RotoSound strings seem to always work for everything, and that's kind of cool. I've got my sound. And RotoSound? Why do I use them? I grew up playing guitar and bass and drums, and when I moved down to L.A. when I was nineteen, I'd write songs on guitar. I started playing mostly bass basically when Guns started though. I started to develop my own sound when I bought that first Fender bass; I looked at all the strings, and I saw a picture of.., I think it was Entwistle.
John Entwistle (The Who), yeah.
Yeah, and Paul Simonon (The Clash). I think they both used RotoSound strings, and I thought "Woah, I'll try those". I was limited in my funds, so I bought one set of those RotoSound strings. I put them onto that Fender bass, that Fender Jazz Bass Special - the original one I got - and I plugged it into my amp head. There was this round, percussive sound from those strings, and I've never changed since the first time I used RotoSound. That's become my sound, and the strings are a big factor in my sound. My Gallien-Krueger head of course, the Fender Jazz Bass Special, and the RotoSounds are really important, and that's where it starts from. I sound like a fucking pitchman, but I'm not trying to be a pitchman. It's just that's what I've used; I've used them ever since then, since '86.
As you said, you participated in the recording of Slash's debut solo album. Did you record your contribution to "Watch This" the same time as Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters vocalist / Nirvana drummer) recorded his?
Yeah. We all played in the same room, Slash, Dave and I. We went down to the studio. I hadn't heard the song and neither had Dave, so I went down there, and listened to the song. Slash had a guitar, and he played it so we could watch. None of us read music, so you gotta just watch the guy play. We went in the room, and we hashed around the song for about forty-five minutes maybe. We then just started recording, and I think we were in and out of there in a matter of two, maybe three hours. It was recorded pretty quick; we caught that energetic first or second take, and we nailed it pretty good. It was great playing with Dave. I've never played with him before; we're friends, but I had just never played bass with him also playing drums. It was a great experience, really fun. The three of us playing together was really fun, a lot of laughs.
You're currently working on your memoirs. Why did you decide to begin writing your memoirs?
Of course, ever since 1994, everybody's wanted my Guns N' Roses story. I always envisaged that if I ever wrote a book though, I'd write it myself and not have a ghostwriter. I don't think there's anything wrong with rock books that've used ghostwriters. They're entertaining for sure, but I don't really need to do it for the money. I'm not saying I'm rich, but I wouldn't give my story away for a simple turn of a dollar, and I don't have this burning desire to tell all of my deepest secrets. I would never actually do that. I think when you're in a band, no matter if the band is broken up, or there's bitterness or whatever, you don't rat out your band. I think that's your duty as a band member. At least that's what I feel. I don't care what other people do, but I wouldn't do it. A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for a magazine out of nowhere. They knew I had just come out of college, and they thought maybe I could write. I wrote an article on rock 'n' roll, and from that, I was asked by Playboy to write an article on the business of music. I wrote it, and it got published by Playboy, which is a big thing. All of a sudden, I got a call from the Seattle Weekly, which is a weekly entertainment newspaper. I don't know what you'd equate the Seattle Weekly to in the U.K., but it's like the L.A. Weekly or the Village Voice. Do you know those newspapers?
"I'm a dad, I've got two daughters, I'm a husband, and I play rock music, and I tour."
I was asked by the Seattle Weekly. There was a column open, and I'm a Seattle guy. They asked if I would consider writing a weekly blog. I said "Ok, I'll try it. I don't know if I'm any good". I tried it, and it was really great. I've been writing every week for the Weekly for a couple of years, and I've been writing a financial column for Playboy, so I'm kind of a writer guy. I've been reading for years; I'm kind of a highbrow, sort of literary snob guy, and I read only the best of the best. I am a literary snob, so ever since I've been writing for the Weekly, readers have been writing in and saying "You gotta write a book". The stuff that I write for the Weekly is my view from now; I'm a dad, I've got two daughters, I'm a husband, I've got two dogs too, and I play rock music, and I tour. My experiences are now from a dad and from a husband, and I try to have a sense of humour about the whole thing. Yeah, I'll tell my story about my time in Guns N' Roses and so on, but maybe not the story you'd expect. Hopefully, I can write a book that's unexpected. That's my aim, so they are my memoirs I suppose, but it's probably not the typical rock book and hopefully not either. I've been writing every day for about four hours for the last few months. I send what I've written to my editor, and the editor calls and says "I don't think that's true, that story". I say "Why don't you think it's true?". "Well, it doesn't make any sense". I got a good editor who pushes me further and even deeper into my memories, and it's a great experience.
Will your memoirs be confessional in nature? Will you go into great detail about your past alcohol and drug abuse?
Yeah, it's a lot about that. What I'm finding is... Well, you're a writer. Have you written about yourself?
A bit, but not a lot.
What I'm finding is I'll write a sentence, but you gotta follow it up by writing another sentence (laughs).
That's the more difficult part (laughs).
We go through life, and you go "Well, I had some bad things in life happen". You then just move on in life. I don't go back and examine my fucking life, and I don't think anybody really does until they start writing about it. I'm thinking "Actually, what was my part in all of this? Have I made my parts a little more sparkly than they actually were? Maybe I was a lot more to blame for this or that than I ever realized". I'm getting really honest with myself in the book, and I think in getting honest with myself, other things will be revealed about situations I was in. That could be addiction, or Guns N' Roses or Velvet Revolver or whatever, but I'm certainly not ratting out Izzy, or Slash or Axl or Scott Weiland, or any of that kind of stuff. These are guys that I've worked with and respect, and their stories are their stories. This is my story and what I've learnt, which I can apply to how I live my life now. For today at least, I'm living a really good and honest life. I'm lucky to be alive, and that's not lost on me.
Obviously, Slash released his autobiography in 2007, which I'm assuming you've read. Did you read his book, think "That's a good story, but that's not my story", and then become inspired to tell your own story?
His book didn't inspire me to write. Actually, my book came at me from a different angle. A publisher just wanted to put out my column in book format, and that's how it started - a book of the last one hundred columns I'd written. On that I thought "Oh, yeah, ok - that'd be cool", and I'd already written all the columns. One thing led to another, and I'm encapsulating all of my columns in a new, fresh write, so it's really not Slash's angle. His book's great, is entertaining, and I think it's pretty funny too. I was there for many of the stories. I mean, him and I were so fucked up that neither of us really remember what happened, so I couldn't write that story because I don't remember. I could try to piece all that shit together and interview a lot of people that were there, and I could probably get a good idea, and that's basically what Slash did. I get a lot of calls saying "Do you remember this? Is that the way that happened?". I'm like "Shit dude, I don't think it happened that way. I think it happened this way". "Oh yeah - you're right". His book pieced together his life, which was great - him and that guy Anthony Bozza. It's entertaining, and I laughed a lot reading his book because there's funny stories in there man (laughs). I smiled because a lot of the stuff I hadn't thought about in several years, but it didn't inspire my writing. I think my book will come out at such a later date than his that hopefully there'll be some separation in there, and it won't get compared. I'm pushing myself as hard as possible, because I just wanna write a nice literary piece of work... Hey, I gotta get going. I'm sorry, but I gotta move on here.
Oh, ok. Would it be alright if I asked one last question?
Will Velvet Revolver definitely record a third studio album?
So it's definitely not the end for Velvet Revolver?
Well, we hope it's not the end, but we do have to find the right singer. I can't really say. Yeah, sure. We'd love to make a new record, but we have to find a singer first.
So everything is dependant on whether Velvet Revolver finds the right singer? At the moment, the group isn't sure if it'll record a third studio album?
Yeah, but if we had the right guy, then that would change everything in an instant. We're not done, and we don't feel that we're done.
Ok. Thanks for the interview Duff - it's really appreciated.
No problem man. I hope I gave you all the stuff you were looking for, but if not, maybe we can do another one at a later date.
Yeah, that'd be great. It'd be nice to catch up, and find out what you've been up to in a few months time.
Sure. Yeah, no worries.
All the best Duff.
Ok, thanks. Bye.
Interview by Anthony Morgan
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