Finally, after all the hoopla, drama, relapses, and false starts, Velvet Revolver is here at the Chateau Marmont, a gilded reminder both of Hollywood’s seamy and golden past and at the same time an arty retreat for many of the industry’s up and comers. For that reason it is perhaps a fitting setting for the media’s introduction to Slash, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum, Scott Weiland, and Dave Kushner on the occasion of their debut album, Contraband. Like the hotel, the record provides a balance between what has come before and where things may be going.
A day earlier, at the Rainbow club just a few miles westward down Sunset Boulevard, a BMG
mouthpiece announced at the premier listening party that this was an “important” record. He may be right. The record industry has all but consumed itself alive, running down dark alleys in search of a way out, a band or style to resurrect flagging sales. Velvet Revolver may be that light in the shadow. The album is suffused with muscular guitar riffs and the bluesy undertones that was a Guns 'N’ Roses staple. But produced by Limp Bizkit and Staind technician Josh Abraham and mixed by Nirvana and Linkin Park figurehead Andy Wallce, this is not a retro record - in ex-Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland they have managed to infuse modernity, a hip ripple, into the Big Rock format.
Sparkling waters in hand, the cricket chirp of cameras firing, and a fine Los Angeles sun beaming down on the well-tended private bungalow landscaping, the musicians seated themselves on a very expensive leather sofa. Slash, Duff, and Dave talked about guitars and Guns, recording and Revolver. Tape machine switched on, they spoke honestly and openly and with a barely disguised sense of urgency - no one in the compound understood the 'importance’ of this moment more clearly than the three musicians seated here.
Ultimate-Guitar.com: Contraband echoes that sort of raucous, running off the rails style of guitar from the Guns 'N’ Roses period, and at the same time there’s this contemporary feeling of drama and passion. As if it is some sort of bridge from the old to the new. And there’s a new texture in your playing, a wrinkle showcasing a bigger sound.
Slash: It is pretty aggressive, this new record, because all of us getting together had this unified thing going. Everything coming out is sort of inexplicable for me. But I was very passionate about it and as far as the writing was concerned everything was very spontaneous and it went on the record in the same fashion. By the time we picked which songs we were gonna do, there was only a couple of months before we actually went in to do the whole album. It’s all what you’d consider first take stuff.
Was there a different dynamic than what you felt playing guitar behind Axl?
Anytime you play with anybody different it’s a different energy but there was an underlying sort of familiar core with me and Duff and Matt. I love playing with different people, I always have, but at the same time there’s a certain type of vibe I like to have and I don’t find that with everybody I go and jam with. I can put my stamp on something but it’s not necessarily the be all, end all thing that I want to be doing. Guns 'N’ Roses was way cool when it was in its proper setting, it was killer, but then that went through a lot of crazy changes. And then in Snakepit that was just an outlet for me, I didn’t hone in on what it is that makes myself tick. It was good timing too because I think everybody was trying to avoid any sort of combinations of the Guns members just because we were trying to get away from that whole thing.
How did you see your role in this band?
|"I think part of playing with Slash is see what he's playing and not play the exact same thing."|
Dave: I bring a lot of pedals and I’m always looking for new pedals. I’ve just always been into pedals. It’s kind of a texture thing. I think part of playing with someone like Slash is see what he’s playing and not play the exact same thing. If he’s playing open chords, I’ll play barre chords; if he’s playing a melody line, then I’ll play chords; if he’s playing chords, maybe I’ll try and think of a melody or some octave thing. To try and offset each other so it’s not just two guys in stereo. That’s what was great about the Appetite record, that they kind of played off each other so I kind of came in thinking like that.
The thing with this band is it’s really a case of finding a balance of using pedals but using them subtly. I don’t want to be like, 'Hey, check me out over here, I’ve got all these fancy pedals.’
Duff: Dave came in and wasn’t outwardly afraid of being the muse to Slash.
So you didn’t change your approach to accommodate what Dave brought to the music.
Duff: Yeah, he did. Just as an objective [observer], Slash in a lot of ways reinvented himself. He was already and amazing player but he had to almost morph along with this thing and at the same time still be Slash. How the f--k do you do that? But he did it.
That harkens back to my opening statement about the marrying of two styles. Do you agree with what Duff said?
I don’t know, it’s all about making it work. There was a lot of real cool shit going on, some of it I’m real familiar with, some of it I wasn’t real familiar with. You just do what you do.
Duff: You’re too humble, dude.
That’s exactly what we’re talking about - the idea of marrying the old and the new.
I started being a little bit more uninhibited about what sound I was going for. I would just use something as opposed to having something a certain way. I’m one of those guys, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but it can also get a little bit boring. Especially when everybody around me is tripping out on this and that and the other, then I tend to like go, 'Well, let’s just see what this sounds like.’ More so than I ever have been. Now I’m sort of a f--kin’ unpacked suitcase.
When you talk about doing things a 'certain way,’ that means the Les Paul and the Marshall?
|"This is the most interesting f--kin' record that I've done."|
That’s basically the underlying theme always but I started using a couple different kind of Fender amps. That was the only conscious thing that I hooked up. And I used a combination of three different Marshall heads and the AC30 and we sort of switched around between all of that. In a couple instances, I used I’d use one Marshall head by itself, and the AC30 by itself, and then we’d use a combination of two heads or three heads. We rerecorded one of the songs ['You Got No Right’] and I used my live head which I never actually recorded with. It’s the Slash model [Signature] Marshall.
This time around, this is the most interesting f--kin’ recorded record that I’ve done and it’s the one I paid the least attention to as far as what I was using. I even switched guitars around which I don’t normally do. My regular recording guitar is a Standard, a Les Paul copy which I’ve had since Appetite … it’s handmade, a copy. There’s a guy that made an amazing’59 copy and he’s no longer alive; it’s better than anything Gibson can make. I have two of those and they’re my main guitars. And I also used it in 'You Got No Right’ for the middle section, the bridge. And I used a Strat and a Telly for a couple different things.
That’s a new wrinkle.
|"I don’t use Strats really because Les Pauls are just way too reliable."|
There’s a song called 'Sucker Train Blues’ and all the rhythms are done with a’56 Telly; I have three old Strats and I used one of them for the guitar solo [a 1965 Fender contends tech Adam Day]. I think there’s only one song I ever used a Strat on. As far as I’m concerned they’re the best sounding guitars but they’re really inconsistent and I don’t have the patience to mess with them. That’s the reason why I don’t use them really because Les Pauls are just way too reliable.
Does it require a different touch?
You just get used to different necks and you have to adapt. For the most part, unless it’s really f--ked up and the action is way way way too high, you can usually get around it [on the Les Paul]. I have to admit a Strat is real light and I can’t bang on it the way I can with a Les Paul. The main thing is Les Pauls are way too consistent compared to Strats which are too f--kin’ sensitive. And when they sound bad they sound horrible.
Dave: I used Fernandes which I’ve used for ten years. The shapes are unique; the one I used has the thickness of a Les Paul and looks like a hybrid of a Les Paul and an Iceman. I used my Bogner amp [an Ecstacy 101B model; a 100-watt EL34 amplifier with three channels: clean, crunch, and solo sitting atop two Bogner straight cabinets fitted with Vintage Celestion 30s] and for some of the rhythm stuff I used a combination of a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier head with this modified Marshall head [Mike Morin, an amp guru based in Reseda, California]. And a shitload of pedals. I used Dunlop wah pedals: bass wahs, regular wahs, the Dimebag wah, the Rotovibe.
Can you talk about how you construct a track? For instance, on 'Slither,’ do you double your rhythms to create that wall of sound?
No, I don’t believe in any of that kind of stuff. That’s one thing about having two guitarists; you can sort of do it without faking it.
Dave: When I went in there [studio], he had already done his rhythm parts, his solos, and it was great for me because then I could really listen and not do the same thing or put on my effects. I could fill up the holes. In the into, there’s this kind of wall of wah-wah and delay, I used the Line 6 Delay and right where it stops before the verse there’s like this trail off and that’s the Line 6 Delay. Halfway through the verses you can hear it kind of thickens up? I used a Hyper Fuzz pedal straight into the board, not through an amp, to double my rhythms and in the breakdowns it’s like a wah and delay.
Duff: We’re all playing the same riff in that, too, the verse riff. That’s three fat instruments playing the same thing.
Slash: For the most part there was a lot of quick experimenting going on; very rarely did we pick up something and go, 'You know what, that doesn’t sound right.’ Usually I would think it out first. But for the most part it’s just my recording Les Paul; all the heavy stuff with the exception of 'Sucker Train Blues’ is basically my Les Paul copy and a Marshall and, or not, the AC30.
Since this is the first single release from the album, did you set out in any way to establish this kind of new Slash sound circa 2004? Were you trying to make any sort of musical statement?
We just thought that it was the most indicative song of the band; it was an easy, all encompassing shot of it. Because there’s something different about all the songs that might throw you for a loop - obviously you don’t want to have a slow song for the first song, and some of the songs were so fast and the subject matter so aggressive, we thought, 'Maybe not that.’ We had three songs that were real simple Velvet Revolver songs and we narrowed it down to that one. It has a guitar solo in it, it has our sound to it, it has Scott’s vocal sound, and it sounds pretty much like us. It was also one of the first songs that we wrote and we played it at the El Rey [for the Randy Castillo benefit] and it’s been on the internet, a live version, and so that was basically that.
No, I’ve never had that kind of feeling like, 'OK, here I am at this particular point and here it goes.’
There are some acoustic tracks on the album.
On 'You Got No Right,’ that’s a Takamine [in fact, says Day, it’s a Taylor cutaway] and it’s recorded via microphone and also the pickup. Just to make it sound a little bit more electric. That was the only song that I actually wrote on acoustic. The demo that we did, I cut with a Les Paul that has a Piezo pickup in it (see Day side piece] and it sounded really interesting that way. The one thing about electric acoustics is they tend to have a very synthetic sound so we sort of mixed it up and more it a little more pure.
What makes you as a player different than a lot of other guitarists is your ability to create these huge guitar parts, write songs around guitar riffs, but at the still time manage to support the song and not overshadow it. A lot of bands will play these licks and grooves, very competently, but what they’re doing is shoving your face into a wall of sound to hide the fact that the song itself is pretty weak.
None of us sit around and try to be master musicians which is what a lot of riff people and people who write a lot of music do. They may not necessarily be good songs but they get really technical about how they approach one note to the next and go, 'Oh, this is really interesting!’ They’re really mathematical that way. Whereas I’m into making up a really cool riff or a really cool rhythm thing pattern or whatever but it’s really something you’d want to hear in a song and not something that you’d just listen to for technical stuff. There are very few musos that I can get into for more than five minutes and just acknowledge how technically efficient they are. I think Jeff Beck is one of the few guys where I can sit and listen to a whole record; that and a movie soundtrack. We do write songs.
Do those types of musicians - the Korns and Limp Bizkits - who are working essentially from these technically driven riffs inspire you in any way?
|"We're a f--kin' rock band. We're straight up f--kin' rock!"|
Duff: You’ve got to appreciate Linkin Park because they can write a f--kin’ chorus that sticks in your head, with the DJ and the stuff. They play down in low A or some shit. And Korn is cool, they started a whole thing on their own.
Slash: I didn’t used to like Korn but I saw them so I have to give them credit. Because actually there are not too many f--king bands that have any attitude these days. And they’re one of the first new bands I’ve seen with an attitude.
Duff: I guess that was what I was getting at. As far as musically, I mean, there is a lot of synth, synth guitar, synth this, synth that, synth whatever. We’re a f--kin’ rock band and there’s no comparison between a Limp Bizkit or Korn like you were saying and us. We’re straight up f--kin’ rock.
Slash: I was listening to The Faces on the way over here and that’s a good rock and roll band. Duff and I are all influenced by individual stuff but it does have a common core. So, that being the case …
Duff: …yeah, we could all listen to a Faces record together.
Slash: And at the same time there is a lot of new stuff that comes out that is pretty interesting but it’s not really influenced by the same stuff we’re influenced by. All things considered we have a little bit of a different sound than what’s coming out right this second. But it’s still, I hate to say it, very new sounding at the same time.
Head to the UG tomorrow, Feb 11th, to read the second part of the interview!
© Steven Rosen