Velvet Revolver: 'We're Straight Up F--kin? Rock'. Part 2

artist: Velvet Revolver date: 02/11/2006 category: interviews
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Velvet Revolver: 'We're Straight Up F--kin? Rock'. Part 2
Slash, Duff McKagan, and Dave Kushner continue the conversation illuminating last year's album "Contraband", recording solos, Guns N' Roses and, of course, the mighty Velvet Revolver. The beginning of the interview can be found here. Again we reference the opening statement of our conversation of how Velvet Revolver and the album [Contraband] represents a link from the past and a direction, perhaps, into tomorrow. Because there was certainly the danger of making a Guns 'N' Roses circa 2004 album which may have been met with some disdain. Slash: It was this instantaneous sort of chemistry that happened and I think it was one of those things that was meant to happen. It wasn't real thought out once it was going; it just felt good and I didn't know exactly what it was going to sound like. I really had no idea. We were just throwing it together and everybody was just doing what it is they do or how they felt at the moment and that's basically what came out. I'm really f--kin' proud of it at this point. So there was a point in time when you were recording the album that the project took on a life of its own? And in a way, the music guided you? Yeah, it definitely took on its own direction and became focused. Before we were just writing and writing and writing musically and throwing stuff together and just coming up with our own idea as to what a complete song was without having any lyrics or playing bridge this many times. When did the music really take on a definite form? When Scott came into it somehow we had an idea as to who we were writing for. In a piece of music, I can hear guitar melodies and f--king different kinds of chord changes underneath whatever the melody is all day long, but every singer brings a different thing to it. I learned a long time ago that chances are a good singer will come up with a better idea than mine. Unless it's a really strong melody that I want come across with. But normally I'll come up with a good hook or what I think is a good hook or a good guitar hook and see what comes of it. There was an interesting chord change on the song 'You Got No Right' and it sounded really simplistic but interesting to me when I first wrote it. And I was shy to even bring it in because it was so simple but I heard something very dramatic in my head. We recorded the idea one day, taped it rehearsal and didn't do anything with it for months. And then I went back and revisited it again. I think Matt had brought it up, he thought, 'You know that thing you were doing the other day?' We put it all together and gave it to Scott pretty much complete and he wrote this amazing vocal for it. And I said, 'Wow, who would have ever thought?' And that's one of the great things about being in a band with a bunch of people who all have their own ideas. Because you never would have thought up what those guys thought up. I didn't want to ever do any kind of solo thing because I don't want to dictate to other people what to play because it's one-dimensional. And this is the proof of how that works, some amazing things I never would have come up with come from working with these different people. But did you specifically know you wanted Matt and Duff there beside you as a rhythm section? No, this thing came out of nowhere, this was really a fluke. When this first came down I was starting a band with Steve Gorman who is the drummer from the Black Crowes and a bass player. It wasn't necessarily Snakepit, just writing and rehearsing when Randy [Castillo] died and Matt came to me and asked if I wanted to jam at the benefit for Randy's family. Everybody had their own things going; Duff was in Seattle, Scott was still in STP and we had no idea we were going to go there. And everybody just dropped what they were doing. Duff rented a house out here in L.A. and we just focused on this thing. Duff spoke about what this intangible connection is between the three of you, how do you describe it? Duff's always been a real unique, great sounding bass player, he's always had certain kinds of chops most bass players don't have. And the first time I saw Mutt was what made me decide to get him into Guns 'N' Roses when I lost all hope for finding a drummer after Steve Adler. He caught my ear as one of the most amazing drummers I'd ever heard. It was at the Universal Amphitheater [Los Angeles venue] with The Cult and this was way before Steve was out of the band. It blew my mind that everybody that plays instruments, they're all over the place and you take it for granted, but the good ones are so few and far between. I was just a little bit too young and inexperienced to know and I've been learning about chemistry and learning about players and what works and what doesn't and how hard it is to find the right. Anyway, so I see Matt and it was a year later that Steve got kicked out and I was like, 'Who is the best drummer that's alive?' I didn't care if he was in a band or not. I remembered Matt and when Guns 'N' Roses was doing its thing, Matt was handed a lot of already written material. Me and Duff had already established the chemistry and when the band broke up, Matt was always one of my favorite drummers after that. Me and Duff and Matt hadn't been in a room together in six years and we just forgot how classic a thing that is. And Axl really took it for granted how great the whole four of us, Izzy included, how good that was. Because when it got dissected or torn apart, it was hard for him to replace that. There was a feeling for Duff, Matt and me when we walked into Mates, this rehearsal studio out here, to do these songs for this gig, all of a sudden I didn't feel like your regular Joe f--kin' humble guy off the street guitar player. But as soon as we all started playing there was a whole tougher than thou kind of vibe. It was weird, like guys in a gang getting together, a very tough feeling. Real powerful and that was what started it.
"I got so disillusioned with Guns that I stopped even being able to write for Guns."
Conceivably if Guns had stayed together with that original feeling from the early days, is this an album they could have made? Would you have presented this type of guitar music to Axl to write over? I got so disillusioned with Guns that I stopped even being able to write for Guns. That was in '95 when I started doing Snakepit. I remember Axl threatening to sue me because he thought that should have all been Guns 'N' Roses material. I just didn't see Guns doing it and it was too complicated to even go there so I slapped it all together and put it on a solo record. But, the stuff we're doing now, I can honestly say a couple times it's crossed my mind where I'm going, 'I wonder if Axl heard that he'd think it should have been his?' I can't help that because some of the songs are really good and whether or not any of us individually have done anything that he thinks is f--kin' great or not, when this comes out it's gonna be like a lot better or a lot more together than he was probably hoping it would be. A sort of reverse jealousy on his part? I don't mean it like that but I definitely know that during the time solo records were coming out, it was like [Axl was feeling], 'It's good but it's not perfect.' Which is true. By myself I have a very short attention span so I need to play with other people to get rolling or otherwise I'll take one riff and wrap a lead around it and go, 'There you go.' Dave: I ran into Slash at the Hamburger Hamlet during the day when Guns was going sideways. I think the thing that I got out of the conversation, the thing that he was most frustrated about, is that he just wanted to play. He didn't want to deal with all the politics. Another new element on the album is the fact that you recorded first and then Dave came in and put on his parts. With Guns, Izzy would lay down his rhythm tracks and then you'd follow him and fill in the spaces. Any reason for the change? It's really no big deal; Dave just wanted to go in after I did and I went, 'I guess it will be alright.' I really wasn't sure what to think. In Guns I'd go in and do my scratch tracks with Izzy and we'd always keep Izzy's parts because Izzy's scratch tracks were as far involved, as he wanted to get. It was already there and I'd come in and lay my guitar down. So we tried to use some of Dave's scratch tracks but for the most part I just listened to myself and drums and bass. And then it left a pretty good template for Dave. I came back to hear exactly how that influenced Dave and if all of a sudden it made my stuff seem a little too sparse or naked but it worked out great. The first time we recorded though, and I meant to mention this before, we did a demo of a song called 'Headspace' called Josh Abraham [producer] when we were first trying him out. And we went in and did it the other way around - Dave put his guitars on and then I put mine on. And you know what, it doesn't seem to make much of a difference. I try a little harder when I'm all by myself.
"When Axl finally put the vocals on [the GN'R record] we didn't even know how half of them were gonna turn out."
But your solos were put on after everything else was recorded? No, I put the solos on before the vocal usually. When we did the Appetite For Destruction record, I didn't have much experience. I sort of had it mapped out how each part would go. I'd never read any books on it or anything but also I was with Mike Clink [producer] and he'd say, 'OK, we have the scratch tracks, how do you want to do this?' I put my [rhythm] guitars down, then the harmony parts, and then the guitar solos. We did all this because back then Axl hardly ever sang at rehearsal or anything. So the band just played as a band all the time without vocals in mind. So when Axl finally put the vocals on we didn't even know how half of them were gonna really turn out. We knew how the song sounded live and that was it. So it was interesting. But at this point, we rehearse really hard to make sure that we know the material without vocals so we don't use that as a crutch. But it's nice to have vocals sometimes if you need it for a f--kin' certain dynamic, the ebb and flow of the song sort of going with the vocals. So we try and get some scratch vocals in there where Scott does do [some singing]. So we would have [scratch] vocals beforehand but I do the solo and the real vocals come on afterwards. Because you've been rehearsing the song live, do you have a pretty good idea of what the solo will be before entering the studio? This record was a little bit different in that respect because we did this one so fast, we wrote the material so quickly. What we do is we find the solo section and there's either something singing in my head that's melodic that comes right away or the first spontaneous take, the first run at the solo, if something in there has a structure I'll go back and try it and see if [it works]. On 'Sucker Train Blues,' that has a one-take whammy bar solo. There are a few songs on this record that don't have any real planned out solo. Sometimes I'll play a song enough times to where I always feel the same exact thing every time I get to the solo section. And that was pretty much the case with this. But I never actually never went out and played it live so there's a lot of improvising on this record. The solo on 'Spectacle?' That's pretty made up on the spot, too. That was definitely made up on the spot because I had no idea what I was going to do. That was actually the first song we recorded guitars on. I got to the studio, Josh [Abraham, producer] had his own studio, and I got there and one thing that is a standard for me is I like to play in the control room. If I'm going to do overdubs, I hate overdubs, so I stand in the control room with huge speakers and crank it and play like it's in a live situation. And I got there and he had these two little Yamahas [monitors] and that was it and it just blew my mind. 'How can you recreate a rock and roll environment with just these little NS-10s?' And that's how we started the first few days until we managed to lease out some big monitors. It was like these little NS-10s cranked as far as they could go and I was also, all of a sudden for some strange reason, I took a tiny little Fender and a distortion box and that's what the solo was done on. Which is way left field for me. But I remember I did that solo really fast one night and I heard it the next morning and I said, 'It just sounds too spastic' and I went back and came up with the way it is now. What about the track 'Superhuman?' That opening riff harkens to your phrase on 'Sweet Child 'O Mine,' but twisted, on acid. That's cool, it came out of nowhere. I think the 'Sweet Child 'O Mine' thing pops up here and there because it's a single note style of mine; it pops up a lot in guitar solos where I do this octave thing around a little melody. I have to give Axl credit if he hadn't recognized it as being great. Because I thought it was a joke; it was just me doing a lick and chord changes underneath it gave it some, some movement. Movement, yeah. I still thought it was a joke and Axl came in and started singing it and I hated that song all the way up until after '88 or '89. We were touring with Aerosmith and it was such a huge hit you couldn't ignore it. Now I still come up with things off the top of my head that are some sort of repetition thing. That thing in 'Superhuman' was the first thing that popped into my head over the bass and drums.
"When we started working on writing songs, we never even looked back."
Now that it's all done, is Contraband the album that you wanted to make? It's the first time I've had the feeling of what I would consider a band sense. I had a blast with all this other stuff going on, I definitely learned a lot and I've played with some great people, but I haven't had that kind of thing with all your guys where the camaraderie is such that everybody is real comfortable. And you all are just so in synch as players together and there's no real arguing or real ego problems. It's a very economical band especially for who everybody is. And the ideas just come like [snaps fingers] when we're together has a certain kind of energy to it. When we started working on writing songs, we never even looked back. So the record I'm real excited about. Slash: I have a copy of the mixes in my car and I have a five-disc player and I'll be listening to the Faces like I mentioned and all of a sudden it will switch over to our record and it's really compelling, it makes me really want to listen to it. Although I try to avoid actually listening to it too often. But as soon as it comes on, it's very compelling. There's a mix of 'You Got No Right' in there and it just sounds really cool. So I'm just happy we got to do our thing which is totally the way we wanted to do it and it was totally our sound. The cool thing about this band is we put it all together, we went through all the f--kin' bullshit, we had no f--kin' support or even faith in it from the very beginning. Everybody thought it was a complete f--king failure waiting to happen. And so at this point we actually managed to do the record and we're going on from there. It's a huge feeling of accomplishment and it reminds me a lot of the old days. Dave: This did end up being a perfect marriage of all the best elements of the Appetite-era Guns 'N' Roses, early STP, and it's evident in the music. I was comfortable with those guys coming in with what they do. Nobody said, 'I want to do more of an Appetite style thing' or 'I want do more of an STP thing.' We didn't play it safe. When you mention you feel that tingle up your spine like you do hearing a Faces album or a Zeppelin album or a Humble Pie album, that must be the real reward. That sense of maybe creating a truly 'timeless' record. I haven't really talked about this so I have no idea, I didn't really know exactly how to put it but when there was the listening party [a listening party took place two days before this interview and held at the Rainbow Bar & Grille, a hip watering hole for rock's elite], I sort of avoided the whole pressure of standing there while everybody was listening to it [Slash arrived late for the soiree and wandered uncomfortably amongst the invited legions]. But I've had a chance to listen to it a couple times with people around at the record company and the thing is it's so original sounding and it sounds so done, like a real band and a real record. It's just like, 'Wow, you know?' Steven Rosen
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