Excuse your illusions: 20 years on, Slash is still telling it straight
Ronan McGreevy chats to guitarist Slash, 20 years after leaving Guns N’Roses
Slash, 2014: "As far as the industry is concerned, rock and roll is very much the ugly cousin. I sort of dig that." Photograph: Dave J Hogan/Getty
Slash is the last of the guitar heroes. Though it is nearly 20 years since he left Guns N’Roses, he remains one of the most recognisable guitar players in the world. Following the release of his new album World on Fire, he speaks to Ronan McGreevy and his work ethic, giving up the druggie lifestyle and the current state of rock music.
You grew up listening to bands such as Aerosmith and Kiss. Gene Simmons has said that rock is dead because it has been the biggest casualty of illegal file-sharing and record companies won’t invest in the genre any more. Is he right?
All things considered there are a lot of issues that have popped up over the last 20 years or so that have had a huge effect on the industry as a whole. I don’t think that the file-sharing necessarily is the catalyst to the plight that rock music is in. If they don’t want to waste money on bands and artists that aren’t doing what you consider popular music, that’s more because every single record company has been digested by a huge corporate conglomerate and they just want to do what makes the most money.
There are still some indie labels out there signing good rock bands. I sort of appreciate the landscape at the moment because it has forced us to really feeling strongly about expressing ourselves in the rock'n'roll format and really believe in it. That’s the people who are really passionate about it. But being part of a live audience is people appreciating what rock'n'roll music is all about. I don’t think that has changed.
The quality of commercial music is in the toilet, but the people who do it for real and mean it are still fantastic. They just don’t have the outlets they used to have.
You just used the word plight to describe the state of rock music. What do you mean by that word?
Rock'n'rolll is a genre. In terms of what popular music is all about in terms of record sales and radio and all of that, it is probably at its’ lowest ebb of all time. But I know a lot of it does have to do with the fact that everybody is streaming online. But, as far as the industry is concerned, rock'n'roll is very much the ugly cousin. I sort of dig that because it provides a certain sense of rebellion and attitude that was missing.
And all the popular so called heavy metal bands that do make it to radio are so conformist that I can’t stand them. All the real heavy metal bands, they’ve been doing the same thing for years and years on the same level and they keeping putting out music and doing what they do. I like that.
World on Fire is your third album in five years. It appears to be a really productive time in your career.
Yes, we’ve been putting out records and doing extensive shows, going back into the studio and doing the next one. I’d say this has been a really productive period. I took a hiatus from Velvet Revolver (the band split in 2008). From that point on, I just started working on my own and I work at a pretty frantic pace. It makes life more comfortable that way. I’m enjoying being able to do whatever it is that I do and do it in a timely fashion.
This is the second album with the singer Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. Do you regard yourselves as a proper band nowadays?
It was a solo thing and then I put a band together and I realised, pretty much immediately, that this is a proper band and I should make the next record with these guys and we made Apocalyptic Love (the last album). I added Myles to the bill and I put in the rhythm section and called them the Conspirators so the name kind of stuck. All things considered it has now really turned into a band that I just spearhead.
There are 17 tracks on this album. Were you tempted to make a double album?
The vinyl is double. As far as we were concerned, there was concern there that it would be a double CD, but we managed to make it just within the time limit for it not to be a double album. We had 17 tracks. It was dangerously close to being a double record which is 80 minutes and we had 77. That was all the material we had.
We recorded it fast. The way that this band works is that all it does is play music. We don’t dick around. We just go straight in. We enjoy working. Everybody enjoys working hard and having a great time doing it.
We’ve spent a lot of time doing pre-production so that we know the songs backwards and forwards so that when we go into the studio, we don’t waste a lot of time trying to remember how this part goes or how to fit in this arrangement or that arrangement. We can just go and play the songs.
In your autobiography, you described the time you almost died from a heroin and cocaine overdose while you were with Guns N’Roses. You’ve spoken in the past about how you’ve come to give up hard drugs, alcohol and now cigarettes. Has that affected your creativity?
The only big difference between myself as a personally abusive individual, is that instead of wasting my time in the bar and also waiting around for dealers and so on, now I just spend all that time recording riffs here and there and basically writing or recording. I’m always playing. It makes for a more productive 24 hours in the day.
Do you regret that part of your life?
No, not at all. I don’t miss it because I think I did it to the hilt and I just got bored with it - which was really conducive to my stopping. I don’t have any regrets about those times and I had a lot of fun and whatever. It is pointless to having any regrets about it unless I ended up either in prison or dead. I spent a lot of time being very close to being dead, but it never happened. I think at one point I came to the realisation that I’m not going anywhere so I might as well make the best of it.
Slash’s World on Fire is out now. Slash plays Dublin's 3Arena on November 10th