Interview: Slash! of Velvet Revolver
Few people in rock need less of an introduction than Slash, the legendary former ax man for Guns N Roses who built that band's epic sound with his deft, but economical and sexy, riffage.
Since 2002 he's been one-fifth of what is now Velvet Revolver, along with former GNR bandmates Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, as well as Scott Weiland (formerly of Stone Temple Pilots) as frontman. The band's second album, Libertad, was released this past July.
Velvet Revolver's currently on tour with Sparta and Alice in Chains, and the tour rolls through town this Sunday at the Sound Advice Ampitheatre in West Palm Beach. I caught up with Slash last week by phone. After the jump, read the full interview. -- Arielle Castillo
So where are you right now? How’s the tour going in general?
Dallas. The tour started on August 5, so we’ve been on the road a little over a month. This has been one of the best tours I’ve ever been invovled it. It’s cool because this band is really good friends with the Alice in Chains guys. We’re from similar backgrounds, a similar period. We’ve all been through a lot, and it’s all been really cool.
You knew Alice in Chains back then?
That my favorite band out of those new bands in the early Nineties; I rememebr when they first came out. There was a handful of bands -- Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Faith No More -- who all had really great records around that time. There was something happening, the beginning of a really cool scene that ended abrupty.
So you were into that scene? A lot of people credit it with the scene that Guns N Roses was part of.
You know, people try to put labels on things, like, ‘Oh there was the Eighties, then the Nineties came, and then somewhere in the Nineties there was this whole sort of movement.’ But that was all pretty influenced by Guns N Roses, but it’s just that we were playing stadiums and stuff.
The only big difference with bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains at that point was that we were like this sort of huge, established, stadium, commercially viable band at that point. We were no longer the scrappy curbside band at that point. All these bands were pretty scrappy and sort of anti-industry, so yeah, there was a little bit of a weird vibe that was around at that point. But personally, between us and the individuals we all respected each other.
What do you think of Alice in Chains’ current lineup, since they’ve replaced [the late frontman of the band] Layne Staley?
Well, you know, I saw Alice back in the day with Layne and it was great, and Layne was awesome. The guy who is singing for Alice now has tough shoes to fill, but he does an amazing job with it. But as far as Alice as of late, they’re probably the best they’ve ever been. The music comes across a lot clearer than it used to, and they’ve got such a great catalog and all the songs are amazing. It’s great. It’s sort of like they never left, in a way.
Why did you decide to do an ampitheater tour this time around instead of clubs and theaters, as you had been doing before?
I don’t know. I don’t think it was something the band discussed. They just threw us out there. That was basically it. We went out and did some touring before the album went out, and we did what we love doing, which is clubs and theaters, as soon as it was over. It seemed like we were gonna play to bigger crowds this time.
Was there any adjustment period when the band graduated to bigger venues? Even though you’ve all been in huge bands.
You know, I don’t think so… . I think probably because of the simple fact that everybody in the band has played big places before, it’s not really that big a deal. It’s nice to be able to be accepted in a big place, and especially to be able to use that amount of space. But when we’re playing clubs and stuff it’s great. But you sort of feel the need to be able to move.
What’s your songwriting process like? You guys probably all have pretty strong opinions. How democratic is it?
Creatively, Velvet Revolver is actually a really cool band. When it comes to writing or performing, you’d be amazed at how simple and how well everyone gets along and how simple the process it is, and how really really basic it is. It’s not how you picture people sort of writing songs. A lot of people, it just seems technically overwhelming how they go about doing it. A lot of bands are actually really famous for doing that. We’re pretty much the exact opposite. It’s a pretty easygoing, simple process.
But who usually starts a song?
It could be anybody. It’s a very communal kind of thing. If we have an idea, we kind of show it. Whoever’s got something. And then it’s just a big collaborative effort. Except for Scott, he writes the lyrics on his own.
When you’re thinking about the next album, how much do you write in advance?
We’ve always been the band that writes the material and does preproduction before the record. So when you go to the recording studio msot of it is there already.
How much time do you all spend together outside of playing shows and recording? Do you see each other much?
We’re around each other constantly. We all live in the same neighborhood. So, you know, I’ll see the guys if it’s somebody’s birthday or a holiday or whatever. And then sometimes when we go out wee see each other when we’re out. It’s a real unasssuming sort of relationship.
Then do you have to set up specific practice or songwriting sessions?
Well, it’s like, if we’re hanging out and there’s an idea and there’s an acoustic guitar in the kitchen or something like that. Or it might be something from backstage or a bus ride or something like that. Then there’s a lot of writing that’s done individually by all the different members at home or here and there. So you decide, okay, we’re gonna go in and start working on stuff, and everybody shows up.
At this point, do you view Velvet Revolver as a band proper, or is it still sort of a “project,” as it seemed to be in the beginning?
It was never a project. The media always wanted to put a label on it, call it a supergroup project. Internally we were all just trying to fucking put something together that we thought was cool and find the right people to do it with. Eventually it became a band of five people. We’ve been striving to keep it together to write material, and to take it as seriously as anyone would take a new band.
On the new record there’s definitely more … soul? If we can phrase it that way. Where did that come from? Were there certain influences you felt you could follow now that you couldn’t before?
There’s nothing really -- no real conscious effort put into the direction. We were just trying to do material that we all felt comfortable with. The record’s really sort of a product of, I think, everybody just sort of getting along and being comfortable with themselves and in their own skin. A lot of the inhibitions when we first started working togheter, and the things we didn’t know about each other musically and personally, have now been discovered and experienced. It was a relaxed record.
So what specifically is an example of something musically you discovered about someone?
There’s not like one individual, you know, like…. You sort of caught me off-guard with that one.
I’d say that what happens is that even though some of us have worked together before, in the confines of a new group, it’s just different, regardless of your past history. You start to massage the new group experience, trying to understand exactly how it all works, when you’re on the go. When we did the first record, we made the record and went on tour, and we didn’t have any experience together as a group outside of one show we did together in LA. We just didn’t know all the dynamics.
After touring on the album for almost two-and-a-half years, all of a sudden you start to really find a rhythm and find how the band works. Some of it’s conscious and some of it’s subconscious. So when it comes time to make the next record…. It’s hard to verbally explain.
What do you do to keep getting along with the other guys from Guns N Roses? How do you keep from bringing up stuff from the past?
I think it’s been harder for other people to leave the past in the past. It’s a normal thing; it’s like moving out of a house. There’s certain stuff that goes with you, but you are consciously making a move and you move on. It shouldn’t be more complicated than that, but I think there’s a certain kind of… With Guns N Roses there’s a phenomenon about it where people are so obsessed with what happened with it that they’re having a hard time letting that go.
And as prevalent as it is in the media and on the Internet and all that other kind of stuff, there hasn’t been any kind of discussion between the original members of getting that band back together.
Velvet Revolver, Alice in Chains, and Sparta perform Sunday, October 7, at Sound Advice Amphitheatre, 601-7 Sansbury's Way, West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $27.50 to $59.50. Visit www.ticketmaster.com.