'I like a pseudo-humble level of existence. I didn't have any aspirations to become a star. I was just into it. Axl, on the other hand, had a vision ...'
the Giles Smith interview
Monday 17 July 1995
"I don't think I would be real happy and real stable right now had I not done this tour and got away from what seems to me to be starting to establish itself as the classic, bloated, over-the-top, self-indulgent rock band."
This is a reference to Guns N'Roses, the hugely successful American rock group with whom Slash is guitarist. Part heavy metal band, part punk rockers, Guns N'Roses rapidly became stadium-fillers in the late Eighties on the back of a platinum-selling album called Appetite for Destruction. Contrary to expectation, the band did not promptly implode. It stuck around. The behaviour of its members as rock stars has been what you might call "old school". There has been much drinking and taking of drugs, not a little brawling, a couple of arrests and a fair amount of the obligatory swearing on live television. Members have quit or been sacked with comic regularity. Slash has done his share of the hell-raising and driven his share of the golf-carts through hotel lobbies.
But Guns N'Roses are on one of their regular sabbaticals at the moment. Slash has a date in August when he must be back in Los Angeles to start recording a new album. Meanwhile, he is driving around Europe, just for the hell of it, with his own band, which is called Slash's Snakepit.
The button badge on Slash's leather jacket reads: "Another roadkill on the freeway of life". The black, drainpipe jeans on his skinny legs are shredded at the knees. His black T-shirt - given to him the previous day by a fan - displays a cartoon of some happy-looking monkeys and the legend "Keep on fuckin".
"I'm self-indulgent in my own way," he says. "I smoke too much, I drink too much, I love my guitar, I love jamming - that's me. But taking seriously the public perception of the band and the press and the hype and being seen with certain people..." Slash tails off significantly, drinks what is left of his hi-performance cappuccino and orders another.
At 28, Slash is rock'n'roll in person. He wears a six-inch expanse of silver bracelets on each forearm, as if he had tripped and fallen, arms outstretched, into a roadside jewellery stall. "This is a cool one," he says, stretching his arm across the table, flicking through the bangles with a forefinger as you might flick through index cards. "My little African skulls. Their mouths open and close, look. These are snakes and stuff... Somebody threw this one on stage the other night..."
Slash is the recipient of much booty from fans: not just bracelets, but top hats (his on-stage trademark), bottles of Jack Daniels, packets of Gauloises cigarettes and T-shirts. People know what he likes. He has a reputation for wildness, is the survivor of several periodic addictions to drugs, has a handshake of knuckle-cracking intensity and is altogether the most instantly likeable person you could ever meet.
Slash's Snakebite are playing in tiny, sweaty clubs as opposed to the coliseums Guns N'Roses tend to pack out. Slash called this "a means for me to go back and re-establish in my mind where I got my passion for this particular career." No jets, no limos - just a fuggy tour bus. The journey to Glasgow, Slash tells me proudly, had cost them 27 hours on the road. But he can't quite remember from where.
"What was the gig... it was with Rod Stewart... it was in... er.... fuck, I never pay attention... Anyway, whatever it was, it was a 27-hour drive on the fuckin' bus. But we're road dogs and whatever the circumstances, whatever the obstacle, we get together and nobody complains."
Slash says that, at the end of the last Guns N'Roses tour, which lasted two and a half years, he decided he wouldn't put his feet up. "I didn't want to go back into that suicidal drug haze I normally go into as soon as I get bored." Getting bored has cost him dear in the past. Clearly, that was behind one of his former favourite hobbies: breaking empty whisky bottles against walls. But also, in the past, rather than sit and twiddle his thumbs, Slash has taken heroin. "Contrary to what people say, when Guns was on the road, I never had a habit. Nor in the recording studio. It was always during dead time."
He says he was jolted out of this in the late Eighties, when he ended up in prison in Phoenix. He would rather not tell me exactly how this came about. "Let's just say I was very lucky to get out. When I got back to LA, there was a welcoming committee - my manager, some guys in the band, my mum, my girlfriend. And I was all bloody and stuff and really out of it and they forced me to go to rehab. I would have to be in some astronomical bad way to get drawn into that again. Now, I can hang out in that environment and not be drawn to it, which is cool. I mean, I wouldn't sit in a shooting gallery. But people who do it - and it's very popular these days - I can hang out with them as long as they don't have to do it in front of me. I have a very addictive personality; it runs in the family, too. But as long as I have something to focus on, it's cool."
The name Slash was born with is Saul Hudson. His father, Anthony is a graphic artist who has designed sleeves for records, including the cover for the Joni Mitchell album Court and Spark. His father met his mother, Ola, in Paris. "That's where I was conceived," Slash says. He was born, though, in slightly less picturesque Stoke-on-Trent, before the family moved on to Hollywood. Ola designs clothes. She made David Bowie's suits for the film The Man Who Fell to Earth.
"That's the environment I grew up in," says Slash, "which is probably why I'm so laid back. Nothing shocks me. And I don't shock my parents. I don't come from that repressed, anti-adult lifestyle that most kids have. I'm not a tearaway. I did wander off at a young age, but it wasn't because of my parents. It was just 'cause I was tripped out and getting into all kinds of stuff."
As a teenager, he thought constantly about bands, picked up all kinds of poorly paid jobs, worked for a while in a guitar store, and was at all times philosophical. "You can either look at everything from the perspective of 'this is what I have to do to get on with getting on', or you can complain about it and make it a burden. I didn't walk around complaining. My whole thing was pulling off the next gig. Scamming money if I needed to; dealing with the club owner, getting on stage and doing a good show; getting the cash from that and putting it back into the band."
In 1985, he met his team-mate in Guns N'Roses, the bandanna-wearing vocalist and crowd-trouble expert, Axl Rose. A somewhat more complicated figure than Slash, Rose once had a show cancelled at the Minneapolis Metrodome after an astrologer had warned him to beware the letter M. As is the way with rock groups, relations between Slash and Axl tend to swing wildly.
"His scene is more on an elitist level and mine is sort of down-to-earth. I like to maintain a pseudo-humble level of existence. I didn't have any aspirations to become a star. I was just into it. I think Axl, on the other hand, had a vision in his mind of where we are now when we first started."
It was a disagreement with Axl last year that caused Slash to form Slash's Snakepit, prompting rumours that Guns N' Roses had split. "Axl all of a sudden had this masterplan of how he wanted to approach the next Guns' release. I wanted to go back to doing old style, just heavy Guns N'Roses. But he's still on that long, mountainous trek - visuals, imagery and all that kind of shit." Slash pauses to take a drag. "Pianos," he adds, with dismay. "Axl didn't much like the stuff I was doing, so I just kept it."
Even when Slash is away from the band, some of the pressure of being Guns N'Roses' guitarist follows him. Sometimes, he says, the phone will ring in his hotel room and it will be a mad person. "Some weirdos call me up and play guitar in the background and say, 'I can play better than you.' But I don't get shit thrown at me on the stage. I don't know why that is. Axl always gets hit with something."
Slash met his wife, Renee Surranat, a little over five years ago. She is travelling with him on the current tour. "She's not really from this side of the fence," Slash says. "She comes from the Valley in Los Angeles. I would never be caught dead in the Valley when I was a kid. She hangs out in a different scene - models, actors and that kind of stuff. She wasn't the kind of girl who does it on the first date. I had never gone out with a girl who didn't. We've had a lot of ups and downs because she's never gone out with somebody like me and I'm very set in my ways. She's had to deal with that and I, in turn, have had to try to understand where she's coming from."
They were married in 1992, at sunset, by the pool at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Marina Del Rey. The eight bridesmaids wore black. Mr and Mrs Slash continue to live in Los Angeles, with, as Slash put it, "12 regular cats and one big one. The big one's name is Curtis and he's not what you call a domestic cat." A pause. "Let's leave it at that," Slash says. "I mean, he is legal but for a long time there he wasn't, so I got conditioned not to talk about him."
The couple also enjoys the company of some 300 snakes. "It's sort of an underground snake-breeding business - there's a network of people who are collectors. It sort of takes the pressure off the fauna in the wild. I think that pretty much took the place of having kids - all these little guys running around."
This, Slash says, is the only responsibility he has, "the one thing which requires maintenance". (A friend tends the snakes while Slash is on tour.) On the whole, he says, he prefers "that sort of bohemian, gypsy thing". He did once try to settle down. After the wedding, he gave up hotel-hopping round Los Angeles and bought a house. "I had started to establish some semblance of a home lifestyle." But then the earthquake came and "like, totalled the place".
"Everything I really cared about, which was the demo tape for the Snakepit record, my wife, my snakes, the cats, my cousin who was visiting - all that stuff was intact. And a bottle of Jack. It's funny: it was the only thing made of glass that survived. Having everything material more or less destroyed was an awakening. I thought, I never really cared about any of that shit, anyway. And I don't."
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