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Slash interview: 'Everybody’s in a panic because the music business has turned upside down'

The guitar legend and survivor of hedonistic Eighties excess discusses his new album, his approach to playing live and his love of Heavy Metal

Remfry Dedman
Thursday 01 October 2015 22:52
Slash performs on stage during a concert in Ljubljana
Slash performs on stage during a concert in Ljubljana

Slash is one of the most iconic figures in the world of rock n’ roll, so distinct that pretty much anybody would be able to identify the man, even in silhouette. He’s a rare breed, a guitarist whose sound and tone is instantly recognisable, even to those who only tentatively dip their toe into the hallowed pools of rock.

The former guitarist with once-upon-a-time ‘Most Dangerous Band in the World’ Guns N’ Roses has enjoyed a career resurgence of late, particularly in the last 4 years, which have seen the release of three ‘solo’ albums. Solo in quotes, because Slash is really a collaborator.

His latest, World on Fire, is the second to feature the current line-up of Myles Kennedy (who fronts an extraordinarily successful band in his own right, Alter Bridge), Todd Kerns on bass guitar and Brent Fitz on drums.

Collectively known as “The Conspirators”, Slash has nothing but praise for his current band mates, “We’ve always had a collective like-mindedness,” he tells me. “Everybody just wants to play. There’s nothing else that we really concern ourselves with, we just like jamming. When we get together and work, we work really hard, but you don’t even realise. Whatever ideas come, everyone’s very enthusiastic about trying to figure out their own version or their own interpretation. We’re just having such a good time and we’re all on the same page.”

Slash has described the new record as a very casual undertaking. "When we get together and start working on an idea, as long as the guys like whatever it is I come to the table with, then we just enjoy jamming it out and making something out of it," he says. "That makes for an effortless record, when everybody just has a good time doing it and doesn’t feel intimidated by trying to think up stuff.”

At 17 tracks and 77 minutes long, the new album covers a large chunk of the guitarist’s career to date, including up-tempo straight ahead rockers (World on Fire), anthemic arena shakers (30 Years to Life), lighter waving ballads (Bent to Fly) and fierce Metal inspired stompers (Beneath the Savage Sun).

He chuckles when I tell him the riff to Beneath the Savage Sun sounds like Seattle despair-mongers Alice in Chains jamming over a South of Heaven era Slayer riff. “(That) main riff was written somewhere on the road. The classical middle section was an idea that I had completely separate from that song; it was maybe 30 seconds long. When we were working on the arrangement for the body of Beneath the Savage Sun, I thought, “You know, I have this classical thing I could use”, so I looked through all my little voice memo recordings, I found that part and it seemed to fit. The song just sort of materialised from there, once you have a section of a song, it inspires ideas for the rest.”

In fact, he’s a large advocate of heavy metal generally. His love of Metallica is well known, and he’s cited several current cream of the crop metal acts as inspiration, including black punk and roll Norweigans Kvelertak and French tech-metal behemoths Gojira.

“There’s a big metal influence that I’ve always had, (since) I was first turned on to Black Sabbath. I’ve always loved metal bands, this entire time they’ve just been making music with whatever resources they have and gaining a hard-core fan base.

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"Now that we’re in this place where everybody’s in a panic because the music business has turned completely upside down, they’re like, ‘Well we’re cool! We’ve been doing it our own way all along.’ To this day, the only thing in Rock n’ Roll that’s survived the test of the millennium has been metal.”

Since leaving Guns N’ Roses, Slash has rarely been out of the limelight. He’s made guest appearances with a variety of different artists including Michael Jackson, Clint Mansell, Insane Clown Posse and Rhianna.

His own style of unadulterated hard rock has rarely fallen out of favour, possibly with the exception of the late ‘90s/early ‘00s, where guitar histrionics and solos briefly became anathema to a rock world infatuated with the down-tuned simplicity of Nu-Metal. Like a phoenix from the flames, Slash rose again, turning to his ex-Guns N’ Roses bandmates Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, and ex-Stone Temple Pilots crooner Scott Weiland to form the super-group Velvet Revolver, just as the idea of guitar heroes and classic rock sensibilities were in vogue again.

With that band currently on an extended hiatus, Slash collaborated with some famous friends, including, Ozzy Osbourne, Dave Grohl, Lemmy and Fergie, on a record, simply titled Slash. That record also saw his first collaboration with Myles Kennedy. It’s fair to say that Slash has had a tempestuous relationship with vocalists in the past but, in his alliance with Myles, he appears to have found something that could last.

The majority of World on Fire was recorded live as opposed to the more contemporary approach of having each band member record their parts individually. “I’m somebody who really likes the pure sound of a band playing live to tape, so a lot of modern records don’t really excite me too much.”

In a world of auto-tune and Pro Tools, this old-school approach is clearly something that is appreciated by his legion of die-hard followers, with the band heading out on a UK arena tour in November.

“I was surprised when my manager said that we were going to be doing venues like Wembley Arena, but it’s been a nice steady ascent from where we started to where we are now; we didn’t pay anyone off or anything. So we’ll see how all that goes, I don’t wanna be in any big huge places too much. I remember playing Wembley Arena with Guns N’ Roses back in the day and that was like, the peak of where you want to be. You know, beyond that it starts to become complicated.’’

Having recently toured the US with Aerosmith, one of the defining bands of his youth, Slash admires their approach to playing large arenas. “It’s the best I’ve seen them in a long time, they’re at the top of their game. It’s just them and some amplifiers. In this day and age, it’s really encouraging to see a band be as good as they are without a ton of bells and whistles and all this stuff that everybody seems to need to engage an audience. So when we’re doing arenas we’re going out with that kind of set up.”

This stripped back, gimmick free approach is surely why Slash continues to have enduring appeal to so many rock fans around the globe.

In a world of fickle pop and hipster chic, trends come and go, but the man in the top hat continues to forge a path for the committed devotees of Hard Rock n’ Roll.

World on Fire is available now as a part of a Classic Rock ‘fan pack’.

Slash tours the UK with Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators beginning in Manchester on 28th November.

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