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article imageInterview with Slash Special

By Adrian Peel     Sep 1, 2014 in Music
The guitar legend, who really needs no introduction, chats to Digital Journal about the new album he's about to release with current collaborators, Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators.
That mop of black curly hair (with the top hat usually perched on top of it) all but obscuring the face, the shirtless torso and the low-slung Les Paul; these images, instantly familiar to millions - often imitated, though rarely pulled off with as much effortless bravado - epitomise the louche, devil-may-care spirit of rock 'n' roll and recall a time before the dance music explosion of the '90s when hard rock and heavy metal still ruled the airwaves.
I am of course referring to Slash, born Saul Hudson in London in 1965 and a resident of California for most of his life. After shooting to worldwide fame as a member of Guns 'N' Roses, the much admired musician enjoyed further success as part of Slash's Snakepit and Velvet Revolver and is about to launch his third album with Myles Kennedy, touring guitarist Frank Sidoris (not on the record), bassist Todd Kerns and drummer Brent Fitz.
I caught up with the now-sober guitarist on the road, where the tour with Aerosmith is still ongoing. "We're in North Carolina on a day stop en route to Atlantic City from Hollywood, Florida," he explains, "and it's been a lot of fun.
"It's great playing with those guys. It's really a great rock 'n' roll package. Both bands work well together and for fans coming down to see the show, it's not disjointed. It's really a complete experience."
"That's definitely true," confirms Slash, when I mention that, to my knowledge, Aerosmith was the group that originally aroused his interest in rock music - "and they're still one of my all-time favourite bands.
"We have a history going back to the late '80s when we toured with them as Guns 'N' Roses and they had just gotten back together and put out their Permanent Vacation record. So it was quite a tour and I've been close to those guys ever since."
"We do Guns 'N' Roses, Snakepit and Velvet Revolver songs, along with our own stuff," he says of their something-for-everyone setlist, "and that's been by design early on because I wanted to be able to cover my own catalogue, so to speak. A lot of the songs prior to this band I didn't get to play anymore..."
"We actually do one or two songs off of Use your Illusions," he continues, when I mention the fact that the bulk of the G 'N' R songs chosen seem to come from their 1987 masterpiece Appetite for Destruction, "but primarily the golden era of Guns 'N' Roses was before it got really big! So I tend to play songs off that album."
World on Fire is the upcoming new album from Slash and his buddies (Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators to give them their official title) and I asked the former hellraiser how it differs from his other work.
"It's not so much how much it differs... I'd say it's the next step in the evolution of what we've been doing since we first got together in 2010. We toured on my first solo record that Myles contributed to (2010s's Slash), but the other guys I hadn't met yet. We did a tour for that and really sort of solidified as more of a band than a solo project.
"Then we went in the studio and did Apocalyptic Love just exploring creatively where we were at that point, having just got together after a year of touring. This is basically where we're at now..."
Unbelievably, despite his many years of chart action, the first single to be released off the new record, the title track, is Slash's fastest-climbing song on radio ever.
"That's what I'm told," he laughs. "Those are statistics that I don't really pay much attention to, but my management does - they sort of feed me information here and there. So yeah, apparently so, which is nice."
The album contains a whopping 17 tracks. Does the Hall-of-Famer (inducted as a member of Guns 'N' Roses in 2012), who came in at an impressive number six in a 2008 countdown of the 100 Greatest Guitar Solos of all time - for his still-stirring performance on "November Rain" - have any particular favourites among them?
"That's always a tough question because a new release for an artist, at least for myself, is always such a personal statement and all the material has its own significance. Each song has a very significant reason for being there, that you're too close to it to be able to pick one from the other!
"There's a song called 'Beneath The Savage Sun', which is a very epic song about elephant poaching. Actually not even just elephants, but poaching in general - and from the point-of-view of the actual animal itself, which is a really great statement and very poignant. It's an epic, long song and very heavy...
"Then there's another song on the record ('The Unholy') that's basically about some of the atrocities that have gone on with the church; the pastors having their go at underage boys and a lot of that stuff that everybody's becoming more aware of through the news these days...
"So there's a lot of different subject matter on the record that's really interesting, and musically there's a lot going on... But I really think that the whole record is great."
"Bent To Fly" is a stand out moment for me among the various solid tunes on offer and I was intrigued to learn that it carried an ever greater level of personal significance for the surprisingly sensitive guitar slinger than just the piece itself might suggest.
"Actually 'Bent To Fly' is an interesting song... I mean it came together very quickly and I had always looked at it as a coming-of-age and leaving the nest kind of song. But I had a really impactful conversation with a family in Florida just the other day who I've known for years, who lost their son to cancer - who was a big fan of mine and some of the bands that I've been in.
"So I was close to them for this whole period and when they first heard 'Bent To Fly' they totally saw it as a song about their experience of losing their son, whose name was Heath, and all of a sudden the song took on a completely different meaning for me".
I was curious to learn about Slash's songwriting process and he gladly enlightened me: "The bulk of the album - pretty much 98% of it - was written on the road from the Apocalyptic Love Tour. I record these different ideas as they come, and I just record them automatically into my phone. As soon as the riff comes to me and I like it, I just record it into the closest recording apparatus that I have, which is always my phone.
"And then at the end of the tour, I start going through all these ideas that have accumulated over the past year and I take out the ones that appeal to me. Then I go in the rehearsal room with Brent and Todd and start hashing out the different parts and getting the grooves together.
"Once I've got a loose arrangement with those guys, I record it and send a copy of it to Myles, where he's out on the road with Alter Bridge, and he starts coming up with melodies and some lyrical ideas.
"Then when we've got the ideas for the majority of the record together, Myles comes back and we really get down in earnest and start working out all the parts, tying up the loose ends and getting the arrangements together."
The choice of producer this time around was Michael "Elvis" Baskette, a man who has previously worked his magic for the likes of Ratt, Incubus, Trivium and the above-mentioned Alter Bridge, Myles Kennedy's main gig since 2004. What made the band decide to settle on him?
"Well he recorded Alter Bridge and their last record I was really impressed with the way the bass drum sounded. So I went to Myles knowing that they had a working relationship and Myles said, 'You really need to talk to Michael'. So I called Mike and we had a really great conversation on the phone about recording guitars and also recording to tape because I like to record to tape.
"It turned out that he started out as a tape operator and missed recording to tape because all these new bands all do digital. He was really excited for the opportunity to do it old school and had great ideas about guitar sounds. It was one of those conversations where I knew he was the guy, so I basically hired him on the spot.
"He ended up being an amazing producer and really captured the band's live sound and got great guitar sounds from me and just worked really hard, which is something that I'm always looking for - somebody who will go above and beyond, and he was definitely that guy. So it was a good call."
I concluded the interview with the likeable 49-year-old by asking about a Velvet Revolver reunion and by also daring to bring up the age-old question of a possible Guns 'N' Roses reunion.
"Neither one of them do I have answers for you," he replies, a hint of mischief audible in his voice. "The Velvet Revolver thing there's no singer in place and Guns 'N' Roses is the age-old mystery..."
World on Fire is out on September 16th on Dik Hayd Records.
After the Aerosmith tour ends, Slash and co. will play The Troubadour on September 23rd, The Roxy on the 25th and The Whiskey A Go Go on the 26th.
For more information, visit Slash's official website.
More about Slash, myles kennedy, Guns N Roses, velvet revolver, Aerosmith
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