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Mick Wall On Axl Rose


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DATE: Nov. 25, 2008

SOURCE: Wired.com

Full Interview: Mick Wall on Axl Rose

By Eliot Van Buskirk November 25, 2008

From 1987 to 1990, journalist Mick Wall says he covered Guns N' Roses more -- and more seriously -- than any other journalist outside of America, and has authored multiple books on the band, including last year's W.A.R. The Unauthorized Biography of William Axl Rose.

Axl Rose even wrote him into the song "Get In The Ring" (NSFW lyrics):

These qualifications and others make Wall (pictured) an authority on all things Axl. We caught up with him to find out why Guns N' Roses waited so long to release Chinese Democracy, why Rose decided to release it now, whether there will be another GNR album and why Axl doesn't like him anymore.

Eliot Van Buskirk, Wired.com: How are you?

Mick Wall, legendary hard rock journalist and author: Good, good. Everybody's getting excited about Chinese Democracy -- well not me, but most people (both laugh).

Wired.com: Why not you?

MW: Oh, I'm kidding. Why not me? Because I've been a music business professional for 31 years. I'm not going to get excited about something like this. Also, nine of these 14 tracks, I've had them on CD since 2006, and they're identical, it seems to me, to the ones on the finished album -- and all the best tracks as well, so whoever leaked them onto the internet did a really good job about picking the best ones.

Wired.com: How did you have those since 2006?

MW: Have I got that wrong? Was it maybe the beginning of 2007? I feel like I had them since 2006, because that's when I was writing my book about Axl, W.A.R. So I feel like I must have had them then, because I remember listening to them as I was writing those bits of the book that deal with the making of Chinese Democracy. Maybe I'm just not remembering properly, maybe I got them a little later. But certainly [i've had them since] at least the beginning of 2007 for sure.

Wired.com: Okay, because I saw it leak onto a blog in June of 2008.

MW: Oh, no, no, way before that.

Wired.com: This was also nine songs, so it's probably the same...

MW: No, no, this was way, way, way before that. You've got to remember as well that there have been versions of this on CD kicking around since 2001 or 2002. There's one record company executive, who I dare not name, who was playing privately for journalists in London in the summer of 2007, his version of the album, which dated back to when he worked on the project -- 2001 or 2002, when it was first on the schedules to be released. And these were finished tracks. I mean, this album's been ready to go. I'm assuming there are tracks on this album that were made since those days, because I never heard of "Scraped" before, or "Shackler's Revenge," or anything like that.

But the fact is, this album's been ready to go for a really, really long time. Even Axl, at one point, talked about there being at least 72 finished tracks, that there were at least three albums' worth of material, all this kind of stuff. He was playing it himself for people at his home, and on the road, so this stuff has been around a very long time. The thing I would take most from that is the fact that it was never, I don't think, musical reasons that were holding this album up anyway. It was all to do with Axl's own personal issues, if you want to put it like that.

Wired.com: Interesting. That is interesting, because the story that I've been thinking about is, "well, he's a perfectionist."

MW: (Draws a deep breath) When I was writing the book, I interviewed a psychologist who told me that the worst thing you can give a control freak, which is what Axl appears to be, is give them total control. Because it induces a kind of stasis in them where they literally will never finish anything, because it will never be quite right. And I think that is a huge part of what's been going on here. If Guns N' Roses were still Guns N' Roses -- in other words, if it were still five guys that started out equal in the band, this album so would have been released years and years ago, and then they'd have gone on and made another one, and another one. It isn't Guns N' Roses; it's in effect an Axl Rose solo album, Axl and a bunch of hired hands -- very talented hired hands, but guys who have been hired to do what he tells them to do. Otherwise he'd still be with the real band, who weren't so easy to tell what to do.

He's had it all his own way for years and years. And the result is, listening to it, it's incredibly overproduced, overreaching, almost self-pitying, a lot of the tracks, but also an album that seems to try to deal with a lot of questions to do with the past, and provide a certain amount of rationale behind why he is who he is, and no one ever really understands, and all this kind of stuff. As a solo album, it's a really interesting piece of work. But if you need to look at it as a Guns N' Roses album -- and we have to because that's how they're selling it -- I don't know. I don't think people got into Guns N' Roses so they could listen to an album like this. I think they loved Appetite for Destruction because there was something in it reminded them of Led Zeppelin, reminded them of The Stooges, reminded them of wild, out-there music that kind of broke all the rules.

And I think on Use Your Illusion [it was] the same thing. Even though the whole Elton John/Queen influence that Axl has made itself more apparent on the Use Your Illusion albums, it was still Guns N' Roses. You still had some fantastic guitar playing from Slash, and real cohesive band performances -- it sounded like a group still. And I don't think this does. It's very hard for me to truly view [Chinese Democracy] as a Guns N' Roses album when there's really only one guy from Guns N' Roses on it.

Wired.com: (Laughs)

MW: Do you know what I mean?

Wired.com: I do know what you mean about the self-pitying, self-reflexive aspect of the lyrics. To me, it reminds me a little bit of rap. It's all about "how I made this album, what my life is like" -- maybe he's been listening to hip hop, I don't know.

MW: I think, to his credit, he's always had a really broad range of influences and I think one of the things that made Guns N' Roses interesting was that they weren't Motley Crue. Although they kind of epitomized that hair metal era, what made them so great and interesting was that they transcended it, that their influences clearly went way beyond that. In those days, I'd go in the dressing room and they'd be playing Lenny Kravitz, and Bowie, Elton John, Queen -- I mean, E.L.O is [just] about Axl's favorite group.

Wired.com: Wow.

MW: I was doing a radio show back in those days and we had this segment called "Let's go back to your childhood," and it was just an excuse to get artists to choose three tracks from when they first began listening seriously to album-oriented music, and tell us why those three tracks were so important for them. The three Axl chose were "D'yer Maker" (pronounced "Jamaica") by Led Zeppelin from Houses of the Holy, "I'm Not In Love" by 10 cc and "Benny and the Jets" by Elton John. It wasn't "Oh, here's some Aerosmith." It wasn't he kind of heavy metal stuff you might imagine. He had a very broad range of influences, and that was always to their credit.

Come the nineties, he was very, very freaked out by the whole Nirvana grunge thing. Nirvana and grunge did to Guns N' Roses what they [GNR] did to the Poisons and the Motley Crues: they made them look silly. And they were in their silliest phase, let's be fair. The video for "November Rain" just makes me cringe.

Wired.com: Yeah, likewise.

MW: Awful, awful. And that of course was all Axl's doing. And I think in his heart he knows that, and he took it very bad. He was really into Nine Inch Nails, he was really into Ice-T, and I think he really wanted to show the world that Guns N' Roses had all that kind of stuff in their locker -- they weren't just Motley Crue. Which, in many ways, is to be applauded.

But I don't think the way to do it is to kill the band, throw the baby out with the bathwater, and completely try to build the whole thing from the ground up purely with your own vision. Because if it were down to Axl, there are a lot of Guns N' Roses songs that would never have made the record. Similarly, if it was purely down to Slash, and you hear this on Velvet Revolver albums, there were songs like "Sweet Child of Mine" that if it hadn't have been for Axl, would never have made the record. I think those guys -- it's a yin and yang. What made them so interesting was how they worked it out between them as a band. Izzy was very important, Duff with his punk thing, even Steven with his not-terribly-good-drumming sometimes, was that L.A. kid who summed up their whole Hollywood era. To take that away and say I'm going to make Guns N' Roses more interesting, more creative, just better, without any of the other guys, is just so wrongheaded. It's starting out from completely the wrong place.

Wired.com: If you were to hazard a guess, why would he release it now? The two theories I've heard, one is that it was released on the 23rd, and somebody pointed out there are 23 flavors in Dr. Pepper or something like this.

MW: (Laughs)

Wired.com: I mean, that can't be it, right?

MW: No, I don't believe that for a second. Having said that, he does believe in some crazy stuff -- past lives, crystals -- don't get me wrong, I believe in karma, I believe that there is a world beyond the five senses, I do believe in energies you can give out, positive and negative, but Axl goes beyond that. He told Erin [Everly, his ex-wife] that in a previous life they'd lived as native Americans on an Indian camp. There was a personal assistant that his guru told him had lived 50 thousand previous lives in which he tried to kill him [Axl], so he fired her. I mean he's into some really crazy shit. It wouldn't surprise me if there was an insane reason why those days are chosen.

But in the real world, my understanding -- I have no factual evidence I can give you on this -- my understanding... is that he needs the money. When Irving Azoff and Andy Gould took over as managers, these are guys, as I'm sure you know, that have very impressive track records. Super-duper veterans of the rock industry. They are not going to get involved with a crazy man who's not going to release his album. My understanding is they came in, and the deal was done, and monies were advanced in exchange for bits of paper being signed that essentially gave them enough power to ensure they could release this record this year. And to me, that makes a lot of sense, because I know from lots of other sources that he has been hurting for money for a while.

There is a lot of other royalties coming in, but the guy spends money like water. On one day on the 2006 tour in Italy, he spent $200,000 clothes shopping, which he tried to charge back to the record company and they refused to pay the bill. As far back as 2005, Interscope pulled the plug on paying for the album, and sent him a letter that the New York Times reported, telling him, "It's over. Unless you deliver this album, there is no more money. It's finished. From now on, if you need to continue working on this, you pay the studio bill. And we're talking about a monthly bill that at times was hitting $150,000 a month. So it's a lot of money continually going out the door. And I don't think releasing a record for money is a bad reason -- I think it's a good reason.

But my understanding is it came down to something as prosaic and as pragmatic as that: the dude needs the dough. And there is no more dough until this album is in the stores.

Wired.com: Do you think that contributed to the decision to do the exclusives on Best Buy and MySpace?

MW: Yes, because this is the way to go now. AC/DC showed that. Was it Best Buy that they did their deal with on their album?

Wired.com: It was either Best Buy or Wal-Mart. [it was Wal-Mart.]

MW: One or the other. From a business point of view, it makes absolute sense. Talk about direct marketing. It's point of sale -- everything is just beautiful. It's there to fly out the door. Here in the UK... they did a marketing thing around the country where each store had this armor-plated limousine pull up and they gave them 15 copies each, special advance copies that people could buy... I think the marketing has been good. Have they done TV ads over there?

Wired.com: I can't tell. I've got TiVo and I never watch advertising.

MW: Good man, makes sense. Over here, I've got three small children, and no matter how you try to program it they will have their own plan of action. And in between iCarly or something like that, suddenly I saw an ad for the album, and it's very interesting. It starts out with the riff from "Sweet Child o' Mine" and then, zip zip zip, you get really brief glimpses of events that have occurred over the last 20 years right up to a little clip from the title track.

The words on the screen are like, "The Most. Anticipated. Album. Everrrrr. It's here. Now. You must. Buy it," you know. They've built the whole marketing around this incredible saga, which is actually totally disheartened the record company. Executives have come and gone -- in some cases, been hired, fired, rehired and fired in the years that have gone by. But they've cleverly decided to take that negative and try to turn it into a positive.

I think the Best Buy thing also circumnavigates the need for too many reviews, too much time to reflect. It's all about rushing out there and getting it, you've been waiting all this time. You can now get it straight away from Best Buy, you can listen to it on MySpace. The MySpace thing is puzzling to me. Because it's streamed, you can burn it onto a CD. And I don't quite get how that is to their advantage, other than the thought that A) it's great publicity and B) as soon as a kid buys this album, he's probably going to stick it online anyway. Maybe it's just a very smart way of saying, "for those of you that are just going to burn this thing anyway, at least burn it from us." I don't know. I'm an older dude, so for me, giving it away is something I still can't quite get my head 'round, but it's clearly part of the sophisticated way of marketing these things these days, and we end up talking about it.

Wired.com: To me, it's like they end up owning the leak. I agree with your point -- it's going to leak anyway, this way they get a piece of the action.

MW: Yes, and presumably they get your name and e-mail address. They get some details and they can then fire some other stuff off at you. I don't know. I guess everybody has to accept that it's going to get out there -- as you said, it's a way of owning it.

Wired.com: This has been great information. I do want to ask you one more thing though. I just listened to "Get In The Ring" on the advice of your publicist [listen above; Mick Wall is called out by name]...

MW: (Laughs) A beautiful song, a beautiful song.

Wired.com: I was wondering where you were when you first heard your name mentioned in that song. What did you make of it?

MW: I'd been warned a few months ahead of time that it was going to happen, then I heard it 'round a friend's house and it was a mixture of being kind of horrified, being kind of flattered, but mainly, to be honest with you, a little hurt because to be accused of lying, and ripping off, and all this stuff by a group that I had spend '87 to '90 working very closely with -- I was the first person outside America to write consistently and seriously about them, I had a TV show and a radio show over here, and this is pre-internet, pre-multi-music channel era. Even MTV wasn't part of the furniture over here in those days.

I had the only weekly rock show on TV and radio over here, and I was the only person playing "Welcome to the Jungle" on video and playing the album despite all the cuss words. Shortly after, I spent most of my time in LA, '88, '89, '90, I became very close to them. And I witnessed a lot of things that to this day, I've never written about, never discussed, because they were private things. They were very personal things, troubled things, and I felt that I was a guy they could trust. They gave me a gold record for GNR Live because of all the help I'd given them.

The whole thing with Axl came from an interview. He called me late at night, demanded I go to his apartment. Vince Neil had been saying some stuff about him and he wanted to set the record straight. There's always a vendetta going on somewhere with Axl. And I got there at like 1 am, and I left at like 5 am, and we did an extraordinarily long interview all about how he wanted to duke it out with Vince, and he was going to kill that motherfucker, and all the rest of it. A few weeks later, as I'm writing the story, I realize how heavy this looks, so I call him on the phone. I taped that conversation also, and I said to him, "let me read you this, because to me this sounds heavy, and I just want to make sure this is how you still feel, and you still want to do this." I read it to him, he laughed, and then he said, "I stand by every single word, motherfucker, go ahead and print it." So I did. And literally within a week or two of the story appearing, as far as he was concerned, I'd made the whole thing up. I was a dirty rotten limey journalist who can't be trusted, and had lied about what went on, and misquoted him.

I mean, it broke my heart, because this wasn't just some guy I'd met once and interviewed and there was a misunderstanding. The reason he called me so late at night, as I'm getting into bed, is because I was the go-to guy, certainly outside America. He had a close friend in LA who was a writer he would talk to also, but at that point I was the guy that would do Britain and Europe and all the rest of it. And it really hurt. What hurt more was not so much Axl -- because I knew he was crazy -- but the other guys having to toe the line. The next time I saw them it was awkward. Duff walked straight past me, which broke my heart, because again, we had some very personal occasions where I'd felt I'd helped him a lot.

Anyway, cut to many years later and we're still talking about it. In some ways it conferred a degree of fame or notoriety, or name recognition, and that hasn't been a bad thing always. Slash has since apologized. Steven asked me to ghost[write] his autobiography, which I didn't do in the end. Izzy and I have had a good laugh about it. Duff is still really weird about talking to me, which is strange because he seems so together these days. My feeling is that he's embarrassed and just doesn't want to go there.

And Axl, the last time he played London, there was a guest list and there was a shit list. There were people employed to walk around the gig, and anybody on the shit list had to be ejected. Guess whose name was top of the list?

Wired.com: Aaaah...

MW: Yeah! Unbelievable.

Wired.com: So he's still thinking about this.

MW: He's still thinking about this, he's still warning people off me, record company people -- grown men in their 40s who to this day are nervous about speaking to me, because it will harm their relationship with Axl or possible future relationship with Axl. The whole thing is so, so nuts. But on the other hand, it's a great story, and stories are what I deal in. If there was no story, there would be no fun to be had. So I thank him in many ways, because it is a great story. I just feel for him as a human, I really do. This isn't like "Ozzy Osborne is crazy," or "Alice Cooper, he's crazy." I don't think it's like that. I think the guy genuinely has personal issues, which, on a completely human level, I totally wish him really all the best with and hope that pain goes away for him one day.

Wired.com: Well, I hope so too, and hopefully the two of you can laugh about this at some point. If you still have the tape, maybe you could post it online or something.

MW: Boy, that's a crazy idea. But do you know what, he'd find a way -- back in those days, I was so paranoid about what he might do if he ever got the tapes -- I'm not saying this now, but back in 1990, I actually thought he would have them doctored or do something crazy, because it was about saving face. Vince Neil called him on it. Vince Neil arranged to meet him a couple of times, and Axl never showed. I got very upset about the whole thing and offered to talk to him, and again he wouldn't take calls or return them. This whole thing about "get in the ring," you say, "you know what, I'll get in the ring -- he ain't going to show." It's just a real shame. And in many ways, all these years later, I've done everything I can to kind of bury the whole thing and say, "I've moved on. Let's all move on. Let's shake. We were kids then, and I'm a dad with three kids now. This is insane, let's forget about it." But he'd take it [the posting of the tapes] so badly. I would be an even bigger asshole if I did that.

Wired.com: I don't know. A tape of him saying, "I stand behind all of this," that seems pretty convincing.

MW: Yeah, yeah, you're right. I'll have to dig it out. God, that's scary. You've given me something to think about now. I don't know if I have the balls to do it, but I'm certainly going to think about it.

Wired.com: Well, let me know, if so... Do you think there will be another Guns N' Roses album?

MW: Wow. Will we live that long? By all accounts, he certainly has enough material recorded to put out at least one more album. And it wouldn't surprise me if they did some crazy guerrilla marketing thing and maybe a year from now put out part two or something like that. Other groups have done similar things in the past. But will there actually be a fresh-from-the-ground-up recording? I really don't know. I really, really, don't know. It will depend how well this does, how good he's feeling about himself.

What I found unexpected was, from all the interviews I've done today with radio people in the US, in the UK it's very different. I've done stuff over here [in the UK] and everybody seems to want to give it a fair hearing and be positive about it although they know there's a crazy story attached. Today [in the US], every single radio interview I've done, everybody hates it. They hate it. Or certainly, that's what they're telling me. And they're all laughing about the whole thing. It's like a huge joke. I don't think that will necessarily hurt sales, but I think there is a certain backlash element here. A lot of those people who bought those Guns N' Roses albums on the first time 'round aren't necessarily ready for where he's at right now. I think he's left it too late for them. But of course there's a whole bunch of kids out there who think the guy's a legend, and I'm sure will go out and buy this and get really excited about it.

Wired.com: It'll be really interesting to see how it does. I guess we'll find out whether there's no such thing as bad publicity.

MW: (Laughs) I think that's probably true. But you know, there's a saying in the music business: art for art's sake, hit singles for fucksake. And I don't hear any hits on this.

11/26 Update: The Seattle Weekly points out that a commenter on former GNR bassist Duff's column posted a link to the above interview. "I guess I have to mend some fences with Mick, I had no idea that he felt this 'divide,'" responded Duff.


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