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Interview: Slash Talks Songwriting, New Album and Favourite Collaborators

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April 12, 2012

Where do we begin with musician, songwriter, record + film producer (plus killer axe shredder) Slash? Born Saul Hudson in London, England, he moved with his family to Los Angeles, California and picked up the nickname Slash from a family friend: the kid was always in a hurry and zipping around!

Slash’s passion for guitar playing came from one of his school teachers, who inspired him to put down all of his other hobbies and devote his life to the instrument. After playing in a couple bands with his childhood friend Steven Adler, the pair found themselves in Guns N’ Roses, the band with the moniker “Most Dangerous Band in the World”!

After decades of success with a variety of music projects, Slash is back with his second solo release, Apocalyptic Love. We got the chance to chat with the guitar legend about his songwriting, his new group of musicians, and even Guns N’ Roses induction into the Rock N’ Roll Hall Of Fame:

ML: Lyric-writing is something that you traditionally leave to others, but what kind of experience do you have putting lyrics to paper?

Slash: I can do it when I need to do it or if I’m forced to do it — I just don’t like to. I did probably 70% of the lyrics on my first record and maybe 30-40% of the lyrics on this one. You know, it’s really not something I enjoy doing. It’s for personal reasons: I don’t like singing, I’m not verbally expressive, I don’t like to pour my heart out or write my thoughts on paper or write poems. I find that I express myself much better just using music by itself. I also feel strongly that in most cases, singers who are emotional singers tend to sing their own lyrics the most convincingly, and so I’ve always felt that when you’re working with a singer the chances are they can express themselves better with their own lyrics.

ML: You’re right that lyrics can be a very personal experience. As far as songwriting goes, do you then take the lyrics that someone has written and create a musical mood around them, or is it the opposite?

Slash: It’s the other way around, actually. I usually put forth a bit of music that the singer then puts their lyrics on top of.

ML: You’ve worked with so many people over the years. How do you vibe musically with people from so many different walks?

Slash: I play with a lot of different people, but I don’t necessarily always write with them. In a lot of cases, it’s easy for me to catch something by ear and improvise on top of it, or come up with additional melodies to put over the top. When it comes to songwriting, that’s really no easy task. You have dry spells and it’s frustrating. But when that happens, I just try to get away from the “idea” of songwriting: I try not to let it pressure me. I try to play more and sort of step aside from the whole idea of “writing” by jamming and seeing what I can come up with.

ML: Have you found that you’ve matured musically over the years?

Slash: You know, I’ve definitely gotten better. I consider myself a songwriter in the sense that I write music that becomes songs, but I’m really more of a composer who is good at putting music together. I think that with experience I’ve gotten better at being patient and putting things together properly, to not rush things. I have a short attention span; I’ve always tended to rush things along, so I’ve gotten a lot better at that. Also, [i’ve improved] just as a guitar player, being able to transmit what I’m thinking from my brain to the guitar a lot better.

ML: During your GNR days, you’re credited with helping to write some of rock music’s all-time greatest songs and favorites of our site. Is there anything that you can tell our fans about the lyric and songwriting process that went into staple songs like “Welcome To The Jungle”, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, “Paradise City”…

Slash: With lyrics, that was very much an Axl thing. I always thought he was such a great lyricist. Those three songs, there was a riff there, and we got together and sort of fleshed out an arrangement for the songs. Axl may or may not have lyrics in his mind already when we do that. I think in the case of “Welcome To The Jungle”, he did.

ML: So they basically just started off of a riff?

Slash: Yeah, well, [“Welcome To The Jungle”] started off as a riff, but I think he had the lyrics in mind already. When he heard that riff and the rest of the band started putting together the song, it started to come. That’s my recollection of it. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” started with a riff, and I hadn’t even really expected anything to come of it. Izzy started playing some guitar chords underneath it and it just all of a sudden blossomed into a song.

The thing about the first Guns record [Appetite For Destruction] is that all these songs came together musically really quickly, like, in a matter of hours. They almost wrote themselves. And Axl may or may not have had the lyrics in mind already. “Paradise City” was pretty spontaneous, that all happened all sort of at the same time. I remember writing it in the van on the way from San Francisco to LA for a gig, and coming up with the chords and the chorus. I think it’s one of the few melodies I made up for vocals with Guns N Roses, and that turned into where Axl started writing lyrics for it. Sometimes Axl will ruminate over a lyric for a long time after the songs are structured, and that was also the case with [vocalist] Myles [Kennedy] on my last record, he came up with melodies to the music and then the lyrics really didn’t come until we actually started to record the record.

ML: Let’s talk about your new album Apocalyptic Love which comes out May 22nd. It differs from your last solo record in that it doesn’t have the guest lineup that the last one did. What made you decide to go in that direction?

Slash: It’s more like “Why did I go in the direction of doing the one with the crazy lineup?”! With this band it’s really similar to what I’ve been doing my whole career, but the last one, the lineup idea was just something that I wanted to do. I needed something to get away from the situation with Velvet Revolver. We had just fired Scott [Weiland], it had been a long 5 years, and I just needed to get away. I always had this idea of having a bunch of people work on a record that I produced as opposed to me always playing on everybody else’s. There’s a certain lonely feeling when you play on everyone else’s records and then they just take off. You’re in that experience for a minute and the record’s just done: you know, a sort of a disconnect.

I wanted to do an album where I had people come and perform on mine, primarily singers, obviously. But in the process of doing that record, I met Myles Kennedy and he sang a couple great songs on the album. I had never met him before and his appearance on the record just happened by chance! We had a couple songs I didn’t know who should sing, and I didn’t know any singers who fit those two songs. I’d been hearing a lot about him, so I contacted him and sent him the demos and he put the lyrics together and the vocals, and I was just blown away. It was definitely a natural, organic talent that he has. So, we recorded those two songs and I asked him if he wanted to do a tour that I was putting together for that record, and we put this whole band together with Brent Fitz and Todd, Myles, and started touring. It was just a really kick-a** band!

ML: Yeah, it seems like you guys have a pretty close relationship. I know Myles contributed the lyrics as you mentioned, what kind of themes and storylines went into the album?

Slash: “Apocalyptic Love“, the title track for the album, was basically a tongue-in-cheek idea about if there really was going to be an apocalyptic event, and you knew it was coming, what would you want to be doing [laughs]? It just seemed like that sort of heated romantic interlude of that last 5 minutes on earth: that was what that was about. There’s a couple other songs that are not really based on anything going on in Myles’s life, but the rest of the record is influenced by a certain crazy period in his existence some years ago. That goes into every song except for a couple that are sort of random. It’s not like a “theme” necessarily, but I kept hearing from Myles what he was talking about all the way through.

ML: It sounds like you’re in a great place right now, with this band. Is it a good time in your life, musically speaking?

Slash: Yeah, this is really all around great. This is the first record where I’ve been able to play my guitar parts with the band live and record it. I’ve been wanting to do that since Appetite For Destruction [the first Guns N' Roses record]. It’s always been hard because of the “bleed” factor and trying to hear yourself over the amplifiers while you’re in there with the drums and not bleed over the other sounds. So we finally built a room in the studio that I could use monitors to hear everything that’s going on, but I’m isolated, so that the other mics don’t pick it up. I hate headphones and I really feel like my playing is hindered by headphones. I’ve always redone the guitars in the control room, so this is a very energetic album.

ML: Tell us what it’s like for you for Guns N’ Roses to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year?

Slash: Everybody’s asking me about it, and I don’t have much to say about it. I’m honored, you know, but I’ve been hearing about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I’ve been involved with it once, and it’s cool but at this particular point in time it doesn’t interest me much. Either because it’s been so long since the album came out, or because there’s been so much animosity between myself and Axl, that the whole thrill of what it’s supposed to be is gone. We’re not playing, so it’s a formal get-together like an “awards” but it’s kind of like “who is the rock and roll hall of fame anyway?” So, it’s an honor but I have some mixed feelings about it.

ML: Anything coming up with Velvet Revolver at all?

Slash: Not right this second, we’re still kind of looking for the right singer to front that band.

ML: Do you have a favorite lyric of all time?

Slash: I’m a huge Pete Townsend / Roger Waters fan, as well as Joni Mitchell and Jim Morrisson. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” [by The Who] is one of my all time favorite lines.

ML: Favorite guitarist other than yourself?

Slash: There are so many of them because they’re all so different, like lyricists. I’ve always said Jeff Beck as one of my favorites because I do think he’s one of the most innovative guitar players still. At his age he’s still top of the heap to me. There are more too, from Billy Gibbons to Joe Walsch, to Joe Perry, to Jimmy Page, to Keith Richards, to Mick Taylor. All these guys have really defined musical personalities and have had a huge influence on me. I wouldn’t say that I would be here without one or the other.

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