Michele Hewtison Interview: Slash

The Guns N’ Roses guitar hero has a sweet face and a sweet nature, but he doesn’t talk about the big break-up ... except that eventually, he does.
He looks like a stereotypical rock star, but Slash says he is a shy man, and the sunglasses are for hiding behind. Photo / Jason Oxenham
He looks like a stereotypical rock star, but Slash says he is a shy man, and the sunglasses are for hiding behind. Photo / Jason Oxenham

The legendary guitarist Slash, of Guns N' Roses infamy, one half of one of the great rock- and-roll feuds, the top hat-wearing once enthusiastic consumer and survivor of every cliched rock-and-roll vice was going to be in town. Was I interested in an interview?

I should have said: Are you out of your freaking mind? It's Slash! He might be the coolest person on the planet. It's just possible there were once cooler people on the planet but not having the stamina or constitution or luck of Slash, they have been felled. Only the very cool die old.

There are things, it is suggested, that you don't ask Slash. One of these things is whether there would ever be a reunion of Slash and that other guy.

I couldn't care less whether Slash and Axl Rose ever play another Guns N' Roses gig so, ho hum, and: Are you out of your freaking mind? Of course they won't. Everyone knows that they had one of those fabulously entertaining rock star fallings out after years of that fabulously cliched rock star behaviour.

It's that old script: Sex, drugs, drink, rock'n'roll, fallings out. Or, as he says, the "blah, blah, blah".

It would also make for a more "comfortable" experience if I didn't ask about his personal life. As though an interview with Slash was supposed to be a nice sit in a warm bath. I supposed this meant: Don't ask if he's got a girlfriend. He does. I didn't ask. He told me that he has a girlfriend because she had been having coffee with his Dad, in California, the day before and had sent him a pic. Also it meant: Don't ask about his divorce. He last year filed for divorce from his second wife, Perla, who he filed for divorce from once before, but as he has been married only twice and is almost 50, none of that is compellingly exciting by rock-and-roll standards.

He's not a warm bath. He said: "I can't be bothered to f***en explain myself to people." I said: "Can you be f***en bothered to explain yourself to you?"

He said: "Mmm. Yeah, I probably have moments of self-analysation on a regular basis." Does he? I asked, because he once said: "I'm not an emotional person. It's one of my drawbacks." Now he said: "Well, I've got stuff to deal with and I've got a family [two kids] and, um, what's the word? I've got things to deal with, just like anybody else. So I have to look at myself and look at how I'm dealing with that ... Navigate is the word I'm looking for."

I wondered how his navigating was going and he said: "It's pretty good. It's hard for me because ... I don't like to talk. You asked me questions and I'm answering them, but in general I'm pretty quiet so I don't express a lot of things to a lot of people, so they don't know where I'm coming from."

He wasn't being tricky, but I did wonder why he did interviews because he doesn't much like them and he hates most TV interviews.

He's shy and he hates loudness in people (this is funny; he makes a racket for a living.) So I said, why do interviews? Bob Dylan doesn't do interviews. He said: "Bob probably doesn't need to. Ha." He is a pragmatist. He knows about promotion and as he is his own record company, he knows he has to promote himself to promote his records. Also, he hates bad manners and it would be bad manners not to do interviews. It would be bad manners not to give him a plug, so it is that he has a new(ish) record out, World On Fire featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, which he is touring (he was in New Zealand to do two shows earlier in the week.)

He left Guns N' Roses for a solo career in 1996. The reasons he and Axl Rose fell out are no doubt myriad but it does seem to have come down to manners. He has a great fear of not turning up to things on time. "I just always thought that was really rude and inconsiderate." Axl Rose is famously never on time. So you could say that they fell out over punctuality, which is not very rock-and-roll.

But then he does rather defy expectation, or at least stereotypes. He was, I said, a weird sort of junkie (heroin, of course) because even when he was a junkie he was a workaholic and always on time.

"I was functional. Ha. I would like to think that as under the influence as I was, I was functional and responsible."

He gave up the drugs and the drink years ago, the fags - hardest of all, he said - more recently. He is not a bit born again about being clean. He enjoyed seeing little men dancing on his curtains at the time and he enjoys the thought of it now. "I think it was all in good fun. I've done a lot of stupid things but I don't regret them."

He is clever, which may have helped. There may be dozens of hard-living rockers who read Zola. I somehow doubt it; he would no doubt say that was one of my generalisations. He also never got big-headed about being in what was called "the most dangerous band in the world", because he never believed in the stereotype - even when he was working hard at being the stereotype.

"People have this mythological image of what a rock star is ... Throwing away all the trappings of what you call regular society, being a rebel, drinking, having sex, doing drugs, trashing hotel rooms ... And these are all sorts of ancillary things that happen with these personalities that go out there and delve into a world of making a living doing music ... And that really doesn't have anything to do, for the most part, with the real people involved."

He doesn't look quite real. He looks like a cartoon of himself, drawn by himself. His mother, who died in 2009 and who was seriously cool - she was a costume designer to the stars, including David Bowie, who she had a thing with - once told Rolling Stone magazine that her son wasn't all leather and tattoos; it was just part of his image.

He said: "I'm not all leather and tattoos." No, but he is also leather and tattoos. "I'm not wearing any leather. Except for my jacket. You're generalising." We looked at his rings: A one-eyed skull and the head of Frankenstein's monster. Those rings are generalisations. "It's just what I like. It's what I wore before I was a rock star. My sense of style hasn't really changed."

Neither has his hair, which looks like the remains of some long dead animal; his old life, perhaps. I said: "How's the hair holding up?" "Okay," he said. I said: "Don't you ever think: 'It'd be nice to have short hair'?" He looked at me for a long, cool, minute and said: "I don't want to talk personal hygiene or maintenance." Quite right too. You don't ask rock legends questions which might lead to a discussion of hair product.

I think he was being funny about the ban on questions about hygiene and maintenance, but he is hard to read because he likes to be hard to read. He is not, he said, "outwardly emotional", a strategy he developed because he is often in situations (interviews, mostly) "where people are expecting to get a rise and I just find that I get pretty stoic".

He also sits very still in the way that indicates wariness but mostly he was hard to read because he was wearing his sunglasses. He almost always does but I didn't think he'd wear them, inside, in an interview, but of course he does. They were mirrored, so all I could see was me, trying to interview a man wearing sunglasses, inside. This was fairly - and deliberately - disconcerting but also a bit useful. I did my hair in them, which did amuse him, if faintly. I think.

I've always wanted to ask about this wearing of sunglasses inside by famous people, so here was what will surely be my only chance. He said: "I think it was just a hangover thing ... that turns into an everyday thing ... and now wherever you go, because everybody's got camera phones, people take your picture, and you just end up never taking the shades off."

Also, he is "pretty shy" and he likes to hide behind his glasses and those trademark top hats. On stage he mostly has his eyes closed. "And I rarely look out at the crowd. It makes me very uncomfortable to look directly into the face of the crowd."

I thought this was strange in a rock star but he said the difference is that he's not a front man. "I'm in my own little world, playing my guitar. I play from the heart, but it's very insular."

We talked about snakes, which he used to keep and which he loves for their "aesthetic" qualities, and their personalities, which he insists they have. And badgers, because he recorded a guitar solo for his mate Brian May's Save the Badger campaign which he said sounded like "hooligan badgers at the pub". I said saving badgers wasn't very rock-and- roll and he said badgers "are properly rock-and-roll. Badgers are aggressive little f***ers."

I did have one question about Axl Rose and when I said so, he didn't look as though he wanted to throw a badger at me, so I asked it: Was he sad about their falling out? He said: "Aah. Well. I can't say that I'm emotionally invested at this point in time, but it's not to say that I don't think about him. It's just that whole period ... was just such a stretching of the f***en rubber band to the point ... you know ... So there was a lot of pent-up resentment. And it's way too complex to try and explain through this medium because people just won't understand the depth of it." Because he loved him. "To this day there's a lot of stuff about him that I love ... It wasn't anything on a personal level. It was more just all the encroachments from outside that influenced everything in a bad way and everyone centres on Axl and I for some reason."

He is tatts and leather and skull rings and crazy hair, but is not by any means just those things. He has a surprisingly sweet face (what you can see of it) and a sweet nature.

He said: "I would hate to think I was an asshole."

He said nice things about our interview and so I thought: Wow! That's the nearest to cool I'm ever going to get and so I felt awfully swaggery and so of course I blew it by asking if he'd like to take his sunglasses off for the picture.

"No," he said. And, hooray, obviously. You wouldn't want him to be a pushover. That would be seriously uncool.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf02 at 26 Oct 2016 11:20:42 Processing Time: 565ms