Strict limits apply for a chat with Slash

By Scott Kara

Guitarist Slash. Photo / Supplied.
Guitarist Slash. Photo / Supplied.

These days there are a number of questions that are off limits when talking to Slash. Any mention of Axl Rose - the volatile and unhinged frontman of his old band Guns N' Roses - is strictly prohibited.

As is bringing up the possibility of a Gunners' reunion and any queries about infamous war stories from the deviant days of the late 80s and early 90s when Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion I & II made Guns N' Roses the most dangerous band around.

The thing is, TimeOut has talked to Slash four times in the past five years - once in 2007 when his other old band Velvet Revolver were still going and twice in 2010, for his debut solo album and before his performance at the G-Taranaki guitar festival - and he'd never been this demanding.

In fact, he'd been open and obliging. "It's about drugs and alcohol and trying to figure out whether you can sustain it. It's about the person I was less than four years ago," he said of the boozy drugs anthem Doctor Alibi he wrote with his mate Lemmy from Motorhead in 2010.

Also during that interview he vented about the firing of Velvet Revolver's troubled frontman Scott Weiland in 2008. "[It] was very exhausting dealing with him and his shit."

It was after this incident Slash went solo and, not to sound too grand, it ended up being a life-changing decision for one of modern rock's most influential guitarists.

"Just being on my own has been really cathartic because it put everything in my lap," he says on the phone from Boston ahead of two New Zealand concerts this weekend.

"Since I grabbed the reins and took off on my own I have realised you don't need confrontation and volatility to make rock'n'roll work. It's about playing music and having fun," he says with a chuckle.

And with an attitude like that you can forgive a modern day guitar god's request for a few no-go questions.

Still, it seems he's pretty open to talking about most things. He doesn't mention them by name but Rose and Weiland come up ("I've always been in a band where there was a democracy, which was great, but there was always one guy who was really difficult."), his dad, who is his harshest critic, always pops up in conversation (apparently his new album Apocalyptic Love has been a constant on the car stereo of Slash snr), and he talks a lot about Guns N' Roses because he still plays a number of the band's songs at concerts.

"Paradise City and Sweet Child O' Mine are songs I brought into the set when we first started touring. And there are a lot of songs that I had a major part in writing that we're not doing, but all the songs we are doing I had a major part in writing.

"But there really is no forethought [about which songs they play]. First off it has to be one that I enjoy playing. If it's fun to play, that's basically the criteria."

So when Slash and his band play Vector Arena tomorrow night you will hear Gunners' classics Paradise City, Sweet Child O Mine and Mr Brownstone, and it's likely they will also play the rip roaring Nightrain, among others.

"Nightrain just works. There is no other song that drives like Nightrain," he says gleefully.

There will be no November Rain ("Even though I did all those guitar parts I didn't bring the song to the table so I have no interest in doing songs like that.") and Welcome to the Jungle is unlikely because "we haven't played it for a long time".

"That's such a Guns N' Roses standard and it's one of those songs we do every once in a while and everybody goes crazy. But really, it's for the fun of it."

Despite his reminiscing, it's songs from his solo career that make up the bulk of the set.

And though he had a hoot recording his debut, Slash, on which he got together a star-studded line-up of guest vocalists including everyone from Ozzy Osbourne and Iggy Pop to pop stars Fergie (Black Eyed Peas) and Adam Levine of Maroon 5, you get the feeling this year's follow up, Apocalyptic Love, is even more satisfying.

With the Conspirators behind him, a band made up of singer Myles Kennedy (of heavy rockers Alter Bridge), drummer Brent Fitz and bassist Todd Kerns, he's come up with a typically riff-laden, raging rock record.

There's the rugged, grunty album highlight Halo, which they have been opening concerts with recently (followed by Nightrain), the stomp and boogie of Shots Fired, and Standing in the Sun which manages to move from a grunge dirge to soaring epic.

"It's been a real blessing," he says of working with Kennedy and the Conspirators. "I had gotten so used to such a tumultuous reality professionally that I was really inexperienced working in a situation where everybody just wants to get along and have a good time.

"It takes a lot of the unnecessary bullshit out of the experience - and I work harder now than I have ever in my career. But at the same time it's really enjoyable because everybody's on the same page and we don't want to bog ourselves down with distractions and we just focus on the music.

"You know," he says, slipping in to reflective mode, "when I started doing this it was a dream come true and I still look at it that way, but the last few years have been great because I've been doing exactly what it is I like to do and not having too much hassle doing it."

THE NO GO AREAS WHEN TALKING TO SLASH...

* Guns N' Roses is a topic that Slash can briefly touch on.
* You can briefly discuss the Rock 'n' Roll Hall Of Fame Induction - but only to the extent of the honour of that.
* You can't talk about the ceremony itself and Axl not showing up and their performance etc.
* No questions about Axl whatsoever.
* No questions about a possible Guns N' Roses reunion.
* No "on the road" stories or historic infamous type stories based around Guns N' Roses.
* There has to be a focus on what he's doing now and forthcoming events/plans.

Who: Slash
When & where: Vector Arena, Auckland, tomorrow night; CBS Arena, Christchurch, Sunday.
Latest album: Apocalyptic Love - Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators.
Also listen to: Slash (2010); Velvet Revolver - Contraband (2004); Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction (1988), Use Your Illusion I & II. (1991)

- NZ Herald

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