Slash: ‘It’s All About Commercial One-Hit Wonders These Days’
In an exclusive Q&A, the iconic guitarist talks about the tricky state of the corporate-driven global music industry, why he loves writing while on the road and plans to record a new album next year
Slash doesn’t like too many people around him, especially at interviews. If it’s an exclusive chat like this one, he’d even have his team wait for him outside while he speaks with the journalist in private. And although an entourage of extra-cautious personnel is part and parcel of being a global superstar, Slash couldn’t be a more unfussy person even as his people fuss over him [As I greeted him and was about to take the seat which was placed beside him, he asked me to hang on. He picked the chair and placed it across from him so that I could look at him face-to-face.]
Slash’s last visit to India was at the launch of MTV in 1995. Tonight, the iconic guitarist will kick off his first tour in the country in twenty years at rock and adventure sports event MTV Indies Xtreme to promote his 2014 album World on Fire, with his band featuring alt metallers Alter Bridge vocalist Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators [comprising bassist Todd Kerns, vocalist-guitarist Frank Sidoris and drummer Brent Fitz]. In an interview with ROLLING STONE India, the musician touches upon how rock & roll artists these days have a miniscule chance of being discovered at clubs unlike back in the day, the pitfalls of the Internet age, and the new horror movie he is producing.
How does it feel to be in India after two long decades?
It’s fucking great. It’s always been a big deal for me; there is so much magic. I always wanted to come back and now I finally got a chance to. I feel like a kid in a candy shop.
During this long period, were there any visits to India that we didn’t know about?
Oh, no! This is my first time since then.
What is your setlist for the show going to be like? Are you mixing a lot of songs from your previous records?
We mix up stuff from the last three records; plus I do stuff from my old Guns N’ Roses songs, and also put some Velvet Revolver songs in there. We are playing two hours, so we have so much material. I don’t play too much Snakepit stuff because now we have World On Fire. However, we work it out; I change it every day.
So do you make your setlist on the day of the gig?
I do that in the morning, before soundcheck, so that if there is a particular guitar that I need to use, I have it in time.
Since your solo record [Slash; 2010], you haven’t collaborated with as many people as you did on it. Would you like to do a collaborative album again?
The first solo record was something that I wanted to do because I do so much playing on other people’s records, so I thought, ‘You know, what I’d really like to do is get some artists that I really like to play on my record.’ I needed to get away from the band situation and just do something on my own, not having to answer to anybody. So that was the project that I set out to do. And I was really proud of it. It was potentially a hard record to make but it turned out to be a very easy record to make; everybody was really cool. It turned out to be a difficult record logistically in terms of [dealing with] record companies and licenses. So the only that kept me from doing something like that again is that it was just very complicated. So that was a one-time thing… And when I met Myles, I had the feeling that he could handle all the songs on that record – Guns N’Roses stuff, Velvet Revolver stuff… and he surprised me when he said yes. So I put together The Conspirators, who happened to be guys that I hadn’t met before, who were just classic. It seemed like it was meant to be and we just kept going ever since. It was supposed to be a couple of months on tour, but we’ve been together ever since.
World On Fire record was written while you were on the road. Were there any particular touring experiences that inspired you?
It’s not anything in particular; you know I write on the road because that for me is an easy, no-pressure place because I always have my guitar, so I record a little ideas here and there. If something comes up that’s really cool, I bring it to soundcheck for the band to play on it, and we just develop it because we are on the road for like a year-and-a-half. Writing at home is a problem because I’m being pulled in a lot of directions while I’m at home.
So we’ve written this whole new record that’s ready to go, from just this last tour. So we’ll go into the studio in Spring and record it. And that’s going to be an awesome record, the next one. I’m really excited about that.
People are always giving you big titles, calling you the Best Rock Guitarist and you’re topping many best guitarist lists also. As an iconic artist, is it difficult to live up to or maintain that perception?
I’d be lying if I said there was absolutely no conscious awareness of it but at the same time, if you get put in a poll where you’re either here or there, bottom or top, you can’t take it realistically.
Any young rock & roll bands that you really like?
We’ve played with [UK rock trio] RavenEye in the past and they’re really good. When we pick an opening band for a tour, usually I listen to everything first and see who it is that we want to take. So I am very aware of what everybody is doing. There are some bands that I like a lot, and there are some band that are developing and just need to keep working at it. There’s couple of out there. On a commercial level, rock & roll is all safe, but underneath all that, there is a great hardcore young movement that is doing rock & roll in earnest. It’s just that the way the business is right now, it’s so corporate that none of these bands will get a shot to do what I got to do, you know? Be discovered in a club and have an A&R person develop the band and get them ready to go into the studio and make a record. And then make a second, third record till they really come into their own. Now it’s all about commercial one-hit wonders, and it’s a whole different industry now. But there’s a lot of great rock & roll bands out there that have to go the way it should be done; for the passion and not for the money, it’s not for the glamor of it but because you love it. A lot of people are doing it because they have an agenda.
So you think that there are a lot of talented artists out there today who have the potential but won’t get the kind of opportunities that you did back in the day?
This is a complicated question. I mean, somewhere along the way people just played music for the love of playing music and somebody else recognizes that you can make money from it, and it’s been a developing thing to the point where, in the Nineties, music business was making so much money that it was bigger than the movie industry, bigger than any of the entertainment industries. There’s the business and there’s the music. I was raised in the business and I remember seeing how there were clashes between people – this is the way to make money and da da da… there was so much money involved.
And then the Internet came along and just fucked the whole thing up. So now the industry is struggling to figure out how to make money off of it and artists have actually gone to the point of conforming to the industry – how they can make money; so they’re all working together. I think there’s still this whole creative side that hasn’t changed which doesn’t really want to fit into that category, but it’s hard to make a living. So a lot of people do that by playing clubs. But it’s just harder, the opportunities are different from when I started, and definitely from when John McLaughlin started.
You also produced a horror film back in 2013. Are you planning on producing any new films?
Yeah, there’s a new one and we’re casting right now. We’ll start shooting in January. I’m really excited about that. I’ve learned and come a long way since the first one; well, the first one was okay but that had a lot of issues, so now I’m looking forward to this next one. I think it’s going to be really awesome. So where’s John McLaughlin playing?
He’s playing at the NCPA tonight with his band, 4th Dimension which has Gary Husband on keys, Etienne Mbappe on the bass and the really maverick drummer Ranjit Barot.
What’s the NCPA?
It’s the National Centre for the Performing Arts.
Is that near here?
It’s about a 45-minute drive from here.
Oh, I might have something to do tonight!
MTV Indies Xtreme 2015 w/ Slash ft Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators
November 7th – Reliance JIO Gardens, Mumbai w/Thermal and a Quarter, Gingerfeet and Them Clones.
November 14th – Supernova Arena and Convention Centre, Bengaluru w/Indus Creed, Motherjane, Skrat and Rocazaurus