WAS IT THE platinum records? Having millions of fans worldwide? The recent induction into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
Great as those achievements are, Slash says the moment he knew he’d truly achieved pop culture immortality came courtesy of the humour institution MAD Magazine in the early ’90s. “Yeah, they had Alfred E. Newman on the cover in a top hat and long hair,” says the iconic guitarist with a chuckle over the phone from Montreal. “That’s probably my favourite tribute.”
Tonight the top hat, black curls and Gibson guitar will grace a Halifax stage for the first time in over two decades, since the original lineup of Guns N’Roses played the Halifax Metro Centre twice in the ’80s with Iron Maiden and the Cult.
This time around, he’s doing his own thing with singer Myles Kennedy and their band the Conspirators at Cunard Centre, touring behind their second project Apocalyptic love and getting back to towns he wishes he’d played more often with Gn’R and his subsequent band Velvet Revolver.
“one of the great things about doing the solo thing is I can sort of dictate what towns we’re gonna do,” says the guitarist born as Saul Hudson 47 years ago. “So a Canadian tour was something I insisted on because back in the day we used to do an entire trek across Canada, but then somehow, with all the different situations, it just stopped happening.
“So I had some influence in that, with this tour for this record.”
besides the songs from Apocalyptic love and Slash’s self-titled solo debut, fans can expect to hear some GN’R and Velvet Revolver favourites, and maybe even some nuggets from his first side project Slash’s Snakepit, delivered with Kennedy’s impressive four-octave vocal range and the wallop of a band that carries decidedly less off-stage dramatic baggage than the guitarist’s most famous outfits.
It may not make for instant headlines — no one’s attacked an audience member or been kicked off an airplane as of yet — but Slash figures at this point in his career he should be able to go out on the road without bracing himself for crisis mode.
“It’s very similar to me, if I had to compare it to anything, to the early days, where you just go somewhere, you get excited about playing, and you play,” he explains. “It’s just very simple, straightforward and basic like that.
“So it’s been a hell of a lot of fun, I’m having the most fun with this bunch of guys over the past couple of years that I’ve had for most of my career because it’s rooted in simplicity, and the band is really good. I can’t understand why it had to be more complicated.”
Listening to Apocalyptic love, you get where he’s coming from. The record is a trove of uncomplicated, guitar-driven, arena-filling rock and roll, with a heavy backbeat, driving riffs, and that thick, serpentine tone that first flowed through game-changing hits like Welcome to the Jungle and Sweet Child O’ Mine.
“I think I feel very strongly about staying close to my roots, and sticking to my guns about what turned me on when I got started, why it is that I do what I do, and the direction I went when I picked up a guitar,” he says.
“It seems like by this point you should have the opportunities to, and I’ve taken a lot of them, but in my own group situation I want to be able to do what I want to do. I don’t want to f*** around with it, I want to stick to what is that I’m really good at and what I love doing.
“Especially at this particular time and place. Rock and roll is suffering in such a way that this is the time to really stay true to your school.”
with Kennedy and the Conspirators, Slash was able to do something that was virtually impossible with Guns N’Roses or Velvet Revolver, and that was simply get in a room at the same time and just play the songs live to analog tape.
keep in mind this is a musician who spent his last three years in GN’R simply waiting for something to happen following the end of the epic Use Your Illusion tour in 1993. Sitting idle is not his style, and neither is the digital, piecemeal method of making records which he feels has a way of squashing that “intangible magic” that runs through every record that ever influenced him.
Apocalyptic love is a record for cranking: the pure sound of a Les Paul guitar fed through a Marshall stack into a Shure-SM57 microphone, with a vocalist who can snarl and scream with the best of them, but also has a varied enough musical taste to be able to work with the stylistic curveballs Slash throws his way.
“He’s not a presumptuous individual, and he’s not one of those people who’s intimidated by his own ability, or what other people are going to think about this, that or the other thing,” Slash says of Kennedy, who at one time was considered as a replacement for Robert Plant in a reformed Led Zeppelin. “He’s very open-minded, so any idea I come up with–that I think is worthy of sharing with somebody else–I can take it to him and he just gets into it to see what he can come up with.
“if we come up with something great, then awesome, but if it doesn’t go anywhere, well at least we tried. A lot of the time in collaborative situations, people get ahead of themselves and start being intimidated by not being able to have the quintessential perfect thing before they even try to do it. A lot of good material gets thrown by the wayside because of that, and I love working with Myles because it’s really easy because there’s no squabbling, we just sort of go for it and see what happens.
“It’s a really cohesive, creative relationship that way.”
Kennedy also filled in for no-surprise no-show Axl Rose when Guns N’ Roses were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, singing Paradise City, Sweet Child o’ Mine and mr. Brownstone with Slash and Steven Adler, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Gilby Clarke.
It was just after that ceremony that Slash told Guitar World magazine that the event was likely the last of countless nails in the lid of the coffin for any kind of reunion of the original GN’R lineup with Axl Rose, but he doesn’t want to downplay the honour of the induction.
“when Guns was first nominated, I was very, sort of like, ‘Ohhh, you know…,’” he says with a heavy sigh. “at that time, I just wished it would go away. But all of a sudden we were inducted, and I was thinking about the ceremony and wondering how we were going to pull it off knowing the dynamics of the relationships between certain members of the band.
“when our moment came to accept our, uh, ‘surprise’ I guess you might want to call it, it was interesting to see what kind of an impact those records had that I hadn’t really realized before, on such a wide scale. It was a really nice feeling.”
Slash cites Kiss, Rush, Deep Purple and Cheap Trick as acts that all should have been members long before Guns N’ Roses, but now that he has the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on his resume, he feels he can help those acts that helped make his career happen.
“now that I’m an inductee, I can actually vote, so I can see if I can get some of those people that influenced me in there, and also understand how the voting works and how people get overlooked.”