Slash: creative fire

After many bands, projects, and collaborations, it looks like guitar legend Slash, aka Saul Hudson, has found a place to lay down his hat again. But don’t get him wrong: although he gave it his name (or his pseudonym, rather), his latest project is a band in its own right, with “a definite chemistry”. In the following interview, the guitarist evokes something he hasn’t “really felt this since the early Guns N’ Roses days” – a strong statement. “Free”, “comfort”, “understanding” – the words the man in the hat uses explain why everything seems to be working so well with singer Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators (with Todd Kerns on bass and Brent Fitz on drums). For Slash, this is a “blessing”, a collaboration that came naturally, without being planned. The best things in life are even better when you don’t expect them.

From this union came a first album, Apocalyptic Love, then a second, World On Fire, released last September, full to bursting with rock n’ roll. Slash in all his glory. Slash in all his generosity. We were lucky enough to question him on all these subjects and many more (he confessed, in particular, to being a Gojira fan). He answered in his surprisingly soft, calm voice, so at odds with the nervousness of his music, and yet perfectly in accord with the man’s genuine class.

« I definitely think that this particular bunch of guys and myself have hit on something I haven’t had in a really long time in terms of band feel. »

Radio Metal: World On Fire is your third album in only four years, and it actually contains no less than 17 songs. Do you feel like you’re being in very creative part of you life?

Slash: I guess so. Since 2009, it’s been pretty much straight productive time, so it’s pretty good.

17 songs and 77 minutes of music, we don’t see that too often in rock’n’roll music… Didn’t you hesitate to put so much music on one record?

Well, we wrote the music and we were all happy with everything, there was nothing that we wanted to throw away. Usually, for our last record and even my solo record before for instance, we had extra songs on all those records, but I would keep it at 12 and make everything else as bonus tracks, and then eventually put out a deluxe record and everything would be on there. It’s just complicated and what is often happening is you put bonus tracks on songs on different territories, and then one person in this territory is bound to get the song from somebody in another territory. And with the deluxe record, people feel like they’re being forced to buy another record. So on this one, we just said: “Fuck it, we’ll just put it all on there!”

Where does your creative flow come from, usually?

Uh, that’s a good question, I’m not really sure… [Thinking] Let’s see… Originally, I just like playing, more than anything! And whenever I’m playing and I’m writing, ideas are coming, and that’s it! I can’t think of any well that comes from. It just happens.

Apparently, you wrote the majority of the music on the Apocalyptic Love tour. Do you think this allowed you to catch the live energy of the tour and use it creatively?

No… I think what happens is exactly the opposite! When I’m sitting around with nothing to do, I always have my guitar with me, so I’m just playing, just sitting around in the dressing room, and what is often happening is that I stumble upon an idea that I record in the closest recording operator, which is usually my telephone. So that happens day in day out during the year when we’re out on the road, in dressing rooms, hotel rooms: if I have an idea that comes to me, I just get my guitar and record it. Sometimes I stumble on things, sometimes that comes from the show, I might make up something during the show, so I just make sure I record it. By the end of the tour, I usually take a couple of weeks to chill for a minute, then I feel the urge I have to get back to work, and so I listen to everything that I had recorded over the course of that year and pick out the good ideas, and then go and jam with the guys, and start working everything up into songs.

Is this how you have always proceeded?

Well, it really started more like since 2007-2008, and I think it had a lot to do with the fact that in the earlier parts of my career, I was way too busy at the bar! I didn’t have time to really put ideas down, and I have to admit, I’m not a big technology guy, but having voice memos that you can record in instantly makes it a lot easier. Because back in the old days, you used to have like a Tascam tape recorder out, and by the time I would be finished setting it up I wouldn’t even be feeling like playing anymore.

This is your second record as a band with Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators. How has the chemistry and the relationship between the band members evolved since the first one?

I think it’s been really good. We have a definite chemistry from the first rehearsal, and it was really a blessing because I wasn’t thinking anywhere in the future what I was gonna be doing. I was just trying to put something together to support my first solo record, and once we started playing together, I was like: “These guys are really good!” So we went out on the road, we just had a really good time and I thought I would record my next record with these guys. And so I wrote material on the road, then went in the studio and made Apocalyptic Love, and then we went out on tour for that record, and it just kept growing. I think by this time we had found a nice comfort zone where everybody felt a lot of freedom, and we really established an understanding of how we all play… Just what happens naturally with a band. That’s how we were able to get in the studio and come up with 17 songs fairly quickly.

Just like Apocalyptic Love, World On Fire was recorded live. Is this a way to catch the raw energy of the band, and to get closer to what you deliver in your live shows?

Right! I think every record I’ve ever done was recorded live in a studio. But Apocalyptic Love was recorded live, guitar solos and everything, and just kept like that: no overdubs, no whatever. On this one, I went back to the old way of recording live and then redoing the guitars. But to answer your question, the key way of capturing a rock’n’roll band is to catch it live with everybody playing together. It’s really integral, because you need the interaction of the musicians to make the dynamics of the music work.

 » I don’t have a problem with modern technology […] Especially, you shouldn’t use it if it’s a crutch, like if you use it to write your songs or to make a band play something that they can’t play and that kind of shit. »

I’ve read that this album was recorded to tape. Is it important for you do to it the old, traditional way?

I just like the way the tape sounds. The warmth the tape brings to the drums and to the guitars is something that digital hasn’t managed to achieve yet.

Do you think that modern technology tends to remove the soul from the recordings?

Well, I don’t have a problem with modern technology. I think modern technology is amazing. I think what people are capable of coming up with… It’s part of the human nature to just keep progressing, so I appreciate it and there’s a lot of great stuff that just come out as a result of that, but I don’t necessarily think you have to use all of it, and especially, you shouldn’t use it if it’s a crutch, like if you use it to write your songs or to make a band play something that they can’t play and that kind of shit. So in recording, what we do is we record the tape, then we put the tape in the Pro Tools. We use a lot of modern equipment; it’s not designed to be consciously a retro thing. It’s just that we use what we think is right.

It feels like you’re really having a blast with this band. Does it have something that your previous bands might have been lacking of?

I definitely think that this particular bunch of guys and myself have hit on something I haven’t had in a really long time in terms of band feel. I played with a lot of really good musicians and had some good bands, but this one is pretty unique and special, and I haven’t really felt this since the early Guns N’ Roses days, when that first came together.

Do you consider Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators as your main act now?

It’s definitely my main musical thing, yeah!

What is your ambition with this band? Do you consider it as something you could make into a long career?

Well, I don’t really look at it like that. I’m looking forward to this tour that we’re gonna do, and to see these songs come to life in a live situation and all that. Chances are while this next tour will be going on we’ll also be working on new material for the next one. I live moment to moment. I’m not really big on the long-term, big pictures concept…

You play a lot of Guns N’ Roses songs live with your solo band. What are your thoughts when you hear Myles Kennedy sing them? Do you feel like he’s giving them sort of a new life?

Uh, I don’t know about him necessarily giving it a new life, I don’t know if they necessarily need that. I like performing any of the stuff from the old catalogue; it’s just fun for me. The great thing about Miles is he has a strange way of somehow making the songs his own while still maintaining the integrity of the melody and the way the song is supposed to sound. It’s a very unique gift, because usually what happens is when somebody else is singing a song they just change it, and the song is pretty different. I just think we have a good time doing it, and we’re not really trying to change or add anything to the songs or give them a new life. We’re just doing it for the fun of it, but it sounds pretty good.

How would you compare Slash from the Guns N’ Roses days and the Slash you are today? How have you evolved, both as a musician and as a person?

Well… That’s hard to answer. I feel like the same person. I haven’t changed drastically. I’m still pursuing the same things, but I’ve learned a lot along the way and hopefully as a guitar player I’ve gotten better. I would like to think I’ve gotten better, and I’ve gotten better as a songwriter and hopefully, I’m in my natural state that I should be in to this point.

The music on World On Fire sounds very much like you. Is it important for you to stay true to yourself and true to what people may expect from you?

Staying true to myself is important. I wouldn’t pursue anything that I’d feel uncomfortable doing. I’ve been put in that musical situation before where I’ve had to adapt to, and that’s OK if I’m jamming with somebody else but in what it is that I do, I just do what comes naturally… And what was the other part of the question?

Do you try to conform to what people may expect from you?

Oh, I’m not sure what people’s expectations necessarily are. I think if I’m happy with what I’m doing, then people will accept it as me just being me. [Laughs]

I’ve seen a photo of you together with the guys from the band Gojira. They’re very much the pride of the hard rock and metal community here in France. What are your thoughts about this band?

They’re fucking awesome! I got turned onto them through Roadrunner, the record company. There’s lots of metal bands and I’m a metal fan but these guys have a very unique sound and style. I just really love them, so yeah, I go to see them when they come in L.A.

« I live moment to moment. I’m not really big on the long-term, big pictures concept… »

About that: do you keep yourself up to date with the current rock and metal scene?

Yeah, I’m always keen to hear anything that’s new and that’s good. I’m always busy so it’s hard for me to keep my pulse on everything that’s going on, but I’m definitely keeping my mind open to hear something exciting.

What bands have impressed you lately?

Well, obviously the Gojira band and I love the Kvelertak band. Do you know Kvelertak? They’re Swedish, they’re a metal band too but sort of punk-metal. There’s a band called Monster Truck from Canada that I like, there’s another band that I think is from New York called Scorpion Child that I think is really good, I like Rival Sons, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them… There’s different bands that are doing cool things, and I’m keen to see when we go out on the road what bands we’ll pick up as we’re going.

With the success of you solo band, the other members being busy with other projects and the difficulty to find a new singer, do you still see any chance for Velvet Revolver to get active in the future?

There might be. I like to think that the right person to sing for Velvet Revolver will present himself at some point… With bands in general, you sort of know it when you hear it. We have auditions from time to time, we try out different ideas, somebody mentions somebody that might be good for it so we check it out, so there’s a little activity that’s still going on. And so I would imagine at some point there will be another Velvet Revolver record.

You have founded Slasher Films, a horror production company. What’s your relationship with horror movies?

I’m a big horror fan. Pretty much as long as I’ve been listening to music I’ve been a horror fan. I never thought about making horror movies, but then a couple of years ago, I was given the opportunity to produce horror movies: I met a producer, we had a long conversation, he realized how much I knew about horror movies, about my taste in horror movies and everything horror that I know. He was surprised, and he said: “You should produce!” And I was like: “What would I know about producing?” And he told me: “You know, I’m just gonna send you scripts and we’re gonna talk about them…” So over the course of the year he sent me countless scripts, I read them all, picking out the ones that I thought were good, and then finally we agreed to develop this one particular script, which was Nothing Left To Fear. So we went and started to produce, I had to interview directors and start casting, locations scouting… The main thing was raising the money to make the movie and all that kind of stuff. It was a real crash course in movie producing, but we did make the movie, and it actually came out really good for the amount of money that we had to make it. Now, having done that one, I’m knee-deep in the next one. So I’m planning to continue doing it.

Can you recall any song of yours that might have been actually inspired by a horror movie?

Let me see… I think that actually some music and riffs were, not necessarily the lyrics, because I don’t write the lyrics on most of the stuff… There was definitely a song on the new record called “The Unholy” that wasn’t inspired by any particular movie but by how I like to write for movies, and trying to take the particular direction that I go in when I’m writing for a movie and apply it to what I do in a rock band. So that was interesting. But there was definitely riffs over the years like “My Michelle” that was definitely sort of a movie-themed kind of a riff. There are other ones too, it’s just that there’s too many songs for me to try and pick out which ones are which…

You’re going to be an executive producer for the western thriller Cut Throats Nine…

That’s the movie I’m talking about!

OK! So can you tell me more about it?

Nothing Left To Fear was a supernatural, possession horror movie. This one is a very realistic, gritty period piece. It’s only a western in the fact that it’s set in a sort of badlands, like Montana or Calgary, in the early 1900s’. It’s not really about cowboys and indians, bows and arrows… It’s about nine convicts who each are particularly savage, and who are about to be transported from the jail where they’ve been held to a court house where they’re gonna be tried and hung. There’s a retiring general who is responsible, it’s his last job, he’s getting them from point A to point B. And it’s just himself, his daughter and a couple of deputies in a carriage. All the prisoners are chained together, and in this journey, a lot of very bad things happen. It’s a really, really great script.

Interview conducted on June, 6th 2014 by Chloé.
Transcription : Chloé.
Questions & introduction : Spaceman.

Slash official website: Slashonline.com

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