Cutting like a knife out of nowhere in the late '80s, Slash (formerly known as Saul Hudson) soon established himself as one of the premier hard rock guitarists in Guns n' Roses, the hellbent-for-rebellion rock band. Despite the immense popularity of the band, however, musical differences arose between him and lead vocalist Axl Rose, leading to Slash's departure from the band in 1996.
Since that time he's not only made a name for himself as one of the most in-demand and high-profile session guitarists in the business - playing with a diversity of artists such as Bob Dylan, Motorhead, Carole King and Rod Stewart - but has recently hit the road with his newfound band, Slash's Snakepit, in support of their sophomore effort "Ain't Life Grand."
In a telephone interview from Dallas, Texas, ConcertLivewire's Tony Bonyata found the guitarist in a relaxed, friendly mood - happy to chat about his new band, snakes, pinball and life without Guns n' Roses.
Livewire: How's the Snakepit tour going so far?
Slash: Great! We've been getting really great responses from our audiences.
Livewire: I understand that you got very ill earlier this year and had to cancel a string of shows backing up AC/DC.
Slash: That's correct.
Livewire: That must've been quite a letdown for you.
Slash: Yeah, it really was. It was a matter of bad timing. I had caught something that I guess I was carrying around for some time and it just happen to fall right at the same place where AC/DC's tour was going to start.
Livewire: Didn't you do some touring with them last year?
Slash: Yeah, we did. It was a huge concert for us because that was one of our first times going out.
Livewire: How's the response been to your most recent album "Ain't Life Grand"?
Slash: Wonderful! Really great. We end up staying after the shows and do autograph signings. And the response has also been amazing with the Internet.
Livewire: I see that you've recently changed labels from Geffen to Interscope. Have they given your band a strong enough publicity push?
Slash: No, no, no. That was a while ago. And what really happened is the two companies merged. I guess we've been getting a good push from them - as much as possible. Being a rock band is very fickle in this kind of late '80s, early '90s, millennium confusion.
Livewire: After you left Guns n' Roses you started up a band called Blues Ball. How does the music of Snakepit differ from that band?
Slash: Well, the main thing with Blues Ball was that it was a band doing a bunch of covers. It was very spontaneous. We did covers of Dylan, Zeppelin and things like that. Snakepit really evolved out of Blues Ball. With Snakepit it's pretty much the same but a lot harder.
Livewire: It seems that you're happy with your current band.
Slash: It's great. I've got a group of talented musicians with similar musical tastes and we have the same kind of ambitious unity...and we're functional! (laughs) It's my second shot at it.
Livewire: Kind of like finding a good wife.
Slash: Right, right. And you can only take so many shots at it.
Livewire: Which do you prefer more - writing and recording your material or performing it live?
Slash: Actually to tell you the truth, I think I enjoy touring more. I enjoy recording and the whole process, but really in anticipation of the tour, you know what I mean? I don't think I'd enjoy it as much if I knew that I wasn't going to be taking it out on the road.
Livewire: Do you get the same buzz from your live gigs with Snakepit as you did performing with Guns n' Roses?
Slash: Probably, although I wouldn't want to go so far as to say more so. Snakepit is really special to me. It gives me a chance to do something that Guns couldn't conceivably keep doing, which is to maintain that street-level kind of hard rock edge.
Livewire: Wasn't that one of the main reasons you left Guns n' Roses - because you wanted to keep your hard edge, while Axl wanted to take it somewhere else.
Slash: Yeah, that's right. Axl wanted to incorporate a more industrial sound into the music.
Livewire: Have you heard any of their new material, yet?
Slash: Yeah, I've heard a couple of things on Napster.
Livewire: Do you believe that Axl has taken the music where he intended - to a more techno / industrial sound?
Slash: From the little I heard, I don't believe I can tell. I haven't heard enough of the album to get a good representation of the whole record. But it sounded like more in the direction that he described to me. I'm one of the biggest fans of Guns n' Roses. It''ll be interesting.
Livewire: Wouldn't you find it upsetting, though, if the new Guns n' Roses material didn't have that industrial sound and sounded more like the hard rocking band of old?
Slash: Oh, I'd be very surprised and confused (laughs). But I believe that Axl's doing what he intended.
Livewire: Do you have any open communications with Axl?
Slash: No, I haven't talked to him since I left. So it's probably been 5 or 6 years.
Livewire: Are there any ill feelings between the two of you?
Slash: No, it's not that. It's just, once that decision was made - where I finally decided that I was going to leave - I don't think either one of us really had much to talk about. It wasn't the most amicably split, but then again it wasn't fire and brimstone, either.
Livewire: If the circumstances were right, would you ever consider rejoining Guns n' Roses?
Slash: Well, that's the question everybody asks. I suppose if it were one show or one project, maybe. But it's hard to say. I'm happy right where I am.
Livewire: Guns n' Roses was one of those classic rock bands, where the vocalist and the guitarist are the central focus of the band, such as Page / Plant, Perry / Tyler and Mick and Keith. It seems to me, and probably a lot of your fans as well, that Guns n' Roses without either Axl or Slash just isn't the same band.
Slash: Although there might be a comparison to all those guys you mentioned, Guns n' Roses was really a band effort. It wasn't just Axl and myself.
Livewire: How about the rest of members from Guns n' Roses? Do you still work with any of them?
Slash: I've played with Izzy on a couple of things and recorded for Duff's [McKagen] record. That's about it. I talk to those guys quite often. They're the bricklayers of the backline.
Livewire: I understand you've got a passion for snakes.
Slash: Yeah, I keep them as pets because they're loners. They don't really need to spend a lot of time with you - you don't take them to parties (laughs). I've always had a fascination with snakes and reptiles and animals in general since I was young.
Livewire: And you're a big fan of pinball, as well, I understand.
Slash: Yeah, it was just one of those things I didn't even really discover until I was 27. I actually designed the Guns n' Roses pinball game. There were a lot of them made but they're pretty hard to find now. Apparently people just keep them in their collections.
Livewire: What about some of your other previous passions such as your affair with drugs. Is that behind you now?
Slash: Yeah. You know, you go through a lot in this business. And I was raised in an environment that was conducive to that lifestyle. My father was a graphic designer. He used to design album covers and things like that. And my mother was a clothes designer. She used to date David Bowie in the mid '70s and designed his costume for his Thin White Duke tour. So I was raised in an environment where that was part of the culture. While I'm still no angel, I'm a lot cleaner than when I was younger.
Livewire: You've played with so many musical legends, such as Iggy Pop, Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart and Michael Jackson. Do you have any favorite memories that stick in your mind, playing with any of them?
Slash: They're all pretty special experiences. Recording with Iggy Pop was a big one for me. It's interesting that Lenny Kravitz and I went to the same school.
Livewire: Were you both in the same class?
Slash: No, I was actually in a class for kids who we're a little screwed up (laughs).
Livewire: Is there anyone you haven't worked with, that you'd like to?
Slash: Stevie Wonder. He's one of my personal favorites. I really don't spend my time pondering who I'd like to play with, though. It's usually a really spontaneous thing, like I get a call or set something up talking in a bar. Billy Bob Thorton is working on a new movie that I'm doing the music for.
Livewire: So artists usually call you to play with them?
Slash: Yeah, or it'll be at some sort of musical thing or we'll be talking at a club or something like that. I've yet to make a record, however, and have somebody else [famous] play on it.
Livewire: Maybe they're just waiting for your phone call.
Slash: Yeah, I guess (laughs).
Livewire: I see you're scheduled to perform with Michael Jackson for his upcoming 30th Anniversary Special.
Slash: Yeah, it's in September sometime. I don't know all the details, but they're taping it for television. That's actually a phone call I should be making today.
Livewire: Is there any truth to the rumor that you'll be performing with Britney Spears as part of that special?
Slash: Well, I know she's on there, but I don't think that we'll be on the same stage at the same time.
Livewire: I see you played a part last year in the movie "The Underground Comedy Movie." Do you plan on working more in films?
Slash: (laughs) If you've ever seen "Kentucky Fried Movie," it's kind of along those lines. No, it's not a career I plan on actively pursuing.
Livewire: Any surprises you'll be pulling out of your top hat in the near future?
Slash: Just getting into the shower and playing a great show tonight.