As founding members of Guns N' Roses, Slash and Duff Mckagen have always been members of an elite rock aristocracy. By 1989, they were the living embodiments of 80s excess. Their in-fights, parties and regular arrests became the heavily tattooed stuff of music legend. Now back with a new, and far more sober outfit, Velvet Revolver, featuring ex-Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland, the Slash effect has been selling out venues across the country. Nuts caught up with them in a Manchester hotel room for a spot of tea and a trip down a very hazy memory lane.
After the excesses of Guns N' Roses, backstage at a Velvet Revolver gig is drier than a camel's tongue. When did you know the party was over?
Duff: My pancreas exploded. After three years on the Use Your Illusion tour, I finally got back to Seattle and was drinking a gallon of vodka a day. To cut down, I switched to wine. And Mandrax (drug, originally used as sleeping tablets). I was in my room withdrawing and had this sudden stabbing pain across my belly which spread down my thighs. My pancreas had exploded, spraying stomach acid all over my vital organs and giving me third-degree internal burns. When the specialist looked at my ultrasound scan I watched his face turn white. That was a very clarifying moment for me. When you shock a specialist you know you're in trouble.
Slash: I woke up in the hospital at the end of the last Snakepit tour and was told that I had between three weeks and six months to live. Apparently, my heart had expanded to about ten times its normal size. Just from drinking. All day, every day. The final years of GN'R had a constant black cloud hanging over them, so Duff and I just drank them away.
What's your poison these days?
Duff: Martial arts. I just spent two hours in the gym kickboxing. And I work out really fucking hard. I've got a wife and two girls now, I don't want any more poisons. Back then... oh man, I wouldn't be doing this interview. I'd be out hunting the next score.
Slash: I've kept the booze and cigarettes. But when you say booze, automatically Jack on the rocks come to mind. But I'm not like that at all any more. I know I have to watch my shit. I never want to go back to that place where I have to have a Jack and Coke in the morning just to get my head steady. No way.
Which has been the hardest addiction to kick?
Slash: Alcohol is the hardest thing to kick.
Duff: And then being addicted to alcohol and cocaine at the same time is just a fucking bitch.
You've worked with Iggy Pop, Michael Jackson and Axl Rose. Who was the most insane?
Slash: Iggy is far from insane, although I did go and see him in a mental hospital with my mum once. I guess he was insane then. But he's certainly not now. Michael Jackson is one of the most intense talents I have ever worked with. Aside from introducing me to his chimps and having all those kids around backstage, I never noticed anything abnormal about him. Except his nose. So of the three, Axl is the most insane.
Duff: This guru lady would come out on the road with us and she took Axl for a fucking ride. In France, she would tell him he was Napoleon in a previous life and, in Israel, he was the Roman soldier who stabbed Jesus on the cross. And he believed all this shit. If anything went wrong it was because there was some intergalactic battle going on out there between past lives or something. Obviously, it had nothing to do with the fact that we were always fucked.
Slash: We made a big mistake with Axl. He was nuts when we first met him. He was too erratic and too violent and unpredictable, even for me. Hanging around with him was like being in a constant state of chaos with no point to it. As time wore on, he got more and more out there and we couldn't argue with him. It all got out of hand when Yoda and her fucking guards started coming on the road.
Describe the stupidest fight you've ever had with a bandmate.
Duff: We actually turned it into an album title. The Spaghetti Incident. We were staying in Chicago writing songs for Illusions in these apartments above an Italian joint and we would get a lot of spaghetti sent up. Steven (Adler, GN'R drummer) had started using "spaghetti" as a codeword for his cocaine, which he also kept in the fridge. One night, he was completely out of his mind and comes storming out of his room screaming at us for stealing his spaghetti. We had no fucking idea what he was talking about, so we are all going, "Steven, no one has eaten any spaghetti." Then he just went crazy and completely trashed the apartment.
Slash: I got into trouble with my band the other night. We'd gone to the most low-rent, ghetto awards ceremony I have ever been to. It was a great excuse for me to sit there and get drunk while they had to watch. I got a lot of shit the next day for that. And I only had two beers and two shots. And a glass of wine.
What's your most Spinal Tap moment?
Duff: Last night we couldn't find the stage. Fuck... it happens all the time. There are loads of kids outside, so we are rushed in for the sound check and get taken through the wrong door. Lost. That happens about one in every five gigs. That's the moment when you start shouting, "Rock n' roll! Cleveland!"
Is there anything you can't do while smoking?
Slash: I don't think so. I really used to freak Axl out because I would smoke in the shower. He was positive it couldn't be done. But it can.
Def Leppard legendarily used to select girls for their aftershow parties by breast weight. What was your selection process?
Duff: They did that? That's hilarious. Back then we had this huge stage with personal rooms at the back where we could go for some coke or a drink, whatever. The road manager would bring girls back there and you'd either give the thumbs-up or thumbs-down. And if it was the thumbs-up, the girl would be waiting in the car for you after the gig.
Slash: After Led Zeppelin's excess, everything became a parody. By the 80s, everyone had a dumb trick for getting girls backstage.
Slash, your mum's a clothing designer. Did she ever make any of your stage wear?
Slash: Actually, yes she did. She once made me the coolest pair of leather trousers I have ever had. And then I used to borrow some of her hats from time to time as well.
When it was all happening with GN'R, what was the real "Oh my God!" moment?
Slash: It was when we played Castle Donington in 1988 things got serious. Fourth on the bill, we walk out after a shitty sound check in the rain. There was no sign it was going to be the event it turned into. Then, suddenly, a sea of people are all jumping in time. It was overwhelming. But then, to take the whole euphoric moment and have it flushed down the toilet, we discover afterwards that two guys were trampled to death in the surge.
Duff: It was bitter-sweet to put it fucking lightly. That was when it stopped being all laughs and we suddenly had a responsibility. You begin to think stuff like, if we'd never formed a band, those guys would still be alive today. Anyway, that was why it was such a big deal when Axl started missing shows. When that asshole wouldn't show up for hours we were scared for the safety of our fans. There would be riots.
There were a lot of beautiful women around back then. Which on your bandmate's girlfriends did you secretly fancy?
Duff: Slash and I shared a few girls. There was one in particular who was with him for a while but there was never any jealousy. We were too close for that. It was always, "Good for him."
Slash: Everyone in the band had their own taste and we never crossed those boundaries, although for some reason the lead singer always wants to fuck the lead guitar player's girlfriend. The most interesting of the bunch for me was Stephanie Seymour because she was fun to hang out with. But I wouldn't have done anything. Too close to home.
What part of the Guns N' Roses legacy really annoys you the most?
Slash: Let me tell you, the only thing that annoys me nowadays is constantly being asked questions about why we really broke up. Questions I really have no fucking answer for.
Duff: What you have to understand is that we were just totally different guys back then. I mean, outside the band we were into completely different things. I would be listening to Prince, Steve would be listening to WASP and Axl would be listening to George Michael. Oh yeah, he was totally into Faith. He really loved the production and George's voice, apparently. But it was never bullshit, you know. We meant it all.
IN A NUTSHELL
Guns N' Roses: they put the rock in rock n' roll...
By 1989, Guns N' Roses were the biggest band in the world and their debut album, Appetite For Destruction, had sold over 20 million copies worldwide. Ten years later, it was still selling 433,000 copies worldwide.
The original sleeve, based on the Robert Williams painting Appetite For Destruction - depicting a robot rapist getting a kicking - was withdrawn soon after release and only used in a few countries.
Slash's later band, Snakepit, was named after an apartment he shared with Axl and the other Gunners in LA before Appetite was released. Axl later described it as, "No big deal. Just a lot of naked women and my snakes."
Slash, born Saul Hudson in Stoke-On-Trent in 1965, did not actually get American citizenship until 1996 - so technically, throughout Guns N' Roses, he was a Brit. Nowadays, though, he has dual nationality.
Before GN'R, Slash was a professional BMX rider as a teenager, but hasn't owned a bike since 1991. "I'd be fucking embarrassed to try a bunnyhop now," he says.