W. Axl Rose is pissed off. Not, thankfully, in the grand manner to which he sometimes is accustomed : no glass smashing, no room wrecking. But he has a bee in his bonnet that he wants squashing....and so what if it’s nearly midnight, why don’t I come over right now and take down some kinda statement? Well.....why not? Sleep’s for creeps anyway, or so they say in LA. So I hot-rod my tape-machine, scuttle down a coupla quick beers and head over to Axl’s West Hollywood apartment. Axl meets me at the door with eyebrows like thunder clouds.
« I can’t believe this shit I just read in Kerrang! » he scowls.
« Which shit are you referring to? » I ask.
« This shit ! », he growls, holding up a copy of Kerrang dated November 4, 1989 in his hand, yanked open at a page from Jon Hotten’s interview with Mötley Crüe.
« The interviewer asks Vince Neil about him throwing a punch at Izzy backstage at the MTV awards last year, and Vince replies », he begins, reading aloud in a voice heavy with sarcasms : « ‘ I just punched that dick and broke his fucking nose! Anybody who beats up on a woman deserves to get the shit kicked out of them. Izzy hit my wife, a year before I hit him.’ Well, that’s just a crock of shit! Izzy never touched that chick! If anybody tried to hit on anything, it was her trying to hit on Izzy when Vince wasn’t around. Only Izzy didn’t buy it. So that’s what that’s all about.... But this bit, man, where Vince says our manager, Alan Niven, wasn’t around, and that afterwards he walked straight past Izzy and me and we didn’t do a thing, that’s such a lot of bullshit, I can’t believe that asshole said those things in private, let alone to the fucking press! »
« The whole story is, Vince Neil took a pot-shot at Izzy as he was walkin’ off stage at the MTV awards, after jammin’ with Tom Petty, because Vince’s wife has got a bug up her ass about Izzy. Izzy doesn’t know what’s going on, Izzy doesn’t fuckin’ care. But anyway, Izzy’s just walked off stage. He’s momentarily blinded, as always happens when you come off stage, by coming from the stark stage-lights straight into total darkness side-stage. Suddenly, Vince pops up out of nowhere and lays one on Izzy. Tom Petty’s security people jump on him and ask Alan Niven, our manager who had his arm ‘round Izzy’s shoulders when Vince bopped him, if he wants to press charges. He asks Izzy and Izzy says : ‘Naw, it was only like bein’hit by a girl!’ and they let him go », he smiles mirthlessly.
« Meantime, I don’t know nuthin’. I’m walking way up ahead of everybody else, and the next thing I know Vince Neil comes flying past me like his ass is on fire or s omething. All I saw was a blur of cheekbones! I tell ya, man, it makes my blood boil when I read him saying all that shit about how he kicked Izzy’s ass. Turn the fuckin’ tape recorder on. I wanna set the record straight. I mean, when Vince did that, we were advised we could sue his ass off if we’d wanted to. But we said no, fuck it, who needs the grief? The guy’s a jerk. Fuck the courts, the guy needs a good ass-whippin’! And now I read this - we get Kerrang a little late here in LA - and I tell ya, he’s gonna get a good ass-whippin’, and I’m the boy to give it to him..... It’s like, whenever you wanna do it, man, let’s just do it. I wanna see that plastic face of his cave in when I hit him ! »
« Are you serious about this? », I ask him.
He nods vigorously.
« There’s only one way out for that fucker now and that’s if he apologises in public, to the press, to Kerrang and its readers, and admits he was lyin’ when he said those things in that interview. Personally, I don’t think he has the balls. But that’s the gauntlet, and I’m throwing it down. Hey, Vince, whichever way you wanna go, man : guns, knives, or fists, whatever you wanna do, I don’t care. Turn on the machine... »
We settle back in the only two available chairs not smothered in magazines, ashtrays, barf-balls (one squeeze and fzzzttttt, it’s Johnny Fartpants a-go-go) and other assorted crap. I fix up my machine and we start to roll....
Axl scrunches up on the balcony window which affords an impressive cinema-scope view of the twinkling footlights of the billowing Hollywood hills below. It reminds me of the sort of backcloth you might see on something like ‘Late night with David Letterman’. I wait for the band to cool out and the applause from the studio audience to die down before I hit tonight’s star turn with my first question...
K : You don’t seriously believe Vince will take up the gauntlet and arrange to meet you and fight it out, do you?
A : I’ve no idea what he will do. I mean, he could wait until I’m drunk in the Troubadour one night and come in because he got a phone call saying I’m there and hit me with a beer bottle. But it’s like, I don’t care. Hit me with a beer bottle, dude. Do whatever you wanna do but I’m gonna take you out....I don’t care what he does. Unless he sniper-shoots me - unless he gets me like that without me knowing it - I’m taking him with me and that’s about all there is to it.
K : What if Vince was to apologise?
A : That’d be radical! Personally, I don’t think he has the balls. I don’t think he has the balls to admit he’s been lying out of his ass. That’d be great if he did though, and t hen I wouldn’t have to be a dick from then on.
K : I heard that David Bowie apologised to you after the incident at your video-shoot.(the story goes that Axl got pissed off with the ageing superstar after he appeared to be getting a little too well acquainted with Axl’s girlfriend, Erin, during a visit last year to the set where the Gunners were making a -yet to see the light of day- video for ‘It’s so easy’. The upshot, apparently, was that Axl ended up aiming a few punches Bowie’s way before having him thrown off the set.)
A : Bowie and I had our differences. And then we talked and went out to dinner and then went down the China club and stuff. And when we left, I was like, « I wanna thank you for being the first person that’s ever come up to me in person and said how sorry they were about the situation and stuff. » It was cool, you know? And then I open up Rolling Stone the next day and there’s a story in there saying I’ve got no respect for the Godfather of Glam even though I wear make-up and all this bullshit... It’s laughable. I was out doing a soundcheck one day when we were opening for the Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton cornered me. I’m sittin’ on this amp and all of a sudden they’re both right there in front of me. And Jagger doesn’t really talk a lot, right? He’s just real serious about everything, and all of a sudden he’s like (adopts exaggerated Dick Van Dyke-style Cockney) : « So you got in a fight with Bowie, didja? ». So I told him the story real quick and him and Clapton are going off about Bowie in their own little world, talking about things from years ago. They were saying things like when Bowie gets drunk he turns into the Devil from Bromley.... I mean, I’m not even in this conversation. I’m just sittin’ there. Listening to ‘em bitch like crazy about Bowie. It was funny.
K : But you and the Thin White Duke are now best of buddies, is that right?
A : Well, I don’t know about ‘best of buddies’. But I like him a lot, yeah. We had a long talk about the business and stuff and I never anybody so cool and so into it and so whacked out and so sick in my life...I remember lookin’ over at Slash and going : « Man, we’re in fucking deep trouble » and he goes « Why? » and I go « Because I got a lot in common with this guy. I mean, I’m pretty sick but this guy’s just fuckin’ ill ! ». And Bowie sitting there laughing and talking about « One side of me is experimental and the other side of me wants to make something that people can get into, and I DON’T KNOW FUCKING WHY! WHY AM I LIKE THIS ? » And I’m sitting there thinking, I’ve got 20 more years of...that to look forward to? I’m already like that...20 more years? What am I gonna do? (laughs)
K : They say that every successful band needs a dictator in the line-up to kick butt and keep things moving. Do you think that’s one of the roles you fulfill in Guns N’ Roses-the dictator of the band?
A : Depends who you ask and on which day. We got into fights in Chicago, when we went there last year to escape LA and try and get some writing done. Everybody’s timing schedules were weird and we were all showing up at different times. But when I would show up I was like,OK, let’s do this, let’s do that, let’s do this one of yours Slash, OK, now let’s hear that one Duff’s got....And that’s when everybody would decide I was a dictator, a completely selfish dick, y’know? But fuck, man, as far as I was concerned we were on a roll. Slash is complaining we’re getting nothing done and I’m like « What do you mean? We just put down six new parts for songs! We’ve got all this stuff done in, like, a couple of weeks. » And he was like « Yeah, but I’ve been sitting here a month on my ass waitin’ for you to show up » I had driven cross-country in my truck to Chicago from LA and it had taken me weeks. So suddenly, like, everything’s a bummer and it’s all my fault. But after working with Jagger it was like, don’t anybody ever call me a dictator again. You go work for the Stones and you’ll find out the hard way what working for a real dictator is like!
K : Apart from that one brief conversation about Bowie, did you get to hang with Jagger or any of the rest of the members of the Rolling Stones when you supported them last year?
A : Not really. Not Jagger, anyway. That guy walks off stage and does paper work. He checks everything. That guy is involved in every little aspect of the show, from what the backing singers are getting paid to what a particular part of the PA costs to buy or hire. He is on top of all of it. Him and his lawyer and a couple of guys he hangs out with. But basically, it’s all him. And this is where I sympathise. I mean, I don’t sit around checking the gate receipts at the end of every show, but sometimes the frontman.....I don’t know. You don’t plan on that job when you join the band. You don’t want that job. You don’t wanna be that guy to the guys in your band that you hang out with and you look up to. But somebody’s got to do it. And the guitar player can’t do it because he is not the guy who has to be communicating directly with the audience with eye-contact and body movements. He can go back, hang his hair down in his face and stand by the amps and just get into his guitar part....
K : How do you manage to ‘communicate directly’ with the crowd when you’re playing in one of those 70,000-seater stadiums like the one you played in with the Stones?
A : You have to learn how, but it can be done. You know, like someone goes, « You’re gonna have this huge arena tour next year, dude! ». And I go, « I know, but that’s the problem. I can work a stadium now. » And I can. And if I can work it, then that’s what I wanna do. It’s just bigger and more fun.
K : Do tell me about how things are coming together for the new LP.
A : It’s coming together just great. Cos Slash is on like a motherfucker right now. The songs are coming together - they’re coming together real heavy. I’ve written all these ballads and Slash has written all these really heavy crunch rockers. It makes for a real interesting kinda confusion....
K : What about Steven Adler, your drummer? First he’s out of the band, then he’s back again. What’s the story right now?
A : He is back in the band. He was definitely out of the band. He wasn’t necessarily fired, we worked with Adam Maples, we worked with Martin Chambers, and Steven did the Guns N’ Roses thing and got his shit together. And it worked, and he did it, and he plays the songs better than any of ‘em, just bad-assed, and he’s GNR. And so if he doesn’t blow it, we’re going to try the album with him, and the tour and, you know, we’ve worked out a contract with him....
K : So you told him he had to stop taking drugs or he was out of the band?
A : Yeah, exactly. But, you know, it’s worked out. It’s finally back on and we’re hoping it continues. It’s only been a few days so far. It’s only been since Thursday last week, and he’s doing great. We’re all just hoping it continues.
K : How different has it been writing these new songs compared to the way you wrote songs for Appetite for destruction?
A : One reason things have been so hard, in a way, is this. The first album was basically written with Axl comin’ up with maybe one line, and maybe a melody for that line, or how I’m gonna say it or yell it or whatever. And the band would build a song around it. This time round...Izzy’s brought in eight songs at least, OK? Slash has brought in an album, I’ve brought in an album. And Duff’s brought in one song - Duff said it all in one song- it’s called ‘Why do you look at me when you hate me?’ and it’s just bad-assed. None of this ever happened before. I mean, before the first album, I think Izzy had written one song in his entire life, ya know? But they’re coming now... And Izzy has this, like, very wry sense of humour, man. He’s got this song about...(half-singing the lyrics) : « She lost her mind today, got splattered out on the highway, I say that’s OK... » (laughs) ! It’s called ‘Dust and bones’, I think, and it’s great. The rhythm reminds me of something like ‘Cherokee people’ by Paul Revere and the Raiders, only really weird and rocked out. It’s a weird song. But then it is by Izzy, what can I tell you?
K : You seem very happy now you’re back with the band in a recording studio. You like recording?
A : Yeah, I do. I prefer recording to doing a live gig, unless I’m psyched for the gig. Before the gig I always don’t wanna do that fuckin’ show, and nine times out of 10 I hate it. If I’m psyched it’s like, let’s go ! But most of the time I’m mad about something, or something’s going fucking wrong....I don’t enjoy most of it at all.
K : Isn’t that partly your own fault, though? Some people have accused you of having a very belligerent attitude.
A : I don’t know exactly....Something always fucking happens before the show. Somethin’ always happens and I react like a motherfucker to it. I don’t like to have this pot-smoking mentality of just letting things go by. I don’t feel like Lenny Kravitz : like, peace and love, man, for sure, or you’re gonna fuckin’ die ! (laughs) ! I’m gonna kick yer ass if you mess with my garden, you know? That’s always been my attitude.
K : Do you think that attitude has hardened, though, with the onset of this enormous fame and notoriety you now enjoy?
A : Meaning what exactly?
K : Do you act the way you do because your fame and popularity allows you to, or would you act that way anyway?
A : I’ve always been that way, but now I’m in a position to just be myself more. And the thing is, people do allow me to do it, whether they like it or not. It’s weird.
K : Do you ever take unfair advantage of that, though?
A : (long pause)....No. No, usually I’m just an emotionally unbalanced person. (laughs) No, really, I’m usually an emotional wreck before a show because of something else that’s going on in my life. I mean, as I say, somethin’ weird just always happens to me two seconds before I’m supposed to go onstage, you know? Like I found William Rose. Turns out, he was murdered in 84 and buried somewhere in Illinois, and I found that out like two days before a show and I was fucking whacked! I mean, I’ve been trying to uncover this mystery since I was a little kid. I didn’t even know he existed until I was a teenager, you know? Cos I was told it was the Devil that made me know what the inside of a house looked like that I’d supposedly never lived in. So I’ve been trying to track down this William Rose guy. Not like, I love this guy, he’s my father. I just wanna know something about my heritage....weird shit like am I going to have an elbow that bugs the shit out of me when I get 40 cos of some hereditary trait? Weird shit ordinary families take for granted.
K : You say your father was murdered?
A : Yeah, he was killed. It was probably like at close-range too, man. Wonderful family.....
K : You’ve taken a lot of personal criticism for the more brutal aspects of the lyrics to your songs, ‘One in a million’ being the most obvious example. Do you think your critics miss a lot of the humour in your songs?
A : To appreciate the humour in our work you gotta be able to relate to a lot of different things. And not everybody does. Not everybody can. With ‘One in a million’, I used a word - it’s part of the English language whether it’s a good word or not. It’s a derogatory word, it’s a negative word. It’s not meant to sum up the entire black race, but it was directed towards black people in those situations. I was robbed, I was ripped-off, I had my life threatened! And it’s like, I described it in one word. And not only that, but I wanted to see the effect of a racial joke. I wanted to see what effect that would have on the world. Slash was into it.... I mean, the song says « Don’t wanna buy none of your gold chains today ». Now a black person on the Oprah Winfrey show who goes « Oh, they’re putting down black people! » is going to fuckin’ take one of these guys at the bus stop home and feed him and take care of him and let him babysit the kids? They ain’t gonna be near the guy ! I don’t think every black person is a nigger. I don’t care. I consider myself kinda green and from another planet or something, you know? I’ve never felt I fit into any group, so to speak. A black person has this 300 years of whatever on his shoulders. OK. But I ain’t got nothing to do with that. It bores me too. There’s such a thing as too sensitive. You can watch a movie about someone blowing all the crap outta all these people, but you could be the most anti-violent person in the world. But you get off on this movie, like, yeah! He deserved it, you know, the bad guy got shot... Something I’ve noticed that’s really weird about ‘One in a million’ is the whole song coming together took me by surprise. I wrote the song as a joke. West (Arkeen, co-lyricist of ‘It’s so easy’ amongst other songs) just got robbed by two black guys on Christmas night, a few years back. He went out to play on Hollywood boulevard and he’s standing there playing in front of the band and he gets robbed at knife point for 78 cents. A couple of days later we’re all sittin’ around watchin’ TV - there’s Duff and West and a couple other guys - and we’re all bummed out, hungover and this and that. And I’m sitting there with no money, no job, feelin’ guilty for being at West’s house all the time suckin’ up the oxygen, you know? And I picked up this guitar, and I can only play like the top two strings, and I ended up fuckin’ around with this little riff. It was the only thing I could play on the guitar at the time. And then I started ad-libbing some words to it as a joke. And we had just watched Sam Kinison or somethin’ on the video, you know, and I guess the humour was just sorta leanin’ that way anyway or somethin’. I don’t know. But we just started writing this thing, and when I sang « police and niggers, that’s right », that was to fuck with West’s head, cos he couldn’t believe I would write that! And it came out like that....then later on the chorus came about because I was like getting really far away, like ‘Rocket man’, Elton John. I was thinking about my friends and family in Indiana, and I realized those people have no concept of who I am anymore. Even the ones I was close to. Since then I’ve flown people out here, had’em hang out here, I’ve paid for everything. But there was no joy in it for them. I was smashin’ shit, going fuckin’ crazy. And yet, trying to work. And they were going, « Man, I don’t wanna be a rocker any more, not if you go through this ». But at the same time, I brought’em out, you know, and we just hung out for a couple of months - wrote songs together, had serious talks, it was almost like bein’ on acid cos we’d talk about the family and life and stuff, and we’d get really heavy and get to know each all over again. It’s hard to try and replace eight years of knowing each other every day, and then all of a sudden I’m in this new world. Back there I was a street kid with a skateboard and no money dreamin’ ‘bout being in a rock band, and now all of a sudden I’m here. And it’s weird for them to see their friends putting up Axl posters, you know? And it’s weird for me too. So anyway, all of a sudden I came up with this chorus « You’re one in a million », you know, and « we tried to reach you but you were much too high .... ».
K : So many of your lyrics are littered with drug analogies. Is that a fair comment?
A : Everybody was into dope then and those analogies are great in rock songs - Aerosmith done proved that on their old stuff, and the Stones. And drug analogies.... the language is always like the hippest language. A lot of hip-hop and stuff, even the stuff that’s anti-drugs, a lot of the terms comes directly from drug street-raps. Cos they’re always on top of stuff, cos they gotta change the language all the time so people don’t know what they’re saying, so they can, you know, keep dealing. Plus they’re trying to be the hippest, coolest, baddest thing out here. It happens. So that’s like, « we tried to reach you but you were much too high », I was picturing ‘em trying to call me if, like, I disappeared or died or something. And « you’re one in a million », someone said that to me real sarcastically, it wasn’t like an ego thing. But that’s the good thing, you use that « I’m one in a million » positively to make yourself get things done. But originally, it was kinda like someone went, « Yeah, you’re just fuckin’ one in a million, aren’t ya? », and it stuck with me. Then we go in the studio, and Duff plays the guitar much more aggressively than I did. Slash made it too tight and concise, and I wanted it a bit rawer. Then Izzy comes up with this electric guitar thing. I was pushing him to come up with a cool tone, and all of a sudden he’s comin’up with this aggressive thing. It just happened. So suddenly it didn’t work to sing the song in a low funny voice any more. We tried and it didn’t work, didn’t sound right, it didn’t fit. And the guitar parts were so cool, I had to sing it like.....HURRHHHH ! so that I sound like I’m totally into this.
K : It certainly doesn’t sound like you’re pretending on the record, though, does it?
A : No, but this is just one point of view out of hundreds that I have on the situation. When I meet a black person, I deal with each situation differently. Like I deal with every person I meet, it doesn’t matter.
K : Have you taken any abuse personally from any black people since this whole controversy first started raging?
A : No, not actually. Actually, I meet a lot of black people that come up and just wanna talk about it, discuss it with me because they find it interesting. Like a black chick came up to me in Chicago, and goes : « you know, I hated you cos of ‘One in a million’. » And I’m like, « oh, great, here we go. » And she goes : « But I ride the subway », and all of a sudden she gets real serious. She says « and I looked around one day and I know what you’re talkin’ about. So you’re all right. » And I’ve got a lot of that...
K : What about from other musicians?
A : I had a big heavy conversation with Ice-T (former member of hard-line LA rappers NWA- Niggers With Attitude or alternately No Whites Allowed). He sent a letter, wanting to work on ‘Welcome to the jungle’ cos he’d heard I was interested in turning it into a rap thing. He wanted to be part of it. Anyway, we ended up having this big heavy conversation about ‘One in a million’, and he could see where I was coming from all right. And he knows more about that shit than most....
At last the grisly subject of ‘One in a million’ is allowed to drop. Axl lights another cigarette, unzips the top from another can of Coke, rubs a tired eye with the back of a thumb, and the conversation drifts towards the next Guns N’ Roses album.
A : There’s, like, 37 songs right now, but I know by the end of the record there’ll be 42 to 45, and I want 30 of ‘em down.
K : A double album then?
A : Well, a double album but a single 76 mn CD, something like that. Then I want five B-sides - people never listen to B-sides anymore - and that’ll be the back of another EP. We’ll say it’s B-sides, you know, plus there should be four extra songs for an EP, if we pull this off. So that’s the next record and then there’s the live record from the tour. If we do this right, we won’t have to make another album for five years ! (laughs) But it’s not so much like five years to sit on our ass. It’s like, five years to figure out what we’re gonna say next, you know? After the crowd and the people figure out how they’re gonna react to this album.
K : What kind of direction do you see the band taking on this next album? Do you plan to expand your usual themes somewhat, or are you sticking pretty much to the sleazy half-world undercurrents of the first album for inspiration?
A : This record will show we’ve grown a lot, but there’ll be some childish, you know, arrogant, male, false-bravado crap on there too. But there’ll also be some really heavy serious stuff.
K : It’s been such a long time since the release of ‘Appetite for destruction’, and what with everything that’s gone down in between, do you sense the possibility of a backlash building up in time for the new album?
A : It doesn’t fuckin’ matter. This doesn’t matter, man. It’s too late. If we record this album the way we wanna record this album, it could bomb, sure. But five years from now, there’ll be a lot of kids into it in Hollywood. 10 years from now, it’ll be an underground thing like Aerosmith and Hanoi Rocks. The material has strong enough lyrical content and strong enough guitar parts, you’ll have no choice, it’ll permeate into people’s brains one way or another. If the album doesn’t sell and be successful, someday in 10 years from now someone’s gonna write a record and we’re gonna be one of their main influences, and so the message is still gonna get through. Whatever we’re trying to say and the way in which we try to say it, we pay attention to that. If we get that right, the rest just takes care of itself. It’s not so much like, « our message is the way », but there is an audience for what we’re saying that’s going through the same things we are, and, in a way, we are leading.
K : How conscious are you of the role as leaders, in terms of your position - both critically and commercially - at the forefront of modern rock music?
A : It’s been.....shown to me in a lot of ways. I didn’t want to accept the responsibility of it really, even though I was trying, but I still was reluctant. Now I’m kind of into it. Because it’s like, you have a choice, man, you can grow or die. We have to do it - we have to grow. If we don’t grow, we die. We can’t do the same sludge forever. I’m not Paul Stanley, man ! I can’t fuckin’ play sludge, man, for fuckin’ 20 years. Sludge, man. It’s sludge rock. That’s one of the reasons why 1989 kinda got written off. We had to find a whole new way of working together. Everybody got successful and it changed things, of course it did. Everybody had the dream, when they got successful they could do what they want, right? That turns into Slash bringing in eight songs ! It’s never been done before, Slash bringing in a song first and me writing words to it. I’ve done it twice with him before and we didn’t use either of those songs, out of Slash’s choice. Now he’s got eight of ‘em that I gotta write words to! They’re bad-assed songs, too. I was working on, like, writing these ballads that I feel have really rich tapestries and stuff, and making sure each note, in effect, is right. Cos whether I’m using a lot of instrumentation and stuff or not, I’ll still write with minimalism. But it has to be right; it has to be the right note and it has to be held the right way, and it has to have the right effect, do you know what I mean?
K : I didn’t know you were such a perfectionist.
A : What people don’t understand is there was a perfectionist attitude to ‘Appetite..’. There was a definite plan to that. We could have made it all smooth and polished. We went and did test tracks with different people and they came out smooth and polished. We did some stuff with Spencer Proffer and Geffen records said it was too fuckin’ radio. That’s why we went with Mike Clink, we went for a raw sound because it just didn’t gel having it too tight and concise. We knew what we were doing, and we knew this : we know the way we are onstage, and the only way to capture that energy on the record, is by making it somewhat live, doing the bass, the drums and the rhythm guitar at the same time. Getting the best track, having it a bit faster than you play it live, so that brings some energy into it. Adding lots of vocal parts, and overdubs with the guitar. Adding more music to capture....because Guns N’ Roses onstage, man, can be out to lunch! But it’s like, you know, visually, we’re all over the place and you don’t know what to expect. How do you get that on a record? That’s the thing. That’s why recording is my favourite thing, because it’s like painting a picture. You start out with a shadow, or an idea, and you come up with something and it’s a shadow of that. You might like it better. It’s still not exactly what you pictured in your head. But you go into the studio and add all these things and you come up with something you didn’t even expect. Slash will do, like, one slow little guitar fill that adds a while different mood that you didn’t expect. That’s what I love. It’s like you’re doing a painting and you go away and come back and it’s different. You allow different shadings to creep in and then you go, « Wow, I got a whole different effect on this that’s even heavier than what I pictured. I don’t know quite what I’m onto, but I’m on it, you know? »
K : You’re using Clink again to produce the new album, and you’re recording in the same studios you made ‘Appetite’ in. Are there any ingredients you plan to add to the recording that you didn’t use first time around?
A : Yeah. We’re trying to find Jeff Lynne....
K : Jeff Lynne?! (leader of 70’s monoliths Electric light orchestra, last seen hob-nobbing it with the Travelling Wilburys)
A : I want him to work on ‘November Rain’, and there’s like three or four other possible songs that if it works out I’d maybe like him to look at.
K : As an additional producer to Clink, or to contribute some string arrangements, or what?
A : Maybe some strings, I don’t know. Cos this record will be produced by Guns N’ Roses and Mike Clink. But I might be using synthesizer - but I’m gonna say I’m using synthesizer, and what I programmed. It’s not gonna be like : « Oh, you know, we do all our shows live » and then it’s on tape. That’s not gonna be the thing. I mean, I took electronic music in 11-th grade at school. It’s like, I don’t know shit about digital synthesizers but I can take a fuckin’ patch-chord and shape my own wave forms and shit, you know? So now I wanna....you know, jump into today. I’ve never had the money to do it before. Maybe someone like Jeff Lynne can help me. It’s a thought.
K : This song, ‘November Rain’, I read somewhere that you said if it wasn’t recorded to your complete satisfaction you would quit the music business....
A : That was then. At that time it was the most important song to me.
K : Were you serious, though, when you said you’d quit the music business if it wasn’t done right?
A : Yeah! That’s the fuckin’ truth, allright. But the worst part of it is, like, if you wanna look at it in a negative way, I’ve got four of these motherfuckers now, man ! I don’t know how I wrote these, but I like ‘em better than ‘November rain’! And I’m gonna crush that motherfuckin’ song, man ! But now I’ve got four of ‘em I gotta do, and they’re all big songs. We play them and we get chills. It started when I came in one day with this heavy piano part, it’s like real big, and it fits this bluesy gospel thing that was supposed to be a blues-rocker like ‘Buy me a Chevrolet’ by Foghat or something. Now it’s turned into this thing, like, ‘Take another piece of my heart’ by Janis Joplin or something....
K : I’m still mulling over the giddy prospect of Jeff Lynne working on the next Guns N’ Roses album....Why him? Were you ever an ELO fan?
A : Oh yeah, I’m an ELO fanatic ! Like old ELO, ‘Out of the blue’, that period. I went to see them play when they came to town when I was a kid and shit like that. I respect Jeff Lynne for being Jeff Lynne. I mean, ‘Out of the blue’ is an awesome album. So, one : he’s got stamina, and two : he’s used to working with a lot of different material. Three : he’s used to working with all kinds of instrumentation for all kinds of different styles of music. Four : he wrote all his own material. Five : he produced it! That’s a lot of concentration, and a lot of energy needed. Hopefully, I would like, if he’s available, to have him. He’s the best. But I don’t know if we can get him or not.
K : You’d work with him just on certain tracks?
A : That’s what I’d like to start with. I mean, who knows, maybe him and Clink will hit off just great, and everybody’ll be into it. If it works, then great, welcome to it, you know?
Silence reigns for a brief moment, Axl’s attention turned suddenly to the low distant hum of his hi-fi which has been spinning taped music throughout the conversation, his gaze frozen between the ashtrays and magazines littered on the table before us, a pinched little smile creasing his lips. I ask who it is we’re listening to.
A : Cheap Trick, ‘In color’, featuring Rick ‘the dick’ Neilsen. What a fuckin’ asshole! I love Cheap Trick, too. It’s kinda funny now, cos I listen to it and just laugh at him.
K : Why? What happened?
A : There was a thing in Rolling Stone where he said he fuckin’ decked Slash! He didn’t deck Slash! Do you think anyone is gonna fuckin’ deck Slash when Doug Goldstein is standing right there between them? It’s not gonna happen.
K : Why does everybody want to tell the world they beat up one of Guns N’ Roses?
A : Because Guns N’ Roses has this reputation for being bad, you know, the new bad boys in town, and so, like, hey, man, it perpetuates down to fuckin’ Rick Neilsen wanting to get back in good with the youth market by claiming he’s badder than GNR, you know? If he had any real balls, he’d apologise to Slash in the press. Not in person, he can come up to me and say he’s sorry all he wants, it doesn’t mean shit ‘til he says it in the press. Now Bowie’s a different situation, because Bowie hasn’t talked to the press. It’s not like he went and talked to the press about our bust-up. So Bowie can apologise to me, and then when they see photos of me and him together they’ll go : « Fuck, we tried to start a war and look at these guys, they’re hanging out! » (laughs) That’s cool, you know? Like Jagger was supposed to have told me off and the next thing you know I’m onstage singing with him....That sure fucked with a lot of them. I mean, it’s either somebody kicked our ass or it’s how some chick is scared I’m gonna come kill her cat. I mean, I could make a joke about it, but....
K : Speaking of ‘bad boys’, did you get to meet Keith Richards when you supported the Stones?
A : I got to meet him and talk to him for a little bit. I just kinda watched the guy. Basically, I told him I gotta go shopping....cos he has the coolest coats in the world. He just loved that. I asked him about Billy Idol rippin’ the ideal off for ‘Rebel yell’ from him, kinda joking. And he goes : (Axl adopts a tie-dyed Cockney accent) « Stole it from my fuckin’ night table, he did! » (laughs) I thought that was great. It’s like, I met John Entwistle from the Who, man, and I said I’d always wondered about these rumours about ‘Baba O’Riley’, you know, like for the keyboard parts they went and got brainwaves and then programmed ‘em through a computer, you know? So I asked Entwistle, and Entwistle’s annihilated out of his mind, right, he’s in his own little world, and he looks at me and goes : « Brainwaves? What fuckin’ brainwaves? Townsend ain’t got no fuckin’ brainwaves ! » (laughs) And yet Townsend’s a genius and he knows it. Then I asked him about the time he was supposed to have shot up all his gold records, and he said : « I’ll let you in on a secret, mate. Those were all Connie Francis’ records, I fuckin’ stole them ! I ain’t gonna shoot my own goddamned records! » I said : « Wow, okay, I’ve had enough of this guy, I can’t deal with it anymore ! » (laughs) He was just fuckin’ lit and ready to go....
K : You seem very settled at the moment, relaxed, not a bit like your image.
A : I’m happy to kick back tonight and sit around jawing, because today everything is under control. Tomorrow - wait and see - it’s fuckin’ over! Something will come up. There’s only one thing left, and that’s this damn album, man. That’s it. I mean, we may do another record but it’s like, Guns N’ Roses doesn’t fully function, nothing ever really happens, to its utmost potential, unless...it’s a kamikaze run ! Unless it’s like « this is it, man! » .Like, « fuck it, let’s go down in fuckin’ flames with this motherfucker! ». That’s how we are about this record, everybody’s like, we’re just gonna do this son of a bitch....
K : The hour, as the prophet sang, is getting late. We wind up with the obligatory, ‘What now?’ questions, Axl casting a slant-eyed glance into the immediate future for himself and his band.
A : The main thing about the next record is this is our dream, to get these songs out there into the public. Then once we get out there we’ll fight for them with the business side and stuff. But at this point that’s not what’s important. What’s important is the recording of the songs. If the business comes down on us really hard in a weird way, then we’ll make our choices - do we wanna deal with this, or do we not wanna fuckin’ deal with it? The record will sell a certain amount of copies the minute it comes out anyway, and we could live off that for the rest of our lives and record our records on small independent labels, it doesn’t matter. I mean, that’s not in the plans, but...ultimately, it just doesn’t matter, you know? It’s all down to what we want to deal with. Do we wanna give everything that we feel we have inside of ourselves, to do the shows to our top potential? Yes, we do. But I don’t choreograph things. I don’t know when I’m gonna slam down on my knees or whatever. It’s like, you have to ask yourself, do I wanna give all that, and have someone fuckin’ spitting in my face? Does it mean that much to me? No! I dig the songs. If you don’t want ‘em, fine. But I don’t have to give them to you.
K : I know you’ve often threatened it, but if you wanted to, could you really leave all this behind - the band, your career in the music business - not just financially, but emotionally, artistically?
A : If I wanted to badly enough, sure. This is all right, in bits and pieces, but whether it’ll take up all the chapters in the book of my life, I don’t know. I would like to record for a long time....I have to make this album. Then it doesn’t matter. This album is the album I’ve always been waiting on. Our second album is the album I’ve been waiting on since before we got signed. We were planning out the second album before we started work on the first one! But as much as it means to me, if it bombs, if that happens, yeah, I’m sure I’ll be bummed business-wise and let down or whatever, but at the same time it doesn’t matter. It’s like, I got it out there. That’s the artistic thing taken care of. Then I could walk away...
K : What about the money - could you walk away from that?
A : I’d like to make the cash off the touring, and then I’d like to walk away knowing that I can support my kids, for whatever they want, for the rest of my life, you know?....and that I can still donate to charities. I’d like to have that security. I’ve never known any security in my whole life. The financial aspect is just to get that security. If I have that in the bank I can live off the interest and still have money to spend on whatever - including, top of the list, the welfare of my own immediate and future family.
K : Last question. First question. Same question, in fact, I’ve been asking for the last couple of years....
A : When will the album actually fuckin’ come out, right?
I nod. He doesn’t.
A : It’s taken a lot of time to put together the ideas for this album...in certain ways, no one’s done what we’ve done - come out with a record that captured that kind of spirit, since maybe the first Sex Pistols album. No one’s followed it up, and we’re not gonna put out a fuckin’ record until we’re sure we can ! So we’ve been trying to build it up. It’s like, it’s only really these last couple of months that I’ve been writing the right words. Now suddenly I’m on a roll, all the words for Slash’s songs are there. But it’s taken this long to find ‘em. I just hope the people are into it, you know? I think that the audience will have grown enough, though. It’s been three years - they’ve gone through three years of shit too, so hopefully they’ll be ready to relate to some new things. When you’re writing about real life, not fantasy, you have to take time to live your own life first and allow yourself to go through different phases. Now I think there’s enough different sides of Guns N’ Roses that when the album is finally released no one will know what to think, let alone us ! Like, what are they tryin’ to say? Sometimes I don’t fuckin’ know....
Thanks to Laura for this article!