In his first major interview in nine years, the Guns N' Roses frontman talks about his band, his label and finally releasing "Chinese Democracy."
By Jonathan Cohen
It's been nine years since Axl Rose gave a substantial print interview. For all that time and more, he's been working on the album "Chinese Democracy," which finally arrived in late November.
It was an arduous process, to say the least. Guns N' Roses haven't released a new song since 1999 or an album since a 1993 set of covers. Since then, Rose has toured sporadically, worked with a rotating cast of musicians -- he owns the Guns N' Roses name, according to his attorney, Laurie Soriano -- and recorded numerous versions of the same new songs. According to a 2005 article in the New York Times, Universal Music Group had spent $13 million on "Chinese Democracy" by then.
The album came out in the United States as a Best Buy retail exclusive and debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 with first-week sales of 261,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. To date, it has sold 537,000 copies in the States, far fewer than the 1.3 million that Best Buy bought upfront, according to the Wall Street Journal. But the album has sold 2.6 million copies worldwide, according to Universal -- a number that counts only retail purchases -- and the company plans to start promoting another single soon.
Some industry executives have blamed the album's disappointing sales on Rose, who hasn't made a video, announced a tour or given interviews. Others point to Best Buy, claiming the chain didn't make the album as visible as last year's other major retail exclusive, AC/DC's "Black Ice," which was sold only at Wal-Mart. Until now, Rose himself has remained silent, except for a series of postings on some Guns N' Roses fan Web sites.
That doesn't mean he doesn't have plenty to say -- about his new album, his former bandmates and his label, Interscope, a subsidiary of Universal. (The label declined to comment.) Rose answered two series of questions via e-mail, in which he discussed for the first time the events surrounding the release of "Chinese Democracy" and his frustrations with Interscope.
In a separate phone interview, longtime Guns N' Roses (and former Replacements) bassist Tommy Stinson echoed Rose's sentiments. Rose's answers appear here almost exactly as he sent them, edited only for grammar, length and clarity.
The obvious question: Why talk now? Rose says he "felt it was a good time to address some of these issues publicly."
Some people thought "Chinese Democracy" would never come out. Were there times during the making of the album when you felt that way yourself?
Axl Rose: Not so much that it wouldn't come out but that we could in some way legally be forced to release it either incomplete or with so many business areas unresolved that the beginning would be the end as well.