Slash - Diggin' The Pit

In the five years since Slash started parting ways with Guns N' Roses he's followed his muse down various paths -- from two incarnations of his own band, Snakepit, to guest appearances on albums by artists ranging from Michael Jackson to Rod Stewart as well as an acoustic venture called Obsession/Confession that appeared on the soundtrack for the 1996 Quentin Tarantino-produced film Curdled.

But wherever he may roam musically, he's most at home grinding out raunchy rock. His bristling riffs and soaring solos gave Guns N' Roses its punch, and both Snakepit albums -- 1995's It's Five OClock Somewhere and this year's Ain't Life Grand -- are thoroughly grounded in his distinctive playing style. The original Snakepit was more of a side-project with fellow Guns guitarist Gilby Clarke and drummer Matt Sorum plus Alice In Chains bassist Mike Inez and Jellyfish singer Eric Dover. This year's model is a solid band. Drummer Matt Laug, bassist Johnny Blackout, guitarist Kerry Kelly, and charismatic frontman Rod Jackson stir up a compelling commotion around Slash. As affable as he is rambly, the guitarist talks about life in and out of the Pit. In the past you've talked about how you need to keep playing in order to avoid boredom. What led to you leaving Guns in the first place?

Slash: I thought we were just getting good at what we were doing and Axl headed in a different direction. I was basically too fucking stubborn -- still trying to perfect the one thing I was just getting good at to be able to go there. My whole trip is still based around the same original concept from when I started playing when I was 15. For me it's basically all the same shit, and as far as what Axl had in mind, I'm still waiting for the [next] Guns N' Roses record to come out to see what that was. That'll be a huge relief for me. Do you still keep in touch?

Slash: I haven't talked to him in five, going on six years. Were there things you wanted to do musically that you couldn't in Guns?

Slash: Most of the [Snakepit] stuff I've done is stuff I couldn't do in Guns. Originally Snakepit was just a bunch of me noodling around. I just happened to be hanging out with the friends in the band -- Gilby Clarke and Matt Sorum and Mike Inez from Alice In Chains, and that's who I jammed with. Snakepit was really just the name of the studio because it was next to a room filled with snakes and we called it Snakepit Studios. When we went to record we didn't have a singer, let alone a name for the band. What are we gonna call it? We're gonna call it the Snakepit. Cool. It wasn't serious cause at that point I was still in Guns. Matt was contractually obligated to Guns, Mike Inez was in Alice In Chains. Gilby [subsequently] got fired from Guns, but this time around I took it really seriously because I put the band together, and so on. What was the original question? Was there a lot of stuff you wanted to do in Guns but couldn't?

Slash: Oh yeah. So what happens is like, I'll write something and the stuff from point A to point B is a collaborative thing, so whatever I came up with or whatever ideas were flying around from any individual guy will turn into a band thing. So I would get locked into Guns in some ways but I always found an outlet to do something I wanted to do and experiment a lot. But I'm pretty single-minded. Like, I do my hard rock shit and that's my main thing and then I have more R&B and bluesy stuff. Most of the stuff I've done with other people is my release of stuff I couldnt do with Guns -- like "Mama Said" was a song that I originally wrote with Guns in mind but Guns was not the band for it, and Lenny [Kravitz] heard it and went "Whoa!" And there it went. There was some soundtrack stuff I did called Obsession/Confession which is a flamenco kind of thing and that was definitely not a Guns N Roses style thing The Snakepit from its inception all the way up until now is all the stuff that Axl doesnt like to do any more. It's a huge outlet for me now. In hard rock there's a certain rapport that goes on between singers and guitarists. Was it weird working with singers other than Axl?

Slash: It probably would be more weird if I hadn't done so much stuff whenever Guns had any period of time off. I would play with so many different people that I've learned to be pliable, to be able to fit into pretty much any situation The thing that really drives me is the drums and then the bass, and then it goes to the vocals. Fuck man, I'll play to the fuckin moon if the singer goes there and vice versa -- that's chemistry. That's why it takes so long to find the right guys in the band cause sometimes you just don't feel it.

When I was looking for a drummer to replace [Guns] Stephen [Adler], there was a point where we had a million top-notch drummers and I could not find anybody. That was probably the first real break-up of Guns, was when we couldn't find a drummer It's like -- a bad drummer? Can't do it. It just won't happen. The same with the singer too. Rod [Jackson] is like, a diamond-in-the-rough kind of guy -- fuckin amazing. I was lucky to find him cause I went through 200 fucking singers or something before I found him. It started to turn into a job. Then it turns out that Johnny [Blackout] our bass player -- knew this guy and he's in this fuckin band [Shady Tree] and the band's not all that great and he takes me down to go see him and overall I wasn't very interested but the singer was good.

One of the tactics I used to audition people was giving them [an instrumental] tape and letting them sit with it for a day or two and make up their own stuff to it. Johnny gave the tape to Rod and gave it to me and said "Listen to this!" And it turned out to be the guy I saw months earlier at the Roxy and I was like "Wow." So it's not weird for me not seeing Axl running around doing this that and the other or hearing his tonal changes or whatever it was that would make me play a certain way. As soon as I hit the right vibe I'm there. What do you like in a drummer -- power, flexibility, groove?

Slash: A groove and simplicity. Feel. You gotta be able to screw to it. Who's your favorite drummer living or dead?

Slash: Favorite drummer of all time -- easy -- is John Bonham. John Bonham and Keith Moon. When Coda came out and John died, I was in a band at that time and I remember always having a problem with drummers but I was so ignorant. I had just started playing guitar and I didn't know anything about anything. I learned as I went along about what makes me tick and what makes things happen and when John Bonham died I was like "Oh fuck, Led Zeppelin broke up just cause of the drummer!?" And then later it was like, "Oooooh. I get it. Fuck. That's major." When you're not working on something specific do you have a practice regimen?

Slash: No. I'm fucking terrible. I'm really disciplined when I'm focused on something, when I know what I'm doing but here's a classic scenario: I'll be sitting there watching TV and there's not fuck-all to do, and I won't hang out with anybody and I'm just watching the food network and I'll keep looking at the guitar case. So I'll open it, and take the guitar out and sit it standing up. I have to go through this whole ritual -- and then once I have it with me I don't put it down and maybe I'll write something

I make myself play because I have to do it, but when it comes to just practicing, the best thing for me is to go out and do a fuckin physical full-out rehearsal. That's when the whole physical thing comes into it and you realize that ten hours a day of practicing doesn't mean shit because the whole thing is completely different.

I learned that a long time ago. No venue is the same, and playing in your bedroom is not the same as playing in front of people. Playing at rehearsal is not the same as playing in front of people and playing with [one group of] people is not the same as playing with some other different people. So you play every day?

Slash: Either that or I dont play at all. A man of extremes.

Slash: Yeah.


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