RETURNS WITH A SCORCHING NEW ALBUM, WORLD ON FIRE
IT SEEMS SLASH WAS BORN TO BE A ROCK STAR. HE HAS THE IMAGE—THE UNFORCED SWAGGER, THE SHOCK OF HAIR SPILLING OVER HIS SUNGLASSES, THE ICONIC LES PAUL AND THAT COOL, UNFLAPPABLE PRESENCE AMID EVEN THE WILDEST OF FRONTMAN ANTICS. MOST IMPORTANTLY, HE HAS THE CHOPS TO BACK IT ALL UP. HIS STYLE HAS BECOME A TRADEMARK, FROM “WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE” AND “SWEET CHILD O’ MINE” WITH GUNS N’ ROSES ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE SUPERGROUP VELVET REVOLVER AND ON TO HIS CURRENT SOLO WORK—AND HE MAKES IT ALL LOOK EASY.
However, in reality, Slash is living proof that great rock stars aren’t born, but are built through years of dedication, determination and sweat. It’s difficult to imagine now, but there was a time before he was a legendary guitarist. Around the age of 13, young Slash would hang out with friend and future Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler and listen to KISS records “full blast,” as he describes it. This was when Slash’s interest in becoming a musician began. “I went around to a local music school. I didn’t have an instrument,” he explains. “I went in there and talked to the teacher … he sat me down and tried to ask me a few questions, trying to figure out what it was that I was really getting at, what I wanted to achieve. While he was talking to me, he was playing some Eric Clapton licks, I think Cream licks, on an electric guitar. I was, like, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ That was it … my grandmother gave me a beat-up old Spanish acoustic that had one string on it. I started learning on the one string.”
Once he’d found his calling, he never looked back. “I was just completely driven. There was no stopping me at that point, I was so obsessed with it. No matter what obstacles or hurdles there were set before me along the road … I never accepted ‘no’ for an answer, and I just kept at it.”
Guitar Center even played a part in Slash’s early years. He remarks, “I remember Guitar Center from way before I even picked up a guitar. I remember staring at it all the time driving down Sunset when it was on the other side of the street … I was always infatuated with gear and musicians and guitars and drums and all that kind of stuff. Driving by Guitar Center was always, like, ‘Wow,’ … It goes without saying that the most recognizable and iconic music store in California was Guitar Center.”
He absorbed the work of his early influences, including Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Keith Richards and Billy Gibbons. “I bought their live albums,” he says. “So I was definitely into the crazy live performance kind of thing—that sort of attack. It wasn’t about recording studio achievements, sonic nuances in the studio. It was about in-the-moment, spur-of-the-moment live playing.”
Over time, he created a unique style and tone that he carried to fame with one of the most famous, and infamous, rock bands of recent history, and then beyond into a notable solo career. Most recently, Slash has been collaborating with vocalist Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators—a rhythm section made up of drummer Brent Fitz and bass player Todd Kerns. 2012 saw the release of Apocalyptic Love, and this September their sophomore effort, World on Fire, will be unleashed.
Slash says of the Conspirators, “First and foremost, they’re just great players. I was really lucky stumbling across Brent and Todd because they’re phenomenal rock and roll guys. Brent’s got this great sort of a little bit behind-the-beat, firm rock feel. He’s just a great player. And Todd’s an amazing bass player and a great singer, as well.” Slash first worked with Kennedy as a vocalist on his all-star solo record, Slash, and the subsequent tour. “I’d been hearing a lot about him for years prior to actually meeting him,” he says. “He just has an amazing voice. He’s a great lyricist.”
For World on Fire, Slash teamed up with producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette, and the record came together organically. “It was really sort of effortless,” Slash says of the process. “I’d written a ton of ideas while I was on the last tour … I grabbed Todd and Brent and just went into the studio and started hashing them out … It just came together really, really quickly and effortlessly. Then I started sending demos to Myles, and he started coming up with ideas while he was out on the road with Alter Bridge. When his tour was over, he came into rehearsal and it’s almost like the songs sort of wrote themselves. Then Elvis came in and we fine-tuned everything, cleaned it up a little bit, did some pre-production for roughly about a month and then went into the studio and kicked out the jams, 17 songs in about 16 days.”
For sonic variety, Slash brought a number of guitars to the studio, including his standby Les Paul as well as a selection of vintage and new Les Paul Juniors and Melody Makers, a Gibson Explorer, ES-135 and an ES-175. “The ES-175 is an amazing sounding rock and roll guitar,” he says. “You wouldn’t know it from looking at it … It’s very big. It’s very resonant and it’s great for rhythm stuff.”
Needless to say, the Les Paul has a place of pride in all things Slash. He describes his history with the guitar, saying, “It’s just always been a tonal thing that just sort of speaks to me. I love the sound of a lot of guitars, but I don’t feel as at home with any other guitar besides a Les Paul. It’s the best sort of conduit to express myself with.”
Interestingly enough, Slash’s most famous Les Paul, the one he played on Appetite for Destruction and pretty much everything since, isn’t technically a Les Paul at all, but a copy built by luthier Kris Derrig. When Slash recalls his conversation with Gibson about building a signature copy of his guitar, he laughs, “I said, ‘Why don’t we make a real Gibson copy of a Gibson copy.’ Basically, the Slash Les Paul is modeled after the ’59 copy of a Les Paul I’ve had since 1986.”
A well-known purist when it comes to gear, Slash keeps his setup lean and mean. He relies predominately on the Les Paul with Seymour Duncan Alnico II pickups run through Marshall heads and cabinets. “I’ve always been a less-is-more person,” he says. “But I’ve started to realize more and more that less is more. I found out it’s really about the individual, as far as … the actual sound and the style and all that kind of stuff. I’ve found that I can achieve what it is that I want to achieve with less gear than a lot of people seem to be using these days … The individual personality is where the sound comes from.”
He kept the less-is-more philosophy in mind when working with Epiphone on the Slash Pack, geared toward beginning guitarists who might be right where he was when he first walked into that music school. “When you’re first starting out, there’s so much equipment out there. It’s very, very confusing and overwhelming,” he says. “With Epiphone, the Slash Pack is basically an Epiphone very similar to the Slash model Les Paul. A really, really good guitar and they’re, honestly, relatively inexpensive. Then it comes with an amplifier as well. It’s just a good starter kit you can actually use up to that point when you … become professional.”
On the topic of beginners, Slash has advice for budding guitarists who may look to him for inspiration. “There’s no sort of set model that you have to follow when you pick up an instrument,” he says. “I think the one thing that goes without saying is that you have to be passionate about it … It’s something that should be fun, but it takes a lot of practice and it takes a lot of repetition. I honestly think you should just do it for the sake of just loving playing guitar before you aspire to all these monumental things like making records and touring and all that kind of stuff. It takes a lot of work, so you have to be prepared to sacrifice a lot of time and energy and, hopefully, love doing it.”
That love is what got Slash where he is and what keeps him going today. “I just love music and I love guitar,” he says. “I love solo guitar, I love riffs. I love everything about rock and roll guitar. It’s a never-ending—there’s so many great things that you can strive for with it. There [are] always things to discover with it. It’s just an ongoing passion.”