In many ways, Saul Hudson, aka SLASH, has had a blessed life, especially since his early 20s, when his joining LA glam upstarts Hollywood Rose, after toiling in bands with names like Tidus Sloan and Road Crew, led to the formation of Guns N' Roses, which in turn led to a rolled out red carpet of lavish rock and roll debauchery the likes of which may never be seen again. Slash took a shirtless hair-in-face top-hatted aesthetic, wed it to a precociously tossed off style of fantastically flamboyant guitar wizardry, and became the Ur-shredder for a generation of aspiring rockers. Post-Guns, he has hobnobbed with rock royalty, rubbing shoulders with every legend, whether past, present or future, all while staying true to his singular will to rock eternal.
That said, he is still, as a guitarist, beholden to the whims of the rock band format, meaning that when he formed Velvet Revolver in 2002, six years after the demise of GN’FN’R, he was once again cast in an all-too-familiar drama where a diva singer could shut down the productivity of the band whenever he decided that he’d rather continue his dalliance with drugs and madness. Scott Weiland eventually bailed on VR, and rather than audition another belter, Slash eventually took his cue and went solo; in 2012 he put out his eponymous solo debut, an album featuring a plethora of famous singers. One singer on the album was Myles Kennedy, then moonlighting from his day gig fronting Alter Bridge -- Kennedy and Slash found the chemistry to be profound, and this spring, after touring for a spell together, the pair released Slash’s second solo record, Apocalyptic Love. If the new band, currently on a tour that brings them to House of Blues on Thursday, seems too happy to be an earth-shattering dynamo a la Guns N’ Roses-- well, maybe Slash deserves a not just a moment of happiness, but a vacation from band-hell dysfunction? He seems to think so at least, and making music with like-minded musical allies is the rocket in his pocket nowadays...
After the 2010 album, how much of a plan was there to do this album with Myles?
No, nothing was really planned out. That was the thing about this whole-- it sort of materialized. I was doing the last record with no real idea what the next step would be, and I met Myles at teh very very tail end, he was the last thing I did ont eh last album, and we did the one song and -- I didn’t know him, I hadn’t met him before, but I’d heard a lot about him, and I needed someone to sing these last two pieces of music I had and I couldn’t think of anybody in the bigger, well-known echelon of singers and I thought “This guy, Myles Kennedy, let’s give him a shot and see what happens.” And I gave him the music and it was great and I was gonna tour and asked him he wanted to tour for the album and he said “Yeah”. Then I got a drummer and bassist and, all of a sudden, I had this amazing band with these guys I’d never met before, all of a sudden. We went out on the road and I thought “Fuck, these guys are great, I should just make a record with them”, and we wrote the album on the road, dressing rooms and hotel rooms and shit. And here we are.
People go on about the volatility of rock and roll, it’s importance. And your stuff has always come together really quickly: this band, Velvet Revolver, Guns N’ Roses. How important is it to you to have projects that come together quickly, would you say that that’s your M.O.?
Umm, well, I mean, sometimes you can really sit down and work on something and plan it out. Velvet Revolver was something that started from a very quick, uh, sudden and spontaneous thing with Duff and Matt and I, but then it became-- um, trying to think of the right word. And then there became a lot of work with the whole vocalist thing. But this new band was very spontaneous. Guns, actually, there were a lot of different versions or versions of Guns N' Roses before the Appetite lineup fell into place. This wasn’t like that, it really just came out of nowhere.
Do you find that, with each project, there are a lot of expectations, that people expect all sorts of fireworks for anything that you do, especially to match the insanity of GNR?
I’m not really dictated by other people’s expectations. It’s really about my own, and that’s pretty much where all the work is. You know, trying to do something that I A) like and B) enjoy doing. And trying to find something that I agree with, and that’s pretty much the biggest pressure, it doesn’t really come from the outside.
That’s a really interesting way to put it, to find something that you agree with. You seem to have a gut instinct for what your musical aesthetic is, was that something that evolved over time, or did you always know what kind of music you wanted to do and how you wanted to do it?
I think it’s always been like that, and it hasn’t really changed that much-- it’s evolved, but it hasn’t really changed. I’m still probably--no, not even probably, I’m definitely doing an extension of what turned me on when I first picked up the guitar at 14.
Your new album is an interesting mix of rock and roll with a more aggressive feel -- and it kind of reminds me of how when GNR came out, everyone wasn’t sure what to make of the band’s sound, it was punk but it was metal but it sounded like Aerosmith, which was confusing because those genres all had lines surrounding them. Is it a challenge now to find new ways to have that sort of effect now that people don’t see those genre lines anymore?
Hah, that’s funny. Well, I mean, we’re on the road now, so this is probably that time when I come up with new ideas, recording bits of things, etc. And I approach the guitar like I’m looking for new ideas, I’m not thinking constantly about how to re-write the wheel or whatever, but I am looking to be inspired and not necessarily by something that has inspired me before. So, when I stumble across something like that, I hold onto it and move onto the next one, so when this tour is over I’ll have a backlog of material, or at least ideas. I think that the idea is to always be moving forward within the confine of the style that I like to do. I’m sure for a lot of rock and roll artists, it’s the same, coming up with new ideas that are still rock and roll. It’s not a conscious thing, though.
Yeah, I can see that-- and your style is always kind of unconscious, like your playing, though sophisticated, always seems like you’re making it up on the fly.
Umm, I guess. I haven’t really given it much though. But I think you grow as a musician as you grow as an artist. It’s different for different individuals, but for me I’m looking for chord changes and rhythms that turn me on. I’ve only gotten as far as I’ve gotten, there are a lot of things that I haven’t achieved, and I’m still moving forward with goals and ideas that I haven’t really conquered yet. That’s what I’m going for.
On a certain level, as a guitarist, you need a singer, but you’re always trying to push your voice through the music. Is that what you angle for, to get your melodic voice in there no matter what group of people you’re playing with?
I’m constantly looking to be turned on. I can do music that is fine, but that doesn’t, umm, it doesn’t satisfy my musical sensibility, personally. So in other words, I’m looking for things that turn me on melodically, or whatever else turns me on: energy, a groove, emotion. And that’s what I’m looking to achieve, so I write stuff every day, come up with ideas every day, and when I start to expand on those ideas, working with the band, I’m trying to achieve something of almost orgasmic proportions. And that’s what I do, that’s basically it! I’m looking for something that feels right to me, because everything I’m doing is to satisfy me, musically. And it’s true when I’m working with people, I’m looking for the right combination of people to achieve that. So that’s why I’m really happy now, I love the singer and the drummer and the bass player is fucking fantastic. And they bring me that much closer to doing that which excites me.
Yeah-- your two prior acts seemed to have flamed out with years of inactive bullshit, so I can see why this is satisfying for you. but a lot of people listen to music and sometimes get off on the antagonism of it, though, does that frustrate you?
Yeah, well, I mean, I have a short attention span and I’m also sort of a busy body, a get-out-and-do-stuff kind of person. And I find that having a lot of unnecessary preoccupations with a lot of non-musical complications in groups tends to be very uninspiring. It’s very hard to get on with it when you have a lot of distractions. Like I have a Pro Tools rig installed on my computer so I can record on the road. but it took so long for it to fucking get it set up that by the time I was ready for it fucking work, I didn’t want to use it! So that’s the thing, for whatever reason: if you’ve got too many obstacles, taking up too much time, then by the time you’re ready to play you don’t even fucking feel like it. So I like the simplicity of what I’m doing right now. So if there’s mistakes or whatever, it’s not as important as at least getting it out while you have the feeling going.
Right-- as an artist, there’s always this pressure to keep producing before the well runs dry. It’s a collaborative art and you have to find people to share your vision, and it’s not always built to last forever. Do you find that you are constantly looking for people that are on board not just with your music but with your ethos?
Like I said before, this particular line-up is something that came out of nowhere. And it just so happens that all anyone wants to do in this group is go out there and fucking play. So actually, I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to fall for a while, because I’m not used to an environment where things can be relatively straight-forward and simple, so it caught me by surprise. So I didn’t go into this with any expectations, I just sort of went with it as it was coming together, as it was happening. I started to recognize the fact that it was really cool.