In these very cynical times, when TV shows bring disgraced politicians bring criminally investigated on as entertainment, it would be increasingly easy to believe the adage, “Nice guys finish last,” to be true.
It does often seem right now that being the bad guy is the quickest way to success and fame. Thankfully, we have people like Slash to remind us that you can be a nice guy and still rule the world. This is a guy so thoughtful and considerate he once apologized to me for not having time to speak to me when he was being whisked away at the Super Bowl (in 2011, when he was a surprise guest with the Black Eyed Peas). I am asked often my favorite interview. Slash is in my top five, no question.
Yet, he is one of the most recognizable rock stars on the planet, and enjoying the artistic freedom his fame brings, bounding between playing stadiums with Guns ‘N’ Roses and leading his own superb band, Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators.
Right now, it is time for The Conspirators — Slash, Kennedy (vocals), Todd Kerns (bass), Brent Fitz (drums) and Frank Sidoris (rhythm guitar) — to step into the spotlight. The band is back with their fourth album, 4 (out this Friday, February 11) recorded in Nashville and produced by Dave Cobb (Brandi Carlile, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, among others).
While the album is definitely not Slash goes country, he tells me being in Nashville, where the specter of artists like Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash hovered over the album, influenced 4.
I spoke with Slash about the new album, the joys of playing with both GNR and The Conspirators, finding domestic bliss during COVID and why the great country artists are all just rock and roll to him.
Steve Baltin: Let’s start with the obvious, is this new album a COVID baby?
Slash: It was. It definitely came out of the COVID situation. I did all the demos during COVID by myself, which is a first. I usually don’t get that into demos, but I was sort of forced to this time around. Then after that we all got together in a room and hashed out to pre-production. Then we took a tour bus to Nashville and recorded over at RCA Studio A, which is a famous great old studio, with Dave Cobb. We recorded it live in five days. Then it turned out that Myles had picked up COVID somehow, and subsequently Brent and Todd got it. So fortunately the record was done, we just had some overdubs to do and mixing. So me and Dave started mixing and when the guys started getting better, all of a sudden I picked it up, and so it definitely had COVID residue all over it. Yeah.
Baltin: For a lot of artists, COVID presented them the down time to work on stuff that they had wanted to do, but maybe otherwise wouldn’t have time to do. Was that the case for you?
Slash: Yeah, I did a lot of stuff besides this record. I did this and I also worked on new Guns stuff, and then I did a bunch of random sessions for different things. So I did the Leslie West tribute record, I jammed with Tom Morello on his record from a distance. I did the Black Puma thing that’s coming out. I think next month it’s coming out, and then I did some other stuff as well, so I was busy pretty much throughout and I wrote a lot of material. I think it was more because I had the time, I could do it for the fun of it. I’m so in that sort of recording, touring, recording touring mode [but] I was sort of jerked out of that. And then sitting there twiddling my thumbs and trying not to stress out over the reality of everything that was happening around me. I just started jamming with people, so it was just for the fun of it, it wasn’t necessarily an opportunity that I was looking for a window to be able to fill. All things considered, you just think of things that you wanna do while you have that time, I suppose.
Baltin: How did these songs change once you got everybody together, because I imagine they evolved a lot?
Slash: Most of the material was written and came from the previous 2019 tour. So I got those tapes together, we’d do board mixes, we’d practice this stuff at sound checks, so all through the tour we’ll get up for sound check for half an hour and jam on a new riff or whatever. I tape all that stuff, so I listened to all the accumulated recordings that we had, and I just started making demos. I did the sort of keyboard mock drums, and then I would have Todd fly in from Vegas and put a bass on it. And we’d send that to Myles and he would start coming up with different ideas, or he already had ideas and started coming up with melodies and just getting the arrangements together, and we’d send stuff back and forth. So by the time that we got into actual pre-production where we were physically all in the same room, I’d say the songs are about 75 percent written and arranged, and then when we got to Nashville we sort of jammed everything out and we finished it up, and it was very spontaneous and very fast. So yeah, they just evolved, I guess, is the best way to put it.
Baltin: What did Dave Cobb bring to the project?
Slash: When Dave, came into it, he has some great ideas on different stuff, and it was just really sort of a very explosive collaborative effort at that point.
Baltin: I never thought about this before, but if I’m thinking about the most quintessential L.A. musicians of all the time, you’re probably top five, top 10.
Slash: I never thought about that [chuckle].
Baltin: So for you being in Nashville, how did that affect you as a musician? Environment absolutely affects writing and recording.
Slash: That’s a good question. Our whole environment was completely different. We rented an Airbnb on the edge of the city in this big house. And there was a great sense of camaraderie between all of us ’cause we were just living together and doing that old school kind of way. But the big thing was that studio has such a vibe and history. It’s something that is actually tangible, and all the seminal artists that have recorded there, you can feel it in the room. I think that it had a great sort of positive, creative influence on all of us. And then Dave, this is his place, he has great f**king gear, great old school analog stuff, and just really great s**t. But the reason that we went with Dave Cobb in the first place was a conversation that we had about doing this record live. So we set up the back line like we would in a club, and a couple of monitors in front of each of us, and we just f**king jammed the whole record out live. So in that great room, I’d say we’re pretty reasonable players all getting together and banging the stuff out in the moment and recording it with the vocals and the guitar solos all at once. That was huge, and that was something that this particular studio provided. It’s not something we could do necessarily anywhere, and because Dave was so into that idea that we were able to do it. I haven’t been able to do a record recorded live in that fashion ever, I’ve wanted to, but it’s just never been technically possible. So, yeah, this change of scenery actually had a really positive effect on the whole recording.
Baltin: Were there one or two artists that you felt the most when you were in this room that has all this great history?
Slash: There was so much of it. Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson was a big one. It’s Chet Atkins studio, so Chet Atkins was a big one. Steve Cropper’s got an office upstairs, so he’s there, and then Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. It’s funny ’cause I’m talking about all the country artists and you don’t really see me as a country guy. But old-school country recordings have always been a big influence on me, the really cool stuff I’ve always dug. But I also really appreciated the sort of anecdotes of these people’s lifestyle and how they wrote and how they work together, and just that whole sort of history. So it was really, really omnipresent at that place.
Baltin: That’s so funny because you say people don’t see you as a country musician, but those guys were just as badass outlaws as any rock musician who’s ever lived.
Slash: It’s all rock and roll, for sure. Yeah, rock and roll, to me, that sums it up. There’s rock and roll in a lot of different styles of music. It’s more of an attitude and a way of expressing yourself and sticking to your guns. Whatever the obstacles are, you’re willing to fight, kick and claw to get through it. And so that’s something that is universal in almost all genres of music and country being obviously a really big one. So yeah, I really sort of got more in touch with my country roots hanging out there.
Baltin: Were there places you went to tap into that country influence?
Slash: One of the interesting things that we did when we were there is right next door, Studio B. That is a studio that was built in the late ’50s. It’s basically a museum, so you go in there and all the gear is still there and you have pictures of different artists, Dolly Parton or whoever it was, on the walls in that particular room. And it really makes you stop and think about the history of recording and the history of country music, and also sort of the history of r and roll, because there were a lot of rock and Roll bands that went through as well. So I think it’s just the sort of musicality of the whole and the different artists as a whole going in there and doing their thing that really sort of struck me.
Baltin: So are there songs that, for you, particularly changed from the way that the band brought new things to them?
Slash: Yeah, one of the songs that comes to mind that really sort of came together in its finished form was “Fall Back to Earth.” That arrangement was significantly different when we first got there. So that’s something that came together sort of in the moment. And I’m really pleased with the organic natural way that evolved. Another song, “April Fool,” was something that the finished product that came together there. “The River Is Rising” was something that was basically finished, but still ended up taking a change once we started actually playing it in earnest in the studio. So there are a lot of little things that developed while we were there.
Baltin: What are the touring plans for this record?
Slash: It’s crazy because everything was all backed up and now it’s starting to come out through the floodgates. In February, The Conspirators are gonna tour in the States for February and March, then Guns is going to finally do the European tour, and then also the Australian tour, which we were supposed to be doing in November of this year, but because of their quarantine protocols, we couldn’t do it. So we’re gonna do that in 2022, and then also a South American tour. So most of 2022 is tied up that way, and then I’ll do all the international Conspirator stuff at the top of 2023. So it’s gonna be a full next couple of years.
Baltin: When you think about taking this record to the road in February, March, what are the songs that you are most excited to do live and see how the audience responds to them?
Slash: We always record everything live and then I go back and redo the guitars and Miles goes back and redoes the vocals. So everything has a very sort of live feel to it regardless. This one a little bit more so, like I said, ’cause the guitar is live, vocals are live, but the whole album sort of lends itself to a live show. So I’m excited about playing “The River Is Rising,” “Actions Speak Louder Than Words” I think is gonna be a great song, “Spirit Love” is gonna be a great live song. I think that… What’s the song called? The second song, “Whatever Gets You By” is gonna be a great live song, I think “Feel My World “is gonna be a good live song. I could go on.
Baltin: Talk about having this place now as an artist where you play stadiums with GNR and then you get to do the more intimate shows with the Conspirators. So as an artist, you to enjoy the top, but are also going back to the beginning.
Slash: Yeah, it’s actually one of the beautiful aspects of the whole setup because Guns is obviously an arena stadium band and Conspirators are basically theaters and some festivals and some arena stuff. But it’s definitely a more intimate environment for the most part. So I do get to do the stadium stuff, which really works for Guns ‘N Roses, and it has a very intimate feel, believe it or not, doing the stadium set for Guns. But still being able to go over and do a tour of, say, mostly theaters, some clubs and s**t, it is very grounding and it makes you not forget how that all feels and how that all works. And also just touring on that scale when you’re all on one bus and you’re just staying in mid-level hotels and all that it’s great. For me personally, I love what it is that I do, the lifestyle I suppose that I’ve chosen to do. And sometimes the grittiness of it is something that really appeals to me. And you can get a little spoiled on the whole Guns thing, so it’s good to have one foot still in the trenches, so to speak.
Baltin: Were you more in the camp of missing touring or enjoying the time off?
Slash: This particular experience, let me appreciate the fact that I get on great with my significant other, and we managed to get through this when a lot of people were getting divorced as a result of being cooped up together. We really appreciated each other’s company. And for the first time in my life, I was able to be at home and not be uptight and stir-crazy to the point of being unhappy. So it was good, because normally I have a history, I don’t sit still well, and I’m bad with off time, and so this was actually a good experience. So as anxious as I was to get back on the road, I was able to placate myself and be able to be at peace while I was here. A lot of my drug problems and alcohol would stem from just not knowing what to do with myself between legs and whatever. And so I finally learned, after I got sober, was that I had to put all that time and energy back into music. So that was a big learning experience. I also managed to get into an environment where I’m around people that I like to be around, and so all that helped. It took a while to get to this place, but it finally, having experienced this year plus of just being stationary, I realize that I’ve achieved a little bit of sort of domestic bliss.