No band has been quite so terrifying to the guardians of morality since Guns N’ Roses ascended to worldwide notoriety in the year following the release of their 1987 debut album, Appetite for Destruction. “I know how in the 80s especially, a lot of bands were infamous for creating infamy,” says Slash – shades on, nicotine gum on the table in front of him, nine years after packing in the fags – with a little laugh of disdain. “We were feral. People who worked with us later on saw that as marketable, I guess.”
Slash’s first choice of his favourite tracks across his back catalogue, Rocket Queen, predated Guns: it came from a track that he had worked on with Steven Adler and Duff McKagan in their band Road Crew, before they joined up with Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin. That final quintet, though, was something greater than the sum of its parts. “It needed all of them to really connect,” Slash says. “We had exhausted a lot of other lineups and it just clicked.”
Guns appeared to go straight from starving on the streets to bloated superstardom. Slash hadn’t much enjoyed the transition to stardom – “You couldn’t just hang out in the pub. That was a little bit of a shock for me and I just did drugs and drank and hid away at my house. That part of it took a long time to try and sort out.” After touring Appetite to death, or at least the brink of it, they returned in 1991 with not one but two albums. And both of them were doubles: Use Your Illusion I and II.
“There was some really really cool shit on those records,” he says. “But it was not the the lean or trim eight-to-10-song record that would have probably been the ideal thing.” And the band was in such turmoil that good decision-making was rather beyond them, hence the 28-month tour to promote the two albums. “As streetwise as I’d like to think the guys were, no one was really prepared for the big-money music business,” admits Slash.
The story goes that Slash took the riff of Always on the Run to Lenny Kravitz because Adler wasn’t a funky enough drummer to play along with it. “I don’t recall ever saying that,” Slash says with a raised eyebrow. “It was a riff that I came up with that I didn’t present it Guns N’ Roses because it didn’t seem appropriate.” The truth is that Kravitz heard Slash playing the riff while working on his second album, Mama Said, and asked if he could have it. “It was a free piece of property, so …”
The list of artists who have asked Slash to play on their records reads like an awards ceremony lineup: Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Iggy Pop, Motörhead, Carole King, Rihanna. Sometimes, though, it didn’t work out as expected. Such as when he went to record Wiggle Wiggle with Bob Dylan in 1990. “I go in and I did what I consider to be a really good one-off in my own style,” he says. “A couple days later I asked Don [Was, the producer], ‘Can you send me a rough of what it what it sounds like?’ I’d done an acoustic rhythm track through the whole song. I’m listening – it’s Bob Dylan, cool!” But Slash’s solo hadn’t made the cut. “Bob said it sounded a little bit too much like Guns N’ Roses. So he just took it off.”
When Slash left Guns N’ Roses in 1996, he had his own project, Slash’s Snakepit, up and running, but was adrift in many other ways. “John Lennon had his lost weekend; I had a lost decade in the 90s. But the one thing I was doing with Snakepit was to try and do something that had something solid underneath.”
Velvet Revolver – the group he formed with his old Guns colleagues McKagan and Matt Sorum, plus guitarist Dave Kushner and – especially – singer Scott Weiland was not an easy ride, though. “Velvet Revolver was a really difficult time. It never felt as good as it looked from the outside. It was a cool combination – but I didn’t help, and we all fell off the wagon after a while.” Did the news of Weiland’s death in December 2015, of an accidental overdose, come as any surprise? “When you get that phone call … it was a shock and at the same time it was, ‘Why should it be a shock?’”
After Velvet Revolver came to an end, Slash had no desire to form another band. Instead, he quietly assembled a collection of tracks, then set about finding singers to front them. This became his first solo album, 2010’s Slash. He had first met Lemmy in June 1987, when Guns N’ Roses came to play at the Marquee in London. “Lemmy and I just hit it off and we started hanging out and we’ve been friends ever since. The world is extremely different to me with him not in it.”
Dr Alibi, Slash says, exemplified Lemmy’s attitude to the world. “Lemmy went to the doctor, who said, ‘Just keep doing what you’re doing because that’s the only glue that’s holding you together.’ And so he wrote this great lyric Dr Alibi, basically saying: don’t change anything because the change is what’s going to kill you.” Slash, of course, had been around enough self-destructive behaviour to understand that there are consequences. But he thought Lemmy was going to be different, somehow. “Lemmy was a fucking full-on survivor. If it weren’t for cancer [which killed him in December 2015 aged 70, just days after he was diagnosed] he probably would have beat the other shit that he was going through.”
Joining Slash for the first time on that first solo album was Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge, who has been the frontman for his band ever since. Kennedy had been meant to audition for Velvet Revolver, but never turned up.
With two songs lacking singers, Slash gave Kennedy the call. And when he decided to tour, Kennedy had the vocal range to cover all the bases. “What really appealed to me was that he wasn’t another one of these guys trying to do the raspy rock’n’roll voice with all that attitude. You have already had too many guys who have done it and are so great at it. So I was trying to find somebody who’s coming from a different place.”
For six years now, Slash has been a bandleader and, this time, there are fewer of the hangers-on who attached themselves to Guns and Velvet Revolver. “When Axl and I first got back together again and started talking about the issues that we had, the origins of them really went out to other people,” he says. “It wasn’t just because we were passing the buck – there were other entities involved that created a lot of havoc.”
But now he has moved on to being a kind of institution – friendly, smiley, sober – does he ever miss the days when he was dangerous? “I never looked at it like that. When I think back on all the different shit that’s gone on over the years – ending up in the hospital or on the floor with paramedics or all that bullshit – it got to a point where I finally got tired of all that and was not enjoying it any more. Trying really hard to come off as dangerous was never my thing. It was a label that was applied.”
The most recent Slash album, Living the Dream, had to be recorded in between tours by the reunited Guns N’ Roses. He still feels the urge to rock, then? “I definitely still feel the urge. The more I do it, the more I love to do it. I talk to other people that are in this business who are same age as me and it’s just the worst grind for them. They’ve been doing it for too long, but it’s the only way that they can make money. But I just fucking just dig every fucking aspect of it.”
And if he could any piece of advice to the young Slash, what would it be? “I wouldn’t. Shit just happens the way it happens. You have to go through whatever you go through. I wouldn’t try to change anything. I don’t think in the past – that’s such a waste of fucking time anyway.”
Slash plays four dates in the UK this month, beginning Saturday 16 February at Manchester Apollo. Living the Dream is out now on Roadrunner
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Slash has curated a longer primer to his work, featuring the above alongside other favourite tracks from across his career; you can listen and subscribe to it in Spotify below