|Over a year ago, it was reported that Slash had slithered out of his Snakepit and allied with former GN’R heavyweights Duff McKagan (bass) and Matt Sorum (drums) for an “unnamed project seeking a vocalist.” By the time The Hulk – which featured the crushing radio single “Set Me Free” – hit theaters in June 2003, it was confirmed: Slash & Co. were officially dubbed Velvet Revolver. The inimitable, increasingly infamous Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots was the frontman, and former Suicidal Tendencies guitarist Dave Kushner had also joined the fold.
How would you describe the creative process in Velvet Revolver?
The great thing about Velvet Revolver and Contraband is that we just did it. There was such a lack of faith out there when we started – in this business, everybody’s so worried about their jobs that they don’t like anything until someone else tells them it’s good. So we just hung out and did our own thing. We opened the huge treasure chest of musical knowledge that we all had, and we let loose. Before Scott came onboard, Duff, Matt, and I had written about 50 or 60 songs; we were enjoying each other’s company so much.
And when Scott came in, he brought another musical “magic bag” of stuff. Of those 50 or 60 songs, he’d pick certain ones that came to him right away; that gave us something tangible t latch onto. Then we started writing with him. Sometimes I’d go, “What do you think of this?” And all of a sudden he’d have a melody. I’d be like, “This is really just sort of cruising – painless!” I figured it’s sort of meant to be. It was like something besides just us was driving this thing, which is so cool.
We started really focusing on writing in July, went in the studio in October, and it was done before Christmas. We made the record our way, and we’re proud of it. We played everything – we didn’t fuckin’ loop anything. It sounds really new, but it’s a very old-school approach. Yet it doesn’t sound like an old Foghat record (laughs) – even though we recorded it probably the same sort of way!
Slash signatures abound on this disc. “Falling to Pieces,” for instance, features an instrumental guitar theme following a chorus, much like “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
Yeah, that’s very much a signature thing for me. It starts as a pretty straightforward line, but the bend adds that emotional quality. That’s one of the first songs I brought out and showed to Duff and Matt. It was first just a couple of chord changes, but then that melody came to mind. “Superhuman” also has a riff like that.
The solo in “You Got No Right” opens up with a pretty blazing ascending run. Where do those types of chops come from?
That’s something like this, more or less. The beginning part’s all in there somewhere.
One thing I never did with any of these really fast guitar players was sit down and try to learn their stuff too carefully, with the exception of Michael Schenker. I remember sitting down and learning his live “Rock Bottom” guitar solo. But with other players, I think it was more subconscious: you hear it and pick it up; it’s part of your own back-ground, so when you’re playing, it just comes to you. Even really quick Chuck Berry stuff – you hear it, absorb it, and try to incorporate it somewhere down the line.
So your vocabulary grew from listening?
Sure. Even now, I’m a sponge. I just saw John Mayer on TV playing with Buddy Guy; he was playing some shit I didn’t know, so I listened. I just shut down when I listen to guitar players play – I absorb it. I also pick up stuff from watching people jam. That’s one of the cool things about going t local bars: seeing what people are doing and jamming with them. I’m a huge advocate of jamming with others; you learn a lot. I love to go and do that – even if people wipe the stage up with me (laughs).
If you were going to jam with somebody over a riff, what kind of thing might you play to get things rolling?
If I was just gonna show up at a club and jam, a groove like this would be great. If you get the right drummer playing in the pocket on that, it can be amazing. There are so many things you can do jamming over that – all these different kinds of notes, not just a big “minor” thing.
When it comes down to it, I jam as a kind of practice; I don’t have a set practice routine. Usually, when I pick up the guitar, the first thing I’ll do is a lick – as a reflex – just to get going. Or maybe something like this. That’s all “soundcheck” stuff, just to get rockin’. Or, during soundcheck, maybe you don’t know how the room sounds, so you play sorta slow. If you got this great ambience in the room, then a slow blues thing comes out. It all depends on how inspired you are.
You have a seemingly limitless variety of “looping” pentatonic ideas in your vocabulary. This is especially noticeable in your live improvisations.
I recently listened to Guns’ live record (Live Era ’87-’93) for the first time since it came out (in 1999). I didn’t realize how much I soloed in Guns! It was mostly because of the absence of Axl; he would go offstage, or just need a break, which was all cool – as long as he was coming back (laughs)! All those licks were totally in the moment.
But that never-ending, repetitive kind of stuff is all sort of an emotional release. You do that for however long you think feels right, and then come off with some other lick. Or, depending on what the chord changes are, you can make something up – find some odd notes and make a pattern out of them.
What gear did you use on Contraband?
The mainstay of the whole record is my Slash model Marshall (JCM 2555SL) and my regular recording Gibson Les Paul that I’ve been using for years. But there are also a lot of other sounds on this record. We used the Vox (AC-30) in different songs; I’ve never done that before. And I used an old Fender Champ and a Fender Deluxe. On “Sucker Train Blues,” I used a Strat for the guitar solo and a Tele for the rhythm, which is really unheard of for me! I also used a Gibson ES-335 for a bunch of rhythm stuff. And I used a Fernandes with a Sustaniac pickup for the (artificial) feedback on “Big Machine.” There’s also a Takamine acoustic-electric on “You Got No Right.” All my guitars have Ernie Ball strings - .010-.046 and .011-.56 – and I use Dunlop heavy picks.