Guns N' Roses lead guitarist Slash may hail from one of rock's most volatile bands, but in the Hamburger Hamlet on the Sunset Strip there are no riots, groupies or shattered whiskey bottles around the 29-year-old musician.
Slash, who's often portrayed in photos and videos as a dark and sleazy character, is laid-back as he smiles and tells jokes. He avoids eye contact the way shy people frequently do, but he graciously acknowledges fans who stop by the table to say hello.
Despite his easygoing demeanor, he is hard to miss in the lunch crowd of business people. His corkscrew hair hangs in his face, a cigarette dangles from his mouth, and tattoos, nose ring and leather pants complete the Slash \o7 look\f7 --as famous to '90s rock fans as the Keith Richards look has been to audiences through the years.
Over several mixed drinks, a shot of Jagermeister and a steak, Slash (real name: Saul Hudson) says that he prefers his new album to be referred to as a "side project" rather than a solo project because he thinks the word \o7 solo\f7 stirs up the rumors of strained relations within Guns N' Roses. He simply wanted something to do while waiting for GNR to end its year-and-a-half-long hiatus.
Slash's "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" recalls the raw, raunchy early days of GNR. His group, called Slash's Snakepit, features bassist Mike Inez from Alice in Chains and singer Eric Dover of Jellyfish, as well as GNR drummer Matt Sorum and former GNR guitarist Gilby Clarke. (\o7 See review, Page 72.\f7 )
Just before leaving town on a promotional trip to Europe, Slash speaks about why he wanted to make his own album, his rocky relationship with singer Axl Rose, the future of Guns N' Roses and the relevance of hard-rock music in the punk-obsessed '90s.
Question: What made you want to do a solo album? Are there certain things you can't get across with Guns N' Roses?
Answer: Well, it's more like Guns is sort of an institution. . . . All the pressure on the band, the whole stadium approach. We don't really have anywhere to go but backward into clubs, and Axl doesn't want to do that, so this is a release for me.
But creatively I haven't changed direction that much. Axl has gotten very into a lot of stuff (musically) that I don't necessarily relate to, but we still work together on it. It's like we've expanded into different realms.
(Snakepit) is just a bunch of guys who don't care about the whole grand scheme of this business. It was so nice to take all that pressure off.
Q: When did you realize you needed to take this break?
A: A year ago when we came back from 2 1/2 years of playing stadiums. It was hard work, but I like touring, so that part wasn't so bad. But every time I get home from a long stint like that, I would get in a bad place. I wouldn't know what to do. I'm not good at sitting at home, so I would get into whatever drugs. So this time I thought, "I'm not getting strung out again." It's old. It's over. I'm not into doing that anymore.
Q: Because Guns N' Roses carries so much baggage, do you feel the music you got across with Snakepit is purer in a sense?
A: It takes me back to a more roots approach to things. We can play small clubs and be more intimate with the audience. But Guns is still there in the wings, and I have every aspiration to work with Guns, but now I'm touring in a van, with no limo to whisk me away to the show. Not that that's bad. . . .
Q: But it maybe feels more down to earth?
A: Yeah, but I don't think I ever levitated too much. I'm pretty down to earth. It's just nice to be in that environment and have the capacity to do stuff on a whim.
Q: But you'll always be seen as the Slash of Guns N' Roses, right?
A: Yeah. If I go out to the record store or market, especially if I wear my top hat out, it's like all of a sudden I'm Mickey Mouse, you know, that cartoon character. Everybody's like, "Whoa!"
Q: One of the surprises on the album is that you don't sing.
A: I hate singing. I don't have the personality for it. I tried it on the T. Rex song on "Spaghetti Incident" because Axl didn't feel comfortable singing that song, so the only way it would make it on the record was if I did it. I freaked out and felt like I had to have a guitar hanging on my shoulder just to be able to stand there in front of the mike and sing.
Q: So what is going on with Guns N' Roses? There's been so much talk about the group feuding and falling apart. Is the band still intact?
A: Everything's fine. Guns is just sort of sitting there. . . . I mean, all this brouhaha out there about what's going on with Guns, it's like who the (expletive) cares? We're fine. Leave us alone.
Whenever I have a few days off from Snakepit, we rehearse and write songs. After I'm done touring, which won't be long, we'll start really formulating the basis for an album. Then record, then figure out a touring situation.
Q: It's been a long time since the last GNR album. Do you ever fear people will lose interest in the band?