Slash performs at the Rock on the Range Festival in Columbus, Ohio. (Steven C. Mitchell / EPA )
There are things that Slash just doesn't want to talk about. And the timing was definitely not right a few weeks ago as the guitarist was preparing for a trip to Cleveland for his induction with Guns N' Roses into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
"I don't even want to talk about that. I don't want to touch it," Slash said in April, his usual friendly demeanor turning cool at the mere mention of GNR. It was during a week of drama and uncertainty about the ceremony, which had peaked days earlier with the arrival of a confrontational open letter to the Hall of Fame from singer Axl Rose. "There is nothing positive to be gained from talking about it."
For Slash, all that is about the glorious past and less glorious drama that's continued since he officially left that band in 1996. He's moved on and is essentially a solo artist now, leading a hard-rocking unit with singer Myles Kennedy.
This week, Slash released "Apocalyptic Love," his second true solo album, a project he was very happy to talk about, as he sat drinking coffee on the back patio of a Los Angeles photography studio. He'd just finished posing with Alice Cooper for the cover of Revolver magazine.
"I am responsible for everything that goes on, so I am very driven and motivated and focused," Slash, 46, said of his solo work. "I want to keep a handle on having a good time. I love the guys I'm playing with. It's very stress-free. It's just fun for me to realize that it doesn't have to be so ... difficult."
Fans of his work in GNR and Velvet Revolver will find much to embrace in the album's 13 tracks, ranging from the sneering rock hooks of "You're a Lie" and the heavy metal grind of "Halo" to the extended instrumental passages on "Anastasia."
"I definitely never wanted to do anything that seemed like a carbon copy of the band that I was from," Slash said, but he wasn't interested in abandoning his legacy either. "I've always been a work in progress. I always thought I had a lot of potential, so I'm still going down that road. I don't want to jump ship now and try and take on a whole new style."
Beginning in the '90s and up through 2002, he led a band called Slash's Snakepit, which was inevitably eclipsed by Guns N' Roses, despite decent sales of its two albums. "At some point," Slash recalled, "the powers that be said, 'OK, we turned a profit on your record. Now you've got to get back to Guns N' Roses,' and pulled the plug on tour support."
He laughs about it now. With Guns N' Roses now fully behind Slash, and Velvet Revolver on hiatus, his solo career is finally a real priority.
His first solo album, 2010's "Slash," was an all-star gathering of singers and players, from Ozzy Osbourne and Iggy Pop to Dave Grohl and Fergie — the Black Eyed Peas diva who revealed a surprising affinity for hard rock on the song "Beautiful Dangerous." For the final two tracks recorded for the album, Slash worked with Kennedy, a new collaborator known mainly as the singer of Alter Bridge.
"It turned out to be really amazing chemistry from Day 1," said Slash (born Saul Hudson). "I clicked with him on a personal level and on an artistic level."
For the new album, he decided to record with the same players he took on the road for his solo tour, and give all the vocals to Kennedy, not a series of guests. The singer welcomed the opportunity, even as he remained a full-time member of Alter Bridge. While touring last year with that band, Kennedy spent his downtime on the bus working on new songs, building on riffs and ideas from Slash.
"He's obviously got a fantastic sense of feel and emotion in the way he conveys himself on the guitar," Kennedy said from the road. "A lot of the guys that I listened to when I was growing up were either blues-based or soul-based. It's not so much about technique. It's really about pulling emotion out and getting people to feel what you feel."
Weeks later, Slash is on the phone from Minneapolis. The Hall of Fame induction was behind him, and he was back on tour with Kennedy and the band, which Slash had named the Conspirators. He was clearly in a good mood and happy to discuss his recent trip to Cleveland.
It turned out to be "a really pleasant event," Slash said of the induction ceremony. "There was a great feeling of closure for some reason. I will never hear the question of will there be a reunion again the same way, because there just won't."
At the suggestion of GNR bassist Duff McKagan, Kennedy stepped in as the singer for a short set of the band's best-known songs. For the singer, it was another strange high-profile gig, just as when he was recruited in 2008 by Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist John Paul Jones to briefly work on new material.