Don’t Call Slash a Solo Act, Call Him a ‘Ringleader': Exclusive Interview
It doesn't matter how rich, famous or talented you are; if you're not careful — and even if you are — COVID can still strike you. Slash learned that the hard way while making his new album, 4.
The top-hatted guitarist sought a change of scenery for his fourth consecutive album with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators, featuring bassist Todd "Dammit" Kerns, drummer Brent Fitz and guitarist Frank Sidoris. So in March 2021, the quintet crowded onto a bus and rode from Los Angeles to Nashville's RCA Studios, whose A and B rooms have collectively housed Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, B.B. King and dozens of other legends. Together with producer Dave Cobb, their goal was simple: Knock out 10 songs in 10 days, live in the studio with virtually no overdubs, just like their rock 'n' roll heroes of yesteryear.
The sessions got off to an explosive start, and for a while, it looked like the band might finish 4 without a hitch. But a little more than halfway through the recording process, Kennedy came down with a vicious case of "allergies," which, of course, soon revealed themselves to be COVID and promptly infected the rest of the band. Yet Slash was undeterred. The man who used to perform three-hour Guns N' Roses concerts while loaded on Jack Daniel's and heroin soldiered through the illness, and he and his COVID-ravaged bandmates completed another no-frills hard rock album.
Now, the historically easygoing guitarist is able to look back on the beleaguered sessions with fondness. "Yeah, you know, it was a very memorable experience," he tells UCR with a laugh. "I mean, the actual session itself was a blast and one of the most fun times I've had in the studio in my career, actually. And then, the other aspect of it was very sort of band bonding, as we had to sort of go through this whole COVID thing together while quarantining in Nashville in an Airbnb. But, you know, at the end of the day, the record got done, and no one's worse for wear."
Watch Slash's 'The River Is Rising' Music Video
Slash and the rest of Guns N' Roses have since completed a massive arena and stadium tour unscathed, and tonight (Feb. 8), the guitarist kicks off his own six-week trek in Portland, Ore. The precautions are rigorous but non-negotiable. "It's funny: We're out on the road right now, and the amount of hurdles that you have to jump to be on tour at the moment almost seem ridiculous, right?" he says. "But it's amazing what you will do and what you will go through and what you will endure to be able to go and play. Myself and a lot of my colleagues, that's just how we are. There's absolutely no obstacle that we won't go through when it comes to playing, to be able to record a song or to perform a song or whatever it is."
The guitarist says tonight's show will feature the three previously released singles off 4: the slinky riff-fest "The River Is Rising," the aching power ballad "Fill My World" and the blues-punk ripper "Call Off the Dogs." "As the record comes out, I'll start to sprinkle in more songs off the new record," he says. "By the time the tour is over, we will have played every song on the record."
What Slash won't be doing on this tour is fleshing out set lists with songs from GNR, Velvet Revolver or Slash's Snakepit, like he did in the Conspirators' early days. The reasoning is twofold: With four full-lengths under their belt — 2012's Apocalyptic Love, 2014's World on Fire, 2018's Living the Dream and 4 — the Conspirators have more than enough material to fill a set by themselves now. But since 2016, Slash has also been scratching the GNR itch alongside Axl Rose and Duff McKagan, packing stadiums and criss-crossing the globe on a seemingly endless reunion jaunt.
"I have to admit, I really missed playing the Guns material when this thing first started, so it was a great outlet for me," Slash explains. "But having gotten back with all my buddies in Guns, after a while I was like, 'I don't really need to do it with Myles and Company,' so we don't have any Guns songs in the set. That said, I sort of miss the occasional Velvet Revolver song. So I haven't put any Velvet songs in the set as of yet, but I might at some point put one, at least, just for the fun of doing it."
Listen to Slash's 'Call off the Dogs'
To quote his last album title, Slash is living the dream, simultaneously playing the role of stadium-rock behemoth and theater-packing road warrior. He's fought long and hard for this level of stress-free sustainability, battling volcanic egos, chemical dependencies and vulturous record executives in his search for like-minded musicians who like to simply plug in, turn up and play.
"We don't have any kind of illusions of grandeur. We're not trying to be the biggest band in the world," he says of the Conspirators. "We just like to go and play. And so that's how this has been functioning all this time. But we've actually sort of built up a sizable fan base, and we've got our own thing going at this point that's sort of established, but it doesn't really change the way that we do things. So it's a very easy, sort of simple group."
And to be clear, this is a group — it's right there in the name. Ever since Slash’s Snakepit debuted with 1995's It's Five O' Clock Somewhere, the guitarist has preferred to operate within the context of a band, even when his name is at the front. Even his 2010 self-titled solo debut, which featured a different vocalist on nearly every song, served to connect him with Kennedy and led to their full-time partnership.
"In this band, we started out where it was a solo thing for me, a vehicle for me, but I quickly recognized it as a band, and that's how the name came together,” he says. "From Apocalyptic Love on, it's really been more of a group effort. I'm just sort of the ringleader."