After two years on the road with Guns N’ Roses, Slash is saddling up for a new release with his band The Conspirators. He began working on “Living The Dream,” his third album with the group, in 2015 but once he began talking to GNR frontman Axl Rose about a possible return to the stage, it became clear there was unfinished business for the two of them to tend to.
The Guns tour was, according to Slash, way more joyous than expected. But he declines to say much more than that. “It’s a very harmonious thing we have going on and there’s nothing to explain,” Slash tells Variety. “We spent the last two years not talking to anybody and really enjoyed it.”
New GNR music, as Slash has said in previous interviews, is very much a possibility. But perhaps set to see the light even sooner, a never-before-heard collaboration between the guitarist and late Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington. After having recently discovered the recording, intended for Slash’s first album and later recorded with late Motorhead frontman Lemmy Kilmister, he sent it along to Bennington’s family taking note of the cautionary lyrics: “I went to see the doctor / He said you’re pretty sick
You got some real bad habits / You’d better stop right quick.”(Bennington committed suicide on July 20, 2017.)
Sober and content with his life today, a conversation with Slash takes wide turns into his thoughts on fame and reflections on the comeback tour.
When did it become real that GNR was alive again?
Slash: Rehearsing some of those songs I hadn’t played in a long time. But the most surreal moment was getting to soundcheck at the Troubadour. That was a trip because I have such a history with the Troubadour, even from before Guns when I was a kid. Then it was where my first gig with Axl and Steven [Adler] was as Hollywood Rose; and the first Guns’ gigs; and getting signed based off of one of those performances. Then seeing us all there, but bringing in three trucks full of gear, that was a trip. But once we got into the Coachella set, it was really weird because it didn’t feel reminiscent of anything from the past. Even though I’ve known these guys for 35 years, and we’re playing the same songs like “Welcome To The Jungle,” it all seemed very fresh and new. I can’t really explain the dichotomy of that one.
Band friction and rock music are practically synonymous. Take the public squabbles of Aerosmith, who you’re close with. Are there people you looked to as examples in how to navigate this terrain?
I’ve been friends with the Aerosmith guys since we played with them back in 1988. I’ve talked to Joe [Perry] on a regular basis pretty much the entire time. And I talk to Steven [Tyler] and Brad [Whitford] on occasion, and Joey [Kramer]. So I’ve been cognizant of everything those guys have been through and it’s very uniquely their own. But one thing I’m really proud of the Aerosmith guys, they managed to hold the band together. As a fan, and someone who has a perspective because I’m in a band too, the fact they can go and get their jollies doing something else, but keep the band intact, it makes a lot of people feel secure. … So, in our situation, it’s nice to have the band and be able to do something on the side and have that thing intact. I don’t see any reason why we would ever get into disbanding it.
Keith Richards was outspoken in his conviction that you belong with Guns. As a guitarist, how strange is it to think back as a kid and imagine one day Keith Richards would care about your participation in a band?
I think he was the main guy who seemed to always have that rule in his head [where] you have to keep the band together, no matter what anybody else did, even himself. That was something he felt strongly about. It was so ingrained in his DNA that he managed to do it. So I admire that because I like to feel I was the same guy. No matter hell or high water, you keep it together. But there was a point with Guns where there was so much outside influence that I just couldn’t see around it. I couldn’t see how you went about fixing it. A lot of these people were so meshed in our reality, almost as part of the group. And it was just insurmountable.
As you get older, do you find yourself worrying or caring less about what others think?
That’s a big part of it now, there isn’t that.
As you see so many artists who didn’t make it to the other side, does it give you a greater appreciation for making it?
I have to appreciate, just for myself personally, being able to f—ing get up and do those gigs every single night. Because I would bet my bottom dollar if I was still carrying the same habit I had 12 years ago, there’s no way I could cope with it. It would be too physically and mentally difficult. There’s something to be said for a sense of clarity. It’s funny cause dope is such an insidious thing. I was thinking about bands from the ‘70s cause I grew up around a lot of that craziness, and I didn’t know it at the time, but I looked back on it and said, “F—ing every single massive argument between artists was 90 percent of the time fueled by coke.” Taking the cocaine out of the equation, how many less rock ‘n’ roll stories there would have been? But speaking of Chester [Bennington], and I forgot all about this until just recently, when I was doing my first solo record, I worked with a lot of different people, some of whom, for whatever reason, didn’t end up on the record. One was with Chester. We did a song and Linkin Park at the time didn’t allow it to happen, so I did it with Lemmy [Kilmister]. The guy who engineered my demos sent it to me and I sent it to Chester’s family. But it was a trip cause the song [called “Doctor Alibi”] really speaks to his state of mind.
Will the song possibly be released?
His family has got it so it would be totally up to them. It was really good. He was awesome. It would be fine with me if they wanted to [release] it. Musically it’s basically the same as the Lemmy song, but the lyrics are really poignant.