Drummer Steven Adler's drugs use got him kicked out of Guns N' Roses - despite the fact that most of the band were in a similar place. Back with a new band, Adler's Appetite, he looks back to his Guns years
WORDS: DAVE LING
A few yards from the earshot of its subject, Jizzy Pearl and I have just had 'the' conversation: It's the muffled, confidential one in which the journalist expresses quiet doubt, and the artist attempts friendly reassurance. "Steven's still got what it takes," insists the singer, also known for fronting Love/Hate and Ratt. "People expect him-and us - to fall on our ass, but he's playing like a motherfucker."
Steven Adler shouldn't even be breathing, let alone playing the drums. After what he once described as "a hellacious speedball" of cocaine and heroin, Steven suffered a stroke that left one side of his face completely paralysed. It still affects his speech, but hasn't prevented him from forming Adler's Appetite, along with Pearl, ex Slash's Snakepit guitarist Keri Kelli and bassist Robbie Crane.
With just a smattering of original material to their name thus far, the band have been dismissed as a glorified Guns N' Roses tribute act, and the set they performed in London recently included most of the Appetite For Destruction album, plus among others Civil War, the song Adler's inability to play caused his final ejection from the band. So far, just an EP is available from the group's website (www. adlersappetite.com), though they hope to release a full-length debut this summer, and tour here again towards the year's end.
It's been 13 long years since you left Guns N' Roses.
"Yeah, and for the most part it feels like that time never elapsed. It's great to be back, and to get such wonderful responses from audiences and other bands. I couldn't be happier. And you know what? Writing songs with these guys is easier than it ever was with the GN'R guys. I've got the greatest job in the world again."
Did you actually stop playing the drums?
"Pretty much, I'm ashamed to say. I wish I could say that I did a lot of travelling or self-improvement, but all I actually did was sit on the couch and get high -while the TV watched me. It was a very, very hard time. Slash and I had started things off together at the age of 12, and from the garage our band went to the clubs to making records and travelling around the world. When you get to the level that GN'R was at-right up there alongside the Stones, Zeppelin and Aerosmith - what do you do when someone kicks you out? I wasn't gonna go back to the garage again. I didn't want it to get hurt all over."
You actually resorted to suicide attempts. How serious were they?
"Well, they're behind me now but I woke up a couple of times with charcoal coming out of every hole. I was very miserable. Everything I'd worked my whole life for had been taken away from me. And it was the people I'd worked with that had turned on me. I didn't know what to do. From having hundreds of friends, to getting kicked out of the band by my best friend-and a guy who I was doing the drugs with! - it left me with no-one to turn to. I was very sad and lonely. My wife left me, and I didn't blame her. It's hard to watch someone you love trying to kill themselves. That's what I was doing."
The last that most of us Brits last heard of you was in a short-lived band called Road Crew, with ex-Vain singer Davy Vain.
"That was great while it lasted, but unfortunately I was still getting high at the time and I blew it. That's the truth of that situation."
What actually happened?
We made a record, and a record company loved it and was going to sign us. I forget which label it was; it began with 'a', maybe Atlantic or Arista? They came to a rehearsal and afterwards came back to my house to talk some more, but at the same time so did this girl who I was getting my drugs from. It was crazy- I hadn't even called her, but she just happened to turn up. She was standing there at the gate, and handed me a cigarette box full of drugs. I accepted it... right in front of the band, the label people, everyone. The label wouldn't even come into the house, the band all told me to forget it. My phone didn't ring for years. Not unless it was a drug dealer calling me back. it was a very bad time. But I made it through the other side, and that's all that matters."
Is Adler's Appetite a long-term proposition, or just a bit of fun?
"I take my life very seriously now, my music really helps me to keep on the rails. And now that we've got some songs of our own, that can only be a good thing. We'd like to have an album out by the summer, so we can do more touring. It's dangerous for me to be stuck at home."
One of the first comeback road trips you did in the States was the so-called Bad Boys Of Metal tour.
"Yeah. Myself, Kevin DuBrow [of Quiet Riot], Jam Lane [ex-of Warrant] and Joe LeSté [Bang Tango/Beautiful Creatures] with a house band. We'd go on and play half a dozen songs each with them. It was 27 shows in 31 days, which was pretty insane."
In an interview, DuBrow later called the tour among the most "untogether and unpleasant" he'd ever experienced, slamming you for "buffoonery", drunkenness and even the cancellation of one particular show.
"I wasn't fucked up. I know what really annoyed Kevin. At first, he was headlining. I was happy with that; I wanted to go on second or third anyway. But after I was done, pretty much everybody would leave. He'd end up singing for bartenders and waitresses and a handful of fans. After the third show, he wanted me to go on last and I refused. I've got nothing bad to say about Kevin, who's a very nice guy."
For the record, are you now clean and sober?
"No, I am not. I never claimed to be. But I'm not shooting heroin or doing cocaine. I'll have a beer or a shot of Jager[-meister], or I'll smoke a joint. It's all in control if I stick to that. But heroin and cocaine makes me useless."
How do you now look back at the GN'R years?
"It was the greatest time of my life, but one of the guys - I don't need to name him - made it so difficult for us all. Quite often he made the best and most exciting times I'll ever experience feel like a complete pain in the ass. Besides the loneliness and sadness I felt when I was excluded, the worst thing was to play in front of 20,000 people and have the guy storm offstage in the middle of the first song. With no warning, he'd throw the microphone to the floor, then leave. And not come back. Quite rightly, the audience would boo, and it was an awful feeling to know there was nothing that the rest of the band could do about the situation."
Did you sometimes try?
"Of course. You'd go backstage and get in a fight
with the guy. He'd say, 'Fuck you' and get on a plane and you'd have to cancel a lot of other shows. It's all coming back to him now because he's the one who looks bad. But at the time it reflected badly on all of us."
Do you feel like you've been needlessly written out of the band's story?
"Oh yeah. But Axl's written everybody out. If he didn't like ya - and he didn't like any of us - or even if any of us didn't like him, then you were gone. No argument. It's a shame. At least in this band we all like each other and want to do the same thing."
But do you also take responsibility for your own behaviour back then?
"Of course. Nobody forced me to do those stupid things. It was all a part of growing up, and they didn't have shows like Behind The Music in those days. I'd read interviews with all my favourite rock stars and just wanted to be like the guys I idolised. You never read in Hit Parader what it was like to throw up blood, or to wake up in hospital. When GN'R toured with Aerosmith back in the day, Slash and I had looked up to Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, but we weren't even allowed to have beer in their company. Then again, nobody tells you how sick you can get. I was very naive to the dangers of
heroin. The first times I did it were two years apart. It made me so sick. Then the third time I did it, it didn't affect me that way. So I did it every day for a month." You weren't alone in that behaviour, right? "No. Slash and I both lived in Laurel Canyon. We'd call each other up and ask if the other had any money. For a month I'd get out $300 a day, then give Slash $200 of it. He'd give me a piece of heroin that was the size of a little pebble. He'd have a piece the size of a [significantly larger] 50-cent piece - I was so naive. After about a month, this one day came along when I didn't do heroin and I was sick as a dog. I couldn't understand it, so I called the manager [Doug Goldstein], who took me to a doctor that gave me an opiate blocker. I didn't know that you couldn't take opiate blockers with opiates in your system. It only made me worse. I literally had to crawl to the bathroom."
It's a supreme irony that you were thrown out of the band while on anti-drug medication.
"Yeah. Slash called me to say we had to go into the studio to record Civil War. I was so sick, I just couldn't do it. He said it was booked and we couldn't afford to waste the money. I told him we both knew of somebody who'd wasted way more cash than one day in the studio. Anyway, I went in there and tried to play the song 20, maybe 30 times. But I was so weak, my timing was like a rollercoaster. Every time we played it back they'd
all shout at me, 'You're fucked up'. Then every two seconds they would go off to the bathroom and do coke."
What are your recollections of the sacking?
"Doug Goldstein called me into the office about two weeks later. He wanted me to sign some contracts. I was told that every time I did heroin, the band would fine me $2,000. There was a whole stack of papers, with coloured paper clips everywhere for my signatures. What these contracts
actually said was that the band were paying me $2,000 to leave. They were taking my royalties, all my writing credits. They didn't like me anymore and just wanted me gone. That's why I filed the lawsuit - to get all those things back."
It was reported that you eventually received $3 million compensation, but considering the group had been such a brotherhood at the start, it must've been a very sour experience?
"They were such bastards to me. Do you know the most touching thing? At the end of the trial, all the jurors hugged me and said, 'Good luck and take care'. They hated [the other members of Guns N' Roses]. When they were on the stand they'd be asked, 'How many times have you overdosed?', and the reply would be 20 or 30 times each. And there they were, throwing out this nice boy who was getting treatment? It made them look bigger assholes than they were. And that's what prevented me from putting another band together till now. I didn't want to get that hurt again. I got my money [from them], I just wanted to die. But God wouldn't take me. And after about 10 years of waking up in hospitals, I had to get my life in order. And music was all I knew."
Have you had any feedback on Adler's Appetite from your ex-GN'R colleagues?
"One cool thing was that Slash and Izzy came to play with us at the Key Club [in Hollywood]. And Izzy now wants to come to South America with us. We're due to play some shows there in a few months, and he says he'd like to come with us. I'd love Slash to come along too, if he's not busy with Velvet Revolver. He called on my birthday, on January 22, which was nice."
Speaking of Velvet Revolver, have you been to see them live?
"Yeah, at the Hard Rock Café in Las Vegas. I love Slash and Duff. They've got such a presence. Scott [Weiland, singer], the snake boy, is a great performer as well. I don't know Matt Sorum. He didn't fire me, so I don't hate him. I don't even know him. Until he screws me over he's fine with me!"
Have you seen or heard the current GN'R line-up?
"Is there one? You tell me. I'm pretty sure what they're doing now won't sound like the Guns N' Roses I knew. But despite all the sadness and heartache that Axl put me through, good luck to him. I still love him. It was all a decade ago, I'm over it."
You once said you wouldn't consider rejoining the Gunners for a billion dollars.
"What I actually said was that I wouldn't do it unless it was the classic five-piece line-up. No keyboard players, no back-up singers. Axl could call up and ask, but if Duff, Slash and Izzy weren't doing it, then I'd definitely say no-even for a billion dollars."
So... W. Axl Rose: genius or just misunderstood?
"He's probably a misunderstood genius. I don't know. Axl doesn't think far ahead enough [to be a visionary]. Like, 'If I do this, so and so will happen'. He's definitely a great lyricist. But the thing people forget is that Slash, Duff, Izzy and I wrote the music - sometimes Axl wasn't even at rehearsal and we just gave him a tape. For the longest time I had no clue what he was singing on our first EP [1985's Live?!*@ Like A Suicide]."
Given the name of your band is Adler's Appetite, has anyone tried to stop you?
"Why would they? Axl's just one original member of Guns N' Roses who's now playing with a whole bunch of new people. I'm doing exactly the same thing. At first we called this thing Suki Jones, but Adler's Appetite is a much stronger name. This band is nothing to do with ripping off Appetite For Destruction, it's about my own appetite- forgetting out there and playing music again."