|KINGS OF METAL
GUNS Ní ROSES
THE COMPLETE CLASSIC AXL ROSE INTERVIEW
BY ANDY SECHER
Few bands in rock and roll history can ever match the legacy created by Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler during their notorious early-í90s heyday. To many, Guns Ní Roses were the Greatest Show on EarthÖa three ring circus featuring enough death-defying antics to fill a monthís worth of soap opera scripts. To some, these quintessential L.A. wildmen were the ultimate Hollywood vampires, a band that lived by night, and broke every rule in the books in the process. To others, theyíll forever remain the greatest band ever produced by the notorious West Coast Metal Explosion of the Ď80s.
Either way, the fact of the matter is that Guns Ní Roses were never particularly comfortable with the notion of merely existing on the rock and roll scene. It was their intent to hit the music world like a run-away freight train, an uncontrollable force ready, willing and able to blast asunder everything Ė and everyone Ė unlucky enough to be standing in their path of destruction. For these guys rock and roll wasnít a musical form as much as it was a lifestyle, a statement of purpose consisting equally of all-night parties, bloody street brawls and an endless stream of wine, women and song. At a time when the rock universe was growing almost jaded with the wild-man, party-hearty rockers who seemed to comprise the entirety of the Los Angeles music orb, Guns Ní Roses proved that those other guys had only been pretenders, that they were the only true contenders for the title of hard rockís most dangerous band. And at the heart of it all was one man Ė the notorious Axl Rose.
More than a decade after he was at the pinnacle of rock and roll fame, Rose remains one of the most famous, and infamous, names in rock history. Sure he was controversial. Sure he knew how to take things right to the edge Ė and then occasionally push Ďem right on over. But there was apparently always more to Axl Rose than canceling tour dates, inciting riots and creating international incidents. Since he first burst upon the hard rock scene some 15 years ago, heís created a legacy that may well be unmatched in the contemporary rock field. Quite simply, you canít be more famous Ė or infamous Ė than Axl Rose has remainedÖ despite not having released an album in over a decade.
Itís also no secret that Axlís fiery personality and Hit Parader more than occasionally clashed over the years. Heís ďserenadedĒ us in song on Get Into The Ring, and taken his share of potshots (fairly or unfairly) at us Ė and weíve returned the fire in kind! But back in 1992, at the height of GNíR mania, Axl decided to bury the hatchet and grant one of his few media interviews. During out lengthy conversation Axl opened up about just about everything Ė his feud with the press, his hopes for a happy home life and his future musical plans. We figured that this historic interview deserved to be read again in this Kings of Metal special issue Ė with a little time and history now on our side.
Hit Parader: Is it impossible for you to lead any sort of normal life Ė to hang out at the mall, to go to a movie?
AXL ROSE: Basically life on the road is hotel rooms and planes Ė unless you have a lot of security with you. It depends on how hectic the city is. If itís not too bad, I can go out with just two security people and have a normal day; go shopping or just walk around. In BogotŠ, Columbia, it was really hectic. You needed about two vans of security people just to move around. It was a nightmare. At this very moment, there are about 500 kids standing in front of the hotel. I went to an antique store down here the other day because I collect antique crucifixes, and it was kind of fun because I ran into a bunch of school girls all dressed in their outfits. They knew who I was, and it was really kind of cute.
HP: Is there any place on Earth where you can go and not be recognized?
AXL: I donít know. Itís rare. Iíll go someplace like Portofino, Italy, on vacation, and the next thing I know is that I have to stop eating dinner because there are people all around. Probably the easiest place for me to get around in is L.A. The second is New York Ė there, they just say, ďYo, Ax,Ē and thatís it. But they can spot me there no matter what Iím wearing, so I donít even bother trying a disguise. They just assume thatís my new look.
HP: How do you find the bandís songs evolving as youíve played them night after night on the road?
AXL: With most of the songs, we put everything we had into them when we recorded them. So each night, whether youíre into playing it or not, you have to rise to it. Itís still a challenge to get that song right each night. Thatís what keeps us going. We had to quit the show early the other night Ė and thatís only the third show weíve had to cut short for technical reasons or riots, or whatever Ė and that bothered us a great deal. We still care very deeply about every song we do.
HP: Is there one song in particular that you really look forward to playing each night; and, conversely, is there one you dread performing?
AXL: I canít say that thereís any one song that I really look forward to doing; hopefully something will spark my emotion and Iíll really have a good time. But itís always different every night. You never know which song is gonna get you excited. Right now we kind of feel obligated to play the hits, and while thatís a little hard on us, we feel that to do a good show and give the people what they want, we have to do that. Weíre really not into doing that. In fact, thatís why weíre back on the road in America in February.
HP: Tell us about that tour.
AXL: Weíre calling this one the ďSkin And BonesĒ tour, and it gives us a chance to play the other songs Ė the ones that arenít necessarily the hits. It will be all stripped down to just the six members of the band and a small stage. Weíll use the video screens and maybe some cool lights, but itíll be only an hour and forty five minute set, and weíre really excited to have the Brian May band as our opening act. I always loved Queen, so thatís very exciting for me. And weíre gonna be playing arenas in cities that we havenít played yet.
HP: Youíve been on the road almost non-stop for the last 18 months. How do you keep going?
AXL: It really hasnít been straight time on the road. Itís been three or four month jaunts, and then you have a month or two off. But during that time youíre trying to get your home life together or do whatever videos or recording your doing at that time. But since weíve started Iíve only had one real vacation Ė that was in Portofino. And there within hours, everyone seemed to know I was there. We ended up having room service all the time. It sounds tough, but itís actually kind of cool. I like to be real private; you donít always want everyone around you Ė even when they like you. But at the same time, if theyíre not there, you wonder what youíre doing wrong.
HP: Do you ever worry about burn out? It would seem like you really donít have time for a personal life.
AXL: I really felt burnt out a lot on the last tour we did. It was very hard for me to be out there because all of the songs were a part of my past, and I wanted to get on to my future. The burn out thing hits and thatís when we change the set around a little bit. The South American tour, for instance, has really gotten Slash and me very excited, especially about the people and their responses to the show. Itís brought new life into it. To be honest, the American tour was really hard because with Metallica playing a full set, and the crowd being really tired by the time they got to us, and so many spectators who really werenít into the music Ė people who were there just because they wanted to see what everything was about Ė it was difficult for us. In Europe, Japan and even South America, everyone who comes to the show is really into the music. With that many people on the American tour just standing around and not giving us energy back, it was really hard for us to keep up our energy level.
HP: Donít you think that the percentage of ďspectatorsĒ in American was very small?
AXL: No. I do go off on the crowd, but there is a big difference between general admission where the people who really care are right in front of you, and the situation where youíve got people in the front row who are sitting there with their arms crossed and a ďshow me somethingĒ look on their faces. Itís annoying. Especially when you know the people sitting way up in the sky could be having a lot more fun down front. I donít need people to sit there and ďtestĒ me. Iím up there, I know what Iím doing. I know how much effort weíre putting into it. I donít need someone sitting there saying ďimpress me.Ē I feel like saying, ďno, you impress me.Ē
HP: Itís been said that you have a love/hate relationship with your audience. Would you agree with that?
AXL: I think it depends on the crowd. We did a show with Skid Row in Utah, and there were people sitting there like they were bored off of their asses. Finally, we left. Why should we play the encore? But what we didnít know was that people had been killed at an AC/DC concert there, and the press and local officials had gone off on the kids so much that by the time they got to the show they were just fed up. Security just kept them from getting into the show at all Ė and we didnít know that. We didnít know what was up. We just wanted to get out of there. My attitude was, ďMan, I only have a few bands that really get me off at a show. What do you want? What do you have to do tonight thatís better than this?Ē There were 17 year-old kids there who seemed bored, and I just didnít understand why. Maybe they wanted to go home and listen to something else.
HP: Speaking of listening to something else. What do you listen to when you have the time?
AXL: Well, Janeís Addiction was my band, and they broke up. I really donít get the chance to see that many bands live because itís just too hectic. But Iím really into U2, and I was really into their stadium shows. I went to every one of their shows that I could. And I was just listening to the Mr. Bungle album, and even though we have kind of a love/hate relationship with Faith No More, I really like that album. Iíve also been listening to a lot of bizarre things: Roger Waters, Jimmy Scott, Lyle Lovett, Nine Inch Nails, Alice in Chains Ė my taste covers a broad range.
HP: How do you view all the bands that have obviously ďborrowedĒ a page from Guns Ní Roses in terms of their musical and stylistic approach?
AXL: It doesnít bother me at all except when I feel bands arenít pushing themselves creatively. I donít enjoy being imitated; Iíd rather inspire than be imitated. If we can inspire some people to take it to the next step, thatís great, but a few years ago there were bands that were playing material that was just ďwanna beĒ GNíR things. We never tried to be like AC/DC or the Rolling Stones, but we were certainly massively inspired by them.
HP: As you look back on the Use Your Illusion albums with a little perspective, are you still glad that you released so much material at one time?
AXL: Slash and I were just discussing that this morning, and thereís no way we regret it. Weíre very proud of what weíve done. We had planned on doing that even before we had done our first album. We didnít know that it would include quite as many songs, but we knew we had to bury Appetite in some way. There was no way to out-do that album, and if we didnít out-do Appetite in one way or another it was going to take away from our success and the amount of power we had gained to do what we wanted. We got all the material we needed to out of our system, and commercially itís been a major success. The only draw back weíve had is due to Tipper Gore, and her work to have stickers placed on albums. That really hindered us, I believe.
HP: Itís hard to believe that Mrs. Vice President has actually had an impact on Guns Ní Roses.
AXL: Her efforts really hurt our sales in the States. The whole stickering thing took its effect because major record chains like K-Mart and Walmart, which are 50 percent of a bandís sales, wonít even carry our albums. Youíve got to realize that certain income families donít let their kids shop just anywhere. When I was growing up, we were a K-Mart family, so I speak from experience. You could look wherever you wanted, but you bought things at K-Mart because itís a little cheaper. I think the fact that Tipper Gore is closer to power is something that weíll have to deal with. I think the Gores toned down their act in order to get the vote, but I havenít forgotten what sheís done. She did achieve her goal Ė first albums had to be stickered, then stores wouldnít carry stickered albums.
HP: What lies ahead for you and the band?
AXL: Slash as been working on a lot of things, working on a lot of riffs with the band. Iíve just been working on where my headís at on things so I can approach the next record in a way that lets me go to farther extremes. If Iím going to express anger, I want to take that farther, and if Iím expressing happiness and joy I want to take that farther too. We really havenít really sat down to collaborate on songs yet. I wrote and recorded a new love song that I want on the next record called This I Love, thatís the heaviest thing that Iíve ever done. Other than that, weíre not even sure how weíre gonna approach writing for this next album. Last time Slash would write his songs, I would write mine and Izzy would write his, and then weíd put Ďem all together. Well, this time thereís no Izzy, and Slash isnít writing just his songs Ė itís gonna be more of a collaboration thing. We donít know if weíre gonna be writing with Gilby or somebody else. We know we want to play with Gilby, but weíre not sure about the writing.
HP: Do you look at Guns Ní Roses as a continually evolving entity, or are you satisfied with the personnel thatís now in the band?
AXL: Itís definitely an evolving thing because everyone has different direction that they want to go in, and I wanted to get the band big enough that theyíd have those opportunities. We had a lot of new people in the band, but what works at the end is what gets me and Slash off. Weíre not sure where we want to come from with the other band members as far as the writing goes, and, who knows, if someone isnít into a song, maybe they donít want to be there. Weíre rally into letting Matt go more off on his own in terms of drumming for GNíR. On Use Your Illusion, he was pretty much playing just what we wanted to hear on a particular song Ė which we already had together before he joined the band. On the record, heís one of the most amazing drummers Iíve ever heard, but heís better than that.
HP: Did Matt earn such high respect more for the work heís done on stage or on album?
AXL: More from just jamming. When he goes off on his own creative sense itís pretty amazing. I want to facilitate that getting out. I want Matt to just explode on the next record.
HP: We know there are some other projects in the works for the band at the moment, including a variety of videos. What can you tell us about those?
AXL: First, we have to ďmaking ofĒ videos coming out Ė and in typical GNíR fashion weíll be putting out Number Two first. Itís called Making F**king Videos Ė Part II November Rain. Then weíre putting out another documentary about the making of Donít Cry. We still have yet to write what will be the third part of that story, which will be Estranged, which will show what happened, and why. Then, weíve had a documentary crew out with us the whole time weíve been out on the road, and theyíve been filming everything. Weíre just having our director go through all the footage and weíre putting a movie together that will be a combination of reality and fiction tied in with the three videos, November Rain, Donít Cry and Estranged. That story will tie in with the reality of Guns Ní Roses, yet thereíll be a fictional story going on as well as between me and my girlfriend Stephanie. Weíre working on it, but we canít guarantee exactly what itíll be until we get it done.
HP: Do you ever worry that the persona of Axl Rose will get bigger than Guns Ní Roses?
AXL: The bottom line is that nothing can come between Slash and I, and as long as we have that bond we have Guns Ní Roses. However big I get can only help the band because it attracts more attention to Guns Ní Roses. Iím not worried about being pulled in other directions. I need Guns Ní Roses in my life.
HP: There has been talk, however, about Slash doing a solo project. Can you ever see yourself doing an album away from Guns Ní Roses?
AXL: I want to do some stuff on my own, but not as a means of trying to prove my own sense of identity. You know the song My World on Use Your Illusion II? I want to do a whole project like that by myself and with whoever else might want to be on it. But right now itís just me and a computer engineer. Itís just raw expression Ė just putting ideas together. We just go in, say ďwhat do we want to doĒ and get to work. We completed My World in three hours. Itís something that I need to get out of my system, but itís not something I want to base my career and future on.
HP: You mention the idea of working with other musicians. If you had your choice, who would you really like to work with on a project?
AXL: Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails is one, and Dave Navarro from Janeís Addiction is another guy I want to work with. Iíve talked to Trent about working with me on an industrial synth project, at least on one song, and I definitely want to work with Dave on something. Iíve always been curious what he would sound like working with Slash on something.
HP: Wasnít Dave rumored to be joining Guns Ní Roses after Izzy left?
AXL: Yeah, there was a lot of talk about that, and we were very open to it. But it just wasnít the right time in Daveís life for it to happen. He was kind of needing the time to just see where he was at, and heís been very successful at that. But the idea of working with him excites me to no end because I still put on Janeís Addiction and it always seems brand new, no matter how many times I hear it. Iíd like to try to achieve a fusion of what they were trying and what GNíR is doing. I think that blend, if taken seriously and patiently, could be amazing. It could be a fuller thing than anyoneís done before. Dave and Slash together could be incredible Ė two guys very ďout thereĒ on their own, working together. Itís like the first time I met Slash, I said, ďThe worldís gotta see this guy.Ē Thatís why when he plays with other people or does solo things it totally gets me off and makes me happy. It secures his place in rock history as a guitarist. I feel the same way about Dave. Obviously, I have a much closer bond with Slash, being involved with him for so many years, but I think the world kind of missed Dave. Iíd really like to help fix that.
HP: Youíve been called a spokesman for a generation. Is that a heavy burden for you to bear?
AXL: I think my material has a place, but I donít place myself that high up on the totem pole. I was reading an interview with Roger Waters recently, and he was saying that he considers himself one of the five best English writers of all time. He figures that may be John Lennon up there, and maybe Freddie Mercury, but he doesnít know who else. I look at his writing that way too. I donít put myself in that category at all. Iíd like to grow to a point where I could. I look to people like Bono, and to me heís just so far ahead of most people spiritually, and in the way his spirituality comes across in his lyrics. Thatís amazing to me, and it encourages me to strive to reach places where other people have already been. I admire their sense of themselves and where their hearts and minds really are. Thatís where I want to go with my lyrics, and I hope our audience will come along with us.
HP: Itís been said that as someone gets older and wiser, itís tougher to relate to a 17-year old audience. Do you find yourself beginning to have that problem?
AXL: Itís back and forth. It depends on the song that weíre doing. I can easily be 17 whenever I want. But Iím operating in worlds now where I have to be 45. I can go back and forth. We try to make albums that go from one extreme to another. My girlfriend recently asked me if I could still write a song as nasty and gritty as the things on Appetite, and I told her that it would probably depend on the song and if I was moved to write that way. But Iím not gonna write that way just to sell records. Iím not gonna write any more bar room sex songs just to sell a few more albums. If something inspires me to do it, I will. I wonít regress. Iíll do it if I can take it to a new place, a new level.
HP: Weíll ask you one last thing. When you wake up in the morning, are you happy being Axl Rose?
AXL: Am I happy? Hmmmm. Yeah, but I wonít really know how happy I am until the end of this tour in May. Thatís when Iíll know if I achieved all of my goals. Iíve achieved a lot of them, but Iím not in a place where I can sit back on my laurels and say ďHey, I did it.Ē If I can kick back in June and feel a sense of accomplishment, then Iíll be happy.
HP: Whatís the first thing youíre gonna do when you have some free time?
AXL: I donít remember what free time is. I just bought a skate board, and I was thinking of getting back into that. I can do that then because if I break my arm, I wonít have to miss any tour dates because I wonít be on tour anymore! I bought a new house, so I guess Iíll try to set that up and get some stability in my life. Iíll be happy doing some domestic things. Stephanie and I have worked very hard to try and have a personal life, but itís not easy. Weíve tried to stay in touch as much as possible, but our lives are such fast-moving things. Five months for us, are like five years for most people.
In light of our historic presentation of our classic interview with Axl Rose, we thought it only proper to provide his long-time side-kick in Guns Ní Roses, Slash (whose now doing just fine for himself as the point man of Velvet Revolver) a chance to present his side of the GNíR controversy.
HP: In recent years weíve seen the like of Kiss, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest reform after bitter musical divorces. Can you ever see that happening with Guns Ní Roses?
Slash: I donít think thatís ever been for me to say. Thatís a question that should be directed at Axl. I havenít even spoken to him in about eight years, so I have no idea where his head is at right now. All I know is that Iím very excited about Velvet Revolver, and thatís where my total focus is at the moment. Itís gonna have to be something very special for me to change that focus Ė ever for a short while.
HP: A lot of guitarists always complain about working with singersÖ and youíre certainly no exception going back to your days with Axl. What makes Scott Weiland different?
Slash: What makes him different is that heís cool to work with and a good friend. At the end of the day, that might be the most important thing. Duff, Izzy, Matt and I have remained friends throughout everything weíve been through. Axl was just too high strung and unpredictable for that. He didnít need anybodyÖ at least in his mind. Scott is a total pleasure, especially in comparison to that.
HP: Having lived in the ultimate spotlight with Guns Ní Roses, and having felt a bit of audience apathy as a solo performer, how important is huge success to you now?
Slash: If you remember when we talked back during the early Guns Ní Roses days, I always said the important thing to me was having a long, successful careerÖ not being famous. I always admired bands like the Stones whoíve done it for years and years. Thatís the goal for me with any band Iím in. And thatís the goal of Velvet Revolver. I never want to get involved in a situation like Guns Ní Roses again if it means going through all the other crap that happened. Itís just not worth it either in an emotional or financial sense.