|My relationship with Guns N' Roses is a close one. I've been a roadie, roommate, confidant, reporter and a friend to each member of the group. My relationship with Axl is still very close. It's a friendship, and out of that friendship comes a shared trust. The following represents Axl's trust in me to report the unwritten truth about W. Axl Rose and the rock n'roll phenomenon known as Guns N' Roses. My job was rather easy: I just let Axl do most of the talking.
There are many different impressions of you floating around, everything from you being manic-depressive and suicidal to a drug-crazed genius. What makes Axl Rose tick and explode, and what are you about?
Well, because of Guns N' Roses' lifestyle, people who don't know us tend to be afraid or intimidated by us. After leading a life of girls, drugs and whatever, people draw a certain picture about me. I've toned it all down, because I have other things I have to do. I can't be doing drugs every night because, after selling six million records, the business I have to deal with is a lot more intense than most people's. Once you reach a point where you're platinum or projected to go platinum, all of a sudden you're dealing with major record executives and business people and MTV and everything else. You start becoming one of those people you thought you were against. You have to work with them. They're there for you and kicking ass, so you have to produce. Just saying fuck off for the sake of saying fuck off is cutting your own throat. It's hard to go out and have a thrashing time all the time when you have to deal with these types of responsibilities, and Guns N'Roses has had to deal with them since the day we were signed. Slash probably wouldn't drink so much if it wasn't for the fact that that's the way he's able to deal with all these people. He's able to quietly drink his bottle and talk. Me, if I'm drunk, I'll tell everybody to get the fuck outta my house. I can't get wasted because I react differently. As soon as I'm drunk, I realize 'Ya know, this past week of doing business has been really boring'. I want to fucking kill something [laughs].
When do the walls usually close in?
Usually when we're on the road. I'm very stressed about the shows, which are the most important thing to me. Nothing ever really works right for this band. Slash once said that God didn't want us to happen [laughs], and I somewhat believe that. When an interviewer comes in, and I'd rather be sleeping or they know I'm not in the mood, the impression left is 'He's losing it'. In a nutshell, that's why that happens.
Would you consider yourself a manic-depressive?
I'm very sensitive and emotional, and things upset me and make me feel like not functioning or not dealing with people, the band or anything. I went to a clinic, thinking it would help my moods. The only thing I did was take one 500-question test - ya know, filling in the little black dots. All of sudden I'm diagnosed manic-depressive. "Let's put Axl on medication". Well, the medication doesn't help me deal with stress. The only thing it does is help keep people off my back because they figure I'm on medication.
Ever since day one, you've continued to grow as a person, as a musician and now as a businessman. You've done things, to quote Frank, 'your way'. How do you view yours and the band's growth, and what have you learned over the past three years?
It's not like we're the most intelligent bunch, but as far as street sense - hanging out, doing drugs, partying, girls and shit like that - we know and understand a lot. It's like we purposely put ourselves through street school. I didn't know how to pick up ckicks, so I used to stand outside the Rainbow and watch how this goes down. I didn't know shit about doing drugs, so I learned what's safe and what's not, how to get it, how to do it properly and everything else that's involved. We learned how to survive. We learned who's who in the music business. We learned how to tell when someone's full of shit. We've learned some hard lessons and had to pay some out-of-court settlements. At least we're smart enough to talk straight business now. If someone in this band is like, 'Okay , we're up against a wall' we have people - lawyers, other lawyers and other accountants - so that any mess we manage to get into, we can get out of.
Guns N' Roses are approaching the seven million mark for copies of Appetite for destruction sold. Everybody in the band is shopping for houses, buying cars etc. What's it like to go from street survivors to millionaires?
We're not millionaires. The world, people outside of the music industry, seems to think that if you go platinum, one million copies sold, you're a millionaire. It doesn't work like that. It costs 200 grand to make an adequate video. You've got that debt. You've got the money it took to make the record, the money it took to promote the record in advertisements and crap like that. It's easy to work up a bill of, like, a million dollars, especially if you have a record that's sold six million copies. All the promotion and the money that keep going into it have to come from somewhere. Basically, we make around a buck a record. Twenty cents to each member for every copy of Appetite sold. That's not exact, but it's pretty close. By the time you each make a million dollars, five million copies sold, you'd have to sell around eight million copies, because you'll be, like, three million in debt. You have to pay the people that work for you - management, lawyers, accountants, roadies and so on. Out of the buck we make, we're paying all our debts back. Everything we've borrowed, used, broken or had on loan comes out of this. After doing a tour, there's a lot of past debts that need to be paid. To go out and do anything for less than $1,000 or $1,500 a show means you're paying to play. If you headline and go past eleven o'clock, then you're talking paying major overtime and fines. In New York I was late to the show at the Felt Forum because I'd passed out after drinking Nightrain and doing an MTV interview. I showered, did my vocal exercises and got dressed within 15 minutes and went to the gig. We got out of an $8,000 overtime debt because the barricades that separate the fans from the stage were set up wrong, and by the time they'd fixed it, I'd gotten there and everything was cool. People wonder why bands don't play longer. It has nothing to do with not wanting to play longer. There are nights where we want to play all night long, but we can't afford to.
Are you, as many people believe, a heavy drug user?
I have a different physical constitution and different mindset about drugs than anybody I've known in Hollywood, because I don't abstain from doing drugs, but I won't allow myself to have a fuckin' habit. I won't allow it. I'll have done blow for three days and my mind will go "Fuck no". I'll have the physical feeling of knowing my body needs it, and I'll just refuse to do coke that day. I'm not going to do it, because if I was going to do it, I know I won't be able to hit my goals with what I want to do with this band. I can't let myself get into coke as much as I'm into the band. The same thing with heroin. I did it for three weeks straight and had one of the greatest times in my life, because I was with a girl I wanted to be with in this beautiful apartment, and we just sat there listening to Led Zeppelin, doing drugs and fucking. It was great, 'cause at that time I had nothing to do but sit on my ass and make a few phone calls a day. I stopped on, like, Saturday, because I had serious business to attend to on Monday. I felt like shit, sweated, shook, but on Monday I was able to function. I can't hide in drugs. A lot of people can, but whenever I do any drugs - pills, booze, smack, whatever - to enjoy it, my life has to be perfect - no fuck-ups, nothing going wrong. Otherwise, when I'm high, I'll analyse the shit out of everything that's happening in my life and why things are going wrong. That's not enjoyable. And if I have shows to do, I won't touch drugs because it fucks up my throat. My advice is don't get a habit, don't use anybody else's needle and don't let drugs become a prerequisite to having a good time. Do things in moderation , and just be careful.
You've been portrayed in the media as everything from the most exciting musical personality since Elvis to the doped-out bastard son of rock n'roll. How do you feel about the way the press has treated you, and do you think you've been given fair treatment?
I'm not really worried about what people think of me. What bothers me is what certain things printed about me do to people who I care about. If I say something, and it gets twisted to where it seems like I'm saying my band's full of shit or something when it's not what I said, that bothers me. That's not fair. Writers have to understand where we're coming from and hopefully print it that way. I've tried to be very open. You know, you've just met the interviewer real quick, you try to answer their questions, try to be as friendly as possible and then you end up with this person looking at your life not through a telescope, but rather through a kaleidoscope. Everything's in pieces and distorted. I understand that everybody wants to print the dirt - that sells magazines - but you should first try to find out if the dirt is true. There are some magazines that we have some major problems with. I thought the Rolling Stone piece was very good from an outsider's point of view, but some of the things were exaggerated. Like the bus issue. First of all, it was Izzy's idea to get a separate bus, and secondly, after shows I can't afford to party out like the other guys. There's been several times when I had to leave the bus because of nerves. It's impossible to sit there completely straight, listening to someone who is annihilated go off about something or another. Also, it gives us more space. We all used to live together, but we've outgrown being crowded in together. Not because we don't like each other, but because we have different lifestyles. Also about the Stone article, Teresa Ensenat doesn't have anything to do with Guns N'Roses anymore, and she surely did not discover us. She did a lot of good things for the band and helped us get the first album cover distributed, but she did not do nearly as much as Tom Zutaut did. Tom's the first major record person we were able to talk openly with, and he's the main reason our record happened.
So you're not happy with the way the press has covered GN'R?
It seems to me that we're a spectacle, a freak show. Magazines are more interested in who fell over last night than the music. I'm to the point where I'm tired of being a spectacle. One of the things that make this band so controversial is that we tell the truth. We tell what really happens. I like being honest with the press. What bugs me is after reading something about me, people don't have the slightest clue as to what I'm all about. Isn't that what doing interviews is about? From now on, interviews will be very limited. That must sound like, 'Oh, he's being a rock star', but the truth is, I don't need the headache of not getting things across to the public the way I feel they should be. I'm only doing this interview because I believe in RIP and some of the friends I've made there.
There's been a lot of stories about who discovered you and so on. A name that's been popping up a lot is your ex-manager, Vicky Hamilton. What's her relationship with Guns N' Roses?
Vicky Hamilton was a woman who basically had a monopoly on booking bands at the Roxy and the Whiskey, and we needed to get those gigs. We also needed a place to live. Vicky offered us help. She said she'd get us $25,000 we desperately needed for the proper equipment to start getting close to the sound we wanted. She never came through with the money; so with an important gig coming up, we got Geffen to go for a $35,000 memo deal, which means that we didn't have to sign with them but we had to pay the money back. Now Vicky's claiming that she managed us and that we wouldn't pay her back. She claims she invested $100,000 and she should be party to any of the money we make. She says we all get along, but in reality nobody likes dealing with her. Nobody trusts her. She managed the band? We - Slash, Duff, Izzy, Steven and Axl - managed the band. A year later she sued us for one million dollars. We didn't want to go to court, pay lawyer fees, court expenses and shit, especially when I don't trust the law and judicial system. I don't need the hassle. I don't believe in the fuckin' law system. I don't believe in the fuckin' government. I do believe that America is the best country on the face of the fuckin' earth, but that doesn't mean that America isn't run by assholes. Poor Vicky might look great in front of a judge, and Guns N'Roses look like slime, so they should lose. We settled out of court for $30,000, 15 of which Geffen paid.
Why would a band like Guns N' Roses, whose main market is a hard rock/heavy metal market, release GN'R Lies, an extended EP where four of the songs on it are acoustic?
First off, we've been talking about the songs as 'acoustic', but on three of them there is electric guitar. That's the way we've tried to get people mentally prepared for the songs. We've written some mellow songs that seem to grab people's hearts. It's just something we planned on doing for a long time. We wrote some of the songs during or before the recording of Appetite and revised them until we felt they were strong enough to put out. The reason we did it is because we wanted to.
Do you like the slow stuff?
I think 'Crazy' sucks. The band's great but I think I sound like shit. It's a very special, magical song. Everytime we record 'Crazy' something happens. When it's really on, the band goes into a trancelike state. You leave everything else behind. I don't think I quite hit what I was looking for. I don't think there's a major problem with it, I just don't think we quite hit it, I think everything else kicks ass!
What's 'One in a million' about?
'One in a million' is about...... I went back and forth from Indiana eight times my first year in Hollywood. I wrote it about being dropped off at the bus station and everything that was going on. I'd never been in a city this big and was fortunate enough to have this black dude help me find my way. He guided me to the RTD station and showed me what bus to take, because I couldn't get a straight answer out of anybody. He wasn't after my money or anything. It was more like, "Here's a new kid in town, and he looks like he might get into trouble down here. Lemme help him get on his way." People kept coming up trying to sell me joints and stuff. In downtown L.A the joints are usually bogus, or they'll sell you drugs that can kill you. It's a really ugly scene. The song's not about him, but you could kinda say he was one in a million. When I sat down after walking in circles for three hours, the cops told me to get off the streets. The cops down there have seen so much slime that they figure if you have long hair, you're probably slime also. The black guys trying to sell you jewelry and drugs is where the line 'Police and niggers, get out of my way' comes from. I've seen these huge black dudes pull Bowie knives on people for their boom boxes and shit. It's ugly.
There are some, shall we say, controversial lines in the song, aren't there?
The line about 'immigrants and faggots' you mean? I don't have anything against someone coming here from another country and trying to better themselves. What I don't dig is some 7-11 worker acting as though you don't belong here, or acting like they don't understand you while they're trying to rip you off. [Axl mimics an Iranian] "Wot? I no understand you". I'm saying "I gave you a 20, and I want my $15 change!" I threatened to blow up their gas station, and then they gave me my change. I don't need that. I don't know what to think about gays. They're in a world of their own. I'm not too happy about AIDS. When I say I'm a small-town white boy, I'm just saying I'm no better than anyone else I've described. I'm just trying to get through life, that's all.
You have a new hobby, gun collecting. Among your prizes are a riot gun, a 9mm and an Uzi. Would you care to elaborate on that?
The reason I bought the Uzi is because this guy was going to rent me this house, then started dicking around, jacking up the price. He wanted more money than it was worth. I was so pissed off that I bought the Uzi. I've always wanted an Uzi. Everybody talks about machine guns and shit. I realized the only reason I didn't go for it was I thought I'd freak out with it. Now that I own a couple of guns, I also understand the responsibility that goes along with them. I never take them anywhere unlocked or loaded. Dig this : I saw this ad in Soldier of fortune magazine that said 'When the going gets tough, the tough get an Uzi.' Let's get tough!
It seems that every week or so either you or Slash are rumored dead. Tales of suicide, overdosing, murder. Some of the rumors are quite upsetting...
[laughing] The reason they bother you is because you [RIP] get all the phone calls asking "Is Axl really dead?"
No, what worries me is that one day it might not be a rumor. Why do you think these "Axl is dead" rumors continue to circulate as much as they do?
There's a few reasons. First off, it's a rumor that started a long time ago because I'll disappear for a few weeks at a time, and people presume if I'm not in the public's eye, something must have happened. I'll be right in Hollywood, laying low, not calling or wanting to deal with anybody; so no one knows exactly what happened to Axl. I just have to get away every so often to digest and understand all that's going on around me. A lot of these rumors started around the time when we were signed and have only surfaced recently. There's rumors about famous people we heard in junior high school that are still around today. Some very strange ones about Rod Stewart [laughs]. People go, "Yeah, man , did you hear that rumor da da da?" and they have fun spreading it, seeing the effect it has on their friends. Another reason is Guns N'Roses might be totally straight for a while, doing everything according the the norm, and then all of a sudden go, "Fuck it, I'm not gonna take shit anymore", and go off. We're always walking the edge. Since we're on this edge, it scares people - they freak out and so on. They think maybe this did happen, or they talk themselves into believing we're dead. Then they tell their friends. Another reason, this band means a lot to a lot of people. Bands that mean so much to their fans often get a lot of rumors about them. A lot of fans are afraid that their heroes might leave their lives. Nikki Sixx used to die all the time. Maybe people try to see what life would be like without their idols, or how they would handle it, and the next thing you know, it's a rumor. I'm dead again. What I figure with all the death rumors is that this band means a lot to the people out there, and we're important enough that it would upset them if we really were gone. I hope it's not a self-fulfilling prophecy.