With a career spanning a quarter of a century, the man born Saul Hudson has become one of rock’s most iconic figureheads, a man synonymous with the instrument he’s so capably pioneered (and shred). A recent Time Magazine survey even placed him second only to Jimi Hendrix amongst the greatest guitarists of all time.
So what do you do with the opportunity to interview one of the world’s greatest living guitarists?
Well, when the artist in question is the top-hat toting, shades-wearing, curly haired Slash, there’s an obvious talking point…
Though he’s lent his services to a wide range of culture-defining artists from Michael Jackson to Quentin Tarantino. There’s always one name that discussions over Slash tend to gravitate towards. Given the recent controversy surrounding the induction of Guns N Roses into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, and Axl Rose’s open-letter snub of the ceremony, it would seem like logical interview fodder. But the topic people most want to hear about in association with the guitar legend, is also probably the one he wants to discuss the least.
Besides, “people seem to forget” as Slash himself points out, “I’ve been away from that since 1996” and he’s been plenty busy since.
Last year saw him finally getting around to releasing his first, proper solo album (disregarding his former Slash’s Snakepit project). An eponymous record brimming with star-studded collaborations with rock’s A-list. Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop, Chris Cornell, Dave Grohl, Lemmy, Ian Astbury and even Wolfmother’s Andrew Stockdale, were just a few of the stars who had the opportunity to work with the guitar god.
It was one guest vocalist in particular that found himself working with Slash on a more permanent basis. Myles Kennedy, of Creed-offshoot Alter Bridge, found himself jumping quite a few rungs on the rock ladder when he quickly became Slash’s go-to vocalist. Kennedy now feature, along with a new backing band, on Slash’s second solo record, Apocalyptic Love.
Released this week, its thirteen cuts have been cited as containing some of Slash’s most visceral playing in an age. An achievement made possible by something called the ‘Slash Box.’
The what now?
“Ok well, I’ve been recording records for roughly twenty-five years now, and I always want to record as live as possible,” Slash explains in his every-man drawl. “I hate the sound of my guitar in headphones,” he continues, “I play with the band live in the studio with the basic track, but because of the headphones I always go back and re-record my guitar in the control room; with the monitors blasting on ten.”
This time however, his producer Eric Valentine, came up with a solution that allowed Slash to perform live, along with the band. “[He] came up with this idea of building a room inside the studio where the other guys are playing” details Slash, “in that room there’s big monitors, and the band mix – including my guitar – is coming out of these monitors and that’s what I’m listening to. So I’m playing live to that mix, the guys playing in the room outside of me. Then we just keep all that.”
“It’s really great” beams the guitarist “because it means the guitar is spontaneous. Even some of the little mistakes that you make in a take are kept in there. It’s a kind of energy that people listening to it won’t really know or think about what it is; but it’s what makes it more exciting.”
Indeed the likes of lead single “You’re A Lie” and the appropriately titled “Hard And Fast” feature the fancy fretwork we’ve come to expect from the virtuoso, but sounding their freshest they have in years.
Something Slash attributes to the chemistry emitting from his newly-formed backing band, The Conspirators: Kennedy on vocals, along with Brent Fitz on drums and bassist Todd Kerns. A possé Slash put together for the road, but “what began as a few isolated dates turned into a year-and-a-half world tour.” Slash quickly realised it was a group deserving of a full record, what would become Apocalyptic Love, and Australia will be able to see what they’re capable of during their national tour in August.
In fact our country has had a fair influence on the new album. Firstly Sydney’s Soundwave marked a surprise guest appearance from the guitarist during Kennedy’s Alter Bridge set last year; while portions of Apocalyptic Love were also mixed down under. “In this last two plus years, it’s really the closest I’ve been to the audience in Australia,” reasons Slash, “prior to that, no-one [here] really gave a shit” he scoffs with a jocular chuckle that comes to punctuate much of his conversation.
It’s this casual warmth that charges his down-to-earth persona. He might be the world’s greatest living guitarist, but he sure doesn’t act like it. Most surprisingly, it’s with similarly warm laughter that talk turns to this year being the 25th anniversary of the release of Appetite For Destruction, Guns N Roses’ legendary debut.
Hopefully working with his new band on his second solo album has taken his mind off all that? “It’s really not a big deal. Working with Myles is just something I’ve been doing, but the issue is the public at large and the media especially, continue to be fascinated with that whole thing.”