It's no coincidence that former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash releases his albums on his own Dik Hayd record label. He's spent nearly three decades working in what he described as the "insidious music business" and once he had the chance to do things differently, he was quite happy to make the change. He can rattle off a laundry list of reasons why he does things his own way these days, starting with his time in GNR, when he says the band almost got dropped because its now-legendary 1987 debut album Appetite For Destruction had been out for more than a year without finding success and sales.
Slash's Snakepit project, which began toward the end of his time in Guns N' Roses, found initial success with its 1995 release It's Five O'Clock Somewhere, but Ain't Life Grand, a second album released in 2000, went almost completely unnoticed due to a "bad label deal" and he says because of that, it's an album that very few people even realize exists.
And then there's Velvet Revolver, the all-star group with a line-up featuring his former Guns bandmates Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum paired with former Stone Temple Pilots vocalist Scott Weiland. "Everybody thought we were going to be the biggest band in the world," the guitarist says, but internal conflict and "too many managers" would bring an abbreviated end to the group.
Presently, he's quite happy with where things are at as he prepares to release World On Fire on Sept. 15; it's the second album release credited to Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. With Kennedy and the Conspirators, Slash seems to have finally built a unit of players and collaborators that has gelled. Songs like "Wicked Stone" and "The Dissident" add new layers of sound to what fans have come to expect from Slash as a player.
The veteran guitarist says that things are in a really good zone with the group, which really opens up a world of possibilities when he's in the midst of the creative process. "This is one of those situations where the chemistry and the creative open-mindedness really works and everybody sort of gets to do what they want to do and it's really cool."
Without a doubt, Kennedy, a charismatic vocalist who also leads his own band Alter Bridge and was a contender in recent years to work with the remaining members of Led Zeppelin minus Robert Plant, has been a great match both collaboratively and vocally.
"There's not too many ideas that I've come up with that I've presented to him where he's said, 'Oh, I can't do that because it doesn't speak to me at all,'" says Slash. "That melody guitar line for 'The Dissident,' that's how that song started and I remember bringing it to soundcheck one time and I just started to dick around with it then. I do that a lot — I sneak stuff in and soundcheck and see if they pick up on it, and they took to it. It's a really different type of song than what you would probably expect from me anywhere. Myles really liked it and it turned into a really cool track that's really different than anything we've really done before."
Different is certainly a good thing in his book. In the tradition of revered players like David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, Eric Clapton or whomever else you might want to name, Slash's guitar tone is distinctive and instantly identifiable. It would be very easy creatively to get boxed into just working in that vein, but Kennedy and the Conspirators make it very easy to break out of that box.
"It's been really easy," he says. "These guys are like, if I wanted to do a blues record, they would be game. Not that I'm intending on doing that — I don't want to send the wrong message. But I'm just saying, the chances of me doing any kind of fusion jazz is really zero to none. Within the realm of what I do, I'm a rock guy, but I like being able to explore and I like being able to work with people I can do that with and still have it sound rock," he explains. "It's really a matter of the people that you're working with understanding what you're doing. Like, being on the same page enough to go, 'If you play a certain kind of lick, I'm not trying to go into the realm of something that we're not familiar with. I'm just trying to put this melody into the same feel that we'd be doing if we were playing this riff.' We just seem to have an unsaid chemistry that works, because no matter what I come up with, they sort of get where I'm coming from."
With World On Fire, they would end up taking a different approach recording-wise compared to how they approached their last album, 2012's Apocalyptic Love.
"When we did the last one, it was intentional to go in and do it live and it was like everything that's in that take is going on the record — we're not doing any overdubs," he says. "We didn't do harmonies or any of that kind of stuff — there's very few overdubs on that record. On this one, I just wanted to do it like a normal record where we play live in the studio and then I go into the control room and really focus on guitars and guitar sounds and all of that kind of stuff. That's the way I've always basically done records, but the last one, because the band had established such a great live feel over the course of the tour, I guess it was something that we just thought it would be fun to go in and just do it completely live and it was. I listen back to that record and I appreciate it for that, but it's a limited kind of sound. I have to admit that it was frustrating — there was things that I wanted to layer, but we'd set this thing where [we thought], 'We're going to do this live, so there won't be any of that.'"
The music side of things will keep Slash very busy for the foreseeable future, but he's also getting a chance to work on films. The horror flick Nothing Left To Fear was the debut production from his company Slasher Films and as he told us, there will definitely be more.
"I'm in the beginning stages of the next one," he says. "It's called Cut Throats Nine, which is going to be awesome. It's not a supernatural horror movie — it's more of a thriller Western — a very hardcore and brutal Western. It's not a cowboys and Indians Western, but it's set in that time period. So that's the next one and I'm lining them up."
For him, filmmaking is far from a vanity project. He's got a specific purpose in mind.
"It's something I want to get really good at," he says. "I want to at the end of the day be able to say I made what I think is the best horror movie — the movie that I wanted to make. It's also great, because that's one area where I can do stuff musically that's not band-oriented at all and way off of the trajectory of what people are familiar with from me. It's something that speaks to me. I actually really find that there's a sort of Zen in composing for a movie that is different than what you're doing in a rock band. It's something having to do with the emotional content of a scene or the movie as a whole that you can just go anywhere with. So it's an interesting dynamic for me and different than writing for a group that contains anywhere from four to six guys. That's very intriguing for me [and] putting the components together to make a great movie is awesome. Because I've been a horror movie fan as long as I've been a music fan, [when the] opportunity presented itself, I was like, 'That would be fucking awesome!'"
At the Hard Rock Live show, Slash and crew will preview material from their upcoming album. He can sum up the reason that they're on the road right now with one word: Aerosmith.
"As a touring entity, there's only a couple of bands that I would actually open for," he says. "Because at the level that we're at, I don't mind if we're playing [smaller venues]. Because my favorite places to play are theaters. We're at that level, so I'm cool. But guys like Aerosmith or AC/DC, I'm so humbled and honored to go out with those guys. They're so much my mentors and so on, so I'm very happy to go out and play shows opening for them. I was very humbled when [Aerosmith's] Joe [Perry] called me and asked me if I wanted to tour. I said, 'Fuck yeah!' We weren't even planning on going out until September or October after the record comes out. When that came up, it was like, 'Oh, I want to do this for sure.'"
It's a show that fans won't want to miss. Because the Cleveland gig is a headlining date minus Aerosmith, Slash and crew will play a longer set with songs covering his entire career, including plenty of fan favorites from his Guns N' Roses days.
Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators
7:30 p.m. Sunday, July 20, Hard Rock Live, 10777 Northfield Rd., Northfield, 330-908-7625. Tickets: $42.50-$59.50, hrrocksinonorthfieldpark.com.