Slash Talks Drugs, Music, and Axl

"I’m really, really fortunate. I never went to prison, and I never stayed dead."

It took more than a stolen top hat and a sibilant nickname to turn Saul Hudson, a.k.a. Slash, into an icon—though it doesn’t hurt that few people could give a sketch artist an adequate description of the visage that’s been masked by a mob of curls and sunglasses for the past three decades. Growing up, the self-described “juvenile delinquent” treated his native Los Angeles like a skate park, careening down every sidewalk in the city on a BMX and hitching rides on car bumpers through his Laurel Canyon neighborhood.

It was with that same reckless energy that he took up guitar and soon found himself on the Sunset Strip in the early ’80s, forming a rock band with W. Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan, and Steven Adler—forever the only lineup officially recognized as Guns N’ Roses. Their success was as stratospheric as it was short-lived: Plagued by addiction and acrimony, the band started falling apart in the early ’90s, and Slash quit GNR in 1996, less than 10 years after the release of Appetite for Destruction, the best-selling debut album of all time.

But unlike a certain somebody he once worked with, Slash, 49, has continued to release music at a steady clip over the years, first with his band Snake Pit, later with the supergroup Velvet Revolver, and now with singer-guitarist Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators. His newest album, World on Fire, drops this month, so he agreed to a chat at Mates Rehearsal Studios in North Hollywood, where GNR once recorded some Use Your Illusion demos. He wore a backwards black trucker hat and shades, so exactly what he looks like will remain a mystery. 

Are you a perfectionist, or do you prefer pure momentum when it comes to making music?

I’m not much of a perfectionist. I don’t have a huge attention span. I don’t sit and fiddle with stuff. Really, what it comes down to is I just like to play. My whole existence revolves around the guitar and jamming and touring. I do whatever I can to get things right as quickly as possible.

Working with Myles for the past three albums marks the first time you haven’t been in a band with former GNR members or other marquee collaborators. Are you happier finally being the frontman? Is that how you think of yourself?

Well, the thing about me is that I work at a pretty frenetic pace. The problem I have in a democratic group environment is that everybody has to agree. Everybody has to know what the other guy’s doing, and most people don’t work that hard or that fast. So it’s nice to be able to set everything up. But I’m not an “I’m the leader” type. I don’t have a power thing where I need that. I treat what we do musically as much like a band as any other band. I take care of the logistical bullshit. Stuff that nobody else wants to do, like sitting here with you—I don’t give a shit. I’ll do it.

I hear some similarity between Myles and Axl, and Myles stepped in to perform when Axl was a no-show at Guns N’ Roses’ induction into the rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012. Are you looking to re-create the chemistry between your guitar playing and Axl’s vocals?

The last thing in the world that I consciously want to do is touch on anything having to do with Guns N’ Roses, unless we’re playing one of those songs. I don’t dwell in the past. I would never, ever go, “Sing it like someone else.”

Growing up, was there an album or artist that made you trade the BMX bike for the guitar?

Yeah, there was that pivotal moment when I got turned on to Aerosmith’s Rocks, which spoke to the juvenile delinquent in me. I was just picking up the guitar at that point, and I’d heard this record at a party and it floored me, but I didn’t have control of the stereo so I just heard it once. Then I heard it again later at this girl’s house, and I was trying to bed her. I was at her apartment, and amidst all the records and the candles and the pot and all that shit, she put this record on and I was like, “That’s that album.” And I went to the stereo and listened to it, and then I turned it over and listened to it again, and I did that like four times until she was like, “OK, I think it’s time for you to go.” I grew up with the Stones and AC/DC, but this had that outsider, anti-establishment punk thing, but it was soulful, and I headed that way.

In terms of Appetite for Destruction, you were able to create that album despite a heroin problem.

I love drugs. They were great. And I’m really, really fortunate. I never went to prison, and I never stayed dead. But I just got sick of the whole thing. It just got boring. It’s great when it’s great, but like anything else, you spend the rest of your time trying to chase that one time down. And you can never really re-create it. It’s like that scene in Pinocchio where the boys get turned into donkeys.

For more of our interview with Slash, pick up the latest issue of NYLON Guys magazine, with James McAvoy on the cover.