Behind The Shades: Slash Tries To 'Figure This Thing Out' The former lead guitarist of the legendary band Guns N' Roses is a musician with a sound and look all his own. After all the success — and vice — Slash says he's still a work in progress.
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Behind The Shades: Slash Tries To 'Figure This Thing Out'

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Behind The Shades: Slash Tries To 'Figure This Thing Out'

Behind The Shades: Slash Tries To 'Figure This Thing Out'

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Can you place it? Do you know this riff? More than two decades ago, it helped redefine rock and roll.


MARTIN: Behind those opening notes was a guitarist with a sound and a look all his own.

SLASH: I am Slash, a guitar player-musician-songwriter guy.


MARTIN: We met up with Slash in Baltimore, where he was launching his new album called "Apocalyptic Love" and getting ready for the opening show of his new tour. As you might guess, Slash was not his given name. He was born Saul Hudson. And when he was a teenager, his friend's dad dubbed him Slash, and it stuck. And really when your name is Slash, are you going to be an insurance salesman or a software engineer? Of course not. You're going to be a rock star. Slash was the lead guitarist of the legendary band Guns N Roses. "Welcome to the Jungle" was the first track on their 1987 album "Appetite for Destruction." When we sat down with the musician, he left behind his signature top hat but he still looked the part - tattoos, a skull and crossbones hanging from a chain on his neck and a huge silver hoop in each ear and black sunglasses.


GUNS N ROSES: (Singing) ...jungle, welcome to the jungle, it feels like...

MARTIN: There's always all this mystery around you, I'm sure you know. The sunglasses, the hat, I mean, for years and years it was hard to find a picture of you without the shades on.

SLASH: You know, I mean, part of it is sort of like sunlight, you know, the obvious reasons. But the rest of it is really just from being in the public all the time, and you just don't want to deal with the flashes and this, that and the other. And they ended up just not coming off.

MARTIN: So, the hair and the hat.

SLASH: Just sort of hide out, yeah. I remember when I first got the hat, it was something that I instantly took to and it just felt more comfortable. I would go on stage and just hide in that thing.

MARTIN: Where'd you find it?

SLASH: I found it at a store which doesn't exist anymore. It was on Melrose in Los Angeles. And I was looking for something to wear, 'cause we had a show at the Whiskey, the club, that night. And...

MARTIN: This is what year, or how old were you?

SLASH: This is like 1985, I think. And I was wandering around Melrose. I didn't have any money so this is the kind of shopping where you're looking for stuff that you can grab and conceal and take off with.

MARTIN: Steal, you're talking about stealing, Slash.

SLASH: Yeah. And I saw the hat through the window. And I tried it on and I thought this is cool. And then I managed to slip out of the store with it. And then I went next door and I found a concha belt in there and I got that and I went back to the flat and I cut up the belt to go around the hat and I wore it that night. And I swear to God, it just became that - that was just it. I just wore it all the time; a lot more than I do now 'cause now it's sort of like I've become sort of a cartoon character.

MARTIN: Guns N Roses started out as a kind of cult band, making its way around the local L.A. club circuit. And for Slash, it felt nearly impossible to break out.

SLASH: When we were on the road and the record had come out, it wasn't selling very many copies and the label wanted to get rid of us. But then we had one song a year and a half after the album came out that took us over the top.

MARTIN: What was that song?

SLASH: "Sweet Child O' Mine."


SLASH: We went from being sort of obscure in the general scheme of things to being really massive.


SLASH: And when that tour was over, the next thing that we did, we were playing stadiums. So, that was a drastic change.


MARTIN: Were you comfortable with that, the first time you had to get into a situation where you were playing in front of 80,000 people?

SLASH: Well, I mean, I guess that's sort of the dream, you know, when you pick up a guitar, you sort of follow in the footsteps of rock bands, where, you know, the first thing - at least I did - was start a band. So, it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, we had a very volatile band. And so what should have been a lot of fun turned into something that was a lot more work than it needed to be.


GUNS N ROSES: (Singing) Where do we go, where do we go, where do we go now...

MARTIN: A lot of work mixed with a lot of drugs. Slash says he started using heroin in the mid-'80s when he still a teenager. But he says he didn't need drugs to get on stage and perform.

SLASH: No, I wasn't one of those artists that used drugs to be able to do what it was that I do. My drug habits were always in between tours, 'cause there's this huge amount of movement and energy and activity that goes on when you're on the road that you get very much used to and it just stops. And I've never been much of a domesticated kind of like homebody-type person. I wouldn't know what to do with myself. So, one thing would always lead to another and that's how I would fill my time between tours.

MARTIN: Despite this kind of self-destructive behavior that you talk about in connection with your experience in Guns N Roses, is there part of you that misses that chapter?

SLASH: No. I did it - I mean, I used to drink vodka in the morning like people drink coffee. I did it to the hilt and I'm sort of over it, you know. I think that's really what when you're going through all that, it becomes unpleasant. No matter how good of a party it was, there's this invisible line that crosses where it becomes a major burden. And so eventually you just get tired of all of it. And you're fortunate enough to be able to see any, get any clarity in the midst of all of that sort of haze, then you can sort of motivate yourself to do what you have to do to get out of it, if you're fortunate. And so I was lucky enough to be able to do that. But I'm a musician, which is my main driver, and that really helps.


MARTIN: In 1996, Slash walked away from Guns N Roses, in part because of his increasingly difficult relationship with lead singer Axel Rose. There were a lot of side projects over the years, including the group Velvet Revolver. Slash says he's sober now. He and his wife have two sons, and he's still make music. Is there something that you do on the guitar that people in your world, like your musical peers, when they hear it, they're like, oh, that...

SLASH: I'm not really sure yet.

MARTIN: ...that's a Slash thing?

SLASH: I would love to tell you yes but I really don't know. I'm so much a work in progress it's not even funny. And I'm really still like I was when I was 15, trying to figure this thing out.

MARTIN: But technically, don't you know everything there is to know about playing the guitar?

SLASH: Technically, I don't know anything. It's all feel. I mean, you know, I don't read music. And technically, I'm not that proficient. It's really all about figuring out just by ear what you're doing and expanding on that.

MARTIN: Is it possible to give me an example of something you can't do on the guitar that you still want to do?

SLASH: That I still want to do?

MARTIN: I can't play an F chord, for example. I imagine you can play...

SLASH: If there was anything that I wanted to do specifically, then I would sit there and do it until I could do it. But it's a lot more complex than that. It's about, you know, I know how to play an F chord, but how well can you play an F chord? You know what I'm saying? And how many things can you say in an F chord? And it's really about hearing things in your head and your heart and being able to get them to your fingers to be able to express them as instantaneously as possible. As I'm been doing this longer and longer, I've gotten better at that.


MARTIN: This is the title track off the new album "Apocalyptic Love." It's a collaboration with the singer Miles Kennedy and the Conspirators. And like the Guns N Roses sound that made him famous, this album isn't exactly nuanced. It's not complicated, and it doesn't take itself too seriously.

SLASH: And the song itself was a tongue-in-cheek kind of statement about what would you want to be doing in the last hours of humanity on earth, right? And it was just a joke about, I guess, for want of a better word, romance at the dawn of the end, you know.

MARTIN: OK. So, the apocalypse. It's the last day of the world. What do you do? How do you spend it?

SLASH: Yeah, suppose you would want to, you know, do something that was the most fun you could possibly do. If you even knew how many hours you had left, you'd want to fill it with something positive. So, I think I would love to have a great show.

MARTIN: So, would you play a big arena or small?

SLASH: No. I think you'd want to reach as many people as possible, so you'd want to make this huge event out of it. And anybody who wanted to come, you know.

MARTIN: Any grudges you need to need to fix?

SLASH: Nah. No, why waste my time with all that?


MARTIN: Well, Slash, it's been a pleasure. Thanks so much for...

SLASH: Yes, it's been nice talking to you.


MARTIN: You can hear tracks from Slash's new album at our website, This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

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