When Slash was 18 or 19 – musicians are not famous for their recall of exact dates, so let’s leave it vague – his fame didn’t stretch beyond L.A., where local store owners knew him as an elusive shoplifter. While trying to cobble a band together, the guitarist put an ad in the Recycler, a free paper that functioned like a Tinder for California hard rock bands, including Motley Crue and Metallica. In the ad, a Guns N’ Roses bandmate later recalled, Slash listed his musical influences: Fear, Aerosmith, early Alice Cooper.
Almost 40 years later, those influences are still the hallmarks of Slash’s playing – some punk, some garage rock, some bluesy hard rock, and an astringent mix of volume and distortion. Everyone else in L.A. was imitating Eddie Van Halen’s sleight of hand shredding when Guns N’ Roses released Appetite For Destruction in 1987. Slash had a guitar tone like sulphuric acid, and all he wanted to do was glower, not show off.
In the decades since GNR de-poufed metal, Slash has left the band and rejoined, formed and left Velvet Revolver, played on sessions with artists ranging from Lemmy to Michael Jackson, and formed a band with Alter Bridge singer Myles Kennedy. In February, Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators released their fourth album, titled 4, and began a six-week tour, followed by Guns N’ Roses dates from May to December.
Slash called from a Ritz Carlton outside D.C. – “I haven’t stayed in a DoubleTree in a long time,” he laughed – to discuss his new album, the mystique (and unusual apparel choices) of Bob Dylan, and what kind of music he’ll make when he’s an old man. “I’m still obsessed with guitar,” he said. “But the shoplifting obsession went out a long time ago.”
GQ: When was the last time you were nervous before a show?
Last night. I’m always nervous before shows. It’s a combination of anticipation and performance anxiety (laughs). It pretty much dissipates within the first couple of songs.
The first song on 4, “The River Is Rising,” refers to lies and indoctrination, and asks, “Have we been hypnotized?” Do you consider it a political song?
It’s political in some ways. The record was made in 2021, after we’d gone through the chaos of 2020, so it’s about a lot of things that represent 2020. As a rule, I avoid politics when I’m discussing music with the media, because I don’t want to be an advocate for one side or the other. I don’t want my opinion to be taken as being important.
But you couldn’t help but be affected by everything going on politically and pandemic-wise – which in its own way, turned out to be a political subject. It was going on not just in the U.S., but it seemed to be a symptom of a lot of the planet.
“The Path Less Followed” is a song of advice or warning to someone younger, about the trials of being a musician. Is touring still as exciting to you as it used to be?