Re: Axl Rose - A conversation with Kurt Loder (MTV, 11/08/99)
Axl Rose - A conversation with Kurt Loder
MTV US November 8th 1999
It's been eight years since Guns N' Roses released an album, and that drought may be about to end.
Singer Axl Rose's new edition of GN'R, heavy in the industrial-crunch department, has a cut on the soundtrack of the new Arnold Schwarzenegger movie "End Of Days" and will be releasing a whole new album called "Chinese Democracy" sometime early in the next century, while the old Guns lineup, with guitarist Slash churning out the classic riffs, now exists only as a subject of lawsuits, apparently.
Axl Rose spoke with MTV News' Kurt Loder by phone from Los Angeles on Monday, November 8, and he had quite a bit of light to shed on all things Guns N' Roses...
Loder: What have you been doing for the last six and a half years, since the last tour ended?
Rose: Trying to figure out how to make a record.
Loder: Ah, you already knew how to do that, right?
Rose: I originally wanted to make a traditional record or try to get back to an "Appetite [For Destruction]" thing or something, because that would have been a lot easier for me to do. I was involved in a lot of lawsuits for Guns N' Roses and in my own personal life, so I didn't have a lot of time to try and develop a new style or re-invent myself, so I was hoping to write a traditional thing, but I was not really allowed to do that.
Loder: What prevented you from doing, like, a traditional rock record?
Loder: [Laughs] But you could have found another guitar player or something, right?
Rose: Well, not really.... Not to make a true Guns record. It's kind of like, I don't know, if you know somebody has a relationship, and there's difficulties in that, and Mr. or Mrs. Right doesn't kind of just stumble into their path, or they don't stumble across that person, they can't really get on with things. Somebody didn't come into my radar that would have really replaced Slash in a proper way.
Rose: And it really wasn't something we were trying to do. We were trying to make things work with Slash for a very, very long time... about three and a half years.
Loder: Wow. Jeez. That's a shame, because it seemed like such a tight unit. This live album seems like a farewell to that era.
Rose: It is exactly that. It's a farewell to that.... It was something we wanted to give to the public in a way of saying farewell. It was a very difficult thing to do, as listening to it and the people involved... [it] wasn't the most emotionally pleasant thing to do.
Loder: Is it fair to say that we may never be hearing this stuff ever again? This old material?
Rose: No, no, that's not true at all. In fact, actually, I have re-recorded "Appetite" and--
Loder: You re-recorded "Appetite For Destruction?"
Rose: Yes, I have.
Loder: The whole album?
Rose: Well, with the exception of two songs, because we replaced those with "You Could Be Mine," and "Patience," and why do that? Well, we had to rehearse them anyway to be able to perform them live again, and there were a lot of recording techniques and certain subtle styles and drum fills and things like that that are kind of '80s signatures that subtly could use a little sprucing up... a little less reverb and a little less double bass and things like that.
Loder: Who are the musicians who have re-recorded "Appetite?"
Rose: Josh Freese on drums, Tommy Stinson on bass, Paul Tobias on guitar -- you guys know him as Paul Huge, that's how it's been written everywhere. It's Paul Tobias on guitar, and Robin Finck was on lead guitar, but that... that will stay on some of it. Robin's guitar will stay on some, but not all. I don't know what I'm going to do with it, exactly, when I would be putting that out. But you know, it has a lot of energy. Learning the old Guns songs and getting them up, you know, putting them on tape, really forced everybody to get them up to the quality that they needed to be at. Once the energy was figured out by the new guys, how much energy was needed to get the songs right, then it really helped in the writing and recording process of the new record.
Loder: At any time, were you thinking of keeping Duff [McKagan] or Matt Sorum or anybody on board too? Or was that all over from the beginning?
Rose: That was their choice to leave. Everybody that's gone did it by choice. Matt was fired, but Matt came in attempting to get fired and told many people so that night. So it's kind of like everybody left by choice. They really didn't think I was going to figure out a way to make a record, [and they] didn't want to help really make a record. Everybody kind of wanted what they wanted individually rather than what's in the best interest of the whole.
Loder: This "End of Days" track, "Oh My God," is real, real different. Have you been listening to [or] working with samples and stuff a lot? Has your whole musical approach changed?
Rose: No, not a lot, no. Basically, [I'm] listening to everything that's out there as far as music goes. That was a big difference between myself and Slash and Duff, is that I didn't hate everything new that came out. I really liked the Seattle movement. I like White Zombie. I like Nine Inch Nails, and I like hip-hop. I don't hate everything. I don't think everybody should be worshiping me 'cause I was around before them.
So once it was really understood by me that I'm really not going to be able to make the right old-style Guns N' Roses record, and if I try to take into consideration what Guns did on "Appetite," which was to kind of be a melting pot of a lot things that were going on, plus use past influences, I could make the right record if I used my influences from what I've been listening to that everybody else is listening to out there. So in that sense, I think it is like old Guns N' Roses as far as, like, the spirit and the attempt to throw all kinds of different styles together. If you get to the second guitar solo in "Oh My God," Paul's doing a very Izzy Stradlin-Aerosmith-type riff in the middle of the song, which is a completely different thing than everything else that's going on in the music, but yet it blends. There's a disco drum beat in the post-chorus, in the heaviest section of the song. We blended a lot of things.
Loder: How much stuff have you got for this new album? You've been working on this for a long time. Is there just tons of material?
Rose: We've been working on, I don't know, 70 songs.
Rose: The record will be about, anywhere from 16 to 18 songs, but we recorded at least two albums' worth of material that is solidly recorded. But we are working on a lot more songs than that at the same time... in that way, what we're doing is exploring so, you know, you get a good idea, you save it, and then maybe you come back to it later, or maybe you get a good idea and you go, "That's really cool, but that's not what we're looking for. Okay, let's try something new." You know, basically taking the advance money for the record and actually spending it on the record.
Loder: [Laughs] Not always the case, obviously.
Rose: No, and I don't want to be in a situation again where I have to depend on other people and have [to] start all over. So we have material that we think is too advanced for old Guns fans to hear right now and they would completely hate, because we were exploring the use of computers [along with] everybody really playing their ass off and combining that, but trying to push the envelope a bit. It's like, "Hmm, I have to push the envelope a little too far. We'll wait on that." So we got a list of things.
Loder: Are you involved in computer music yourself? Are you playing guitar now?
Rose: A little of both, a little of both.
Loder: How's your guitar playing coming along now?
Rose: It's all right. I just wanted to be good enough to be able to contribute what was needed to this main album. It took working on the majority of these things and at least the couple albums' [worth] of material to figure out what should be on the first official Guns album. I wouldn't say it's like, you know, that we recorded a double album, or that we have all of our scraps to be the second one. There is a distinct difference in sound. The second leans probably a little more to aggressive electronica with full guitars, where the first one is definitely more guitar-based.
Loder: Do you find it difficult to capture with a new group of musicians that same sort of group feeling that the original Guns had?
Rose: No. No, not with the particular people involved. To be honest, it was a long time for me since Guns N' Roses as the old lineup had been fun, and the new guys have been a breath of fresh air. People are really excited about what we got. They're really proud of it, and it was, again, it was just time. I'm not trying to put the other guys down. It's like, I think people really wanted to do different things other than try to figure out the right record here for Guns N' Roses. But at the same time, Guns N' Roses was a big thing. How do you walk away from that? It's a very complicated thing, I think, for everybody involved.
Loder: I gather that on the record there's going to be a piano version of a Black Sabbath song? How did that work out?
Rose: Oh, that's on the live [album]. I just like the piano song ["It's Alright"] and the words, and when you play it for people, they had no idea it was a Black Sabbath song.
Rose: So it was just kind of fun, and then it worked out as a intro to "November Rain" live, and it just so happened that [it] came out well on tape, so we were able to use it. Del James worked for a couple of years off and on going though every single show we did on DAT tape from the "Use Your Illusion" tour and then every available tape, and finding tapes, and finding people that have recorded things, so he could have in his mind what was recorded best from the entire time Guns N' Roses was together. There were a lot of difficulties where things weren't... when they were recorded, when they were fully recorded to 24, 48 tracks, it wasn't recorded that well at times, and so it took a long time to find what tracks were available to use, because we had never officially recorded a show to make a live album.
Loder: When you listen to that stuff back now, do you think, "Wow, that was a great band, that was a great time," or are your feelings clouded?
Rose: For me, when I hear certain things on the "Use Your Illusion" tour, I... on that record, it's... since I'm in it, I can hear a band dying. I can hear when Izzy was unconsciously over it. I can hear where the band was leaning away from what Guns N' Roses [had] originally been about.
People may have their favorite songs, and it may be on "Use Your Illusion," but most people do tend to lean towards "Appetite" as being the defining Guns N' Roses record, and I can hear how, in the sound, it was moving away from that there. There's just so much I was able to do in keeping that aspect together.
Loder: Are you thinking now about a stage show? Is it close enough to be thinking how you're gonna present this live, or is that still pretty much still in the future?
Rose: In ways. What we're doing is we're rehearsing with different guitar players, and we're still recording. I'm doing the vocals. I'm about three-quarters of the way through, and it's a very difficult process for me.
I write the vocals last, because I wanted to invent the music first and push the music to the level that I had to compete against it. That's kind of tough. It's like you got to go in against these new guys who kicked ass. You finally got the song musically where you wanted to, and then you have to figure out how to go in and kick its ass and be one person competing against this wall of sound.
Why I chose to do it that way is that, you know, I can sit and write poetry 'til hell freezes over, and getting attached to any particular set of words... I felt that I would write to those words in a dated fashion, and we really wouldn't get the best music. "Oh My God" is a perfect example. When we finally got "Oh My God" where it needed to be, then I got the right words to it. With "Appetite," I wrote a lot of the words first, but in, like, "Oh My God," I wrote the words second, but the music was written like "Appetite." We kept developing it until it we got it right. [With] "Appetite," everything had been worked on, and worked on, and worked on. That was not the case with "Use Your Illusion."
Loder: You got Dave Navarro to play on this. Have you always been a fan of his playing?
Rose: I've always been a fan of Dave Navarro, to the point that when we got signed, I had a Jane's Addiction demo tape [laughs] and was actually trying to convince the record company, "No, no, no, no, I suck. We suck. These guys rock!" And I was trying to get Tom Zutaut, at the time [at Geffen], to sign Jane's Addiction, and he was actually in negotiations to sign them at one point. I was just into Jane's Addiction.
At the time... when we first put out "Appetite," it didn't go over so well, and MTV and John Cannelli there are really what broke us. I think you guys aired "Welcome to the Jungle" three times... [dramatically] going on your fourth now!
Rose: That's really what finally got the public to find some interest in Guns N' Roses, and there was a lot less [interest] for Jane's Addiction. Where now, I think, we would consider Jane's Addiction one of the great rock and roll bands in the last however many years. They were a great band, they were a bit ahead of their time. I was a very big fan of them, and Dave.
Dave's a great guitar player. It's a different style. It's not like Guns N' Roses. It's not blues-based, and it's not all that Guns N' Roses is, and that was done on purpose. There will be elements of blues-based things on the new Guns record. It's a very diverse record. There's a lot of hip-hop beats, there's straight-ahead rock. But if someone says, "Hip-hop beats," what do you mean by that? Well, Radiohead uses beats that are similar to hip-hop beats. There's actual, "official" hip-hop beats and then there's "Radiohead-style" hip-hop beats, there's rock beats. Like I say, "Oh My God" has a disco beat in it. I read a review where somebody caught that. That made me laugh.
Loder: What's been knocking you out yourself lately? Is there anything today that you think is better than Jane's Addiction was back in the day?
Rose: I don't know about, like, as far as aggressive goes, but I really like the new Fiona Apple.
Rose: You know, I liked the last record, I like the new one. Who do I listen to that's aggressive? I think that the "End Of Days" soundtrack is a lot of fun. Limp Bizkit is fun. The White Zombie stuff is fun.
Loder: Do you think that stuff can be done in that old sort of [GN'R] style, that blues-based style, or do you think that's just over?
Rose: No, no, I don't think any style of music's over. I mean, look at [Lou Bega's] "Mambo #5."
Rose: You could find ways to blend all kind of things. It really just takes the right song. I don't personally believe that was the interest of Guns or Slash, I don't believe the right song was the interest. I mean, what people don't know is, the [Slash's] Snakepit album, that is the Guns N' Roses album. I just wouldn't do it.
Rose: Oh, yeah! Duff walked out on it, and I walked out on it, because I wasn't allowed to be any part of it. It's like, "No, you do this, that's how it is." And I didn't believe in it. I thought that there were riffs and parts and some ideas, I thought, that needed to be developed. I had no problem working on it, or working with it, but you know, as is, I think I'm with the public on that one.
Loder: Yeah, apparently so. Obviously, you've been working on all this music for the last six years. What else have you been doing? Do you go out a lot? Do you see shows?
Rose: You know I... I pretty much stay to myself, and that's about it.
Loder: Just kind of hang around the house?
Rose: [Laughs] I just, you know, I pretty much work on this record and, and that's about it. It takes a lot of time. I'm not a computer-savvy or technical type of person, yet I'm involved with it everyday, so it takes me a while.
Loder: Do you have a computer setup at home? Are you online?
Rose: Yeah, I have a full studio, and that causes me great pain and pleasure.
Loder: [Laughs] What are the painful parts, when it crashes?
Rose: Yeah. Just, you know, basically my inadequacy with modern machinery.
Loder: You're going to call this album "Chinese Democracy." What is the meaning of that, since there is no Chinese democracy, of course?
Rose: Well, there's a lot of Chinese democracy movements, and it's something that there's a lot of talk about, and it's something that will be nice to see. It could also just be like an ironic statement. I don't know, I just like the sound of it.
Loder: When do you think we will actually see this album? Is it possible to say early next year?
Rose: We're hoping. Yes, definitely, everything seems to be going well. Robin's departure was abrupt, sudden, you know, not expected...
Loder: He just wanted to get back to Nine Inch Nails, right?
Rose: [continuing] ... but at the same time, it's turned out to be a good thing. We've been able to push some of the guitar parts a step farther, that had he been here, it's not something that would have been considered, and I wouldn't have been rude enough to attempt to do that. Robin did a great job, but we've been able to up the ante a little bit. Dave came in and did something great on "Oh My God," and we've had a few other people come in, so that was a setback for a while, but then it's turned out to be a good thing.
Loder: People that hear "Oh My God," they might say that, "Gee, the new Guns is all this sound," but I think that what you're saying is that it's a bunch of different kinds of sounds.
Rose: It's a lot of different sounds. There's some other really heavy songs, there's a lot of aggressive songs, but they're all in different styles and different sounds. It is truly a melting pot.
I go back to listening to Queen -- you know, we're still hoping to have Brian May come in and do some tracks, and I got a fax today that he's coming in -- Queen had all kinds of different-style songs on their records, and that's something that I like. 'Cause I do listen to a lot of things, and I really don't like being pigeonholed to that degree, and it's something that Guns N' Roses seem to share [with Queen] a bit. With "Appetite," even though it seems to have the same sound, if you really go back, you can pull all the little parts from different influences. That's not really the case by the time we're on "Use Your Illusion." People are kind of set in their ways. ["Chinese Democracy"] is coming from all over the place.
Loder: Have you actually brought in any hip-hop guys to sort of, like, examine the roots of the rhythm now? Has Dr. Dre stopped by or anything?
Rose: No, we haven't done anything like that. It's been thought of, but it's kind of [like] we would really be wasting somebody else's time, as we're trying to figure out how to develop this ourselves. Maybe if it were to get closer to, say, mastering or mixing, maybe there could be something someone else could add to it.
Loder: Have you thought about maybe taking the boys out and playing on New Year's Eve or something? Are we gonna see you before...
Loder: : No? None of that?
Loder: Why not?
Loder: [Laughs] It could be fun.
Loder: Where are you going to be on New Year's Eve?
Rose: Have no idea.
Loder: So we'll see you some time this new year, right? You will be around?
Rose: Yeah, we'll be around. I'm not working on all this to keep it buried. We plan on getting out there and doing it right. The new guys are a lot of fun, and like I say, we will be continuing to look for and or decide who the official new guitar player will be, but it's not that important to the band at this time, as that person's not really needed. There's not a whole lot for them to do at this time in regards to recording, as we've recorded [a] majority of material.
Loder: But you continue to audition, right?
Rose: Yes, we do. Yes, we do, and there's some people who have done a really great job. It's just not something we're prepared to make a complete decision on at this time.
Loder: Okay, well, we're dying to hear this stuff. I hope you get it out sometime real soon.
Rose: All right, man. Later.