Re: 1997: Chinese Whispers
"To tell you the truth, none of the people in Axl's camp believed I was really gone for the next couple of years. I was kind of taken aback by their deep sense of denial: I never behaved as if I intended to return, but that didn't matter to them." (Slash, autobiography)
"'Axl and I have just not been able to have a meeting of the minds of such that we can actually work together,' Slash admitted. 'We've been through this a dozen times. It seems like a big deal now, but to me it's more of the same. I haven't really gone anywhere. I haven't officially quit the band. It's just that we're not seeing eye to eye on where Guns should be going. It's just such a pain in the ass.' His plan, he said, is to wait, 'let the smoke clear and maybe we can talk about it later.'" (Addicted to Noise, 01/30/97)
"'If Axl was to break down and finally realize what the meat and potatoes of Guns N' Roses always has been, I'm only a phone call away,' [Slash] said." (Sonic Net, 02/01/99)
"When the sessions were on track and Rose was in attendance, sometimes [Axl]'d play with the band but he'd rarely sing. He would talk, however. The studio was all business in terms of never having guests, drugs or alcohol around, but many nights the sessions would give way to nights of storytelling as the entertaining front man held court... There were long conversations about his former band mates, especially Slash.
'He spoke of them fondly,' says a source. 'Like family members who were dead.'" (What's On Dubai, 12/10)
Matt's situation turned out to be uncertain as well, as the frequent Prince collaborator Michael Bland auditioned for the drumstool in January.
"I auditioned for them in '97. I think Josh Freese was originally supposed to do the gig. I went to the NAMM show [on 01/16-19/97], and I ran into Axl at the Anaheim Convention Center in California, and then I went to the audition later that night. He was very cool to me. He didn't seem at all like the person the press makes him out to be. The audition went well, but I knew they weren't going to hire me, with them being a bunch of skinny white dudes...[laughs]" (Drummerworld, 09/06)
Then again, cultural background didn't seem to be an issue with Axl.
"MTV Brazil reported late last month that Guns N' Roses had unsuccessfully made overtures to Sepultura drummer Igor Cavalera." (All-Star Online, 04/08/97)
Re: 1997: Chinese Whispers
Moby with King Dick
The rebooted recording sessions were originally scheduled for February. A producer was now sought after to accommodate whatever ventures Axl'd choose to pursue.
"In 1997, Todd Sullivan, who was then a talent executive for the company, sent Mr. Rose a sampling of CD's produced by different people, and encouraged him to choose one to work on 'Chinese Democracy.' Mr. Sullivan says he received a call informing him that Mr. Rose had run over the albums with a car." (New York Times, 03/06/05)
"Rose was interested in Moby after hearing Animal Rights." (Moby, Earshot, 12/97)
"Whenever I hang out in Guns N' Roses' studio - it's in some big warehouse in Los Angeles - the atmosphere there is just so nice. Everyone involved really likes one another." [...] [Moby] is describing the three or four preproduction sessions he's recently attended for the forthcoming Guns N' Roses release." (Moby, Icon Magazine, 10/97)
Moby entered talks with Axl in late February.
"[Moby and Axl] are said to have gotten along famously during meetings over the past three weeks and have "seen eye-to-eye on a lot of things." [...] Rose has met with several producers about handling what will undoubtedly be a labor-intensive project, but 'he hasn't gone this far with any other producers,' according to a Guns N' Roses spokesperson.
[...] 'At the risk of sounding like a sleazy music biz guy, I met with Axl last week to hear their new demos,' said Moby while he was discussing the future of electronica on a panel at Austin, Texas' South by Southwest Conference. 'They're writing with a lot of loops, and believe it or not, they're doing it better than anybody I've heard lately.'" (Moby, Allstar, 03/18/97)
One of the demos Moby might've been presented with was the work-in-progress track, Oh My God. Mentioning Matt suggests the song existed in some form in February/March '97.
"Musically the song was primarily written by Paul Huge [in early 1997], with Dizzy Reed writing the musical hook of the chorus. Former member Duff McKagan as well as former employee Matt Sorum failed to see its potential and showed no interest in exploring, let alone recording the piece." (Axl, Press Release, 09/22/99)
"'I don't think this new music is just a vehicle for him as a solo performer. He wants this to be a band where everyone contributes,' says Moby. 'On the music I've heard, you can hear everyone's distinctive voice coming through. [...] The music they're working on has a very dramatic quality to it. They're using some modern technology. Axl's really excited about sampling. He loves the DJ Shadow record and Nine Inch Nails. The stuff I've heard is much more concise than, say, 'November Rain.' Not bombastic. Very stripped down. Very intense. It's not hard-rock music in the way that 'Welcome to the Jungle' was.'" (Icon Magazine, 10/97)
The material presented to Moby would've been recorded by Paul Huge/Krys Baratto/Sid Riggs/Dizzy.
"The story goes that Moby [...] went in to soak up some music compiled on nearly 300 DAT tapes that the band had filled with what the source described as 'ideas, loops and sketches,' and was duly impressed with what Rose and crew had come up with." (Addicted to Noise, 03/19/97)
"'I found it difficult to chart a linear development of the songs that they were working on,' recalls Moby. 'They would work on something, it would be a sketch for a while, and then they'd put it aside and go back to it a year, six months later. He became a little bit defensive when I asked him about the vocals. He just said that he was going to get to them eventually,' Moby continues." (Rolling Stone, 05/11/00)
"Most of the stuff he had played me was just sketches, Mr. Sullivan recalled. I said, 'Look, Axl, this is some really great, promising stuff here. Why don't you consider just bearing down and completing some of these songs?' He goes, 'Hmm, bear down and complete some of these songs?' Next day I get a call from Eddie [Rosenblatt, the Geffen chairman], saying I was off the project." (New York Times, 03/06/05)
"'They've asked me to be the producer,' Moby says, 'but I'm not sure I'm capable of doing that because, if nothing else, making this record is going to be a long, long process.'" (Icon Magazine, 10/97)
"'I would have had to move to L.A. for 10 months to do it,' he explains... 'Even though it means giving up a couple of million dollars, I had to say no.' (Just in case you're wondering, Moby got along great with the band and still wants to help out.)" (Moby, Earshot, 12/97)
However, long-time producer Mike Clink was tasked with shepherding the revamped GNR flock.
"Guns n’ Roses have confirmed Mike Clink to produce their next album... Sources at the band’s label, Geffen, say the inclusion of Clink doesn’t exclude involvement from Moby, the techno-rock solo artist and producer who has previously acknowledged to the media that he’s been talking to the band." (MTV, 05/22/97)
"Why we went with Mike Clink [on AFD], we went for a raw sound because it just didn’t gel having it too tight and concise. We knew what we were doing, and we knew this: we know the way we are onstage, and the only way to capture that energy on the record, is by making it somewhat live, doing the bass, the drums and the rhythm guitar at the same time. Getting the best track, having it a bit faster than you play it live, so that brings some energy into it." (Axl, Kerrang, 04/29/90)
"The group have brought in several guitarists to lay down what was described as 'sketches and ideas for guitar parts on the demos,' including a young, unnamed fresh face Rose has apparently taken a shine to." (Addicted to Noise, 03/19/97)
Re: 1997: Chinese Whispers
Axl's Boy Wonder
"Matt Sorum introduced Rose to former Nine Inch Nails guitarist Robin Finck, advising that he would make a great foil for Slash - who could then be restored to the line-up." (Q Magazine, 05/01)
"The lead guitar spot remains open and Slash's return is not out of the question. However, according to our source, the guitarist and Rose haven't spoken at all this year." (Addicted to Noise, 03/19/97)
"Axl had come to simply see the circus (laughs) and he and I had never met and he didn't know I was there. One of the guys Axl was with in the grandstands pointed and said (in hushed excited voice), 'Axl, you see that guitar player down there? That's Robin from Nine Inch Nails.' ... Axl was telling me this after the fact. And he just kind of scratched his head and was sitting there thinking, 'What is he doing here?'" (Robin, Ultimate Guitar, 01/17/14)
"I told Axl to see him and he said 'That's our guitar player,'" says Sorum. "I said, 'Bring in Robin to play alongside Slash,' but Axl said, 'I want him to play lead.'" (Spin, 07/99)
"I got a call from Axl Rose [while in Cirque du Soleil], who I never met at the time. He invited me to the studio as he was writing and recording songs. It was an invitation for a casual listen. Eventually, after about eight weeks, we started playing together." (Robin Finck, 2000)
Axl called Robin no later than mid-January, as he was already playing with the band when Moby came aboard. From 01/29/97 onwards, Cirque du Soleil's Quidam was based in Orange County, between their two stays in Santa Monica, enabling Robin to divide his time between GNR and the circus.
"At that time Axl was no longer playing with Slash but the rest of the original guys were still together. ... He invited me to play with he and the rest of the Guns N' Roses guys at the studio space they were kind of housed in. It was a welcomed opportunity just to play that one day. ... We played Guns songs and some cover songs." (Robin, Ultimate Guitar, 01/17/14)
"I played with Robin a few times and he's a great guy." (Duff, Hard Force, 07/99)
"Eventually I was bringing my ADAT tapes I was working on in my apartment." (Robin, Ultimate Guitar, 01/17/14)
"We played some of my songs and finally I left the circus and was doing records with Axl, Josh and Tommy, and what would have been a new Guns N' Roses, if you will." (Robin Finck, 2000)
Re: 1997: Chinese Whispers
The inclusion of Robin proved out to be Matt's last significant contribution for the band.
"[Axl] fired me two or three times and he called me back... [...] We all have been fired at least one time! You never heard about it? (laughs) Seriously, it's true that he sometimes goes too far. Sometime I open my mouth and I say 'Ok, Axl, fuck off!', then he fires me. So? I know he will call me the next day. I feel I'm in security and I know I will be the GNR drummer for a long time." (Matt, 1996)
"Duff: [...] Matt was never a full member of the band, he was on an ejector seat and Axl said : 'I'm gonna fire him.' I answered that this decision required more than one person to be taken since we were a band, that he alone didn't own the majority. All of this because Matt told him he was wrong. The truth is, Matt was right, and Axl wrong indeed.
Hard Force: Wrong about what?
Duff: About schedules and the way Axl was late for the next album." (Duff, Hard Force, 1999)
"We weren't getting along. (laughs) We weren't playing live. I wanted to get out and play. But no one else wanted to play so we..." (Matt, Lost Rose, 11/21/01)
"'Paul Huge walked into the studio and made a bad comment about Slash,' says Sorum. I said, 'You don't say that when I'm in the room.' Then Axl laid in, I argued with him and it was over. Huge followed me out into the parking lot and said, 'Come back.' I said, 'I can't come back, he's fired me. Do you feel good about breaking up one of the greatest bands that ever lived?'" (Q Magazine, 05/01)
"I came home, and I said 'I've just been fired'. I remember what time of the year it was... I think it was summer time. Might have been April... March or April. I think so, 1997." (Matt, Lost Rose, 11/21/01)
"'I've phoned Axl 4 times to let him know I'm still here,' Matt rues, 'but Axl, he's a... private... person.'" (Matt, UK Teletext, 08/25/01)
Re: 1997: Chinese Whispers
Another NIN alumni, Chris Vrenna, was approached to replace Matt Sorum.
"April of ', right after Matt Sorum left the band... I got a call from those guys about going down and jamming... Duff was still in it... They had already gotten Robin Finck... [Axl] is super well-listened. He was always a big Nails fan... They wanted the option of experimenting with electronics... My role was supposed to be drumming and programming." (Chris Vrenna, Spin, 07/99)
"When I was there, Moby was going to produce... Axl really wanted it to have an electronic element. He kept referencing the Passengers album that U2 did ['Original Soundtracks 1,' a 1995 collaborative effort of U2 and Brian Eno released under the pseudonym of Passengers] - 'It's wonderful. It's so good.' That and Nine Inch Nails." (Chris Vrenna, AL.com, 10/23/18)
"[Axl] was quiet, soft-spoken, very amicable and friendly, and always very 'up'," recalls drummer Chris Vrenna... ''Hey, did you see the movie that opened last night?' or 'Did you see the news today?' Or, 'Check out these records today', that sort of thing. He loved to debate or discuss something." (What's On Dubai, 12/10)
"Axl didn't come in very often; he'd show up about once a week. [Once,] Axl came down and he was just in the mood to play and he was like, 'Alright we're going to run 'Appetite,' top to bottom. Ready? Go!'... He sang half of the words, half voice - he didn't want to blow himself out. He sat and played the grand piano for some of the songs...
So sometimes we jammed. Sometimes me and Moby just sat and drank coffee and talked about music." (Chris Vrenna, AL.com, 10/23/18)
"They were trying to get ideas together, see who was compatible with who as far as a band vibe... Axl had a definite direction he ultimately wanted to head toward, but at the time there wasn't even a song yet." (Chris Vrenna, Rolling Stone, 05/11/00)
"It was all jamming, trying to come up with parts. There were no songs written or anything, so every single thing that was played in the room got recorded just in case somebody came up with something good... By that time everything was so fractured, and everybody had an opinion of what the band should do... And Paul (Huge) made it change a little bit." (Chris Vrenna, AL.com, 10/23/18)
"'I did [it] for a couple weeks, but then decided I didn’t want to join the band,' says Vrenna." (Chris Vrenna, Audiohead.net, 07/02)
"Vrenna turned down a drumming spot in GN'R to work on a record of his own. 'It was going to be a long commitment,' Vrenna says. 'There was no firm lineup." (Rolling Stone, 05/11/00)
"They sent me a contract to continue to work with the band... They wanted to guarantee that people would do the album and commit to the tour. With the shake-up that [the] band [had], I think Axl was just looking for a little stability." (Chris Vrenna, Spin, 07/99)
Next to try out the drum stool was former Pearl Jam member Dave Abbruzzese.
"Dave Abbruzzese (ex-Pearl Jam) has been rehearsing with GN'R in Los Angeles." (MTV Brazil, 05/01/97)
"Abbruzzese reportedly flew to Los Angeles from Seattle last week to work on the project." (All-Star Online, 04/29/97)
"Matt confirmed that both Chris Vrenna (ex-Nine Inch Nails) and Dave Abbruzzese (ex-Pearl Jam) has been/is working with GN'R (according to Matt, Dave is now in the studio with the band). He also confirmed that Moby was working with them." (Allstar, 05/13/97)
"The rehearsals with [Dave] Abruzzesse and [Chris Vrenna] as a duo were really cool; it was a shame then that it didn't work out." (Axl, Spinner, 02/27/09)
"Dave Abbruzzese was after me and then after Dave was Joey (Castillo). And then Joey was the drummer for quite a while." (Chris Vrenna, AL.com, 10/23/18)
Castillo would've played with Guns during the latter half of '97, before joining Zilch.
On 05/29/97, Cirque du Soleil relocated to Oakland, CA; this would be the last city on the initial run, and Robin was likely contractually obligated for it - the extended run would begin on 07/31/97 in San Jose, CA.
Re: 1997: Chinese Whispers
Meanwhile, the work went on, with a temporary drummer and a surprising guest vocalist.
"At one point in April 1997, Shaquille O'Neal took a break from his own recording session in the same building and rapped over some Guns music. 'I saw Guns N'Roses listed on the bulletin board in the lobby of the studio so I stuck my head in to check it out,' says Shaq. 'They asked me to join them, so I started freestylin' over their track. It was the first time I ever performed with a rock group, and it felt good.'" (Spin, 07/99)
"I jammed with Shaq. At one point I was down at [...] this rehearsal place in Santa Monica writing songs with Paul [Tobias]. And my friend Sid [Riggs] was playing drums - just drumming for us. We were basically just writing and recording stuff [...] constantly, just basically waiting for everyone else to basically show up. And there are these satellite recording studios around that soundstage and [...] [Shaq] was doing a Taco Bell commercial [...], so he heard that we were next door so he wanted to come say hi...
[He] starts playing this polysynth sound, this riff on my keyboards, and it was really cool. And so, I look over at the drummer and motion for him to [...] get a hiphop beat going, and Syd goes into this groove, and Shaq started vibin' on it and Paul started playing guitar, and Shaq looks over at me and like this magic thing happened - he says 'take over', and so I watch what he's playing and I sat down and started playing it. And he got this groove [...] going and he and his buddies grabbed the mic and started doing this rap. And our engineer Tommy was rolling tape the entire time, so [...] that's probably where that story comes from." (Dizzy, 01/29/06)
"I've never met the man. He goofed around with Paul and Diz and it went from there." (Axl, Chinesedemocracy.com, 12/13/08)
Re: 1997: Chinese Whispers
In the midst of revising the band, Axl got out of the house every once in a while. His looks hadn't apparently changed much since he was spotted in a Chili Peppers show in April '96.
"Such was his anonymity that when Rose attended a Radiohead show [on 07/26/97] he had to undergo a thorough body search by the venue's doorman." (Kerrang, 08/21/99)
"Axl was hanging out backstage at a Radiohead show in Los Angeles in 1997. 'The thing that struck me was how unrecognizable he was,' says a concertgoer. 'The door guy was patting him down.'" (Spin, 07/99)
Meanwhile, Robin was signed to a 2-year contract with GNR, ranging from 08/01/97 to 08/01/99. Duff left around the time.
"I left the band two weeks before my daughter Grace (she is two now) was born [August 27th 1997]. It was not fun. That's the reason. The reason why I stayed in the band was to be a bridge between Axl and Slash." (Duff, Burrn Magazine, 12/99)
"Guns had been paying rent on studios for three years now - from 1994 to 1997 - and still did not have a single song. The whole operation was so erratic that it didn’t seem to fit with my hopes for parenthood, for stability... When it came to leaving the band, it wasn’t about Axl. I just had new challenges on my mind." (Duff, Autobiography)
"I went to dinner with Axl and his manager. He was a manager of GN'R and still Axl's. [...] Me and Axl were getting along well and we had very good conversation. [...] I said 'Axl, we had very [much] fun together, but it's your own band now. I'm not interested in you as a dictator. I didn't come here to talk about the money advanced for next record. You can have it.'" (Duff, Burrn Magazine, 12/99)
"I told them I had changed. I said if they needed help, they could just call me. I told Axl this was his band, he had ignored everyone and had hired [Paul Huge,] his best friend for the band. I couldn't play with [Paul]." (Duff, 2000)
"I was offered a lot of money to stay in Guns N' Roses, and I was very honored by that." (Duff, 1999)
"At one point, we were offered a huge sum of money to play a concert in Germany. I thought : 'I never played for money and I'm not gonna start now!' I've got a house, I'm secure financially." (Duff, 1999)
"Everybody was trying to persuade me to stay in the band for money." (Duff, Burrn Magazine, 12/99)
"Unfortunately for both me and Axl, more than a decade passed before we ever spoke a single word again. ... I didn’t regret the choice I made, but I eventually did wish we could still have been friends and have gotten together once in a while." (Duff, Autobiography)
Chris Vrenna, having already moved on, expressed his concerns to Axl about losing his bass player.
"After Duff left, that really bummed me out. Because Duff was a good hang and he was the last thread to the first record... After he left I even had a talk with Axl one time, like, 'You know, you're changing the sound of the band and it's really just you and we're all new dudes and we all come from cool places. But have you ever thought of just saying, f--- Guns N Roses. That name is dead. The band is over. We are now called 'blank.''
And he goes, "Yeah, you're not the first person who's told me I should probably [rename the band].... I can't sacrifice the [GNR] branding that's already been established." (Chris Vrenna, AL.com, 11/23/18)
Duff's resignation seemed to put everything into a standstill. Next to pack up and leave was Guns' producer, Mike Cilnk.
"Long-time G n' R collaborator Mike Clink... sat in on rehearsals for a few months before ducking out of the project. 'Axl is trying to define his direction and trying out a lot of different collaborators,' Clink says of the delay and direction of the forthcoming Guns album. 'I've heard some of the material Axl has written and it's phenomenal, but he's a perfectionist and he needs everything to be just perfect. He needs the music to move him.'" (Rolling Stone, 11/14/98)
In November, Izzy was formally out of the GNR partnership in all its forms.
"When I left the group my lawyers negotiated a deal which said that I was to be given a certain percent on everything the group earned until November 1997." (Izzy, Expressen, 03/20/98)
"In December 1997, Axl was reputedly seen at the Universal Film Studios in Los Angeles with a child and a Hispanic woman." (Kerrang, 08/21/99)