Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
The Perfect Crime: Geffen merges with Interscope
In 1995, as David Geffen was relinquishing power of the company he'd founded, their parent company for the past five years, MCA Records, acquired yet another label, Jimmy Iovine's Interscope Records. Around this time, MCA Records itself was acquired by Seagram and was renamed Universal Music Group, maintaining control over Geffen and Interscope, among others.
"[On 12/10/98], Seagram's $10.4 billion acquisition of Polygram from Philips [...] became official. [...] In the process of consolidating Seagram's Universal Music Group with Polygram's music holdings (which jointly account for some 25 percent of the United States and European music markets), Seagram executives have pledged to unload enough assets to save $300 million a year. [...] Under Universal's restructuring plan, two labels founded as artist-friendly havens but sold by their owners over the past decade -- David Geffen's Geffen Records and Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss's A&M -- will be collapsed into Interscope.
[...] Despite the anxiety the changes are causing for bands and staff, there is a reason these labels are getting trimmed. A&M and Geffen, in particular, have both suffered from budget crunches and unproductive band signings over the past few years; neither of them have any records now in the Billboard top 40. Many of the acts being transferred say they may be going to a better place, one willing to spend more money and time to help them grow." (New York Times, 12/21/98)
"[Geffen Records]'s dry spell lingered, making them more dependent than ever on new music from their heavy hitters. 'The Hail Mary that's going to save the game,' the recording expert who spoke on the condition of anonymity explained, 'is a Guns N' Roses record. It keeps not coming and not coming.'" (New York Times, 03/06/05)
"While things look bad for rock bands, they look slightly better for rock bands whose singers have just gone through an emotional breakup [...] than singers who have lost interest in what they are doing. [...] Executives at Universal said that they were relying on a lot more than album sales figures to make their decisions, despite claims by bands and managers to the contrary.
They said they would listen to a group's records multiple times, check out current studio recordings, talk to band managers and artist-and-repertory executives, meet with group members and even try to see a show when possible to make sure no potential hit slips through their hands." (New York Times, 12/21/98)
"In January 1999 Seagram orchestrated a massive restructuring of its music division, firing 110 Geffen employees, including Mr. Rosenblatt [as well as Tom Zutaut, the A&R Man who'd originally signed the band and worked with them on every other release], and folding the unit into the corporation's bigger Interscope Records division. [...] Mr. Rose was said to be crushed by the departure of his Geffen contacts. [...] The unfinished album was placed in the hands of Interscope's chairman, Jimmy Iovine." (New York Times, 03/06/05)
In retrospect, the merger shook the music world to the core and by no means a minor feat. Numerous artists were dropped from their respective labels altogether, including Duff and Izzy, who had, at the time, record deals in place with Geffen. Duff's solo album, Beautiful Disease, was one of the casualties of the merger.
Much was at stake with Axl and Chinese Democracy as well, as the project undoubtedly faced more scrutiny than ever before, due to the fact that Jimmy Iovine at Interscope needed to get on top of things. But Axl had planned ahead. He'd taken control of the band name and assets in late August 1995, four months after David Geffen had left the building. This resulted with him claiming a degree of untouchability within the band, as the GNR name could not exist without him.
In May 1998, seven months before the Seagram-PolyGram-merger, Axl managed to amend the record deal with Geffen, relinquishing Slash and Duff from the contract. Axl was Guns N' Roses and anyone who wanted a GNR record had to deal with him.
"Sources close to Geffen Records say that Rose is back in the studio after a Christmas break working on a new Guns N' Roses album, and that tape is now rolling with producer Sean Beavan at the helm and engineer Critter at the controls. [...] Insiders say fans can expect a strong album with a big sound." (MTV, 01/09/99)
Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
Tour a little tour for me
The rumors that Axl would like to complete the album by the summer of '99 and have GNR headline various festivals were strengthened with the band's passing interest to appear at Lollapalooza. What also may lend credence to it is the fact that festival is organized by Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell. Axl is a stern supporter of Jane's Addiction and at one point, personally campaigned for Geffen Records to sign them. Founding members Dave Navarro and Dave Abbruzzese had also been both approached on joining GNR. Not to mention Lollapalooza was facing its second cancelled year, largely due to the lack of a major headliner.
"Though discussions are in early stages, the G n' R camp has been contacted about [...] signing up to headline Lollapalooza.; the news comes one year after the ground-breaking festival was cancelled for the first time since it began eight years ago. [...] According to a source close to G n' R, Lollapalooza organizers at the William Morris Agency approached the band's management about joining the tour and, though "there's nothing firm about it," the two parties are discussing the possibility. The negotiations alone signal that the band may actually have a new album out some time this summer. "We wouldn't be discussing it if we didn't think they could [get it out in time for the tour to start]," says the source. An additional source says Guns n' Roses have also been contacted to appear on the annual OzzFest tour." (Rolling Stone, 01/17/99)
Soon however, album work apparently overrode any desire to tour.
"Lollapalooza took another blow against a possible return when the Amelia Earhart of rock & roll, Guns n' Roses, officially ended negotiations with tour organizers to headline the summer festival. "It just doesn't coincide with our schedule," said a source close to the band. "It's not a no on necessarily a conceptual side. The time they were to start the thing [July or August] doesn't really fit what's going on for us." The source added, however, that the Gunners will be on the road some time this year." (01/27/99)
The rumor mill then began to grind on an appearance at the ill-fated Woodstock '99.
"It looks like Axl Rose's refurbished Guns N' Roses is apparently all set to sign on as a headliner for Woodstock '99, the three-day 30th anniversary "celebration" of the legendary 1969 rock festival. While there's been no official confirmation of GNR's signing (the band's label did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment), a source familiar with the upcoming concert said the band was close to inking a deal." (eonline, 04/02/99)
"Despite reports elsewhere, Marilyn Manson and Guns n' Roses will not be performing. [...] G n' R, according to the same source, simply won't have an album ready for release in time for the festival." (Rolling Stone, 04/04/99)
"The big question on everyone's minds right now is whether or not Axl Rose can get his act together in time for Woodstock '99 at Griffiss Park in Rome, New York July 23-25. The chances of the new Guns N' Roses apprearing on the already star-studded affair, which celebrates Woodstock's thirtieth anniversary, are now '50/50,' according to Michael Lang, one of the concert's producers. Agreeing that it would be quite the coup to land the highly sought-after act, Lang says, 'It would depend on how well they are coming along with the recordings and whether they're ready to do it. They very much want to.'" (Allstar, 04/09/99)
Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
Just Another Soundtrack
As the touring rumors were born and died down, the band went back into releasing a new song on a film soundtrack. Rather conveniently, the first rumors surfaced the day after GNR had missed their contracted deadline of 03/01/99.
"[Daily Variety] reports that eighties rock icon Billy Idol has official signed on as a voice actor in the upcoming animated movie F.A.K.K.2. [...] The article also indicates that Idol will contribute songs to the movie's soundtrack. Other contributors are Axel Rose, Sammy Hagar (who sang "Heavy Metal" on the soundtrack to the first Heavy Metal movie) and the Stone Temple Pilots." (Daily Variety, 03/02/99)
The finished film was delivered to the studio, Columbia Tri-Star, as late as in late August, at which point GNR had back off from any potential association. However, a few months later, in a feat similar to offering This I Love to What Dreams May Come, a mash-up of the Live Era SCOM and the '98 re-recording was included in the Adam Sandler film Big Daddy. The film premiered on 06/17/99.
"Guns N' Roses return [...] with a re-recorded version of 'Sweet Child O' Mine', used at the end of the new Adam Sandler comedy Big Daddy. The track uses a live version of the song recorded on the band's last European tour before going into a new version recorded by the new G'N'R lineup. The band - which is essentially just Axl Rose without any original Gunners - are still supposed to release their long overdue album, provisionally entitled '2000 Intentions' before the end of the year." (06/30/99)
"As we previously reported, Sheryl Crow's cover of the band's 1987 hit "Sweet Child O' Mine" appears on the "Big Daddy" soundtrack album. But that's not the only version of the track that can be heard in "Big Daddy." In theaters, moviegoers can hear what appears to be a live version of the song by Guns N' Roses played over the movie's end credits. (The song is not included on the soundtrack CD.) [...] The sessions were produced by Sean Beavan and engineered by Critter.
[...] [Music supervisor] Lori Lahman says that the initial part of the song features the near-original group (Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan, Gilby Clarke, and Matt Sorum) recorded live at a concert in Paris. More than halfway through that rendition, the new band - presumably Rose, guitarists Robin Finck and Paul Huge, drummer Josh Freese, bassist Tommy Stinson, and keyboardist Dizzy Reed - kicks in with tracks of the same song recently recorded in the studio. The tune's intro also includes a voice repeating the word, "Figaro," which was a last-minute addition "for fun," courtesy of Rose, says Lahman." (MTV, 07/11/99)
Also worth mentioning is the fleeting vocal clip at the very beginning, which is apparently Axl saying 'without you'.
Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
The SCOM mash-up was no coincidence and worked as a precursor for the next project, again to soothe Interscope.
"Slash has also confirmed that the GN'R live album is coming out! But the release date is not known at this moment." (Dust N' Bones mailinglist, 05/26/99)
"'The guys starting fooling around with this a few years ago, seeing if there was anything worth releasing,' said Tom Maher, manager for ex-Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash (born Saul Hudson) and a onetime member of the GNR management team." (Music News of the World, 10/16/99)
"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." (Axl, MTV, 11/08/99)
"At first Geffen Records was bought up. Axl, Slash, and I were still partners of GN'R. Seagram was buying up everything and put them together. Contract, master tapes, everything. I still had one live album to release in that contract. I had the tape in my hand, but I was expected that somebody will use the right." (Duff, Burrn Magazine, 12/99)
"[Slash's manager Tom] Maher said the project was derailed for a while by the merger last year of Geffen Records parent company Universal with PolyGram. 'Once the merger was over they starting working on it again, and the guys sent tapes back and forth between the different camps,' Maher said." (Music News of the World, 10/16/99)
"The original idea came of course from the record-company, who slowly starting panicking, since Axl hadn't give them any new material since the band fell apart." (Slash, 'Rock Hard' Magazine, 03/00)
"Estranged guitarist Slash is telling his official fan Web site that sessions relating to Guns N' Roses' long-rumored live album will be getting underway with mixer Andy Wallace sometime in July. Wallace's management company confirms that the studio veteran is booked for the sessions from July 12 through to the 29th." (MTV, 07/09/99)
"[Axl's] even given his new bandmates [...] the month of July off, which is when work on the live disc is supposed to be done." (Rocktropolis, 07/16/99)
"Slash was responsible for most of the work on the album. He and Axl worked the hardest. Stevie, Izzy and the others were all involved in one way or another." (Duff's official website, 11/29/99)
"Me and Andy Wallace were in the studio and mixed the album every day in last August. He is great. Slash called me up and asked me how the sound was like, because he was busy working on his record." (Duff, Burrn Magazine, 12/99)
"Slash says the album will have to meet the approval of the GN'R members before it's ready for production. He is working on mixing it, and sometimes Duff will come in and help out." (Dust N' Bones mailing list, 08/08/99)
"This album is supposed to be sent to Axl. [...] [Last contact I had with Axl was] a year ago. That means we haven't talked since he was putting live album together. Our managers talk each other or FedEX it back and forth." (Duff, Burrn Magazine, 12/99)
At one point, Axl might've even contemplated on using the re-recorded AFD material on Live Era, to which the Big Daddy SCOM would've been a teaser to.
"On the Guns' horizon is [...] a live record featuring mostly "Appetite For Destruction"-era material. This will include a revamped version of the classic "Sweet Child O'Mine", which incorporates a live version dating back several years which has been embellished with guitar parts from Finck and Huge." (Metal Hammer, 08/14/99)
"A few months before [Live Era's] release, Sorum was quoted expressing his concern that Rose was 'being taken advantage of' by hippy healers he visited in Arizona." (Q Magazine, 05/01)
"Axl got metaphysical and started spending a lot of time in Sedona, Arizona. These people were taking advantage of a guy with millions to blow on lunacy." (Matt Sorum, Spin, 07/99)
"Rose made no public reply, but when Sorum saw a proof of the album sleeve, his heart sank: he was listed only as an 'additional musician.'" (Q Magazine, 05/01)
"'Additional musician? Suddenly I'm the tambourine player,' he said, angrily." (Matt Sorum, The Times, 03/18/05)
'That hurt', he says. 'It was the biggest dig he ever took at me. But Axl said he wouldn't release the album if it was changed. That's how spiteful he got. I didn't mean what I said badly. I felt sorry for him.'" (Q Magazine, 05/01)
When the album was finally released on 11/23/99, the reception was lukewarm.
"Finally released last November after long delays, Live Era was not the blockbuster everyone had hoped it would be. Sales have been underÂwhelming: 403,000 units as of early April. Promotion of the record was limited to television and print advertising. There was barely a peep from any of the old band members - following, some believe, an Axl decree." (Rolling Stone, 05/11/00)
Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
Things Falling Apart
With the studio band on holiday for July while Axl was working on Live Era, Robin Finck had the time to consider his options.
"Rumbles of Finck's decision had been going around for just a week, but it couldn't be made official because his two-year contract with GNR wasn't up until Saturday (Aug. 1). [...] A label spokesperson says, 'Robin finished recording several albums worth of material with Guns N' Roses. Axl is now working on the vocals for the album.'" (allstarnews.com, 08/04/99)
"The second year I was down there, '99, it was way looser. I was running out of things to do. The record was undone... You know, it wasn't [a pain in the ass] for me. You might talk to other people who will say it was." (Josh Freese, Podomatic, 04/13)
Robin's former employer and band mate Trent Reznor had just recently completed work on the Nine Inch Nails album, The Fragile, set for release through Interscope on 09/21/99. Robin's re-appearance with NIN came to on 09/09/99 at the MTV Video Music Awards, with a full tour beginning in the following month.
Robin rehearsing Just Like You Imagined with NIN in late '99.
"I'd helped write and arrange and recorded enough songs for several records. [...] Honestly, we recorded so many different song ideas and completed so many different types of songs; from quiet, very simple traditional piano songs to 16 stereo tracks of keyboard blur and everything in between. [...] Most of the stronger songs that ended up on A-lists when I was there were huge rock songs, built for the masses, really guitar-driven." (Robin, Wall of Sound, 05/00)
"We wrote and rehearsed and argued and laboriously recorded several records worth of musical material, which to the best of my knowledge Axl is still finishing. But my work was through. We had dozens of finished songs, as far as I was concerned, and we were waiting for Axl to complete the songs." (Robin, 2000)
"I left the Guns N’ Roses camp in like September 1999... On the bad side of [the recording process], I’d say there was a paralyzed by choices situation. I think, on the good side, there was just a ferocious approach to wanting this to be the best record possible. Axl is completely driven in that way, he takes it probably more seriously than I think I’ve ever seen anyone take music. He takes it to a more serious place than I’ve ever seen anyone take it." (Billy Howerdel, Alternative Nation, 11/04/13)
"It was great for a while, but then it became terribly frustrating not seeing anything completed because no lyrics were finished. [...] No one song was ever completed and I was there for two and a half years." (Robin, Wall of Sound, 05/00)
"I was excited about the material - the band sounded good. But we'd get a song done to an extent and wait for Axl to write a lyric and/or song. I couldn't work on songs with titles like 'Instrumental 34' anymore." (Robin, Kerrang, 12/99)
"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." (Axl, MTV, 11/08/99)
"There's a whole album of vocal parts [in late '99]. In fact, there's two albums worth that they've got there, at least." (Brian May, Radio One Rock Show, 05/10/00)
"I'm doing the vocals. I'm about three-quarters of the way through, and it's a very difficult process for me." (Axl, MTV, 11/08/99)
"'As far as I can tell,' says GnR's manager Doug Goldstein, 'we are now 99% musically done and 80% vocals done [in November '99]. I see the record being done Feb or March for a summer release.'" (Rolling Stone, 01/00)
"Adding to the frustration was that Finck had passed on the chance to work with Trent Reznor on NIN's latest, The Fragile, in order to do the Rose sessions. 'It's one of the reasons I'm not there anymore. [...] When he finishes the lyrics, I assume [the songs] are going to be released. [...] There's not a release date right now, not that I'm aware of, [...] And I would know. [...] I hope [the songs] turn out great. There's a lot of potential there.'" (Robin, Wall of Sound, 05/00)
"'I was with Axl for a little over two years,' [Finck] says, 'and we recorded dozens of songs together. I'm really proud of what we did as a band. I'm anxious to see how it's completed.' Well, will it be? 'Oh, yes,' Finck says, grinning. 'You may depend on it.'" (Robin, Rolling Stone, 10/99)
"Robin's departure was abrupt, sudden, you know, not expected [...] 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's guitar will stay on some [of the re-recorded AFD tracks], but not all." (Axl, MTV, 11/08/99)
"Axl was feeling he that was in a difficult place, because the guitarist he'd been working with on this new album, [...] that'd done most of the tracks, had departed and Axl had a real emotional attachment to what he'd done, and yet [...] he didn't really want him to stay on the album because he'd disappeared, you know." (Brian May, Radio One Rock Show, 05/10/00)
"There were tuning issues that needed to be addressed [...] and this was no fault of Robin's." (Del James, 04/25/08)
Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
Only One in the Game Whose Lost is You
Soon after Robin left to tour with NIN, the band began working on a new song to be included for the soundtrack of the Arnold Schwarzenegger film End of Days. The song they'd work on was an old track, originally written by Paul Huge and Dizzy in 1997, around the time when Moby was considered to produce the album.
"Once the opportunity was presented, the song was given priority in our recording process. As the verse, performance and lyrics were decided on, for us (that especially includes Interscope chairman Jimmy Iovine) the choice became obvious. We were more than pleased Mr. Roswell (the film's music supervisor) agreed!" (Axl, Press release, 09/22/99)
"'It's absolutely classic Axl,' says the film's music supervisor, G. Marq Roswell, of the Gn'R offering, 'but it has a lot of new elements. It fits the movie really well.'" (Rolling Stone, 09/11/00)
First to be modified were the guitar parts recorded by Robin.
"Robin's part was written by Paul and extensively manipulated by our producer, Sean Beavan. Robin was not involved in the writing of the final recording though did participate in the arrangement." (Axl, Press release, 09/22/99)
"Dave [Navarro] came in and did something great on "Oh My God," and we've had a few other people come in, so [Robin's departure] was a setback for a while, but then it's turned out to be a good thing." (Axl, MTV, 11/08/99)
"'There's no story,' Navarro recently told MTV News of how he came to hook up with the reclusive Rose. 'We didn't hook up at, like, The Rainbow and said, 'Hey, let's get together and do a song.' They just called me up, and I went down to the studio. I spent about an hour and a half there. I played a guitar solo, and that's it.
'It was an existing track,' Navarro added while backstage at the ARTISTdirect Online Music Awards [on 10/07/99]. 'I played a guitar solo on it. There really wasn't much direction to give me. I think that that's why they called me, because they figured they wouldn't have to give me any direction.'" (MTV, 11/13/99)
"[Navarro] said Axl would call the studio [during his work on Oh My God] and from the speakerphone Axl would tell him to 'play with more feeling'." (Camp Freddy radio show, 04/30/04)
"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." (Axl, MTV, 11/08/99)
"Mr. Rose fussed over the song so much that he, Mr. Iovine and studio technicians stayed up until nearly dawn adjusting the final mix, according to people involved." (New York Times, 03/06/05)
"[Oh My God was demo], only at the time having just got it together. Only Jimmy Iovine knew that who wanted it to sell their soundtrack. I saw segments of the movie which were good. As a whole, later, not so much, but it wasn't ready yet then. I did write an experimental piece inspired by the bits I'd seen, called 'Daddy Can the Devil do Mommy and me?'" (Axl, Chinesedemocracy.com, 12/13/08)
"The instrumental I wrote for End of Days [is] more a solo effort at least presently." (Axl, MyGNR, 12/14/08)
A snippet of the song was featured in an advert at the MTV Video Music Awards gala on 09/09/99, which suggests the studio team laboured over it through the month of August. The soundtrack was released on 11/09/99, while End of Days premiered on 11/16/99.
Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
CD & sibling
In late August, Kerrang Magazine suggests for a name for the album.
"Sources even suggested that the album already had a title - possibly ‘Cockroach soup’ or, more realistically, ‘2000 intentions’." (Kerrang, 08/21/99)
In late September, the new studio album was offically christened within the GNR camp.
"[Doug Goldstein] verifies that the new GN'R studio album, due out sometime next year, will be called Chinese Democracy. He adds that the title has been a done deal for at least six weeks." (Allstarmag, 11/09/99)
"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." (MTV, 11/08/99)
A follow-up album was also seemingly in the cards.
"Guns N' Roses are preparing to end their lengthy silence, as they finish up work on two new studio albums, both of which are being produced by Sean Beavan and expected to be released simultaneously in October. The two, as yet untitled, albums feature the new line-up of vocalist Axl Rose, guitarists Robin Finck and Paul Huge, keyboard player Dizzy Reed, drummer Josh Freese and bassist Tommy Stinson. One source close to the band describes the new material as being, "Cleaner and fatter, but completely Guns N' Roses. Despite the rumours, there's no hint of any techno or industrial influences." (Metal Hammer, 08/14/99)
"[Axl expects to get] another record out of the hours and hours of material he's committed to tape, possibly one that's even more industrial and electronica-influence than Chinese Democracy." (Rolling Stone, 01/00)
Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
Going in Circles
Following the completion of Oh My God, Josh Freese and Billy Howerdel now found themselves with some spare time from the rigorous working schedules.
"Mr. Rose's visits to the studio had become so irregular, according to several executives and musicians involved with the band, that an engineer working with him, Billy Howerdel, and the band's drummer, Josh Freese, found time during that period to start their own project, the band A Perfect Circle, and to begin recording an album, 'Mer de Noms,' which went on to sell 1.7 million copies." (New York Times, 03/06/05)
"'We'd used to just get together once in while and just record on a weekend," said Freese. [...] 'Then it became more of a consistent thing [from September/October '99 onwards].'" (Josh Freese, knac.com, 03/28/00)
While Freese's downtime could be explained with the drum tracks being recorded, Howerdel's gardening leave was somewhat more alarming.
"At night the band, the crew and the producer would go off and I would come in and work with Axl on the guitars and sometimes the vocals. And the music sounded great then and so I'm curious to hear it like everyone else is today too. I can't imagine what they've done since then.
What I did on that record isn't going to be anything significant though. The only thing that I did that was of significance was work on things that were so obscure I don't even know if they'd made the record." (Billy Howerdel, Total Guitar, 06/05/08)
Producer Sean Beavan would, however, begin moonlighting for Axl.
"Axl [Rose] is a very nice guy, but he has a nebulous awareness of time. I'd be there super late at night, just waiting to see if he's going to come in at 2 a.m. or maybe 4 a.m." (Sean Beavan, The Plain Dealer, 11/29/12)
"[Axl] was a really funny guy. That's probably the one thing that surprised me the most - just how funny the guy could be. When he'd come in to do vocals, he'd warm up for like forty-five minutes not by singing, but by telling jokes." (Sean Beavan, AntiQuiet, 08/13/08)
An educated guess is that by now, the album was almost done, with some vocal tracks and final mixes to be completed. The soundtrack contributions and a live album were readied to heighten the public interest and test the waters and all that now remained was to assess the situation and get the job done.
Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
Meeting old friends - or not
At this time, Axl gave his first interviews in five years, to MTV reporter Kurt Loder (calling into the studios on 11/07/99, the eve of the first airing of the new Welcome to the Jungle video) and Rolling Stone correspondant David Wild.
"First [Axl] invited me with my family to his house for Halloween." (David Wild, The Huffington, 11/25/08)
"Last Halloween, Axl appeared outfitted as a pig, scaring a few of the children in attendance. Guests helped themselves to past and barbecued chicken; loud rock 'n' roll making made conversation difficult." (Rolling Stone, 05/11/00)
"At the singer's '99 Halloween fancy dress party, Dave Quackenbush, vocalist with LA punk band The Vandals [and Josh Freese's bandmate], encountered him 'wearing a dinosaur outfit. When some kids approached him and asked if he was Barney The Dinosaur, he said 'Nah! Barney's a fag!' Then he stopped himself and said, 'Oh, uh, I mean Barney's a pussy.'" (Q Magazine, 05/01)
"We arrived at Axl's [in Halloween '99], and walked in to a most gorgeous place with decorations everywhere, and rides for the children. We had no knowledge Axl was actually walking the grounds for hours dressed up for Halloween. [...] I spotted right within perfect view a man who still had on his lower half of his costume, and I looked at my kids and said 'That is Axl!!!'.
[...] I enjoyed his company so very much. There were many interruptions. Tommy Stinson walked in, and Axl began telling us about a song called Madagascar he had just written, and how he wanted us to hear it. Later on, after Axl had mingled a bit, he was nowhere around, and they motioned for me to come into his studio. Axl was wonderful, and talked openly about many things, and proceeded to let me hear some of the new music - including Madgascar." (Betsy Kendrick, 1999)
"One Halloween, I took [my children] to [Axl's] house for a party and when it was time to leave, I couldn’t find my son. When I did find him, he was playing video games with Axl in the game room." (Dave Dominguez, Sp1at, 04/21/05)
"A few weeks later, we met [at 2AM at Rumbo Recorders,] a studio that I believe was then owned by the Captain & Tennille." (David Wild, The Huffington, 11/25/08)
"In late November, Axl Rose plays nearly a dozen tracks from the long in the works Guns N` Roses album for Rolling Stone, [...] occasionally getting up to whisper details about what still must be done to complete the tracks - 'I gotta put some guitar here!' [...] Imagine Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti remixed by Beck and Trent Reznor, and you'll have some sense of Axl's new sound.
[...] Song after song combines the edgy hard rock force and pop smarts of vintage Guns N Roses with surprisingly modern and ambitious music textures. In addition to the album's almost grungy title track, tentative song titles include 'Catcher in the Rye,' 'I.R.S,' 'The Blues', [...] 'Oklahoma' - heard tonight only as an instrumental, [...] and 'TWAT,' which he says stands for 'there was a time.'" (Rolling Stone, 01/00)
Another track readied, and possibly previewed, was If the World.
"That track was particularly good to work on - it was a track that was recorded quickly." (Chris Pitman, Daily Music Guide, 10/24/08)
"[Axl] appears to view the album as a final offering-up of his side of all his myriad battles - notably with his estranged band mates and, even more painful, with his one-time fiancee, supermodel Stephanie Seymour, with whom he had an ugly split. He speaks of his desire for Seymour's son to someday be able to come across the new record. 'I hope he'll hear it when he grows up, if he ever wants to know the story, to hear the truth,' Rose says a little quietly." (Rolling Stone, 01/00)
Meanwhile, Izzy came back to ring Axl's doorbell, which may have been the first of those since 1995.
"To tell the truth, [Izzy] visited Axl's house about two weeks ago." (Duff, Burrn Magazine, 12/99)
"[Axl] casually mentions that a while back his security camera caught an unannounced visit by Izzy Stradlin to his front gate, but quickly adds that he had no interest in getting together with the old school buddy and former collaborator, whom he originally followed to Los Angeles from Indiana. 'It wouldn't be healthy for me,' Rose explains." (Rolling Stone, 01/00)
"Somebody told him that Axl is not there answering over the interphone at the gate. First he said 'Wait a minute' and he came back and said 'He is gone.' Izzy said 'OK' and went back. There is always emotional thing with GN'R. At least the old GN'R." (Duff, Burrn Magazine, 12/99)
Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
Brian May Care
Following Dave Navarro, Axl enlisted another old favorite to step in and contribute.
"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." (Axl, MTV, 11/08/99)
"[Axl] was talking to Roy Thomas Baker, who was doing some production for them at the time, and they came up with the idea of contacting me to help them work out a direction." (Brian May, Uncut Magazine, 04/11)
"I heard most of the tracks back in 1999 at a dinner at Axl's house with Brian May of Queen - he was adding some guitar tracks. The songs were phenomenal." (Craig Duswalt, Splat, 04/06/05)
"They played me everything. Axl actually sat down and made me listen to everything (laughs) and there's some wonderful stuff there." (Brian May, Radio One Rock Show, 05/10/00)
"Queen guitarist Brian May spent a week recording with Axl and returned to England." (Rolling Stone, 01/00)
"[Axl] said, 'Brian can you come and do stuff which I will like and I won't feel too bad about ditching this other stuff?'. So I did. I went over there and I think I played on three tracks and messed around on various other things. But it worked out pretty well, as far as I can tell." (Brian May, Radio One Rock Show, 05/10/00)
"[Working with Brian May] was one of the biggest joys of my life. He's the greatest guitarist in the world to me. To meet him and see what a sweet fellow he is was great. He came in and just played these solos that just ripped up everything we were doing - you would expect nothing else from him." (Chris Pitman, Daily Music Guide, 10/24/08)
"All that feel and emotion referred to now had a lot to do with Sean and I, and the parts I chose out of Brian's different runs, versions, practice runs etc, to make sure we had those elements in one version. It's entirely constructed from edits, based around one specific note Brian hit in a throw away take." (Axl, HTGTH, 12/12/08)
"[Axl] liked it, but he wanted to get into every single take of every single note and, you know, from one day to another Axl would've been in there like from 5 o'clock in the morning 'till 7 o'clock in the morning comping little bits of my solos and saying, 'can you get Brian to try this'. You know, he's utterly meticulous." (Brian May, Radio One Rock Show, 05/10/00)
"I remember looking at Brian standing to my left and him staring at the big studio speakers a bit aghast saying "But that's not what I played." Sean Beavan and I were not in any way tring to mess with Brian we just did what we do and then try and do our best to stand up for our decisions." (Axl, HTGTH, 12/13/08)
"I certainly don't remember anything about disapproving of any 'comping' Sean Beavan had done - I remember it, I had actually comped it up with him myself. Of course, soon afterwards, Sean was taken off the project, although I have to say I thought the tracks were overall sounding bloody good at that time!" (Brian May, official website, 12/14/08)
One of the tracks May worked on was Catcher in the Rye.
"'Catcher in the Rye' is a great track. [...] My guitar is there, nice and crisply recorded. It was a blast doing the sessions. I had flown out to L.A. specially to play on the record for Axl. [...] I like the track a lot and always did... and it still sounds very fresh." (Brian May official site, 03/02/06)
Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
Others would follow on Brian May's heels to substitute Robin. Former Marilyn Manson guitarist Zim Zum (who, incidentally, played on their Sean Beavan-produced album, Mechanical Animals), was possibly approached.
"At the end of Zim Zum's tour of duty as guitarist in Marilyn Manson he entered into self-imposed exile for a year in his Chicago home. He turned down offers to join a band which he describes as having 'an appetite for destruction'." (Chart Attack, 11/05/00)
Stevie Salas (who'd go on to work on Mick Jagger's Goddess in the Doorway) did a brief try-out with GNR in November.
"Oh, just a while ago, I jammed with the new Guns N' Roses in the studio in Los Angeles. They sounded really great and powerful. We played at a full volume, it must have been the loudest I ever played!" (Stevie Salas official website, 11/26/99)
"Stevie jammed with the new Guns N' Roses line-up at a recording studio in Los Angeles. They played such classic songs as 'Welcome To the Jungle,' 'Its So Easy,' 'Sweet Child O' Mine,' 'Paradise City' and 'You Could Be Mine.' The jam session went on for about 5 hours and reportedly they really rocked!" (Stevie Salas official website, 12/06/99)
"I spent an evening jammin with a band that was called Guns N' Roses, five hours at 300db. It was loud!!! But it wasn't the real Guns. There can't be a Guns without Slash! Keith and Mick (Rolling Stones) Steven and Joe (Aerosmith), Axl and Slash... That's the way it is! But Axl's new music was taking chances and I have to respect that." (Stevie Salas, RockReunion, 09/00)
"When we jammed, they had each guy with a Pro Tool rig adding hours of little things... you know, bells and whistles and the concept was, at least to my understanding, that they would shift through hours of music to search for one section that perhaps would be a great part of a song then they would take that piece of music and start the process over?? i thought they were all mad..." (Stevie Salas, 09/02/04)
Also trying out was future Marilyn Manson member/Sulpher frontman, Rob Holliday.
"It's a long story that involves Nine Inch Nails - Robin Finck, myself and various other people I know. Billy Howerdel from A Perfect Circle was working on it, Sean Beavan was working on it - all these people came and went. I ended up being asked over, yes it's true. It was a strange situation." (Rob Holliday, Vagabond Hearts, 2004)
''Axl had been a fan of Curve and liked the Sulpher stuff he heard, so he invited me over to LA to lay a bunch of guitar parts down. He has had a whole load of guitarists involved from Dave Navarro to Brian May, so I don't know if any of my parts have survived.'' (Rob Holliday, Metal Hammer, 12/01)
"I'm not sure what Axl is doing right now but when I was there, he had around 40 songs... I'm not sure this record will ever see the light of day." (Rob Holliday, Vagabond Hearts, 2004)
"But if you want tales of megalomania, you'll have to go somewhere else. 'Axl was really cool, genuinely a nice guy, very focused on what he wants,' says Rob." (Metal Hammer, 12/01)
One other guitarist was also considered.
"I first got a call [from GNR in 1999]... This was before I knew Tommy [Stinson]... one of my best friends, and he has been for a while. We've done loads of recording sessions together." (Richard Fortus, Times Union, 11/21/02)
"I was scheduled to come out and audition. They called and said, 'Yeah, we want to fly you out this week.' I was going to be there anyway doing sessions, so I could do it at that time. They said, 'Perfect.' I didn’t hear back from them, so I just figured, 'Well, it must not be happening.'" (Richard Fortus, Ultimate Guitar, 11/26/08)
"Before that audition happened, Axl saw Buckethead play, and he decided to go with him instead." (Richard Fortus, Times Union, 11/21/02)
Re: 1999: Chinese Whispers
Hen for Robin
"When Robin Finck had left to rejoin Nine Inch Nails, we were looking for a guitar player, had auditioned a few people, and weren't really sure what we would do, and one day I walked into the studio and Axl goes, "Buckethead! Do you know him?" And I go, "I've known him since 1991, man!"
And (Axl)'s like, "I knew it! I knew you'd know him! How do we get hold of him?" "Last I heard, he was hanging up in San Francisco with the Primus crew. Let me call my buddy Dave, the manager of Primus, Dave Lefkowitz." So I called Dave and got (Bucket's) phone number. The first thing I was like, "Do you think Buckethead would be into this, he's such a quirky, weird, artiste?" And Dave goes, "Yeah, I think he is tired of the starving artist routine, I think he is ready to make a living"." (Josh Freese, Podomatic, 04/13)
"At Christmas [Axl] invited Brian over to his house. It hadn't been a happy Buckethead holiday up to that point: he'd really, really been hoping that someone would give him a certain hard-to-find Leatherface doll he'd been coveting as a gift, but no one had." (MTV, 11/21/02)
"Got invited to Axl's on Christmas night; never met him before. Sad about not getting the doll but it is ok, but still sad. Get to Axl's, he presents this box wrapped up. The Michael Myers version has been out for a while, knew it was the same box. Figured it was Michael Myers and opened it up. There was Leatherface." (Buckethead, NoneFerYouDear, 11/00)
"Brian took this as a sign ('He must understand me somehow')." (MTV, 11/21/02)
"I introduced him to Axl... He's got that white kabuki face mask with no expression on it and the bucket, and he doesn't talk when he's in character. He'll nod 'yes' or shake his head 'no'. Because Buckethead doesn't have a voice, he doesn't talk...
When he was going to audition, I said, 'Listen man, you have to know that I might not be here in six months... This is a cool thing, and if you want to do it, do it. But I don't want you to be angry if I'm not here in a month.'" (Josh Freese, Podomatic, 04/13)
The news also reached the other guitarist supposed to audition. Tommy had appeared with him on P. Diddy's hit single and the music video, It's All About the Benjamins, in 1997.
"I got out to do the session, and Tommy Stinson and Josh Freese were on the session that I was doing for Yoshiki, ironically enough... So I said, 'Hey, I was supposed to come and audition for you guys this week.' They were like, 'Yeah! You’re the guy! Well, Axl found this guy Buckethead and we just stopped doing auditions.' Axl was convinced with Buckethead, so it was no problem. No big deal." (Richard Fortus, Ultimate Guitar, 11/26/08)
"[Buckethead] kinda jammed with Guns N' Roses 2 or 3 times before he got the job. He played and got a call back and came again." (Josh Freese, Podomatic, 04/13)
"My dad had got in a car accident a few months prior to that, and Axl sent... this nice, like giant, expensive skateboard and signed it, and made some joke about maybe you should try riding this for a while... So I was like, "Dad, you should come up and meet Axl and meet Buckethead, he is such a huge Disney freak." And Bucket knew my dad... conducted the Disneyland band... Warren [Fitzgerald of The Vandals] had told him that, and he was like "Oh my god, my dream is to work at Disneyland."
So that night... we were going to do some more playing.
Buckethead: "Man, I am really nervous, I'm really nervous about playing tonight."
Josh: "Dude, you are all good, you basically got the gig already. You wouldn't be asked to come down the fourth time."
Buckethead:"No, no, not so much that! You're dad's there and he hires the musicians in Disneyland!""
(Josh Freese, Podomatic, 04/13)
"I think Axl [and Buckethead] went to Disneyland and they signed in the Haunted Mansion. I think, as he was on the ride, he signed the contract. I mean, you can't make this up!" (Brain, I'd Hit That, 02/15)
"[GNR] has been fun like a ride never been ridden. Every turn is new, it will be interesting to see where this ride goes." (Buckethead, NoneFerYouDear, 11/00)
Buckethead seemed to become fast friends with synth player/all-purpose soundman, Chris Pitman. Bucket heralded Pitman with the nickname Mother Goose, which first appeared in public in an April 2000 newsletter, courtesy of his TOOL associates.
"[Mother Goose] was a nickname I acquired sometime when Buckethead was in GNR, all his friends had great nicknames, and that name came up for me. I seldom hear it anymore, or I only hear it when I'm around people associated with that era and it always makes me laugh and remember some good times." (Chris Pitman, HTGTH, 03/28/09)
Another year had passed.