Re: Gilby, Daily Trojan, 04/14/99
Former Guns N' Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke is finding a new path
By Clay Marshall
Daily Trojan (U. Southern California)
(U-WIRE) LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- For former Guns N' Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke, life really is a journey. In the last 15 years, he has toured as part of four different bands,including one of the most popular of all time. Then there are his three pop-meets-punk solo albums (the latest is Rubber), all of which he has toured to support.
"(I) love being out on the road," he said. "I usually like to do a good road trip at least twice a year."
Clarke's latest touring formation includes two famed musicians: ex-Kiss drummer Eric Singer and L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns. The three mesh well, Clarke said.
"It's awesome," the 36-year-old said of his current band. "We all grew up liking the same kind of music. Now that we're a little bit older, we don't argue about silly things anymore. We just want to get together and play - it's purely for fun.
"As you get older and have responsibilities, you tend not to do a lot of things for fun. That's what's great about playing with the guys - we get together and screw around with all the music we enjoy."
In the past three months, these "get-togethers" have taken place at several area clubs, including 14 Below, the Whisky and most frequently, the Baked Potato Hollywood. These "small, intimate" venues contrast sharply with the stadiums and large arenas Guns N' Roses used to frequent.
"I like a lot of the smaller places," Clarke said. "They're definitely more fun (because) we can be a lot looser.
"I don't think anybody would ever say, I love the intimacy of a club, (but) I like it better than stadiums.' I would rather stand up there playing a stadium, singing my songs, than playing a club. But the intimacy (of a club) is awesome. When you play a stadium, the people are so far away."
Even so, Clarke loved every minute of playing before huge crowds.
"It was quite a trip," he said. "Since (I was) a kid, I always said I wanted to play guitar in a rock 'n' roll band. Every time (Guns N' Roses) walked onstage, I appreciated it. It was great- it was everything I ever wanted."
Before joining Guns N' Roses at the height of its popularity in 1991, Clarke, who moved to Hollywood from his hometown of Cleveland at the age of 15, was part of Kill For Thrills, a band which quickly earned recognition on the Hollywood club scene. He was also in a group called Candy for a while.
"Back in the (late '80s), even though there were a lot of bands, it was still a small scene," Clarke explained. "Everybody pretty much knew each other. I knew (Guns N' Roses lead guitarist) Slash."
Because of this acquaintance, after Guns N' Roses' original rhythm guitarist, Izzy Stradlin, left the band, its members called on Clarke as a quick replacement.
"When they needed a guitar player, they called me and I was the only guy who went and physically auditioned with them," Clarke said. "I didn't have time to really learn anything - I had to do it by ear. We played two or three songs, and (Slash) says, Come back tomorrow.' I did that for like five days in a row, and they said, You got it. We're going on tour.'
"It's really odd," Clarke admitted. "Sometimes I look back and go, God, if I didn't get that GNR gig, where would (I) be right now?' It definitely was a boost for my life."
Clarke immediately joined the band on a tour that lasted through 1993.
However, there were some comic and difficult moments along the way.
"My amp blew up everywhere," Clarke laughed. "I use amps that are not really meant to be played heavy metal' on. Every night, the abuse from the volume - one would blow every single night. I used to have to keep 15 in a row just to keep two working. With GNR, every day was Spinal Tap.'"
The black-haired, blue-eyed Clarke and the rest of Guns N' Roses also had to tolerate the notorious antics of singer Axl Rose.
"I'd say every one out of four shows, something happened where he would walk off stage and leave the five of us out there to fend for ourselves," Clarke said.
When the tour ended, Clarke, whose hobbies include sports and classic cars, embarked on a solo project, on which he hoped to combine a variety of styles he liked.
"I've always said that I want to use the melodies of the Beatles, the rock 'n' roll in the guitars of the (Rolling) Stones, but played with a punk rock edge," he said. "I like pop songs, but I want the guitars raunchy, and I want them played aggressively."
The 5-foot-9 Clarke said coming up with enough songs for a record after being on the road for two years was not a problem.
"I had a backlog of songs that I had ready to go," he said. "I brought those songs to the band, because we weren't sure if we were going to make a new record. Nobody was really interested in them, so I just said, You know, I'm gonna put out my own record. If anyone buys it, they buy it; if they don't, they don't.'
"(It was) something I'd always wanted to do," he continued. "It was the perfect time - I knew that the band wasn't going to do anything for a long time."
The resulting album, 1994's Pawnshop Guitars, featured many guest musicians, including many of Clarke's Guns N' Roses bandmates. The album's biggest hit, "Cure Me Or Kill Me," which features an infectiously catchy guitar riff, almost came about by accident, he says.
"Actually, it was the last song for the Pawnshop record," he explained. "The record was really ready to go, and I always had that riff sitting around. I actually had it in the key of G, and it wasn't the same.
"One day, we kept jamming the riff, and it wasn't going anywhere. I just go, Let's pop it in E.' We put it in E and it took on a whole new life. My A&R guy came down, and I go, Hey, I got this new song - check this out,' and I played it. I didn't really have any words or anything, so I just started mumbling through it, and he goes, That's the song!'
"When we put it on the record, it was the only song that was never demoed before," he said. "I think that helps the freshness. That's still my favorite song I've ever written. To me, it has all the elements of music that I like: It's got a good rock riff, it's got a good chorus and it's fun to play."
After a year of touring in support of Pawnshop Guitars and then accompanying Slash on the road in support of his side project, Slash's Snakepit, Clarke realized his future plans did not include Guns N'Roses.
"I had known for a long time that Axl was going to change the direction of the band. I knew the end was coming," he said. "That's why I dug deep into my solo career. There were days when Axl would call Slash and go, Fire Gilby - he doesn't fit in with my plan,' but he would never tell me. That was going on for a long time.
"One day, the money stopped, and that was my clue," he continued, laughing.
"But I knew what was going on so it wasn't a shock. I was never officially fired or anything."
Clarke then took a six-month vacation, during which his striking wife, Daniella, gave birth to the couple's only daughter, the now 4-year-old Francesca ("we just call her Frankie," Clarke says).
He then recorded a second solo album, The Hangover, released in 1997.
However, because he only briefly toured in support of the record, he wrote and released another album, Rubber, only a year later.
"I think people get a little too clinical about their records," Clarke believes. "As an artist, when you have the songs that you think you're ready to make a record with, go make the record. You've gotta put it out."
The album includes "Kilroy Was Here," a song of which Clarke is particularly proud.
"I wrote it about a friend of mine (Jim Ellison, a musician in the band Material Issue) who committed suicide, and (the song) just worked," Clarke said. "Sometimes, you write a song where you don't get out what you were trying to say, or it just doesn't work. That time, it worked. I sat down to write a song about something, and I did it, and I was really happy with the result."
He also says he is really happy when playing live, which he will do in Portugal later this month and in Europe during the summer. He also plans to release a live album soon. In the meantime, he can be seen jamming with friend Teddy Andreadis on occasional Tuesdays at the original Baked Potato on Cahuenga Boulevard.
"We make records so we can play live," he said, adding he "never, ever, ever" tires of performing some of his older songs live. "I love playing. I don't ever sit there and go, No, I'm not going to play a song. I don't like it.'
You'll never hear me say that."