ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, APRIL 27, 1995
By Steve Newton
When you’re guitar god Slash from Guns N’ Roses and you’re looking for a singer, you get to take your pick. Many hopefuls tried out for the lead-vocalist position in Slash’s Snakepit, including King’s X crooner Doug Pinnick, Spike from the London Quireboys, and former Little Caesar front man Ron Young. They were all passed over in favour of ex–Jellyfish member Eric Dover.
“I auditioned 40 singers,” says Slash, calling via cell phone from a tour bus before a Toronto sound check, “and the fuckin’ thing about that is, the 41st singer that I auditioned turned out to be right around the corner! He was jamming with Marc Danzeisen, who is Gilby Clarke’s drummer, and when Marc heard what kind of music I was doing, he said ‘I know a guy that can sing the shit out of that.’ Actually, it was Ron Young that made Marc sort of realize what kind of singer I was looking for. He said ‘If you like Ron Young, you’re gonna fuckin’ love Eric.’ Eric came along and wrote ‘Beggars & Hangers-On’ and I was, like, ‘That’s the guy.’
“Those other guys are great singers,” he adds of the above-mentioned vocalists who missed the cut, “but I was just looking for…I don’t know, that right feeling. Eric has a bluesy feel, and he’s got a lot of balls in his voice, and just the whole thing. Plus I love the guy personally.”
When Dover stepped into the ’pit he rounded out a group that included Slash’s GN’R mates Gilby Clarke on rhythm guitar and Matt Sorum on drums, and Alice in Chains bassist Mike Inez. That’s the lineup that performed on the Snakepit release It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere, but it’s not the one that’ll play the Commodore on May 9. Sorum and Inez have been replaced on tour by drummer Brian Tichy and bassist James LoMenzo, the rhythm section from Zakk Wylde’s southern-rock trio, Pride & Glory.
“Matt has to stay with Guns,” says Slash when asked what’s up with the lineup change. “I mean, if I took Matt with me that would really start some heavy friction. And then Mike has to do Alice in Chains. I talked to him yesterday, and he’s gonna come out in Seattle, and he might come and tour with us in Japan. But we have a really great band at this point, so…”
Great band, for sure, but there will no doubt be a few disappointed Sorum fans in the crowd, drum nuts who were hoping to see the Mighty Mattster brutalize those skins the way only he can. Still, just being able to get close to the guitar glory of stadium-tested amp-blasters Slash and Clarke should satiate most hard-rock fanatics.
Slash ain’t complaining himself.
“I’m sort of back into the roots kinda thing,” explains the former Saul Hudson, “and just appreciating where it is that I come from. I’m getting a little bit closer to the fans, and starting to realize that the difference between the audience and the actual band is none. On that level it’s really been nice; the people have been wonderful.”
Slash is the third Guns N’ Roses member, after Clarke and bassist Duff McKagen, to go the solo-project route (the fourth if you include former Gunner Izzy Stradlin). But so far notorious GN’R front man Axl Rose hasn’t tossed his own hat into the solo ring.
“At one point he said he was gonna do a solo project,” says Slash, “and then he turned around and said ‘Why do I have to do a solo project if I can do one with Guns N’ Roses?’ And I was like, ‘Uh-uh, it’s not gonna work that way, exactly.’ ’Cause Guns N’ Roses is a band; it’s not Axl’s solo project.”
Although Slash admits that he hasn’t actually seen Rose in “ages”, he says that they’ve talked on the phone a bit, and he’s quick to deny any rumours that GN’R is kaput.
“It’s really simple,” he points out. “I just have another band, and I’m having a good time with it and I’m touring with it, and then I’ll go back and deal with Guns. I’m gonna be touring for the next five months, so when I get back we’ll see where it’s at at that point.”
The last original Guns N’ Roses recordings to hit stores were the two Use Your Illusion CDs, released simultaneously back in 1991. Those two discs, released at the height of the band’s popularity, had combined worldwide sales of more than 27 million copies. The Spaghetti Incident—a ’93 knockoff of mostly ’70s rock and punk covers, issued to help tide ravenous fans over between “real” Guns albums—only racked up minimal sales in comparison.
One wonders whether the group might lose a sizeable chunk of its huge fan base if it doesn’t offer something new soon, but Slash doesn’t sound worried.
“We obviously play for our fans,” he says, “but originally we just played to make cool music, and that’s the most important thing, because the fans would be disappointed if they got a rushed Guns N’ Roses record that wasn’t, like, full quality. I think that would be a bigger disappointment than the time it takes between records.”
In the meantime, GN’R diehards can take solace in the fact that Slash’s Snakepit—on record, at least—sounds just like GN’R with a different singer. It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere is no Appetite for Destruction, but it does include some standout tracks, in particular “Be the Ball”, a “You Could Be Mine”–like rave-up influenced by Hunter S. Thompson’s book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Slash uses pinball terminology on that tune to explain the kind of freewheeling lifestyle he enjoys, while two other songs—“Neither Can I” and “Lower”—deal with suicide, in particular the self-inflicted gunshot deaths of Slash’s porn-actor friend Savannah and Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain.
“When we wrote the lyrics, Eric would sit and listen to the songs the night before, and then he’d come in the next morning and have a basic idea for the lyrics—or even a whole song—and we’d take it from there and record it that night. [Cobain’s suicide] just happened to be going on at the time when we wrote a couple of songs for the record, and somehow it snuck its way into the lyrics. For me it was Kurt and Savannah, for Eric…well, I think he’s got some old stories from way back.”
Having grown up amidst the volatile and often destructive L.A. lifestyle, Slash has seen his fair share of lives gone amiss. But he confides that his own tumultuous trail has never led him to contemplate a final solution.
“You know what? For doing what it is that I do for a living, I’ve never gotten to that point. I’ve been close to it, as far as OD’ing and stuff, but not like taking a gun to my head and doing it on purpose. I think it’s sort of a cop-out.”
Slash turns 30 this July, but he bristles when asked whether the birthday-party invites are already in the mail. “Oh shit, I don’t fuckin’ celebrate my birthday,” he says. “I don’t even realize it’s my birthday until somebody else says so.”
That noncelebratory approach doesn’t quite jibe with the “life’s a party” image that Slash has projected ever since he was photographed looking half-wasted and clutching a bottle of Jack Daniels for the Appetite for Destruction sleeve. His avid pursuit of the golden liquid—which he may have picked up from his hero Keith Richards—actually led to the title of the Snakepit CD.
“It was just something that a bartender told me at the airport one morning when I asked for a Jack and coke,” says Slash. “I told him ‘I know it’s only 10 o’clock, but give me a double Jack and coke,’ and he goes ‘It’s five o’clock somewhere’ and gave me the drink.
“And I thought that was a great way to look at life in general. It’s like when things get really stressed-out or when the pressure starts to seem a little bit overwhelming, just to sit back for a second and go ‘It’s happy hour somewhere, just relax, don’t rush it,’ you know. And that’s what this whole album’s all about.”