Since releasing the long-awaited Guns N' Roses album 'Chinese Democracy' this past November, Axl Rose has said very little about it, taking to message boards and e-mails for the few comments he has made. But if there's one person who could get him to break his silence it's Del James, Rose's longtime friend, road manager and the man whose short story, 'Without You,' inspired the epic clip for 'November Rain.'
James, a music journalist who has covered G N' R for years, dating back to his days at metal mag Rip, as well as in several Rolling Stone articles, spoke with Rose and is sharing the results of that one-on-one exclusively with Spinner. Yes, here he is, W. Axl Rose, letting loose on Slash, answering whether he was trying to make the best album ever and waxing philosophically on when the original G N' R lineup really died.
Del James: As reported, were you, either in your mind or otherwise, trying to create the "best album ever made"?
Axl Rose: No. That's f---ing ridiculous and more negative media nonsense. We were all just trying to do our best for the fans and ourselves.
At any point did you feel or say either you or the band had to make a "masterpiece"?
Of course not -- more unaccountable nonsense. Obviously, media, elements of the public, fans and our detractors had all kinds of things going on such as high hopes, expectations, pressure, naysayers, etc. I don't think anyone would mind discovering a diamond mine and I don't think anyone in any competitive field would get very far if they didn't have dreams, aspirations or simply hope to do well. That said, these types of comments are more from our detractors, pulled out of their ass if not thin air.
Do you feel that your alleged sense of perfectionism has delayed the release of the album?
No. Guns in any lineup wasn't going to release anything all that great any sooner. And no matter how any of us tried, that didn't happen, and often while any number of us were pushing to try and do so with whatever we had going at the time. In regard to so-called perfectionism, I feel that has a lot to do with your goals or requirements with whatever one's doing or creating. Different levels may be required for different objectives. If you're making brakes for a vehicle, what's required? It's all relative, right? You try to make the best calls you can at any given moment and go from there. Generally, when this term is used by others in regard to me or how I work, it's said in a negative way or as an excuse for their shortcomings -- and again by my detractors. Whether they are open about such or not, some people love putting others in a negative light; helps them feel better about themselves. Too many ears and too many stupid comments have proven that.
Did you break up the old Guns?
It is my belief that the commitment to end old Guns came long before the band started in the heart and soul of one man. After that, it became more visible sometime before/during [the 'Use Your Illusion' albums], when the others opted for personal reasons to change our approach, styles and methods of working together. At the time, I unwittingly chose as a means of what I felt was both my own and Guns' survival to adapt, and threw myself into whatever I could get out of that to support and promote our efforts.
The group shot of the band in front of the piece 'Dead' was not a coincidence but not something I felt could be talked about openly, and something I hoped would change. I couldn't reach Izzy [stradlin] and couldn't manage or curtail Slash and his personal objectives to take over Guns anymore than I did at the time, and I'm lucky to have survived, got what we did out of it and some still enjoyed the results. But for all intents and purposes, the 'Appetite [for Destruction]' lineup and approach was already dead, and with the addition of Matt [sorum], the end of the then-lineup and what Guns was really about was only a matter of time. Only heartfelt choices by the others could or would change that. Unfortunately, nothing did.
I'm generally blamed for the time it took to release 'Illusions,' but again the reality of my fault would be in not finding a way to manage Slash complete with his addictions and bring both him and Izzy together either similar to 'Appetite' or in some other progression more conducive to Guns than how 'Illusions' was accomplished. Unfortunately, that never truly happened, and both Guns and the public suffered for it. I'll take the responsibility in the sense that had I known how to achieve those goals we would have made what I feel would've been a more effective and powerful album at the time.
See? There's the catch, right? All this time, most thought I changed the direction with 'Illusions.' A lot of nonsense theories, speculation and complete nonrealities put together by others, based on Slash and others' crap and off one interview taken out of context I did with Kurt Loder where I said I hated 'Appetite.' That sentence has been used and twisted in every conceivable way since to vilify me and purports to prove my guilt and responsibility, when I wasn't speaking to the music itself but the overwhelming and at that time seemingly drowning success of our record.
My statement was in specific response to the feelings I had listening to DJs at the L.A. hard rock station KNAC at the time complaining about having to play the entire record for the umpteenth time for fans. I simply wanted to make another record and have it be as good or better. If you don't think I would've liked to have five 'Appetites' and been living like the Stones at the time, you're high. With that, any other avenue I hoped to pursue musically would more than likely been available as well. This was something I could never get through to the others with. Personal need to dominate in Guns was very important to them. Izzy has to be in charge or he's not comfortable, same with Slash. Duff [McKagan] tries convincing himself he's equal partners with Slash. Each to their own.
Why didn't you write 'Appetite'-style songs yourself then?
Part of what destroyed Guns was the battle between those guitars that works so well for 'Appetite.' I have no concept how to duplicate that with either the old guys or anyone else. I liked it then but can't say I truly understood their nature as I feel I do now. Make no mistake: That was a war and the efforts of one man to "successfully" remove another in his path between him and I. Neither player wants to deal with each other in those ways again. Those battles have already been fought, both sides went their prospective ways. Regardless of if they were to work together or not, the true dynamics of back then aren't something Izzy has an interest in or would allow himself to actually be in to such a degree other than for appearances, if that. Also, anything I had written I felt was in similar directions then, during and after the 'Illusions' tour was more than rejected by both Slash and Duff at a time, which greatly helped destroy whatever confidence I may have had at the time.
Why so many guitars on 'Chinese Democracy'?
Seriously, past Guns records have only two. Why did you feel the need for more on this endeavour?
I understand it's for whatever reason a bit of a challenge for most people to feel comfortable in their minds with any band having more than two guitarists, but technically, as far as our recording goes, we're a bit more alike with the older recordings than one might think. On the older records, though, it's very distinct that there are generally two guitar parts -- each part is actually performed and recorded twice, giving a fuller sound, so in effect you have four guitars. Leads and fills are another pass, and often songs were originally written and demos were done with other guitarists as well.
On 'Chinese,' instead of having the same player double his part, we chose to add another voice and either each player's own take on the part or their take of another's, then there's leads and fills which vary from one person or a few on a track. Also on this record, though, you may have one player playing more than one part in a section; they generally tend to be two distinct parts and not overdubs or harmonizing with their own leads or fills. No way is better than another; it's just whatever works for what you're trying to do, what you personally want or for whatever reason you feel you either need, choose or like.
For this record, I wanted a blend of different-style sounds and approaches; some at least a bit unique to the individual players and their takes on these songs. I feel the different personalities and techniques give the material its own sense of originality. Live, I prefer the more solid approach of the three guitars now, especially as the performances with the rhythm are more energetic, consistent and reliable. It was fun having Izzy on board a bit adding yet another voice to the mix and seemed to work better for the songs this way, as opposed to having him by himself.
Would you consider a reunion with the 'Appetite' or 'Illusions' lineups?
A lot more reasons than I'll get into here now. Different reasons for each version and each individual. The Izzy bit was fun -- and also fun because we didn't have to rely on him in any way, which is how he prefers things and works better for everyone. That said, you never knew if Izzy would be there or not or if he'd remember the song or decide to leave early. It didn't cause any problems, because we were doing our show regardless and didn't have to depend on anything, but it did open everyone's eyes a bit and blow minds.
He called, asked to come out and negotiated a deal with management that it's probably best that none of us knew about or the fun would've seemed a bit more like being used or taken advantage of spoiling the moment. As it was, we had a great time.
It'd be highly doubtful for us to have more than one of the alumni up with us at any given time. I suppose Duff could play guitar on something somewhere, but there's zero possibility of me having anything to do with Slash other than by ambush, and that wouldn't be pretty. He wrote that whole bit about not having his guitar in Vegas, I'd assume, to save face. I was told by both the Hard Rock and different Guns industry people who had come out to be supportive of the new band and were a bit surprised to see him there, especially guitar in hand, but just assumed it was a surprise for the show and we were in on the arrangement.
Steven [Adler] brings assorted ambulance-chasing attorneys and the nightmare of his mother. One gig, or even a couple songs, could mean years of behind-the-scenes legal aftermath.
Wouldn't you make more money?
If the music was there, meaning new music, I can't say for sure right now -- and there have been market surveys, and various promoters have put together different projections and analysis that in areas where there could be more, it's not enough to sell your soul and live in hell the rest of your life for, that's definitely certain. But that's the catch, right, the music? If I believed in that as a reality which, no offense meant to anyone, I haven't seen anything in all these years to convince me or we'd be doing this interview under different circumstances of some sort, to say the least.
It's not some place I want to be or have any interest in being. If I believed in it in regard to the music, not in direction so much but in how it feels and to what degree, then maybe it'd be another story. I'm in no way trying to be offensive to anyone here, and I'm allowed to have my own feelings in regard to what inspires me, not someone else. Other than a one-off or something, I don't really do songs because someone else likes them.
There is the distinct possibility that having his intentions in regard to me so deeply ingrained and his personal though guarded distaste for much of 'Appetite' other than his or Duff's playing, Slash either should not have been in Guns to begin with or should have left after 'Lies.' In a nutshell, personally I consider him a cancer and better removed, avoided -- and the less anyone heard of him or his supporters, the better.
Didn't you say you loved him in what -- '06?
No. I said "loved," as in past tense. It was a misquote by a writer I mistook as a fan.
Do you think he can play guitar?
I prefer listening to others in general, especially those who both push their talents and infuse them with a level of energy that I've seldom heard in his efforts over the years. I'm not taking anything away from the man that are his to claim for his past efforts; it's just that for whatever reason for me, whether the approach, style or basic hands-on technique is there, the passion and true dedication to the art of guitar in his chosen area other than being, in my opinion, a whore for the limelight has generally seemed absent or lacking with most efforts for a long time. To me, it's sad. I don't get it. Where does it go? Is it a choice? Sometimes it's there on covers; I think Clive [Davis, legendary record executive] fell for that.
It wasn't there with me on 'Sympathy [for the Devil]' or ['The] Spaghetti [incident?'] and it took years for me to get there again, in my opinion, and in the ways I wanted it to be. Will I keep it? Who knows? I'd like to, but who can say?
Who's your favorite drummer you've worked with?
I've liked elements that each brought in. Josh [Freese], [brian] "Brain" [Mantia] and Frank [Ferrer] have been the easiest to work with and get along with, as well as it being fun to hang out with any of them. I do feel that all three were the right drummers to make this album. The rehearsals with [Dave] Abruzzesse and Pod as a duo were really cool; it was a shame then that it didn't work out but seemed for the best once we found Josh. In regard to old Guns, I don't listen much and for different reasons -- more because of the drums than anything else.
With 'Appetite,' for me the parts, playing, etc., timing flaws, whatever, are perfect, and as a moment in time for me, the whole record is. That said, the sound of the drums, which at the time in our niche of the woods was a bit of a bold statement and a somewhat successful effort to change things from the current flow at the time, and so may have been necessary but for me sound the most dated of anything there sound-wise.
With 'Illusions' several years ago, something came on the radio and I realized how the energy in the drums, though solid and consistent, brought me down in a way I feel damaged the material in the long run, if not from the get-go. Maybe it's there with some, most or all of us in ways, but I specifically notice it more with the drums. And when listening in that sense of analyzing how something feels to me in regards to its involvement or inclusion in the song, whether anyone disagrees I'm somewhat capable of removing myself and events from the picture.
For m,e it's more about certain energies and feel, and I'm not into what we did there for a good bit in regard to the drum work. To actually have a drummer that could play at the time, though, was a bit too overwhelming. The public has no idea what went into Steven's parts and the notion of getting through songs in rehearsal if ever, with no exaggeration, was unfortunately a nightmare that neither I or Izzy could take, and eventually the others as well, though they lasted longer for other reasons.
What do you think of Steven being on the VH1 rehab show?
I wish Steven the best; unfortunately Steven's given us the spoiler for that. I hope people are able to find answers and get the help they need; other than that, I'm not the biggest fan of the show.
Who's in the band?
I think we'll go with a combo of who's around and who's on the album for now and worry about that when we get ready to tour.
Is Robin [Finck] in the band?
Last I was aware, he had some interest in touring, though I can't say what that means until then. In our opinion, he's made things a bit awkward publicly, but that's just his way.
Is Brain in the band?
Last I checked. Brain works on several things with Guns either from his home or in the studio.
So you have two drummers? Will they both tour?
Yes, and who knows?
When's the next album?
Have no idea and don't care. Hopefully, we'll be working 'Chinese' for a good bit. Of course there's the same idiots that have been around forever already demanding release dates.
How much material is there?
Not as much as Baz [sebastian Bach] thinks he heard! Really, it doesn't matter. If things go well enough, we'd like to get another out at some point in our lifetimes.
Is anything finished?
Depends how you look at it.
How do you look at it?
Not something we've focused on.
You're not saying much.
You got that? What I can say is if you don't like this, then you probably won't like that. Same people, lots more approaches, bit meaner in places and darker in some. Robin does a really great Stevie Ray Vaughan-type solo on one track.
Slash has said that the sessions they did with Izzy before Velvet Revolver were the best Guns album ever. What do you think of that?
In what way?
Old Guns promotion.
What happened between you and [photographer] Robert John?
Hmmm ... I don't know anyone who knows. Last I heard he was allegedly doing a lot of meth and sleeping on his mom's floor. Anyone whose opinions I trust seems to thinks he lost his mind, lives in a fantasy world and knows everything.
What's that about, if you don't mind me asking?
Have no idea. This is a guy that I got in the business, got him gigs, paid and treated well, promoted, etc. Helped him get a house, helped him keep his house, bought his photos, and when Merck [Mercuriadis, former G N' R manager], for whatever reasons took forever to pay him, Robert sues me ... but I didn't know anything about it. Next thing, I'm the Antichrist because I didn't like some photos. F--- if I know.
I called Robert out of the blue back when, because I felt I knew something was wrong. Finally, he says he was gonna kill himself. I put up about 60-something-K on the mortgage, got a couple payments, but that wasn't where the trouble started. It was that the bank was foreclosing on that money, so he was pissed at our accountant, who kept on him trying to sort out what we should do and Robert avoiding him -- who was the others' accountant as well. I only learned of any of this near the end. He and Robert knew each other for years. He's one of the guys who allegedly saw Slash with his guitar in Vegas. And it seems genuine because he didn't know anything was going on. He's like, "Why was Slash there with his guitar?" And the Hard Rock people -- what did they have to lie about? They deal with all the bands ... friends, enemies, whatever, so it's just business. As far as I know, we're all good with that.