Q&A: Duff McKagan - ex-Guns N' Roses
On Axl Rose, miracles and hedonism
Be honest: what did you think of Chinese Democracy?
This is probably the 1000th time I've been asked that. I think the players are great. It's got a great drummer. Everybody is great on it. Axl sings great -- yeah, good record.
Axl Rose -- rock's answer to Howard Hughes or misunderstood genius?
I think when you don't talk to the media, then the media starts running a little crazy with things. There was a Rolling Stone story about him that painted him as a Howard Hughes sort of figure and everybody used that as the template to write about Axl. None of it is true. You know, he's just a guy caught up in events.
As were the rest of you in Guns n' Roses. But he's the only one who spent 15 years slaving over an album in his basement.
He was the singer of that band. And that band got bigger than anybody could have imagined. And being the singer you are the focal point, rightly or wrongly. You are. There is nothing that can prepare you for that.
It must have been pretty crazy when G n' R blew up in 87?
Man, the fame part... I remember walking into a grocery store and everybody started freaking out. Into a grocery store! The store I used to go to all the time. You know, nothing prepares you for that. And people deal with it differently. You build up these little defence mechanisms. You can't be a normal guy.
Especially if you're the singer...
Especially being a singer with red hair! You are recognisable everywhere. So yeah, if you call it 'reclusive' -- that's one person's angle on what it was. Or if you want to say, he saved himself, that's another story.
Between the groupies, the drugs and the boozing, it's a miracle you actually had any time to actually make music.
Things were still wide open. Yeah, we were fucking and sharing needles. It was really, really debauched. Not just in our camp but kind of everywhere. It was probably the last great run at sheer hedonism.
Does it get a bit old after a while?
Aids is what really put a damper on it. People were going on around not using rubbers, not using clean needles. It was just kind of a free for all. I don't think it was something anyone grew out of. It would probably be that way still if it wasn't for Aids.
Slash's heart actually stopped beating once and he had to be resuscitated by paramedics. Did you have any miracle escapes?
Oh countless of 'em. Sure. It's a miracle Slash is alive. It's a miracle I'm alive. Or even Axl -- although he was probably the least [hedonistic] of us. He always sort of stayed away from going too deep into it.
The 'hair rockers' of the 80s got a pretty hard time from grunge bands like Nirvana. Coming from Seattle, did that get under your skin?
In one aspect, we weren't included in that. We were such a big band that, sticks and stones can break your bones... you know? But the other aspect was, 'God, I could have stayed in Seattle and been in Soundgarden or Alice in Chains'. I wouldn't even have had to move. I probably wouldn't have had to become a drug addict. Of course, you always want what you don't have. I was in the biggest band in the world at the time. That's not half bad.
Moving to the more recent past, Velvet Revolver parted ways with vocalist Scott Weiland last year. What was that all about?
Nothing against Scott...I'm not saying it was all his fault. But the year before we let him go, it was pretty brutal. I didn't realise how exhausted I was 'til we got home from tour.
And now you're going on the road with your own band, Duff McKagan's Loaded. Is playing clubs a comedown after performing in huge arenas?
When the crowd's right on top of you? I really, really like that. People are hanging off the rafters. It's almost a perfect size
Looking back at pictures of yourself from the G n' R days do you gaze fondly at the perms and the ridiculous clothes, or do you wince slightly?
Hey man, we were the one band of the many bands from that era who wore our hearts on our sleeve. We set trends as opposed to following them. We didn't give a fuck. So when I see pictures, I smile. It was a great time.
Duff McKagan's Loaded play The Academy Dublin, Thursday 8 October. The album Sick is out now.