Snake’s Alive! An Intimate Interview with Slash and Rod Jackson of
For Slash, the 35-year-old guitarist who has no need for a last name or an introduction, the band Snakepit (originally known, for marketing purposes, as Slash•s Snakepit) was just something to occupy his time while Guns N• Roses attempted to get their act together in the wake of a crumbling infrastructure despite phenomenal worldwide success. Slash is, according to those who know him, a workaholic who didn•t want to sit around waiting for the hammer to fall, so he took the songs that, apparently, Axl Rose had rejected for a new GN•R album, and recorded them as a solo album on which he enlisted the help of friends like Matt Sorum and Gilby Clark (both members of GN•R at the time), vocalist Eric Dover, and bassist Mike Inez (of Alice in Chains). That record, It’s Five O’clock Somewhere, released in February of 1995, was a project on which all were enthused to be involved. When Guns N• Roses still wasn•t ready to record or do anything, Slash decided to take his record on the road, and whoever was available to go on the road went with him. Five years later, Guns N• Roses as we knew and loved them are long dead and buried, and while members of the first incarnation of Snakepit have gone on to other projects (Gilby Clark with a solo career and various projects with Alice Cooper, Matt Sorum as drummer for the Cult), Snakepit has risen again as a lean, mean, rocking machine, with a second full length album, Ain•t Life Grand, released to rave critical reviews in October of 2000.
A few days before Halloween, I met with Slash and Snakepit vocalist Rod Jackson in the bar of the Parklane Hotel, across the street from NYC•s Central Park. It was two in the afternoon: Slash was drinking a double Stoli with Cranberry Juice, Rod had a Corona, while, despite Slash•s insistence that we all party, I opted to stick with ginger ale. Slash and Rod were two of the biggest total sweethearts I•ve been privileged to interview, and the scene was ultimately very rock and roll, as it should be when in the presence of a humble rock god.
When GN•R was starting to self-destruct – and guys are leaving the band for whatever reason – it was pretty well-hidden from the public. Was there any one turning point or one event – an epiphany you had – where you looked at what was around you and thought “This is going to end”?
Slash: Yeah. It•s really not as complicated and it•s not as “Rock and Roll Heroic Break Up Stuff” as everybody makes it out to be. When Steven [Adler, drummer] got kicked out, and then we kept going from there, that was one thing. Then when Izzy [Stradlin, guitar] quit, that•s when I went “Oh…” And the only reason Izzy quit is… it had a lot to do with Axl. So I hung in there, because we set out on a mission to do this thing – and we did it – but the camaraderie was not totally there. We hung in as long as we could, then it finally came to a point where I was like, you know what, I can•t fucking hang in there anymore.
Was it hard to walk away from that?
Slash: At that point, by the time I had to walk away, technically, logistically, yeah. But from an emotional point of view, no. What•s done is done, you know. It•s like getting divorced. The orgasm wasn•t there.
Following that, I was talking to another journalist about you and we were saying that artists can generally move on but the fans can’t. You want to talk about Snakepit and everyone else wants to talk about GN•R. Do you have any problems with people not letting you move on and do new things and being hung up on Guns N• Roses?
Slash: It•s not an issue. It•s like [a reunion of GN•R] wouldn•t happen. If it were going to happen it would be for a second, just so that the guys – all sort of being more or less still friends – could go “Hey! Hi!” and then play like a song. But it•s so not that.
Rod: Can I comment on that?
Slash: Wait, before I forget… because you know I•ve got a short attention span…
Rod: He•s on a roll!
Slash: The thing is, when it ended, it was a series of events that made it end. When I got out of it I was just like, okay, that•s a chapter done! I can•t foresee it all coming back together and being what it once was. That•s my whole attitude.
What•s cool is that you don•t seem to have problems looking back and saying “This is what happened when…”
Slash: I was in one of the fucking biggest rock and roll bands in the world.
Rod: It•s hard to leave a fast moving train, is what I was going to say. That•s got to have been the hardest thing in the world for him to have stepped off that train. I mean, I wasn•t even into heavy metal that much, and I even realized what they were doing.
Slash: It hurt more than anything else. Sometimes you just have to go out there and do it, and I won•t name any names but [there are some bands that] I wish they would break up.
Ain•t Life Grand was recorded for Geffen, so why did Interscope chose not to put this record out?
Slash: The whole Geffen thing started going through its own demise when [David] Geffen left his own company. When he went to Dreamworks, then Geffen became a former shell of itself. People started getting fired and those were most of the people I grew up in this business with, as far as who I was committed to working with. So, I didn•t really take it that seriously as far as “Well so-and-so•s not here and so-and-so just went blah blah blah….” Geffen turned into Interscope and it was like we were dealing with a hip-hop label, and we•re a fuckin• hard rock band. Geffen is now basically run by hip-hop guys…
Rod: They literally didn•t know what to do with us. They didn•t know how to market us.
Slash: …and the only good thing that came out of that whole thing was Jimmy Iovine introduced us to (producer) Jack Douglas. When we got into making [Ain•t Life Grand] it was like, they had no idea what to do with us. They•re on one page and we•re on another. They didn•t know what to do with the Guns record, either. I had to sit on the Guns record.
I don•t even get that. But I•m such a rock head.
Slash: You•re pink!
You know, even though rock has been making a real comeback in the past two years, it•s still the underdog, it•s not very fashionable to be a rock and roll musician, really. Do you find it•s a struggle – not within yourself but in this business – to really stay true to the kind of music you want to make, even if someone•s telling you that rock and roll isn•t cool?
Rod: You know something, nobody tells him that. I swear to god, he does what he does and I don•t think I•ve ever met anyone who•s told him rock and roll isn•t cool.
Slash: It•s never been justifiable. There•s always been really cool rock periods, then some sort of fuckin• trend, or wave, and then rock comes back. And that•s the only thing we•re good at. I could never conform to all that fuckin• [stuff]. It•s weird, because people ask that all the time. [Adopting high pitched voice] “With all of this that•s going on right now, how do you feel you fit into …” If anybody remembers correctly, at least from my personal history, I was one of the members of one of the most notoriously anti-what•s-going-on-now bands. Before that, ten years before that, it was the same thing. Every time these trends come around, sometimes it•s really creative and really cool, but then everybody starts to capitalize on it. They make a million dollars, sell a million records, and make a lot of money and the whole business goes haywire. Madonna, I think, is the only person who•s been skimming off the same shit forever. But genuine rock and roll bands don•t change. They just fall into the cracks for awhile. Do you get my point?
Yes I do.
Slash: So you just hang in there. I•m just trying to get better at what it is I originally started out to do. That•s what I like. If I had to start doing stuff I don•t like I•d be fucking miserable. I•d still be out there just playing some licks.
On Ain•t Life Grand, there seems to be a really overwhelming feeling of freedom, especially with the way Rod sings. Do you feel that way as well? How about you, Rod?
Rod: The band pretty much just let me do what I wanted to do and that was the cool thing about getting in this band. Of course, they showed me “This is here and this is that.” But they pretty much said “Just go for it.” And that•s pretty much the band, everybody just does…
Slash: …what they do.
Rod: It•s funny because we never argue over music. When I first got into this band, I watched the way they work and, watching these guys work, everyone wants to do the right thing. Everyone takes that bassline home or that guitar riff home, and brings it back the next day to its simplified and its complete form. They just let me go.
Slash: That•s how it started. A piece of music, which in my mind•s eye is some fuckin• really killer riff, but it•s just instrumental. Being a guitar player you can come up with some very whacked shit, but you have an idea in the back of your mind like •This is a great song!• as long as everybody else understands it, which isn•t always the case. I gave a piece of material like that to Johnny (Blackout), our bass player, he gave it to Rod, Rod fuckin• sang on it…and we all go •Yeah! That•s it!• [laughs]
Rod: [laughing] It was a fucked up song too.
Slash: And it will be on the next record.
Rod: Yes, it will!
Slash: We just didn•t finish it. That was when I was like •There you go!• after I don•t know how many songs we went through that didn•t work out. That was what started it. From that point on we just said, everybody does what they do. It•s not about someone going “Can you change this?” We don•t do that. The only thing is Matt [Laug, drummer] might go “Well, your guitar•s a little out of tune.” [laughs].
I know that Ryan Roxie was the Snakepit rhythm guitarist but he was obligated to tour with Alice Cooper. Since he and Kerri Kelly were in Dad•s Porno Mag together, did Ryan make that introduction for you, with Kerri?
Slash: He did, there was a little bit of irony there. Ryan introduced us to Kerri, and Kerri came in and it was like one of the Team Guys was missing. There was nothing we could do about it. We had to get this record out. But Ryan plays on the record.
Rod: I want to say this, at the time Kerri Kelly came in, we were like •Oh wow, what are we gonna do now [that Ryan is gone]?• I have to say, he walked in and went •The glass is half full.• He is such a part of this and I•m so happy he•s in this band. I love Ryan, but Kerri is, like, so down with this. He drowns himself in this.
Slash: He•s flexible and…charismatic.
Rod: He is, yeah. It was funny because he didn•t really know Slash, and we were sitting in his kitchen, and I was wondering •How are these two guys going to get along?• Someone was trying to talk to Slash and Kerri goes •Yo! Slick!• (laughs). That•s what he called him, •Slick.•
Slash: It•s like being on a baseball team. Everybody•s just going to do their jobs. Everybody carries their own weight.
Rod: And [Kerri] does his job to the fullest.
Rod: They were great. They were so awesome. It was funny because when we started opening up for them, our album wasn•t out, so we literally had to win over the crowd.
Slash: Some shows they didn•t even know we were coming.
Rod: At the end of the show everyone would be on their feet.
Slash: They were like •So, this is Snakepit.” And AC/DC were great, they were like •Why don•t you stay on?• It was great because we had a good camaraderie going. But it was a hard gig, not because we had to live up to any particular reputation, but because we had to go out there and play songs nobody had ever heard before and go out there and play in front of a band who•s been around forever and has had so many hit songs…
Rod: Their catalog is amazing.
Slash: …and go out there and be good enough to play in front of them. Otherwise people would be throwing shit at us. So we figured we were OK [laughs]. That was the beginning thing for us, that tour, and now we•re back in the States and we•re doing the whole national thing, just with Snakepit. We might play with another band but, actually, AC/DC was the best band for us to play with. I•m not really sure what•s going to be going on at the beginning of . I always think of good concerts as being a package deal, so we•ll see what happens.
Do you have questions for Rod? Because I•ve gotta go get some cigarettes.
[Slash exits temporarily.]
So, Rod, what were you doing before you joined Snakepit?
Rod: The funny thing about Slash and me is we knew the same people. We were both friends with West Arkeen, who helped write a lot of the stuff on Appetite [For Destruction] [Note: West Arkeen is credited only with co-writing “It•s So Easy”]. We were a part of that thing that I call •Old Hollywood• – the Hollywood Billiards and all of that. The thing of it was, I knew him and he knew me but we really didn•t know each other, you know what I mean?
You knew each other by reputation.
Rod: Exactly. So I would see him at West•s or he would see me doing my thing and it•d be like “Hey man!” or whatever. Finally, Johnny, our bass player, said “Hey man, why don•t you sing for Snakepit?” And I was like “Er, I don•t know.” So I went and checked it out and I was like “Yeah, I•m down with this.” And that•s about it.
(Slash returns with a pack of cigarettes, at which point Rod gets up and disappears for ten minutes.)
What•s the difference for you between making a GNR album and making a Snakepit album?
Slash: It was not really that much different. It•s just like that “strength in numbers” [thing], when you get a band together and you just go for it, and it takes you…wherever. I mean, Guns was not some sort of preconceived thing. There was only five guys in LA at that time that could have made up that band. As soon as you get back into another situation, where you•re in a band, it•s like a gang. You go into it, taking into account the different personalities that you•re dealing with and the differences and so on and so forth. For me, personally, I•m still the same guy and, as individuals, we all fell into it. Comparatively it•s the same as with Guns or any other band. You•re just like “Hey! I•m having a good time! Are you?” You take your chances and it•s you against the world.
With Appetite, [that success] surprised everybody, especially the band – other than the fact that we thought it was cool because we were playing it. But we were all playing that shit for ages before anybody recognized it as being good music. The only thing that was cool about it after the fact was that kids who heard us play this song or that song fucking responded to it. That•s what made it huge, at least for me. It wasn•t about how fucking great we thought the record was, because that was just us. It was exciting when it started to sell.
As well grounded as you are, does it ever just blow your mind to know how much your fans idolize you?
Slash: I•m just a guy who plays guitar. The one thing I do from time to time, every so often I•ll go and I•ll play along with some blues stuff, something on the radio and I•ll realize that I do have a thing for the guitar: I love it. That•s the only thing I have. It•s not about anything else.
Do you have to practice, or do you just let the inspiration flow through you?
Slash: It•s hard. I want to achieve something when I•m playing and, in order to achieve it, I have to really approach it with respect. I hate to sound so philosophical about it [laughs], but I could just sit around and bend this note and bend that note for days. But, to actually play is the hard part. But I love it. I played a birthday party once and Eric Clapton goes, he goes [adopting British accent] “Oh, he can play.”
He said that to you?
Rod: Yeah [laughs].
Slash: I was like “I just can•t play right now.” But when you•ve got all the components together, and you•re emotionally intact it•s like “Oh, I LOVE this!”
Rod: He•s one of those guys who like, when we write a song and when we•re recording at his house and jamming and stuff, you•d show up [the next day] and he•d be sitting at the table in the kitchen, still playing a song. And you•d be like, “Have you been here all night?” “Yep!” He•s married to it.
Slash: Can you imagine the divorce situation [adopting highbrow British accent] “Oh, I•ve taken up cello!” [both laugh].
Are there any songs on this record that feel especially personal to you?
Rod: “Just Like Anything,” because of the space in the verses. And “Shine,” I love…
Slash: I get a little dew drop…
Rod: Because [the band•s] going [imitating guitar riff] “Na na na, Na na na” and I•m singing straight. That was one of the first songs that they gave me and I went “Oh fuck! This is like a cross between Led Zeppelin and the Beatles,” and that just floored me, that song “Shine.” When I heard that, it blew me away.
Rod: And that song really paints a scene, you know [quotes lyrics] “End of the summer/Down in New Orleans…” I got another story for it. [Slash] comes to me one night and he goes “We•re gonna write!” And I went “Cool.” Jim Mitchell, who was recording us at the time, is hanging, and Slash comes in with all these candles. And we•re like “What the fuck is this guy doing?” Jim•s looking at us like “I•m outta here!” Slash lights the candles and I•ve got my pad and the music•s playing. Slash just starts going “End of the summer/Down in New Orleans…” da da da da. And I•m like, “Where•s he getting all this from?” I•m writing and writing, and I look up and go “What do you want to call it?” And at the time, the candle had hit his face right here [points under chin] and he looked like the Devil, and he goes [pause for dramatic effect, whispers] “Ain•t life grand…” and I went “Ah, yeah cool.”
Slash: So that was special for me and Rod.