Appetite for Destruction's 15th anniversary Guitar One Interview-June 2002

Congratulations on Appetite for Destruction's 15th anniversary. Were you aware it had been 15 years?
It was brought to my attention yesterday. I hadn't been counting.

Is it safe to say that Appetite is your favorite Guns album?
I love playing, recording, and touring so much that each record has its own "whatever" about it. I had a blast making that record, but I just didn't realize how cool it was until way after the fact. When you make a record, it's really of-the-moment. After it's done, I never even listen to it again. I just enjoy the time that I'm in the studio. So really, the only reminder I have about any of the recordings is usually through somebody else.

But it was your debut album. Didn't that make it special?

It was the first extended studio effort that we'd done collectively, so that in itself was a gas. At the same time, there was so much else going on I was staying out till four in the morning, getting to the studio at least by noon. And I wasn't living anywhere, so I was a complete vagabond during the making of Appetite. There was a lot of craziness and partying going on. All of the stuff that comes with being a rock 'n' roll band that has no idea where it's going. We did everything we wanted to do and got away with whatever it was we could get away with. So looking back on it now, it's like, yeah, that was totally cool; I wouldn't have missed a minute of it.

Were there any templates you were holding up back then, saying, "If I could make an album like this, I'd be happy"?

No. Everyone else might have a different story, but I'm only speaking on my behalf. From the time the band started, it's always had chemistry, where everybody played what they thought needed to be incorporated into the music. The band had a very magical chemistry. I was thinking about this last night, because I was jamming with Izzy. Everybody always came up with their own ideas. Nobody really asked a lot of questions. We just had an unspoken chemistry, a natural feel for knowing where to put a part. There wasn't a lot of sitting around and looking to the future as far as how big a hit this was going to be. We just incorporated what we each liked as individuals into the songs. And it just happened; there was no discussion.

Did the band feel unified at that point?

We were the only five guys who could have made up that band in the whole of L.A. Especially at that point in time; the '80s was probably one of the worst decades of all time for music [laughs].

Which was similar to the current climate-disposable-pop and cookie-cutter metal bands.

Exactly. We hated everything that was going on everywhere, so we ended up falling together. It was sort of a fluke how it happened, but it was inevitable because individually, we couldn't pair up with anyone else. We each had our own personal direction. We all eventually got together, and that was the only combination that worked. Against all odds, we went headlong into this thing. But it wasn't preconceived. That's just who we were. When we went in to do the album, we just wanted to make our album and to be good at what we did.

But were you reacting against how plastic music had become?

No, it wasn't that. It was just that. given the time period what we did was very much against the grain. And we enjoyed the static [laughs].

Your playing was more raw, melodic, and bluesy than the fleet-fingered style that dominated the L.A. hair-metal scene back then. What were some of the reactions to your style?

I wasn't riding anybody's opinion. It wasn't until much later that I got recognized as a half-decent guitar player. But in the Hollywood scene, we were such a brash band that the whole thing was overwhelming. I just liked to play what I liked to play: As long as I thought I was playing well, I didn't really give a shit what anyone was thinking. But I've always been very paranoid about the quality of my playing. I'm one of those guys who always ask afterwards, "Did I play okay?" But I wasn't judging my playing by anyone else's standards but my own. I didn't have any convoluted dreams about being a guitar hero.

But you became one anyway.

There was a point when I started getting phone calls to do magazine interviews. And then at another level, me and Axl got the lead singer/lead guitarist combo thing going that was very recognizable. From that point on, I started to get recognized as a guitar player, which was very flattering. I appreciate the fact that I've done pretty well for myself in the context of being one fifth of a cool rock 'n' roll band.

How difficult was it to get the band's sound on tape?

Capturing it properly was a hard thing to do because it was very raw, and we didn't want to use a lot of effects and other stuff to embellish it too much. At the same time, we did have a certain amount of professional integrity, and we wanted it to sound tight. There are a lot of bands that try to sound unhinged. We were unhinged, but we also liked to tie it together enough to keep it from exploding all over the place. So it always had that sound where it was just about to fall apart, but it was a little tight at the same time.

What was your daily routine like at that time?

My existence has always been that detached gypsy kind of thing - very focused around my music; but as far as everything else, very detached. So I'd work until 11 or 12 at night, and then hit the street, find a place to hang out, then find a place to sleep, and then find a way to get back to the studio the next morning. That was the making of the whole record.

Would you indulge at all when you were recording?

One of the most important things to know about how Guns worked, is even on our worst days, everything else would take a backseat to the band in order to do that properly. There was a little of everything within reason, but it wasn't excessive during the actual recording process because as soon as you couldn't play well, then the whole point of being around ceased to exist. So in the studio, maybe a little jack and coffee, but after a day's work, it was go-for-broke. And then the next day, you just showed up at the studio on time, and no one had anything to say, as long as it didn't affect your performance.

So where did it start to go wrong?

First there was Steven [Adler, the band's first drummer, who was let go for excessive drug abuse]. That was a big change, but we survived it. But that still had a big effect on the camaraderie of a bunch of guys who, I hate to sound cliché, really came from the gutter. But it was hard, because I was only 20 and Steven was only 21 when the band really started. We had professional ethics, but at the same time, we were a crazy bunch of kids. Trying to keep a tab on anyone of us was difficult [laughs]. We just knew when we had to show up for work, but after work. .. God knows what was going on.

So when we buckled down to do "Use Your Illusion," [former Cult drummer] Matt Sorum came in, and he was just like the rest of us, so that was cool. And then we're doing this whole double-record thing because we had so much material. And then we had all these huge shows coming up, so it's like we were touring during the making of the record. There was a lot going on. So we were out for two-plus years on those albums. Then Izzy left, and a lot of that had to do with the excessive shit happening on the road, as far as going on late and riots and that kind of stuff. We were a really simple band from the start. We really looked forward to getting up and playing every night; that's what we're all about. But when that started to get complicated for reasons that didn't have anything to do with the rest of us, it put a strain on the band.

It wasn't a "success kills" kind of story; it was just that what Axl had originally planned all along started to become something that none of us knew anything about [laughs]. So when the tour was over, I looked at what was going on, and I realized I felt very estranged. What bound us together was really lacking as soon as we were missing a couple guys. You just can't reinvent something like that.

We tried to hang in there as long as possible, but Axl was going in a musical direction that none of us could fathom. Eventually, it just wasn't fun for me, and I finally left. And consequently Duff left, and Matt got fired. Now Axl is doing Guns on his own. I have no regrets about the whole thing, because it was a slow, systematic thing that went on. I'm just waiting for the new Guns album to come out so I can have something solid in my hands to explain where Axl was headed, just to clarify some things [laughs].

But musically, at least, something good came out of Axl's temperamental side.

Oh yeah. He's one of the most brilliant lyricists. He's got so much going on, and he's really an intelligent, amazing guy. It's depends how much of that [emotional baggage] you want to experience with him. A lot of it is stuff that not everyone in the band necessarily understands. So you try to understand, and you try to be a good friend and band mate as you go through it. But when it negatively affects everything the band is doing, it's really hard to stand by him.

I'm also interested to hear the new Guns record because so much has gone on since this whole thing started, I know he's got a lot to say. Even a lot of his stage performance is fueled by angst. And it's essential to have that sort of soul and energy for the music to come across as genuine; that's an integral part of rock 'n' roll. But it just depends on how far you want to take it. It's like, if you can get it all out of your system in the two hours you're onstage, great--as long as you're onstage [laughs].

You've been jamming with Izzy again. Any new perspective on why your playing styles work so well together?

It's the kind of thing where no matter who comes up with the initial idea, I never really have to go, "Izzy, play this part this way." He just plays his thing his own way, and we never really talk about it much.

Last night, we went in and took two songs from scratch, just basic chord changes, and worked them into full songs. That's one of the things about me and Izzy working together, he knows where I'm at, and I know where he's at. And that's the way it's always been. I make up something that accompanies his part, and at the same time accents it, and he does the same with my parts. We have that kind of chemistry. We've always been good friends, so for us to get in a room and play is a very easy thing to do.

What can we expect from you next?
I'm putting together another record with some stuff I've done with Izzy and other stuff I've done on my own. I want to start writing with other people as well, and put together an album with a lot of guests -- a really cool rock 'n' roll record with people you wouldn't expect to hear together.

And finally, what's the strongest impression you have of your time creating Appetite for Destruction?

You should probably ask the rental car companies who rented us the vans we used to drive from the Valley to Hollywood and back [laughs]. There were a few damaged vans, we must have dropped off about three or four in the middle of the night. So many rental places were pissed off and ready to sue, except there was no entity to sue, really. That's what that album was about, an appetite for destruction. It was us against the world. And it was a really cool time, because we pulled it off.