Rock titan and everlasting icon Slash spoke to STACK about how he links the souls of voice and guitar, why technology can be a spirit-sucker, and how working with famed producer Dave Cobb on new album with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators was an “orgasmic experience”.
The opening track of Slash’s bonfire-bright new album 4 captures a pretty wild moment in time: it’s the sound of Covid taking hold of lead singer Myles Kennedy’s lungs. “We all think that Miles picked it up at a rest stop on the way from Washington to Vegas to meet us there,” the Guns N’ Roses axeman explains. “We all convened in Las Vegas to meet the tour bus at a clinic, so we could all get tested before we took off on our little journey to Nashville. Everybody was negative, and we had a killer time on the bus. We got there and started working on the record, then [Myles] tested positive… then Brent [Fitz, bass] and Todd [Kerns, bass] both got it from him, and then I got it from everybody! We were really taking care to keep ourselves safe. We ended up catching it anyway.”
Thankfully, the entirety of 4 was recorded over just five days – well in the bag before the musicians felt the dreaded spicy cough’s effects.
The five musicians sure put their backs into it over the course of that time – particularly Slash himself. Across its tracklist, mean riffs abound. They’re so evocative that they suggest shapes, qualities, a colour or an angle in the listener’s mind. But Slash says he isn’t imagining such things while he’s playing. “Huh!” the 56-year-old laughs. “I never really think that hard about it. Basically, when you’re talking about intervals, you’re talking about the space between the notes, as far as in a chord structure; I might recognise it after the fact but it’s not usually the motivation.”
Slash’s craftsmanship breathes through 4‘s scalding electric guitar solos, which speak to the listener as clearly as if they were literal speech; what he creates isn’t just a series of notes, but tone and inflection too. “Melodies, for me, are a kind of a voice,” he agrees. “It’s a way of singing using the notes on the guitar, for sure. I think that’s really important; it’s important for solos to have a melodic quality. You’re singing a melody, and it’s going from your mind to your fingers as instantaneously as possible. So it is singing, in its own kind of way.”
Then there is the option of using your actual voice with a talk box, as in C’est La Vie – a meshing of voice and guitar. “It’s a little amplifier that’s in a tiny little box; it has a hole in it with a tube coming out of it,” he explains. “The tube goes into your mouth, and the sound comes through that tube, and you can form tonal changes with your mouth. I learnt from guys like Joe Walsh and Jeff Beck and Joe Perry and Peter Frampton: Do You Feel Like We Do, do you remember that song? There’s a talk box solo in that. Rocky Mountain Way by Joe Walsh: there’s a talk box solo in there, too.”
At the end of several tracks, we can hear the babble of discussion taking over. Slash says this talk is “usually cut off,” but there is a little of it on 4. “There is enough casual or candid chit-chat on the record for people to get the idea that we’re human beings in a room, talking to each other, trying to get through this,” he says. It adds to the record’s in-the-moment spirit, something Slash felt strongly about from the moment this project was conceived.
“For the longest time, I’ve always wanted to record live in the studio,” he says. “We’ve always done it where you all go into a room, but everybody’s got headphones on… I always hated playing with headphones. I can’t stand that sound! It’s so small and compressed; there’s no ambience. What we’d always do was play the songs together live, then I would go back into the control room and listen to the monitors really, really loud… But the most important thing is to be able to have a good sound while you’re doing it, so I just wanted to put the amps in the same room as the drums and the bass and record like you would if you were playing in a club or something. But no engineer or producer will do it that way, because there’s a small amount of bleed from the instruments that goes under the drum mics, and under the guitar mics, and blah, blah, blah.”
Are there really producers who are mic-bleed purists to the point they’ll refuse to do what you, Sir Slash, are asking for? “It’s an argument,” he nods. “I’ve always lost that argument, because I didn’t have the experience to really make a big enough argument. I do now. I have the experience now!”
The spirit-sucking is something he sees around him in contemporary records. “People really phone records in now, because you have the equipment to be able to have one guy in Miami, another guy in L.A. and another guy in Prague, send it in,” he explains. “People take advantage of the luxury of new technology, and it sucks all the spirit out of music. But especially in rock’n’roll records. With rock’n’roll, the spirit and the energy of guys playing together, and that crescendo everybody has going into a big chorus, and the tempo pushing, and pulling, and all that stuff? It’s something that the whole band does together. That’s really important, and it’s really been sucked out with Pro Tools. I know producers who won’t even use a drummer in a band to play with everybody else, because they’re worried about the tempo, the meter. So they Pro Tools the drums together.
But on this particular record, what I’ve always wanted to do finally came to light! Dave Cobb… just want[ed] to record a band, in a room, live. And I was like, ‘F-ck’! There was a moment, like the sky parted,” he says, then mimics the revelatory ‘Ooooh’ of a biblical choir. “So we got in a room, set the backline up, and we just jammed! That, to me, was like an orgasmic experience.”
4 by Slash Featuring Myles Kennedy & the Conspirators is out Feb 11 via Sony.Buy now at JB Hi-Fi
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