Snake's Alive! An Intimate Interview with Slash and Rod Jackson of
by Gail Worley
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 NYCís Central Park. It was two in the afternoon: Slash was drinking a double Stoli with Cranberry Juice, Rod had a Corona, while, despite Slashís insistence that we all party, I opted to stick with ginger ale. Slash and Rod were two of the biggest total sweethearts Iíve 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 GNíR 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. Itís really not as complicated and itís 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, thatís 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 canít 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. Whatís done is done, you know. Itís like getting divorced. The orgasm wasnít 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 GNíR. Do you have any problems with people not letting you move on and do new things and being hung up on Guns Ní Roses?
Slash: Itís not an issue. Itís like [a reunion of GNíR] wouldnít 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 itís so not that.
Rod: Can I comment on that?
Slash: Wait, before I forget... because you know Iíve got a short attention span...
Rod: Heís 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, thatís a chapter done! I canít foresee it all coming back together and being what it once was. Thatís my whole attitude.
Whatís cool is that you donít 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: Itís hard to leave a fast moving train, is what I was going to say. Thatís got to have been the hardest thing in the world for him to have stepped off that train. I mean, I wasnít 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 wonít name any names but [there are some bands that] I wish they would break up.
Ainít 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 didnít really take it that seriously as far as "Well so-and-soís 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 weíre a fuckiní hard rock band. Geffen is now basically run by hip-hop guys...
Rod: They literally didnít know what to do with us. They didnít 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 [Ainít Life Grand] it was like, they had no idea what to do with us. Theyíre on one page and weíre on another. They didnít know what to do with the Guns record, either. I had to sit on the Guns record.
I donít even get that. But Iím such a rock head.
Slash: Youíre pink!
You know, even though rock has been making a real comeback in the past two years, itís still the underdog, itís not very fashionable to be a rock and roll musician, really. Do you find itís a struggle -- not within yourself but in this business -- to really stay true to the kind of music you want to make, even if someoneís telling you that rock and roll isnít cool?
Rod: You know something, nobody tells him that. I swear to god, he does what he does and I donít think Iíve ever met anyone whoís told him rock and roll isnít cool.
Slash: Itís never been justifiable. Thereís always been really cool rock periods, then some sort of fuckiní trend, or wave, and then rock comes back. And thatís the only thing weíre good at. I could never conform to all that fuckiní [stuff]. Itís weird, because people ask that all the time. [Adopting high pitched voice] "With all of this thatís 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-whatís-going-on-now bands. Before that, ten years before that, it was the same thing. Every time these trends come around, sometimes itís 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 whoís been skimming off the same shit forever. But genuine rock and roll bands donít change. They just fall into the cracks for awhile. Do you get my point?
Yes I do.
Slash: So you just hang in there. Iím just trying to get better at what it is I originally started out to do. Thatís what I like. If I had to start doing stuff I donít like Iíd be fucking miserable. Iíd still be out there just playing some licks.
On Ainít 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 thatís pretty much the band, everybody just does...
Slash: ...what they do.
Rod: Itís 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: Thatís how it started. A piece of music, which in my mindís eye is some fuckiní really killer riff, but itís 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 ĎThis is a great song!í as long as everybody else understands it, which isnít always the case. I gave a piece of material like that to Johnny (Blackout), our bass player, he gave it to Rod, Rod fuckiní sang on it...and we all go ĎYeah! Thatís it!í [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 didnít finish it. That was when I was like ĎThere you go!í after I donít know how many songs we went through that didnít work out. That was what started it. From that point on we just said, everybody does what they do. Itís not about someone going "Can you change this?" We donít do that. The only thing is Matt [Laug, drummer] might go "Well, your guitarís 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 Dadís 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 ĎOh wow, what are we gonna do now [that Ryan is gone]?í I have to say, he walked in and went ĎThe glass is half full.í He is such a part of this and Iím so happy heís in this band. I love Ryan, but Kerri is, like, so down with this. He drowns himself in this.
Slash: Heís flexible and...charismatic.
Rod: He is, yeah. It was funny because he didnít really know Slash, and we were sitting in his kitchen, and I was wondering ĎHow are these two guys going to get along?í Someone was trying to talk to Slash and Kerri goes ĎYo! Slick!í (laughs). Thatís what he called him, ĎSlick.í
Slash: Itís like being on a baseball team. Everybodyís 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 wasnít out, so we literally had to win over the crowd.
Slash: Some shows they didnít even know we were coming.
Rod: At the end of the show everyone would be on their feet.
Slash: They were like ĎSo, this is Snakepit." And AC/DC were great, they were like ĎWhy donít you stay on?í 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 whoís 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 weíre back in the States and weíre 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. Iím not really sure whatís going to be going on at the beginning of . I always think of good concerts as being a package deal, so weíll see what happens.
Do you have questions for Rod? Because Iíve 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 "Itís So Easy"]. We were a part of that thing that I call ĎOld Hollywoodí -- the Hollywood Billiards and all of that. The thing of it was, I knew him and he knew me but we really didnít know each other, you know what I mean?
You knew each other by reputation.
Rod: Exactly. So I would see him at Westís or he would see me doing my thing and itíd be like "Hey man!" or whatever. Finally, Johnny, our bass player, said "Hey man, why donít you sing for Snakepit?" And I was like "Er, I donít know." So I went and checked it out and I was like "Yeah, Iím down with this." And thatís about it.
(Slash returns with a pack of cigarettes, at which point Rod gets up and disappears for ten minutes.)
Whatís the difference for you between making a GNR album and making a Snakepit album?
Slash: It was not really that much different. Itís 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 youíre in a band, itís like a gang. You go into it, taking into account the different personalities that youíre dealing with and the differences and so on and so forth. For me, personally, Iím still the same guy and, as individuals, we all fell into it. Comparatively itís the same as with Guns or any other band. Youíre just like "Hey! Iím having a good time! Are you?" You take your chances and itís 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. Thatís what made it huge, at least for me. It wasnít 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: Iím just a guy who plays guitar. The one thing I do from time to time, every so often Iíll go and Iíll play along with some blues stuff, something on the radio and Iíll realize that I do have a thing for the guitar: I love it. Thatís the only thing I have. Itís not about anything else.
Do you have to practice, or do you just let the inspiration flow through you?
Slash: Itís hard. I want to achieve something when Iím 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 canít play right now." But when youíve got all the components together, and youíre emotionally intact itís like "Oh, I LOVE this!"
Rod: Heís one of those guys who like, when we write a song and when weíre recording at his house and jamming and stuff, youíd show up [the next day] and heíd be sitting at the table in the kitchen, still playing a song. And youíd be like, "Have you been here all night?" "Yep!" Heís married to it.
Slash: Can you imagine the divorce situation [adopting highbrow British accent] "Oh, Iíve 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 bandís] going [imitating guitar riff] "Na na na, Na na na" and Iím 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 "Weíre 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 weíre like "What the fuck is this guy doing?" Jimís looking at us like "Iím outta here!" Slash lights the candles and Iíve got my pad and the musicís playing. Slash just starts going "End of the summer/Down in New Orleans..." da da da da. And Iím like, "Whereís he getting all this from?" Iím 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] "Ainít life grand..." and I went "Ah, yeah cool."
Slash: So that was special for me and Rod.