Anything Goes: Duff McKagan talks Loaded, GN'R's legacy and living in the present
The Skinny last spoke to you around five years ago when life was very different – your old band Velvet Revolver was still an ongoing concern, but the future for it was starting to look a bit rocky…
Life’s funny, man. I actually haven’t given interviews in a while, which is kinda nice. I’m a writer too, so I get it. Giving interviews is all part of the cycle, but it was nice to step out of it. The last time we spoke, Scott [Weiland, former Velvet Revolver frontman] had just gone into rehab. I’ve learned, so that when people say ‘what are you going to be doing later this year?’ I just say ‘Hell if I know, I’ve no fuckin’ idea!’
These days you’re a regular columnist for ESPN and Seattle Weekly, playing with Loaded of course, and I hear you’re part of a new hard blues project [called Walking Papers] with a couple of guys from Mad Season [Barrett Martin, formerly of Screaming Trees, and Pearl Jam's Mike McCready]. Then there’s the autobiography you recently released, which you’re doing a spoken word gig for in London this October. Plenty of irons in the fire, then!
Yeah, I know it appears that way. I do like to keep busy, but I certainly don’t have too much going on. I guess having all that 'product' out there gives the appearance that a guy’s really fuckin’ busy. I’ve been writing my column for four years, so that’s not exactly new. And the book is something that I finished two years ago. Walking Papers is really a fun thing; I didn’t have a tonne to do with the inception of it, I just got to play on the record and a few gigs. Then of course there’s my band Loaded – which I have this serious passion for and love. I especially love coming to the
Is there anything you get out of playing with Loaded that you perhaps didn’t with Guns N’ Roses or Velvet Revolver?
I don’t think it’s an either/or sort of thing, it’s what is now. I’m a classic band guy. I like to find my part in a band. You’re never just the bass player or the rhythm guitar player, you’re bass player and you play a part in the social aspect of the band that makes it work too. That extra role was a key thing in Guns. The band’s got to function on a lot of levels; musically first, business wise and you’ve got to get along. With Loaded, of course, I serve this other part – I’m a rhythm guitar player, I can’t sing lead and play bass very well. I have to think too much! I don’t like to think when I’m playing; you shouldn’t have to think in rock music. Geddy Lee does it well – plays bass and sings, but that’s different because Rush is thinking man’s rock – at least a little bit. I do the interviews, I sing and play rhythm guitar. I’ve served a different purpose in all three bands. The main thing is I’m creating music; I’ve found that creating music constantly is something that I have to do, that somehow I’ll never be able to stop doing. I think that when you stop creating something, dangerous things – for a guy like me – start to creep in.
Could you expand on your involvement with the Walking Papers – could that turn into a longterm prospect, or are you playing it by ear?
Well, I guess with that thing – you can never forecast what’s going to happen. I tell you what, the Walking Papers – Jeff Angell and Barrett Martin put together something that was really unexpected, cool and dark. For lack of a better word it’s Americana – like dark, Cormac McCarthy, Americana. They asked me to come in and play on some songs, they were in really bare form then. Suddenly they just said ‘the record’s done’ and sent me a dropbox of all the songs. It’s this beautiful thing. I’ve played four shows with them so far. Barrett – that guy is one of the best drummers ever! I think he’s been passed over, but that’s probably about to change. All that stuff he did on [second Queens of the Stone Age album] Rated R – the vibraphone, marimba and all that – he brought back on this record. You can really tell that it’s Barrett. We’re playing a couple of UK shows in October actually. People seem to be into it. Loaded’s my thing, but we’ll see what happens with Walking Papers.
What’s happening with Velvet Revolver, when we last spoke to Slash in Summer 2010 he told us you were still actively looking for a new singer, not long before Corey Taylor from Slipknot was briefly linked to the band. Are you still on the hunt now?
It’s really frustrating, y’know? I think, after we split with Scott, we really hoped we’d just pick up another guy and carry on. You really can’t do that with singers; that voice defines so much more than really think. Here’s our first rule: we don’t just go and steal a singer from some other band. So that leaves out a whole sloth of guys; guys where you know what they sound like and how they roll. So you’re playing with a shitty hand of cards. You have to go out there and find the next guy, and that’s really hard. We tried it fulltime for six months. I can speak for myself here; I hope we play again at some point, Slash and I have this chemistry – this unspoken weird chemistry – with our playing, and I wanna do that again. But there’s this thing where you can’t forecast and you can’t try too hard or it’s not going to work either. Music...art...is a weird thing…you’ve got to let it happen. You and I talking about it is almost a moot point. Slash plays about four cities a night on his tour – he plays a lot. I’ve been out active with [Loaded]. If something came along soon, somehow, we’d probably jump into it. But for the next few months at least, I know we’re both pretty busy.
Tell us about your dabbling with spoken word – how did that come about?
I’m a poet, you know! [laughs] No, I’m not a poet. I released that book last year and some of the book stores wanted me to do a reading. I’ve been to book readings, I am a book nerd – I read a lot and go to see authors as often as I can. Most book readings are not that enthralling. So suddenly I was cast into that other side. Instead of a book reading I had a band behind me – a pedal steel player, an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, bass, and a guy playing a little cocktail drum kit. I read from the book with music that coincided with those passages – music from my past. We had video going on behind us without sound and it turned out to be a really cool, inventive evening. I did that again the night before Guns were inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, at the House of Blues in
Axl Rose infamously pulled out of the band's induction into the Hall of Fame in the eleventh hour. Knowing how the press and fans would mount expectation on the event, was there any reluctance to participate on your part?
I keep things positive – I’m a father and a leader in my family and everything starts there. I have two daughters and I guess I don’t have the luxury to say ‘fuck this’ and go hide. Sometimes you want to, that’s human nature. As a columnist, a lot of people write me – especially at the Seattle Weekly – about whatever topic. That was a big one for a while. These people felt the way I did when The Stooges were inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Like – that’s my band! So I got it. I’m a fan of music, and it suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t about me, or the band or the circus or any of that. It was about those fans who had been there all that time, had come to shows, bought records and showed up. This was about them. So I looked at that as a very positive thing and the least I could do was fuckin’ go show up for them. Just show up. That was it. This isn’t a commentary on anybody else; it’s just the way I personally chose to roll with this thing.
You’ve gone to great lengths to learn more about accounting and understand the machinations of the music industry in general. Having seen how it’s changed from the inside over the years, what's your advice to the current generation of aspiring young rock bands?
You’ve got to know about licensing your music. Young bands already know more than I ever knew. They know how much gas costs, they’re in tune with how much a tee-shirt costs to print, or how much six dozen costs to print in three colours. That’s how bands are making it turn right now. It’s not really record sales and the major label deals aren’t what they used to be. It’s more this holistic thing where they want a piece of everything – they want a piece of your publishing, your merch – everything. Ticket sales, even. Most bands aren’t really going in that direction because it just can’t work. I would say that young bands should look into making records yourself and licensing them out to a distributor. Have some sort of advertising budget. But then they’re already good at Twitter, and FaceBook. They’re better advertisers than any label could be. A kid who is into his bands will advertise his band better, with more care, than anybody else can. I don’t know what more advice I have than that – just write great songs! That’s never changed.