Velvet Revolver: Duff Information
"...our singer's in rehab!"
Really? That's bad news. Is he on the mend?
Duff: "I think he's doing fine."
How are you preoccupying yourself in the meantime?
D: "All of a sudden we didn't have an Australian tour to do, so I've been writing music for the next record and taking bass lessons for the first time in my life…"
Taking, not giving?
D: "Yeah, I've been taking them, from some pretty heavy guys too - session players here in LA."
That must be a strange experience, having played for so many years...
D: "It's great, I mean, Slash and I both learned everything from ear, we're not classically trained players, and you don't need to be, I mean the Beatles didn't read music, y'know, so it’s not really necessary. But, there are a lot of things I just didn't know… in the past, some things I would piece together because I had to. Now I'm learning things where I'm having a lot of 'ah ha!' moments. So I'm listening to bass players I've always admired, like James Lee Jamerson who did all the Motown stuff, John Paul Jones, and Larry Graham from Sly and the Family Stone - and playing to that stuff. Especially John Paul Jones, because he was such a muso, he would play all these strange keys, so now I'm starting to understand all that."
Will we see these new skills being put to use on the next album?
D: "That's what I'm planning on, man. I don't expect to become John Paul Jones overnight, but I'm learning a lot. Ever since I started playing bass - which was really at the beginning of Guns n' Roses, I never considered myself a bass player - I was thrust into the role. Suddenly I was there and I really started to appreciate the groove factor in music, especially rhythm & blues, because that's really the basis of all rock - good rock – records. Now I'm finally taking it to the next level, personally, playing with my fingers… I'm a pick bassplayer, y'know? I love that sound, I play pick for a reason…"
No burning desire to learn slap, then?
D: "I'm not so much into slapping stuff, really. Except for Parliament, but slap and rock music?
Too many Seinfeld nightmares?
D: "Yeah. But then again, Flea's amazing, and it's a spectacle to see him play. Although with the kind of thing we do, it wouldn't really work."
It seems to me that you've lead a few different lives outside of music; you're into your martial arts, you've gone to college to study accountancy…but you’ve had no desire to become some sort of travelling ninja accountant, like Caine from Kung Fu with a degree?
D: "Once I'd decided at the ripe age of 12 that music was what I wanted to do, there really was no other option. I'm from a big family, eight kids, college wasn't really an option. My dad was a fireman, and then he moved out… so college wasn't an option unless you put yourself through it. I was into music."
You grew up in Seattle, didn't you?
D: "Yeah. I was in the early punk rock scene in Seattle and what it melded into – the hardcore scene and all that – then the Seattle scene just died. Soundgarden just started when I left in '84 and there was really no place for them to play. There was a lot of heroin and I didn't want to just sit around and fester in a town that didn't have a place to play. I was 19, I was at that age where you choose to shit, or get off the pot."
You've had a few roles in films and TV shows, did you ever entertain the idea of becoming an actor, having made the move out to Los Angeles as a youngster?
D: "No, no, I'm not into that shit at all. I was in a TV show, this one episode where I was a guest star. My character was in a punk rock band and I killed people, it was great. I only did it because Roger Daltrey had done the episode before mine. It was called Sliders, they asked me and I thought 'fuck it, you only live once', but I hate doing videos, I hate being in front of a camera. I don't like to 'act' like I'm doing something; I'd rather just do it."
Weren't you in the last Dirty Harry film too? The Dead Pool? I seem to remember some or all of Guns n' Roses doing a cameo at Jim Carrey's character's funeral…
D: "It was Slash and I, Axl and Izzy. We were in some other scene on a boat too. [Laughs] Isn't that great? Jim Carrey's funeral? That was before Guns n' Roses and Jim Carrey were big… we shared a trailer with him! [Laughs]"
In terms of the accountancy pursuit, I wanted to ask why you chose to do that. There have been a number of lawsuits since G'n'R and musicians in massively popular bands are quite often seen to discover, years after they've entered into the music industry, that they've practically signed their life away. There's been some scandal over here recently where the BPI have actively encouraged the signing away of song rights and such. Was your going back and studying accountancy a reaction to that kind of mistreatment, having trusted that your best interests had been represented in the earlier part of your career?
D: "Sort of. What happened was: I got sober in '94, and I had all this time on my hands all of a sudden, I wasn't out there trying to get high every minute of the day, so I had a lot of free time. Guns n' Roses wasn't really doing anything, so I started looking through these two file drawers full of monthly statements going back to 1989. I started trying to read all these financial statements and they didn't really make sense to me, so I got into a class back then, a general business class. Within the class there was a section where you'd learn how to read financial statements, so that was great, I could apply it to my situation right away. But I figured afterwards that those financial statements in actual fact did not make a lot of sense, we weren't ripped off, but money wasn't being spent very wisely. I decided at that point to just go and figure this shit out – go to school. I went to a great university, finally. I moved back home to Seattle and got into the university out there."
What was the next move after Guns came undone?
D: "I started a new band called Loaded just so I could play, one thing lead to another and we got a record deal with EMI in Japan and put out a record there. On my Spring break we'd go and play Japan, then I'd go and play some European festivals… that thing started to get too big for me going to school, but school was coming to an end anyway and then, the next moment, Slash and I, and Matt were in a room talking. All of a sudden it's 2002 and we're going to do a gig, and that was the start of [Velvet Revolver]."
There were a lot of contenders for vocalist to begin with, weren't there? Some frightening possibilities too (the band are understood to have approached Mike Patton at first, and an early incarnation of the band saw Slash, Matt and Duff perform with B-Real and Sen Dogg from Cypress Hill)…
D: "Here's what happened: the genesis of us getting together was this gig for [Ozzy Osbourne and Mötley Crüe drummer] Randy Castillo. When he died, he died penniless, so some people organised a gig to basically pay for his funeral. They thought that to bring the most people to this gig and raise the most money, let's ask Slash, Matt and Duff if they'll play. So we said yes and got Josh Todd from Buckcherry to sing, and then Steven Tyler came and sang the last song of that gig. The gig just felt too good, the three of us playing together was amazing. We hadn't played together in like seven years, and it was still powerful. We'd all been doing different things, musically, but we all looked at each other after that and said 'well, we should probably start playing together again'. I don't know why we ever stopped. So we toyed with the idea of asking Josh to sing, Buckcherry weren't together at that point. He's a great singer but it was a little too linear. He's kind of a screamer, and I love that, don't get me wrong, but it was maybe too much for the type of stuff we play. We thought we could always go that direction of being full on, with every song being in your face, but then we looked a little deeper, one thing lead to another and we got Scott in the band."
Do you think that perhaps part of the appeal in bringing Scott Weiland on board was that – similarly to Axl – he's somewhat renowned as a bit of a loose canon, one of those rare front men that has a wild-eyed sense of danger about them, or did you hope to steer clear of that?
D: "We certainly weren't looking for a loose canon. We were looking for somebody who just got it, musically, he's got to be in the same place and it's got to feel right when you play together. I don't know how to verbalise that intangible thing, but Scott had it, whatever it is, he had experience – we're right about the same age – and our influences are the same. It goes all the way back to us being at some of the same gigs when we were 20-years-old, like 'remember when we saw the Clash play?' Although there are comparisons between he and Axl that we didn't really know were going to be there."
Scott just got his old band Stone Temple Pilots back together. Do you think there's room for both bands to coexist?
D: "We knew that was always going to be an eventual thing. I don't know how far that's going to go, and I don't really care. It's just music. Slash, Matt and I have obviously been through it a couple of times and came out with our heads above the water and kicked ass. I think, at this point, we realise that we're an entity in ourselves; we could do anything we want. We could go and make a fuckin' ZZ Top blues record; we don't need to have somebody else to identify who we are. Especially Slash, in the last couple of years he's become a worldwide thing on his own, I think he's finally being recognised. I've seen this guy play guitar like every fuckin' day, all day long. He's already a gifted musician and then he works his ass off on top of that, and he should rightfully be recognised as - of my generation - definitely the top guitar player."
What's the music scene in Los Angeles like these days, from your perspective? Is it still very rock-centric?
D: "I think everywhere you go, there's definitely a retro thing. Kids are learning Sabbath. They're certainly not learning Good Charlotte songs. I have two daughters aged 7 and 10 and this music teacher left their school in December. So myself and another dad - who's this radical guitar player – we just got to take over and continue this rock band thing the 5th graders have. We're teaching it, we're going in, getting these kids together and they're playing a concert at the end of the year. But my point is that these kids are playing ZZ Top and Led Zeppelin. They're not playing 30 Seconds to Mars. It's like 'what cover song do you kids want to play at the end of the year?' And they're saying 'Let's do fucking Wild Thing or War Pigs, and it's like 'Wow… eh… sure.' I think that goes all the way up into the scene here, some of it's going back to the bad retro - the hair straight up - like in the late '80s…"
Looking slightly like Guns n' Roses in '87?
D: "Exactly! They don't really get it, but it's cool. I remember dressing up like I was in the Stooges in 1980. 10 years later and there I was thinking I was cooler than shit, and really, all the bands did in the mid 1980s was try to look like the New York Dolls did prior to that, and we didn't get it. Now they're dressing up like Warrant or something, but it's cool, because it's their own scene. Fuck man, I don't have much to do with it anymore, I've got a band and I tour the planet, that's what I do. I get to see new bands while we're out, which is a real plus. Some aren't great and other times you think 'alright, cool, I get that.'"