If you looked up the word “contentment” in the dictionary, chances are there wouldn’t be a picture of Slash. Sitting somewhere beneath giant shades and shaggy black curls, with his nose ring, arms littered with tattoos and a black T-shirt that has pretty much all the swearwords printed on it, the former Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver guitarist looks like the same rock ’n’ roll hellraiser he always was. But this is not the case.
Groggy from travel, the 46-year-old, born Saul Hudson in Hampstead, is not exactly all smiles but there are numerous reasons to call him a new man. After years of standing splay-legged to one side with high-profile bands and as a star guest with the likes of Michael Jackson and Alice Cooper, he’s about to release his second solo album and the first that doesn’t rely on other big names for its appeal. He also hasn’t smoked since 2009, hasn’t drunk alcohol since 2005 and has been drug-free for a lot longer than that.
“It’s boring that all anyone talks about is the drugs but it was the same with my old bands too. Everybody focused on all the bullshit we had going on,” says the former heroin addict, who famously “died” for a few minutes after an overdose in San Francisco and now has a defibrillator implanted. “I suppose this is how people want their rock stars to be.”
Today the only vice in the room is coffee and the guitar lying against the back wall. Even his collection of 80 snakes was sold off after the birth of his first son, London, in 2002, though he still maintains that hobby by sitting on the board of the Los Angeles Zoo alongside an unlikely ally, Golden Girls actress Betty White.
A few lines from one of his new songs, Not for Me, say it all: “You can keep your high life in the hills/Your cocaine lies and whisky thrills/I don’t need you any more/This is not for me, no.” They were written, however, by Slash’s new singer, Myles Kennedy, who is someone Slash has been trying to entice into the band for a while. A 42-year-old from Washington State with a classic rock howl and a minister’s son who barely drinks, Kennedy is a consummate professional who concurrently works hard with his own metal band, Alter Bridge. He sang two of the tracks on Slash’s self-titled 2010 solo album, which also included guest singers Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop, Lemmy and Fergie of Black Eyed Peas.
“When Myles came on the road with me to tour the first solo album, I knew we should make a whole record together. We’ve become really comfortable working together, sending ideas back and forth. I’m not a dictator, there are no egos — everybody has great ideas for the songs. Every band I’ve ever been in I tried to make it always just about the music, never about who was the star,” says Slash, though it’s clear the star is the guitarist in the top hat this time.
The new album, Apocalyptic Love, is being released as a “fanpack” — a CD with accompanying magazine which obviously subscribes to the view that there is no such thing as too much information. You can drool over a lengthy overview of Slash’s guitar collection while banging your head to his latest riffs.
But the album doesn’t need such glossy adornment to sell — it’s a blast. The song title Hard & Fast sums it up, from the rollicking rock ’n’ roll of One Last Thrill to the dirty rock of Halo and the twisting rollercoaster that is the six-minute Anastasia. Far more coherent than the guest-packed last release and stuffed with great tunes, it’s music to tempt you into breaking the speed limit. “We recorded it pretty much live, with hardly any overdubs, guitar bass and drums going at the same time. You can hear the energy on the tracks.”
It’s rare to hear someone with such an impressive back catalogue sounding so full of vitality on new material. Slash could simply have traded on his iconography for ever. He certainly gets the invites — last year he played guitar in front of more than 100 million at the Super Bowl half-time show and this summer he’ll tour as part of an “Ozzy & Friends” show with Mr Osbourne.
In another way, it’s understandable that he would want to look to the future. He hasn’t spoken to Axl Rose, the sole remaining member of Guns N’ Roses, since the Nineties, though in 2009 Rose saw fit to describe him as “a cancer”. There’s no need to ask him about getting back together with his first band, and I’ve been ordered not to enquire about last month’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All the original members attended apart from Rose, who released a statement saying: “Neither former members, label representatives nor the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame should imply whether directly, indirectly or by omission that I am included in any purported induction of Guns N’ Roses. This decision is personal.”
“I’m very proud of what we did in that band,” Slash says today, “but when it’s been this many years since the original band broke up, it’s nice to be recognised for something you’ve got going on right now.”
That includes any thoughts of a Velvet Revolver reunion, the band that proved he was still relevant with a double platinum album, Contraband, in 2004, but fell apart thanks to the addictions of another wayward singer, Scott Weiland. They reunited for a four-song charity set at the start of this year but that seems to be it.
Slash now seems comfortable with his past. Both Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver songs form part of his current setlist. But as the new songs prove, he’s not ready for the history books.
Apocalyptic Love is in download stores and as a fanpack edition in newsagents from Monday. Slash plays HMV Apollo Hammersmith, W6 (0843 221 0100, hammersmithapollo.net) on June 6.