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Behind The Shades: Slash Tries To 'Figure This Thing Out'

Slash, the former lead guitarist for Guns N' Roses, has a new album out.
Travis Shinn
Slash, the former lead guitarist for Guns N' Roses, has a new album out.

Behind the opening notes of "Welcome to the Jungle" was a musician with a sound and look all his own. Slash was the lead guitarist of the legendary band Guns N' Roses. His new album is called Apocalyptic Love.

Slash's given name was Saul Hudson. When he was a teenager, his friend's dad dubbed him "Slash" and it stuck. With a name like that, he was destined for rock stardom.

For years, it's been hard to find a picture of him without shades and a hat on.

"Part of it is sort of sunlight, but the rest of it is being in the public all the time and you don't want to deal with the flashes and this and that, and they end up just not coming off," he tells Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin.

From Top Hat To 'Over The Top'

His signature top hat became a favorite as soon as he stole it from a store that no longer exists in Los Angeles. He grabbed it for a show, and hardly ever took it off after that.

"It was something I instantly took to. I just felt more comfortable. I would go on stage and just hide in that thing," he says. "I just wore it all the time. A lot more than I do now, because I've became somewhat of a cartoon character."

Guns N' Roses started out as a kind of cult band, making its way around the local L.A. club circuit, and for Slash, it felt nearly impossible to break out.

"But then we had one song, a year and a half after the album came out, that took us over the top," he says. That was "Sweet Child O' Mine" from the 1987 album Appetite for Destruction.

The change was quick and drastic, Slash says. They went from being on tour and not selling many copies to playing in a stadium, and that was just fine with him.

"It was a lot of fun," he says. "Unfortunately, we had a very volatile band, and so what should have been fun turned into something that was a lot more work than it needed to be."

Vodka Instead Of Coffee

A lot of work mixed with a lot of drugs. Slash says he started using heroin in the mid-'80s when he was still a teenager. But he says he didn't need drugs to get on stage and perform.

"My drug habits were always in between tours because there's this huge amount of movement and energy and activity that goes on when you're on the road that you get very much used to, and then it just stops," Slash says. "One thing would always lead to another, and that's how I would fill my time between tours."

Slash says he doesn't miss that chapter with the band.

"I used to drink vodka in the morning like people drink coffee. I did it to the hilt, and I'm sort of over it. ... No matter how good of a party it was, there's this invisible line it crosses where it becomes a major burden," he says. "And so eventually, you just get tired of all of it."

Slash says he was fortunate enough to motivate himself to escape those habits; his main drive was being a musician.

In 1996, Slash walked away from Guns N' Roses, in part because of his increasingly difficult relationship with lead singer Axl Rose. There were a lot of side projects over the years, including the group Velvet Revolver.

Still Figuring It Out

Slash says he's sober now. He and his wife have two sons, and he's still making music. Even after all his musical experience, Slash still considers himself "a work in progress."

"I'm really still like I was when I was 15, trying to figure this thing out," he says.

He continues to develop his technical skills, but now by feeling more than anything else. He doesn't read music. He figures it out by ear.

"If there was anything I wanted to do specifically, then I would sit there and do it until I could do it. But it's a lot more complex than that," Slash says. "It's really about hearing things in your head and your heart and being able to get them to your fingers to be able to express them as instantaneously as possible."

In The End

His new album, Apocalyptic Love, is a collaboration with Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators. Like the Guns N' Roses sound that made him famous, this album isn't exactly nuanced. It's not complicated, and it doesn't take itself too seriously.

"[The title track] itself was a tongue-in-cheek kind of statement about what would you want to be doing in the last hours of humanity on Earth," Slash says. "It was just a joke about — for want of a better word — romance at the dawn of the end."

So what would Slash do for his last day on Earth? Play a huge show, of course.

"I suppose you would want to do something that was the most fun you could possibly do," he says. "If you knew how many hours you had left, you would want to fill it with something positive."

And he wouldn't spend time fixing any grudges.

"Why waste my time with all that?"

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