Interview: Duff McKagan, Guns N' Roses



Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan, once described as this generation's Sid Vicious, is in Deutschland, the spiritual home of all things Metal, supporting local favourites The Scorpions and promoting his LP Believe in Me.

For the tour, Duff has got together a band which includes lead guitarist Joie Mastrokalos and drummer Aaron Brooks from the now sadly defunct and underrated Circle of Soul. As for the album, well it's not a bad first solo effort, and whilst Duff's vocals are no great shakes, at least he sings with some conviction. When Duff asks me if I like his record, I reply positively, remarking on its immediacy. His response is surprisingly defensive.

"Hey it ain't perfect. OK, humans make mistakes, but I've never professed to be the best drummer or guitarist," says Duff, referring to the fact that as well as doing the vocals and co-producing, he plays various instruments on the record.

Time to bring up that other little beat combo he plays in. Does he ignore all the calls he surely gets from the audiences to play G N'R songs?

"I don't ignore it, but I acknowledge it," replies Duff mischievously. He gives an example of a recent gig his band played in San Francisco. "We played this bar in downtown Frisco and some guy up in the balcony goes, 'Play something we know!' I just stopped, stuck my middle finger up in the air and said, 'Go fuckin' listen to a fuckin' record, you piece of shit!"


Considering that the album was recorded in between G N' R's mammoth and hectic world tour, I find it hard to imagine where you found the time and energy to do the thing?

"I wouldn't suggest it to most people, to record an album on the road," laughs Duff. "It was a very immediate feeling – I've GOT to do it now. And so I just rented studios. I financed it myself. Of course, when Geffen heard it, it was like, 'OK, let's sign the kid."

With G N' R having shifted a mere 50 million or so units for Geffen, that was never in any doubt!

Much of Duff's lyrics seem to deal with the outsider going against the grain. Any truth in that?

"Yeah, I know what you're saying," he ponders. "I can't even speak for myself 'cos that's what everybody in even G N' R's about. But, for me, I’m very more stripped down about it. My feelings still come out. I still have fuckin' feelings. People think, 'Oh, you've got money and fame and shit. Money makes your life better.' NO!"

Despite the sadness and cynicism displayed in the lyrics, you seem to have found emotional stability, having recently married Linda?

"Thank the Lord!" he exclaims. "I'm telling you, I was really in a hole for a while. The song Believe in Me is about keeping my head out of the hole. Y'know, if you’ve got nobody else to believe in, you've got to believe in yourself even when you're being punished in the head emotionally, like a billion times."

Returning to the theme of your album, you must have had a lot of willpower, let along energy to do it.

"That's what it was, sheer willpower," agrees Duff. "Also, you gotta understand, we were playing crowds of 80,000, 100,000, 145,000, so there's plenty of food to feed your ego and all that shit."


Duff used many of his well-known muso friends to guest on the album, including Lenny Kravitz, Jeff Beck, Seb and Snake from Skid Row, rapper Dox Haus, and everybody else from G N' R except Axl.

Was this record Duff's own personal statement, especially coming from a band where Slash and particularly Axl get the biggest share of the limelight? And if Axl had sung some of the songs would it have obscured his own identity?

"Oh no, it was nothing like that," he replies. "It was a song I needed to get out of my heart, and I couldn't ask Axl to sing 'I love you.' It wouldn't be fair."

Duff points out that most of the album's guests were opening for G N' R on tour, and they got involved in the project because they were all "curious as to what the fuck I was doing after these gigs. It was that simple."


On the topic of G N' R, the band are bringing out an album of punk covers, though the American idea of 'punk' is somewhat different from ours, for example, one of the songs they’re covering is a Nazareth song! Unsurprisingly, Duff, with punky roots, gets to do lead vocals on several songs. This leads me to observe that on the last G N' R tour, a little bit of that slipshod punk attitude came over, as opposed to the time before when their show threatened to become a self-indulgent cabaret. Duff, however, stubbornly refuses to see it that way.

"The cabaret was cool. I thought it was cool. Y'know, what are we gonna do, use fuckin' synthesisers and samplers? No, we brought the real shit out. We've never been a band to use tapes. And you know the bands who use tapes, right? So, we've always refused to do that. We got a real horn section. So people think that's cabaret, fine. But we did it the way we wanted to do it and that’s it!"

On a final note, Punk Rock Song and Swamp Song seem to deal with similar themes, like hypocrisy from the upper/middle classes and about how rock 'n' roll has become sanitised.

"You look at all these ads, and it's come to this point where looks are more important than the music," reckons Duff. "Also, people put down G N' R for being outrageous or whatever. Fuck, we're just a rock n' roll band. And people damn us, they diss us for that shit. But wait a second, Chuck Berry is kicking walls in right now, like. Jesus, what's rock 'n' roll come to!?"

Mark Liddell
Riff Raff
December, 1993
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