He grew up in a bohemian enclave where Bowie was a house guest and Carly Simon popped by. Then he formed Guns N’Roses and became an icon in his own right. Now, as he moves into film production, Slash reflects on his life in Hollywood. “I’m at the epicentre of it all,” he tells Phil Alexander.
SOMETIMES IT’S difficult to remember exactly where home is,” laughs Slash. “Even when I come home to LA, I stay in a hotel. The pace on the road is so different, I find it really hard to adjust. I’d rather just stay in a hotel room where I can throw shit around the room, spit on the walls and relax a bit.”
Step back in time to a February evening in 1992. Slash is enjoying a brief break in LA before heading to Japan to resume touring, and the guitarist is reflecting on the events of the last five years. In that time Guns N’Roses have been catapulted from the Hollywood club scene onto a global stage. Officially the biggest rock’n’roll band on the planet, they’re midway through the Use Your Illusion world tour that will eventually extend across 28 months, encompassing 194 arena shows in 31 different countries. Success, according to Slash, comes at a price.
“I would hate to live in a place that’s way out of harm’s reach.”
“The bigger you get, the harder it is to retain any sense of normality, you know,” he says. “Normal things suddenly become a a fuckin’ chore. Going back to LA used to allow us to keep things together, but I am not sure if that happens anymore. It’s funny, sitting here in a hotel room but being close to the old neighbourhood where I grew up, where we used to live when the band started out. It’s bizarre.”
The neighbourhood in question is West Hollywood where Guns N’Roses formed in 1985. There, they honed their sound, setting up their rehearsal studio in a storage building off Sunset Boulevard and Gardner Street. There the five-piece of Slash, frontman Axl Rose, guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler played, shagged, drugged and occasionally slept, re-christening the place The Sunset And Gardner Hotel And Villas in reference to the more salubrious hotel-to-the-stars, the Sunset Marquis And Villas, where Slash would later become a habitué.
As the band began to forge a reputation playing Hollywood clubs such as The Roxy and The Troubadour, their notoriety around the burgeoning Sunset Strip scene grew. If their own excesses fuelled the music, so too did the environment they lived in – a point borne out by the material that graced their debut long-player, Appetite For Destruction. Night Train, for instance, was written in tribute to the fortified wine of the same name while the band were wandering drunk down Palm Avenue one evening. For Slash, however, Hollywood was home long before he became interested in music.
BORN SAUL Hudson in Hampstead, north London, on July 23, 1965, he was raised by his father, Anthony Hudson, and grandparents in Stoke-On-Trent. His mother, Ola Hudson, was a costume designer and had returned to Los Angeles to expand her business before Slash and his father joined her as the ’70s dawned. Their first home was in Laurel Canyon before the family moved to Doheny Drive.
Ola’s business began to take off and the Hudsons’ house became a Mecca for the likes of Carly Simon and Minnie Riperton. Slash remembers introductions to Stevie Wonder and Diana Ross. His father Anthony designed record sleeves for Jackson Browne, Nils Lofgren’s band Grin and Joni Mitchell (1973’s Court And Spark is one of his) and passed on his love of art to his son who quickly took to drawing.
Ola and Antony split in 1974 and Slash elected to live with his mother, moving to a house in West Hollywood’s Rangely Avenue. In that same year, Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna album cover featured Starr wearing a space suit made by Ola. Another client was David Bowie. The Thin White Duke would often visit the house as Ola began work on the costumes for The Man Who Fell To Earth.
In this fractured yet creative environment, Slash developed an interest in comic books and then the work of HP Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and, later, Stephen King. Then came an obsession with BMX riding which saw him enter competitions and ride around LA on his Cook Brothers bike, his excursions taking him from Hollywood to Culver City and beyond.
Slash met Steven Adler when they were both 13, the pair attending Bancroft Junior High before moving on to the arts-focused Fairfax High School on Melrose Avenue. There, Slash gave rein to his musical ambitions and also met Matt Cassel – the son of actor Seymour Cassel. An interest in film vied with his developing skill as a musician. “The two aspects of film and music went hand in hand,” he would later comment. “But music had a stronger pull.”
IT’S BEEN 18 years since Slash quit Guns N'Roses following that normality-warping Use Your Illusion tour. These days the former poster boy for Black Death vodka is a paragon of sobriety, the guitarist having been forced to clean up and stop drinking in 2001 when he was fitted with a defibrillator at the age of 35. His mother’s passing in 2009 from lung cancer was a contributing factor in his decision to stop smoking.
Musically speaking, however, he’s remained as restless as ever, forming Slash’s Snakepit in 1993 while still in GN’R, followed by supergroup Velvet Revolver in 2002, before enjoying a career as a solo artist. At the time of writing the guitarist is preparing his third solo album, the follow-up to 2012’s Apocalyptic Love, but he joins MOJO to talk about a non-music venture: Slasher Films, the company he formed in 2010 and which is dedicated to making underground horror movies.
The company’s first film is Nothing Left To Fear, co-produced by Slash and directed by Antony Leonardi III, and which stars Anne Heche, James Tupper and Ethan Peck. Set in Stull, Kansas – a genuine town that, according to occult lore, hides one of the seven gateways to Hell – but filmed in Covington, Louisiana, the film is designed to be “creepy rather than just gory” according to Slash. “We had a limited budget and we shot it in 20 days, but it’s the kind of film I’d like to watch.”
And so our conversation begins as we start to quiz Slash – a self-confessed product of Hollywood – on music, film, life, the origins of his name and his famed top-hatted image…
What led you to start a film company after all these years?
“It wasn’t something I was planning on or aspiring to. I am a big horror fan and I have been since I was a little guy but I don’t usually talk about it much because it’s a specific niche. But I did run into this producer one Halloween and we had this really long conversation about the genre and at the end of the conversation he said, ‘You should really be a producer since you’ve got this level of knowledge and a real passion for the genre.’ I didn’t really think anything of that but then he got in touch with me and started sending me scripts. I really got into reading them and after a while I started telling him which scripts were good and which scripts were shit. Then we got together and we had a conversation about which scripts we felt might be worth developing and Nothing Left To Fear was one of them.”
For those who haven’t seen it, tell us about the script for Nothing Left To Fear because it is based on a real town.
“Yes. Part of the allure was that it was based on a real location. This location has tons of folklore about it that goes back to the 1700s. With every rumour and every wife’s tale there’s always a certain amount of truth. So the story itself is about this young family whose father is a pastor. They get invited to relocate to this small rural town in Kansas called Stull. It’s a welcoming community in a place that’s very picturesque. It seems wonderful but it turns out to be a front for something that’s very sinister.”
Have you ever been to Stull?
“I haven’t. I’ve played concerts in Kansas but I’ve never actually been to Stull. When they first heard I was making this movie, the residents of Stull got very annoyed with me. I guess the fact that Stull has become known for housing one of the gateways to Hell has meant that it’s attracted a lot of Satan worshippers and other thrill-seekers, defacing the properties down there, including the church. There’s a crypt on the outskirts of town that really interests me. The headstones say some really bizarre things and the sculptures are really creepy-looking. Apparently there were witch burnings there. But I haven’t been down there and I don’t think I’d be welcomed.”
Although this is your first film, you’ve been around film sets from a young age due to your mother’s work. Do you remember that time?
“Yeah. When I was living in England, I lived in a small town where there was nothing to do. When I moved to Los Angeles, I was thrown headfirst into music and film. It was like entering a completely different world and I loved the excitement. There is something very otherworldly about the entertainment business compared with going to grammar school!”
Your mother made the costumes for David Bowie’s 1976 movie, The Man Who Fell To Earth. Were you on set at the time?
“No. They took off to New Mexico to film it and my mom left me home with this a**hole nanny. I just saw my mom when she was popping back into town. I didn’t see the movie itself until I was probably 11, so just old enough to get it. I always had a crush on [Bowie co-star] Candy Clark! I’d always wonder when she was coming around. You know how little boys are when there are older women around – you kinda lose your mind. I was really distracted by Candy.”
Before you got into music you were into comics and horror films, weren’t you?
“Yes. I used to go up to Hollywood Boulevard. There were a bunch of great bookshops up there that specialised in Hollywood history and horror history. I spent a lot of time up there and a lot of time in the Wax Museum.”
You had your preferred mode of transport: your BMX…
“That came a little later. I am very single-minded. Before I started racing bikes, everything I did revolved around art. When I started racing bicycles, all my time was devoted to racing but I’d still draw. I went from drawing horror stuff to drawing bicycles. Then I went straight from bikes to guitars. I’d spend every waking moment learning guitar and listening to records to try and work out how to play things. At that time I was drawing a lot of band-related stuff as a result.”
“Anything that I wore, I stole. The top hat appealed to me and it seemed to make sense to walk out of the store with it.”
Was Hollywood a different place when you were growing up compared to the way it is now? It seems to have become rather sanitised…
“It definitely had a little more magic to it when I was growing up. At least that’s how I see it, but that could also be because I was younger. It also seemed big and electric and I have probably become a bit more jaded about it now. But it was definitely seedier and grittier. A lot of the major institutions and landmarks are still there, but in the alleys and in the cracks in the sidewalks, a lot of the vibes have changed.”
“If you looked up ‘full of shit’ in the dictionary the definition would be ‘a Hollywood agent’.”
The period during which you started getting into music, you were friends with Matt Cassel, whose father Seymour was an established actor who threw rather extravagant parties…
“Yeah. Seymour was great, man! I think my mom and my dad new Seymour before I even knew Matt. But I met Matt at junior high school and we used to cut school and go and hang out over at Seymour’s. It was part of what you’d consider the underbelly of the Hollywood scene at that point. Seymour was part of that gang of maverick actors that John Cassavetes brought through along with Ben Gazzara. They were hardcore character actors along with Harry Dean Stanton and all those guys. Anyway, they partied hard so we were around that. It was a very colourful environment and cool. That’s where the name Slash came from, from Seymour. He used to call me that.”
You also met the Stones at one of his parties, didn’t you?
“I did first meet the Stones at Seymour’s. But when you’re 13 or 14 and you say you met the Stones, that means that you were introduced to them and they couldn’t remember you from Adam because you were a kid. But I did manage somehow to maintain a relationship with Ronnie Wood over the years because he’s such a nice, approachable guy. He’s probably the only Stone that ever actually bothered to pay any attention to me! He was over here the most as well but I have been friends with him for a long, long time now.”
The convergence of music and film in Hollywood in the ’70s was unique. How did it affect you and what you wanted to do?
“Being raised around a really exciting period of music in Hollywood was weird, I suppose. I was conscious of it but, at the same time, you just accept that it’s there and it can become just part of your everyday life. The only time I realised the effect that it had on me was when I was around other kids and I realised that my mind worked differently from theirs. At school, all my peers had parents who were doctors or lawyers. They were part of a world that was really, really straight. I wasn’t. I was an outcast.”
SLASH'S VIDEO VAULT
Welcome To The Jungle(1987)
Sweet Child O' Mine(1987)
Live And Let Die(1991)
Garden Of Eden(1993)
Since I Don't Have You(1994)
By The Sword(2010)
You're A Lie(2012)
You started playing in your first bands in the early ’80s. The LA club scene seemed to have been fairly territorial at that time. Was it?
“When I was younger I used to go to the Troubadour a lot in the mid-to-late ’70s. That was an isolated kinda vibe there. There was a whole singer-songwriter thing going on there that was particular to that club. I remember going to the Roxy a couple of times but the vibe was completely different.
“When I started going to clubs myself – even though I was not old enough to legally get into them – that was around ’78 or ’79, and then into the ’80s. At that time you had the Starwood and the Whisky and there was definitely a crossover between punk rock and new metal. Then the Troubadour became part of that in the ’80s. Eventually, the Troubadour and the Roxy became the epicentre of what was a blossoming metal scene. By the time Guns N’Roses started, the Whisky opened up again and that was significant, too.
“Over in East Hollywood you had clubs like Club Lingerie and Scream, and that was a very different scene from the hair metal bands. It was way cooler. I guess it was alternative and grittier. I liked it a lot better but you couldn’t get anywhere in that particular scene, really. The bands that came out of that scene were people like Jane’s Addiction, who did well. But then you had bands like Redd Kross who I thought were really great but who never really got where they should have. You had The Joneses who were also one of my favourite bands and they never got anywhere. But Guns N’Roses used to play on either side. We seemed to be accepted by both.”
“I thought the punk scene in LA was laughable. What the fuck has anybody got to complain about in Hollywood?”
The first time you saw Axl Rose on stage was at another LA club, Gazzarri’s, and you ended up joining his band Hollywood Rose. How did Hollywood itself affect the music you were making at that time?
“I don’t know. I didn’t associate with the hair metal thing that was going on at all. I just thought that that was a big poseur scene rather than anything that was really musical. I also thought the punk scene in LA was laughable, you know? I used to think, What the fuck has anybody got to complain about in Hollywood?
“As a musician, I was inspired by a lot of stuff that was coming out of Europe and maybe a few cooler American bands. When Guns N’Roses started, we were kinda the antithesis of everything that was going on around us but at the same time we were right in the middle of it. It was an interesting juxtaposition. We were a really hardcore band that happened to emerge from that scene.”
Your famous top hat was liberated from a shop in West Hollywood called Retail Slut. But it’s not the easiest thing to shove up your jumper…
“No, it isn’t. It was sort of funny. It was out of desperation at the time. I just didn’t have any money and we had a gig that night. In those days, anything that I wore, I stole. The top hat appealed to me and it seemed to make sense to walk out of the store with it. Looking back on it, there were a lot of people working in that store and I’m not sure how I managed it. But let’s just say that a lot of people working in that place were not necessarily shop-keeper types.”
By that time you had developed your finely-tuned thieving technique…
“Yeah. But I was a lot better than I had been when I was younger. Back then I was basically a klepto.”
The first time you got arrested was at Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard?
“That wasn’t the first time I got arrested. It was one of the times I got arrested. If anything, it was memorable because I just had so much on me! (laughs) I had been doing this under their noses, not realising that the mirror up above was where they were watching me from. I had been doing it for weeks and weeks, and I was leaving the store with more and more shit. This was like the final mission, if you will. It was going to be my last time. I actually took some money with me and bought some records so as not to appear too obvious because I had actually loaded up so heavily this time around. I got on my bike outside and, just as I was about to pedal off, I felt this hand on my shoulder. I thought ‘F**k!’ My heart just dropped. They took me in the back and they were not fucking around. If my mom hadn’t come to pick me up, the cops would have taken me down. The funny thing about that was that I ended up working for Tower later on, even though I wasn’t supposed to set foot in a Tower store ever again.
“Years later, in 1991, when the Use Your Illusion albums came out they had this midnight opening and I went in through the back door and watched these people buying the album. I was looking at them through the same window through which I had been caught stealing. It’s funny how these things come around.”
Guns N’Roses had a cameo appearance in Clint Eastwood’s The Dead Pool (1988). Were there any other film offers?
“I can’t even remember where The Dead Pool thing came from. It was something to do with [GN’R’s then-manager] Alan Niven and somebody that he knew. He told us we could put the song [Welcome To The Jungle] in the movie and we got a cameo. But other than that, we were on the road for so long that I don’t recall anyone ever talking to us about doing any filming other than our own videos. I mean, we were just gone for so long.
“The one thing I do remember is Penelope Spheeris coming up to me one day and asking me whether we wanted to appear in The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II. I loved the first film. But the second one was very telling and I am just glad we weren’t in it (laughs). Right now is the first time that I’ve truly been around the Hollywood movie scene in a real way, and it’s interesting. It’s a very different existence compared to what I’m used to.”
In what respect?
“It’s just different, but I can’t put my finger on exactly how. It’s very similar to the music industry in some respects in that there is a certain vagabond mentality but it’s also so completely different that some times it’s hard for me to understand what people on that side of the fence are really thinking. I’ve been in a lot of meetings with certain Hollywood movers and shakers and, if it wasn’t for the fact that they were familiar with my music, I would think that they were completely foreign because they speak a different kind of language.”
As a man with an in-built bullshit detector, which industry is the hardest to navigate?
“Having been around music for a long time now, the music business bullshit doesn’t faze me as much as it used to. With the movie side of things, I am still green and it’s still new to me but it’s one of the biggest bullshit scenes I’ve ever been involved with. That said, some people in the movie business are great but the ones that aren’t are so full of shit that I find it hard to believe that they can actually take themselves so seriously. The agent world is incredible! If you looked up ‘full of shit’ in the dictionary the definition would be ‘a Hollywood agent’.”
Hollywood is still the place you still call home. Looking back, how has the town impacted on you?
“I have lived here most of my life and, while I have travelled a lot and been to some amazing places, I can’t imagine moving away. For work, I have everything I need here. For music, for film, I’m at the epicentre of it all. Because I was raised here, my attitude is what it is. I couldn’t imagine living the quiet life on a farm. I would hate to live in a place that’s way out of harm’s reach. I love everything that Hollywood is.”
Nothing Left To Fear is out via Slasher Films on DVD, Blu-ray and VOD on February 17.