The Inquisition: Tough Questions for Duff McKagan
As musical third bananas go, Duff McKagan ranks right up there with Ronnie Wood and Krist Novoselic. The lanky bassist has been a driving force behind two of the most dysfunctional rock bands of the past 25 years: Guns N' Roses, in which McKagan played until getting fed up with Axl Rose in 1998, and Velvet Revolver. In between, McKagan, 45, drank so much his pancreas exploded, found sobriety, and formed Loaded, a punk side project in which he -- finally -- gets to be the frontman. On the eve of releasing their second album, Sick, we caught up with the father of two at a posh New York hotel.
You famously met Slash for the first time in 1984 at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles. What did you order?
You would think that somebody would have asked me that over all these years, but no one ever has. Sadly, I don’t remember.
Well, I don’t think we had any money, so we probably didn’t order anything. The owner was a childhood friend of Slash’s, though, so he might have sent us over some soup.
As guitarist nicknames go, does Slash come in below or above the Edge?
Depends. I don’t know how the Edge got his name, do you?
It supposedly has something to do with his angular facial features.
Wow. Then Slash is way cooler, if that’s it. But I think the Edge is killer, man. The Joshua Tree was the soundtrack of my life when we were making Appetite.
Yeah. I listened to The Joshua Tree probably ten times a day. That was the record, man. Still is, like, a top ten record — top five, maybe.
That’s surprising, for some reason.
Why is that surprising? Axl’s favorite record in 1987 was Faith, by GeorgeMichael. [Rhythm guitarist] Izzy [Stradlin] was into reggae. Actually, when we were recording Appetite, Izzy would play over and over and over the Georgia Satellites. It was like, “Dude, enough.”
Thanks. Now I’m going to have “Keep Your Hands to Yourself” stuck in my head.
You know what’s a great song that will be stuck in your head if I say it? “Single Ladies,” by Beyoncé. [Laughs] Killer song. Isn’t that a great song?
No comment. Got any other shocking guilty pleasures?
I saw Katy Perry a couple weeks ago. She’s fucking amazing.
Why do you like her?
She’s quirky. Takes the piss out of herself. And she plays really cool acoustic guitar, too.I went expecting nothing except making my 11-year-old daughter, Grace, happy, but she blew me away.
Cool. Can you give me a five-word review of Chinese Democracy?
Axl’s voice sounds killer.
You have one more word.
Nice save. Do you have his number in your cellphone?
I do not.
Do you wish that everyone would just get along?
Obviously, yeah, I do. But I have no control over that. Look, I saw some really amazing stuff with Axl. We worked really well together. We were good friends. And I hope to perhaps have that friendship back one day, although it’s not something I wait around for. But I look forward to it.
Are you and Slash more likely to reunite with him, or with Scott Weiland?
Axl, if I could only choose between the two. Some bad shit happened at the end of that last Velvet Revolver tour. It was brutal.
What went down?
There were late gigs and stuff that reminded me of [the old days in GNR]. Plus, I’m a sober guy, and I was trying to stay sober and honor our fans. I just wanted it to be over. But after saying all of that, I do have a lot of respect for Scott.
I assume that Loaded is a reference to your sobriety?
Yeah. When we formed [in 1998], I thought, “Oh, that’s a funny name,” because I had just gotten sober. Actually, Sober was on the list, too. [Laughs]
Looking back, can you believe how wasted you’d get?
I was pretty together until the middle of 1990. And that’s when the wheels fell off and the cocaine came in. That’s when beer wouldn’t do.
Not strong enough?
Not at all. And then you drink too much vodka, you need some more coke. And then you’re too high on coke, you do something else to take the edge off. And then you’re…Yeah. You get my drift. But it happens. Some people make it, some people don’t.
Well, you made it.
Yeah. I’m in extra innings, man. I shouldn’t be here.