In The Firing Line: Duff McKagan

DAVID SWAN puts former Guns N’ Roses member and bassist-at-large Duff McKagan “In The Firing Line” to talk reality TV, financial advice and why Velvet Revolver can’t find another singer.

Being a member of one of the hardest rocking bands of all time comes with certain responsibilities and expectations. Firstly, to write an explosive book about your experiences. Secondly, have a falling out with the lead singer to the point where you stipulate that he’s a persona non grata when it comes to interviews. And third, star with your wife in a shameless reality show. But Duff McKagan has always gone above and beyond, and his post Guns N’ Roses career has seen him work as a magazine columnist and form grandiose supergroups all while fronting his own band, Duff McKagan’s Loaded, who will be en route to Australia for Soundwave in 2013.

It’s a warm 4pm afternoon on the west coast of the United States, and Duff was in fine form as he spoke to FL about supergroups, that infamous Calder Park gig in Melbourne in 1993, why he really left Jane’s Addiction and how he feels about the rest of the world seeing his wife, model Susan Holmes-McKagan, naked. If you’re after the same tired old drug stories read his autobiography, It’s So Easy (And Other Lies).

Which band are you most proud of Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver or Loaded?

You didn’t name a lot of bands … I’m just proud of the fact people will still come and see me play. I don’t know if there’s one band in particular. I think just the whole arc has been jaw dropping for me, really. I’m proud of it all.

Why “Duff McKagan’s Loaded” why not just “Loaded”?

That’s a great question. I went for just Loaded myself, when the band first started, I guess to distinguish this Loaded from all the other Loadeds touring around.

Who is really going to replace Scott Weiland in Velvet Revolver?

I have no idea.

Where’s that at right now?

Um … I think it’s at nowhere. I think everybody just kind of got sick of talking about it, because there’s really no guy, so there’s nothing that me or Slash or Matt [Sorum] or Dave [Kushner] could say that would change the course of this question. So there’s nobody now, I think the longer that Slash is out touring, and that I’m out touring, people will stop asking as much. Maybe once it’s settled down, we’ll find the guy.

Is it more intimidating being in a “supergroup” than a regular band?

All the bands are super. The intention is, when Slash and Matt and I were first writing songs and there was a murmur around LA and the music industry that we were writing songs, it wasn’t called a supergroup, it was just three guys from Guns. So as soon as you add that other guy from another band, suddenly [it’s a supergroup] … I mean when I think of the word “supergroup”, I’m an older guy, so I think of Asia, and that was the first time I’d ever heard the word. And we’re not fuckin’ like Asia. But it was no more intimidating playing with Slash and Matt in 2003 and 2004 when we started that thing than it was in the ‘90s. We’re just fellas. Scott, I’d already been friends with for quite some time, so it was just another buddy. From the outside, it’s like, “Oh my god! The superpowers are coming together”, but it’s more like “not really”, but you can’t really argue with that.

Two decades on how do you feel about your solo album Believe In Me?

It’s a good snapshot of a drunken idiot. I think it was a great snapshot of my state of mind … I don’t think it’s a great record, I think it’s a great snapshot.

What are your memories (if any) of the infamous Gunners concert at Calder Park Raceway in Melbourne: the heat, audience running out of water, etc.?

I don’t remember anyone running out of water, but of course I wouldn’t have heard about it – there was no internet then. I remember the gig, I remember just seeing a fucking sea of people. And Australia, well the first time we came down and played there in like ‘88, it’s so far away for an American, and pretty fuckin’ exotic, you know. It was big. For us, a 2000-seater and there was a guy and he had the cross from the album cover Appetite For Destruction, tattooed on his back. When I come to Australia I still remember that one guy, and it sorta signified to me the commitment of that country to our band. Whether that’s an unfair thing or not, but it did. It made me think, “These guys are fucking hardcore.”

So that gig, it was a big huge gig. Rose Tattoo was on it, and that was a band that really meant a lot. I’d discovered them when Guns first came together. It was like a Guinness World Record biggest gig in the southern hemisphere, something like that. It was during that period of the band where things were just getting bigger and bigger, you’re 20 fucking six years old, and things like that became normal. You don’t really know how to take it all in.

Would you ever consider starting Neurotic Outsiders again?

I would, yeah. That was probably the funnest band I’ve ever been in, just because we didn’t give a shit, and we were in a band with [Sex Pistols guitarist] Steve Jones, and everything was sort of like The Great Rock’n’Roll Swindle. We got a great huge record deal. We didn’t try, we weren’t trying, and going through all that experience with Jonesy who just didn’t give a fuck, and he’s one of my idols. Being in the navigator’s seat for that was a great experience in my life.

Slash recently told the Aussie media that he once found his mum in bed with David Bowie. Did he make it up?

He wasn’t making it up.

What is the best piece of financial advice you have to offer people reading this. [Duff recently started a financial consulting firm, Meridian Rock, for young musicians].

Bury it in your backyard. No, I had a financial column for a year during the financial crash, so 2009, and where I did my best service was I would disseminating heavy financial information for regular people like you and me to understand. I think my column helped some people feel a little less scared, to understand what all the terminology out there meant.

“Marriage is hard enough without getting in a fake fight on TV, you know?”

You have a lot of things on the side going on. Is that cause music doesn’t pay the bills like it used to?

Writing doesn’t pay the bills. I just like to write, and Seattle Weekly gave me a call about four years ago, for a weekly column. I sort of fell into it. I read a lot. And I’ve got a column for ESPN, so suddenly I’m writing 2000 words a week and because of that much writing I was able to write the book. I’ve never done anything based on money or how earnings in the short term. I just like doing stuff I do. So if you see me doing something, I like doing it. But rock’n’roll doesn’t pay all the bills for sure. Record sales pay some of the bills, but these days no one’s really making a ton of money from selling records, maybe Linkin Park or Pearl Jam.

Why did you really leave Jane’s Addiction, at the time you cited “musical differences”?

I didn’t actually say that. I never did the “musical differences” thing, because I don’t think it was. It was more to service that band … for a minute. And I’ve known those guys for a long time, and I got to play a couple of gigs with them, and help them write some songs. They were back on their own feet, and it’s weird for me, a guy who’s always started his own bands, it’s kinda hard to come into a band with a 20-plus year history and try and fit in. They were really trying to make me feel like I fit in, but I did my service and I knew when it was time to say, “I’m good. Are you guys good? I’m good.” It wasn’t musical differences at all, it was just an unexplainable thing.

What was the most embarrassing part about being involved in Married to Rock?

The whole thing. But you know what? My wife has been there for me through a lot of shit. She got the opportunity to do that show, and I was like, “How much do you want me in the fuckin’ show?” cause I live with three girls, and it was very present in our house. I fuckin’ hate it, well I don’t hate anything … It’s just not my thing. But I love my wife, and she was excited about doing it. So I don’t think I was really embarrassed, but they wanted me to do all kinds of stuff that wasn’t me, like her and I getting in a fake fight. They were like, “Get in a fake fight about finding a new house”, and I was like, “That is such fuckin bullshit, I won’t do it.” Marriage is hard enough without getting in a fake fight on TV, you know? And I couldn’t fake fight, I couldn’t do it. But the girls got to wear all fancy clothes and we got the makeup people and stuff so that made them happy for a while.

Does it bother you that everyone’s seen your wife naked?

No! I saw her naked before I met her!

Duff McKagan’s Loaded will perform at next year’s Soundwave.