Friday, March 18, 2011
"Axl Was Always Axl – He Just Became More Axl"
In part 2 of Alan Niven's exclusive interview with RockAAA he explains his time in the early days with GN'R, how he steered them to glory and his eventual fall-out with Axl
Reported by Eric MacKinnon
“Axl was always Axl – he just became 'more Axl," smiles former Guns N' Roses manager Alan Niven.
The former manager of the band who earned the moniker of the Most Dangerous Band in the World – the hard way – knows only too well what happens if you get on the wrong side of GN'R main man Axl Rose.
Niven was unceremoniously fired by Rose in 1991 despite having helped steer the band to global superstardom and as he reveals, rescuing the band from the brink of being dropped by their label.
Guns N' Roses were chewing up managers across the industry and eating up the patience of Geffen Records when Niven, at the third time of asking, finally relented and took the band under his wing.
"When Tom Zutaut (Geffen A&R) came and asked me, for the third time, to talk with the band, things were in pretty poor shape," began Niven in an exclusive interview with RockAAA.
The band had already blown their advance, divvied up a significant amount of money on Zutaut's office floor, stuffed it into their boots and gone and raged down the length and breadth of Sunset Boulevard.
Their hellion rep was absolutely deserved and Ed Rosenblatt (President of Geffen) apparently told Zoots I had but three months to get matters productive. Zoots forgot to mention the time limit to me as it happens. I had, at first, been reluctant to divide my focus.
I had another band newly signed to Capitol and secondly after doing some research into GN'R I thought Zoots had bitten off more than anyone could chew. But he was desperate to get help with them, all other major management firms having passed on the band.
So I agreed to take a meeting and go see them and I caught the vibe from Izzy and Duff."
Niven played his part in harnessing the raw energy of the band and lit a fire under their then-slow-burning debut record Appetite for Destruction which subsequently exploded from sales of just 250,000 and into the millions but he confessed nobody knew just how big a hit they had on their hands.
"No one had any idea the album would be as big as it became and there was an element of magic in that occurring and if anyone claims that they always knew it would be so mega they are either certifiable or a liar.
I thought the band would be a work project, something of an underground entity, and hoped to maybe replicate a Metallica development.
As for "Sweet Child O' Mine" the momentum had hit in March of 1988, with "Welcome to the Jungle" getting MTV airplay after being ignored for six or so months – so I by that time I figured we would have a real shot at going beyond two million sales in the US.
How far it went still amazes me and it is at almost 18,000,000 in the US today alone.
And yes, I was somewhat stunned when Rosenblatt asked me, in December '87, to prep the band for a follow up album – after all we had been through at that point, and still getting to a quarter of a million sales, on the strength of touring alone, with no airplay and no MTV support.
My point was simple – imagine what might happen if we got that support."
In addition to both smash hit singles "Sweet Child O' Mine" and Welcome to the Jungle" the band also recorded a video for "It's So Easy" but it was quickly canned with Niven admitting the subject matter was more than a little risqué.
"Axl had a propensity to want to make videos that were about him rather than about the band and he shot film involving Erin Everly that was not exactly family fare,” explained Niven.
"Under the guise of persuading everyone that the album was in danger of being overexposed I managed to get the video shelved. I think, in light of the fact that after his divorce from Erin that Axl apparently was very keen to get every copy and destroy the video, I might have, again, made the right decision for him."
The successes kept coming for the band and Niven who oversaw pre-production of their next three albums and even pulled off a masterstroke by successfully renegotiating the band's record deal – something rock legends Aerosmith or Whitesnake had been able to do.
He continued, "the management of the bands you mentioned went and asked for a re-negotiation in light of their sales and were rebuffed.
Informed of this I obviously realised that if one asked one would not get. Oliver’s wretched bowl would not be refilled with crumbs from the label table so I did what I obviously had to do which was to tell David Geffen that if he did not improve their remuneration then the album he desperately wanted to sell prior to his sale of DGC would remain an illusion and that I would take the band out on the road, headlining for the first time, where they would make pots of money and have a great time.
David wasn’t thrilled, but he came to the table. That was the difference."
But in 1991 the relationship between Niven and Rose splintered and there was only ever going to be one winner as the frontman gave their manager the boot in a move he believes was simply to push through a control issue Niven would never have allowed.
But Niven remains philosophical on Axl and the rest of the band suggesting success didn't instantly change them although the way other people acted towards them did.
He added, "the famous tend to have to catch up with the change of behaviour in those who come to think of them as famous.
As Joe Walsh put it 'I stayed the same and everyone else changed.' However the lyric in 'Life's Been Good to Me' goes, put simply, success amplifies characteristics, and he who does not know himself will be defined by fame and consumed by ego and arrogance.
Axl was always Axl – he just became 'more Axl.'"
posted 11:23 PM