Thursday, December 6, 2007
Duff - A Serious Case of That Beautiful Disease
by Mike G
MG: Congratulations on your Beautiful Disease. It's punky, brash, heavy, and has more than a few surprises! Great guitar! Your vocals are another pleasant surprise. I loved it.
DM: Thanks. I want you to know, before we start, that this is my first interview for this solo project. I wanted Metal Edge to be first… Anyway, I really took a step back. I had a bunch of songs. I went in to record. I wasn't gonna sing. Nope. I wasn't sure what I would do, but when I went to lay down the tracks in my home studio… Oh wait, let me tell ya' about this great home-recording studio I have! It's the real deal. It's one of the things I did when I bought the house. I said, "Hey, if nothing else, I'm gonna make it into a studio and I can always record, if not for the public, definitely for myself!" So, I wasn't gonna sing at first, ya' know? But I started singing anyway, and was pushed by a few people I had up to the house for maybe them to sing. They heard the songs I sang and they just went, "Man, this has possibility."
MG: Many of these songs are so personal, like "Who's To Blame," about the break-up of Guns N' Roses. Who else is gonna sing lines like, "Some people think I went and threw it away," or, "I don't care anymore, so tired of thinking it through"? Only you!
DM: Still, I had some really soulful guys singing that stuff. I had Stevie Ray Vaughan's singer, the guy from Arc Angels, and he said, "Dude, you should sing your own songs." And he was amazing! That gave me confidence.
MG: Let's get the Guns N' Roses stuff out of the way. You were offered large sums of money to return to the band that Axl Rose is currently putting back together, were you not?
DM: Yeah, I was. But it's nothin' but big business these days. That's where it all went, and I was wrapped up right in the middle of it. I had folks yelling in my ear, "Hey man, you can't walk away from this million and that million, blah, blah, blah." I had been doing it more for other people then myself. The manager, the label, the band, a bunch of other people. I finally woke up one day, I swear to god, it was just like, "Well, I never started doing this for the money in the first place. So…" Hey, when I moved down to Hollywood, I never thought money when it came to music. There was no way I was ever in music for money. Fame, yeah. Girls, yeah. To be up there on stage, shit yeah. But money? And it didn't really hit me until I had already got the house, the car, then two houses, then two cars, and I realized, whoa, I was doing it for the money. It wasn't fun anymore. So when they asked me back, I asked myself, "If I went back now, it would only be for the money, so why should I start doing it for the money now?" No way. It was ridiculous. It was an absolutely ridiculous thought and that's when I just went, "Screw this, screw the lawyers and the accountants and everything else that's supposed to be so damn important. I want out. I wanna do my music." So that's what I did.
MG: When Guns first came out, rock 'n' roll was stagnant, and you guys hit like a shot of dynamite. I'll never forget seeing you at the Beacon Theater in New York, thinking, "Wow, these guys are gonna save rock 'n' roll!" There was such an aura of total unpredictability to your live show, like no band since The Doors. Appetite For Destruction is still one of the greatest rock albums ever, your videos were all over TV, then it all unraveled fast. What the hell happened?
DM: Don't you think I've asked myself that same question over and over? I don't know, man. Because if there was one thing about the band, we were such a family. We really did do it totally on our own. We didn't have a manager at the beginning, we did everything - we got a lawyer and we got our deal. We didn't trust anybody, and rightfully so. This secret society was created, it was us against everybody else. Nobody could really get in and we thought to ourselves, "Nothing could ever tear us apart!"
MG: Was it the drugs?
DM: Not so much. You know what it was? It was the fame. It was the press. It was the almost unlimited power. We got too fuckin' huge, too fast. It got so big, so fast, that in most countries, we couldn't even go out after the show when we were on tour. I remember we'd all be sittin' in the damn hotel room watching CNN just to see what was going on. It was that kind of isolation, that kind of fame… and of course, us trying so hard to be bad boys like The Rolling Stones. For me, personally, it was one of the darkest points of my life when we were that big. It was so unreal. Izzy left halfway through the Illusions tour. We still were holding on to that band family thing. And like a trooper, he came back out on the road with us - even though his heart wasn't in it - when Gilby broke his wrist. Later, he told me we were like zombies. Nobody on the stage was even talking to each other. It wasn't because we were hating each other, we were just kind of going through the motions. So scary. In Europe and South America, especially, it was fanatical, and we were just dazed. WE WERE FUCKING ZOMBIES! Izzy couldn't believe the change. I mean, we were hell-bent on doing whatever we had to do to continue. There were riots in the streets. We couldn't go from our cars to the gig. That shit scared the hell out of me. Yet, through it all, I still thought we were gonna pull it together after we got off that long tour. It started to happen again for a second for us. I got excited again… For about a minute. But no, it was just too big a business, and none of us had the training for that.
MG: At what point did you think it was gonna come back together?
DM: We started going to Slash's house. I'd gone out on the road promoting my first solo record [1993's Belive In Me]. I was touring Europe and Japan, then I got sick. That's when I started visiting Slash at his house. He has a little studio there and we had a batch of songs. But, ya' know what? Without Izzy, we just weren't writing the old way. We had a bunch of great songs, but the way we uses to write wasn't all sitting in a room and trying to force ourselves to be a family. We just were. But there was a point up there where it was looking good and we started cranking out songs, but it just started falling apart.
MG: Now Slash isn't even involved. Neither are you or Izzy. What's gonna run through your mind when you see and hear Axl up there fronting "Guns N' Roses" again?
DM: Aah. I don't know. I can't answer that until it happens. I mean, it really isn't part of my life anymore so I don't think about it that much. Of course, it was a huge part of my life. I gotta admit, it was a magical time. [speaking softly] We really were an amazing band. The electricity in the room when we rehearsed was incredible. You could feel it! You can't match what we had. I love a lot of different music, and the guys Axl's got playing now are great guys, I know them all, but it's not Guns. Commercially, I think that's where it's going, that's the reason. What a shame. You and I can talk and remember the Beacon gig, or the Ritz gig, and say it was good. It was amazing, but big business rules all. I have to look at it now with that sort of cold eye. That's what it is and that's the way it's going. I've got to move on and I'm happy the way I am. I am so glad I'm not there. Axl's a good guy, but we tried and it just didn't happen. The timing wasn't right.
MG: I guess we could call you a rock 'n' roll survivor, with your severe drug and alcohol problems. You've been sober five years now?
DM: Pretty close… I'm getting there. Studying martial arts has helped immensely. I'm studying with the real guys, guys that have what it takes to get a real black belt. Now, you pay two grand and you can buy a damn black belt these days. It means next to nothing anymore, it's like buying doughnuts. Especially in Los Angeles - there's a dojo in every strip mall. But back in the day of the real full-contact karate, these guys I train with would just tape up their knuckles with black duct tape or black electrical tape, tape up their toes, and go. That was it. They'd really blood each other out, really hurt each other, but that was the development of American contact fighting.
MG: It's more then just fighting. Isn't it a whole mindset? Didn't it help you in getting straight.
DM: Oh yeah. The physical part of it is only about 30-percent. My sensai trains a lot of kickboxing champions, and I'll get in the ring as just a sparring partner for somebody getting ready to fight. I'll get my ass kicked, but I'll get in the ring. That's how far you can go without any fear. And it has nothing to do with being a macho guy. It has more to do with being so at peace with yourself that you can do anything without fear. It gave me the self confidence to walk and talk without compromising. I got broken down to a point where I was below human, but through a lot of work, a lot of pain, and a lot of truth, I'm back. And I'm glad for every minute of it.
MG: So you're totally straight now. You don't have one drink.
DM: Nothing. The thing is, I don't crave it. I'm a recovering drug addict. "Recovering" means I'll be that was until I the day I die. That was a different life. Physically, I broke down my muscles to the point where big poisonous boils were actually coming out of my skin! This is when I was kicking drugs and trying to get back into shape. The condition was so hardcore, that stuff was just oozing out from deep within me. But, it's all out of my system now. I don't even crave a drink or anything. It's totally cool.
MG: Let's get to the songs on Beautiful Disease. Opener "Seattle Head" is really heavy. Funny, I know you're from there, always had a lot to do with underground punk bands in that area, but the song is about L.A.!
DM: Ya' know that chunka-chunka type guitar at the beginning? Well, I was in a band after Guns called Neurotic Outsiders [with Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, Duran Duran's John Taylor, and Guns drummer Matt Sorum]. That's when I wrote this. I had brought my Marshall head down from Seattle and one of the engineers asked me how I got that chunka-chunka sound. I said, "Oh, it's my Seattle head." And it stuck. It's that simple.
MG: You seem to have this love-hate relationship with L.A.
DM: [laughing] Oh, you noticed! There are a lot of things I hate about L.A. I mean, I live here, I'm not complaining, it's just the truth. I discovered it when I first moved here. You think of Hollywood being this really glamorous place. It's a cesspool! The stark really hit me quick. Bam! I moved here to get out of that! I lived right in the middle of a lower class area of Hollywood and it was like, "Wow, this place is just drugs and crime." And I dove straight in, head-first. At one point we were the total kingpins of that scene. So I developed this relationship with the city. I'd fly into Los Angeles and tell friends, "Look at this fuckin' place. I've got this place by its balls!" But is that really where I want to be?
MG: So the first three songs - "Seattle Head," "Who's To Blame" and "Superman" - are hard 'n' fast, then comes "Song For Beverly," a stunning and somber pop meditation. Who is Beverly?
DM: A supermodel friend of my girlfriend Susan. Susan told me a story one night of the first black model on the cover of Vogue. Really cool. She just did it on own terms but she started getting into drugs and she had a little baby girl and she just totally disappeared. So weird, man. She just vanished. Took her girl and gone. Did she mix with the wrong crowd? It's a mystery. [She finally turned up, by the way, complete with baby, to make the rounds of the television talk-shows.]
MG: "Shinin' Down" - Are your talking about the concept of a higher power here, like what they teach you when you're rehabbing from drugs?
DM: No. I didn't go to rehab, I went to the hospital. My rehab was a lot different from the norm. Effective as hell, though. Ya' see, my pancreas blew up so bad, I was admitted into a regular hospital. I saw an image of my doctor's face turning white. I was going to die. Another surgeon came in, and I had to sign something. Meanwhile, I'm out of it on morphine, but sensing I'm to die, I let them cut out my pancreas to put me on dialysis. And then my mom - she's got Parkinson's Disease - she's crying. I even saw myself above the bed, like I was floating up by the ceiling. I question everything, ya' know? I've had two really close calls now where I saw some things. You can read these books like Into The Light, but I'm telling you, I saw something and I was enveloped by something. It was great. If they could make a pill of this and give it to everybody in the world, we'd never have a war again. Whatever it was, some people say it's just nerves firing off massive amounts of endorphins. I can't put it to that. I don't know what it was but it was something. It was bright and it was warm and I was very, very fine with going to where it was taking me. It was amazing and I'm not scared of death because of it. So whatever it is, I think "Shinin' Down" has a lot to do with it.
MG: "Missing You," about the loss of a friend to heroin, is incredible because of its sheer use of dynamics, plus its inherent lyrical anger. It's so true. At some point, you have to realize that junkies are the most selfish people in the world. So to hell with them! And that's what you're saying in the song.
DM: [excited] You get it! You get the song! I'm so glad to hear that. I wasn't sure if people would get it. I lost so many best friends to heroin. This song's about [songwriter] Wes Arkeen in particular. Wes trained with me. He lasted a year. I got him out of the hospital with gangrene on both of his arms. Open abscesses. They were going to remove both arms! So he came from that to my dojo and turned into another person. I thought, "Aah, he's finally made it." But I told him again - I said, "Wes, if you ever go back to heroin, I can't go through the pain of you dying, so I swear to god, I'm gonna just detach myself from you 'cause you are gonna die." Sure enough, after a few years, he fell back in. When a friend of his died in his bathroom, I thought that would make him up. It didn't. So I stopped returning his calls. He would call so stoned. I'd hang up. Until someone else called me to tell me he was dead. He was my best friend! But there was only so much you could do, and my first reaction was, I WAS PISSED!
MG: The song is rockin' yet it's wise. It's got some truly cool chord changes and thar wonderfully strange intro. Then there's "Hope" and "Rain," two songs I thought I'd never hear from Duff McKagan.
DM: That's me, really! "Hope" is about how we think the world's gonna end. Sure, we have the capability of ending it all with nuclear missiles, and the worth of human life seems like nothing what with drive-by shootings and Bosnia. But, ya' know what? Fuck that. There have been atrocities in the world for centuries. We're just another crux of ugliness… Hey, that's a good name for a band, Crux Of Ugliness. A hardcore band… I've seen a lot of stuff. Everybody has. I believe every human being has some really great qualities on the inside. I don't care who it is. That's what the song's about. Start laughing instead of crying, because the end is nowhere near. Take a step back and look at the whole situation. Worry about yourself and your loved ones first. If everybody does that, everything should lighten up and be OK.
MG: "Beautiful Disease" is life itself, isn't it? It's seeing the world through brand new eyes. Like a baby. Or someone reborn. Or like through the eyes of a former junkie who's now straight. Loving every minute of life itself.
DM: [softly] Wow man, you really got it again. That's perfect. Ya' know, I hope you're a good indicator of how other people will take it. Life was new to me. Just focusing and being able to read books… I could see the words, man! It began with simple things like that. You know what I mean? Have you been through it yourself?
MG: I've always been a believer in the old adage, "All things in moderation."
DM: You're fortunate. You created your own luck because you've never been dumb enough to take it that far.
MG: But you did, and now you're experiencing life to the fullest.
DM: Yeah. It's this new thing that I found - Life itself! And I certainly don't take it for granted anymore. I've got a baby girl. Everything about her is so amazing. The guys I've got in my band. Everything is just so cool. I could go on. I drive down and just look at houses. Study the architecture. Simple things that I never stopped to fathom. Stuff I hadn't thought about since I was 14.
MG: Talked to Steven Adler [original Guns drummer] lately? I know you're trying out new drummers, why not Adler?
DM: I'd use him in a second, but he's another one of those guys that you know the phone call is gonna come… I mean, I hate to say that, because I love the guy, but I think he's back in jail now. Drugs… I saw him about two years ago - Izzy, Wes and I went to his house. We tried to talk to him - "Hey man, you're gonna die," we said. It didn't work. He was a mess. If I let him drum in my band, he'd fool himself into thinking he was OK because I was using him. I'd be what's called an "enabler." And I wont do that.
SOURCE: Metal Edge
posted 8:49 PM