Friday, February 8, 2008

Classic Rock Magazine - Chinese Democracy Article

Buckethead was born Brian Carroll in 1969 and, aged 13, moved to Claremont, California where he took guitar lessons from future Mr Big guitarist Paul Gilbert for a year.

By the time he joined Guns N’ Roses in 2000, he’d already released five solo albums of dysfunctional funk metal and scorching shred guitar, building up a sizeable cult following, particularly among guitar players. With his blank white mask (redolent of Michael Myers from the movie Halloween) and signature KFC bucket hat, Buckethead was pretty much the polar opposite/ negative image of top-hatted, easy going Slash – and an inspired replacement for that very reason. (For a while the rumour among hopeful GN’R fans was that Buckethead was Slash in disguise. To this day Paul Gilbert still gets asked if he is Buckethead.)

By the time Zutaut joined the Chinese Democracy project, Buckethead had left, frustrated by what he saw as the band’s inactivity. Axl wanted him back.

So Zutaut arranges a meeting with Brian/Bucket at a deli in LA and listens as the guitarist explains why he left: he doesn’t get on with Roy Thomas Baker, he’s frustrated at the whole situation – at coming in to the studio everyday when Axl’s not even there, playing the same parts over and over. Axl’s his hero, he tells him, but he just spent a year going nowhere. He doesn’t think the record will ever come out and he just has to move on with his life.

Tom leans in to him: “Look,” he says, “I got almost six albums out of GN’R. I’m talking to Axl everyday. I feel pretty good. I think I can get the record finished. “You’re a genius,” he tells him, “I’d love to work with you. You’re one of the few people that can be in GN’R and make GN’R special the way Slash made it special. I promise you that I will be in the studio with you everyday and I will help you get what you want done and I won’t tell you to be Slash.”

What, Zutaut asked, could he do to make the recording experience better for him? Suddenly, says Zutaut, Brian Carroll was transformed in front of his eyes. “He went into Buckethead mode,” says Tom. “I mean, I was talking to Brian, who was confiding in me, and suddenly he was Buckethead and he was telling me some story about how his parents were chickens and he was a chicken–how his mum was a hen and his dad was a rooster. I couldn’t tell whether it was fantasy or reality or who I was even talking to. But he believed it!

“Then it’s like Brian comes back and he’s kinda saying, ‘You know I’d really like to make a movie of my life story and how I was raised in a chicken coop – it’s the only place where I really feel comfortable’.”

Which is when Zoot has a brainwave. “Well, you’ve just told me how you don’t feel right in the studio,” he says. “What if we built you a chicken coop in the studio for you to record your guitar parts?’

Brian’s jaw drops: “Would you really do that?” “Well,” says Torn, “it’s my job to find out whatever it is that will help you get the best creativity out of yourself.”

“If I could have my own chicken coop in the studio,” says Buckethead, “my own world to live in, I could play a lot better.”

Two days later, it was built. “It’s like an apartment within the studio that’s a chicken coop,” says Zutaut. ‘He’s got his chair to record and a little mini sofa in there, and there’s, like, a rubber chicken with its head cut off hanging from the ceiling and body parts. It’s totally Buckethead’s world. It’s like Halloween in the chicken coop: part chicken coop, part horror movie. We built the coop and then he brought in all his props and toys and put straw on the floor. You could almost smell the chickens.

“No one was allowed to go in there apart from the assistant engineers to adjust mics –you could not destroy the spirit and karmic vibe of the coop, his personal retreat. But – it’s chicken wire. You could stand outside and talk, looking through, hut nobody was allowed in there with his hacked up dolls and rubber chickens and heads...”

With Buckethead back to work (Q: Does he come in with a mask on and a KFC bucket? Zutaut: “He’s got a bucket, but he doesn’t wear it always–just sometimes for inspiration”), once again Chinese Democracy, is a work in progress, with a lead guitarist ensconced in a chicken coop, wailing away. (Q: Does everyone call him Brian or Buckethead? Zutaut: “Just Bucket. Like, Whassup, Bucket?”)


Buy the February issue of Classic Rock Magazine to read the entire article. On newstands now.

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