From page 22 of Classic Rock Magazine June 2011
The former Gunner on Loaded, Velvet Revolver, catharsis, and having “a grand old time” reuniting with Axl.
D uff McKagan is sitting in a suite at a plush London club. He smiles, looking serene and healthy, and every inch the gentleman punk in a cut-down Sex Pistols T-shirt and de rigueur leather strides.
“I wake up and I’m glad to be alive,” he says.
“I don’t get pent up any more. I’m in on the joke, especially of my own profession.”
He has reason to be content with his lot. He’s happily married, and raising two daughters in his home town of Seattle. His creative slate is full: there is The Taking , the third album for his band Loaded, and its accompanying film; a spell writing songs for Jane’s Addiction, old pals from the LA club scene; a 140,000-word draft of a memoir, and the two magazine columns he writes; all to be followed with a tour with Judas Priest, and festival gigs including Download. He even managed to cram in a jam with former Guns N’ Roses team-mate Steven Adler the night before our meeting – an appearance that drew slightly less attention than his last similar outing with Axl Rose at the O2 in London. “Can’t think why that would be,” he says wryly.
Over the the past year you’ve done a lot of different things. How easy was it to find an identity for your band Loaded among all of that?
Well, Loaded is my musical focus. Jane’s was just a thing I went into to help them write a new record. Eric Avery had left, and I’ve known them since, what, ’86, when they were doing the clubs and Guns were too. If I’m writing for Jane’s Addiction, that’s a whole different side to my brain. For Loaded the inception of a lot of these songs happened on the road. We didn’t really take a break. [Producer] Terry Date came in, and he takes a holistic approach. “Hey Duff, what’s going on? You got time to give me 14 hours a day?” Ah, okay, you’re telling me to shut everything else down. So I shut everything else down. I don’t know what level this band will ever get to, but it doesn’t really matter. We have a loyal following who get our dark side and our humour.
That said, We Win , the lead-off track from The Taking , is the new anthem for Major League Baseball.
The record was so far from being out, and Major League baseball wanted to use it for the fucking World Series ! Are you kidding me? For this band to be played on national TV... that doesn’t happen. We’re a little, scrappy indie band. We’re left-of-centre. We do things because we like how it sounds. If somebody comes into the band through We Win it’ll be interesting.
The Taking has an accompanying film. Is it a concept album? To call it a concept record is probably too strong. But there was a situation in which somebody on the tour bus and his wife, who we’re great friends with, became fractured in their relationship. We couldn’t and we wouldn’t ever take sides, but you witness the initial fracture and then the heartbreak and the anger. Then they got divorced, and they became better friends than they ever were, and they’re best friends now. That’s sort of where We Win comes in. But I didn’t write the first lyric on the record. Mike Squires brought in Easier Lying , and that set the tone: oh, so we’re writing about that... That informed me for She’s An Anchor , and then Wrecking Ball , which is self-explanatory. It was great to be able to write a third-person account drawing from shit I’ve been through.
And the film tells that story?
No. We realised when we got it down it had a theme, but instead of making a movie on that story it’s about our drummer who gets kidnapped. It happens all in one day, like [Beatles film] Hard Day’s Night . The plan is to show it at the Seattle International Film Festival on June 12 and see what happens from there.
You’ve also been working on a memoir. How does that fit in? I wrote 140,000 words for a book. It’s not really a memoir, it’s more about a specific time: a descent into addiction and desperation and terror. All of a sudden you realise, wait a minute, other people are going to be reading this. I gotta be honest here. In that honesty I really found my part in events. So many people have asked me: “How much did you drink?” “How many drugs did you take?” “How did you get sober?” And I could tell you how much drink or drugs, but it’s so much that you’d just shut off. It ends up being empty words. It’s the difference between a person at 19 who was relatively healthy and one who at 28 was okay with the idea that he was going to die in a year. The terror that you’re living in, complete and utter terror, and then the way out. And it was really emotional. My wife was like: “What’s up with you?” I didn’t want her to read it, because it was dark, but in the end it was really cathartic.
What’s happening with Velvet Revolver?
Nothing. We auditioned a couple of singers but nothing’s really struck a chord with all of us. And we’re a democratic band; you’ve gotta go to war together. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I think if it’s gonna happen it’s gonna happen when it happens.
And your brief appearance with Axl at the O2?
I got nothing to say about that any more. I wrote about it, and I thought, right, that’s the only time I’m going to talk about it.
But everyone wants to know what he’s like now.
Never in a million years would I give a personal opinion on that. We have too much common history and respect. But I’m pleased that he and I ended up being in hotel rooms [in London] next to each other, because it forced us to reconnect. It just happened and...
What’s he like? Well, we had a grand old time. We went down to the gig together. I know the guys in his band, I know the crew – they were going to be surprised, that was half the thing. I was tired by that point. I was drinking Red Bull, so I was half out of my mind. Next thing I know I was playing. It was odd when I looked out in the crowd – everybody’s looking at me. I’m like, oh, I’m going to have to explain this in every interview I do now.
The Taking is out now on Armoury Records. Duff McKagan’s Loaded play Download, June 10-12