Metal Edge Magazine, May 1999, Playback: Hard Rock in Review
It's hard to imagine, but it's been almost six years since Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan released hi debut solo outing, Believe in Me, and nearly eight years since Guns released an album of original material. While the sound of Axl Rose's silence is deafenig, McKagan's filling the void more than ably with his brand-new Beautiful Disease. And though McKagan may be older and wiser, the lanky bass player hasn't mellowed with age.
On "Who's to Blame" he addresses the demise of GN'R, musing, "I don't care about it anymore, so tired of thinking it through... Who's to blame, me or you?" The introspective singer/songwriter touches on his sobriety in "Then and Now," a rave-up song penned with Paul Soger, a bandmate from McKagan's early punk outfit, the Fartz, while in the epic "Rain," lovely strings accompany an ode to McKagan's baby daughter.
While McKagan's vocals may be the weak link on Beautiful Disease, the variety, structure and emotion of the 13 songs more than compensate for his ordinary, slightly hoarse singing, which is morelikable on the energetic rather than the less successful softer numbers. The Duffster, too, had the smarts to surround himself with suitable talent for the writing and recording: At the LP's sonic helm is producer Noel Golden (Sammy Hagar, Beth Hart), while joining in on the instrumental and co-writing end are such names as Al Bloch (a longtime Seattle conhort and formerly in Wool), Michael Barragan (of Plexi) and low-profile ex Guns guitarist Izzy Stradlin. In fact, "Put You Back, " a McKagan/Stradlin effort, has the Stradlin stamp in the slide guitar and memorably cool vibe, while "Shinin' Down," a Bloch co-write, is a spare, fun, bass-driven punker. At the end of the day- and album- McKagan's created a beautiful mess, one well worth getting into. - Katherine Turman
Hit Parader Magazine, May 1999,
Hit Or Miss: Compiled By the Hit Parader Staff
McKagan: Laying Down His Guns
Hit Parader: May 1999
By: Andy Secher
"I was offered a lot of money to stay in Guns 'N Roses - but I never did this for money."
To a generation of fans - especially those weaned during the late '80s and early '90s - the name Duff McKagan will always be intimately involved with one of rock's most legendary bands...Guns 'N Roses. After all, the tall, blonde bass beater was one of the few more - or - less stable ingredients in a notoriously tempestuous group that managed to sell over 20 million albums between their various tiffs, breakups and internal difficulties. That impressive sales total, combined with an unmistakable attitude and arrogance, became the Gunners' trademarks, and served to mark that unit (which also featured Axl Rose, Slash and Izzy Stradlin) as one of the most successful and influential bands in rock history.
But as we now fast approach the Millennium, it seems that Mr. McKagan has begun to distance himself from his historic past - as well as from many of the hedonistic practices which so characterized the Gunners' position atop the rock hierarchy. Today we find a clean and sober Duff, a guy who no longer wants to answer to the title of "bassist for Guns 'N Roses". Instead, the 34 year-old McKagan has decided to turn his life around; a life that was almost destroyed a few years ago due to more than a decade's worth of suffering from "rock star disease" ...a penchant for too many drugs and too many drinks. So rather than responding to Rose's offer to join the most recent studio incarnation of G 'N R, Duff has revitalized his musical career with his latest solo outing, Beautiful Disease, a diverse and inspiring rock and roll collection that does indeed prove that there will clearly be life after G 'N R for this multi-talented performer.
<"So much has gone on in my life over the last few years," he said. "Some of it was less than thrilling, but other parts have been really goog. Having to battle against the ravages of my lifestyle was really difficult, but overcoming my dependencies was the best thing that ever happened to me. It opened my eyes it turned my life around. It made me realize what was really important to me. I was offered a lot of money to stay in Guns 'N Roses, and I was very honored by that. But I realized that I had never gotten into making music for the money in the first place, so why should I start doing things for the money now?"<"When I was released from the hospital the doctor said, 'if you go and have even one more drink, you will die. Just have a beer, and you'll be dead,'" McKagan said. "I'm fortunate that happened. Before that happened, I was trying to stop, but I couldn't."
<"A friend of mine a guy who works at my record label said that the music on this record reminds him of the Apocalypse," McKagan said. "That's because you're still standing afterwards going, 'Hey, I'm still here.' Lyrically, that's kind of what this album is."
Joined by such friends as his former G 'N R buds Slash and Izzy, on such songs as Superman, Put You Back and Hope, McKagan shows that he has the style, spirit and the talent to make a significant impact on the late '90s rock world. He realizes that his new disc isn't about to compete with the classic Guns 'N Roses albums for time or attention, bu that's not his goal. Nope, Duff McKagan is a survivor, and at least for the time being, that's more than enough to keep him happy.
"I'm not saying that is the best record ever made," he said. "But it's the best one that I could do. I didn't write this record to get hit songs. I wrote it because it meant something to me. I'm very proud of it."
Duff McKagan: A
Serious Case Of That Beautiful Disease
Metal Edge, June 1999
By: Mike G
Former Guns N' Roses bassist Duff McKagan sat on top of the world for awhile. Guns ruled -- then they fell apart. Quickly. For Duff, post-Guns life was drugs, alcohol, punk bands, ill health, and a serious hospital stay where docs told him that if he had just one more drink, he'd die. He took that to heart, got right, found a lady, and had a baby. Today, at 34, he looks and sounds great. His second solo CD, Beautiful Disease, is an ambitious affair filled with great hooks, intriguing autobiographical originals, surprising Duff vocals, and a baby-new view of the world that finds the formerly-jaded L.A. kingpin hooked on natural day-to-day life. Sober, smart, and literate, Duff McKagan deserves to be heard.
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 who 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 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 kind of 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 away from this million and that million, blah blah blah." I had been doing it more for other people than 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: 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 Believe 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 used 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 and 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 goes. 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, can 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 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 than 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 had nothing to do with being a macho guy. It had 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 way until 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 conditioning 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 the 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 Gun 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 that truth. I discovered it when I first moved here. You think of Hollywood being this really glamorous place. Its a cesspool! The stark reality 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 f.ckin' 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 her 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 talkshows.]
MG: "Shinin' Down" -- Are you 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 and 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 this 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, "Ahh, 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 wake 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 that 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? F.ck that. There have been atrocities in the world for centuries. We're just at 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 whos 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 the band. Everything is just so cool. I could go on. I drive down and just look at houses. Study the architecture. Simple things like that I never stopped to fathom. Stuff I hadn't thought about since I was 14.
MG: Talked to Steven Adler lately [original Guns drummer]? 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 won't do that.
Copyright Various Author's And Their Various Publishing Magazines As Stated