While the majority of the ex-members of Guns N’ Roses are creating an album once in a while (in the case of Axl, we’ll see), Izzy Stradlin can boast about having his own career behind him. He doesn’t waste time, he enjoys recording albums that never become hits, but he enjoys a privileged situation: he does what he likes. “River”, his latest work, shows his range of interests, his work is now (and always) the Root of Rock.
By: Sergio Del Rio
Popular 1 magazine; 2001
Translated by: me
Thanks again to Margalida for editing :)
“River” includes a couple of reggae songs, something that only shows that this man does what he wants. Fortunately, “Appetite for Destruction” and the two “Illusions” continue to generate a good amount of money, and Izzy considers this situation to be a blessing, since he isn’t tied to anything. When he recorded an album, he doesn’t worry about the money, only about writing good songs (hopefully many other musicians will be in his situation), and it shows. Whether you like it or not, you have to admit that Izzy believes in what he does, he always has. That’s why he left Guns: he stopped believing in what he was doing, everything was a money machine and the music was in the background, something that is unspeakable to Izzy.
Izzy is undoubtedly like his albums: relaxed but fun; deep but cheerful; sincere but reserved… A real person in the end. Talking with him is a very pleasant experience.
What have you been doing in the last three years since the album “Ride On”?
I’ve been working a lot in the studio. During that time, I edited the album “Ride On” in Japan, where I also did some shows, but I mostly have been working in the studio.
How was the recording of “River”?
Very fun. We started in Los Angeles and then we went to Seattle, Duff’s hometown, where we also recorded some songs.
What do you think are the differences of this new album with respect to your previous work?
This is more like my first solo album, it has a lot more piano. I went back to Ian McLagan, that’s why there’s a lot more piano and organ. I’ve also worked with Rick Richards again, so it’s very similar to the first one.
It seems to me that this one is more country oriented.
I assume you like country.
Yeah, I like some country. There’s some very bad country out there. (laughs) Hey, can I turn down the radio? They’re playing Motörhead and it’s too loud…
Sure, no problem.
Sorry. What part of Spain are you from?
Barcelona. I know you were here on vacation years ago.
Oh yeah, I was living on the coast for four months. After the first album, in ’93 or ’94, I believe. I was looking for a new place to live and I was on the coast of Spain, in Palagrugell, in a house I rented. I had a great time, I enjoyed it a lot. And I like Barcelona a lot. I was there… I have a friend who lives in Barcelona, he’s a promotor, I don’t know if you would know him. I loved playing there, one of the best parts of the tour was the show in Barcelona.
One of the surprises of the album was the inclusion of two reggae songs. How did those two songs come out?
I’ve been listening to a lot of reggae lately. I listen to that artist, Cliff Williams. I recently went to a record store and bought a lot of his work, and everything he’s done is amazing. I was listening to him and I got into reggae so that’s how I came up with those two reggae songs, and they ended up on the album.
What do you like about reggae?
I guess the ‘groove’, which is relaxing… ‘Chill out’ I think they call it. It’s very atmospheric.
One of the most interesting songs is the title track, “River”. What’s it about?
I’m not so sure. It’s a song I started to work on last summer. I had an idea for the verse and I developed it. I was interested in combining the acoustic aspects with the electric ones.
Is there any other song that means something special to you?
Many of the songs I wrote in Japan while on tour… There’s a song I wrote with Rick Richards called ‘Jump on Now’ that I like. I love what Rick does.
In fact, I was going to ask you about Rick James (Izzy is silent wondering who I’m talking about, due to a slip of the tongue I just changed Richards’ last name for James, as in the famous king of funk).
It’s Rick Richards.
Sorry, of course, I don’t know what I was thinking.
Of course it’s Slash! (laughs)
It seems you both work perfectly together.
Well, I’m a big fan of the Georgia Satellites, the band that Rick was in before he was with me. I love their records.
How did you meet?
I met Rick on tour with Guns N’ Roses, in Atlanta, in Georgia. He appeared there and I recognized him from photographs of the Georgia Satellites. I went and asked him, “Hey, are you Rick Richards?”. That’s how we met.
Duff returned to work on your new album.
Oh yeah, I actually just spoke with him on the phone yesterday. He has worked on all my albums. We love working together, we always have had a great time, since Guns N’ Roses.
Do you know if he’s doing something now?
Yeah, he lives currently in Seattle. He called me on the phone yesterday and told me that he had just recorded a new album and hat he was going to edit it. I don’t know when, but he’s doing to get it out. He had an album years ago, but he didn’t release it, there has been a huge change in the Los Angeles industry and almost all of the companies have been bought out by a big one, so he had problems and it didn’t come out. But now he’s going to release a new one.
We interviewed him a year ago and he commented on how much he likes what you do, and how he enjoyed playing with you in Japan.
Oh, yeah, we went to Japan and had a great time playing there. We went with Rick and Taz… It’s been a long time since then.
And what about Ian McLagan?
He just put out a book. It’s a very good book about the time when he played with the Faces, and with the Rolling Stones… very funny material. You can get it in bookstores or on its website, which is called macpages.com. He’s an amazing pianist and one of my favorite guys.
And he’s a living legend.
Oh yes! If anyone deserves that title, it’s him.
What do you think of the final result of “River”?
I’m very content with it. Now that it’s done, I hope to reunite the band to rehearse the songs and carry out a small tour in the summer.
Changing the subject, I would like to talk a little about the beginnings of your solo career. It’s been said that the album with the Ju Ju Hounds was recorded very quickly.
Well, not as fast as ‘River’. I think it took about three months… or four months… I’m not sure, I think three… I don’t remember exactly how long it took, but what I do remember is that at the time of recording there was a huge riot in the streets of Los Angeles (The Riots of ’91 because of the Rodney King case). I was going to the studio and the streets were on fire, and there were guys stealing and destroying things everywhere. After that we went to Chicago to record, so it must’ve been three or four months, which is very quick if you compare it with the time it took to record with Guns N’ Roses! (laughs), but not as fast as the Ramones recorded (laughs).
How did you feel at the time when you decided to form your own band?
It was something very natural for me. After leaving Guns N’ Roses, I went back to Indiana for a while. It was something very natural because I’ve been doing it forever. I formed the band quickly. Not only was it very natural, it was also really fun, we had a good time making the record.
In fact, you can notice that when you listen to it.
Yeah, that’s true.
Many people think the name “Ju Ju Hounds” came from an Alice Cooper song.
Yeah, that’s true, there’s a song by Alice Cooper that is called ‘Black Juju’, I think that it’s on ‘Killers’ (The song is really on the album ‘Love It to Death’). It’s a good song.
On the album, there was also a version of the Ron Wood song, ‘Take a Look at the Guy’, in which the Stone also played and sang. How did this collaboration happen?
I met those guys (the Stones) when we played with them, with Guns N’ Roses, in some shows. Then came the Atlantic concert where Axl and I went to play ‘Salt of the Earth’. When we were recording our album, I found out that Ron was in the same city recording his, so I called him and said: “Hey Ron, what’s up?’ He said to me: ‘Hey, come to the studio and listen to my record’, so I went and listened to it, and said to him: ‘Listen, we’re making our album, do you want to play on it? We’re going to do one of your songs’. He said yes, came to the studio, and we did it all just in 30 minutes. We rehearsed and recorded the song very quickly. He did the first verse and I did the second. It was great. I keep calling him, if I go to England I’ll call him to see how he’s doing. I don’t know what he’s doing now, I hope he has a record ready.
He seems to be a good guy.
Yes, that he is. And Keith Richards, he is a great guy too. Last week I saw Mick Jagger, I went to some studios and he was there recording. In the same room where we recorded ‘Appetite for Destruction’!
What a coincidence!
Yeah, small world.
Did you see the last Rolling Stones tour?
Yeah, I went to see them a while ago… ‘Bridges to Babylon’ I think it was called. I liked it a lot when they played on the small stage.
Going back to your career, with the first album you did a club tour. How was it for you to play in small places again?
I loved doing it, I liked doing the European part. I had a great time doing all those shows.
Was it better than playing in stadiums?
A majority of the time it’s much better in clubs than in stadiums, since you get much more energy from the audience. You can see the people and feel their energy. That’s much harder to get in stadiums.
What’s your opinion now of your first solo album?
I like it. I heard it again a few weeks ago and I like it. There are some songs that I like a lot, and I love the sound of the keyboards. That’s the reason why I went back to having Ian McLagan again for this new album, because after listening to them I thought that I had to get back that keyboard sound.
There was a large period of time between the release of the second, “117°”, almost six years. What did you do during that time?
Well, the first was released in ’92, while “117°” was released in ’98.
Well, I guess that I was mostly driving a lot of motorcycles. After the first tour, I spent four months in Spain. When I was in Barcelona I went to a motorcycle shop, Bordoy, I think it was called, and I bought a European bike… Then in ’95 Duff called me, we were recording and had a great time, so he played on the second album “117°”. It was recorded very quickly.
Motorcycles being one of your passions, I assume that you have a couple.
Not really, I only have two now. I had quite a few, but now I’m left with only two… well, actually three.
What do you like best about riding a motorcycle?
It’s funny, a friend recently told me that he discovered why I like bikes so much. He told me that, for me, bikes are like guitars, because you can give them gas and control the volume of the motor with your handlebar, like shredding a guitar. I don’t know, I suppose I like the feeling of freedom, feeling separated from everything without any worries.
With the release of “117°”, you stopped giving interviews with the media, why?
By the time the album came out, the company guys started to question the music that I was doing. Throughout the time I was with Guns N’ Roses, nobody got into what we were doing, and now I found out that the guys from the company didn’t like what I was doing, which was very annoying. I then did some promotion with Japanese and European journalists, and then the first time in a long time I spoke with an American journalist, the first thing that he says to me is: “You know what? I didn’t listen to your record, but I know you did heroin.” The first time! It went like this: “I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but I know you were doing drugs”. I don’t know… I just wanted to do what I really liked, and all those people in the company didn’t like the songs. Then we made the album “Ride On” and that was the reason why it was released in Japan.
For “117°” Taz Bentley replaced Charlie Quintana on drums. How did you meet him?
Oh, do you know Reverend Horton Heat?
Yeah, of course, Bentley was his drummer.
I’ve always been a big fan of those guys. When Quintana left, I found out that Taz had left Reverend Horton Heat and I thought: “That can’t be!”, because I was a big fan of his drums’ sound. I called Sub Pop, in Seattle, and I told them: “Hey, this is Izzy Stradlin, I want to get in touch with Taz Bentley, could you give me a phone number?”. I called him and he took a plane to Los Angeles to meet with the band. He’s a good guy… and so tall! I don’t know how much in meters, but he’s very tall.
Also around that time, you started to play only in Japan.
Yeah, when we recorded “Ride On” no company wanted it, because they didn’t see any singles, so I decided to release it in Japan. With the latter, “River”, the same thing happened until it reached the hands of Sanctuary Records, a company from England. I received a call and they told me: “Hey Izzy, we love your album”, so they released it. So now we’re with a small company, which is better than being in a gigantic company.
Maybe it’s better because you can talk with the company’s people, you don’t have to talk with lawyers.
Yes, that’s true! (laughs)
A few years ago, Duff accompanied you in some concerts in Japan. How did you feel playing live with him again?
It was nice, because now we don’t drink and we remember everything now. It’s nice to play with him. Yeah, we had a great time.
If you do get around to do a new tour, are there any plans to play in Europe?
Yes, we would love to play in Europe, it’s what we would want.
Do you still live in Lafayette?
No, I sold my house, now I live in Los Angeles. I did it because I had that yard with all that grass and I never cut it. When you live in a house that has grass, you have to take care of it and I didn’t, so it was a complete disaster. Although I’m thinking of coming back to Europe. I like southern Europe, I like Spain. All of southern Europe.
At this time of year, the climate here is similar to that in L.A.
Yes, I like the kind of living there. And the food is great.
Do you like any new bands?
Yes, there’s a band, I don’t know if you would know their album, they’re called Hob Cap, they’re from Indiana. I also like Reverend Horton Heat, but above all I listen to biker music.
So, you listen to a lot of old stuff…
Yes, lately I’ve been listening to Motörhead… and Cliff Williams. The material that’s recorded is very strange and savage, you can hear babies crying, dogs barking… Incredible material, and there’s a lot of it recorded also.
Do you remember the first time you played live?
I think it was at a party. Everyone was wasted and so was I. I remember I had to go out, pick up the mic and sing, and it was like: “Wow man!” No, maybe the first time was at another party. There were a lot of old friends too, and the band that played had no drummer, so they told me: “Hey Izzy, you should go out and play the drums.” That was the first time, I think I was about eleven years old.”
Is it true that you have Indian (Native American) blood?
Yeah, a little, on my mom’s side.
Guns N’ Roses played as an opening act for Johnny Thunders, what do you remember about it?
Yeah. For me it was a great moment. It was a triple bill, first Guns N’ Roses, then Johnny Thunders, and to close was Cheap Trick which was the great attraction.
I remember thinking: “What a combination of amazing music!” We were in the dressing room with Johnny Thunders. Axl was walking around with his clothes over there and Johnny stared at him and said: “and what are you, some biker faggot?”. Axl went through the fucking roof. (laughs) He went to Johnny and yelled: “fuck you!” and blah, blah, blah… it was funny because we used to play songs from the New York Dolls, we did “Human Being” and such… But I think Johnny was just joking. Oh, god, I remember that the show was fantastic! Later we had some drinks, and Johnny was very good with us.
You also met Cheap Trick there.
Yes, Rick Nielsen, Bun E. Carlos, and the whole group. We’re still friends.
You also had a problem years ago with Rick Nielsen (the famous incident where Izzy kicked the guitarist for Cheap Trick in the balls).
Yes, more or less the same as what happened between Johnny Thunders and Axl. I remember we were at Rick Nielsen’s house at a party. It was all very crazy! We had a huge tankard of beer, and at one point, Rick told us: “Hey guys, do you want to see something?”. He opened a box, and it was full of dynamite! Sticks of dynamite! We were like: “Wow, dynamite!”, and he said: “Guys, do you want a little?” “Yes!” So, we took a couple sticks. Then he opened another suitcase and pulled out a gun. We thought: “Wow, this is crazy, man!”. We said to him: “Will you let us hold it?” And he said: “No way, I can’t do that.” We had a great time at Rick’s house. He’s a good guy.
He’s also a great guitarist.
Yes, have you seen the book that he has?
He has a book about guitars, I’m not sure if you can get it in stores, but you can get it through his official website. As I was saying, after the party when we were leaving, we decided to go back inside and return the dynamite, but when we went back inside, Rick was on the floor totally unconscious. A few weeks later we exploded them by a river, something very illegal, but we had a great time.
Over time, what do you think has changed about you since you started playing?
Well, I stopped doing drugs and drinking, which is good enough. I think that as a musician I have matured over time… I remember when I played with the Stones in Atlantic City, I went and told Keith Richards: “Hey Keith, you can’t enter Japan because of drugs, right?” (As you know, Japanese laws prohibit musicians who have been prosecuted for drug use from entering the country) and Keith responded, “If you live long enough, the laws might end up changing.” laughs)
Izzy, I’d like to ask you some questions about Guns N’ Roses, of course.
What’s your opinion on the new Guns N’ Roses?
I haven’t heard them yet. I know they played at Rock In Rio, but the only think I saw about them was when I went into a record store and they were playing a video with someone talking, and I recognized Axl. I asked a guy, “What’s that?”. He told me: “It’s Guns N’ Roses in Rio”. He was sort of doing a speech, but I don’t even know what he said. I would like to hear them.
Is it true that you gave songs for the new Guns N’ Roses album, “Chinese Democracy”?
In ’95, Duff and I were recording songs for the band. We did a tape that went nowhere. So, a few months ago I found a message on my answering machine: “Yo! It’s Axl, I need a copy of the songs you made.” There was one that was called “Down by the Ocean” or “Down by the Sea”, he might’ve used it, I haven’t heard anything.
Are you still in contact with Slash or Steven Adler?
I was with Slash recently. I spoke on the phone with Steven Adler a couple months ago. Apparently, he’s completely clean now.
Yeah, he’s been completely clean. Steven has had a lot of problems, I don’t know… We’re all clean now!
Do you miss anything about Guns N’ Roses?
There’s no need for any further explanations…
Finally, a while ago it was published the press that Axl Rose’s house’s cameras recorded you knocking at his door. Is this true?
Yes. I was traveling on my motorcycle and I passed by his house, so I thought about knocking and seeing him. No one answered. I don’t know if he was home or not.
Izzy topped off his answer with an opinion on Axl: “He’s tripping”, something like he is “in full swing”. He’s not losing any sleep over the singer of Guns. Izzy has his own problems. In this way, we ended the interview. Our man said goodbye with the desire to return to Spain. The simplicity and the warm tone of his answers are still in my mind. He’s really a great guy.
SERGIO DEL RIO