It's been a long time since we heard from Izzy Stradlin. Therefore we were pleased to meet him again in Paris, in perfect physical shape. Nothing could've made us happier, even if some of his attitudes (he sniffs every 30 seconds) and his memory loss sometimes makes what he says sound confusing. Friendly, like all the ex-Gunners that Hard-Rock Mag met, it's without forcing him that we look back on his rich past within the once biggest band in the world.
By Olivier Rouhet
Hard Rock Magazine - Jun. 2001
Translated by @h.elise
Hard-Rock: We can't say that we've heard a lot about you since "Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds". What have you been up to?
Izzy Stradlin: I toured a little everywhere to promote the album. Then I moved to the Barcelona area for a few months, to get away from everything; no phone, no management, no record label... Then I went to Copenhagen, and then I finally came back to Indiana... Woah, I don't remember everything, but I traveled a lot actually.
In April 1995, I started working with Duff again in Los Angeles. Duff was the bassist for Guns N' Roses (ed: Izzy gives us this precision in all seriousness!) At this point, I felt good in LA. However, when I started working on my second solo album, 117°, things were weird with my record label, Geffen: I didn't know anyone anymore! In three years, all the employees changed.
I did a few interviews in Europe and Japan, everything was going well, but when I started talking to American journalists, who are really bad compared to the others, I said to myself, "Hey! I'm not gonna speak to the press anymore. I'm not interested anymore."
I decided to visit California on my motorcycle. For two years. There are many beautiful things in this state. Sure, maybe it's not as beautiful as the Alps, but I had fun. Alone with my backpack, my tent, my bike, and my maps.
What about the music?
Well, I didn't make music! It was only 1998 or 1999, I don't remember, that we started Ride On. It came out only in Japan and we played a few shows there. Then I started this new album, River, right away. The shows in Japan really invigorated us. We composed a few tracks there, others in Seattle - where Duff lives -, and a reggae track in Los Angeles.
What do you like about reggae? Some songs on your first solo album sounded reggae already.
I love this genre of music. People think it doesn't have anything to do with rock n' roll, but ... listen. (ed.: at this point, Izzy grabs his guitar- the very last SG Angus Young - starts a Chuck Berry riff and explains that if the rhythm in reggae is divided by two compared to rock n' roll, the harmonic progression is the same. To me, everything's clear because I know as much about music theory as I do about tectonic plates.) Reggae calms me.
Why did you change the name from Ju Ju Hounds to Izzy Stradlin?
On 117°, I changed the rhythm section so naturally, I thought it was logical to change the name of my band.
Why this title, River? Is it to contrast with 117°,which was an evocation of the desert?
Hmm... I never thought about it like that, but it's funny. On River, there's a track called River and it happens to be my favorite on the album.
Between your departure from Lafayette, Indiana, as a complete stranger, and today: how do you think you've evolved as a human?
I hope I evolved, but I'm not even sure I did! People who grow up in big cities evolve faster. It's certainly your case if you grew up in Paris. Where I lived, it was very small, and I wanted to go to Los Angeles to make music because it was my childhood dream...
Did the success of Guns N' Roses make you go crazy a little?
Yes, a little. I didn't really know what to expect; I just wanted to play in a rock band... We didn't even think that one day we would play outside of Los Angeles! And I can tell you that us being simple guys, which we were, there was absolutely no way we could prepare for success. The only rockstar thing we did was get wasted! We were really borderline regarding our lifestyle, so when we got famous it got worse. When we came back from tour, we all bought houses and we got wasted even more... But one day when I was probably sober, I told myself, "Izzy, something's wrong. We're screwing up!" It was around 1988 or 1989. I made the decision to come back to Indiana and see my old friends again... Before the tour, we didn't have any money. When we came back our bank accounts were full and everybody wanted to sell us drugs, guns; it was crazy.
Did the idea of leaving the band cross your mind before the recording of Use Your Illusion?
Yeah, it must've crossed my mind a few times. But I didn't think about it every single day. It's true that sometimes things were ridiculous: Axl would leave the stage after the second song and I was thinking, "Man... we look stupid!" But the idea of quitting wasn't deep inside me. The music kept us together. Slash, Steven, Duff, and I weren't living very far from each other and we played a lot. So I wanted to make another record, and we did: it was a double or a triple, I don't even remember (ed.: once again, Izzy is dead serious while saying this!)...
What was the last straw that made you leave the band?
After the first leg of the Use Your Illusion tour, Axl wanted me to sign a contract that was pushing me away a little bit, and that it stated that I would be paid less. I couldn't believe it. This contract was coming from a guy that I grew up with. We always saw Guns N' Roses as a "friends thing" and, all of a sudden, basically the singer was telling me "now, it's a business". Why would I go on? Where was the fun? It was the last straw, but there were things that happened before that scared me: during our first show in London (ed. Donnington), kids died during our set. What the hell is that? Is that what rock n' roll is? Is it having a blast and then finding out in an airport newspaper that kids died during your show? What's the fun in playing stadiums every night and then starting a riot in Saint Louis because the singer loses his shit? You really come to a point where you think "all of this isn't funny anymore". Axl wasn't doing his frontman job anymore. And since the others were completely wasted, I couldn't even get them to learn covers: we could have filled in when Axl would leave the stage, make the kids have fun. So there was a drum solo. What's more boring than a drum solo??
I bet you were his closest friend in the band since you both grew up in Lafayette. You couldn't knock some sense into him?
When he started earning money and getting girls, he couldn't be handled anymore. Everyone was too wasted. I could deal with myself, but I was witnessing Steven, Slash, and Duff literally killing themselves right before my eyes. I don't even remember if Steven was still in the band actually: what the fuck is that by the way? A musician gets fired from Guns N' Roses because he took drugs while the whole band was doing it all the time? As for me, I quit everything a year before leaving the band. So during that year, I witnessed my friends killing themselves. I didn't want to be a witness to that, I didn't want to wake up one morning next to Slash's dead body, telling myself that I indirectly had a part in it. So I left.
But you came back a little later to play some shows when Gilby Clarke broke his hand...
It's simple. I was back in Indiana, I was living my life and one day, Axl called me. He asked me if, indeed, I could help them with a few shows. I asked where those shows were and he said Istanbul, Athens, London... You think I hesitated (laughs)? I like to travel and see new countries! Moreover, Alan Niven, my manager - who also was Guns N' Roses' manager when we started, told me that the band still owed me money. He advised me to accept the invitation in order to get what they owed me. It's only after that that I found out Alan would get 20% of that money (laughs)! I did those shows and I didn't really have fun because Duff and Slash were still as wasted as before. I don't want to act like I was a saint, I also did everything, but when you're sober, there's nothing funny about seeing your friends like that.
You were surrounded by stoners, how did you manage to quit drugs?
The police helped me a lot! I was on probation for a year in LA because I pissed in a plane aisle! I had to go see a therapist every week and could get tested by cops any time and they would check my urine to see if I had been drinking or doing drugs. And if you fail, if they find out that you fucked up, you would go straight to jail for a long time. I didn't want that, so I said stop. Steven Tyler from Aerosmith helped me a lot during this time: he told me his stories, and at first, it can seem a little funny, but it's actually more scary than anything.
Do you still see Steven, Slash, and Duff?
Yes, I talked to them on the phone three days ago. I even had lunch with Steven last week. He's sober today, but he's damaged mentally and physically. Slash is doing fine. Duff is doing great: he just took part in the fucking Hawaii marathon! A marathon for God's sake! Not bad for a guy whose pancreas exploded because he drank 3.5 liters of vodka a day! He's in my band actually, it's really cool. The only one who doesn't speak to anyone is Axl. He doesn't call people back. I like to ride my motorcycle and I know where he lives. One time in 1995, I rang his doorbell and he answered. We hugged, he showed me around his house and we talked. He was cool, we called each other several times after that. But, one day on the phone, I found the 90s Axl again. He was taking notes of what I was saying, and then I didn't hear from him again. Since then, regularly, I go to his house to have a laugh: I ring his doorbell and there's always someone to tell me that he's not there! I'm glad, anyway, that he played some shows in Las Vegas and Rio at the beginning of the year. I'm glad his mic worked. Who knows maybe he would have left the stage (laughs)!
Car picture's caption
translated by: @hadnersson
How can you not be thrilled when you are offered to take pictures of the ex-mastermind of Guns N' Roses? An appointment was made in Santa Monica, a seaside resort in the city of angels, for a quick fifteen-minute photoshoot around the guitarist's car. Despite the 'bad boy' reputation of Guns N' Roses, Izzy turned out to be a very pleasant character and was easy to work with. A great memory!