2001 - Hard Rock
Hard Rock: Since the album Izzy Stradlin And The Ju Ju Hounds, one Cannot say that one heard a lot about you. What did you do since?
Izzy Stradlin: I toured almost everywhere to promote the album. Then, I settled down around Barcelona some months, to separate myself from everything: no telephone, no management, no record label... Then I left for Copenhagen, to return finally to Indiana... Woah, I don't remember everything, but I travelled a lot, in fact. In April, 1995, I came back to work with Duff in Los Angeles. Duff was the bass player of Guns N' Roses (EDITOR'S NOTE: this precision is given by Izzy with all the seriousness in the world!). At that moment, I felt good with L.A. However, when I started to work on my second solo album, 117°, the things were strange with my record label, Geffen: I didn't know anybody any more! In three years, all the employees had changed. I'd given some interviews in Europe and with Japan, everything went well, but when I started to speak to the American journalists, who are really very bad compared to the others, I said myself: "Hey! I'm not going to talk to the press any more, that doesn't interest me any more." I decided to leave on my motorcycle to visit California. For two years. There's some very beautiful things in this State. Certainly, it's not maybe as beautiful as the Alps, but I really enjoyed walking. Just with my backpack, my tent, my bike and my cards.
And music in all that?
Eh well, I I didn't make any! It's only in 1998 or 1999, I don't know any more, that we attacked Ride On. It came out only in Japan and we gave some concerts over there. Then, I geared directly on this new album, River. The concerts in Japan really got us fishing again.[?] We composed some titles over there, others in Seattle, where Duff lives, and a reggae title in Los Angeles.
What do you like about reggae? Already, on your first solo album, some pieces were in this style...
I love this kind of music. People have the impression that that's nothing to do with rock 'n' roll, but... Listen... (EDITOR'S NOTE: at this moment, Izzy seizes his guitar, the most recent model SG Angus Young, plays a part ofChuck Berry's riff and explains why if the rhythm of the reggae is divided by two compared to the rock' roll, the harmonic progression is the same. For me, everything is clear because I know as much about music theory as I do about plate tectonics.) Reggae relaxes me.
Why did you abandon the name of the Ju Ju Hounds for the benefit of Izzy Stradlin?
On 117°, I changed rhythm sections, so, simply, I found that it was more logical to change the name of my band.
Why this title, River? Is it to mark a contrast with 117° that wanted to be an evocation of the desert?
Uh, I've never thought of it like that but it's funny. On River, here's the title "River" and it turns out that it's my favorite of the album.
Between your departure from the countryside, Lafayette, Indiana, as a perfect stranger and today, how do you think you've evolved as a human being?
I hope to have evolved, but I'm not even sure! People who grow up in big cities evolve faster. It's certainly your case if you were born in Paris. There where I lived, it was really very small, and I wanted to leave to Los Angeles to make music because it was my childhood dream...
Did Guns N' Roses' success make you lose your head 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 imagine that one day we could play outside of Los Angeles! And I can assure you that by being simple people, as it was in our case, there was absolutely no way to get ready for that success. The only rockstar side that we had, was getting stoned! We were really very limited as far as a clean life [?], then, when we began to be successful, that got worse. By coming back from tour, we all bought ourselves houses, we got even more stoned... But, one day when I had to be clear, I said to myself: "Izzy, there's something wrong, we're screwing around!" This was by 1988 or 1989. I made the decision to go back to Indiana and to see my old friends again... Before the tour, we didn't have a penny. On our return, our bank accounts were full, everyone wanted to sell us drugs, firearms, in short, crazy stuff.
Before the recording of Use Your Illusion, had the idea to leave the band already come to your mind?
Yes, that'd had to cross my mind several times. But I didn't think of it every day. It's true that, sometimes, the situation was grotesque: Axl left the stage after the second song, and I said to myself: "Pfff...We look like idiots!" But the idea to leave wasn't deeply anchored in me. Music continued to unite us. Slash, Steven, Duff and I lived very close to each other geographically and we played a lot. So I wanted to make another record, which we did: it was a double or a triple, I don't know anymore (EDITOR'S NOTE: there Izzy is again, perfectly serious while declaring that!)...
What was the last straw, which made you leave the band?
After the first part of the Use Your Illusion tour, Axl wanted to make me sign a contract which put me aside a little, which meant that I was less paid. I couldn't believe it. This contract came from a guy who I grew up with. We'd always taken Guns N' Roses as a friends' thing and, at one go, roughly, the singer said to me: "now, we're doing business." Why was I going to continue? Where was the fun? That was the last straw, but there'd been antecedents which had made me flip: during our first concert in London (EDITOR'S NOTE: Donnington), kids died during the show. What the fuck is that? Is that rock 'n' roll? It's to have fun and then read in the newspaper of an airport that kids died during your concert? It's fun to play in stadiums every evening and to start a riot in Saint Louis because the singer threw a fit? You really manage at some point to say to yourself: "none of this is funny anymore." Axl didn't do his job of frontman anymore. And, besides, the others were totally smashed, I didn't even manage to make them learn covers: we would have been able to pass the time when Axl leaves the scene, to entertain the kids. Instead we came up with a drum solo. What's more annoying than a drum solo?
I imagine that you were his closest friend in group given that you'd both grown up in Lafayette. You couln't manage to reason with him?
When he began to gain some money and to get laid, he wasn't controllable any more. Everybody was too wasted. I still managed to control myself, but I saw Steven, Slash and Duff literally killing themselves before my eyes. I don't even know any more if Steven was still in the group in fact: what was that bullshit anyway? A musician is fired from Guns N' Roses because he's on drugs while the group spent all of their time on that? I stopped everything a year before leaving the band. So, during this year, I attended the spectacle of my friends killing themselves. I didn't want to be an accomplice to that, I didn't want to wake up one day next to Slash's corpse telling myself that indirectly, I'd participated in it. And so, I left.
But you returned to help carry out some shows a little later when Gilby Clarke broke his hand...
It's simple. I'd returned to Indiana, I lived peacefully, and one day, Axl called me. He asked me whether, effectively, I could help them on some concerts. I asked where these shows would take place, and it answered in Istanbul, in Athens, in London... you think that I hesitated (laughter)?! I love to travel and see new countries! Besides, Alan Niven, my manager, who was also that of Guns in the beginning, explained to me that the band still owed me some money. He advised me to accept to make them pay what they still owed me. It's only afterwards that I realized that Alan was going to get 20% of this sum (laughter)! I did these shows and I didn't enjoy myself a lot because Duff and Slash were always still wasted. I don't want to pretend I'm a saint, 'cause I did everything, but when you're clean, there's nothing funny about seeing your friends like that.
While being surrounded by stoned guys, how did you manage to stop?
I was helped a lot by the police! I was on probation during one year in Los Angeles because I pissed in aisle of a plane! I had to go to see a psychologist every week, and, constantly, I could be controlled by the cops, namely that they could check my urine to see if I'd been drinking or taking drugs. And if you get it all wrong, if they discover that you've fucked up, you go directly to jail for quite some time. I didn't want that. So I had to stop. Steven Tyler of Aerosmith also me helped a lot during this period: he told me his stories, and if, on the base, that can be funny, at the bottom, it's more flippant than the other matter. [?]
You always see, Steven, Slash, and Duff?
Yes, I spoke to them on the phone three days ago. I even had lunch with Steven last week. He is clean, today, but he is affected physically and mentally. Slash is well. Duff is very well: he just participated in the fucking Hawaiian marathon! A Goddamn marathon! Not bad for a guy whose pancreas exploded because he drank three and a half liters of vodka a day! He's in my band, which is really cool. The only one who doesn't speak with anybody, is Axl. He doesn't call people on the phone. I like to drive my motorcycle and I know where he lives. Once in 1995, I went to ring the doorbell at his place, and he opened the door. We hugged, he made me visit his house and we talked. It was cool, we reminiced several times after that. But, one day, on the phone, I found the Axl of the 90's. He took notes of what I said, and then, no more news. Since then, I've gone to his house for a laugh: I ring the doorbell and there is always someone telling me that he is not there! I'm happy, in any case, that he had concerts in the beginning of the year in Las Vegas and Rio. I'm happy that his microphone worked okay. Who knows, he might have left the stage otherwise (laughs)!