1992 - Metal Hammer - Studio Report
In November of last year fax machines and telephones in the editorial offices of music mags all over the world were buzzing. Why? The most successful Rock band of our time had lost a guitarist, and had gained a few more headlines into the bargain.
Rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin had left Guns N Roses. While the band have been all over the media in the past few months, the guestion of what happened to young Izzy still remained.
The answer was provided by his record company (still MCA/Geffen), who phoned to report that Izzy was in the studio in Copenhagen to finish off an EP called "Pressure Drop" (scheduled for release in mid-september) and an album, "Ju Ju Hounds", slated for a mid-october release. We were also informed that Izzy was working with bassist Jimmy Ashhurst (ex-Broken Homes), guitarist Rick Richards (ex-Georgia Satellites) and drummer/percussionist Charlie Quintana (recently seen on tour with Bob Dylan). No doubt an illustrious bunch, but the line-up doesn't really indicate which direction the former Guns N Roses guitarist is taking.
Still, we got a fair idea as soon as Stradlin, looking well-rested and healthier than ever, and accompanied by manager Alan Niven (formerly responsible for the wheelings and dealings of Guns N Roses), turned up in the sunny courtyard of his hotel in Copenhagen.
Izzy settles down at the table, lights a fag and breathes quiet "Hi" across the table. Suspicions aroused by his natty dreads are confirmed: Izzy is now dabbling in Reggae, Not exclusively mind, but "Pressure Drop", the title song of the EP, is a hard rock version of an old reggae number, and "Can't hear em", a song by Stradlin and bassist Jimmy Ashhurts could be descriped as a definite reggae track too. It's also a tribute to the music that Izzy has been listening to for the past year.
"I would call my music basic rock n roll with a couple of reggae songs thrown in. I love reggae. For the last year, that's about all I've listened to, every day, all day. I don't know why. I got tired of all the other music I was listening to. Reggae's been around for a long time, but it was something I was listening to and absorbing more and more. It's so interesting, the way they play. And then, the vibe - it's so relaxing and laid back, but solid at the same time. It's groove-orientated, and I think that's what turns me on about it. If there was nothing else I could listen to, I could always put a reggae track on and enjoy it."
But Izzy's music still has a basic rock n roll groundng, as a listening session in the hotel room proves. It's music which has been reduced to the bare essentials -consciously- without any frills. The production is raw and original and adds a lot of drive to the tracks. The album, Stradlin reckons, is pretty much in the same vain as the EP (which, coinsidentally, will only be released in Europe), but it is even more diverse and will contain a number of acoustic songs and a track with Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood. Izzy's eyes light up when the name is mentioned.
" If you want I can play you a track that we mixed yesterday. Actually, it's one of Ronnie's songs. It's called "Take A Look At The Guy", and it's an old song of his. It sounds good. Most of the record is pretty basic rock n roll. That's what I've always loved. So it makes sense."
This makes it so much easier to ask the question that's been on the tip of my tongue, but that I somehow don't really want to ask: Why did you leave Guns N Roses?
Izzy stares out of the window, pauses, and then begins.
" I just felt I coudn't, er... my input... It just didn't feel right to me any more. I felt like this was the only thing I could really do... I just felt like I had to leave. I don't know what they're up to now. I think they're touring, right? I haven't really spoken with them for a while. But everywhere I go in the world, they're always there. Even down at the street here, there's a poster of them.."
How did you feel after you had finally made your decision and actually departed?
" I felt it was the only course I could take. After I did it I went on a road trip accross the States and had loads of great experiences! I was still occupying my time and I think that helped a lot."
" If I just sat around I would have been fucked. I didn't play any music, I didn't play guitar for a month or so. I guess I just got into completely different for a period of six or eight weeks. But then, I started making up new stuff again..."
When did you decide to form your own band?
" I started writing new songs in December and then I got hold of friend of mine, Jimmy Ashhurst, in January and we put a band together and started rehearsals. We rehearsed for six weeks, then recorded for maybe a week and did thing that way for a couple of months up until the end of April. When the riots in L.A were starting we went to Chicago to do some recording over there."
Some time ago there were rumours that you were hoping to form a band with former Burning Tree members.
"The last track on the EP, "Can't Hear Em", was done with the drummer from Burning Tree. We just played with him. Somebody must have said something in Hollywood... thats Hollywood!"
So far the project still goes under the name of Izzy Stradlin. Is this a real band or a one-off line-up?
"It's a real band. We still don't have a name. We're trying to figure out what to call it. There are some ideas, but nobody's sure what to call us."
Originally, I had been under the impression that the title of your album, "Ju Ju Hounds" was the bands name.
"Thats's what we're thinking about right now. I didn't wanna say it because I wasn't sure. "Ju Ju Hounds" doesn't actually mean anything. It just came up by accident. I messed up a line in the studio and when we played it back it sounded like I sang "Ju Ju Hounds"
After being kept in the background with Guns N Roses, the new situation must be quite a change for you, now that you're singer and frontman.
"To me it's just... I didn't wanna join another band, you know? And I really didn't wanna get a singer, because, if you have Axl, he's a great rock singer. How can I get anybody that's gonna top that?"
With Eddie Ashworth you haven't exactly picked up a well-known hard rock producer.
"Eddie is a great guy. I met him through Alan Niven, and we've become friends in the past six months. He's a mandolin player as well. He played mandolin on two or three songs. He's been doing alternative bands and he's worked in Japan too. But you're right, he's no big-name hard rock producer."
When will you be introducing your new material live?
"I think we're going out on September 30th to start touring. We'll start here in Europe 'cos the EP isn't gonna be out in the US. I think there will be five gigs. I'm really looking forward to it."
What size venues will you be playing?
"We'll just do clubs. I think I'll enjoy getting back to being with the people on a personal level."
After the experiences you gathered with Guns N Roses, is there anything you'll be trying to avoid with your new band from the start?
"Yeah, drugs, ha ha ha!" he says. "Knock on wood. Yeah , basically, the only thing that seemed to give me major problems in my life were drugs and alcohol. But now I've been clean for two-and-a-half years."
Was it difficult for you to stay off drugs?
" I got to the point where we finished touring and came back and we were very succesful. I was in my apartment and nothing seemed to be going right and I knew I just had to fuck off and go back to Indiana. I can't say it was easy. It was just a continious process from day to day."
In retrospective, how do you feel about the druggy image that Guns N Roses were projecting, or, in fact, still project?
"I think drugs have always been around and they always will be around. I don't know what to think of it really. I know, for me personally, it doesn't work."
It's difficult to imagine what kinds of goals you've set for yourself for the rest of your life. You already have plenty of money, fame and success. What are your personal hopes?
" To put out a good record and go out and do road work and keep writing and keep travelling around and that kind of thing. Oh yeah, and actually ind a place to live in between all the touring. Maybe in the States or in Europe. I like both."
Exactly three years ago you did and interview for Metal Hammer where you left the impression that there was nothing in this world that doesn't piss you off. Your attitude seems to have changed completely.
Izzy rolls his eyes and laughs:
"Oh yeah, I was so fucked-up, out of my head. At the time I was really frustrated and confuced. I was completely out of my mind. I was drinking in the morning! Looking back on it now, I'm lucky... I've wised up a little."