1998 - 117 Degrees Of Seperation
"I came out in '80, left in '88 and bought a house in Indiana, and that's been my base ever since," recounts the forthright, wry Stradlin, born Jeff Isbell [sic] 36 years ago in Lafayette, Indiana.
At the zenith of his career with Guns N' Roses, following the release of 1991's Use Your Illusion I and II, the guitarist opted out of the tand fronted by hometown chum Axl Rose. The break was perhaps foreshadowed by "Pretty Tied Up (The Perils of Rock 'N' Roll Decadence)," which Stradlin penned for the second Illusion tome. "Once there was this rock 'n' roll band rolling on the streets/Time went by and it became a joke/We just needed more and more fulfilling.../Time went by and it all went up in smoke."
Stradlin escaped before the smoke got too thick, and in his seven post-GN'R years, has been lying low, by all reports healthy and happy. Putting out Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds in 1992, and now, finally, his latest, the eminently listenable 117° influenced by but not a slave to obvious heroes Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones. We tracked down the now-elusive Mr. Stradlin at supper time in Indiana, garnering one of only two interviews the reticent musician has done. Promotional interviews and radio shows have been canceled, and word is Stradlin is chilling out in Hawaii even as his record earns strong notices and the record business goes about its business without him.
[BAM] The instrumental "Grunt" is really a classic song.
[Izzy] It kind of summed up how I felt about everything, musically, without lyrics. I was really into it. It was my favorite song. It's something I've been working on for awhile. It's materialized over the last couple years. This record stretches for a long period of time. We started it in like '93, '94--we did some bits then we went and did another with the Ju Ju Hounds, eight or 10 songs. Then the last sessions we did, it was me and Rick with a different rhythm section; we had Taz [Bently of Reverend Horton Heat fame] playing drums. It's a radical drum song. I was thinking of Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," stuff like that. [The late] West Arkeen was playing bass with us for the last session and we went back and had Duff [McKagan] redo all his parts later. West was a guitarist and he did it just to help out.
Why did it take so much time for this record? was it difficult to keep the vibe and the songs cohesive?
Last year I turned in what I wanted to be the record, and there were no slow songs on it, it was all thrashers like "Grunt." Real hard rock, fast stuff. The label [Geffen] said, "no go." I said "OK, fine." They wanted some of that old slow stuff from the earlier sessions, so it was a compromose to get everything on this record.
Were you annoyed?
Yeah, I was pissed. Just for like five minutes. I don't know what to say about it. At the end of the day, it all worked out.
This was recorded in three countries, and you used producer Bill Price. What dictated that?
Yeah. [we recorded in] England, here [Indiana], Trinidad, and we were down there [Los Angeles] for a few weeks. We finished it up in California at Rumbo Studios, which is where we did Appetite stuff [and where Axl Rose has apparently been working for the last year]. The label had been wanting me to work with Bill Price, so I said, "OK, cool." I kind of wanted to go down to Trinidad just to be with the band and record, get away from outside influences. That was a super studio, Caribbean Sound Basin. ...We'd just go out and swim on the beach--it was neat. We recorded a lot of good stuff down there, a lot of stuff that didn't make it.
While you made your first mark as a guitarist in Guns, I understand you didn't even pick up the guitar until later in life, I mean, some people start at 12...
I should have. I started out on drums, and I goofed around with guitar, but I never got into it, it was just out of necessity. When I was living in LA I had a few drums ripped off, my car broke down I was out of money, and I thought, "Maybe I better learn to play bass." Then I switched to guitar, I mean, I always had an interest in it. My friends played, I'd borrow their guitars once in a while, finally I ended up getting myself a guitar, and that was it. I said, "I'll do this." But I play drums more than guitar anymore.
Rick Richards, of course, who is with the Georgia Satellites, had a lot to do with your album. How does that work; are you a "band," or is this a solo album?
I'm just the guy with the deal. I just decided to lose the Ju Ju Hounds name, simplify it.
How does the writing process work?
All the songs start with acoustic guitar, with me, basic form, then we all hook up. I never have to tell Rick anything. Never. It's amazing if I think about it. He just plays, always knows what to play. He plays what I would play if I could. It's like having an extra pair of hands. I've been a fan of the Satellites since the first record. I used to play that record to death. Ask any of the GN'R guys--they hate that tape 'cause I used to play it all the time when we were doing Appetite! All day, all night.
You have a couple cover songs on 117°. What's your philosophy on what you re-do?
Usually it's just something I'm really into at the time, and if the vocals are in my range--that's how we ended up doing "Memphis." We did that song live, as a closing song, fast, and we always got a slam pit going hn we did. We did a Ronnie Dawson song, "Up Jumped the Devil." I was just getting into a lot of rockabilly a few years back, and there's a record called Ronnie Dawson's Monkey Beat--it's got like 26 songs on it, "Ghost Riders in the Sky," all these wacky songs. There's a song called "Rockin' Dog" that Reverend Horton Heat wrote and Ronnie covered. I was getting into this record, and "Up Jumped the Devil" had a cool tuning on the guitars, low D, so we ended up trying that, and it ended up coming out pretty cool. I've thought it would be cool to do a duet, like a country duet with someone like PJ Harvey--do an old Patsy Cline song. That would be neat. Just a one-off single.
Have you ever worked with female singers?
Um... Axl. Uh, no. [laughs]
I understand the song "Surf Roach" was inspired by Pulp Fiction?
The whole vibe of that movie--I think I went back and watched it like three times. I ended up getting the soundtrack; it got me really excited, and it just kind of came off of that.
Any other songs inspired by movies or books?
"Old Hat" is kind of off television 'cause there was some big bank robbery in Canoga Park or somewhere [North Hollywood] when we were at Rumbo, so that was kind of a TV song. I have a couple TV songs. That was written on the spot. When you're lucky, that happens.
Do you place yourself in any musical genre?
So when someone asks what you play...
Actually my dentist just asked me. I said, "Rock 'n' roll, I guess, with some acoustic." I never thought about it, really.
Did he know you used to be in Guns N' Roses?
And would you tell him?
If they press it: "Oh, heat, back in the '80s, I was in a band." That's the reality. It only happens when you go to a dentist, or buy a motorcycle and pay cash.
What's your idea of success?
A day off to ride my motorcycle. That's as simple as it gets. That's my idea of fun: being successful inough so I can have a day off to ride my motorcycle.