December 03, 2012
With the November release of Adler’s Back from the Dead, former Guns N’ Roses timekeeper and notorious reality TV underdog Steven Adler has transcended the milieu of improbable comebacks and released one of the finest rock albums of 2012. At the year’s outset, few would have registered surprise that a member of the classic Guns lineup would record one of 2012’s most bracing releases; it’s just that nobody would have bet on Steven.
Twenty-five years after the release of the multi platinum colossus, Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses continue to command attention from fans, critics and quite likely whatever extraterrestrials are currently observing us. Not only did the group celebrate the silver anniversary of that snarling sonic masterpiece, but 2012 saw the band’s induction into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame amid head-splitting drama and wild speculation surrounding the participation of GNR vocalist Axl Rose (who ultimately opted not to attend the induction ceremony).
In April, former GNR guitarist Slash released the enormously well-received Apocalyptic Love, while ex-GNR bassist Duff McKagan split his time across a number of projects, including his band Loaded and a high-profile reunion with his other band, Velvet Revolver. Guns N’ Roses, with Axl as the only remaining original member, continues a far-flung world tour, recently kicking off a residency at the Las Vegas House of Blues.
Meanwhile, Steven, whose struggles with drug addiction played out so tragically in a series of reality TV shows, had quietly pieced together a group of ferociously talented musicians, including guitarist/vocalist Jacob Bunton, guitarist Lonny Paul and bass player Johnny Martin. With the addition of producer Jeff Pilson (T&N, Dokken, Foreigner), Adler honed their song ideas into a muscular set of hard-hitting modern rock tracks (“Back from the Dead,” “Good to be Bad”), groove-infused mid-tempo bruisers (such as “Blown Away”) and a trio of hooky ballads (including “Waterfall” and “Your Diamonds”). A pair of guest appearances from Slash and Rob Zombie guitar prodigy John 5 on two of the tracks dovetail neatly into Adler’s vibe without overshadowing the core sound or distracting from the other material.
Anything but a scatter shot of generic rock tracks, Back from the Dead stands toe-to-toe with any post-Guns release from the classic lineup; and given the relatively high quality of some of that output, Adler has earned a place in any conversation regarding the best albums of 2012.
We sat down with Steven and Lonny to talk about the new album, the Guns N’ Roses legacy and their plans for the upcoming year.
As far back as a couple of months ago—before the album was released—you had people like Eddie Trunk talking it up as one of the biggest releases of 2012. How did that build-up feel as you approached the release date?
Steven Adler: Well, I have such a great team that I’m working with right now. I know the name of the band is “Adler,” but that’s just for posterity reasons. I couldn’t have made this record without these guys. Once Jeff Pilson came into the picture, he was the piece of the puzzle that we were missing, and then everything came together so easily. It was so much fun. I don’t think a professional football team, winning the Super Bowl, high-fived each-other and slapped each other on the ass as many times as we did making this record.
You recently said that you haven’t been this excited about playing music since your days in Guns N’ Roses. What is it about this lineup that’s so different?
SA: It’s just a great team. Growing up and having Slash as a best friend, I couldn’t have been more blessed. But to meet someone when you’re forty-seven years old, like I did with Lonny Paul—to have another best friend when you’re forty-seven—is a double-blessing. I just love being part of a team. I love that camaraderie where we’re all on the same page, we’re all after the same goal…we’re like a Super Bowl team! We’re trying to get to the Super Bowl, which for us is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Speaking of that, the last time I saw you was on the day that you received word that Guns N’ Roses had been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You walked into The Rainbow that morning, having just received the call. Looking back now, having been inducted, how did it all go down for you, personally?
SA: I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end that chapter of my life. And now, with this new record and new band, I couldn’t have asked for a better way to start the new chapter of my life.
When you sat down to put Adler together, did you give any thought to how it might relate to your GNR legacy? Specifically, was there a conscious decision to avoid sounding too much like Appetite?
SA: It didn’t even enter my thinking. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the Guns sound; I love the Guns sound and I’m proud of the Guns sound. But that was five different guys. And now there’s four different guys that I’m working with now, and this is what we came up with and we had a blast making it. I just hope that the people listening to the record can hear the fun and the excitement and the passion that we had making this record. We’re hoping you can hear that.
On first blush, it sounds overwhelmingly modern. What was in the back of your mind when you were writing these songs?
SA: Stealing everything from all of our influences. (laughing)
Lonny Paul: Honestly, we didn’t concentrate on any trends and we didn’t go out of our way to try to sound modern. We just concentrated on writing great songs and that’s what came out.
Lonny, you came into a project that was overshadowed by Steven’s legacy. How did you get involved and what were your hopes when you signed up?
LP: Well I had joined Adler’s Appetite during the last tour that they did. I joined two weeks before we went out on the road for two months, and in that span of two months, Steven and I became best friends and I really got to know him. When we started writing the songs for the new record, it was really easy because I had been listening to his stories. If you pay attention to Steven, he’s full of lyrics, whether he knows it or not. He’s got great stories and if you pay attention, you can write great songs just by studying him. And I’m around him every single day (laughing), so he’s like a specimen…
SA: I’m a specimen!
LP: He’s a specimen in a petri dish. (laughing)
How did the songwriting process work?
LP: Well, initially, Jacob and I would throw ideas back and forth and then when we got something that we both liked, we’d give it to Steven and Jeff Pilson and they would either say “yes” or “no.” From the get-go, we said, “Look, we need to be straight with each other, and be able to take the criticism. If we don’t like a song, we need to accept that and move on to the next thing.” Also, if we did bring an idea to the table that everybody liked, we were really open to changes. I think that’s the key to making good songs, period. You have to be able to let go of things and be open to new ideas. Ultimately, that’s how we recorded the record that we did; we were just really open to changes.
Where were the lyrics coming from?
LP: Everybody contributed to all of the songs. Even if we brought in a complete idea and put it on the table, everybody had changes and 99.9% of the time they were for the better. Lyrically, I was only half-joking when I said that being around Steven was so valuable because he’s full of lyrics. I think that Bon Jovi said years ago that it was easier to write songs for a movie because you knew the subject matter. Honestly, that’s exactly the case when I put the pencil to the paper, and for Jacob too; we were capturing what Steven’s experiences were. It was the easiest writing time I’ve ever had because I had a subject.
Tell me about “Back from the Dead,” because people are going to hear that and assume it’s Steven’s story.
LP: That’s exactly what I’m talking about…
LP: He’s a living story. Those words literally came flowing right out. When we recorded that song, we recorded the music first, and had a melody idea, and Jeff Pilson helped write that one. Jeff and I were in the studio first because Jacob was out of town and we started coming up with some of the first verse stuff and also the chorus. Then Jacob came in and literally as he’s recording the song, we still needed a second verse, and—Boom!—in three minutes he came up with the second verse and tweaked the choruses. As with many lyrics, he’d tweak them to sound better. So this is definitely a group effort, all the way around.
SA: Well, I think the whole “no regrets” thing is that I have no regrets because I survived. That’s the only reason I have no regrets. (laughing) Otherwise, of course. There’s a lot of things I wish I had known about and been stronger about and not done. But I got no regrets.
LP: But the line right after that says “I will forgive but I will never forget.” I’m paraphrasing here.
SA: That’s exactly how I feel.
LP: But that’s precisely one of the things that Steven specifically told me, about some of the people who have wronged him in the past. I mean, that’s a direct quote from Steven.
Slash guested on this album (on the song “Just Don’t Ask”). Steven, didn’t you teach Slash his very first guitar chord?
SA: Yeah, I first met Slash in junior high school. After we met up, we went to my grandmother’s, where I lived off of Fairfax and Santa Monica. I had a little amplifier and a little cheap guitar and I knew two chords and two scales and he came over my house and we went into my grandpa’s room and put my KISS record on, turned the little amplifier up and I did these crazy little Ace Frehley moves. I showed him the two chords and two scales that I knew and within a week he was already playing and writing songs. He’s brilliant, and I couldn’t have asked for a better best friend growing up.
With everything that you guys have been through, together and separately, what was it like to finally play with him again?
SA: It was the best way to start this new chapter of my life. He wouldn’t let me watch him record…once he got there, we said hi, and he said, “Get out!” (laughing) But I didn’t get out. I was hiding in the laundry room, right next to him. I was right next to his room! It was great. It made me feel good because he’s very particular about who he works with. He wouldn’t work with me in the past because of my addiction problems, and he just doesn’t want to be around it. So for me, to have got myself to a place in my life where he’s willing to come around me and wanting to be around me, I couldn’t be happier and more proud. Things have changed. I’ll tell you, the biggest change was when Dr. Drew got a hold of Slash and I got the opportunity to apologize to Slash for blaming him for everything that happened in my life. Once I took responsibility for my own actions and started making amends, everything in my life became so much easier. Of course, I still have issues but that’s to be expected; I did drugs for thirty-five years! It’s like going in the ring with Manny Pacquiao; it’s gonna take some time to heal after they kick you out of the ring. (laughing) It’s just nice that I got to the point of my healing where Slash is wanting to be a part of my life again, and to have him work with me is a plus.
Lonny, Steven’s struggles have been so public and as Steven’s mentioned, even his closest friends had given up on him. Did you have any concerns about what you might be getting into with this project?
LP: Well, during that two month tour with Adler’s Appetite, I literally spent every waking hour with Steven.
SA: He doesn’t even realize it, but he even spent sleeping hours with me! He didn’t know about it, but I was there!
LP: I felt pretty strongly about putting my confidence and my faith in him. I believed in him almost immediately. Everybody has problems and struggles but he’s a strong-willed person and I just knew I could count on him and he hasn’t let anybody down.
Steven, because so much of your struggles with addiction have played out so publicly, people routinely speculate on your well-being. So how are you?
SA: I’m doing wonderful. I feel blessed every morning that I wake up. Don’t get me wrong; like I said, you can’t do something damaging to your body and your mind for thirty-five years and not come out of it with a few quirks… I think about it, but I feel like being alone is when I have the hardest time, so I try not to be alone. Me and Lonny work out every morning. He comes and picks me up every morning. At seven o’clock in the morning I text him and he comes and picks me up, we have breakfast, we work out and he’s a really good influence because he doesn’t do drugs and he doesn’t drink and all that crap. I just want to live a normal life. Drugs are just a waste of time and a distraction. It’s just a waste of time and I’m sick of it!
The album’s finally out and it’s getting a good deal of positive attention. What are your plans for it?
SA: We’re going to tour and play for it for everybody around the world. I’m sorry, around the Universe. I guess if the record came out on a couple of other planets, we’d play there.
LP: We’re planning on hitting everywhere.
SA: That’s what we’re built for. God put us on this planet to tour and play rock and roll music for rock and rollers. And for the people who aren’t rock and rollers, we’re here to play music to turn them into rock and rollers.
Do you have plans to do Europe as well as the US next year?
SA: Oh yeah! Everywhere. I think I can talk about this. We have some shows coming up in Japan with Duff McKagan and his band Loaded. So Loaded and Adler are going to Japan!
You, Slash and Duff have all gone on to pretty successful projects in the past year or so. Do things feel like they’ve come full circle?
SA: Oh yeah. I was told when I was younger that life goes ’round and ’round. Definitely life has taken a full circle, just like I was told. I’m worried about the whole…No, forget it. I’m not going to get into the whole Nostradamus/2012 thing…I’m frightened. Now I come out with a record. My whole point of doing this and having a band and a team to be with was to be relevant again.
Do you feel like you’ve done that?
SA: Well so far, so good! From all the attention on Twitter we’ve been getting, it looks like we did a good job. We’re all proud of what we did. To be proud is a great feeling. We started recording on January 2, 2012. We did the last Adler’s Appetite show on New Year’s Eve, drove home on the first and on the second we were in the studio. So we’ve been so excited once we began recording about getting it mixed and getting it out. We’d go crazy asking each other, “When is it coming out?” Then the day it comes out, Lonny and I are working out in his garage, and suddenly it hits us, “Oh yeah, our record comes out today.” We were driving ourselves nuts for the last eleven months and then we realize, “Oh yeah, it came out today.” (laughing)
So for both of you guys, this is your new, permanent band?
SA: Oh yeah. This isn’t a job, this is a career. Our goal here is twenty-five years from now, to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame again.
LP: Yeah, we wake up and go to bed thinking about Adler.
SA: Thinking, eating, drinking, sleeping, jacking off… (laughing)
On that note, thanks a million for your time, guys.
SA: My pleasure, Joe. Thank you.
LP: Thanks, Joe.