- 29 Aug 19
Gun N’Roses legend Duff McKagan talks about taking inspiration from the band’s blockbuster world tour for his stunning solo album, Tenderness, and why he’s looking forward to hitting Stradbally.
“I hit on something that I’ve wanted to do for 20 years,” enthuses Duff McKagan. The Stradbally-bound Guns N’ Roses bass-player is waxing lyrical about his latest album Tenderness, an Americana odyssey recorded with Shooter Jennings and his band. “I’ve been really inspired by Mark Lanegan’s first couple of records and early Johnny Thunders acoustic numbers like ‘So Alone’ and ‘Que Sera Sera’ I’ve approached it before with ‘Wasted Heart’ and a couple of songs in the ‘90s but this is the real deal.”
McKagan is best-known for his time with Axl et al but other high-profile musical activities include his own Loaded and Walking Papers projects, and a stint alongside Slash and Scott Weiland in Velvet Revolver. The 55-year-old has proved to be quite the versatile character over the years; writing for Seattle Weekly and other titles and after a stint studying finance he established wealth management firm Meridian Rock. Tenderness is his second solo effort following 1993’s Believe In Me. The new album, which deals with a host of topical subjects was mostly written when McKagan was on the Not In This Lifetime tour with Guns N’ Roses.
“I was just kind of 10,000 feet above everything, observing everyone around me,” he muses. “This big divide that they’re talking about in America, really isn’t there. You go out and talk to lots of people and experience things in real life – there’s just no divide, it’s another talking point to sell news.”
The Guns tour which started in spring 2016 and finished up in winter 2019 was the fourth highest grossing one in history.
“Wasn’t that something?” he exclaims. “It was really special to do that tour and to see how many people showed up, just everywhere we went; from Kuala Lumpur to Johannesburg, to Slane, to Buenos Aires and Taipei. What we wanted to do with those shows was to give people hope in humanity. It was a wonderful display of togetherness under the umbrella of a rock ‘n’ roll band and the audience. The audiences were fantastic! We saw everything; women in Muslim countries with full head coverings but with devil horns up rocking the fuck out, it was amazing.”
The subject matter on Tenderness makes it McKagan’s most political statement to date, in fact it is considered a musical follow-up to his 2015 book How To Be A Man. #MeToo, homelessness, drug addiction, loss and social media are all ripe for examination here but as the title suggests Duff considers human compassion to be an important part of the solution.
“That’s the overarching arc I was hoping to achieve,” he nods. “It is sort of a concept record and the concept was that we’re all in this together, we always have been and while we might fight over what politicians say - it’s bigger than that. This is a hopeful record, there’s so much going on in the world but we can all get through this.”
One of the most personal moments is ‘Feel’, a song inspired by the loss of friends such as Chris Cornell, Scott Weiland and Chester Bennington. Being close to Chris, did he realise his friend was suffering?
“No, I didn’t see anything,” he rues. “I know about his lifelong struggle with depression and I’ve had some touches of that myself, I have experience there. If that takes over in a lonely moment in a hotel room, I know what that’s like. Chris and Chester both had kids the same age as mine so we would have hung out a lot as parents.”
“Scott, the heartbreaking fall - you see it coming and then it happens and I was struggling to deal with that,” he explains. “Except for Scott, it all happened while we were on tour and ‘Feel’ came out of just sitting down. It took me three minutes to write the song, really. It was emotion just kind of pouring out.”
With its acoustic guitar and winsome vocal, ‘Feel’ is a classic country lament, which captures the loss beautifully.
“I don’t really have any connection with country, except for Johnny Cash,” Duff reflects. “My intent wasn’t for this to be an Americana or country-ish sounding record, but with Shooter’s band coming in with a pedal steel and a violin, you’re gonna get that feel. This was probably time for me to do a record like this. It’s topically important, I needed to do this for my daughters.”
As the father of two girls he was driven to write his #MeToo anthem, ‘It Happened Last September’, and his parental impulses were also in play when addressing the scourge of social media on ‘It’s Not Too Late’ where he urges the listener to ‘turn off the screen’.
“Social media has had a really negative impact,” he states. “We’ve all seen people go down the rabbit hole. They start talking differently and getting very opinionated but are being misinformed. I think society will learn how to deal with this. It’s all still new to us. I’ve raised my girls through this and you have to be extra careful. I started getting addicted, I was checking news constantly and it was like doing crack cocaine. There was a moment where I thought, ‘This is not good for me’, and I turned it all off. I went back to why I started Twitter in the first place - to follow my Seattle sports teams!”
The current state of world affairs is hard to ignore, so will the GnR album be political, I ask casually?
“Oh, look at you go! I like how you slipped that in there!’ he laughs (all Guns N’ Roses members have remained tightlipped on the project). “All rock ‘n’ roll is kinda socially conscious,” he ventures. “Rock ‘n’ roll is rebellion; it’s us against the man. It’s always been that way. If you listen to ‘Welcome To the Jungle’ it’s social commentary, ‘Paradise City’ is social commentary. Anything we do is well-rounded, reflecting the full experience of life.”
And what stage are they at?
“Uh, I can only say that things are very positive in that camp.”
“And in classic Guns fashion I won’t tell you anything more!”
Duff can tell us, however, what to expect from his Electric Picnic set. “Well, I’ve got Shooter and his band and by that point we’ll have done America, so we’ll be smoking!” he grins. “We’ll play songs other than just what’s on the record; we have a lot of really fun ideas in that respect.”
Some Guns N’ Roses songs perchance?
“I mean there might be, there might be,” he says cautiously. “Actually Shooter’s two favourite records as a kid - he’s just turning forty - were Use Your Illusion 1 and 2. So he’s constantly talking about what songs we should play!”
We can but hope!