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It’s been four years since we last heard new music from SLASH. But the guitarist has hardly spent that time relaxing—far from it, in fact. First, there was an 18-month, 20-country world tour in support of the second SLASH FT MYLES KENNEDY & THE CONSPIRATORS album, 2014’s World On Fire, which saw the band play to packed houses everywhere from the U.S. to the U.K., Europe to Australia, South America to Southeast Asia. Then, almost immediately after the tour wrapped in Las Vegas on New Year’s Eve, 2015, it was announced to the world that the guitarist, after roughly two decades away, would be rejoining Guns N’ Roses in an historic reunion with Axl Rose and Duff McKagan. Since then, SLASH and his Gn’R band mates have crisscrossed the globe on multiple arena and stadium jaunts, playing to millions of fans the world over on what has been a record-breaking tour.
But even with all the reunion activity, SLASH’s band was never far from his mind. “I always planned on getting back together with the Conspirators as soon as possible, and continuing on with what we started,” he says. Which brings us to LIVING THE DREAM, the new full-length offering from the group—which, in addition to SLASH and singer KENNEDY, also includes bassistTODD KERNS, drummer BRENT FITZ and, making his recorded debut after several years of live work with The Conspirators, rhythm guitaristFRANK SIDORIS. The album, their third overall following World on Fire and 2012’s Apocalyptic Love, is possibly the band’s strongest collective statement to date. From the barnstorming, high-octane riffery of opener “Call of the Wild” to the wah-drenched funk rock of “Read Between the Lines,” the haunting majesty of “Lost Inside the Girl” to the swaggering deep-in-the-pocket Seventies grooves of “Serve You Right,” the stately, quasi-classical melodic themes of “The Great Pretender” to the massive hooks and anthemic, singalong choruses of first single “Driving Rain,”LIVING THE DREAM packs a compendium of sounds and styles into 12 tightly arranged and sharply executed tracks, all of it shot through with SLASH’s trademark electrifying and dynamic riffing and high-wire, lyrical solos.
“It’s a natural progression from World on Fire, for sure,” SLASH says of the new album. “I think it has a little more diversity—some of the ideas are not really what I would consider to be predictable.” At the same time, he adds, “The record is also a bit more structured, with songs that are shorter and more to the point than last time.”
KENNEDY concurs. “I don’t know that there are as many of those sort of ‘epic sonic journeys’ that we took on the last record,” he says. “Although there are songs that take you on a trip, like ‘Lost Inside the Girl.’ But overall a lot of these songs—things like ‘My Antidote,’ ‘Read Between the Lines,’ ‘Slow Grind’--they’re pretty precise statements, and they definitely fall in line with the type of sound we’re known for. There’s a certain type of sonic calling card that we’ve developed over the years, and you can hear it front and center on this record.”
“It’s just a snapshot of where we’re at,” SLASH continues, summing up LIVING THE DREAM. “Which is what we’re going for with each new album—to be present in what we’re doing and come up with something that is representative of and reflects this moment in time.”
For SLASH and the band, this moment in time has been unlike any in their past. The seeds of what would become LIVING THE DREAM were first planted back on the World on Fire tour, when SLASH began bringing in material for the band to work on at soundchecks.
“Historically, the way we write is we’ll be on the road and I’ll have my guitar with me, coming up with ideas sitting in the hotel room or in the dressing room or even sometimes on the bus,” SLASH explains. “When I have something, I’ll bring it to soundcheck and I’ll start jamming it out with Frank and Todd and Brent. Then Myles will start humming ideas into the recording apparatus on his telephone, and that’s how the nucleus of these songs will start.”
“I can tell you that’s the way it happened for some of the early songs, like ‘Lost Inside the Girl’ and ‘Serve You Right,’” KENNEDY says. “We were touring Europe in 2015, and at soundchecks Slash would start playing one of those riffs and everybody would jump in. I remember grabbing my phone and singing some ideas into it right then and there, just being really excited about those two tracks. And at that point there were pieces of a few others, like ‘The Great Pretender’ and ‘The One You Loved is Gone.’ So we were definitely embarking on the songwriting process for a new album.”
The plan, according to SLASH, “was that we would finish up the World on Fire tour, take a little break and then go right into preproduction and get started on a new record.” Which, of course, was not quite what happened. Instead, the Guns N’ Roses reunion was announced, and SLASH went directly into rehearsals with that band. As Gn’R hit the road, KENNEDY reconvened with his other group, Alter Bridge, for an album and tour, and eventually began writing and recording his solo debut (Year of the Tiger). Any work on a new Conspirators record was put on indefinite hold.
It wasn’t until December of 2017, in fact, that SLASH, with GN’R on a break, returned to L.A. and resumed writing in earnest for The Conspirators. In addition to the songs that had already been worked up, he used his time at home to write a few new ones, among them the slinky rocker “Slow Grind” and the track that would become the album closer, “Boulevard of Broken Hearts.”
Then, in January of this year, SLASH and The Conspirators finally came back together in a rehearsal space in L.A. to pick up where they had left off years earlier. “I wouldn’t even call what we did rehearsals,” SLASH says. “It was really about just getting back into shape after being apart for so long.” But even as the band was finding its groove again, the new songs kept coming. The barnstorming “Mind Your Manners,”powered by a turbocharged SLASH riff and a double-time rhythm, was written on the very first day of rehearsal. “I just sort of came up with it on the spot to give us something to warm up with,” SLASH says. “It was the very first thing we jammed on. And from there we fell back into revisiting the old songs, polishing them up and getting the arrangements together. Then we rehearsed everything and jumped into the studio and started recording.”
The LIVING THE DREAM sessions, which commenced in late March, saw the band reunite with producer Michael “Elvis” Baskette, who also helmed World on Fire. But while the producer stayed the same, the studio this time changed, with SLASH opting to move operations to his newly active recording facility, Snakepit Studios. “At some point a couple years ago I bought a small residential property in L.A. and put together a rehearsal space and studio,” he explains. “It has a 16-track digital board, and we did pretty much everything there except the drums. It’s just a very homey and cool and cozy spot.”
“The environment there is definitely ‘SLASH,’” says KENNEDY of Snakepit Studios. “It’s got a lot of the things that over the years I’ve come to equate with him—dinosaurs, pinball machines, photos of guitar players like Rory Gallagher and Keith Richards on the walls, stuff like that. It’s a vibey hang. It was good for the creative process.”
To demonstrate just how good for the creative process it was, KENNEDY points to the lyrics to one new song, “Serve You Right,” which he says were partly inspired by a painting hanging on the bathroom wall at the Snakepit--“a picture of this kind of devilish nun,” he says. “That’s the only way I can describe it.”
“It’s actually a masturbating nun,” SLASH clarifies, then laughs. “I’ve never talked to Myles about it, but the lyrics he came up with for that song, which are insanely suggestive for him, I knew they were influenced by that picture.”
Dinosaurs and devilish nuns aside, the sessions at the Snakepit went quick. Recording was completed by early May, at which point the album was mixed and mastered…and then held, as SLASH headed back on the road with G’NR for a European tour. “That was definitely a weird feeling,” SLASH says. “I’ve never done a record where I’ve had to wait four or five months for it to come out after we recorded it.” He laughs. “Now I understand what actors feel like after they finish shooting a movie…”
As it stands, that pause will be the last extended break for The Conspirators for the foreseeable future. The band will be heading out on the road in September for what will be the beginning of a lot of touring across a lot of the world. “We’re going to do the U.S. this fall, and then I’ll be out with Guns N’ Roses in in November and December,” SLASH says. “Then we’ll get together and do Europe, and after that it’ll be South America, Australia…we’ll try to hit as many places as we can. Because as much as I enjoy the writing and recording process, when I’m creating music it’s always with the intent that it should be played in front of an audience. For me, that’s always the endgame--to get out there with the band and perform the music live. That’s what I love the most.”
You could say, then, that SLASH is, in fact, living the dream. But he’ll only laugh in response.
“Well, you know, the album title is actually meant to be a sarcastic statement about the world we’re living in at the moment,” he explains. “I never wax political on records, but it was just something that came to mind—this tongue-in-cheek thing directed at social political events across the globe.”
That said, SLASH continues, “If you do take it in the literal sense, then, yeah, making records and touring and getting up onstage every day and playing music with these guys, that is the essence of living the dream. And that’s why I was always dead-set on getting back together with this band and continuing to do this. And I always knew it would happen. Because The Conspirators story is not over yet.”