101India’s exclusive interview with one of rock’s legendary guitarists.
So let me get this out of my head straight away. Rhythm guitarists are super- important! Can you imagine Scorpions without Rudolf Schenker or AC/DC without Malcolm Young? No Way. Simply put, these guys were kings of riffs.
Granted, one cannot put Gilbert “Gilby” Clarke on that pedestal but say what may, he was a member of one of the biggest rock acts to have blazed the planet, Guns N’ (fucking) Roses. Clarke’s three-year stint with the band saw him sharing credits for the 1993 cover album The Spaghetti Incident? and breaking all hell loose on stage with subsequent tours until his departure from the band that had too much drama going on already.
“When I look back, as time goes by, I tend to remember the positive experiences. They gave me an opportunity to join a very successful band, we had some great concerts even though there was a lot of drama surrounding the band,” Clarke recalls.
When things went sour people would’ve said, “Oh, he’s that hired guy”, but the fact is when I was with the band I was a member of the band,” Clarke says.
But Clarke has held his ground and stayed the badass rock musician he was with a string of solo album releases that started with his stellar 1994 album Pawnshop Guitars that was crunchy and hardbound rock music. After a string of releases Clarke had pretty much disappeared from the recording bandwagon until the formation of the super group Rockstar Supernova with powerhouse Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee and punchy former bassist of Metallica Jason Newsted in 2006. The trio had innovatively collaborated with the television reality show Rockstar to filter the vocalist for the band, which they found in Lukas Rossi.
A sucker for vintage motorcycles and muscle cars, Clarke, who’s currently touring India along with Troy Patrick Farrell of White Lion and EJ Curse of Silent Rage, took time off for a telephonic interview from his hotel room in Pune to talk about his new venture Kings of Chaos, jamming with Johnny Depp and his G N’ R stint.
Gilby Clarke with one of his vintage Harley Davidson bikes
It’s been a long time since you recorded an album. What happened?
It’s been a while since the last record in 2002. There just doesn’t seem to be a real reason to be making records anymore in this industry. It’s a lot of work and so little reward anymore.
How did Supernova happen and why a television show to choose your singer?
That was a fun experience on how times have changed in the music industry. When an opportunity came up there was a television show that was successful and they came up to me and Tommy saying what if we put a brand new band together and have some of you guys play and find a singer and we thought that was a great way to start a new band to go out and search for somebody really special. The process was great, we had a good time, met some really good singers. But when it was time to be a band it seemed everybody was not putting in the effort, Tommy was still in Motley Crue, Jason had other stuff going on, and even the singer didn’t use it as a stepping stone to put that work in, which was what I was trying to do. That was another example of putting in so much work. Things just come and go so fast, it’s a hard pill to swallow. We did a very successful tour though.
You did a charity show last month with Gene Simmons (Kiss), Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme) and Johnny Depp. What did you make of Depp’s guitar playing?
(Laughs) Johnny did pretty good, the songs were fairly simple that we were playing and it was kind of nice to see he did know the songs, he was ok.
We were doing this gig for Mending Kids which was great. As for Gene, he’s an amazing guy and very passionate about music and he would be at the sound check 10 minutes before me and he’d be like, “I’m here 10 minutes early, where are you? Nuno too was really exited to jump on board as we had played together the weekend before that too.
How do you describe your time with G N’ R, your equation with Axl and Slash? You know, with all the drugs and alcohol and craziness?
I knew the band when they first started out in LA, it was a very close knit scene and when Izzy (Stradlin) left, it was a very unique situation since most guitar players don’t play well with others, they want to be the only guitar player and in G N’ R having that two guitar sound was very important. You cannot bring on somebody like Zack (Wylde) but you also need a strong guitar player and when Slash asked me and I thought yeah, that might work.
My equation was definitely more with Slash and bassist Duff (McKagan), our rooms were next to each other (while touring). I don’t want to put Axl as being the outsider but the band guys always stay together like our rooms were next to each other, we spend a lot of time together. Singer is someone always different, they cannot hang out and party all the time, they have to rest their voice and they’re the biggest stars. Myself, Slash, Duff and Matt can go down to the local bar and get a drink and even though people come up to it’s not like when Axl walks in. As far as respect, they all respected me; they all knew who I was as I was successful in the local scene.
I definitely got a lot of different things being thrown out there, were you a band member or a hired guy. It’s funny ‘coz when I was in the band I was a band member, Axl asked my opinion quite a few times about things but when things went sour people everybody started saying different things.
Gilby Clarke live in concert
You think it’s hard to sell rock n roll to this electronic generation? Would you ever experiment with electronics?
I mean it is, times have changed, rock is not the most important young music there was, it was very influential with the younger crowds while we were playing in the eighties and nineties. Younger kids now are listening to different things, there’s bigger population now and easier ways to find music. It’s very divided and categorized and in a way it’s kinda good, because we’re still out there and it’s also not that manicness it used to be. We were all proud of what we did back then, but we’re also trying to move on with the modern age, it’s like I like the music that I Iike and I don’t wanna seem to you as that old man stuck in the mud and I’m glad we have a loyal fan base around the world although it’s not how it used to be.
As for electronic music, it’s just not for me. Let people who know it, let them do that.
What’s in the pipeline with Kings of Chaos? Will there be another Supernova album?
Kings of Chaos is a big collaboration and we’ve (Matt Sorum—former G N’ R drummer and Duff) been playing live shows but haven’t recorded anything yet. KoC will also have collaborations with Slash, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Sebastin Bach (Skidrow) and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander and more. And no, there won’t be another Supernova album.
What’s in store for the Blue Frog crowd?
We’ll be playing my solo stuff, some G N’ R tracks as well as covers of Rolling Stones, Beatles, David Bowie, Cheap Trick and stuff. Its classic rock but it’s kind of underground classic rock.
(Gilby Clarke and friends will be playing at Blue Frog on Sunday, 11th October at 9.30 pm)
By Mohan KK