Interview // Duff McKagan
Here’s my interview from Friday’s Irish Sun with ex-Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan ahead of his Dublin gig this week. He’s also got an autobiography out this week, It’s So Easy: And Other Lies, which I’m looking forward to picking up.
“People have asked me how did I drink so much that I ended up in hospital with pancreatitis, how did I get out of hospital, how did I get sober,” reveals Duff McKagan, who answers these questions and more in his autobiography, It’s So Easy: And Other Lies.
The one-time Guns N’ Roses bassist has had a more eventful life than most and he returns to Ireland next week to play in Dublin’s Academy with his band, Duff McKagan’s Loaded while promoting his autobiography.
“I never felt compelled to do a book. It wasn’t some burning story I needed to get out but, simply, a product of me writing weekly newspaper columns.”
Typical of the rocker’s work ethic, the schedule is exhausting: a month-long tour that takes in a gig and a book signing almost every day across Europe and South America.
A jack of all trades, McKagan juggles family life (he’s a father to two girls) with his music, a twice-weekly online sports column and his latest venture, a financial planning firm for musicians.
“The book isn’t a self-help book by any means, it’s just my story: a regular guy from Seattle, a guy playing in bands who met with extraordinary circumstances.”
As a teenager, he moved to Los Angeles and set in motion a series of events that would see him sell 100 million records as part of one of the rock n’ roll’s most iconic bands.
He met local kids Slash and Steven Adler and formed a hard rock group that, with the addition of Indiana natives Izzy Stradlin and W. Axl Rose, would become Guns N’ Roses.
Wherever Guns N’ Roses went, chaos was sure to follow and the phenomenal success of their debut album Appetite for Destruction – which remains the most successful debut album of all time – fuelled their descent into drug abuse. In McKagan’s case, it was alcohol and cocaine.
In 1994, at the age of 30, he was admitted to hospital with acute pancreatitis, his pancreas having swelled so large that it began to leak digestive enzymes into his body. He was told to quit drinking or he would die within weeks.
With the help of a martial arts training regime, he managed to get sober and enroll in a basic finance class at his local college. He later took on a full degree course and this led him to be offered an economics column in Playboy magazine.
“I was kind of terrified when I wrote my first column, but by about week four I started to get comfortable and I found that I could articulate thoughts and points for myself.
“I could articulate it much better in the written word. That was unexpected for me,” he explains.
“I could get a bit more honest and I started to write these other side stories that weren’t necessarily appropriate for my column. That basically became my book.
“It’s a really personal, warts-and-all story, me being honest with me. If you’re looking for a tell-all rock n’ roll book, get some other book, don’t get my book.”
“There was no pressure. I don’t write about stuff I don’t remember – that’s a key element,” he says, hinting that some other rock biographies may not be entirely accurate.
With no Guns N’ Roses reunion in sight, Velvet Revolver, the supergroup Duff formed with former Guns Slash and Matt Sorum, have been slow to replace singer Scott Weiland who departed in 2009 to rejoin Stone Temple Pilots.
Duff indicates the search may finally be over: “I think we may be looking at somebody in December, which is fun to think about. I believe in my heart of hearts it’ll happen.”
Understandably given his history with lead singers, McKagan fronts Loaded himself, having formed the band in the late ‘90s with friends from Seattle.
Loaded released their third album, The Taking, earlier this year, though McKagan is quick to insist it’s more than just a vanity project, despite his name in the title.
“I don’t look at it as a solo project. That would be something different, and maybe something I’ll do at some point.
“I made a solo record back in ’93 and that was kind of at the end of my run out there doing knuckleheaded stuff,” which is his polite way of saying he almost killed himself.
“Mike Squires played on all three Loaded albums. We added Geoff Rouse after we’d finished the first record and he toured. The three of us are core guys. There is chemistry there and Squire’s guitar style on the last two records is pretty evident.”
“We’ve played Dublin a couple of times now. The people who come, they understand the whole thing – it’s humorous and it’s dark. It’s all kind of things all wrapped in one.”
McKagan’s affinity for Ireland goes deep. He grew up the youngest of eight in a working class Irish Catholic neighbourhood in Seattle.
He became the first member of his family to visit the land of his ancestors when Guns N’ Roses headlined Slane in 1992 on a bill that also included Faith No More and tragically underrated Kilkenny outfit My Little Funhouse.
“I have family in Dublin, and actually all over. My grandfather moved to the US from Cork a long time ago. Harrington is his side of the family.
“I was the first of eight of us kids, my brothers and sisters, who got to go to Ireland when we played Slane Castle.
“Suddenly I got a phone call from my aunt in Seattle and she said: ‘There’s going to be a party for you with your family in Ireland.’ And there were probably 110-120 people there.
“It’s really great if you’re American to feel like you’re ‘from’ some place. Being American, you feel like, it’s great, but we’re only 200 years old.
“In Ireland, I really got this sense of: ‘Wow, this is where I’m from. People look like me. That looks like my sister.’”
Duff McKagan’s Loaded play the Academy in Dublin on November 3.