Former GUNS N’ ROSES guitarist Gilby Clarke was recently interviewed by Dave “Higgo” Higgins of Australia’s “Distortion” podcast. The full chat can be streamed below. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET):
On how he came to produce records by bands like THE BRONX and L.A. GUNS:
Gilby: “Back when I was around Hollywood and I had to have a day job — actually, I had a night job — I was a soundman. I used to do sound around town. I worked at all the local clubs, from the Roxy, the Whisky, Club Lingerie, Madame Wong’s. It was just one of those things — you kind of understand it, know? I could just walk up and listen to the band and kind of tweak and stuff, and get a good mix going. When I was in one of my first bands [CANDY], there was kind of an executive producer, which was Kim Fowley. He heard that, and he goes, ‘You know, Gilby, you really should get into producing — you have a good ear.’ I think it started out from the technical side of understanding how to record, and to be a real producer, that’s when you start understanding arrangements and starting to make songs sound better than they were when you got there, and then later on, it’s all about psychology — how to work with bands and get the best out of them.
“Producing, besides the technical side of being able to get the sounds out that you’re looking for, really is to inspire people. When I first started out, those were the days where producers were whipping us musicians — they were beating us. They came from that old-school of putting you down and telling you you suck, and you’ll never make it. I come from the opposite thing — I believe that you don’t have to be the best musician to make a great record. If that was the case, we wouldn’t have THE NEW YORK DOLLS or THE SEX PISTOLS. You’ve got to just mark that time — it’s the best you can do at this time. That’s the psychology part — you’ve got to inspire them and get them to do the best they can at this time. They might not be in Steve Vai‘s category as a guitar player, but what they can do, Steve Vai can’t do.”
On how quickly he had to learn the GUNS N’ ROSES catalog after replacing Izzy Stradlin:
Gilby: “It was fifty songs in a week. From the day that Slash called me, it was only two weeks later I was on stage with them. I had my night gig — I was doing sound at [Club] Lingerie at that time – and I had just done sound for Mick Taylor from THE ROLLING STONES. Slash called me and said [to] come down and jam with him. I came and played with him the first day, and he [said to] come down the next day, and I did that three days in a row. And then he goes, ‘All right, you’ve got the gig. Learn the whole catalog. We’ll see you next week.’ I didn’t get to rehearse all those songs, because the band knew all the songs, and the last thing they want to do is sit around and go to rehearsal with me. They were over it, so I had to do my own homework and I sat there for a full week learning all those songs, and I’ll never forget, the last day I called Dizzy [Reed, GN’R keyboardist], because I was having a hard time trying to figure out what to play on ‘Estranged’, and I couldn’t figure it out. Dizzy goes, ‘Oh, here’s a music book.’ I went, ‘There’s a music book? I just spent a week with my ear grinded to the records.’ I didn’t even think about it, that I could have just picked up the chord charts.”
On how he adapted to being in the band:
Gilby: “I knew what I was getting into. I knew that Izzy was such a big part of the band. I wasn’t trying to replace Izzy — I was trying to find my place in the band, have my own voice, play guitar the way I play guitar. I just said, ‘I’m going to be myself — they either like me or they don’t.’ It’s not something you can fake. That’s kind of the way I am — I never panic, I just go, ‘Look, if they were unhappy, I would hope that they would said something.’ But they were happy — they never ever said anything to me, like, ‘Wear this on stage,’ or ‘Do this,’ or ‘Don’t do that.’ Duff [McKagan, bass] made a suggestion in the beginning because I was playing a little ahead of the beat, and he goes, ‘You gotta relax, man. Just lay back.’ It really helped me lock into their music of just kind of relaxing and staying behind the beat.
“When I joined the band, they had just moved up to arenas. The next leg was moving up to stadiums. This was all new to them, too, so there was a lot happening at that time. There was a lot of discovery. I think everybody, without admitting it, was a little scared of where it was going. The band was never a really solid base anyway — Axl [Rose, vocals] didn’t ever really hang out with the band; he was kind of in his own world — so I think everybody was discovering what they were. When I came in, it was kind of scary that it was easy. I think Slash had always said he was a little concerned that they were changing a major piece of the band and people didn’t say much about it. People say more about it now than they do back then when it happens. I think it was one of those things where it just worked.”
On playing “A Concert For Life”, the 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute concert:
Gilby: “For me, still to this day, it’s probably the greatest concert than I’ve ever been a part of. I was raised on QUEEN just like everybody else — it was ZEPPELIN, QUEEN, KISS, AEROSMITH, Alice Cooper. What was special for me is, I was a huge David Bowie/Mick Ronson fan. Mick Ronson was my guitar hero. That was my opportunity to meet Mick Ronson, and man, did I take advantage of it. I was like a puppy to his side that day.”
On his forthcoming solo album:
Gilby: “I didn’t really realize how much time had gone by in between records. It’s been since 2003 that I made a record. Artistically, it was time. There were years where I wrote some songs, and I jump-started this record a few times. I was working with a really good bass player and drummer and I just wasn’t feeling it. I kept working on songs, and I go, ‘I’m forcing it. It doesn’t feel good.’ When I started this year on it, it started to feel good. What’s different is I’m getting better — I’m a better musician, I’m a better guitar player, I’m a better singer, I’m a better writer. It’s getting more defined. It’s still rock n’ roll… but I’m getting better at it.”
Clarke reunited with GUNS members Slash, Steven Adler, Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan at the band’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in April 2012, although he himself was not inducted as part of the band.
Clarke released his solo debut, “Pawnshop Guitars”, in 1994. After exiting GUNS N’ ROSES, he continued as a producer and solo artist, while also playing in SLASH’S SNAKEPIT, ROCK STAR SUPERNOVA, HEART and other acts.
Gilby is currently mixing a new solo album that will feature guest appearances by drummers Stephen Perkins (JANE’S ADDICTION) and Matt Starr (ACE FREHLEY) along with members of Clarke‘s solo band, EJ Curse (bass/vocals) and Troy Patrick Farrell (drums/vocals).