A Conversation With Guitarist Gilby Clarke

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Gilby Clarke first hit the LA scene as the leader of bands like Candy and Kill For Thrills before getting his big break to replace Izzy Stradlin in Guns N’ Roses just prior to the Use Your Illusions tour.  Since leaving Guns, Clarke has played with bands like Heart, MC5, Nancy Sinatra, and Rockstar: Supernova.  He has also enjoyed a successful solo career and just released his latest solo record The Gospel Truth.  Gilby took some time to talk about the new record and his entire career.

Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Gilby Clarke –

On why he had a 19-year gap between solo records – That’s a good question. There’s a couple answers to this question. One of them is, first of all, I never really set out to be a solo artist. It was just kind of something I did. For the first record,  I was in Guns N Roses. I had downtime. The second record was I wasn’t in Guns N Roses, just finished five years of solid touring, and I just wanted to stay home and make a record. So it just kind of evolved over the years. When I put out Swag, it was a busy time, actually. (I)  did the Swag record in the Col. Parker record same time, which was out on V2. To be honest, I mean, that was a lot. I produced both records and really wrote the majority of the songs on both records. It was a lot of work. After that, I just kind of went back and forth touring with Heart, Nancy Sinatra, MC5, RockStar: Supernova and all those weren’t really, with the exception of RockStar: Supernova weren’t really making records. I was just touring, touring, touring, producing, producing, producing. So the time just kind of went by and I started doing some solo dates again and I kind of got into this feeling of, “What do I need to make a record for?” I have my live dates, I’m getting booked out as much as I want. I’m getting booked. People are showing up. Making a record is hard. It’s a process, especially a solo record. So I like to refer to it now that I’m reflecting as my “Bad Attitude Period”.  But then I went to Motley Crue’s last concert at Staples Center and I ran into a friend of mine and we were having this conversation and he just kind of looked at me like I was full of shit and it kind of took me back. He goes, “Well, do you consider yourself an artist?”  And I said, “Yes, I do”. He goes, “Well, what are you creating?” I started going, “I’m doing that and I’m doing this”. He goes, “Well, whether you think or not, you have people that respect you and your career and like your records. Whether you feel that you deserve them or not, it really isn’t the point. It’s a process. It’s a creative process of writing and recording and that’s who you are”.  I thought long and hard about that.  I admitted that I was wrong. One of my favorite bands is Cheap Trick. Look how prolific they’ve been. That record is fantastic. Records in between, Rockford, fantastic record. So it really made me reevaluate things. Once I started the process of writing, recording, getting the guys over, one thing about being a solo artist is I can use different people and that’s inspiring. I remember I like the process. I like writing it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard. It’s hard work. It’s challenging.  I’ve made a few solo recordsI didn’t want to be redundant. I didn’t want to be repetitive in my lyrics. I didn’t want to be cliche. I worked hard that you didn’t know what the next chord change was going to be or you didn’t know what the next rhyme was going to be. I put work into that. I worked with so many acts over the years where I know every chord change before it’s going to happen. I know every rhyme. I didn’t want to be that. I wanted it to be good. So, therefore, that process started this. This is the end result of that long explanation. :57

On the origin of the songs on The Gospel TruthI think, like with most guitar players, we have our riff library.  Mine’s on my phone. I often am sitting watching the Laker game, and I have a guitar on, there’s a lot of commercials, or sometimes I go through a period where I have an acoustic guitar and I’m watching a Laker game. I’m playing guitar and I start compiling ideas and stuff. So these were all new songs. Nothing was leftover. I think there might have been one riff that my wife and daughter laughed about, “We’ve been hearing that riff for a long time”. But finally when interpretation became something. But yeah, for the most part, it’s pretty much all brand new stuff. Even though I did go in with (the thought), “I need to make a new record”, I go song by song. My rule is simple,  the song wins. Whatever the song calls for, I’m pretty good at being objective. Like the second song on the record is called “Wayfarer”. Believe me, that was a completely different song until Teddy (“Zig Zag” Andreadis) put that Hammond organ part on, and I just went, “I got to get out of the way”. I took my guitar parts off because I thought that really move this song along. Like I said, the song won. 4:33

“Rock N Roll Is Getting Louder”
On Nikki Sixx, Kenny Aronoff, and Steven Perkins guesting on the record – I’m lucky that I have friends because these are all friends that have been in my house. We’ve had dinner, coffee, drinks together. These are friends. I’m lucky I have talented friends. Kenny Aronoff could easily play on every song on the record. Steven Perkins, they’re talented. They can do it. But I like that. I like changing things up. I like giving them a challenge of, “Here’s what I hear”, and then let getting out of the way and letting them do their thing. That’s what I do. So they help energize me, they inspire me. Let them do their job. They know what they’re doing and they bring a new life to it. 5:55
On developing his skills as a producer – When I was very, very young, one of the first gigs I had was working for Kim Fowley as a ghost guitar player. I was like 19 years old, and I would go into the studio at midnight and Kim would give me a sheet of paper of all the parts I had to fix from midnight to 6:00 in the morning, I’d be using their guitar, their amplifier, fixing out of tune parts, out of time parts.  I learned that early. Then when I went to make the first record with my band, Candy, my ego got hit pretty hard where Jimmy Lenner did not hear the band the way that it myself in the band members heard. We had to make compromises, which I really didn’t feel like I wanted to make those compromises, but I had no choice, either do it or get off the boat. So I’ve had good and bad experiences even working with Mike Clink in GNR, we found a common ground, but it took a moment to find that common ground. Everybody works in a different way. Where I am now is from all those years of working with different amazing, talented producers that have taught me those lessons. So I know when to get out of the way. 7:03
“The Gospel Truth”
On not having covers on The Gospel Truth – In the past, I thought that the covers were kind of like a prolog,  like in the book. This is what inspires me. This is who makes me who I am as a musician, guitar player, artist. I thought it was like the window into who I am. I didn’t feel I needed on this record. I thought we had ten strong songs. I’ve never been a person who wrote 30 songs and put 10 on the record. I usually wrote 10 songs, 10 songs on the record. This one I actually have a couple of extras and that’s not because they didn’t make it. It’s just when I listen back, it was a groove kind of thing. I’m all about feel. It’s like the record’s just got to keep the listener. But yeah, I didn’t need covers on this record. I recorded some I just didn’t put them on. 8:30
On the break-up of Kill For Thrills – We just kind of had some bad luck.  First of all, we were never like the L.A. hair bands. Look at the pictures, we didn’t look anything like that. We fit in with bands like Junkyard and Circus of Power and Mother Love Bone. That’s kind of where we were going. We were prepared for what was already happening. We really were. We just made some bad choices. We got our major label record deal.  I was the primary songwriter and singer and we only had six songs and we got a major label deal at our first gig. We opened for a band that was showcasing, and at the dressing room after the show, we had all these major labels seriously offering us deals. We did a showcase of the label and we picked the wrong label. They offered us a lot of money. We heard what we wanted to hear. Even though we had management, it just, we just made some bad choices. But yeah, it did dissolve before GNR. 9:40
“Tightwad” w/Nikki Sixx & Stephen Perkins
On whether it was a shock going from bandleader to sideman in Guns N’ Roses -No, it was a nice change. Did I have pressure? Yeah, I had some pressure. But, I had just been dealing with like I said before, Candy actually signed to two major labels before we put out our record, I had signed my name to a lot of major label contracts. I was a writer for Virgin Records.  I kind of felt like, “Man, what the fuck do I got to do to get a break?” Even though I’ve had some breaks. So by the time I got in Guns, believe me, I was ready to play rhythm guitar and shut my mouth.  Also, it was a real lesson. Even though I knew the guys, I knew how they got there, I didn’t really know the inside story. Because from the outside, it kind of seemed like this band couldn’t fuck up any more than it kept fucking up and it just landed in gold shit. Everything worked out in their favor. They were very much like, “Fuck you, I’m doing whatever I want”, and it worked. Where a lot of us made a lot of compromises along the way. Getting in that restored my confidence in my ability as a musician and as an artist, just being around, being around Slash, being around Axl, their personas and how much confidence they had in their ability rubbed off on me. I wanted more solos, don’t get me wrong, but Slash I wasn’t giving them up, believe me, I asked. I was OK with it I really was like I said, it was an incredible learning experience.  I also thought the musicianship in the band at that point was really strong. The band was really going in a really good direction as far as musicianship. 11:05
“Wayfarer”
On what he would’ve done differently in Guns N’ Roses – Interestingly enough, people always assume that I didn’t have a say, I did have a say. Slash would ask me questions all the time. Axl asked me questions all the time. Understand, they are in a bubble. Their success came so fast and stuff. I’m the one that stepped from the outside who was still the dirty guy in Hollywood streets, even though they were, they had elevated themselves. So they did ask me questions. I  helped pick some of the bands that opened, like Helmet, but they never heard of Helmet before. I was like, “Helmet’s great band. You guys gotta check them out”. But I didn’t really have the final decision on anything. They’re going to do what they’re going to do, wanted to do. What would I have done differently? That’s a hard choice. The way things ended up, I think you could kind of say that the camps were split.  We really were a band and we didn’t each have our own dressing room. We had our dressing room as a band and Axl had his own dressing room. I don’t know if there’s anything I personally could have done to make that more cohesive so we were more of a band rather than Axl and the band. I honestly don’t know if I had any power in that. I wish I did. I mean, I think, in the beginning, number one, I was just so happy to be there. I mean, I’m not saying I did anything I wouldn’t have done. When I got the gig, I was 30. I said to myself, “I’m going to be myself. I’m going to be myself if do the best version, either like it or they don’t”. I wasn’t compromising in that situation. But I mean, in hindsight, I wish I could have helped mend that so we were more of a cohesive unit. But I mean, look, to this day, I mean, that’s still not a cohesive unit…All of them are text away. I can’t honestly say that I talk to them all the time. But actually, I talked to Matt today. 13:07
On the end of Guns N’ Roses and going solo –It was a really simple, simple thing. I mean, look, did I know that the band was in trouble? Absolutely. Absolutely. When the tour was over, the band needed a break. It definitely did. I made the Pawnshop Guitar record for one simple thing. I had all these songs I had had from Kill for Thrills up to Guns and Roses that had been around. When we were talking about making a new record, I presented those songs to Axl. I presented them to Slash and they said, “We are going to start from scratch”. So I said, “Look, I got these songs. Can I make a record? I have a deal with Virgin”. And they said, “You have our blessing. We’ll help you out however we could”. It was really that simple. When it ended, really was when I was out promoting the record, is when things were starting to not go in my direction. So I was lucky that I was busy with the record coming out. A tour is about to happen. Slash’s record was already made. I knew what I was going to do for the next three years. So that was kind of a good distraction. But it wasn’t until after Slash’s Snake Pit where I actually had to take a look and go, “What am I doing?” Look, I’m a band guy. I’d much rather be in a band. But what do you do? (After) Guns and Roses, really, what do you do? I mean, I thought about that. It’s like, well, if I’m going to fucking beat my head in clubs and all this. I might as well do it doing my own thing. I mean, it’s not like I made a conscious choice to do it. It just happened. I took advantage of what I could and made the best of what it was. 15:48
“Deadly Sin”
On playing with Guns N’ Roses at the Rocvk & Roll Hall of Fame Induction – The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is not on my radar. I did not even know Guns N Roses was up for the Hall of Fame. I didn’t even know they were accepted into the Hall of Fame. It just wasn’t on my radar. I didn’t know until maybe a couple months before the actual induction ceremony, when I found out how it went down and all that stuff, I was like, “Wait a minute, I’m feeling a little left out here”. It did bum me out. Then I found out all the workings of it and stuff and I felt less bummed out, but I didn’t know anything. Let me back up a little, at that point, we had already been doing Kings of Chaos. So Kings of Chaos, was myself, Matt (Sorum), and Duff (McKagen), and Slash kind of came in and out. We’ve all been talking, we all been playing together and great relationship at that point. So Duff called me a couple of days before he said, “Hey, we’re going to play at the Hall of Fame. We’d love for you to play with us”. Before I even thought about it, I said, “Yes”, Duff’s that’s my friend, he asked me.  I said, yes, there’s no question about it.  So the next day I got a plane ticket with my wife and we flew in and it was in Cleveland, which is great, my father still lives in Cleveland and being in Cleveland maybe made it easier for me because I wasn’t inducted but I was playing with the band. So some of that stuff, the only time it ever really felt weird was there was a moment when the guys went out to make their acceptance speech and they basically herded them to a stage and me and Myles (Kennedy) to a tiny little corner. AI kind of went, “Wow, OK”. It just did feel bad. Once you start playing with the guys and like you said, that night was great playing with Duff (the night before at House of Blues) and we did our only rehearsal after that. That’s how we rehearsed, I played with Steven before. But look, I haven’t played Guns N’ Roses song songs in a long time, with the obvious exceptions and stuff. With Myles singing, we really didn’t know what we were going to do until hours before. Once again, that’s fun because, I almost had more of a place in it than Steven did at that time because I’ve been playing with them more than Steven had, so it it felt real natural. There was a lot of weirdness over it at that time.  I told the story a couple of times, but we didn’t have any techswith us. Being that I knew we were going to do it, I did bring my guitar with me, but we had no techs, it was rented back line and the back line we tried out was the back line at that rehearsal. Basically there was  three Marshall heads, Slash grabbed one, and I grabbed one. When we went to play and they introduced Guns N’ Roses, literally the song we played my part came in first and I heard (a noise) and  my amp, I’m not joking, went up in smoke. Mike, who is Duff’s guitar player, was standing next to me and we looked at each other like this, “That was smoke,  right? All right. Well, there’s another one”, plugged. I need to see what brand it was or what I just plugged in. You can hear, I think was Steven starting the song, and you can hear me in the back trying to get a sound. I mean, that was like so Guns and Roses…I don’t think I’ve ever even seen Matt’s performance with us. I think I saw the one that Steven did, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. But then the sound is so horrible. It sounded great onstage. 19:47
“Paradise City”

 

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