While the city of Melbourne is succumbing to the freezing cold, our next interview subject is kicking back in sunny Las Vegas, celebrating his wife's birthday. DUFF McKAGAN is no stranger to rock 'n' roll. Having been the drummer of one of Seattle's finest groups, The Fastbacks, and playing bass for one of the biggest bands in rock history, Guns N Roses, you'd think he'd be content having done it all by now. Still, with the release of his newest album, The Taking, he continues his search to write that perfect song with his band LOADED.
"... it's just been this constant journey of figuring out a better way to write a song. I haven't written that perfect song to me yet. I won't stop until I do ..."
The subject matter on The Taking at times seems kind of dark one moment and then really uplifting the next. What inspiration went behind songs like Executionerís Song, We Win and Indian Summer?
It was kind of an accidental, after-the-fact concept record really. When youíre listening to the songs they can all stand on their own as independent thoughts, if you will. The record as a whole Ö what had happened, to put it simply, we as a band had witnessed two very good friends of ours go through a fractured relationship, then a divorce and then the ultimate kind of reconciliation. This all happened during the last tour and the guy in this couple was on our tour bus so we couldnít really take sides Ö we didnít. Most people gossip about things, or at least talk about it a little bit. Guys donít call it gossiping, they just call it talking shit or whatever. We actually didnít talk at all about it. It was almost like Zen Buddhism Ö and because we were such good friends with the female of the couple too, we just didnít even talk about it. So when we started writing songs for this record, the first song was called Easier Lying. One song would then form another song and we still didnít think these songs were about this situation but when we finally got done with the record, we realised we had written about all the stages of these peopleís relationship. The deceit in Easier Lying, the anger which is Your Name, Lords of Abaddon and Executionerís Song into the divorce where they became better friends after the fact and that is where We Win comes in Ö if that makes any sense. I think good songs come from a little bit of strife. Youíve got to have some strife, and this time it wasnít my own personal strife but it was very interesting to write about another situation and not even be aware of it. We all have common experiences, you know? Iíve been through break-ups and all that anger, all that stuff before. You can draw from your own experience but itís nice to not have to go through it personally and be able to still write about it.
I totally agree. I have to say though, the one song you are probably going to get asked the most about is the song Cocaine, no doubt due to your past. Was that a song about a habit you kicked or about someone else?
That was actually the one kind of stand alone song that we were going to keep off the record and have as a bonus track because it didnít really fit in with the concept, but then we were like, f@#k it. Thatís kind of a tongue in cheek song. Usually a riff will inform my vocal and that intro riff to that song, to me, is so reminiscent of Guns N Roses stuff. Loaded never even approaches that territory musically and we had this one song that to me was so obviously Guns N Roses that it reminded me of my 1993 when I quit cocaine, but I amped up all my drinking and my other drugs and people around me were really scared for me and Iíd say, ďWhatís your f@#king problem? I quit cocaine!Ē And itís only funny because I survived, you know what I mean? Itíd be a sad tale of that story if I actually died. But I survived and to me I can actually look back and say how ridiculous some parts of my life were, and that song is just telling about the ridiculousness of my 1993. That was just before I had a really bad health issue in 1994 and ended up in hospital for a few weeks. I got sober after that. It was either I get sober or I was going to die. Those last couple years I call my dark period and the only memories I have are unfortunately really dark, scary memories in '93 and half of Ď94. Hopeless, just hopeless.
Well the most important thing about all of this is that you survived and lived to tell the tale and are able to keep on rockiní Ö
Yeah, well that was such a long time ago now and we probably wouldnít be talking about it at all but that song is supposed to give a cheeky, poking fun at myself, little peek into my 1993.
Now Duff, one thing that has always spun me out is that you were in the Fastbacks.
Yeah, the first drummer.
I love the Fastbacks. Do you have any cool stories you can share about your time in that band?
I was so young. I was 14 and Kim Warnick was my musical mentor and I was playing bass in a band called The Veins at the time and Kim and Kurt (Bloch) asked if I could play drums in the Fastbacks. ďCan you play drums?Ē ďOf course I can play drums!Ē But I didnít yet. They had a drum kit and the first song I learned of The Fastbacks was the Badfinger song, Baby Blue. That was the first song we ever played. Thank god I had a natural tendency to keep a beat, and then we wrote those songs Itís Your Birthday and Someone Elseís Room. It was great. We played some great gigs, we played a bunch up in Canada. I do have a lot of stories about the Fastbacks but I donít want to bore you with them. Kimís got a new band called The Calligraphers and I heard a couple songs and theyíre really good. The Fastbacks I think are going to play a gig on July 8th, and I actually might play drums for two songs. Itís in Seattle at the West Seattle Street Fair. Kim asked me if Iíd play a couple songs and itís the first time theyíve played in a million years Ö itís cool you like The Fastbacks!
That single was released in what, 1981? Thatís thirty years ago man.
Yeah, two years before I even had a driverís licenceóa long time ago. Iíve managed to be a part of a lot of really cool things and itís all been a part of my journey. And just now Iím really figuring out and refining my song writing. All the way from back then when I was 14, itís just been this constant journey of figuring out a better way to write a song. I havenít written that perfect song to me yet. I wonít stop until I do, and I donít know if I will ever attain that Ďperfect songí. Guns N Roses got close a couple times, Velvet Revolver got close with Slither Ö thatís close to a perfect song. Whatever a perfect song means to me Ö I donít even know what the f@#k that means.