Gilby Clarke needs no introduction to rock fans. He played in both Guns N’ Roses and the MC5. Who else can claim membership in two of the most life-altering rock ’n’ roll outfits to ever exist on the planet? Clarke hit the stage with his GN’R running buds at the 2012 Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony – he appeared on the band’s The Spaghetti Incident, Live Era ’88-’91 and Greatest Hits albums, and spent years on the massive Use Your Illusion world tour in the ’90s – but his proudest GN’R moment is, he says, the Gilby rolls mode on the GN’R pinball machine!
Gilby is hitting the east coast of Australia for some intimate, sweaty, raw, totally Rock ‘n’ Roll shows! Gilby will be Will be ripping up a selection of hits from his past bands Guns N Roses, Slash’s Snakepit, RockStar Supernova, MC5 and much more with full band in tow. Gilby sounded really upbeat talking to Hi Fi Way: The Pop Chronicles about the tour.
Great news that you’re heading down to Australia for some shows.
Yeah. I’m excited, man. They’re going to be some good shows.
It’s a shame that you can’t get to Adelaide this time around, so hopefully, we come back a lot sooner than later next time around.
I know. Sometimes it takes a while in between shows, but it would be a nice way to start the trying it again, so I’m excited that these shows were even able to happen.
Are these shows mostly focused on your new solo album that’s about to come out? Or, are there bits and pieces from right throughout your career?
Yeah, that’s what I usually do. I mean, when I do my shows, it’s mainly international. I focus on a lot of the music from my solo records, but also we do some GNR tunes. We do Slash’s Snakepit, Rock Star: Supernova. I just throw in some stuff that was important that inspired me as a musician, like some Stones, Beatles, a Who song, MC5. It’s important to me as a guitar player and singer to do things that, like I said, influenced me and inspired me.
Is Australia the best place to tour, do you think?
I hope so. It’s been a while, you know? It’s been a while since I’ve been there as a solo artist. I mean, I’ve been there with Kings of Chaos, and Slash’s Snakepit, and Rock Star: Supernova, but as a solo artist, man, it’s been a long, long time. It’ll be nice to see. I mean, look, I know rock and roll goes through its phases where it’s fashionable or popular or not, but good music is good music, man. I still go by a good song is a good song. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Lady Gaga song or if it’s a Rolling Stones song. A good song is a good song, and to me that’s what’s important.
Do you still have faith in rock and roll and whether it’s still alive and well?
You know what? I think that…
We’re in a world overrun by DJs?
Yeah. I think that what’s happened to rock and roll is, I don’t even think it’s just rock and roll. I think it’s everything. I think music isn’t as important to people as it used to be. When most of us went to school in our formative years, music was so important. It was our social life. It was everything. It’s how we probably met our wives, girlfriends, best friends. I mean, those fights we had about who was better, The Beatles or Elvis, were formative to us. I just don’t think that that’s the way it is now. Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of young people that it is important to, but it’s not as important as it used to be. Will it survive? Of course it will. It has to survive. Rock and roll has almost gone underground, kind of the way the blues and jazz has. It’s just gotten dirtier, that’s all.
How’s your new solo record progressing? Is it just about finished?
Well, the record is pretty much done. Yeah, I’ve pretty much finished recording. I’m in the mixing stages and tweaking stages of it. I don’t have a release date yet. It will be out next year. I’m extremely, extremely happy. This record came about because, number one, I hadn’t released a solo record since 2003. It came from a real, honest place. I had a couple of new songs that were good, that I thought were really good. They needed to see the light of day. They need to be out there. I think that as an artist, as a singer, as a guitar player, as a song writer, I’ve evolved. You know what? I’m getting better at what I do. Whether it’s everybody’s taste is another thing, but it’s important to me as a musician, as an artist, to evolve.
What is pleasing is that I can hear the excitement in your voice. It almost seems you’re itching to get the album out there and start playing it, get fans enjoying it as well.
Exactly, exactly. I mean, we won’t be playing any new songs on this trip just because it’s not time yet. Hopefully, we’ll get to come back and do this, but this is kind of, I don’t want to say this is testing, but this is just a way to get back out there and let people know I’m alive, I’m out there, I’m playing, and I’m still, like I said, a musician, and a vibrant one, and I can still play with the passion that I’ve always had.
Working with an all-star cast must have been really cool, especially guys like Nikki Sixx and those sorts?
Yeah! When we did Kings of Chaos, we still do Kings of Chaos. We just don’t do as many shows as we used to. It’s a beautiful thing. When you’re working with artists like Billy Gibbons, Robin Zander, Joe Elliot, Gene Simmons, as well as Matt from GNR, and Duff, and myself, Steve Stevens, and Sebastian Bach, I mean, it’s such a long line of people, it’s inspiring, you know! It’s like nobody phones it in. Everybody wants to play well. Everybody wants to play well for each other. Getting to hear some of these songs that everybody in the band were a part of these songs is, like I said, every time it happens, I so look forward to it. I look forward to going to rehearsal and most of us hate going to rehearsals, but I love it. I love getting in the room with the guys.
I’ve read some interviews where you said how much it meant to you playing with the likes of Robin Zander and how much of big a deal it was. That must’ve been really, really cool?
It’s one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me in my life. I mean, I’ve been a Cheap Trick fan since their first record and I’ve seen them so many times. To be able to share the stage with and him go, “Hey, man, let’s start I Want You to Want Me like this. I’ve always heard it this way.” We do it, and you see him smiling. It’s a beautiful thing, man. It really is.
The process of making the album, did that go to plan, and everything unfolded as you hoped? Or were there the usual dramas that you get when you make an album?
There’s never any problems because it really is a solo record, it is really a selfish act, you know? It’s one person that’s usually got the ideas and how it’s going to be. For me, it starts at a very organic place. I mean, all these years, I haven’t made a record because, to be honest, I didn’t have the songs that were good enough. It started out with three or four songs that I started tracking, and it felt good.
What’s great about being a solo artist is I’m playing all the guitars and singing, but I get to choose who is going to be on the record, and I do it by feel. I have this one song, it’s called Rock and Roll Is Getting Louder. It’s kind of got like a Stones vibe to it, but it has a little bit more of a modern drive to it. I got Kenny Aronoff to play drums and Kenny’s played with freakin’ everybody. He’s an awesome drummer and he really makes the song slam. It sounds modern, but it really just sounds like the song could be on any of my other solo records.
There were no setbacks at all. I had Stephen Perkins from Jane’s Addiction play drums on quite a few tracks. He is just so unique in the way that he approaches things. I’d plan the song, and I’d go, “Well, what do you hear?” Man, he’d start playing a groove. I’m going, “Man, I would’ve never thought of that,” but he did. I had Matt Starr from Mr. Big play drums. We have this one song. oh, jeez. I got to remember the name. It’s called Wayfarer, and it’s just got this really sexy, kind of bluesy base groove. He just laid a drum groove that you can’t get with a loop, or you can’t get with a drum machine. It came from live drums. I know sometimes I can sound like a dinosaur when I talk about that, but I still go for that magical feeling of looking at musicians in the room. It’s an experience that only we have together looking at each other.
It just sounds like you need to bottle up that creativity and either sell it to the bands that are struggling to come up with something, or when you hit a creative block and unleash that, because it sounds like an awesome process.
Yeah, definitely. It’s such a different world today, putting out records, how they release them, how they market them and finding the audience. It’s just such a unique way of doing it but that’s not my job. My job is to play guitar, to sing, to write, record, and perform. I got to stick to what I can do well and let people do their job well.
Are you still fascinated by the questions about your involvement in Guns ‘n Roses?
What surprises me about it is when I get the questions is the reality that the questions have all been asked and they’ve all been answered. I don’t know if that comes from laziness, or if it really is they don’t know that answer and stuff. It was so long ago, I just find that I personally really have nothing new to add. I mean, sometimes I’ll tell a story that went down. It’ll bring back some memories and stuff but it was so long ago. It’s hard to be accurate when I talk about it, to be honest. Sometimes I feel like I’m embellishing on an old idea, or I have a new way of seeing it, but that’s not how I felt then.
Is it annoying?
No, it’s not annoying. It does get old when it’s the same old thing, when people ask a question that’s, like I said, that’s just been asked before and has been beaten to death, or they’re just looking for a quote for the lead line of some little blog or something.
Well, you’ve moved on anyway. You’re doing so much great stuff that I guess that’s just part of your journey, onwards and upwards.
Look, it was a great experience, and it made me who I am. It’s part of who I am, and I don’t have any negative feelings towards it. Sometimes I feel like when I do talk about it somebody may catch me when I wasn’t saying something negative they can take the negative from it. I don’t have anything negative. It was a great experience and, like I said, it helped mould me into who I am today. I’m about as close to Guns n’ Roses right now as you are, with the exception of I get cheques from them. I don’t talk to anybody anymore, so I don’t really have anything to add.
What does 2018 look like for Gilby Clarke? Is it mostly time spent on the road, touring album when it comes out?
2019 will be the new record, man. I don’t look that far ahead. I do look six months ahead, but I don’t look much further than that. I am a guitar player. I am a singer. I’m a writer. I will be doing that until I can’t do it. I mean, there may be a retirement in the future and stuff. We’ll have to see. I think those choices really aren’t from me. It’s kind of from the climate of, how we were talking about, rock and roll. Is it going to survive? Will it survive lucratively, where I can still do what I’m doing today and pay the bills? That I don’t know.
Interview by Rob Lyon
Catch Gilby Clarke on the following shows…