Slash’s Conspirators (INTERVIEW)

After a nice break for the holidays, MY ROOTS returns this week with something a little different to welcome in the new year. A few months ago, I sat down with the three musicians who make up the core of Slash’s solo band: bass player Todd Kerns, drummer Brent Fitz and newest member Frank Sidoris. But instead of doing an interview the old-fashioned way, we did a sort of round robin that was both serious and fun.

For Kerns, this is not his first foray into the bright music spotlight. The native Canadian had a superstar following with his bands Age Of Electric and Static In Stereo. Ask just about any Canadian musician today and they will nine-times-out-of-ten mention one of these bands as influences. Today, when not running down the rock & roll highway with Slash, Kerns fronts the popular Sin City Sinners in Las Vegas. Fellow Canadian Brent Fitz is best known for playing drums in Theory Of A Deadman, Vince Neil’s solo band and Alice Cooper’s band while Sidoris was with the band Cab when he got the invite to audition for the opening rhythm guitar spot vacated by Bobby Schneck.

With Slash currently on a short sabbatical before jumping back into touring at the end of the month, this was a good time to share the comedic whims of three musical brothers who quite honestly enjoy each other’s company – on stage and off.

How about we start with each of you telling us how you came to be in Slash’s band.

Brent: It came down to a random phone call.

Todd: Gee, that’s a brief answer, very succinct, “random phone call.” Me. In band. Phone call (laughs)

Brent: Oh you want more than that?

Brent: Well, the phone call came from someone saying that Slash was looking for some new guys for his band and apparently some people had recommended me to Slash.

Todd: And then Slash called him

Brent: And then Slash called

Todd: And I got the gig because he got the gig. He texted me one day. I was in my car, and it said, “Slash has a guy from Winnipeg in his band now.” Then two weeks later or a month later …

Brent: We jammed with a different bass player for a very short couple of days. It was Slash, Bobby Schneck and this bass player and myself. Myles wasn’t even there yet. And I could tell Slash wasn’t quite happy with the way it was.

Todd: He wasn’t feeling it

Brent: He was like, “I think we’re going to make a change on the bass player.” And I don’t think he had the answer but I did and I gave it to him and hopefully he was going to accept it. But I just said, “I’ve got a friend of mine that I think would be great for the gig.” I don’t mean to answer Todd’s question but …

Todd: Oh please do. I’ve answered this many times to her (laughs). Yeah, I went down the next day and jammed and it’s been two and a half years later, three years later almost now.

Frank: And after years of that band being together they recorded the record and then got rid of their other rhythm player and then Brent kind of called me for an audition, cause they were holding auditions for new guys. So I flew down on a Super Bowl Sunday to audition from Toronto, where I was on tour with another band. Then I did the audition and four days later I got the call from Slash and here I am.

What was something that surprised you about Slash when you met him and started playing in the band?

Todd: Well, the most surprising thing now, or at least when I got plugged in, was the fact that he was, well, I remember looking at him and there was something weird about this guy – and it took me a long time to figure it out – he’s not smoking, cause he’s all healthy and clean now. So that was kind of, not a shock, but certainly kind of a surprise. I kind of expected him to be the smoking and drinking party guy that he used to be but he’s not. He’s so easy going. And I think what’s also surprising is how grounded he is. He’s not a dick.

Frank: This is not too much of a surprise but I noticed how a lot of my favorite guitar players over the years kind of plateaued a bit. Like, nothing against these guys but I just feel like they really …

Todd: They do what they do

Frank: Yeah, it’s like they kind of hit that point and are like, “Yeah, whatever.” They just kind of plateaued and are not really excelling anymore. And Slash is not one of those guys and that’s why he has number one hits on the radio currently, because he is constantly practicing; like he is totally surpassing all these legends and he is that living legend.

Todd: He is still learning stuff

Frank: Yeah, constantly, it’s amazing. Everybody is like, wow, he’s better than he has ever been and it’s because he constantly practices. But it’s very impressive to me. I walked into the gig and I figured he doesn’t need to practice. It’s like he’s at that point where he’s great but he’s just sitting there from soundcheck to the gig practicing. And then in his hotel room he’s practicing. It’s just non-stop and it shows more than ever. Not a lot of those artists can say that at all. I’m like, look at this guy, he’s still better than ever.

Todd: It’s impressive

Brent: I think Slash words it that the challenge is to himself to get better. It’s not like he’s sort of paying attention to anyone else and what they’re doing. He’s just, “I need to be a better guitar player.” He’s always on that quest personally.

Todd: We all love the way he plays so why would we care if he does something different. But when he does do something different we go, oh wow, and if he stayed that good forever we’d all be totally fine.

When you came into the band, what was the hardest song to learn?

Todd: Honestly, most of the Guns N Roses stuff is such a no brainer for myself and Brent because it is just such a part of our DNA. The only hard part was getting into learning songs I had never heard before. At the time, the solo album wasn’t even released yet so I was learning them on the fly. That very first day they were like, “Ok, here is ‘By The Sword.’ It goes like this.” Press play on the CD and I’m kind of like learning it right there and then. But that’s only because it’s difficult to learn something that you’ve never heard before. I wouldn’t say that anything was all that challenging per se to play. I have to do a lot of playing and singing harmonies that haven’t really been sung before, or wasn’t really attempted. So there was a lot of that that goes on.

Frank: For me, it wasn’t really one specific song that was super hard, it was more so the amount of songs that I had to learn at such a short amount of time, cause I was still on tour with another band. I mean, I got it done, obviously, but then again, those Guns N Roses songs, it’s funny cause those Izzy parts, they’re not that clearly there, you know what I mean. They’re all kind of almost winged in a way, and that’s what makes them cool but …

Todd: That’s the challenging part. Not that they’re difficult to play it’s that they’re very unique.

Frank: And it’s not like I’m going to take these songs into my own and kind of just make up the part. I wanted to make sure I did justice to those awesome songs and play it right. It was mainly just learning fifty songs and that was the kind of difficult part.

Brent: Yeah, cause you had to learn a set, a given set, cause we had like one show, these are the first bunch of songs we’re going to play. But don’t forget the rest of us band guys know the whole catalog so Frank had to get up to speed.

Frank: GNR, Velvet Revolver, Snakepit, first solo record, new solo record that I hadn’t heard yet.

Todd: And the other thing with Slash was that even if he tells you, “This is the set we’re doing,” by the time you get to the show, it’s like, “I threw in …”

Frank: In Biloxi, it was like, “Want to play ‘Mississippi Queen?’” Alright. Then, “You want to do ‘Stranglehold’ tonight?” Ok. “’Communication Breakdown’”? Sure. And I think he enjoys that. I think he’s doing it on purpose in a way to be kind of like testing in a way.

Todd: Well, to be honest with you, I don’t know if he’s been able to do much of that before. It’s hard to get a group of guys who are just going to be like, “Let’s do this.”

Frank: Literally, on the way to the show a couple of nights ago it was like, “You guys want to play ‘Carolina’?” It’s one of the bonus tracks that we’ve never played before. I didn’t even go over it yet cause I just figured we weren’t going to play it for a while and then literally five minutes till the gig starts, it’s “Carolina” and we played it and now we’re playing it in the set.

Brent: We’ve probably never played the same set twice in a row out of all the shows in two and a half years.

Frank: I realize there’s a wild card slot. Like, there’s the songs we’re always going to play like “Sweet Child O’ Mine” or what not. And then there’s the songs that, we’re going to do this tomorrow and this the next day and …

Todd: I always feel good knowing that cause if someone is in the audience at any of the shows that are in close proximity where people are coming to multiple shows, you look out and know that they’re seeing something different every single night.

When you were recording the new album, Apocalyptic Love, and I know Todd mentioned to me before how “You’re A Lie” gave him goosebumps. But what about you guys? What song did that for you?

Brent: Well, I liked the chorus in “Standing In The Sun.” The first day that the music parts had a vocal melody, I was just like, Holy crap, Myles has got something really cool going on. In fact, that gave me goosebumps.

Todd: A lot of time we’re so mired in the fucking music part of it. Like the three of us are sort of sitting there in the dark mines of making music and all of a sudden Myles comes in and goes, sprinkle, and we’re all like, oh wow, that’s what that sounds like. And you put the harmony on it and that was when it really kind of …

Brent: But it almost didn’t complete itself till we played the music and then Myles sang the vocals. We still didn’t quite know. We knew a melody that we had been rehearsing with Myles, but he was still finalizing what he wanted to say lyrically and some of the stuff changed. Like even right at the very end to the point where I was like pleasantly surprised to hear our song recorded with a vocal take, after I had already played my parts. I was like, holy shit, now this song is complete. A lot of them gave me goosebumps, actually. Most of the record gave me goosebumps cause I was expecting it to be great and a lot of times it even went past my expectations.

Speaking of Myles’ lyrics, how did those affect you?

Todd: It’s funny, me and Myles used to drive to the studio every day and we were always talking about it, cause of course it was always on his mind. The poor guy was like obsessed with it. There was a little room upstairs and he’d sit there writing and rewriting and talking about, “Is this better than this?” I’m kind of a big believer in your initial instincts are usually the best way to go but there’s nothing wrong with sort of readjusting your way of looking at things, so sometimes songs were rewritten and rewritten and rewritten. But there was a lot of talk and a lot of the theme on the record is like having been through periods of extreme behavior and kind of pulling out of it – “Not For Me,” “Hard & Fast,” “One Last Thrill,” all those songs have a sort of a “I used to do bad things and now I don’t” or “Now I’m kind of keeping it together.” That was an ongoing conversation that Myles and I had the whole way because the three of us have had histories of that to some degree.

It’s almost like he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in his lyrics at first.

Todd: It’s not so much confidence, it’s more I think of challenging yourself, you know what I mean. Myles has written a lot of great songs, as far back as Mayfield Four, Alter Bridge and here, so it’s like, as an artist you’re constantly trying to outdo yourself and lyrics are tough, lyrics can be really fucking corny and you have to be really careful with it. You’re trying really hard to be clever without it being too, like, this rhymes with this, and it’s tough.

Brent: He said this was a really hard record to make.

Todd: He said this was the hardest record to make but he also said, for some reason, it was the most important, in a lot of ways.

Frank: And you know GNR fans are constantly comparing him with Axl.

One of my favorite songs on the CD is “Bad Rain.”

Todd: (starts singing) That was one of the first three songs we recorded.

Brent: It is the first. It was the first one we actually put to tape for the new record. It was “Bad Rain,” “Standing In The Sun” and then “Halo.”

Frank: Speaking of getting chills from the songs, for me, and I didn’t record any of them, but when I heard “Halo,” the verses were like, holy shit. The vocal melody is incredible. I love it.

What song haven’t you played in the set yet that you’re eager to play?

Frank: “Bad Rain” and “We Will Roam” are the only ones left.

Todd: Really?

Frank: That’s it. And that’s another thing that I think is incredible. The record was recorded to play live and they played it live when they recorded it.

Todd: But this far into somebody’s career usually a band making a new record like this, you barely play two songs from your new album.

Frank: How many bands actually go and play the entire record? I’ve never seen that.

Todd: We don’t play the entire record every night

Frank: But over the course of the tour cycle, it’s amazing because we’ve slowly knocked out almost all of them.

Todd: And the two bonus tracks

Frank: I always liked to play “Crazy Life.” That was like my other favorite song. I love that song.

Brent: “Far & Away” is the only one we’ve done acoustically

Todd: Yeah when we did an acoustic show

Brent: And Frank played it on his first gig

Frank: Yeah, my first gig with the band at the Guitar Center sessions

Any GNR songs or Velvet Revolver songs that you’d like to play?

Todd: We always talk about trying to convince him to do some Use Your Illusion songs but we only ever do “Civil War.” To be honest, the three of us being part of the new band, we aren’t really concerned about going back. If he wants to then yeah, fuck yeah. As a fan, I’m always happy to play it.

Frank: We’ve played a lot of Appetite too

Todd: Yeah, we’ve added like “You’re Crazy” and “Out to Get Me” to make me sing them so we actually do quite a bit of Appetite now that I think about it.

What has been the most memorable show so far on this tour with Frankie in the band?

Todd: I think the one at the Phoenix Theatre was great

Frank: I was going to say, that was something special for me. I really had a blast.

Todd: That was the first proper show

Frank: We did the Guitar Center sessions, then did that, then LA, then did the music video, Jimmy Kimmel and all that.

Todd: That was pretty memorable too, but of shows I’d say Toronto, a lot of the Australian stuff was massive.

Frank: Download was another one that was like, holy shit.

Brent: Download was a rough day. We had a hard time getting to the gig. It was rainy and windy. The second we went on stage it was a big, holy fuck, where did this rain come from?

Todd: We were headlining too, that was the crazy thing. And we were headlining in front of like 80,000 people or something.

Frank: It was one of those things where the weather was so bad and the traffic was so bad that it was just kind of like we were all in this, not like we weren’t pumped for the show or anything, but then we literally walked out of our trailer and we went on stage and, just like you said, it was like a whole new thing.

Todd: There are nights like that where you’re literally as you’re walking on stage, the second you walk on stage, it’s a whole different experience because if you’ve got a sore throat or, oh, I hurt my foot, when you walk on stage you’re like, fuck yeah. It’s like it’s gone. Then after the show it’s, oh my foot (laughs)

Brent: It’s your classic adrenalin thing

Todd: It really should be bottled. I’d like to drink that every day.A little bit on the serious side, when the tsunami hit, you guys were going over there.

Brent: We were in Singapore

Todd: We were kind of like, oh well that sucks, I guess we’re not going to Japan. And I remember somebody going, “We’re going to Japan. We’re still going to Japan.” And then all of a sudden we’re in Narita airport, which is in Tokyo, and we ran into Rivers Cuomo of Weezer in the men’s room.

Brent: Yeah, he was there because his wife is Japanese

Todd: We played one gig, we figured we’d play here where it wasn’t really affected, the one town. We stayed there one day off, played the show, then Tokyo just kind of happened. But we didn’t see anything and the way the Japanese, as proud as they are, it was almost like they didn’t want anyone to, like, “Don’t worry about it, it’s cool.”

Brent: Well, what we did see was on CNN. We didn’t see it when we were in the actual country. We were seeing it from America’s eyes. So we were seeing a lot of footage that was alarming and everyone back home was telling us this was really bad. But as we were in the country that it was actually in, we didn’t feel threatened by any means.
I remember you telling me about a sign at the show thanking you for playing, for still coming.

Brent: Yeah, the people of Osaka were so thrilled cause they knew it was going to be some time before bands would be coming over for obvious reasons but we were already basically there so we just made sure we played. And we probably would have played Tokyo if it was safe.

So what do you do on the bus?

Todd: On the bus? We used to play a rock trivia game.

Brent: But for the record, Todd won every fucking game
(Everyone laughs)

Brent: Then it wasn’t fun anymore

Todd: Then most of the time we just sit around watching movies. In a lot of ways it’s actually one of my favorite parts of the day. Just sit on the bus and kind of hang out together and then watch something and have a laugh and a snack and then go to sleep.

Let’s do some fun questions. Who is your favorite band in the whole wide world?

Todd: KISS because they’re the best band in the entire world.

Brent: Mine’s The Beatles because they influenced KISS

Frank: Mine’s KISS because they influenced The Beatles
Todd: Frankie’s is Alice Cooper

Frank: And Led Zeppelin for sure

Musician you want to jam with on stage?

Todd: On stage, Paul McCartney, I’ll say

Frank: Wow, that’s a good one. I’d like to play with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones or David Bowie

Brent: Don Henley

Todd: I would not have guessed he’d say that

Favorite Ramones song?

Todd: Well that changes all the time. “Commando” I’ll say

Frank: I’m no Todd Kerns so I really …

Todd: He’s not into

Frank: I used to listen to them a lot when I was younger but I know like the hits so “Flight Of The Bumblebee” by the Ramones
(Everyone laughs)

Todd: Wow, I’ve not even heard that version

Frank: I’ve listened to “Sheena”

Todd: That’s a good one. You can say what you want about all those deep cuts and all that but there’s a reason that those hit songs like the ones that were popular and it’s because they’re fucking great. “Sheena” and “Judy Is A Punk”

Brent: “Beat On The Brat”

Frank: I fucking love that one

Todd: (singing) That’s another one of those bands like KISS or Led Zeppelin where their first album is still like, a giant chunk of those records, they played those live forever. That’s always a good sign.

Star Wars or Star Trek? And favorite character?

Todd: I’m Star Trek, Kirk

Frank: I thought you were more of a Star Wars guy

Todd: Everybody thinks that but it’s not true. Second answer would be Star Wars, Boba Fett.

Frank: I’d say Boba Fett. He’s fucking cool. He was absolutely my favorite.

Brent: Han Solo

Who did you dress up as at Halloween?

Todd: Paul Stanley

Brent: Ace Frehley, every year

Frank: This last year?

Todd: Sailor Moon

Frank: I feel like I had a good one recently, I just can’t remember it

Todd: Oh you were a fucking minotaur or, not a minotaur …

Frank: A centaur. My girlfriend at the time glued fur to my jeans and I didn’t wear a shirt. It was bad
(Everyone laughs)

Frank: But I was Alice Cooper for like six years of my life as a kid, unwillingly, and then probably three of those years I was like, “Whatever Dad, I’ll be Alice Cooper.” Then I did it willingly.

Todd: I was Alice Cooper as a kid one year too

Brent: I never dressed up as Alice Cooper

First rock star crush?

Frank: I loved Joan Jett

Todd: I was going to say Joan Jett too

Frank: Newer ones I guess would be like Allison Mosshart from The Kills

Todd: My first real crush was Pam Dawber from Mork & Mindy (laughs) I swear, but she’s not a rock & roll crush

Todd: Debbie Harry and Joan Jett

Frank: Debbie for sure

Brent: I think I had a Pat Benatar moment there too

Todd: Sure, who wouldn’t

The most treasured piece of rock & roll memorabilia that you own?

Todd: I have a KISS pinball machine

Frank: I have the 1973 actual Alice Cooper sword from Billion Dollar Babies tour

Todd: That’s pretty rad

Brent: I have some Neil Peart drumsticks

Most incredible guitar solo you have ever heard?

Frank: Fred Durst. He really did. Long story but look it up.

Todd: The first one that comes to mind for me would be “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin. The thing I love about it is the sort of loosey-goosey kind of slightly rough & ready thing about it. That’s what I like about it. If speaking of a guitar solo by itself.
Brent: “Eruption” by Eddie Van Halen. I was like eight years old when that came out. That was heavy. Still, every time I hear it I go right back to that. I’d say “Eruption.”

Frank: That’s a really hard question but I’d have to say, well, I’d have to say “Brighton Rock” by Queen, even though that’s not like a super, really well known guitar solo, it’s like every little guitar thing he did in that song is just insanely inspirational and killer. And it’s amazing if you listen to that song he basically invented death metal, and that whole song I guarantee that it inspired millions and millions to start doing that.

What do you think Slash thinks you’re doing right now?

Brent: He thinks I’m with twenty new friends. In every town I’m always hooking up with twenty people I know in every city.

Frank: He probably thinks I’m watching Foxy Shazam soundcheck (laughs)

Todd: He probably thinks I’m either drinking coffee, tagging along with Brent or watching Foxy Shazam.

What do you think Slash is doing right now?

Todd: Playing guitar

Frank: Playing guitar, I guarantee it

Brent: Yeah, absolutely.

So what do you hope to do in 2013?

Todd: We have so many plans right now as far as like going down to South America again and we’re going to India and all that. I can’t say what the future holds as far as where the next chapter is except that there will be a next chapter.

Frank: I guess I’m just seeing how this whole thing will ride out. Right now, everything has just been non-stop and constantly good. I’m not really sure what is going to happen but I’m just happy to be here.

Brent: We don’t have any time to do any personal things.

Todd: That’s true. Sleep, get some sleep (laughs)

Brent: I think we’re locked up. The true answer is we’re locked up for quite some time. I don’t think our personal lives are a priority right now or for at least the next couple of months but we’ll see.

Todd: Eventually we’ll start talking about the next chapter, depending on everybody’s projects, like my dance troupe that I have going on (laughs)

Frank: Real Diamond is going to go into full swing

Frank: Are you familiar with Real Diamond? Let me tell you about it. It’s our tribute to Neil Diamond. What is the Garth Brooks one?

Todd: Goth Brooks

And what song will you sing?

Todd: I couldn’t even tell you a Garth Brooks song

Brent: I Got Vampires In Lowly Places
(Everyone laughs)

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