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Duff McKagan gives us the lowdown on reuniting with Axl Rose, his band's new CD, and how to invest your poker winnings

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Duff McKagan
Gary Miller/FilmMagic.com

Duff McKagan is best known for playing bass for Guns N’ Roses in their Appetite for Destruction heyday—a period during which McKagan abused his body so badly that his pancreas ultimately exploded.

These days, McKagan’s extracurricular activities are of a more sober stripe: He has written about finance for Playboy; regularly contributes columns to both ESPN.com and Seattle Weekly; and is even now available for hire as a public speaker.

“I spoke to a bunch of businessmen in Seattle,” says McKagan. “Titans of industry. The thing is that business and success, and how hard it is, doesn’t look any different whether you’re playing a gig at eleven o’clock at night or you’re going to work at nine in the morning at a law firm. So I talk about that. But ultimately all those guys want to know about is how many chicks I’ve f—ed!”

The man is also still rocking hard as the frontman for his band, Duff McKagan’s Loaded, whose latest CD, The Taking, is out tomorrow. After the jump, McKagan talks about his new release, his forthcoming memoir, his recent reunion with Axl Rose, and why he is very much not “the Bernie Madoff of metal.”

Entertainment Weekly: A lot of the lyrics on The Taking are quite bleak…

Duff McKagan: Yeah. Fairly sinister. [Laughs] A band like us, we’re on a bus and we’re together all the time. So within your bus, it’s very public. There’s no secrets. And one of the guys on our bus was going through a very heavy marriage dilemma. We knew both of them very well. We saw all the stages of it falling apart and couldn’t comment on it either way.

So when you’re just sitting there, witnessing the deal, it affects you. [It’s about] the kind of anger that happens right before [people split up] and right after and then the sort of reconciliation and the victory of getting through for both of them.

What’s the track “Cocaine” about? Or is that a dumb question?

It’s the one sort of autobiographical song on there. It’s about my year of 1993. 1993 was when I quit cocaine: “F— this stuff.” But of course my alcohol level went even higher. My mantra was, “At least I quit cocaine.” Everybody else was, going, “Yeah, but…” I wouldn’t hear it. “I quit cocaine! I’m drug free!”

You’re also making a film based on the CD?

We came up with the idea on too much coffee one morning: “This album’s cinematic. We gotta make a movie!” The premise is really oddball and screwy. Our drummer gets kidnapped and we have to pay ransom and the gig’s that night. We’re referencing a lot of films like The Warriors. It’s supposed to be a good bit of fun.

And you guys are acting? Because you were in an episode of Sliders, right?

Exactly. Um, there’s a little bit of dialog. But really the musics going to do most of the talking.

You’ve been writing your autobiography. What has that experience been like that?

It’s not really an autobiography. It’s about how does a guy become completely f—ing addicted. My career and drugs and stuff started pretty early and then escalated. I take the reader through that process and then my fall and then the hospital and then, way more important than all of that, is my coming out [of it]. I wouldn’t want to write the book again. Some of it was painful, some of it was pretty f—ing funny. But at least I was honest.

Did you remember it all?

You don’t have to remember it all. It’s not like gig by gig. It’s actually my memories. But the editor would go, “Um, you weren’t there then. You were actually in Greece. You weren’t in f—ing Japan!”

Have you read Keith Richards’ book?

No, it’s on my Kindle waiting list. I’m deep into Suttree by Cormac McCarthy. It’s bleak!

You also written a lot about money matters. I won a bunch of money at poker last week. What should I do with it?

Give it all to me. It’s not lost, it’s just with me. You see? You understand that, right?

You’re like the Bernie Madoff of metal!

No, I am not! God, that guy. More of those guys should be in jail, those Wall Street guys.

So what should I do with my money?

At this very moment? You want to save it for how long?

Maybe a year.

Oh, just put it in a treasury bill, then.

Not stocks and shares?

You don’t know where it’s going to be in a year. I would say if it was 20 years, ten years, yeah, the stock market. But if you’re talking about a year, it’s too risky, too volatile.

What’s the current status with Velvet Revolver, now that Scott Weiland has left?

I don’t know. Quite honestly, I don’t know. There is no status. The status is no status. Still, we’ve played with some really good singers.

You mean you’ve tried some new singers out?

Yeah. We had written a bunch of songs right around the era when Scott was on his way out, and right after that. So we’ve got stuff that we can give the singers to sing on. Like, “Show us what you got. Write a lyric and a melody.” Because that’s more than half the battle with singers.

You don’t want to name names?

No. A lot of them you wouldn’t know who they were. Just a bunch of different guys.

You played a surprise show in London with Guns N Roses last year. What was that like?

I was so jet-lagged. I was there on financial business. The cool thing about that was Axl and I got to reconnect. We’re grown-ups, you know. There’s been a lot silliness. Lawyers and bull—. You know, lawyers like to create a situation so that their jobs go on. And I know that. But it was just nice to reconnect. We had a nice dinner. That was much more important to me than actually getting up and playing. But it was fun playing with those guys. There are some really good players in that band.

And you were in Jane’s Addiction somewhat briefly last year.

Yeah. Well, I was never in it. I was just writing songs. I played a couple of gigs with them. We were making our record, so that’s my focus and in no uncertain terms have I been unclear to any parties I played with that Loaded is my focus.

With all the bands you’ve now been a part of, do you have a certain outlook on the idiosyncracies of frontmen?

No.

Let me put it another way: You’re a frontman, now. Is ‘Lead Singer Disease’ contagious?

I do play with a guitar, so I’m still a full step away from being a singer with just a microphone. So I don’t know what that’s like. But there’s no excuse for being an a—hole. There’s no excuse in the world for being a dick to your band mates or your crew. I’ve seen some stuff. I’ve been playing for a long time and I still haven’t found an excuse for being a f—king dick. I keep looking for it! No, being the lead singer in a band is just fine and dandy.

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