Gilby Clarke has been one busy guy since the original Guns N' Roses fell apart. Of course we know about the Rockstar: Supernova project and the new record but in the time between, he's put out six solo records (not counting his short lived group Col. Parker). Cut from a very traditional rock & roll path like Keith Richards, Gilby's records earned him a sizeable following. Along the way, he's played guitar for a number of people like Heart and the MC5. He's also produced records for a variety of artists including Canada's Crash Kelly. He recently released a retrospective record, simply called Gilby Clarke and I got to speak with recently to talk about it.
antiMUSIC: Hi Gilby. How are you doing?
Gilby: Good Morley. I'm doing good actually
antiMUSIC: It's a real pleasure to speak with you. It was fun to watch you on Rock Star Supernova and obviously I've been a fan since GNR and pawnshop guitars, so it's a real thrill for me.
Gilby: Oh right on.
antiMUSIC: You've got a retrospective record out now and with all you've been over the years, it seems weird that you've also been a solo artist for over 12 years. After GNR, did you think that you would maintain the solo route for as long as this or were you just biding your time before planning on being part of another group?
Gilby: Well I gotta tell you, I became a solo artist, you know, kinda by default, you know. In the beginning it was just to bide time in between GNR records, you know...at that point we'd just gotten off the road and I had a bunch of songs, you know, that I was working on before I joined the band and while I was in the band. And they didn't really fit in what GNR was doing at the time. So I made my first record just to kinda bide time while we were in between tours and records and then when the band just kinda fell apart, that was just my natural progression of what I was doing. And you know, one led to another into another, into another (laughs). Time just kept going by, it was a good thing to do.
antiMUSIC: Ever think you'd ever be in another band or were you just content to go the solo route?
Gilby: Well that's kinda what happened. As time goes by you write songs, but I always wanted to be part of a group. I mean, I think my strength is playing guitar in a group. But you know, it was hard, after coming from GNR. It was a really good band. I mean everybody did their part and did it well and it was just really hard. I hadn't really found anything else that I wanted to be a part of and that's why I kinda took the road of doing it on my own. It's like a liked the music that I was creating but I never really found a group of people that I wanted to make music with. Up until this new project came around with Tommy and Jason. I mean to me that was the perfect opportunity and some really talented people to work with.
antiMUSIC: You've always struck me as a guy who is just interested in putting out records and making music and not really too concerned with how many units you're selling or what magazines you're appearing in. Have you ever had a blue print for your career at any point?
Gilby: (laughs) No actually, I'm not that organized.
Gilby: I mean the first part is true. I mean, I've always looked at myself as a musician, you know. And musicians have to do certain things to make a living. You know. And sometimes I'll take a guitar job. You know, sometimes I'll go play guitar with a band like Heart or something for a tour. You know, gotta earn a living that summer, you know? And other times I'll go play guitar with the MC5. So sometimes, you know, I'll take guitar gigs. But I try to, for me, what's important is I play guitar a certain way and I'm not the kind of guy that can adapt to certain styles. The music has pretty much be based around the way I play. And that's why I never really fit in with a lot of the current metal bands, back in the eighties and nineties. I was more of a bluesier, rock player. So it was hard, just kinda hard finding the right gigs. And you know, when I'm writing and performing my own music, it's right up my style, you know. That's what I like to play. I always had that: if there wasn't a guitar gig out there, I could always go out and do some dates on my own. I always had some pretty decent audiences out there, and could always make a record that I thought was good.
antiMUSIC: The collection record seems to put you into perspective as a true rock & roller, a Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood kind of guy. Is it safe to say that you're pretty rooted in '60s and '70s rock? Aside from growing up with it, what is it about that kind of music that appeals to you?
Gilby: Well to me it's just the best way that I can express myself with a guitar. It is. That is the music that I grew up with, but it's also the music that I like. You know I've heard a lot of music over the past 40-something years. And still, to this day, I can still put on a great Stones record, or you know, one of the later Beatles records and that's what I like. You know. I listen to a lot of new current music, and there's some real creative things going on out there. People have really stretched music a long ways. And have brought in a lot of different elements but I still think my strength is playing a bluesier type guitar, you know. I think I've expanded, even with the Supernova project. I've really expanded myself. I did a lot of different things on the guitar that I wouldn't have normally gone to, but I had other people, pushing me. Tommy saying 'Try this, try this' and you try it, you know. And I'm not afraid to try new things. And every time I do that, you know, I do find other things I like, but I think my strength is what I've been doing.
antiMUSIC: What are some of the highlights of your solo career? Despite a recording artist previous to that, getting Pawnshop Guitars out must have been a thrill for you?
Gilby: It was great, I mean I was working with a really great label at that time. I was on Virgin Records and that was… most of the highlights were with that record. I mean I was really proud of that record. To me it encompassed all the music that I like, you know. I kinda got some hard rock edge in there, I got some bluesier stuff in there, some rootsy things, and then I also got some pop elements, like Beatles stuff that I like. It really encompassed everything that I like about music within one record. I had a lot of guest people that came in and helped out on the record and that was really important to me. And "Cure Me or Kill Me" did fairly well on radio, which was good, and I was happy about it because at least everybody else gets it. Not everybody gets your music. You don't always make music that was popular at the time. And what was cool when that record came out which was it was definitely at the end of hard rock music and when grunge was coming in. But the song was still doing well on radio even though radio was Soundgarden, Nirvana and Pearl Jam at that time, that song was still out there doing well. So I was happy. I also opened up a lot of dates with Aerosmith in South America. That was a big, big thrill for me. I mean those were some of the greatest shows I've ever played in my life, doing my solo band opening for Aerosmith.
antiMUSIC: Who was in the band?
Gilby: I had one of my good friends Ryan Roxie playing guitar, Marc Danzeisen playing drums and Will Effertz was playing bass.
antiMUSIC: Waddy Watchel has been involved with a lot of your records. How did you first link up with him and what elements about him make for a great working relationship?
Gilby: Waddy…when I was going to make my first record, Pawnshop for Virgin. Virgin, one thing was very insistent that I work with a producer and so they came out with the usual list of people that produced the records and I didn't want to work with anybody, I really wanted to do it myself. And then when Waddy's name came up. One of the records that I listen to a lot was Keith Richards solo records. And Waddy produced those. As soon as Waddy's name came up I said, oh, I'll meet with him. (laughs) And so I met with him and we just sort of hit it off the bat and I just thought it was a good pairing. He's a great guitarist first of all. He understands what I'm trying to do and it was just a really good pairing. And then even later on, in records like The Hangover, he didn't produce, he ended up coming over playing on it. So we definitely, you know, there was something that really worked out well together.
antiMUSIC: You have a new version of "Black" on there with Dilana doing vocals. That came out really amazing. It's quite excellent. Why did you think of having her on there and was it the only song that you tried her out on vocals or were there others?
Gilby: No, we were trying to do something new, you know, with the record. I mean, I didn't have enough time to really rerecord anything or put anything new on this. It kinda came up pretty quick to try and get it out in time for the Supernova tour. So at that time is when I was working with Dilana, when we were working on her album and one of the songs I was talking to her about was "Black" about putting it on her record. So when this came up it just kinda seemed natural to say, 'Hey Dilana, let's cut this tune, but let's put it out on my record.' (laughs) And it just worked out really good. I mean, it was a song that she really clicked with, I always thought it was a good tune. You know, I'm not the best of singers. And it's really nice to hear a really good singer sing one of your songs.
antiMUSIC: Your version was good too.
Gilby: Well, thank you
antiMUSIC: "Cure Me or Kill Me" is one of I think your best known songs. I think I remember hearing that this was the last song written for the record. What can you tell us about recording it? Slash plays on this cut, does he not?
Gilby: Yes, Slash plays on it and I'm playing guitar on there too. When I was making the Pawnshop record, you know, I'm not the kind of person that writes like 50 songs, and then picks 10 to do a record. If I'm making a record I pretty much write 10 to 12 songs. It's like, I'm pretty good at you know, if the song's not good it doesn't get that far. You know, so, usually if I write a song, I'm writing it. It'll make a record . So when we were doing the Pawnshop record, you know, I was still writing at the same time. My label was still pressing me, you know, make sure you write. Make sure you write and everything and I was like, ah we have enough songs, we're ready to go. And then right as we're going into the studio, I go, you know what, I've got this riff (laughs). And I had the riff around it, and I just kinda kept jamming it, and it really ended up being the last song we put on the record and I was finishing the lyrics as I was singing the song. You know, it's like I had the title, you know, for a while and some of the lyrics, but I really was finishing them as I was singing it at the time. So it's kinda unique because it really is to me, it's a song that kinda encompasses everything that I like about music in a three minute song. And it's funny how it came together so fast.
antiMUSIC: I think I read Kim Fowley played a part in helping you with Candy. He's such an important figure on the Hollywood scene during the late 70s and early 80s. How did you first link up with him and what did you learn from him?
Gilby: Actually, believe it or not, I learned a lot from Kim. Kim was one of the main guys in Hollywood during the early '80s you know. He was one of the guys who discovered bands like Guns N' Roses and most of the local bands. He was the one who saw them first and saw something in them, way before record label people did. He was working with my first band Candy. Candy was already a band that was out and playing shows and doing fairly well. But the guitar wasn't working out. So I answered an ad in the paper, and the ad said: guitarist wanted, Bowie and T.Rex influences. Yeah, it was funny. So I called it and got the gig and Kim was already involved in the band so I went over and met him. But I was a little bit younger than everybody else in the band. And at that time I had had more studio experience believe it or not, even being younger than everybody in the band. So when I came in, the first demos we did with myself and the band, I actually produced those demos too. So it was kinda fun. Kim and I just sort of really clicked. Kim also was really helpful with a lot of us guys. None of us really had jobs back then, you know. We were just young guys in bands. And he always had jobs for us. I used to do a lot of session work for Kim. Our singer used to drive him around, so it was kinda cool. He actually used to really help us out.
antiMUSIC: With six records and seven counting Col Parker, you've amassed quite a library of songs. What are some of the ones that mean most to you, either from a personal standpoint or something memorable that happened when you recorded them?
Gilby: Well, once again, Pawnshop to me was really special record. It was, to me, at the time, the perfect record. It really encompassed everything I wanted to do in one record. I'm proud of every track, even all these years later. I'm still proud of that record. The Col. Parker record was really special, because that whole record was written within a month. That's one of those things where you get the right guys in the room. We just started writing a bunch of music, we recorded it and to me, it felt really good.
There was a question you asked earlier, you know, of: I don't really care about record sales. And it's true because I mean, of course everybody wants their record to sell and we want them to be accepted by the public but you know, a good record isn't really judged on record sales, you know. Because there are some great records that never got the opportunity to be out there. They were either on a label that wasn't, you know, possible to get it out to the masses, or maybe didn't have the advertising budgets. I mean, I've heard some of the crappiest records of all time and they sold incredible amounts of copies. So you know, I do have records that I'm proud of, and I do have records that I thought I could have done a better job at. But you know with each one, they all have their own stories, but they do mark that point in time, which I think is the most important thing.
antiMUSIC: Is it rewarding from a parental view, now that Francesca is old enough to really appreciate what her Dad does and get to see him play on a regular basis?
Gilby: I don't know, Frankie actually plays guitar now and she has her own band. Yeah, it's pretty cool. They've actually played a couple gigs and stuff. And it's strange for her because, you know, some of the things that were the wildest were back in the GNR days. It was a very successful band then, and she, you know, wasn't alive then. But she still gets, she's seen me do quite a few shows over the last few years and stuff, and she gets the handle. She knows what her father does, and what her mother does and all that. Our household, you know, we don't like leave our rock n roll boots at the door, you know. We pretty much live it all the time. We're always up late and you know, get up late. We pretty much keep that going even with a small kid in the house.
antiMUSIC: You're out with Supernova right now. How is the band coming together on the road, since obviously you're just starting to mesh with Lukas?
Gilby: Just about to leave in three or four days.
antiMUSIC: Oh, so tour hasn't started yet?
Gilby: No, we did our first New Years Eve shows, and then the tour starts next Tuesday in Florida.
antiMUSIC: I was going to ask how coming together on the road…
Gilby: Well it's coming together in rehearsals (laughs)
antiMUSIC: What do you expect when you're out on tour, in terms of how the band will come together?
Gilby: Well Johnny just kinda fit in real naturally. I'd jammed with Johnny before, and Tommy's known him before. He really fit in seamlessly, you know. He and I really have a lot of things in common, so it's really easy for me. And Tommy respects him. So it's really easy for them to communicate. Lucas is doing a real good job. It's like, you know, we've haven't gotten out on the road yet, which will be the real test. But you know, he's ready to accept the challenges that are ahead. And you know, he's done a great job on the record. Now we've just got to go out there and make a show. The New Years' eve shows went well. There were definitely a couple of snags, you know, here and there that we need to clean up. But that's always going to happen your first couple of shows. But I think it's going to be pretty strong, you know, I think the sets coming together good. I think it's going to work out pretty good.
antiMUSIC: How will the set work because apparently you're bringing some of the other contestants on SuperNova out to play with you guys?
Gilby: Yeah, the way I understand it, and I could be wrong (laughs), but I'm pretty positive it's Dilana and Magni are going to come out and do quite a few numbers acoustically and Toby has his own band that's going to come out and play. I'm not sure if Dilana and Magni will join Toby together at the end of their set. Then Panic Channel plays, and then we come out and play. So it really will be a full evening.
antiMUSIC: You obviously only have the one record to play from. What other stuff will you be playing?
Gilby: Well we've been talking. We've already worked up some covers. What we've decided is, we're going to work up a couple tunes that hopefully the audience will recognize and also, the missing pieces in the set, we definitely need a couple more up-tempo songs, so we're definitely adding a couple of up-tempo covers to the set. We just thought it wasn't the right thing to go about and do a GNR tune or a Motley tune, or a Metallica, especially now that Johnny is replacing Jason. We just thought it would be best to round it out with covers.
antiMUSIC: "Kill me or cure me" would fit in perfectly. (laughs)
Gilby: (laughs) I know, we haven't gotten that far. I guess if we do "cure me or kill m"e we'll have one of Tommy's "Get Naked" or something. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: Did the TV show end up being different once it got going from what you were presented?
Gilby: Oh, it was definitely different from what I was presented. When I sat down in those meetings I was under the understanding that it really was, you know, a new band between myself, Tommy and Jason, you know. And it certainly was represented more like Tommy Lee's new band. I definitely didn't sign up for that. You know, I respect Tommy, as a guy in the band, of course, but I was kinda disappointed with the way they were advertising that. But you know, we got the right winner in the end. There's definitely a lot of things I don't agree about with television, you know. Television is editing and all kinds of things. I think most people who went to the tapings of show but then saw the show actually on TV, saw two different shows, but I'm sure, you know, look this is my first shot at doing something on television. And I definitely learned a little bit from doing it.
antiMUSIC: There was a good marriage between the performers and you guys. It seemed like there was more from the band as the show went on. Were the producers surprised at how things progressed and did they encourage you to talk more?
Gilby: Well they didn't really encourage us. I think we really didn't have a choice. Because we, the show definitely developed as it went along. And that's one thing that the producers did warn us about going in. Shows like this take on a life of their own. And you know, whatever works, they roll with. So as the shows go on, we did. And we were going to have all these guests on and it ends up the guests, we didn't have them. Because like you were just saying, we ended up being able to cover everything ourselves. Dave was such a big part of the show last year, and this year, he was part of our band basically, you know. So we all know each other, and we all kinda have the same opinion on stuff. So we definitely rolled with the punches this year. I don't know if it was a conscious decision or as much as you know just keep working, and they just kept going. But they didn't really encourage or discourage us in any way. We pretty much did what we wanted to do. And they edited what they wanted to edit. (laughs)
antiMUSIC: Anything else you want to mention about the record, Gilby?
Gilby: Well, I think we pretty much covered it. I'm really happy that this retrospective is out there. I think it's good timing. You know, some of these records kinda went under the radar at the time, so I think it's really good to get some of these songs out there. You know, I guess, it's strange, I get a lot of positive feedback from people who are rock & roll purists. Who like my records because they really are. I've written every song from the heart. I didn't do it for any monetary reasons or whatever. And it really shows in the music. You know, there are some people, who can critique it for, they're not current or things like that, but this is my version. There are plenty of records that are current. This is for the purist at heart. I love making music. I love performing it. Hopefully it shows still in the record.
antiMUSIC: Well, it's a real thrill to speak with you. All the best with your record and the Supernova project. See you hopefully in Montreal.
Gilby: You got it man. We'll be there.
antiMUSIC: Thanks, Gilby.
Gilby: Bye bye.
Morley Seaver and antiMUSIC thank Gilby Clarke for taking the time to do this interview.