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It's not every day you get to talk with one of the architects of modern rock. When Beatcomber was offered the opportunity to rap with Michael Andrew McKagan, better-known to any head-banging child of the '80s as Duff, he wrapped his bandanna around his leg, fluffed out his bleached locks, and dialed up the junk-hunk bassist. Along with Matt Sorum and the inimitable Slash, McKagan is one of three Guns N' Roses refugees currently joining reformed heroin pinup boy Scott Weiland in Velvet Revolver. The mainstream press, the Grammy committee, and arenas full of explosively hormoned teenagers have anointed VR as the second coming of GNR, happy to replace Axl Rose's slithery preen with Weiland's damaged brooding. The band hits Sound Advice Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach on Wednesday, May 25.
Strangely enough -- or maybe not strange at all -- McKagan conducted the entire interview while having his tresses trimmed at an L.A. salon:
Beatcomber: This is too good to be true: We were just wondering what you do with your hair.
Duff [speaking with a frog in his throat that's probably been camping out there since '86]: I don't know -- [aside] Katie, what do I do with my hair? [background murmuring, then back to the phone] Bleach and tone? Bleach and tone. And she cuts it in a certain way. We're touring so much that it's rare to get back to Los Angeles, and my hair's gotten out of control when we're out for two and a half months and I can't get my hair cut by Katie. She knows my hair and, dude, with long hair, you can get in some pretty bad accidents. You can get a mullet, which has happened to me, or you know, all sorts of shit can happen. If you have the right person, just stick with him or her.
Velvet Revolver taps into the current '80s rock resurgence, but you're really a new band doing new music. Are you guys intentionally mining new territory?
We're not trying to be anything; it's just taking its natural course. We all came up at the same time, a really cool time. In the '70s when we were kids, we listened to Led Zeppelin and the Stones and Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind & Fire. And then punk rock hit, and that's when I turned... [pauses] I saw Led Zeppelin when I was 11, in 1977, and then I saw the Clash in '79. And I went to the show and it was like, OK, now I can play music. I can learn three chords and start a band. It was a very ecstatic moment in my life, that concert.
A lot has been made of how a majority of the band is sober, and you've been clean for years now. Is this gonna be the Betty Ford Tour, with green tea and yoga mats and candles backstage?[Laughs] Myself, I've had enough of the debauchery. It does get old after a while. But there's a mixture. We've got Matt [Sorum, drummer] who's a single guy, and you know, I'm married with kids; so is Scott; so is Slash. We're by no means boring backstage, but it's not like what it would've been 12 years ago. I don't remember what happened backstage then. I'm out on the road with a bunch of people now, crew people and bus drivers and stuff, that tell me stories of stuff I've done, so I'm thinking of writing a book of stuff I don't remember. We were in the Netherlands or somewhere, and my bus driver said, "Oh yeah, this is where you guys played and Blind Melon opened." I said, "Blind Melon opened for us?" He goes, "Duff, they opened for you the whole leg of the tour, about three months."
So yeah, it's a little different now, for me definitely. Now I'm lucid. I remember where we play; I know where we're going. My feelings are on the tips of my fingers and -- uh, very much in my heart and soul now. Which kind of sucks in a way, because I miss my wife and kids a lot when we're gone.
I wouldn't have given a shit about that stuff because I was so -- I just medicated myself for so long, to keep from having feelings of maybe not having a girl, or I didn't wanna miss anybody. We're certainly not flag wavers of AA or the Betty Ford Clinic. There's grown men in this band that do what they want. But they don't take it far. When we get on stage, the five of us together is a whole experience that's very honest and heart-on-our-sleeve rock 'n' roll.
That's what it's about. All the other bullshit aside, how I do my hair, whatever, it's about that hour and 45 minutes that we're up there. It's very honest. We don't clock in and play the same set every night. That gets boring. We really feed off the audience. Kinda like that Clash show I was telling you about, you know, Paul Simonon, the bass player, came with an ax and chopped down the wooden barrier between the stage and the kids, and he got up on the mic and said, "We're all in this together." And you know, I saw the light. I was 13 years old, and I said, "That's what it's all about."