Duff keen to showcase fresh material

Duff McKagan and his Loaded band mates.
Duff McKagan and his Loaded band mates.

Just because he's as comfortable wielding a pen as a columnist for the Seattle Weekly these days as he is taking to the stage, don't think for a second that Duff McKagan has lost his appetite for musical destruction.

The Seattle-based rock legend will be out to prove the latter early next year when he tours Australia with his current band, Loaded, as part of the annual Soundwave festival.

To Duff, who tasted mega-stardom in his 20s with Guns N' Roses and then once again in the 2000s with super group Velvet Revolver, Loaded represents a logical step forward in his musical evolution.

Before playing the hard rock circuit his earlier bands were primarily punk.

''I think for me at least, this band perfectly adheres to, I don't want to say punk rock music, but if I were to continue on here and not have moved to LA in 1984 and I kept playing and evolving the punk rock music that I was playing then, this maybe would have been that band that was the perfect evolution,'' Duff said.

''Punk rock to me is much more a state of mind than an actual beat per minute of a melody or any of that kind of thing.''

For Loaded, Duff serves as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist. He is joined by Mike Squires on lead, Jeff Rouse on bass and drummer Isaac Carpenter.

''I really don't see it being any different than playing bass in a band,'' Duff said of being centre stage.

''You do the best service you can for whatever band you're in. I played bass and sang on our first few tours and it's hard to play bass well and sing. There's a couple of guys who can do it - Sting and Geddy Lee [from Rush] - for me it wasn't comfortable and I like watching a band where everybody's perfectly comfortable, so I switched to rhythm guitar, which is something I can do and have done.

''Playing rhythm guitar and singing is a whole lot easier for me, therefore I think it probably looks like it's a lot less effort. You don't want to be watching a band and be aware that there's some sort of struggle.''

Currently celebrating their third full length release, The Taking, Loaded was formed in 1999.

''I was going to college,'' said Duff. ''I guess if you go to college when you're 19 and you go and form a band at college, that's your band. But I didn't go to college until after Guns N' Roses.

''I had moved back to Seattle and my wife and I had just had our first baby and I was kind of having a second life because I had just gotten sober too and just discovering a lot of new stuff because I was able to and frankly had survived through my year of 1994 which was dicey at times.

''So Loaded was like my college band. I was going to school, being a new parent and we were making this record, Dark Days, and we would go to Japan, because it's relatively close to Seattle, and play there on my spring break. We'd go and play gigs with Fu Manchu down the west coast. We'd play these random little tours and went to Europe and played these festivals.

''The people started to get their claws into this band - it was different, it was weird, and it had that guy from Guns N' Roses in it, but I don't think that really made a difference in the beginning.''

Despite the early buzz surrounding Loaded, Duff's call from formed Guns bandmates Slash and Matt Sorum to form Velvet Revolver was too enticing a proposition to pass up.

''That was a band that just took off and Loaded was put on the side for a few years,'' Duff said.

When Velvet Revolver was put on hiatus in 2008, Loaded was made active once more and albums two [Sick] and three quickly followed.

Duff said that he believed fans understood Loaded was much more than a mere vanity project.

''I think because we have played a lot of different territories now multiple times I've kind of stopped worrying about that,'' he said. ''We are recognised as a band in the UK, and America and South America and in Europe, so I think you probably won't see us worrying about that and I think when you don't see a band worrying about something, usually the punters won't worry about it either.''

Duff said he looked forward to bringing Loaded down under.

''It's taken this band this long to get down to Australia and just judging from Twitter and Facebook, contacts and our website forums, there are a lot of Australian fans who already know our whole thing from our records and from our webisodes that we made,'' he said.

''They know what to expect and I think us finally being able to come there and play is going to knock down that last barrier ... they actually are a real band, they do play gigs.''

Duff said playing as part of a festival was appealing.

''I guarantee there will be plenty of people there who would never have heard us before, just judging from festivals,'' he said. ''But we're good at that, we're used to that. It's interesting, dealing with thousands of people and many of them haven't heard you before and turning that crowd ... it's happened before.

''We've turned the whole crowd in our favour. We wear our heart on our sleeve. It's a real rock 'n' roll band.

''I think people may come and inclination of, 'well who the f--k are these guys' - we've all been to those gigs where you're like, 'I'll suffer through the opening band to see who I came to see', and suddenly that opening band is like your new favourite band. Once in a whole I think we're that band.''

In the course of his career Duff has had the good fortune to play his music on all manner of stages, from the mega stadiums of the world, to the seediest of barrooms. He has his personal favourites.

''If you're a big mega band - and I've been in big mega bands - you can play the stadiums and it's good for commerce - it get's people paid and gets a lot of people working and all of that kind of thing and that's a good feeling, but taking commerce out of it, just a packed 1800 seat room, like an old theatre ... there's nothing like that,'' Duff said. ''When a band is just breaking and the gig just sold out and there's kind of a hum through the city about that gig and you actually happen to be in the band that they're all talking about ... there's nothing quite like that.''

In April of this year Duff and his Guns N' Roses bandmates were officially inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame. He said it was an amazing feeling.

''It was special for me because I didn't realise it until about a week before the Hall Of Fame, that it was really about what Guns N' Roses really signified,'' he said.

''You and I would be into our football clubs and you believe in that club through all kinds of hell and high water and they got you through all kinds of sh-t in your youth and they finally won the whatever cup or the superbowl or whatever and I think we were that ... I think that us getting in the Hall Of Fame signified that for a lot of people. It was about them. It wasn't about me showing up to revel in some sort of glory and it was so f--king awesome.''

This year marks 25 years since Duff and Guns N' Roses released its celebrate debut album, Appetite For Destruction. In rock circles it has been lauded one of the most important albums, not only of its time, but in the history of hard rock.

Duff says that it is only now that he can understand its place in music history.

''It really has taken me all of this time to kind of come to grips with it,'' he said. ''Being so inside of it, it really is difficult to get outside of it and see what all the fuss is about. You wrote the songs, you recorded the songs and you played the songs a million times and you understand when the thing breaks ... everybody else agrees with our thing, but I think maybe it took me having kids and my kids growing up and seeing their friends.

''I have two daughters and seeing the dudes that go to their school and seeing their reaction now ... 15 year old dudes and they weren't even alive when Appetite came out - they were minus 10. To see their reaction, that's when it really started to resonate with me ... like 'wow, this is beyond my control, I can't hush this'. It's great.''

Aside from music, Duff has been lending his thoughts to a regular column for the Seattle Weekly for the past four years. It's a creative outlet which brings great joy.

''I don't write about music very often - maybe one out of six columns will be about music - and I don't do interviews,'' Duff said. ''I probably would know how to. I did a thing with Jack White a few weeks ago where it was a conversation. It was a big thing for the Seattle Weekly to get - I think Jack White only did three interviews or something for this new record and the Weekly got one of the interviews because they told Jack White's people that I would do the interview.

''I just called him and said, 'hey dude, I'm writing this article on your record and I do happen to think that its great so let's just talk about some stuff from your record'. And we got into God and religion and that place that you probably don't want to get into and we explored the relationship between he and the people that he has produced and it ended up interesting.

''I really like writing. I can articulate my feelings and subject matter a lot better in the written word than I ever could talking about it.''

Another interesting aspect of today's Duff comes directly from his time spent studying finance at university. He's quite happy to lend his knowledge to fellow musos.

''I had gotten sober and a lot of things were possible for me suddenly, like me living, and me making my money last,'' Duff said. ''I didn't know anything about money and I was 30, and I had made a bunch of money in my 20s and royalty streams were coming in at a steady rate and I didn't want to be broke and 45. So I got into a business school that I wanted and learned what I needed to learn. And then word got out among my peers and I started getting these hushed late night calls, like 'Duff, save me, can you?'. And I think because I am one of us, I'm not one of them, I'm probably more trusted. I've also found that being sober is about being of service, so I kind of just started to share what I had learned in basic English, not in heavy financial terminology. It's really not rocket science, it's just kind of made out to be rocket science.''

The Soundwave festival will kick off on Saturday, February 23 in Brisbane, followed by dates in Sydney [Sunday, February 24], Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

For more details visit soundwavefestival.com

This story Duff's gun is fully loaded first appeared on Hawkesbury Gazette.