During an April 4 appearance at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, GUNS N' ROSES bassist Duff McKagan discussed select songs from his new solo album, "Tenderness". A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On his lyrical role models:
Duff: "I think the [biggest] thing that's affected me lyric writing-wise is reading Cormac McCarthy or [Ernest] Hemingway — just the scarcity of words, and picking the right word. I've read lines of Cormac's — you read just a sentence, and I started crying. The subject, and the economy of words he used and how he used them. Writing my first book, I would try to aspire to that benchmark — like, 'Can I get one sentence like Cormac? Just fucking one?' I really tried to write up to the standard of authors I read. Writing for the lyrics for this record especially, I used a lot of 'we,' because the songs are about us, not me. I really wanted every word to be exactly the right word — don't rhyme 'fire' with 'desire.' Do not fucking do it. Don't do it."
On whether an artist has a responsibility to address the ills of society:
Duff: "There's a fine line in rock 'n' roll. In GUNS N' ROSES, if you didn't listen to the words in 'Paradise City', [it says] 'Captain America's got a broken heart.' Shit's been happening for a long time. We were a band then [of] young kids, like, 'Fuck the man!' It's still kind of like that. I don't want to be another voice out there — [a] political voice going, 'You should think this way.' Fuck me — I'm another moron — but I do have morals... and experience in getting sober and being really fucked up and seeing friends of mine die, a lot of them... It's been such a ride. If it ended tomorrow, I'd be sliding into my grave sideways going, 'What a fucking ride.' I never want to be another political voice. We've got enough of that shit, man."
On the "Tenderness" track "Falling Down", the lyrics of which tackle opioid abuse:
Duff: "I'd read a book by J.D. Vance called 'Hillbilly Elegy', and as a guy who's been there – being in addiction and alcoholism — I could really relate. I don't look at people who are strung out as a 'them' — it's a 'we.' I had written a song in 2008 [LOADED's 'Wasted Heart'] about a very personal issue with myself. Fortunately for me, I have a wife who stood by me and pulled me out... I said, 'You should have gone long ago, because I'm going to fuck up.' I knew I was going to fuck this up somehow. It was about drugs coming back into my life... 'Wasted Heart' is the personal side of that — like, I know what I'm talking about. 'Falling Down' is a writer view of a problem. I named a particular part of the country [West Virginia], but I could have named Tacoma, Washington. I could have named Seattle. I could have named Riverside or Hollywood."
On the song "Parkland":
Duff: "I was down in my basement, and this engineer guy came over and he came down the stairs, and he goes, 'Oh shit — have you heard about Parkland? It happened again.' I have a TV down in my basement that's never been turned on, and we turned on the news. At that time, I had a junior in high school... We just sat there, numb, watching. We've seen this happen so many times. I started playing this B-flat [chord] and this D [chord], and it was like a funeral dirge... I go on to name Columbine and Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech and the Charleston church without saying much more than, 'Do we have to see another mother cry? Do we have to see another schoolkid die?' If that's political, you can fuck off. It's paying honor to these kids... We have a daughter who's 18, and all her friends are like those Parkland kids — like, so together, and so aware of what's going on politically, and aware that they're the next voters. They're being really active, and I'm watching the kids and I'm going, 'Okay, I've got to do something, because what did you do when this was going down?'"
Due May 31, "Tenderness" sees McKagan reflecting on his experiences traveling the globe over two and a half years on GUNS N' ROSES' "Not In This Lifetime" tour. Encountering heartbreak, anger, fear, confusion and divide on his travels during this tumultuous time in our world history, McKagan channeled a collective hurt into songs of monolithic power.
McKagan and producer Shooter Jennings began recording "Tenderness" a year ago, working out of Station House studios in Echo Park, California, where they wrote and recorded in between McKagan's tour with GUNS N' ROSES and the release of Jennings's eponymous album, "Shooter". "Tenderness" features Jennings and his band along with appearances by The Waters and The Suicide Horn Section (which features Duff's brother Matt McKagan on trombone), among others.
McKagan will kick off a North American tour in support of "Tenderness" — during which he'll be backed by Jennings and Jennings's band — on May 30 at TLA in Philadelphia.