Grammy-winning guitarist Slash came of age when vinyl ruled the world. But the 47-year-old former Guns N’ Roses band member and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has embraced digital era innovation by lending his name and talent to two new boundary-pushing music apps.
Produced by MATIvision, Slash360 brings fans into the studio with Slash and bandmates Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, whose new album Apocalyptic Love was recorded live while being filmed from every possible angle by six 360-degree spherical, panoramic cameras. The multimedia app for iPhone, iPad and iPod is billed as the world’s first multi-camera 360-degree interactive music app.
"When I was a kid and I would go to concerts, I would take in everything about the room the band was playing in, the equipment they were using, the fingers on the strings, the musicians themselves and a lot of the details of their emotional state of being while they were playing," Slash says. "I was a sponge for all that."
Slash says he got excited about the cutting edge MATIvision technology when someone showed him a YouTube video of a live song filmed in 360.
"It’s an answer to that kid in me who loves to see everything having to do with a show or the recording of an album in a studio," he says. "You can go to the lighting truss, you can go out into the audience, you can go over to the guitar player’s side, you can go behind the drum set. I’d never seen anything like that sort of interactive control of the visual, where you could look at whatever the subject was from any point of view, so that every time it was your own personal experience and you can do it differently every time. It’s a concept that can be really fascinating for so many things outside of music. I think it’d make great porn."
With the app, Slash is also trying to help breathe 21st century relevance into the endangered form known as the full-length album.
"I’m a purist—I totally believe in the art of making records and all that stuff I grew up with," Slash says. "I was sad to see when the long-playing album was passed over for the CD and the packaging was shrunk down to something that was far less interesting. To me, the artwork and the actual information around the album itself was all part of the experience. CDs gave way to MP3s and the album artwork is obsolete at this point. So basically what I’m trying to do is come up with ways to still have other interesting things going along with the music in these different new platforms that we have."
Slash interacts regularly with fans on Twitter and Facebook. Do all those voices in his head ever infringe on his own creative process?
"It depends on how much you want to let yourself go down that road," he says. "There’s always been access to people’s opinions of you. For me personally I don’t like to read about what people say about me on Twitter, and I don’t like to read articles about myself and I don’t like watching myself on TV or any of that and I never really have. So while I might feed into some of these modern developments, I don’t necessarily get feedback from them."
The second app, AmpliTube Slash edition, allows guitar-playing fans to play, practice and record original compositions using Slash’s signature sounds.
Slash says he spent years looking for a quick and easy way to capture musical ideas while on the road, using whatever tools were on hand, from tape recorders, Pro Tools on his laptop or the open mic on his Blackberry. "For the longest time I didn’t write on the road and then when I did I would just sort of keep ideas in my head and I figured whichever one was good enough, it would stick," he says. He says he started writing seriously on the road in 2007 or 2008, "probably because I was spending very little time at the bars after the shows."
Slash and Kennedy discovered AmpliTube software and wrote Apocalyptic Love on tour.
"Some techie people, they love fiddling with stuff, but for me personally I’m a real plug in and go guy," he says. "I thought AmpliTube was a great, convenient tool. And because I was so enthusiastic about it later on they came to me about doing my own personal app using my own signature amp and so on. I use a very simple Marshall amp and very few effects. The only thing that was hard to recreate was something that is difficult in the first place, which is the Blue Box pedal. The original pedal is unpredictable anyway, so how do you create unpredictability?"
Slash remains nostalgic about the past but proactive about the need to keep moving toward the future. Does he think that interactivity enhances the music or detracts from it?
"It takes a little bit of the mystique and the magic out of it," he says. "But people are into a very interactive experience, so I put out these different things that I think personally are interesting. But I’m not sort of riding this wave of stuff, and so my sort of traditional values are pretty much intact. I make myself accessible to things that I can deal with or that I think are good ideas or from a business point of view might be beneficial, but where I don’t feel like I’m having to give up too much of my sort of personal sincerity. So it is a juggling act."