In this second episode, fresh out of the freezer comes another classic. Guns n’ Roses is another band with a slinky link to Stoke-on-Trent. Slash, erstwhile guitarist of the band, spent a few of his formative years in Stoke, thus seeding a host of apocryphal tales regarding where he lived, which school he attended and other endless playground trivia. Years later, in the golden summer evenings of ’88, we liked nothing better than to tool around aimlessly, windows down, with Appetite For Destruction cranked up as the seminal soundtrack to our teenage tours.
Axl Rose looks incredibly young in this video. Mind you, I expect we all did back then. To this day, I still haven’t got a clue how Slash could see his guitar enough to play it that well but boy did he look cool with the hair and the hat.
I chose this track because this project should include breaking out of our comfort zone to create new ideas. Neither myself nor Frosty 1973 create music in this genre so it’s a voyage into the unknown. Fingers crossed.
The Parsnip’s take
I fancied creating a faithful reproduction of the song in it’s entirety albeit imparting an acoustic folk flavour for a fresh take. Unfortunately, I also fancied giving it a bit of raw power and edge. I couldn’t make my mind up which direction to plump for so I let the two diametrical opposites sort it out between themselves. As they warred for dominion over the character of the finished product, the ideas intermingled, twisting and warping. Gentle acoustic folk nectar begot Appalachian raw moonshine. Appalachian fiddle begot corrupted electro-synth screech. The bassline started out and stubbornly remained a Shambles. The banjo was my friend. I took a dark journey in the creation of this track and gave thanks for deliverance.
Serendipitously, I found two small bearded, bib & brace bedecked gentlemen in the garden who kindly agreed to do the vocals.
Frosty 1973’s take
Ok. The name Guns n Roses brings back memories of playing computer games on a commodore 64 whilst my mate James sat around learning the guitar solo to Sweet Child ‘o’ Mine! I haven’t heard this particular song in years and I don’t ever remember paying much attention to the lyrics.
My initial approach was to write something with lots of distorted riffs. This would be a challenge as I’m no guitarist but I remember reading an interview with Martin Orford from prog rock legends, IQ where he discussed his liking for playing guitar parts on keyboards and I also remember creeping into their soundcheck at The Marquee club in London and realising that some of the keyboard solos were actually played on Roland guitar synth.
I found a distorted guitar patch on the Antidote synth and applied amplifier/distortion effects to a piano patch. Synchronising riffy parts with a similar bass line worked well and a wild hammond organ part topped it off nicely, along with some big 80s drums.
It was sounding ok but then I tried coming up with some anthemic chords with arpeggiated synth parts to mirror a later section. At this point I stumbled on some chords played with Jupiter 8 strings that gave me goose bumps. This is the kind of moment that induces panic because you have to remember what you played long enough to reproduce and record it. I managed to reproduce enough of it to create a new section but it didn’t fit at all with the atmosphere of the riffy bits. A big challenge in writing/recording music on your own is translating the tiny bits of long messy improvisations that work into a song structure that works. With this I was really struggling.
I chatted with The Parsnip about my dilemma and he suggested using the new section all the way through so that’s what I did. It wouldn’t really work without any vocals so I tried to sound menacing, aided slightly by a heavy cold and a vocoder. The SCREEAAAM was provided by my girlfriend with a vocoder. I think the resulting lack of musical variation throughout, combined with the monotony of the vocals evokes the claustrophobic monotony of life ‘in the jungle’. I managed to reuse some of the riffy bits towards the end to build to a minor climax.
Only when I’d finished the basic recording did I notice the parallels with the Pet Shop Boys sound. It also reminds me a little of Robyn Hitchcock’s Waffle Head and countless other songs but, as ever, all similarities are purely coincidental.