It all started with “Anastasia.” On tour with Alter Bridge, Myles Kennedy received a rough demo of the track from Slash, who asked him to work on it. “I remember sitting in the back of the tour bus and in hotels in the U.K., trying to come up with what I was going to do, then sending it back, and that was the genesis of the song,” says Kennedy of the track. The song was later cut on Apocalyptic Love, the 2012 debut of Slash Ft. Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators.
Videos by American Songwriter
“That record holds a special place in my heart because it was all so new,” adds Kennedy. “I love the sound of that record, and I think that there are certain songs on that record that ended up being so important in the catalog, like ‘Anastasia.’ When we perform that song now, hearing how the crowd erupts when he [Slash] kicks into that intro, it’s beautiful.”
Admitting to overthinking that song more than others when he initially wrote it, now a decade on from Apocalyptic Love, making music is more of a natural selection. It’s also why Slash and The Conspirators—guitarist Frank Sidoris, bassist Todd Kerns, and drummer Brent Fitz—have their fourth album, 4.
Slash initially pieced the bits and pieces of 4 together during the band’s Living the Dream Tour once the band lost the ability to work out the arrangements of the songs and record together in a studio during the pandemic. Then, Slash pulled together all the fragments, recorded during soundcheck jam sessions, and sent loose demos to Kennedy for his interpretation in 2020.
“On tour, Slash would have an idea and just start jamming it, and then we would all join in, so that’s the genesis of some of those tracks on 4,” says Kennedy. “Then [there] were some that were put together during the last 18 months. It’s one of those things as writers where you’re always stockpiling ideas, so you’re never facing a record with an empty well.”
Working through the basic melodies and lyrics both artists set up a pre-production session at Slash’s studio and started rehearsing before eventually heading to Nashville to record 4 live. “Having worked with Myles for so long, we fell into sort of a pretty easy comfort groove, at the very beginning, and that was the template for where we’ve gone from there,” says Slash. “Even though it’s been 10 years, it’s still sort of an adventure. I know how Myles sings but I don’t predict what he’s going to do. When I make something up, melodically, once I send it to him, I don’t know where it’s gonna go, so in a way, it still has that sense of unpredictability, which is exciting.”
Joking about his dedication to the song, Slash says Kennedy can come up with something for anything thrown his way. “I’m very picky about what I’m going to send him,” says Slash. “I don’t want to send him anything that I don’t think is any good, and it might be off the beaten path as far as style, or might be sort of odd, and he’ll come up with something. We’ve had this thing ever since we first started.”
Produced by Dave Cobb, and recorded in Nashville at RCA Studio A, the songs of 4 are a snapshot of all the ups and downs of the band member’s lives on tour, from the heaviness of the opener “The River is Rising” to the uptempo tale about relentless pursuits on “Call Off the Dogs,” and the ballad “Fill My World.”
“I wanted to make sure that all those songs didn’t sit around and get overlooked,” shares Slash, who added on several newer tracks—“The River is Rising,” “Spirit Love,” “Call Off the Dogs,” and “Fill My World,” which were all written during the pandemic.
Stopping to retrieve the track list, Slash refreshes his memory of some of the newer tracks. “We got on the phone and he spent the whole time looking for the song,” jokes Slash, who feels there is a sense of detachment with each album. Once it’s set and done, he rarely revisits a piece of music. “On this record, we finished it in April , and I knew that it wasn’t coming out until February, and I had to get away from it… If you don’t, you casually listen to it off and on and you start obsessing over it. You want to go back in the studio and redo this, or change the riff in the beginning of that.”
On 4, Slash was also adamant about only releasing 10 tracks. “There’s this discipline I have where I make sure that there were no more than 10 songs, so we rehearse 12, and I put the other two songs away,” says Slash. “On a really good rock record, that’s all you need.”
Working with Cobb, whose credits include John Prine, Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, and Jason Isbell, there was no other alternative to making a live record once the band could get back into a studio together. “We’ve always done records live, and then I would go back and redo the guitars because I hate playing with headphones,” says Slash. “On this one, we had that synergy of all of us playing at the same time, and it’s something that you pick up on a record. You don’t really know it’s there. It’s just a vibe. It’s a spirit. It’s in the attitude. What’s coming out of the speakers has a certain personality.”
Kennedy adds, “What ties a lot of the songs together is really just how it was recorded, sonically. It has a very distinct sound because of the way Dave Cobb makes records, which is relative to how we’ve made records in the past, so I think that’s part of what defines this batch of songs.”
Cobb and Slash initially talked about making a live record, one reminiscent of older country music sessions. “We talked about wanting to do a fucking live rock and roll record that was recorded live, like a lot of great country back in the day when everybody would get together and play and that’s what was recorded, and you captured that moment,” says Slash. “So that’s what we wanted to do on this. The whole record as far as the guitars, lead guitars, bass, drums, and vocals are all done at the moment and it comes across.”
Slash adds, “It [recording live] can be really exciting when you have a rock and roll band. I was always turned on to live music and a lot of bands that I grew up listening to, because I didn’t have any money back then, so I would get the live record and that would be the litmus test if I was gonna listen to this band. It had a big effect on me going in the future. It was an unsaid thing. I didn’t realize it then, but the energy of a live band recording is really important to me throughout my career.”
Always working with a different producer since Apocalyptic Love, there’s always a certain protocol and level of trust, which was established early on with Cobb. “When you’ve been doing it as long as we have you kind of get locked into certain patterns and routines, but obviously his track record is very proven so we just went with it,” says Kennedy of Cobb. “It basically turned into a live record. A lot of vocals you hear on ‘The River is Rising’ is the only take they had to work with.”
An impressive feat of the live sessions is the 4 closing track, “Fall Back to Earth,” which runs six minutes and was a different song in its various stages. Originally written by Slash when he was in Africa, the song started as a chorus and melody on guitar. Once in the studio, all the pieces were mixed around with the old chorus becoming the bridge, evolving into something more orchestrated and a grandiose end.
For Kennedy and Slash, each knows their particular role with The Conspirators. “I trust his instincts as a guitar player,” says Kennedy. “‘The River is Rising’ is a good example of that, because it was a killer riff, and I knew I could do some vocally with the verse and the pre-chorus, I just needed to put in a different chord progression for a chorus and then add my melody on top of that, then sent it back to him with my crappy drum program, and he just ‘Slashifies’ it. We work with whatever chord progression I throw in, just to get an idea for what I need to do melodically and then he makes it his own, so it always seems congruent at the end of the day.”
Reflecting on the content of 4, the songs are everywhere because that’s where the band was at the time, including living through a global pandemic. “When I put out Ides of March,” says Kennedy of his most recent solo release, “it was all based on what was going on, and inspired by the pandemic, so I didn’t want to make another record, utilizing those same concepts. And I think that a song like ‘The River is Rising’ could certainly probably share the same narrative, possibly inspired by the state of the world but it also to me is inspired throughout history, the cult of personalities.”
For Kennedy, switching between his band Alter Bridge, his solo material, and working with Slash and The Conspirators, there’s a fine line when pen goes to paper.
“It’s definitely something where I have to flip the switch and sometimes it takes a little longer for that switch to fully engage,” shares Kennedy. “I’ve been writing the next Alter Bridge record and the first two weeks, these are all these sounds that could be something on my solo record, then I finally feel like I’m in that realm and I try to stay there.”
Working with Slash, it’s a little easier because he’ll present ideas to Kennedy, who has to drop the melody and the lyric on the top of it. “The overall feel and vibe is there, and I never feel the tendency to do what I would do from a lyrical standpoint, or melodic standpoint,” says Kennedy. “I don’t feel that was Slash, because it’s blues-based rock, whereas with Alter Bridge it’s more melodic hard rock and a metal element, so they’re very different animals.”
A long way from grueling over words for “Anastasia,” songs come to Kennedy much faster now. “It’s so strange because even in the last 24 hours, I was writing and sometimes I finish things so much quicker,” he says. “It used to be such an arduous process 20 years ago when I’d try to compose something. Now, I can have what I like to call shelves, which is basically a verse-chorus and sometimes a bridge then I’m done with the lyrics usually within a day, sometimes two a day.”
Kennedy adds, “That used to be something that would take at least a week or more. It was just overthinking. I think what I’ve learned, after years and years of doing this, is to trust my initial instincts and go with that first idea because usually there’s a reason why the universe dropped it on my lap in the first place. Sometimes you just have to get out of your own way.”
Working during the pandemic, Slash continued writing new material for Guns N’ Roses, who went back on tour in 2021 and already has an album worth of material for the next album with Kennedy and the Conspirators.
“Where I see it [working with Kennedy and co.] all going is the million-dollar question,” says Slash. “I think we’ve always managed to fit a record in every few years, but we have these other entities that we perform and create with, so it is a real delicate balance. And it’s a juggling act, but we’ll make it work again.”
Photo by Austin Nelson