Steven Adler has battled many demons over the course of his tenure with Guns N’ Roses and the various versions of Adler’s Appetite.
Now the author and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has finally put the past behind him. Together with Jacob Bunton (vocals/guitars), Lonny Paul (guitars) and Johnny Martin (bass), the new project Adler has released what is easily one of the best hard rock albums in years: Back From The Dead.
Produced by Jeff Pilson (T&N, Foreigner, Dokken) and mixed by Jay Ruston, the new album features guest appearances by Adler’s fellow GnR band mate Slash as well as a blistering solo by John 5.
I spoke with Bunton and Paul about the new album and more in this exclusive interview.
GUITAR WORLD: How did this project come together? Lonny, you were with Steven in Adler’s Appetite.
PAUL: I joined up with Steven last summer, right before his last club tour. While we were out on the road, Steven was telling me how much he wanted to take the next step and move on and do bigger shows. I told him that the only way was to redefine himself as an artist and start over. When we got home, he let everyone go but me.
One night, I was at the memorial service for Jani Lane (Warrant) at the Key Club. As soon as I walked in the door, I ran into a friend of mine, Jay Ruston. I was telling him about how we were looking for a singer and he said, “I know the perfect guy, and he’s here tonight!” Jay’s been in the business for a long time and I really respect everything he’s done. So as soon as Jacob walked up, I just knew. I called up Steven and we met Jacob in his hotel and we all clicked immediately.
BUNTON: We had each other to lean on and push each other. It was one of the first things we agreed on. The very first day that we met in my hotel room, we decided not to spare anyone’s feelings. Even if one of us wrote what we felt was the greatest song ever, we had to be open for changes and it really worked out. In January of this year, we started recording with Jeff Pilson.
What was it like working with Pilson?
BUNTON: Jeff has been like the fifth member of the band. He’s brought so much to the table as a producer, a mentor and a bassist. He brings the same passion that he has performing into the studio. By April we were finished and knew that we had created something special and were really proud of it.
Tell me about your gear and the recording process.
BUNTON: We were fortunate to be the beneficiaries of Jeff’s studio. He has some of Mick Jones’ guitars including the main Gibson acoustic that he used on a lot of those Foreigner recordings. Jeff also had a 1955 Les Paul with 1959 PAF pickups that we recorded with. Lonny is a huge Epiphone fan and uses JCM 900 Marshalls so what we would do is mix guitar tones by using the ’55 Les Paul on one side and Lonny’s Epiphone on the other.
My main guitars are Charvel. I’ve always been obsessed with them. I also use Bare Knuckle pickups, Diezel heads (Diezel VH4, Diezel Herbert). We both use GHS strings. I also played a 1950 Broadcaster on a few tracks. Jeff used his 1958 P-Bass for most of the record.
You hear a lot of influences on Back From The Dead, but there is also an original element to the record.
PAUL: That was another thing Steven wanted from day one. For the guitars, drums and bass to all sound original. The vocals, everything. He was adamant to have our own sound.
BUNTON: When you turn on the radio these days, a lot of bands use the exact same guitar tones, drum sounds, producers and mixers and it’s hard to differentiate between one band and the next. When I was growing up, everything wasn’t always format specific and it was exciting. Now, everything sounds the same.
It’s like “Good Times Roll” by The Cars. When you hear that guitar tone, you automatically know it’s The Cars because there’s no other tone like that. When you hear Slash’s tone, you know it’s him. The same goes for singers. When Guns N’ Roses comes on, you know it’s Axl. When we were in the studio, we were literally changing things left and right. If a guitar tone just blended, we changed it. We did that with each instrument.
I remember when Slash came in to play with us on the song “Just Don’t Ask." He picked up Jeff’s 1955 Les Paul and plugged into the same Marshall head that Lonny had been using to record. We didn’t even have to tweak the sound. It was crazy, because it immediately sounded like Slash. So much tone comes from the player’s hands. Me and Lonny had been using that Marshall head and it sounded like three different people.
What was it like working with Slash?
BUNTON: I was pinching myself the whole time. Being a kid from Alabama, standing in the vocal booth singing and looking out and seeing Steven Adler, Slash and Jeff Pilson — you’re pinching yourself, saying, “Wow, I’m a part of this!”
The classical guitar intro prior to the song "Just Don’t Ask" adds a beautiful twist to an already powerful track.
BUNTON: I’ve always been a huge Randy Rhoads fan and those neo-classical players. The two things that have always influenced me were the Ozzy records (and “Dee," the actual song) and “Love Song” by Tesla where they do that classical intro. I thought that was cool to start a song like that. I sat down and recorded it and Steven and Lonny both thought it was great so it worked out.
What’s the origin of that song?
BUNTON: Lonny and I have this in common. We don’t write songs just about our personal experiences. We also write about the people that our around us and situations that we see. I wrote that song about a friend who confessed to his wife that he had been doing some things on the road that he shouldn’t have been doing and getting in a little bit of trouble. She was actually asking him questions. She saw a picture on Facebook and said, “Who is this girl? Are you kissing her and making out with her?” They ended up getting into a big fight. If you listen to the words from that perspective, everything will make sense to you! [laughs]
Tell me the story about "The One That You Hated."
BUNTON: That was the first song that we ever wrote together sitting in the same room. We were sitting in Lonny’s house and I said, “I’ve got the start of this song. I think it’s pretty cool, but I don’t have a chorus.” So I started playing the riff and first verse. When I got to the chorus (and before I could even tell Lonny that this was where it went) he just immediately jumped in and sang: “I’m The One That You Hated” [laughs]. After that, it was literally 20 minutes and the song was done.
Do you have tour plans?
BUNTON: We’re going over to Japan and doing some dates with Duff McKagan’s Loaded. We’re looking forward to that and planning to tour everywhere next year.
And now for the eternal question, Do you guys ever foresee a full-blown GNR reunion at some point?
BUNTON: That’s a tough one. I hope so.
Back From The Dead is easily one of best rock albums in years. What is the one thing you can credit for making such a great record?
PAUL: From day one, we agreed that we would all be open to changes and we stayed true to that. I think that’s how we were able to bring out the best in each other. I know this may sound cliché, but we wrote and recorded the record that we wanted to hear. Hopefully, it will translate to everyone else.
Keep up with Adler at their official Facebook page.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.