When consumers said "The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice," they sure weren't talking about apps. With far fewer applications at their fingertips than iOS, Android, and Windows phone users, BlackBerry aficionados, who just can't do away with the much-prized keyboard, are missing out on much of the latest and greatest in mobile software. Former Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver bassist -- currently with Walking Papers -- Duff McKagan is one of the loyalists who's unwilling to give his device its walking papers.
Speaking of Walking Papers, the rock quartet's self-titled debut LP, produced by Jack Endino (Soundgarden, Nirvana, Mudhoney) and featuring Pearl Jam/Mad Season guitarist Mike McCready, possesses enough poetic lyricism, skilled musicianship, and raw energy to recommend it as the finest rock album of the last decade. Download.com caught up with McKagan, currently on tour (Walking Papers plays the Pearl Concert Theater at the Las Vegas Palms on October 26), about keeping a BlackBerry, his favorite apps, the downside of social media, and what he does before every show to maintain collective harmony.
Being a Seattle resident and musician, can you see the city experiencing another musical renaissance?
A commercial renaissance? Yeah, I think it already has. But I think its renaissance is not as much of a shock as it was in the early '90s. It's always had an amazingly inventive musical community, and that hasn't stopped after the grunge thing was over. There's always great music going on there. Of course it became commercial in the early '90s, but it was always there and will always remain there.
Speaking of grunge, after Seattle bands such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam exploded in popularity, I would often hear that grunge put a lot of hard rock and metal bands out of business. How accurate is that sentiment?
Now that we can look back at history, I think that's an overstated thing. I think that maybe there was already one genre that was dying out, which always happens. Music is cyclical. A band like Guns, it didn't affect us at all, commercially, and Metallica were probably bigger than they ever were. People probably lumped us in with White Lion and Warrant, but maybe they were already waning. So I don't know if one thing killed another thing or not.
Another thing that I was led to believe, back in the early 1990s, was that there was an inherent antagonism between the two scenes, as evidenced by that notorious feud between Axl Rose and Kurt Cobain. Was there much antipathy between the two communities?
That's an interesting discussion. Just from my end, Guns N' Roses was never, from the time we started, part of any scene. We weren't allowed into any sort of scene in LA, because we were too punk rock for metal and glam. So we had to go our own way. We played more with Social Distortion and Red Hot Chili Peppers than we did with the mid-'80s metal bands, so it forced us onto our own little island, where we remained. And we would take bands out, once we got to headlining status, around 1990, like T.S.O.L., or bands we had a kinship with, but there was no scene. We weren't the spokesmen for any scene, and when we got bigger, we took Soundgarden and Faith No More out, because we went with bands we liked.
Having played with Guns N' Roses, Velvet Revolver, Jane's Addiction, and many other bands, what have you learned that you apply to Walking Papers?
There are a lot of different elements to being in bands -- musical chemistry, first and foremost -- because without that it's not going to be good for anybody. Then you have to live together. Being a band is intimate, and you can get your feelings hurt. You have to find out where your part is to best help the band, and you have to let go of some other sh#t, like maybe you want to shine here, but you have to focus on helping the band. Then touring is a whole 'nother thing where you're away from your home base, and you can be at dicey situations at the border or whatever. You can be hungry, tired, some gigs are shi##y, and people hate you, and then at others they'll love you. You're going through all these different things. The bands that stay together are the ones that have each other's backs.
I think all the guys in Walking Papers have toured a bunch, so they know what to expect. And they're good dudes, and I think I'm more aware of when people are tired and when not to press something. But we're basically in submarine tour buses, where you travel on it and sleep on it, just with a tiny bit of personal space, so all those social things about being in a band really play out.
But I think we all feel honored to play in a band with each other and we acknowledge that before we play every day and we look at each other in the eyes and say, "It's an honor to play with you, man," and that's pretty fu#king helpful. Just acknowledge every guy in the band.
So I hear you're not a big apps person.
I have a BlackBerry. I think they're neat. I mean, my friends, my wife, my whole family have iPhones and iPads and all these apps and stuff that I think are cool. Ben, our keyboard player in Walking Papers, has a GPS app on his iPhone that is great. We'll be on the bus in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, and I won't know where we are, and he'll bust out his phone, and it shows exactly what's there. It's like "Oh, there's a river. The Columbia River is right there," even if I can't see it. I like the practical usage stuff.
With traveling so much and staying in touch with my family, I have Viber, which is an app I can get on a BlackBerry. I'm bummed that Uber (Android, iOS) is not a BlackBerry app. For getting to airports, I wish I had Uber. I use Twitter (Android, iOS) for gigs; I'll probably tweet about our gigs half an hour before, and I record some sh#t on my BlackBerry with the Voice Recorder app. I don't have Instagram (Android, iOS), because I have a BlackBerry.
So why do you continue to use a BlackBerry?
I remain a BlackBerry guy because I can't type on an iPhone.
You were recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, received an honorary diploma, have an upcoming biopic based on your book, "It's So Easy (And Other Lies)" due out, and you play with so many bands.
It might seem like it, but I only play with one band right now, and that's Walking Papers. People always ask me, "How do you play with four bands; how do you manage that?" And I'm like, "No, I only play with one band." It's that way with social media, where all that information is out there -- all that information from 25 years ago to now just meshes together, maybe. So I'm just doing one thing, but it seems like a lot. I'm doing the Walking Papers and being a dad.