SEATTLE -- As a founding member of Guns 'N' Roses and Velvet Revolver, Duff McKagan has played his fair share of stadiums and large venues.
On Sunday, however, his band Loaded will give a special performance of two new songs at halftime of the Seattle Seahawks game against the New York Giants at Qwest Field.
"We've played some big crowds because we've played in festivals in Europe," McKagan , the band's lead singer and guitarist, said Thursday during a break from working on an upcoming album at a downtown recording studio. "This is different because the crowd's not there for a rock band, they're there for the football game. So the pressure's a little bit more on you. …
"You want to be great if you want to add to the quality of the [event] and enhance the deal. And for me it's a chance, I've never played at one of my own sports team's events. So it's a big deal for me, for sure."
The Seahawks have been playing "We Win" (which you can download here from iTunes) before their home games. The anthemic song is beginning to spread to other stadiums and arenas, and the MLB Network recently used it during the World Series.
"So it's like Kanye West, Kings of Leon and us," McKagan said of the impressive lineup Loaded, which includes bassist Jeff Rouse on bass, lead guitarist Mike Squires and drummer Isaac Carpenter, was selected to join.
"Fight On" (which you can download at iTunes with proceeds going exclusively to the Veterans Administration Puget Sound Health Care System) is a fitting song for military veterans, who provided much of the song's inspiration.
Although it's the first time McKagan has performed music at a sports event, it won't be the first time he's played at halftime at a Seahawks game. When he was a teenager growing up in northeast Seattle his club team won a chance to play another team during halftime of a Seahawks game in 1977.
"Yeah, that was a big year at the Kingdome," McKagan said. "I saw Zeppelin that year, got to play there and we had [just got] a football team. It's a big deal."
His youth league football experience and memories played a part in writing "We Win." McKagan said he played for the same coaches and with the same teammates from age 8 to 14. Although they were the smallest team in the city league, they succeeded because of their conditioning and preparation, he said. A steep hill near the practice field provided punishment and, ultimately, motivation.
"Now when you're a kid, it's like [having] another player on your back and you're doing crab crawls up the hill. And any [screw] up, anybody'd [screw] up, 'To the hill, gentlemen.' We'd have to go across to the hill, it's always gonna be muddy and slippery," McKagan said. "So I've used that hill in life, like, yeah, I gotta go to the hill. And the team, we were good because we were so well-conditioned. … Our ears were just always pinned back, our coaches were awesome. And we played some really big dudes … and we won a lot because of that.
"And it's kinda like the band Loaded -- it sounds totally stupid to even verbalize all this stuff, but we're an underdog. I'm not like a big, huge celebrity. I'm like this guy that's kind of mid-ring, you know? Like 'Oh, yeah, I know who that guy is. Didn't that guy drink a lot, do drugs or some s---.' And the band, we've kind of risen through the ranks by just going out and touring and believing in ourselves kind of like the football team. And now all of a sudden we're playing Qwest Field. You know, it's ridiculous."
McKagan has conquered many hills in his 46 years. He got sober and cleaned up his life after nearly dying of pancreatitis 16 years ago. He got his GED and earned a bachelor's degree in finance at Seattle University.
Through it all, McKagan has remained a big sports fan, staunchly devoted to his hometown Seattle teams. McKagan splits his time between Seattle and Los Angeles, where his wife, Susan Holmes, is based with their daughters Grace, 13, and Mae Marie, 10.
McKagan's columns for Seattle Weekly's Reverb let readers into his family and musical life and he writes a weekly financial column for Playboy.com. It's no surprise that Simon & Schuster has signed the entertaining storyteller and talented writer to a book deal.
Amidst his many projects, including a Loaded movie scheduled to be ready when the album comes out in February or March, McKagan took some time to talk with The Life about sports, music, fantasy football, family, Justin Bieber and how he unexpectedly wound up onstage with Axl Rose and Guns 'N' Roses at London's O2 Arena last month.
The Life: "We Win" sounds like a perfect stadium sports anthem, but what is the inspiration behind the song?
McKagan: With "Welcome to the Jungle," that's a song, that's a dirty rock song written back when, written by a bunch of dirty rock guys living in a really real life in 1986 when that was written, or '85 whenever it was written. That became a sports anthem a few years later, and now, to this day it's played at every stadium.
I wrote an article yesterday, because we're doing [the halftime performance at the Seahawks game], for the Weekly about when I hear "Welcome to the Jungle" played at my own team's [games] it's great. But like when the Yankees [play it] … no, that song … that song wasn't written for you guys.
But there's a few songs that have become sort of iconic and to be a part of that and being a sports fan is pretty killer. It's like little kid [stuff].
I really noticed it big … like '94 I bought a house back up in Seattle in '93, and '94 I got courtside seats to the Sonics. And coming from my family, eight kids, my dad was a fireman, nobody had courtside seats in my family.
So I got courtside seats, I was taking my brothers. We were in the coach's corner and so when the team would get sick -- I was that close -- I'd get sick. You know, the sweat, they're right there and they're like, "Oh my God."
But the Sonics and I think probably teams, local teams in general all around the country used to play a lot more local music. In Seattle we had a lot of local music to [draw on], you'd go to a Sonics games and be like Soundgarden, you'd hear Gruntruck.
And then they pieced it together, [former Sonics play-by-play man Kevin] Calabro or somebody would tell, "Hey, McKagan is from Seattle. If he comes to games you gotta play some Guns." And it was like a sense of community: music, sports, fans all together.
And I think over time it's maybe … you go to a Mariners games now and they kinda just play the same or now we don't have the [expletive] Sonics and I think that's probably the start of the downfall of … of, I don't know, Western Civilization?
But Gas at KJR [Seattle sports radio personality Mike Gastineau] brought it up to me. He was like, you know that local music has gone out of sports. It's just kind of the same rock songs. And he heard "We Win," we're friends, and he said, "This has gotta be a sports anthem. This has got to be a Seattle sports anthem." And he went on a rant on his show about this.
I'm like "Dude, you don't have do this, it's cool." You know we were in here recording in August. … "You don't have to pimp my band out," you know. But he believed in the song. … And he played the snippet on the station. Somehow one of the guys at the Seahawks, he heard the song, he played it for [Seahawks head coach] Pete Carroll and Pete loved the song.
So that's where cool stuff starts. So they started playing it before the game and at halftime. And that's a real cool local sports story. That's the kinda [stuff] I like. Even if I wasn't in the band. This is like, OK, music produced in the city, for the city.
And truth be told, I got a request. Back to the writing for a sports anthem. Somehow I'll get songwriting requests and sometimes I'll go, "Oh, I'll try writing a song for such-and-such band or some other artist." If I like it.
And a guy who is a song pitcher down in L.A., he was pitching something. Major League Soccer wanted to get more sort of like mainstream. And he said could you write like a sports anthem? And I said, "I don't know." I don't know if I can write a anthem. I can write a song about something that has just happened to me. … But Loaded had just gotten back from South America, and you know that chant, that soccer chant?
The Life: Ole, Ole, Ole.
McKagan: Yeah, they do it at rock shows. If they like your band, they just go off, it's just like the best thing ever. And the more there are … it's overwhelming and they do it while you're playing. Like you can barely hear, if they really love you.
So the chant part in "We Win" is definitely inspired from that but it's turned upside down a little bit. So we demo'ed the song in Isaac our drummer's garage down in L.A. … Major League Soccer (switched gears) wanted a hip-hop song after I'd written it, so it's like, "Oh, OK. Well, never mind. That's not a hip-hop song."
And we said this, well, its a Loaded song, this is Loaded through and through. So we've recorded it for the record. … But we've had to kinda rush things for it because the Hawks started using it. Then [Seattle FM rock station] KISW started playing it on their station and they've added it in the rotation because of this sort of local Hawks thing. The record's not out. The single's not being surfaced as they call it -- offered to stations to play. So it's just this viral, mini-viral song that's picked up.
And it is a sports anthem, I mean the song is just about overcoming [the odds]. I played tons of sports and I love sports.
The Life: What about "Fight On"?
McKagan: We're playing a medley of two songs and "Fight On" is a song that was inspired by a friend of mine, Tim Medvetz. He's a mountain climber, he's summitted Everest and he's a mountain guide. …
Tim's a very inspiring guy, he was in the hospital, got hit by a car on his motorcycle. Doctor said "I've got to take your foot off." Tim woke up in a hospital bed, he's from New York, he was in L.A. He looks up and he, "what the [expletive] happened?" He sees all the doctors and nurses around a TV, not around him. "Wow, I'm in a hospital. Oh, I've got hit, that's right." He looks up, everybody's looking at the TV, one of the [World Trade Center] towers is coming down. …
And he read "Into Thin Air" while he was in the hospital and he goes "I'm going to climb Everest." And he told the doctor -- Tim's a good guy -- "I'll kill you if you take my foot off." So his foot is fused and his back, his lower spine is in a cage, you know, and the guy just works through pain and he summitted Everest.
And now he's taking vets, kids, 19-year-old kids, kids who have gotten out of high school in Wisconsin or whatever, maybe their only option is [enlisting in the] military to get to college and they go to boot camp, and next thing they know they're in Iraq or Afghanistan -- boom! "I don't have any legs." Tim could relate to that.
And the next thing they're in Germany and Walter Reed [Military Hospita in Washington, D.C.] and then back home on their mom's couch. "What the [expletive] do I do now? I've got prosthetics." And so Tim … connected through Walter Reed and started talking to these kids and he took a guy up Kilamanjaro, so he's doing the Seven Summits. … And he got a guy up Denali last spring. And that's when that French climber, I don't know if you read about the French climber who died. The guy fell off right in front of Tim and this kid. And the kid's like, "OK." And Tim says, "We can turn back, man." "Nope, we're here."
So that story of the kids, there's a song called "Fight On" that I wrote inspired through that. A guy here at the VA hospital heard about us recording a record here. People hear about the songs in the community, it's really cool and so it's Veterans' Appreciation Day on Sunday so we're playing a medley of "Fight On" into "We Win" and a thousand veterans are gonna be on the field with their families. And then the next day we're going to go to the VA Hospital and visit with the spinal cord ward and, something that's kinda near to me, the addiction ward or rehab.
The Life: Besides Loaded's performance, Sunday is also the premiere of your wife's new show on E!, "Married to Rock." Big day, how's that …
McKagan: In the McKagan household? That's interesting. I back my wife 100 percent, whatever she chooses to do in life.
The Life: I read one of your columns where you're not fond of reality TV, though.
McKagan: I think it's soulless gruel, you know. But maybe it's just put here as a learning process for our family. I always look at it like, [stuff] happens for a reason. I try not to forecast too much.
The Life: Your daughter's guest column was great.
McKagan: Yeah, she nailed me. She nailed it. … She's really mad at me because I wrote about Bieber Fever. But it's secret because she's really into a lot hipper music. But Bieber, all of a sudden she's like a little girl, she's not trying to be cool she's like [in a soft voice] "Dad, I love him." And I'm like, "OK."
And I went to Bieber, I took her and my other daughter and two [of their] friends, so it's like me and four girls driving all the way out to Everett Events Center. Girls singing and screaming the whole way, so I'm thinking OK.
But what I didn't tell Grace was that I know the tour manager and Bieber's favorite band is Guns 'N' Roses, so he wanted meet me. He heard I was coming. But I didn't want to tell Grace because she might freak out. But she's been to plenty of shows, been backstage, been on the road with VR. She grew up going on the road. So we get out there early, get to watch the soundcheck and she's there freaking out.
Then the tour manager came down and got us and took us back and she said, "Dad, what's happening?" And I said, "Grace, you know how you play it cool? You've met some people and stuff. You play it cool, right? People are just people, right?"
"OK, so we're going to go back and we're gonna meet some people."
[Makes nervous face] "Dad."
I said, "Just play it cool, just be cool."
[In a nervous voice] "OK."
"Are you gonna be all right?"
[Nervous voice] "Yes."
The Life: So she wasn't mad at you then?
McKagan: Nooooo, not mad at me at all. But I wrote about the Bieber Fever and how I got to experience it because I have daughters.
She's never read my column until this, and then her and I were out somewhere and some dad came up to me and said, "Duff! … Grace! … Bieber Fever."
My daughter looks at me like, what's he talking about, Dad?"
"I don't know." I'm looking at the guy just like [waves his hand in a "cut it out" motion in front of his neck]. "Oh, sorry. ... Great column, by the way."
So she read it and she was pissed. "I'm gonna write a column about you."
I said OK, good. I'll ask the editors.
The Life: Yeah, that's only fair.
McKagan: Yeah, so she threw me under the bus.
The Life: So what is your favorite sports team of them all, who ranks higher?
McKagan: Yeah, the Sonics were around longer. …
The Sonics have the oldest roots, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, [Frank] Brickowski, that team, Sam Perkins, Nate McMillan. … We had everybody, our team was killer.
The Life: But now Oklahoma City and the end of civilization.
McKagan: Terry Date, [Loaded's] producer, he always has sports on in the control room. Watching, it's like … I've got nothing for the NBA. It's just nothing.
I don't have a team, so I'm not gonna pull for the Lakers. I mean, they're the enemy, still are. The Raiders will always be the enemy, we're not even in the same [conference anymore]. OK, well pull for the Trail Blazers. Well, they're the enemy. OK, Nate's there. …
Not even a casual interest, I will not watch. It just has nothing for me.
The Life: Team Loaded is in the thick of the playoff race in the Alice In Chains & Friends Fantasy Football Charity League.
McKagan: Fantasy football really hits a lot of people. There must be something in my life that fills that need, that numbers need. Because a lot of people just love that [stuff]. And I get it, I'm a crossword freak. …
That league is really fun because of what Jerry [Cantrell] does. And he just loves it. I like it when my friends have fun and you can tell he's just so passionate about his team. I mean he lives and dies with that team sometimes. "Dude, it's OK, your other team, your real team, won today."
"Yeah, no that's good, you're right."
And Jerry and I went to the Super Bowl together when the Hawks were in [against Pittsburgh in 2006]. And he's a Hawks-Steelers fan. He was wearing a Hawks jersey and like Steelers gloves. I'm like, "Dude, sit a couple down from me because that's really, I'm confused."
"I am, too. Imagine being me."
The Life: I wasn't going to ask any Guns 'N' Roses questions, but then I read where you played that show in London. Did you just play the encore?
McKagan: I played a few songs in the encore. It was really fun for me.
It just happened out of nowhere. Literally, I was in the elevator going up to my room and the manager of the hotel -- it's a hotel I stay at all the time -- said, "Hey, you're playing tonight, right?"
"No, I'm not playing at all this trip." Usually I played when I go there. It's an honest mistake.
"You're not playing tonight?" Oh, will there be an issue you're in a room next to Axl's?
The Life: Right next to his room? Not just same hotel, but right next door?
McKagan: Right next, the chance of all the hotels in London, all the days of the year, all the years, all the floors in the hotel, you know.
Yeah, but it was a great serendipitous thing because I was being thrown into "OK, how's it going?" You didn't have like three days to prepare. … And I don't have any resentments. It was a huge, great, amazing thing that happened in all of our lives. Killer. My life's totally enhanced in a whole different way because of that thing, for sure. So I just don't carry it around. I've gone through a lot of things to work through some of this s---. It happened.
So it was great. I had no resentment. It was really great to see him. I don't think he had any resentment and we had a good time. We laughed. That's what you want to do with an old friend.
The Life: What was it like to end up on stage playing Guns 'N' Roses. What was that feeling?
McKagan: I played a lot of Guns 'N' Roses songs with Velvet Revolver. It's part of my makeup. We wrote the songs [together], so they're like my songs. I don't compartmentalize what songs are what, so it was easy.
Great, he's got a really good band. Nice guys, it's all good. I had to get right back after the gig, I had a meeting at 8 a.m. the next morning. "I gotta go."
Jim Wilkie is the editor of The Life and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.