This is the third installment from a 3-part series from the GNR residency in Las Vegas. In part 1, we talked to Dj Ashba, in part 2 we looked at the concerts and in this final installment, we sat down with Richard Fortus before their concert.
He is attacking the guitar, lost in the moment somewhere between the music and the energy of the crowd watching him. It is a fire that burns strong when the vibe is there and tonight it is there, fueling him on during his solos, adding an exclamation mark to yet another concert with his band Guns N Roses in Las Vegas. Spinning, windmilling, getting low to the ground on some of the meaner chords, he is stripped of shirt and scarf by show’s end, the culmination of all the sweat and sacrifice that he has given for the past three hours. It is how you want your rockers to be when a concert has ended.
Richard Fortus has been around the block a time or two in music but has settled in nicely with this supergroup. But it’s not his only playground. He loves to sit in with other bands when time allows him to do so. He added stripped-down guitar attitude to The Compulsions, a New York based bluesy-rock-with-punk-undertones band whose most recent CD is called Beat The Devil
and features his GNR bandmate Frank Ferrer. He sometimes tours with the legendary Thin Lizzy, one of his favorite bands. And he recently hooked up with Norwegian musician Lasse Kvernmo for Saivu.
When Fortus talks about music he loves, his eyes light up and you can feel the passion he has for it. Whether it’s about his own musical projects or other bands he admires, his whole demeanor recharges when he talks about what they do for his musical soul. Sitting down in a back room after the GNR Meet & Greet, Fortus scrolls through his phone’s gallery to show me a recent photo of himself with Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, as if he were only a starstruck fan and not a member of one of the biggest rock groups in the history of music. His love for music remains intact, always there to inspire him to be a better musician, to keep playing when life throws a curveball or when he is missing his children during long intervals on the road. It is his passion – for music, for his family, for his spirituality – that moves and motivates him. And it is what permeates the room as we talk about all three during our interview.
You’re very passionate about music.
There is too much good music out there. There are too many people out there that deserve to be heard. There’s genuine and there’s not genuine. If you’re truly a musician, you’re a messenger, you’re channeling, you’re a conduit, you’re a receptor. The energy of the universe, wherever you’re pulling your energy from, be it anger or love or whatever, it’s coming through you. It’s got to. Watch Axl tonight. He’s there and he is in that space and you see when he gets to that space. You feel it. Any musician is that way. Watch Jeff Beck. When it happens and it clicks, it’s like a bolt of lightning hits you. And a lot of people don’t realize what’s going on. They just know that, I like this. And if this is your passion, you see it in other people and that’s what you’re drawn to. There is so much great music out there.
But some musicians just miss it. Like they will put this with this and I like that about that and why isn’t it happening? Because they can’t lose themselves in the music. They’re worried about what they look like. They’re worried about what they’re going to say in between the next songs and it’s the same every night and it’s a shtick, it’s an act. I can tell you watched Alice Cooper and you like Aerosmith and Guns N Roses. And it’s sort of like you see where he’s pulling from but it’s obvious. It’s like he’s trying but he’s not channeling, he’s not just letting that energy flow through him. He’s generating it and therefore it comes across as contrived.
Music to me should be 100% passion driven. If it’s not sincere and genuine, then it doesn’t resonate with me. I mean, that’s the primary and paramount thing that I am interested in. I have to believe in it, I have to believe that the person that it is coming through truly feels it and that it’s genuine and heartfelt and not contrived and not something they are thinking about, but something they are feeling. And it’s honest. It’s got to move you, it’s got to be from that place. And when I don’t resonate with something it is generally because I don’t believe in it, it doesn’t feel genuine to me, doesn’t feel real. It feels contrived and I think that’s what people generally have a problem with pop music. Most of the time pop music is completely contrived, it’s crafted and not felt. That’s why Guns N Roses has been as successful as it has been because it’s genuine.How does it make you feel when people constantly criticize Guns and your band mates so unfairly?
I get it, I understand people want what they remember the band as being. A lot of times people have a hard time accepting. Fans of Fleetwood Mac before they got Stevie Nicks, if they were fans of Peter Green, they didn’t get it. Most of those people, it took them a long time to accept Fleetwood Mac as a different band because it wasn’t Peter Green. The same deal with the Santana band and all the changes that band went through. For people to accept Van Halen with Sammy Hagar singing, even though that was their most successful time and they sold more records with Sammy Hagar, a lot of people that liked Van Halen from the beginning didn’t want to hear anything but David Lee Roth on it. Same thing with Genesis. I have a hard time listening to Genesis with Phil Collins singing after Peter Gabriel. It just goes on and on, the list is quite long.
And I think it’s harder when you change singers because it’s such a huge voice of the music and really that’s like the most personal aspect and connection to a band is generally through the singer. And when you change that it changes the character of the band. And in the same respect, changing anybody else makes it different as well. And it’s a different band. A lot of people accept it and a lot of people don’t. And that’s ok.Who is someone that you feel is real?
Gary Clark Jr. Is he the new Hendrix? No, but he’s the real fucking deal and I believe him and when I watch him I’m like, he’s the real deal and I believe it. And his guitar playing? He’s not virtuosic but it’s real. He is that channel and you feel it and he’s stretching and he’s opening himself up more and more and you see it when he’s playing. He’s there and that’s what turns me on. That’s what I want to see.
How do you feel about tonight? Is it going to be one of those stellar nights?
I never have a clue because it’s all about that moment. Every night I want to reach that space where I am that conduit, that antennae, where I’m open and it’s bliss, absolute bliss. Like a two hour orgasm.
When was the last time you were there?
Wednesday, the show before last [November 7]
And when was the last time you felt that for another band?
Oh it’s been awhile. Probably like PJ Harvey – she’s so good – or the Pixies. I love those songs so much. ZZ Top and even though I know they’re going through the motions, and I felt it, there’s moments when it’s like, ah yeah. It’s still undeniable and he’s still Billy Gibbons. Who else? Van Morrison. Oh man, I played with him with Thin Lizzy. He refused to go on after us and we’re like, well, we’re being paid to play before. It was a festival and he’s like, “I’m not going on after them.” He stood his ground. So we were like, wait a second, we don’t want to stick around all day, that’s not fair. We’re scheduled to play at this time and if you want us to play after, then you should pay us to headline. We didn’t want to follow Van Morrison but he was so good. And we had every reason to not like him, you know what I mean, but we’re watching him and we’re like, fuck, he’s really good.
Jack White. We played with him in the Bridge School Benefit, and I’m a huge White Stripes fan. The first record, Tommy Stinson was like, you got to check out this band. Fuck, these guys are great. And I’ve been a fan and bought every record. But every record it’s like, I don’t want to like it. The Raconteurs – I don’t want to like it – but that second Raconteurs record I thought was fucking great. I thought it was really strong. And the Flaming Lips, I’m a huge fan and I saw them in St Louis and then I got to play with them at the Bridge School Benefit and then I got to hang out with Wayne, which was a huge deal. And they’ve asked me to come and speak at Oklahoma State University, where their manager runs the music department.Are you going to do it?
Hell yeah. I think it’s the last week of January and I’m just going to do a Master Class with the music students there. I’m going to go speak about my career in music and what I do and then I don’t know if I’m going to get into more technical aspects or not as far as like playing and things like that or if it’s going to be talking about how my career path has gone and things like that.
Do you have anything coming up with Thin Lizzy?
No, they’re actually getting ready to record a record and hopefully I will get to play on some of it.
You just did a collaboration with Saivu.
Yeah, there is a new single coming out and we’re doing a video for it in Vegas the day after I finish here. This band had sent me some of their material and I really liked it. Then they hired me to play on some tracks and I ended up getting more involved with them and writing with them and the song that we’re doing, “Goodbye,” is a song that I wrote with the singer.You have a lot of beautiful tattoos and most of them have some sort of religious/spiritual connotation to them. Is that how you wanted it, to have every tattoo mean something?
Oh absolutely, absolutely. And I want it to represent different religions and different pathways. I was born a Presbyterian and I know all the stories cause they were forced upon me when I was a child. But that’s ok, I’m glad I know them. But all paths lead to God, that’s how I feel. It’s all the same message and there are many different prophets. The message is there in all of them. Whether it be Buddhism or Daoism or Hinduism, all paths lead to God. The essential core message is there in all of them. That’s exactly how I feel. Buddhism I think is the most adult religion. Do you know what I mean? It’s the most adult pathway. There are guidelines but it’s more about practicing spirituality and reaching that state within yourself and knowing God within yourself. And it’s in Christianity. Jesus said that as well. God is within you.Your chest tattoo was done with bamboo.
With the bamboo you feel the needle go in every time. You feel it pierce and pull out and pierce and pull out. But also with the bamboo, with the monks you’re meditating on the subject. So you’re in meditation so it’s not painful.How many hours did it take?
I don’t know, maybe six hours. You get in a zone where your body is dealing with it. The color stuff is painful. The more detailed it is, the more painful it is.Where did you have it done?
The Tiger Temple, the north of Bangkok in ThailandDo you have any that you regret getting?
No. Even this one [a segmented spider on his wrist] which was done by a friend of mine but I don’t regret it and I don’t cover it up. And this one [upper right arm] was my very first tattoo. It was the sun. You can see it underneath. Gordon was working and he said, “What does this one mean to you?” And I said it was my first tattoo. And he was like, “I need this space.” And I went, “Yeah, go ahead.” (laughs)And Gordon is the gentleman who did the Maori tattoos, the ones you had no idea what he was going to do beforehand, correct?
Yeah, but you trust the people that you’re working with. I tried to find Gordon for a couple of years and I wasn’t going to go to somebody else and have somebody else do an approximation.Are you eventually going to have your whole body done?
Why not? I want a traditional Japanese on my leg and then Gordon wants to finish.
Your right arm is black & white and your left arm is all color.
Yes, this is all color. This is the green Tara, mother of all Buddhas. And that’s Krishna, the Vishnu incarnation of Krishna. And Mary, Jesus and then my back is Kali.You are the father of two little girls. What kind of father do you hope to be and what is something very important you want to teach them from your life experiences?
Oh God, there is so many things. That’s still the most important thing to me in life right now is them. I think the most important thing that I can teach them is, I mean, for my oldest, my biggest challenge is to teach her to enjoy life and to be truly happy because she’s so talented and so incredibly intelligent, everything comes very easily to her. It’s just I think happiness is something that could easily allude her and that is my biggest wish as a parent-teacher, for her to be truly happy and peaceful within herself.After all that you have been through in your life, who do you think you are today?
The same person I’ve always been (laughs). Hopefully, just further down my spiritual path and more evolved and closer to enlightenment. Hopefully, every day I grow.