Even if you weren’t around in the 1980s, if you love rock and roll, you know Steven Adler’s life story — the good, the bad and the ugly. Regardless of what you’ve seen or heard, however, what Adler is best known for — and what has forever cemented his name in rock history — are the years he spent as the original drummer for Guns N’ Roses.
GNR’s landmark debut, the presciently titled Appetite For Destruction, immediately volleyed the band to superstardom, selling millions of albums and concert tickets. It was also the beginning of a musical supernova that exploded not only in its success but also within the ranks. Members dropped out or were let go, and the band eventually fragmented, never regaining its original footing without that magic lineup.
In 2002, Adler — on the heels of several other projects — formed the first incarnation of Adler’s Appetite. He was still fighting personal demons, carried over from the GNR days and detailed in his autobiography.
His new project, Adler, features vocalist Jacob Bunton, guitarist Lonny Paul and bassist Johnny Martin. Their debut album, Back From The Dead, was produced by Jeff Pilson, formerly of Dokken, and features guest performances by Slash and John 5.
The following interview took place prior to the formation of the new band. At that time, Adler spoke candidly about his past, the steps he has taken to heal his body and mind, and the joy of making music.
When did things start turning around for you?
I started turning my life around in 2008. I was doing the same old routine: the drugs and not taking care of myself. I started working with Dr. Drew [Celebrity Rehab] and it was a major change in my way of living, a change for the better and not letting people take advantage of me. It takes time, at least nine to twelve months, for the body to heal. Basically, for 30 years I was like a boxer — going in the ring and beating myself up. My brain cells have started growing back and I’m focusing on what I want to do. I was unsuccessful at killing myself — and trust me, I tried — but I was also very lucky. A lot of people I grew up with didn’t make it past their 20s, and I got to grow up and work with wonderful people. I wish I could turn back time and do the opposite of what I did, but I’ve finally been able to apologize to Slash and the other guys, because for 20 years I blamed them for my downfall. I’ve been able to move on.
How long did it take you to forgive yourself?
Twenty years. I started working with Dr. Drew, and in 2007, he wanted me to do the show. I wasn’t done beating myself up. A year later I felt different. A huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. After that, I was able to get a lot of things out. I got to put my story, and the things that were in my head and my heart that were holding me back, on paper. Once the book came out, I finished a summer tour and I came home and burned the book in my fireplace to leave the past behind. Being able to have a relationship with Slash again — I’ve known him since I was 11 years old. We did so much and accomplished so much and he will always be a part of my life. We will always be brothers. My wounds are healed.
I also had to make amends to my mother, because at the end of my book I said that I hated her. I still had issues, but since then, thank God, I have been able to work through them with her. I don’t want to be upset with her. I want my mother to know that I love her. We have a good relationship now and no animosity. I just can’t have that. Life is not perfect; we all know this. I’m still learning and trying to be stronger and be a better person.
Have you been able to put any closure on your past as far as your work?
I have a reputation of being a f–k-up and not reliable. All I can do is prove to people that I’m not a flake anymore and that I have my s–t together and I take better care of myself. Everyone says something, but if I prove that their stories and thoughts are wrong, I come out the winner and I’m happy.
How much do you remember about the years with Guns N’ Roses, due to the amount of drugs and alcohol that were being consumed on a daily basis? Do you ever ask yourself, “Why did I do those things?”
I did it because I wanted to be a part of my band and do what my friends were doing. When I first saw it, I said, “No way.” They’d be in one room getting high and I’d be in another room watching TV. Then I tried it … and what it came down to was that I liked it. I was so naïve. I thought you just stuck the needle in your arm. I didn’t know you had to find a vein and draw up blood and then shoot it. I didn’t know! Then I started doing it, and when you’re using, you’re not in control. How I came out alive and healthy, I have no idea. When I was growing up, we’d read rock magazines and you thought it was a party all the time. But they’re telling you about the fun stuff and not about throwing up blood and [losing control of bodily functions] and being unable to get onstage. There are many times that I don’t remember, but as the days go on, things come back. There was a time when I couldn’t play my drums. It was either hold the crack pipe or syringe or hold my drumsticks, and I held the pipe and the syringe. At the beginning of 2010, I started taking lessons to better myself. Everything I had ever recorded, I had no idea what I was playing. I just played what felt good. Now I understand it.
Why do some people go through rehab and regain success when they come out, while others simply crumble?
Some people can get away with s–t better than others. I know I need to prove myself. Some people are stars while they’re addicts — look at Keith Richards, Nikki [Sixx], Robbin [Crosby]. Nikki and I and a lot of others are lucky that we don’t have AIDS, for all the needles we shared and the p—y we f—ed. We were rolling the dice and getting sevens every time. Robbin was wonderful. I had known him since I was a teenager. I was very blessed to know him and I still miss him.
You’ve taken so many steps to come back up and reach this place. Are you at peace with yourself?
No. I don’t think I’ll ever be. I don’t think it’s possible. I’m happy, but I’m not at peace yet. You know, people always ask themselves, “Why am I here? What’s the meaning of life?” I don’t know the answers; I only know what goes on in my world. I’m happy sitting in my backyard, looking out and talking to you now. I’m happy to be with my wife, play with our dogs, sit quietly and drink coffee, go to the studio, play drums, laugh and hang around good people. I love making music. That’s the meaning of my life.
When you look at new bands who have absolutely nothing compared to what bands had in the 1980s, but they’re drunk at three o’clock in the afternoon and putting blow up their noses, what is your reaction? Do you think, Party and enjoy your life, or do you want to punch them in the face for their stupidity?
Take it from me, because I’ve been on the road and really f—ed up: most people don’t last that long. They are not built for touring and partying and doing what they do. I had everything in the world going for me. You are going to fail and it will happen quickly. I say take it easy, enjoy it and make it last. I’m lucky that people are still interested in my music. Those bands are not going to last. They put out their record, you hear about them for a couple months and it’s over. I want the best for everyone, because most of the people I knew back then either aren’t playing or aren’t alive. I’m OK now with my coffee and cigarettes. I’m happy. I play with my dogs. I go to the studio. I practice. I take lessons. I hang out with good people and have good conversations. I laugh. I am married to my second wife, and she really put up with so much. She never drank, smoked or did drugs, and she dealt with my s–t. I’ve been blessed. The only thing I want to be satisfied in life is to do one reunion tour with Guns N’ Roses. I would like to finish what I started with them.