You like to make your records pretty quickly, don’t you?
“Oh, yeah. I did this record in 25 days. It’s all in the riffs. You listen to this record, and it’s all riffs. I mean, let’s be real: You listen to Led Zeppelin’s first album, and you’ve got Dazed And Confused, Communication Breakdown, How Many More Times – everything on that record is a riff. My attitude is, if you’ve got the cool riffs, you’re halfway home. The riffs and the tunes. When you got a new Beatles record, did you say, ‘Hey, I hope George Harrison is playing faster on this record’? No, you just wanted the tunes to be great, and they were.”
Shades Of Gray is a beautiful ballad. How does a song like that happen? It’s less dependent on the big riff.
“I wrote that one when we were touring. I don’t know if I’m in a different mood or anything when I write the slow stuff – it just happens. Angel Of Mercy I wrote on piano, just sitting in the house playing around. After it was done, we moved it to the guitar. We did the same with Mama I’m Comin’ Home. I wrote it on piano, and then when we got in the studio I put it on the 12-string.
“I know what you mean, though. You sit down at the piano or with an acoustic guitar, and things will come out differently than when you’ve got the electric on and you’re crankin’ through the Marshalls. You pick up an acoustic and you’re going to write something like Wild Horses or Melissa. The sound of the instrument is going to change the way you write. Heart Of Gold – you might write something like that.”
So it’s not as if you have something in your head and that makes you go to the piano or acoustic guitar but not an electric. The idea happens because of what you’re playing, not the other way around.
“It depends, really. Without a doubt, I could have a melody in my head and I’ll start singing, and then I’ll go to the piano and figure out where the chords are. But I could start with nothing, too. I’ll get a big cup of java in the morning and sit down at the piano, and I’ll just start jamming, just playing anything. Before you know it – ‘Oh, cool. I’ve got a song.’ A song wasn’t there and now it is.
“Sometimes I’ll hear a song and it’ll inspire me to sit down and write. I’ll hear a Bob Seger thing, something like Against The Wind, and I’ll be like, 'I gotta write something in that vein.' A song like that is killer. Piano and acoustic guitar put you in a certain kind of mood. It’s just like when I plug into a Marshall. I lock the pedal and keep the volume low, put a little reverb on – it sounds like I’m playing fuckin’ Madison Square Garden with nobody in there. So that’ll inspire you to write Whole Lotta Love or Into The Void or some sort of Sabbath-y/Zeppelin-y thing.”