Gilby Clarke

Up until this past summer, Gilby Clarke’s main claim to fame was his three-year stint in Guns N’ Roses (replacing Izzy Stradlin). Now, thanks to Clarke’s appearance on the weekly CBS reality show Rock Star: Supernova, the guitarist is juggling renewed rock stardom and a possible future career as a TV host. On Rockstar, fellow genre pals Tommy Lee (drums, Motley Crüe) and Jason Newsted (bass, Metallica) auditioned 16 rockers to choose the singer of their new group, Supernova. After the show’s final episode, the band raced into the studio with Lukas Rossi in tow to put his vocals on Supernova’s self-titled debut CD. The irony of Supernova—at least when the three main members initially came together at the beginning of the TV season in July 2006—was that they had never played a single note together as a group.

“We didn’t know what the sound of the band was going to be,” explains Clarke. “We were just three guys who respected each other’s work. We knew we’d be a rock and roll band, but also we wanted to do something we hadn’t done before.”

As you’ve played with acts as diverse as GNR, Heart, and Nancy Sinatra, do you adapt your style to the genre you’re performing?

No. Basically, I’m a rock and roll guitar player. My philosophy is simple—a ’60s Gibson Les Paul with a slim neck and a Marshall amp. I play the same guitars and the same amps with everyone—even Nancy Sinatra. For example, when the Heart gig came around, I asked, “Is it 1970s Heart or 1980s Heart?” I needed to know, because ’70s Heart is how I play—the ’80s is not. So I’m not so much a chameleon, as someone who tries to pick the right projects where my playing fits in.

Who are some of your influences?

Jimmy Page is probably the best all-around guy for me. What I love about Jimmy was how it was okay for him to be sloppy. Music is about capturing a moment—especially live—and, sometimes, you miss that spontaneity on recordings. When I was coming up as a musician, it was the Randy Rhodes and Eddie Van Halen era—which was a whole different technique that was not in my hands or in my brain! I physically could never do that stuff. It was a little disheartening for awhile that I couldn’t ever be that guy—not that I’d want to be! I was never a shredder. I was always blues based.

What are some of your thoughts on your Guns N’ Roses years?

That was definitely my biggest break—even though I was 30 years old, and I’d made quite a few major label records before I got into GNR. I loved being in that band. I wanted to be in a loud rock and roll band, and that was a loud rock and roll band! But I made a conscious decision when I went to audition that I was going to be myself. I wasn’t trying to be Izzy, and I wasn’t trying to be what Slash wanted. I can’t be someone else. I think it’s real important to know who you are and what your limitations are.

Is there more pressure being the sole guitarist in Supernova?

Because of Guns, most people think of me as a rhythm player, but I’ve been playing for 30 years, and I’m a guitar player. With Nancy, I was the lead guitar player. In Heart, I was the lead guitar player. I had no problem playing rhythm guitar with Slash. He’s one of the best guitar players in the world. Yeah, I wish I had played more solos, but he gave me room to breathe and play guitar.