He was a member of Axl Rose’s outfit from 2000-06, an era that included contributions to the Chinese Democracy album and the belatedly released 2021 single “Absurd.” In a new interview with Rolling Stone, Mantia compares his experience to seeing Led Zeppelin’s final U.S. show as a teenager in 1977.
“It was just chaos, and that kind of helped when I got in Guns,” he said of Zeppelin’s appearance at the Oakland Coliseum. “The chaos was ingrained in my brain. I was like, ‘Ah, shit. You got on late, and that makes it cool?’ They were making up excuses like, ‘Jimmy Page’s guitar isn’t working.’ I think they were just fighting backstage.”
Mantia said he accepted the offer to join Guns N’ Roses because they reminded him of Led Zeppelin. “I loved it,” he said of the challenging working environment. “Everyone else was sitting there, freaking out, like, ‘Oh my God. Axl is two hours late!’ I was sitting there eating an ice cream like, ‘Who cares? Maybe we won’t even play! That’s even better! As long as the money comes, who gives a shit?’ … I was so into the vibe of that. He might have been brilliant. He might have freaked out onstage. I was into it.”
He recalled the night in Philadelphia, when Rose simply didn’t turn up and the frustrated audience went on a rampage. “I was in the hotel,” Mantia said. “I kept calling the tour manager. I was like, ‘Hey, dude, do I need to come down yet? Do I need to play this show? What’s going on?’ He was like, ‘Just stay there.’ I was like, ‘Something’s weird.’
“I get a text from Mix Master Mike’s wife. She’s like, ‘Brain, are you guys showing up? They’re throwing things and yelling at Mix Master Mike. He’s been playing the same DJ set for about an hour and a half.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, I don’t actually know.’ We finally get the call that he’s not coming. They went, ‘Everyone go home. This is the last show.’ I was like, ‘Oh, shit …’”
Mantia drew another comparison with Led Zeppelin when thinking about his experience of working on Chinese Democracy. “The moment I wanted to get into music, not even drums, is when I saw The Song Remains the Same,” he said. “There’s a scene where Jimmy Page is sitting there with a music box. He turns around and a guy is like, ‘We need you. You’re going to go play.’ The next thing you see, he’s at Madison Square Garden.
“I just loved the fact that I was in Guns, but I was doing other things, like taking golf lessons every day and learning computers and programming and orchestration and music theory. And then you get a call like, ‘Hey, Axl needs you.’ I was like, ‘This is the closest I’m going to get to the Zeppelin thing. Who gives a fuck? Make it go forever. This is the coolest thing, that it took 10 years.’”
Mantia said he understood Rose’s position in those days, even if it wasn’t right. “If he didn’t feel like playing, for whatever reason, he just wouldn’t show up. He knew it would likely invite a consequence like a riot or a cancelled tour, but he didn’t seem to care back then.” Mantia added: “I truly think he wants things to be at the highest level, and he puts that on himself. That’s the part that I admire.”
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