When Guns N’ Roses released their legendary album, Appetite for Destruction, it would change the music scene for ever. It is one of the rare, iconic albums that would come along to a generation and serve as a benchmark for all albums to follow. Not only would the music effect people around the world, it would also help to shape the lives of many who were at ground zero of the phenomenon that was to become Guns N’ Roses. One such person is Adriana Smith. Still in her late teen years, Smith had befriended the band on the Sunset Strip of Los Angeles, California and became part of the tight-knit circle that surrounded the band in their formative years. One late night in a New York City recording studio, her orgasmic moans would be captured for the final mix on Appetite for Destruction’s classic track, “Rocket Queen.” Her identity as the voice on this track would remain largely unknown for years, until she recently broke her silence and came forward to claim her title as “The Rocket Queen.”
Today, over two decades after the album’s release, Smith has ventured out into the music world to carve her own niche. With a story ingrained in rock history and a unique voice, she looks to take Adriana and Ghost In The Graveyard’s brand of raw, energetic and passionate rock n’ roll to the masses. Jason Price of Live-Metal.Net recently sat down with her and to discuss coming of age on the Sunset Strip, her relationship with Guns N’ Roses, her new album and all the exciting projects that she has in store for the coming year.
Live-Metal.Net: Where did you grow up and how did you end up in downtown Los Angeles?
Adriana Smith: I was born in San Diego, California. How did I end up in downtown L.A.? A girlfriend of mine, that I didn’t know very well, wanted me to house sit her house. So, I went down to L.A. to her house and I thought it could have been a great two week vacation or I could make something out of it because I really didn’t want to stay in San Diego. I had lived in New York for a year, so I kinda liked the big city. I had about fifty bucks then and that is how I ended up in L.A.!
How did music first come into your life?
I was on stage from about the age of three. I was in a dance troupe. Music was always around. My Mom was an adagio dancer, which is the 1950’s “throw them around” style of dancing. She performed all over the place and she kinda bred that into me. She always had music playing and we were always dancing. The next door neighbor taught piano and I always wanted to learn piano but my Mom thought that the house was filthy, so I got dance instead of piano! [laughs] Music is part of a dancer’s life. We would listen to Joe Cocker, the Stones and Earth, Wind and Fire when I was just a wee one.
Where you originally looking to get in the music industry when you moved out there?
Yeah, I wanted to be a songwriter but I was about eighteen or nineteen and I got steered down some funky paths.
How did you get mixed up with the guys in Guns N’ Roses initially?
I had a friend named Adriana Barbour who worked at The Seventh Veil, which is a strip club, and another friend named Gaby Mozeris who worked there also and they were my best friends. Gabby, Adriana Barbour and I used to walk up and down the Sunset Strip looking for Duff (McKagan) because Adriana had a crush on him.
For those who aren’t familiar with the story, how did your “voice,” so to speak, end up on the “Rocket Queen” track on Appetite For Destruction?
I had gone to New York to hang out with Slash, who was my drinking buddy at the time. They were mixing down the final mix of Appetite For Destruction at the time. Basically, Axl propositioned me in the studio. I was really drunk and although we were both seeing other people at the time, he had a really creative interest for this song and wanted to give it an edge and I was the girl to do it. I did it for the band.
It wasn’t widely known for many years that you were the voice on that track. What made you break your silence and was it a tough decision for you?
Actually, it was a decision made of years of progress in my personal life. I had shame and guilt over what I had done and I felt as if I had done something wrong for a long time. Basically, I came out twenty something years later because it was a sense of closure for myself. I realized that it was something that I didn’t have to be ashamed of and something that was really good. I came out and told the world about it. A friend of mine named Brooke, runs Steven Adler’s web page and he is a part time journalist. He said to me “Why don’t you go ahead and tell your story?” and with the release of the Reckless Road book, I just felt that it was time for the story of The Rocket Queen to be heard.
You also contributed to Marc Canter’s book, Reckless Road: Guns N’ Roses and The Making of Appetite For Destruction. What was that experience like for you and did you get to see some people that you hadn’t seen in quite some time?
I did actually. I hadn’t seen Marc Canter in twenty years and no one had seen those pictures in twenty years. I got to reunite with Steven (Adler) and Slash, who I have kept in contact with on and off throughout the years. I got to see my friends Ron Schneider and Del James. The doors were already open from the past but it definitely reconnected us all. It was awesome!
Your life took an unexpected turn and you found a new career path as a drug and alcohol counselor, has that become a really positive thing for you?
It has become a really positive thing in my life. It showed me a lot about myself, because I could see myself in others. It is definitely a caring and giving profession. It isn’t a profession where you will become rich and famous or anything. It is about working with people that have a problem and selling them on one of the hardest sales in life. That sale is to change your life and to basically surrender you life to a power greater than yourself and realizing that your life is unmanageable and that you are insane and that you really can’t stop. It is really something that has to come from the heart and that you have to be passionate about. I really feel that going into recovery changed my life.
One of your current projects is a band that you formed, Adriana and Ghost in the Graveyard, how did that come about?
Myself and Doug Tilley met a treatment center. I had always wanted to sing and have a band. He was playing in a country band at the time. Country is something that I really knew relatively nothing about but we both really liked the Beatles. We started talking and I decided that he needed me to be the singer of his band. [laughs] He had a working band that was playing little clubs and this and that. I felt that it was a creative outlet and something that I really wanted to get into. So he believed in me and it has been eight years! We have gone through several different bands together. We then hooked up with the right person at the right time, who was an old friend of his, Dave Wagner, who is our guitarist. He owns a recording studio and a management company. It all kinda fell into place. It was like the universe opened up and when the time was right, it just all sorta happened!
How did you come up with the name for the band?
My eight year old daughter who was about four or five at the time, thought that we should name the band Ghost In The Graveyard. It is a children’s playground game. We thought it sounded kinda cool and we went with her suggestion! She is the assistant manager of the band, by the way! [laughs] I like to get her experienced in as much as she can be!
The band just put out a CD, “Wars In The Graveyard”, what was the recording process for album like?
We had the basic music and structures for the songs, and Dave (Wagner) who is an awesome player and his son, Zack (Wagner) is the drummer and we made everything a little better. Dave came and put his creative interest in it and we recorded with him. It originally started out us, just Doug and myself recording the stuff but Dave decided that he would like to make more of a commitment to it, so we all formed. It was all of us working together. It was a really creative process and it was almost like this was our “breaking out of the cocoon” stage! We worked on it every weekend. I am a stay-at-home Mom, Doug has a normal job, Dave is a music teacher and has the recording studio and Zack is sixteen and has a job and goes to high school. It was a weekend thing, so we would sometimes go into the studio and end up there for eight to twelve hours. We would go stay at Dave’s and just record and record and record with Pro Tools, over and over and over again. It was very tedious and we wanted to keep it as simple as we could, as far as recording went and not over analyze things. We tried to do the best that we could do in the amount of time that we had and we just really wanted to put something out, so that is what we did. I think that we did a pretty good job hitting the nail on the head with this first one. Now, we really just want to get out there and starting gigging as much as possible and promoting ourselves to see what happens.
What can we expect from a Adriana and Ghost in the Graveyard show?
You can expect to be ROCKED!!! Our songs are danceable, they appeal to a wide crowd, especially for the girls. We are “Pro-Girl Power.” We really want everyone to come out and dance and be part of the show. We are open to creative input. We only have nine songs on the CD, so at a live show we have to fill up the time gap with a couple of covers. We are open to constructive criticism and what people want to hear. People can go to the website, www.therocketqueen.com, and leave us comments and suggestions, because we are open to it. We want to be a band for the people, where everyone is going to have a good time. Music is a lot of different things to a lot of different people but for us it is something to take your mind off of whatever may be going on in your life for an hour or two, and have a good time. It’s rock n’ roll! And that is what rock n’ roll is to me, something to take your blues away!
You even dedicated a song from the album, “Come Find Me,” to Axl Rose. How did that song take shape?
I have been trying to reach Axl directly for a really long time. He’s got his own agenda and a lot of stuff going on in his life right now, especially the last 13 years with Chinese Democracy. With old friends coming in and out of the scene, I just don’t know who to trust and who is passing my message along or not. The bottom line is that I have some amends to make to him and I wanted him to know that I still care about him and that my friendship hasn’t faltered just because we haven’t seen each other in years. He is still a really strong figure and a really important, inspiring person to me. I wrote that song so that perhaps it would reach him. With the internet and everything else today, your message goes farther, easier and perhaps he would stumble upon it. That is really why I wrote it. I have tried for years to get a message through and this is just another medium to do that. I like singing about things that are close to my heart and hopefully the song can inspire someone else to say their true feelings about someone too and to not be afraid.
You are currently working with VH1 on a project. What can you tell us about that?
What I can tell you is that it will be airing sometime in March. It was an awesome project to be associated with! The folks at VH1 really captured the spirit of the rock n’ roll scene from the 80s in it. It looks at the Sunset Strip, specifically the strippers and then the guys who were interviewed were guys who were on the fringes and bands that didn’t necessarily make it. Steven Adler actually joined, and his old friend Ron Schneider who was in the road crew with Slash at the beginning. VH1 got them together and they did the show too. I think it will be a really thorough documentary, especially where the Guns N’ Roses stuff is concerned. I don’t know that anyone has ever really interviewed Steven on his perspective about what happened when he was asked to leave the band or what the Sunset Strip meant to him. I think it will be a really educational, informative and entertaining special. I’d watch it!
You probably have many tales to tell from you days on The Strip and beyond, will we ever get an autobiography out of you to share any of those stories?
I have actually been talking to a few different people about writing an autobiography! It is something that I really feel passionately about and something that I want to do.
Any idea of what you might call it?
If I was going to call it anything, hmmmmmm. “Party Girl of the 80s” or “The Family.” You know, I really like to stress the commitment and friendship that we had going there. It was a really tight circle of people and it is amazing how fame and fortune did some really fucked up shit to some of them, ya know? It is exactly like a family. the dysfunction is exactly the same. I mean, you’ve got people that were living together in different capacities, one bedroom apartments, studio spaces, everyone was screwing everybody, everyone was looking out for and cheer leading for the band. it was all about the band. Then you have band members, people who’ve died, you’ve got people that have gotten screwed out of money and people that have been left behind that maybe don’t want to have been left behind. You’ve got one of Shakespeare’s comedies right there and it’s my life! Maybe that’s what it should be called “It’s My Life”!!! [laughs]
Since she named the band, maybe you should give your daughter a shot at naming you book too!
[laughs] We call her “Princess Rocket Queen.” I’m the Queen, so she is the princess! [laughs] You know, there were a lot of Queens in the story. Certainly, my best friend Gaby Mozeris, still is my dear friend and has always been on my side. Certain people have stuck by each other and my daughter is definitely one of those people who loves me and will always be 100% behind me. Gaby’s daughter, is named after me and the other Adriana. It’s like we have created a legacy. Not only did GNR and those days on The Strip and Hollywood create a legacy, Guns N’ Roses furthered it. I think that there is a lot of education that can come out of Appetite for Destruction and tales about self-destruction and what it does. It is human nature, it is a perfect psychology project.
Being a drug and alcohol counselor yourself and having a tie to someone involved, how do you feel about a show like “Celebrity Rehab”?
I am glad that the show is out there to promote people’s understanding of addiction, however it is really exploitive. Some of the things that they choose to do with their participates, like trying to open up a communication line between mother and son like you have seen with Steven (Adler) on that show at eleven days sober is just inappropriate. I’m sorry but it is just not done in the real world. You don’t take a raw sore and pour salt into it. The fog lifts when it lifts. First of all it takes a while to get the substances out of your system, and second of all to handle things like anger or fear or rage which are normal emotions that people drink and use over. It’s like a broken shoelace or a winning lottery ticket? “What’s going to take me out today and make me dose on heroin?”
A lot of things on the show address certain issues but it looks to me to be more for ratings. I know that Dr. Drew has credentials and I have worked in the therapeutic community for over a decade and I know what his intentions are. However, it still is a business and you have to make it palatable for the networks and for people to watch it. You have to get people of interest and you have to address their core issues so that it is interesting. It is “Jerry Springer of Recovery.”
Steven Adler is putting together a new lineup for Adler’s Appetite. Any chance we might see Adriana and Ghost In The Graveyard sharing a bill alongside them in 2009?
I was hoping for that later this month but I have to see where Steven is at with things. He has a lot of stuff to address. I am hoping for that. Steven has heard the CD, I played it for him personally. He really likes it and is really proud of me and thinks that I have done a good job. I don’t know what his plans are but it is entirely possible that you could see him sitting in with our band or us opening up for him. It couldn’t do anything but be beneficial for both of us.
Well that sounds great and I think it is really admirable that you keep a watchful eye out for your friend.
I really care about him a lot and the world is a better place with him in it. I have lost some really valuable people in my life, like West Arkeen, who was an awesome person and an intricate part of the early Guns N’ Roses days with the songwriting. He took care of those guys in one capacity or another. He OD’d a number of years ago and life just hasn’t been the same without him. When you meet a person that is such a talented musician and has such an open heart and beautiful spirit, it is really horrible to lose them. So, of course I am going to do everything in my power to help Steven stay on the planet.
Having come of age at a very pivotal point in music, do you think music today and rock n’ roll in particular has lost it’s flair from the past?
I think that rock n’ roll today is generated by money. It is really corporate and it has really lost a lot of it’s soul. There are so many talented musicians out there for the one that make it. I think that rock n’ roll has lost it’s swagger. The Sunset Strip used to be packed. It was a meeting place, a place for fashion and people interacting. I think the whole nature of the music scene is about interaction. It is a fellowship. If there is no center for the fellowship, then what do you have? You have a sterile, manufactured, soulless entity. I want to see a show! I want to see a singer, I want to see a drummer, I want to hear it loud, I want to see stage antics, I want to see the crowd, I want to see the chicks, I want to see the guys. I want all that stuff and it is just not there anymore. Now you have tons of pay-to-play shows, places like The Whisky and this and that. It is ridiculous what it has become. It is not possible anymore to go to the The Sunset Strip and make it like The Doors did or like Guns N’ Roses did.
One of the biggest stories in rock/metal this year is the release of Chinese Democracy by Guns N’ Roses. Have you had a chance to check out any of the music yet?
I pre-ordered mine!
What did you think about the album?
I am still thinking about it! I listened to it about ten times last night, no shit! I listened to different songs for different parts. It is like, each time I listen to it, something new is revealed. I totally enjoy it. It isn’t the original lineup of Guns N’ Roses but I am a huge fan of Axl. I think he is an artist of genius proportions. I would really like to see the original guys play together again but I am not disappointed with what was put out. I wish it was put out a little bit earlier but everything is as it should be. The world works in a cycle. The universe is working the way it is supposed to work and for whatever reason it has come out now. I think that there is a lot of controversy over it and I think that is bullshit. I think that people will always have something to say about Axl Rose. I know that there are a lot of people that bitch, whine and complain but if you gave them backstage passes they would surely show up for the show! [laughs]
Do you have any other projects on the horizon that we should be on the lookout for?
We are talking right now about a possible reality show. we are trying to do something like “Sisterhood of The Sunset Strip” or something like that. We are trying to get something cooked up for me and my buddy , so that we can have some sort of reality show. We are putting ideas together where we can actually to go and sell this idea. I get a lot of hits on my Myspace page and people comment a lot about my pictures and people respond to my blog. It seems that people are interested and I think that we are interesting enough people to where a reality show wouldn’t be that difficult to imagine. Like I told you earlier, I am looking into doing my own autobiography and I am looking for someone to help me do that. Everyone has their story to tell and I would like to do that! Ghost In The Graveyard is planning on doing a summer tour and that will take us up the coast, through San Francisco and maybe into Arizona. Hopefully we will make it to the mid-west. We are going to do a pub crawl type of thing, taverns and that sort of thing to see what type of response we get. We are trying to do it the old-fashioned way! We are also looking to the future and hoping to work with Dick Wagner from the Alice Cooper band in the future as well. Dick is a great and a very talented artist.
Is there anything else you want to add or let your fans know?
I would like everyone to check out www.therocketqueen.com and sign our guestbook and let us know what they think. I really want to see people’s honest opinions and comments about our music, our merchandise or anything. Like I said, we are a band for the people and I want to give them what they want! I really enjoy singing, doing the shows and making people happy and if you can’t have fun at it, then it isn’t worth crap!
Thank you for your time Adriana!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.