Interview with Matt Sorum for the HouseofHairOnline
By Ray Van Horn, Jr.
HOUSE OF HAIR ONLINE: The concert on this Velvet Revolver: Live in Houston DVD we’re talking about actually happened five years ago, but it’s wild to see from the fan’s perspective. You guys are kicking out a lot of Contraband material and showing immediate glue at this point in the band. As you remember taking the stage for this particular gig in Houston and any of the others around that time, did it feel like instant magic onstage?
MATT SORUM: Well, the way I’d explain it is, that was sort of the reason we put the DVD out. It was probably the best time for the band, physically, mentally and professionally. We had a hit record, we had a couple of hit songs on the radio, we’d really come back and pulled the fat. (Scott) Weiland had cleaned up his act. We were probably in better physical shape than we’ve ever been in, especially myself. That’s just like looking back at some of the Guns n’ Roses years. I was drinking too much, getting a little out of shape. We were finally on all cylinders, if you will. We had a lot of excitement around the band and the fans were up for it. When we were approached to do this video, we were like, ‘You know, that kind of makes sense now,’ because for the future we’re getting ready to pull out the Velvet Revolver again—no pun intended—and fire it back up. We’re going to pick a different singer and we’re confident we’re going to be able to do that. So this video is a way for us to say we’ve got nothing to be ashamed of with that lineup of the band. It was a good band and that was the best phase of that band. We were in better shape early in its incarnation.
HOH: On the video, you guys allude to the painstaking process getting to where Weiland joined the band. You guys had so many audition tapes to whittle through. I imagine you were stuck with a thousand Axl clones and Perry Farrell wannabes?
MS: Well, yeah, we had fans trying to come into Velvet Revolver. At the time, we didn’t have a name. I think a lot of guys were thinking, ‘What do they want? Who knows what they want? Do they want someone to sound like Axl or Ian Astbury?’ So I think people, God bless them, they did the best possible take on what they thought we might be interested in. The fact of the matter is, years and years went by after the Guns n’ Roses demise of that lineup, and we were creating a new band. The times had changed, fashion changed, culture changed, music had changed. We’ve been through quite a few metamorphoses of change in music, so while we were looking for the singer, we were thinking subconsciously, ‘How are we going to put out something that’s perceived as a new band?’ We were trying not to recreate Guns n’ Roses with a new singer, because that’s what a small core of it was. Only until Scott Weiland came along did we actually hear a sound through his voice, because we were more aggressive than Stone Temple Pilots. We liked what was coming out of Scott’s voice. Stone Temple Pilots came more from a grunge era of bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, so it was a different musical background that he came from. Scott left his imprint upon ours and somehow it was perceived as a current rollout. That’s why we had a modern rock hit. We were taken as a new band, and obviously considered a supergroup. In our eyes, it was the best guys we could find for the job. It wasn’t really a supergroup; it just so happened we all came from other bands.
We tried finding another singer. It wasn’t possible. He came in and spoke to us and we and we thought, ‘God, this guy is the next fucking Jim Morrison!’ But when it went down like that, if someone else came in and we felt that, we would’ve done it. We didn’t pick Scott Weiland because it was the obvious supergroup choice. He was a guy who had talent and was a proven entity. When I watch the video, I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, we’re actually going to use this guy?’ We’d been through a two-year process where I was definitely the most frustrated, if you watch the video. I’m the one who’s like, ‘Is this a fucking hobby for you guys? Are you going to play “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” or are we going to get going here?’ Then I say something like, ‘God, I wish I was still getting checks off of “Sweet Child ‘O Mine,” but I didn’t write the fucking song, so let’s rock! Pick the fucking guy, put him in some fucking tights and let’s go!’ That was totally my thing and the guys love me and hate me for it, you know, having that kind of outspoken voice in the band. I was like that for Guns n’ Roses too. I was a little bit of a kick in the pants.
HOH: In making the transition between both bands, if you were that outspoken in Guns n’ Roses, do you think if they’d let you speak up a bit more, that particular lineup might’ve stayed together longer? I don’t want to speculate or anything, but there’s a severance point with what you’re alluding to here. I think it makes part of the difference between the Use Your Illusion era down to Axl’s Chinese Democracy era. I often wonder if everybody had spoken up in the interest of preserving what Guns had then, then who knows what might’ve been?
MS: The problem with that band is, it was too big for its own good. The demonic animal had taken over an animal that was something that grooved, something that was Rolling Stones level. It was a massive entity and there was a lot going on, let me put it to you that way. I always thought from an outside perspective, here I was, a guy who’d replaced Steven Adler, the guy who had created the sound of the first album, along with the collective of the band. I was only brought in because they were already starting to lose it. The only saving grace to me, coming in, was we were able to make another album. If I hadn’t, then who knows? I always tell Steven this because he kind of jumps on me all the time and he’s bitter about it. I would say, ‘Look, if it wasn’t me, it would’ve been someone else. It definitely wasn’t going to be you, though.’ Here’s the thing: Keith Richards fucking shot heroin in a chandelier and he still made the music, you know what I mean? If you’re given that opportunity to be in a rock ‘n roll band and you don’t have a lot of other qualifications for any other job identification, the least you could do is do a good job being in a rock ‘n roll band. Do your fucking drugs, drink your alcohol, bang as many chicks as you want, but show up on fucking time and rock! That’s it, period. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. If you’re going to fuck that up too, well, you’re a real idiot! (laughs) Right?
HOH: (laughs) Regarding the set list for this Velvet Revolver DVD, was it strange for you having to throw in a couple of Guns n’ Roses and Stone Temple Pilots songs into the mix? Was it surreal at that beginning point of the band or was it like, hey, let’s just get ourselves identified to the fans and let it roll from there?
MS: We only had one album and we were going to be headlining. Right out of the box, we were a headlining band. We were like, ‘Fuck, now we’re going to have to put together a show?’ We had 45 minutes of recorded music, and when we picked the songs from Guns n’ Roses, I remember having a conversation with Duff (McKagen). I’m like, ‘Dude, let’s try not to do songs like “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child ‘O Mine.” I’ll back Axl in telling the world: those are his songs, you know? That’s a little bit sacrilegious to tackle that beast! I’ve had that conversation with Slash, since he’s been out doing them with his band. I’d say, ‘Dude, is that necessary? Let’s do some B-sides, stuff that Duff wrote, something Duff sang.’ “It’s So Easy” was a song that was written by Duff with West Arkeen, and he doubled the vocal with Axl, so that makes sense. The song has something for the vocal ability of Weiland that’s different than Axl’s.
HOH: Scott nailed that one.
MS: Yeah, because on that particular song, Axl’s vocal is the low vocal. Duff sang above that, and it wasn’t your typical Axl high-end yell. He was down in that baritone range. Scott said, ‘That song really inspired me a lot as a singer for Stone Temple Pilots,’ to sing in that baritone, Ian Astbury-Axl kind of vibe, which he’s got. Then “Mr. Brownstone” is the same kind of thing. Izzy (Stradlin) and Axl sang “Brownstone” together, you know, it was a lower register. For Axl to hit the high end like “Welcome to the Jungle,” that didn’t work, and we weren’t going to try and make it work, either.
HOH: You watch five guys in Velvet Revolver on this DVD, they’re all pros of their positions and it’s hard for the audience to key in on one particular artist. There’s chemistry between the five of you onstage that creates a sensory feast. It helps not to have something too over-the-top, vocally.
MS: I think that’s kind of the genre of rock ‘n roll that we came from, you know? We’ve all sort of created our own identity that is visually captivating and entertaining. If you think back to the original lineup of Guns n’ Roses, you look at a band with Steven and Izzy included, they were all these characters. If you were a fan in the early days of Hollywood (hard rock scene), they used to run around with fliers, saying ‘Izzy, Axl, Slash, Duff, Steven,’ you know? It’s almost like they could’ve made them G.I. Joe characters! I love that, because that’s great rock ‘n roll. They had a little bit of presage about their reputation. When we went to do Velvet Revolver, that was the tradition of the kind of rock ‘n roll band we were going to present ourselves as.
The grunge era had kind of watered down the rock star, so to speak. (Kurt) Cobain was the anti-rock star. Here was this guy who said let’s kibosh all rock stars, I’m going to come out wearing a flannel shirt, be depressed, write songs with a whole different take, right? That era came along and kiboshed it. The rap movement came over and picked up where all the rock stars had left off and all of a sudden, rappers were the ones drinking champagne in the strip bars. We were like, ‘What just happened? What happened to rock ‘n roll?’ When we came back, obviously we’d gone through a lot, most of us had sobered up, but we still had that sort of drive that spoke rock ‘n roll as a lifestyle, which had created all of us as individuals. I think that’s what’s represented when you watch the band. You go ‘Wow, maybe these guys are the real deal! This isn’t completely put on.’ And it wasn’t.
HOH: The era of “big” rock has been sorely missing for a long time now, and Velvet Revolver is still a band I believe in to carry that forward. Buckcherry’s another one, yet there’s not many “big” rock ‘n roll bands staking a claim in this market today. You guys have two albums with monster hit after monster hit. Whether they were successful on the radio or not, they’re played with the attitude they’re monster hits. I miss that, dude. I grew up in the eighties and while I’m an underground hound, I do miss that era of fun and footloose rock. Now, even with heavy metal returning in America, most of it is so structured, so perfect, less from the hip, you know? It’s so serious. As a drummer, I’m sure it has to be frustrating to you that today’s metal and rock is mandated drumming-wise by bpms. I personally would rather have groove instead, you know?
MS: Right, but the metal world is whole different animal of its own. If people have grown up in that genre, then that’s all they know. They haven’t gone further back to steady the grade. I grew up in the seventies, so I came from Led Zeppelin and Sabbath, Hendrix, the Stones, Aerosmith and Cheap Trick, so they’re a part of who I am. They’re who I represent. If you look at the era of music with Limp Bizkit and all those bands, that rap metal kind of thing, they grew up listening to Rage Against the Machine. Actually, if you listen to Rage Against the Machine, the core of that band is Led Zeppelin-meets-Jimi Hendrix. On top of that band is the whole political thing, but if you listen to the music, it’s not that at all! Yet somehow that was translated into rap rock—which came from bands like Faith No More—you mix it with all the shit that created bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn. I heard that shit and thought, ‘What is this?’ I didn’t get it at all. I didn’t understand it, but those guys grew up with Metallica, guys playing Jackson guitars and Fender Deville amps. Where did the Les Pauls go? That’s the greatest sound ever created! One guy stuck to his guns and kept playing it. His name’s Slash. He says, ‘I’m going to play fucking Les Paul through a Marshall!’ It’s the greatest guitar ever made and it has the classic rock ‘n roll sound. I do think it’s cool that people feel they always have to push the envelope. You can’t rest on your laurels and hope that rock ‘n roll adjusts.
HOH: Another thing I appreciate watching the DVD, you guys get to jam a lot like on “Illegal I Song.” Unless you’re The Black Crowes or Phish, there’s not a lot of freewheeling jam in rock today like the old days with Deep Purple, Emerson, Lake and Palmer or Rainbow with all those jam fests. Back then, the jam was welcome in rock; it was so much a part of the live experience. I was glad to see Velvet Revolver take a chance and jam onstage.
MS: I think that middle section of “Illegal I Song” and on “Slither” a bit, I remember telling the band, ‘Let’s kick it out there a little bit.’ I’d gone to see Lenny Kravitz and his thing was like a superjam. A little bit too much, you know, but I like that. When you’re doing a set and you’ve been on the road for a year, you’re pretty much bringing down the shit every night. It’s kind of cool, because you get to take a section where everyone is kind of in freeform and you have some fun for yourself. It’s not fun playing songs correctly in their sound form. As a musician, you need some kind of outlet to look forward to when you’re on a gig every night. It keeps you fresh, you know? It’s fun to take some chances. That’s something I’d want to do again in the new lineup when we go out again.
HOH: Let me get your impressions of playing those dates with Motorhead for Mikkey Dee.
MS: Well, the fact they even asked me was a great honor. I have no idea why that transpired. I’m not a Mikkey Dee kind of drummer, but Lemmy asked me because he always claims Motorhead isn’t a metal band. Metal is something that was attached to Motorhead. Motorhead is more of a punk rock band mixed with fifties and sixties elements, which came from Lemmy’s background playing hippie music. If you listen to his music, it’s real rhythm and blues. When I came in to play, I tried to do my best to give an interpretation between Mikkey Dee and “Philthy” Phil Taylor. “Philthy” Taylor was like a Steven Adler kind of drummer. He was not a technically-proficient drummer by any means, but he had a vibe and a soul to his drumming that helped create a sound that was the original Motorhead. It was kind of a sloppy boogie rock thing, right? I’m the kind of guy who’s a real steady drummer. Some people claim that’s maybe a little too steady for their liking, but most bands that I’m in like it because I don’t fucking drop the beat. I keep it pretty much together and when I played with Motorhead, Lemmy really liked it, because I played it a little more rock ‘n roll than metal.
HOH: Yeah, I was concerned about that, since Mikkey is primarily a double-hammer kind of guy, one of the best at it, actually.
MS: I used a double bass drum pedal. Before I joined The Cult, I auditioned for David Lee Roth years ago, right after he was out of Van Halen. I didn’t play double bass drum at all, and after I didn’t get the gig with David Lee Roth, I found out Gregg Bissonette got the gig and he was getting $8,000.00 a week. I just about killed myself, because at the time I was broke, I didn’t have anything, so I went out in a woodshed and got a double bass drum. I sat there and I played double bass drum for like, ten years. I was fucking flying; I could play (Motorhead’s) “Bomber” for two hours or “Overkill.” Then when I auditioned for The Cult, they were like, ‘Why do you have the other bass drum?’ (laughs) ‘Get rid of the other bass drum, we don’t ever want to hear you do that!’ They wanted more of that AC/DC groove, you know? So when it came time to go out for Motorhead, Lemmy had asked Dave Grohl to play, but Dave doesn’t play double bass drum. Lemmy asked me if I could play “Overkill,” and I said, ‘No problem.’ I played “Bomber” and “Overkill” and I played a few songs off the new record with double bass. That was fun! It was good workout! I’m not claiming to be any Dave Lombardo, but I’ve got the double bass drum chops! Lemmy’s interesting to talk to; he always has funny anecdotes.
HOH: Tell me about you, Slash and Duff collaborating with Macy Gray on “Kiss It.” Man, I’m sure that was a blast.
MS: Yeah, Macy’s a friend. I had her up at my studio and she asked me, ‘Matt, can you call Slash and Duff?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, baby!’ That’s pretty much how it went down. I think it’s a good track and a good song. Slash is a funk master. He’s got that soulful kind of style, anyway. I love Macy. I think she’s a super talent.
HOH: So, everybody’s reporting about the current Velvet Revolver vocalist auditions. How’re things going to this point? Any front runners?
MS: We’ve had more guys in the studio last month than we’ve had in the last two-and-a-half years, so we’re going to make a point of getting back out there in 2011. That’s the plan. We’ve been saying it awhile and people are probably like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever,’ but we haven’t given up hope. It’s a big animal to fill those shoes. We want to make the right decision. We don’t want to come out half-cocked and let people down, and let ourselves down. We’re taking our time, but we’re not going to take much more time, I can tell you that. We’re ready to crank up again.