|Shooting from the hip
Velvet Revolver fuse the spirit of Stone Temple Pilots with the firepower of Guns N’ Roses. But the band may already have an appetite for self-destruction. Classic Rock talks to Slash about the Next Big Thing. In the line of fire: Jon Hotten
SLASH IS TALKING IN HIS FAMILIAR, woozy, SoCal drawl: “Hey, it’s the second day of this fucking two-day picture shoot, man. You can always tell when you got a record coming out, because all this bullshit starts up again…”
As laid-back and straight as he might be these days, the guitarist can’t keep the excitement out of his voice when he talks about this particular new record of his, though. Because for all of the knockabout rock’n’roll kicks of Snakepit and the many other GN’R spin-offs and side projects, Velvet Revolver represents a return t the big-time for assorted members of two of the last decade’s biggest bands: Guns N’ Roses and Stone Temple Pilots.
Ex-GN’R men Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum began jamming around again in 2001. As their writing gathered momentum and the good vibes returned, in his head Slash began hearing one particular vice singing their material: that of Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland. Slash sent the STP singer a CD of some of their songs, and word came back that Weiland liked them very much.
It was never going to be that easy, though. It took Weiland a year to disentangle himself from the mess that STP had become. The GN’R three had by then become four with the addition of guitarist Dave Kushner, a friend of Slash’s since junior high school.
“Eventually,” Slash says, “after we’d been through this tortuous process of trying to find a singer, doing however many fucking auditions, we got this offer to do a couple of movie soundtracks. So I said t Scott, let’s just hang out and make music. But right from the start it was this great thing – that doesn’t usually happen twice. It was very organic and natural. We hooked up in April last year and we wrote over the summer. We did one gig just for the fuck of it, and that really cemented it. You can sometimes get away with shit in the studio, but there’s nowhere to hide up on stage. It was just that chemistry right away. Why we all work together, I don’t know.”
The gig was at a small theatre, the El Rey in Los Angeles, and it was the first time that Slash had ever seen Weiland sing live; the singer’s skill and passion enthralled him. With the deal sealed, the band recorded their as yet untitled album in the last three months of 2003, co-producing with Josh Abraham. They boiled down the final running order from some 50 original songs.
“I’m telling you, every fucking track of these twelve is something different,” Slash says of the results. “It’s like a journey. There are no fillers. Every song has its own vibe. It’s a really fucking killer record.”
The stand-out tunes are ‘Slither,’ a song that Weiland describes as having “that STP vibe,” and ‘Falling To Pieces,’ a show-stopping ballad in the manner of GN’R’s ‘November Rain.’ There’s even “an older punk track,” ‘Illegal Eye.’
Weiland, too, has been seduced by the combination of sounds: “It’s a true representation of STP’s music and also the best of Guns N’ Roses’ music when they were at their best – vicious, streamlined, living off strippers.”
Just one dark cloud has blighted this idyllic horizon: as the band worked on the album, Weiland had to go back into rehab, falling victim once again to his well-known junk habit. It meant that Slash and co were once more working with a singer whose behaviour was affecting the course of their professional lives. How come?
“All things considered,” Slash replies, “if you’d given me a handful of resumes I’d avoid the ones that said ‘irretrievable junkie’ on them, but in reality Scott’s dealing with stuff. He’s such an amazing talent.”
Clean again, Weiland is back taking a full part in the build-up t the album’s release, expected to be in the spring through RCA/BMG. However, the true test will come when the band hit the road. Plans include some low-key English and European dates around the release of the album, followed by some extensive work in America.
“I would like to think that being in the band has helped Scott,” Slash says. “But you would have to ask him. I hope that working with us has made it a little easier, man. I mean, shit, we’ve all had our problems in the past.”
Velvet Revolver are attempting to absorb those lessons and learn from them, in both a personal and business sense.
“As naïve as it sounds, we didn’t want any of this bullshit about X amount of dollars for this or whatever; all the obvious things. My whole thing was just to have a fucking amazing rock’n’roll band. Scott was the only guy who had that voice, what we thought was a genuine rock’n’roll voice. For most artists today it’s not about rock’n’roll anymore, but it is for us. I don’t care about baggage or any of that shit. It’s not my big concern what everyone is going to think. I don’t have time to sort them all out. I just want the record to come out and to go on the road. I don’t care what size theatres or arenas or whatever, just fucking play, man. That’s what it’s about, after all.
“We lost sight of that in Guns. Once we’d played a stadium Axl would never go back, it was stadiums or nothing. But to me it’s about being close to the crowd, too. I thought I’d got it out of my system with Snakepit, which was a kind of haphazard, thrown-together thing, but it never really goes.”
To that end, Velvet Revolver are expected to play in the UK this spring.
“Hey, you gotta remember I was born there, man,” Slash says. “Stoke-on-Trent. And we just have very warm feelings about it there, from that first time with Guns. I just feel partial to the place. It seems like people take you at face value there.”
And with that, Slash is off to face the cameras and kick the big machine into action.
Weiland’s woes: can he stay drug-free?
May 17, 2003
A Los Angeles police officer pulls Scott Weiland over at 5:30am for allegedly driving without headlights, and later spots a syringe in the singer’s car. Weiland claims to be giving a female passenger a lift home, and insists that the drugs don’t belong t him.
Formally charged with possessing cocaine and heroin, Weiland is freed after posting $25,000 bail. He faces severe repercussions if found guilty of the charges, having been arrested twice before for possessing drugs in California (in 1995 and 1997). Weiland was also arrested in New York in 1998, and served time in prison the following year after a heroin overdose that a judge ruled had violated his probation.
Weiland is revealed as the singer of Velvet Revolver, a name the band would officially confirm two days later. Also in the frame for the position had been Sebastian Bach and ex-Buckcherry frontman Joshua Todd.
A request is made that Weiland’s case be diverted to a drug court program, meaning that his possession charges would be dismissed upon completion.
Weiland is sentenced to three years’ probation after pleading ‘no contest’ to the charges of possessing heroin.
Clive Davis signs Velvet Revolver to his label RCA. He comments: “The songs I’ve heard will propel this group to the very forefront of rock music today.”
Weiland files for divorce from his wife Mary, citing ‘irreconcilable differences.’ The couple have two young children together. Weiland had pleaded guilty to domestic battery after fighting with her at the Hard Rock hotel and casino in Las Vegas in 2001. The judge decided to dismiss the charges al long as Weiland underwent counseling.
Judge Colette Serio congratulates Weiland for staying drug-free following his ‘no contest’ plea to two felony drug possession charges in May. Outside the curt, the singer says his recovery is on track, stating: “Sometimes God offers you circumstances that fall in your lap. Getting busted spurred my desire to seriously get back into recovery.”
Weiland is arrested again on his 36th birthday after crashing his BMW into several parked cars on a Los Angeles street, then attempting t flee the scene. He is charged with driving under the influence and misdemeanour hit-and-run offences. Already on probation, the former Stone Temple Pilots frontman is released on bail of $15,000.
A Pasadena judge orders Weiland into the Grandview detox facility in Pasadena. He must stay there for seven to 10 days, with no visitors or phone calls. After that comes a six-month stay in a lockdown facility, although he may leave rehab for four hours a day under supervision to record with Velvet Revolver; each day, Weiland is taken to the recording studio by a police officer and tested for drugs immediately on his return.
Velvet Revolver drummer Matt Sorum defends his singer, stating that his incarceration is for the best. “[There’s] a lot of pressure, and he just hasn’t been handling it,” comments Sorum, who went through the same process five years earlier. “It’s probably a good thing he’s going away. When he comes out he’ll be feeling good.”
It is reported that Weiland is caught attempting to smuggle drugs into the detox centre.
Weiland finishes the vocal tracks for Velvet Revolver’s debut album, to be called ‘Contraband,’ at Lavish studios in California. It will be released on May 11. On the same day he posts a crazed blast at Rolling Stone on his website, claiming the magazine’s gossip columns “exist only so rich college boys can wipe their fucking asses with the rage.”
A third of the way through his six-month residential drug rehabilitation program, with the court’s permission Weiland switches from Grandview to Las Encinas, another Pasadena-based lockdown. The switch to a smaller clinic is so that the singer can get more personal care.
Weiland switches rehab clinics again, this time to Genesis, a non-lockdown facility in Hollywood. However, the court does not approve of his new temporary home.
Two separate court hearings ensue. In the first, Weiland pleads not guilty t charges of driving under the influence of drugs. But because he left the lockdown facility that his bail demanded he is ordered t serve six more months at a separate, undisclosed facility, with six months of aftercare treatment. If he should walk out again or be tested positive for drugs, a warrant will be issued for his arrest. Weiland’s next progress report is due on March 5…