BY PAUL GARGANO
Breaking The Big Machine
“We’re all slaves to a big machine / All tied up to a big machine / I got houses / Got cars / I got a wife / I got kids / Got money in the bank / Get away without borders / I’m a slave, New World Order / I guess I chose to be… Hope I teach my son how to be a man / Now before he hits 35 / Comic book lives don’t really have any real life do they now” – Velvet Revolver, “Big Machine”
While the video for Velvet Revolver’s latest single, “Fall To Pieces,” is an autobiographical nosedive into frontman Scott Weiland’s world of addiction and chaos, it’s “Big Machine” that might best summarize the key to Velvet Revolver’s success. All veterans of the music industry’s “big machine,” Weiland and former Guns N’ Roses bandmates Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum have not only graduated from the machine, but they’ve done so with honors, achieving super-stardom, and learning from the mistakes that could have – or, should have – killed them.
Velvet Revolver began as rumored super-group with the odds stacked against them, but have quickly evolved into America’s next great rock’n’roll band. How did it happen? In last month’s cover story, we sat down with Slash, McKagan, and guitarist Dave Kushner. This month, we join drummer Matt Sorum, and Scott Weiland, who broke his self-imposed silence in this Metal Edge exclusive…
METAL EDGE: The band just got back from overseas – How was the trip?
SCOTT WEILAND: Yeah, we just got back a few days ago from a five-and-a-half week tour. The record is doing really well there, in every country. It’s interesting, because Germany is the long-standing best rock market in Europe, but it’s kind of been the sauciest market, lately, which is kind of weird. But the whole experience was great – It’s a whole different thing, but it’s cool. Rock’n’roll is really a universal language, because it has everything to do with energy, the energy of youth, really, sexual energy, sexual tension, that whole teen angst thing…
ME: Does it strike you as at all odd that rock’n’roll is the energy of youth, but it takes five guys who are older than most of their fans, to unleash that energy in people? A lot of these younger bands today just don’t seem to get it…
SW: For one thing, the lifestyle that we’ve lived, the choices that we’ve made… After a while, those choices end up leaving you no choice – your choices get taken away – and living that way sort of keeps you trapped, in a way, from achieving maturity. That seems to be a blessing for a while, it gives you that sort of eternal Peter Pan element, and for a while that’s cool, but after a while, I think that becomes a curse… Fr me, personally, I kind of got to a point where I didn’t want to be Peter Pan anymore, I wanted to become a man. But musically speaking, not growing up, the energy that comes from the lives that we’ve led – You continue to write music that has an intense amount of violent and sexual energy, and you wouldn’t write that music unless you’ve lived your life a certain way, and continue to live your life in a certain fashion, for probably a lot longer than we should have.
ME: You’d have to think that your music is less dangerous today, than it was when STP were at their peek, or Guns N’ Roses were in arenas, but it’s still the most electrifying thing out there, today…
SW: It really is. I can tell you, things were pretty tenuous during the European tour. Things got pretty close to the fucking edge, and it got pretty scary.
SW: You take five guys who are all dope fiends or, for lack of a better term, junkies – yeah, we’ve all cleaned up, but you stick us all in a pressure cooker… We weren’t making any money out there in Europe, we were just planting seeds out there. There’s this misconception that we’re instantly in stadiums, and that’s not the case. Next time we go out there we’ll be cleaning up, and those dates are being lined up now for February, but this first tour was dirty – The dressing rooms stank, and they were the same clubs, with the same writing on the walls, that I played on the first two STP tours. It was scary, and there were some periods of time where I was like, “You know what? This tour is going to end – I’m getting on a plane and going home, because this band is going to fucking implode!” And that’s because anything can happen at any time – Because of our individual lives and the individual decisions that we make, and because it works on a musical level, there’s that dangerous thing you can hear in the music, and there’s also that chance of it falling apart, and bad choices being made. Things did get a little precarious over there, but it all got worked out.
ME: Because the rest of the band have been out of the spotlight for so long, it’s easy to forget that there are four other people who have battled – and do battle – what you’re going through. You’ve just been in the news most recently, so you’re the one that’s fresh in people’s minds, but you’re not the only combustible personality in there.
SW: Yes, exactly.
ME: The announcement wasn’t even made that STP were done until the press conference announcing that you were in Velvet Revolver – Was that chemistry that immediate?
SW: It really was like that. We really started working on two songs at the same time – The Pink Floyd song was really created in the studio, for the most part, but “Set Me Free” we put together at the rehearsal space, and that song really wrote itself. Those guys had it written instrumentally before I got there, and I wrote the melody and lyrics on the spot. It was just really easy. I’ll tell you what really made it work… I came into the whole thing, and I was really at a fucking low point. I was separated from my wife, and I was living with this couple who were supposedly sober, and were supposedly supposed to be detoxing me – I was horribly strung out, and the couple ran this completely illegitimate kind of like a halfway house thing where they did outpatient detox-type deals. They had this doctor who would write all the ‘scripts, then he’d give the meds to the guy and he would dole them out. Thing is, he was pocketing half the meds himself, and his girlfriend was completely strung out on heroin herself, and was also a speed freak. So I was living with them – My wife and kids were living in San Diego, I had my own apartment in Hollywood, but I was too paranoid that the cops were going to come there, it was a bad scene… So I started working with the guys, and I was so used to being judged in STP, the odd man out, and the scapegoat to all the problems. At the same time, I was the one responsible for carrying the heavy load of the work, but I never got my just desserts, or the credit that was due for carrying that load. Although they did allow me to carry the heavy burden of guilt and shame for what I supposedly did to “injure” them, and what affected them on a negative level, even though I definitely did own up to what I did… On to the new group, those guys had a lean, mean situation going. They had been playing together for a year, and rehearsing five days a week. That’s one thing that I definitely admire about Slash – The guy’s got an incredible work ethic, and he’s addicted to rehearsal. That’s one thing that I’m not – I’m not a fan of rehearsing [laughing]. I love to record, and I love to write, but I don’t like to rehearse. I’m addicted to the recording studio, I can spend hours and days in there, but I can’t stand rehearsing.
ME: Probably because playing can be very technical, and perfected, while your delivery, as the frontman, is spontaneous, it’s not that orchestrated.
SW: Yes! The guy just loves to play, and he loves his guitar. It’s like his guitar is an appendage! So I get involved with these guys, and as bummed out as I was, they didn’t judge me. And honestly, they did everything they could to try and help me, and I was fucked up in a bad way. There were several times when there were band meetings early on that I didn’t show up to. Meetings with management that I didn’t show up to. We were supposed to have these showcase for all these industry people – which was a stupid idea, because we had only been playing together for like three days – and, the first one, I didn’t show up for, and the second one, I was like three hours late. Normally, that’s not how I am at all, but in that headspace, that’s how I was. These guys, knowing how a person in my headspace operates, didn’t judge. Finally, about a month later, after I got arrested, I came to the conclusion… The next day was when I wrote “Fall To Pieces” with Slash, the day after I got arrested, and that is the most poignant part of the record. That’s the turning point of the record for me. That’s when I knew we were a band, because those guys never, ever judged, and through that whole period, they were there. When my wife and my family weren’t around, those guys were the ones that stood by me, and it was on. It just became a great thing.
ME: Yet there are still the though times, like Europe.
SW: Yeah, but we get through it.
ME: I can’t remember seeing a more moving video than “Fall To Pieces.” It’s a lot easier to judge people than it is to try and understand what they’re going through, and try to help them. And I think that video gets that across at so many levels – I still get goosebumps when I see it.
SW: Thank you so much – I’m so glad people actually like it, because I was so scared when we started to record it. I thought that it would either move people, or have the opposite effect, and people would think it was cheesy. I have to really give it to Kevin [Kerslake, Director] because he really found a way to motivate us, and motivate me to not be afraid to go for it, and he actually edited it so that the story seemed like a story.
ME: It was like watching a movie. I think that’s one of the reasons I really like it – It’s not abstract, and it drives home a meaning and a point that’s pretty unmistakable.
SW: I know, I’m more proud of this video – and song – than anything.
ME: Looking at the music industry today, there’s not a lot out there like Velvet Revolver. Is it tough for you, trying to put a tour together?
SW: It is, because the bands we like, we’re told by our agents that they don’t sell enough tickets. On our fall tour, we’re taking out The Distillers, and we’re told, “Yeah, but they’re not worth enough, they can’t sell enough tickets.” But we don’t give a fuck. They push bands like Chevelle, but there’s no way in hell we’d take them with us! When STP got signed, came up through the ranks, and hit it, we never made decisions based on what the record label or our agents wanted us to do. When the label wanted us to put out an EP featuring the acoustic “Plush,” and offered us an enormous amount of money, we didn’t do it because we knew that the album version of the song had already played its course, and we didn’t want to be forever defined by that song, and when it came to making the second album, we could be over. Acoustic “Plush” got played anyway, but just because it was picked up from that Headbangers Ball version, not because they pressed it, and not because they sold it as a commercial song – We ended up making a second record, and that record debuted at No. 1. If we would have decided to capitalize on that, we could have been our “Runaway Train.” Compromising because of what the industry wants you to do, is not something that this band is going to do. The thing is, this industry is so used to the artists just bending over and getting fucked in the ass without Vaseline, that they just sit there and look at you with a jaundice eye.
ME: There are rock bands that are doing quite well at Top 40 now with ballads – You’ve got Hoobastank, Finger 11… Does that give you expectations for “Fall To Pieces,” and raise the bar a little higher?
SW: You know what? This is kind of a lame thing to say, but with that song, I’ve always had high expectations. The first time I heard that song complete, after doing the demo in my studio, it’s just the combination of what’s being said, the lyric, the melody, and the way the melody meshes with Slash’s guitar melody, that cascading guitar melody that is so signature Slash. It’s just a desperate thing, and the only reason it works is because of that situation I was in when it was written, that moment in time. That situation rarely ever happens, where as the writer, I feel that a song is going to impact people in a good way.
ME: From a personal perspective, is the video a testimonial, of sorts? It shows everyone that has judged you – and continues to judge you – a side of you that they’d never stop to look at unless they’ve been through it themselves, or with a friend or family member. Is there a hope there that people might watch the video and realize that there’s a depth to the problems that they may not realize?
SW: Yeah, because I think that that song is not so apathetic. When I was younger, I think I was a lot whinier, and I think that’s just part of youth. Also, I think that was part of the times – Every artist that was part of that movement that I was part of, I think we all shared a lot of similar situation, and we all whined a lot. There was a lot of heroin going on, and we’ve all had a lot of the same experiences dealing with that drug. But now, dealing with that fallout of those experiences, and being a man, and trying to deal with it like a man would deal with it, I’m tired of whining about shit, and I’m not going to whine about it! It’s just an hones portrayal of what my feelings are. The fact that people are relating to it makes me feel good. I’ve noticed that women are sort of attracted to the song… The song’s got two conflicts, my relationship to the drug, and the loss of the relationship with my life. Obviously, chicks relate to the latter, but it’s not a “Oh, poor me,” kind of thing, and I think that’s why people are appealing to it on a more universal level, rather than me being just a whiny big baby.
ME: Women also tend to be drawn to the sensitive side, too. It’s the fairy tale ending.
SW: Right. That’s always intrigued me about rock stars – The dudes wanna be them, and the chicks wanna fuck ‘em – but over the last eight years, at least, I haven’t seen any rock guys that have really intrigued me. I haven’t seen any rock guys whose shoes I want to fill – Most of the rock guys look like roadies.
METAL EDGE: Scott said Europe got a little rough…
MATT SORUM: In my opinion, it was a rough tour in the amount of giging that we did. I think it was the hardest tour that I have ever done, and I remember telling management right before we left, “Okay, six-and-a-half weeks in Europe – How many days off?” They were like, “Two days off…” That’s fucking crazy! We’ve got four days in a row here, we’ve got another four days in a row with a record signing and a television show and no time off, and that part of it was a beating. Psychology, as far as going in and playing the smaller venues, I think those kick ass. There were a few that were fucking brutal as far as like temperatures – we did one in Germany, and it was just like a sweat box – but they weren’t all small clubs, they were all like theaters. We did the Hammersmith Apollo in London, which is a great theater…
ME: Heading into the release of the album, was there any worry that it wouldn’t be received as well as it was?
MS: No, because I always felt that we were in the right arena, at the right time period, and at the right label. It seemed like the timing was right, everyone was in the right mindset, there was a really good vibe around the band, and we were getting along really great. Take something like the vibe when I got back together with the Cult – With that band, when we made the record Beyond Good And Evil, we were trying to make a record to go with the times. When we went in to make the Velvet Revolver album, we didn’t give a fuck what was going on around us, and I think that’s what made it stick out. It’s a pure rock album, even though, subconsciously, it might have taintings of modern elements – Like with the production, and rhythmically there might be something happening, a couple of D-tuned guitars, but that was all subconscious stuff.
ME: Seeing you live, the chemistry as a band is impressive.
MS: I think the beauty of it is that we all kind of know what kind of rock’n’roll we want to thrown down, it’s a collective feeling. We all get up there and do our thing, we all get up there and play rock’n’roll. Even for Scott, I would say this is the hardest rock band he has ever been in, and it’s the hardest rock band I have ever been in. It rocks a lot harder and a lot more aggressively than GN’R ever did, with the exception of Axl and his high scream, but it’s got sort of a harder edge to it. Stone Temple was very much buying into the grunge thing, and a lot of it was real slow. The last song on Contraband, “Loving The Alien,” a couple of us didn’t want on the album – We kind of did it for fun, and it came out completely different than the rest of the record. But we thought that it was a good song, and we thought, we’d give people a little extra added something that’s just a little left of center. But I just wanted the record to fucking rock from the get go, and never let up.
ME: You have been through GN’R, you have been through The Cult, Scott’s been through STP – You’ve all been through bands before. Now that you’re a little older, you’d think the tendency would be to mellow out a bit – Especially when you look at the track record of other bands that have sobered up over the years.
MS: I really feel, especially for Slash and Duff, that there was a lot of underlying anxiety and pent-up frustration about the GN’R situation, and when it was finally unleashed on the Contraband album, it really came out in a really aggressive, cathartic way. I had really been holding a lot back that came out through the music, and I know Slash would tell you that he finally had come to the realization of how he felt after GN’R broke up – We were all highly suicidal, and I was really strung out on drugs, and it’s like, “Fuck, I was just in the biggest band in the world! Now what?” Slash will tell you the same thing, and Guns was more his baby than anybody’s. I have never known of anybody to pour so much of himself into the music and the band as Slash does – His whole life revolves around that. I mean, he has his family right now, but the top priority for Slash is still to get onstage. I am the same way. When GN’R broke up, we didn’t have jack to go to, it was hard on all of us. We all went out and explored our own identities, but we never seemed to touch that feeling that we had already achieved.
ME: Do you feel like you have achieved that with Velvet Revolver?
MS: You know, I feel better with this band than I did with GN’R. There is something about this band. I mean, we could do so much more collectively, with the members of this band – We want to talk to each other, and we all want to make music together. GN’R turned into a Gestapo – It was run by one guy who had his vision of what Guns was supposed to be, at that point. In this band, we like hanging out together and playing music with each other, it’s like we can’t wait to come up with a new riff. With Guns, we’d come up with a new riff and Axl would be like, “That sucks!” Nobody says, “That sucks,” now. We completely have an open mind throughout. I even wrote a couple of the riffs on the album – I wrote “Set Me Free” and “Spectacle” on guitar, and to have the band sit and listen to me play guitar at this point in my career, that was like a great, great moment for me. To play guitar in front of Slash, that’s fucking really good. That’s like a really, really cool vibe, and that’s what we are all about – We all know that if you shoot people in the foot, if they are trying to show the best that they could possible be, you are never going to have the best thing to show for it.
ME: When we did the photo shoot [for last month’s cover, and this feature], we had Cheap Trick’s Live At Budokan on, and Scott said that “Surrender” would be a cool cover for you guys to record – You’ve recorded it since then, right?
MS: Yeah, we did.
ME: What other covers have you recorded?
MS: We did “No More, No More” and we did a version of “Tie Your Mother Down,” but we haven’t finished it. I mean, we have a few things up our sleeves – We are doing covers and b-sides, because we feel like laying down some covers instead of giving away a very good song. It’s a cool thing for people to hear out interpretation.
ME: It’s not very often in the music industry that you could say something is a sure thing, but it seems like “Fall To Pieces” is as close as it gets. Do you go into something like the release of that single with anticipation? Having been to the heights that you have been through?
MS: The label was all about “Fall To Pieces,” and we were like, “Alright…” I wanted to wait, do that third, and let the second single rock a bit. I mean, K-Rock [Los Angeles] is playing “Big Machine” already, and there are other stations playing it, too, because it’s what they want to play. But “Fall To Pieces” is starting to come up now, it’s getting heavy rotation on VH1, it went to No. 1 in Active Rock, and it moved up to No.7 at Rock, is No. 1 on mainstream… We’re starting to see sales come up. The thing about the video was, it scared the record company. We were like, “This is the kind of band that we are, we are an honest rock band. We are not going to go out and make a mushy pop-rock video.” We make videos that are meaningful to us. The first cut of it was a lot heavier than that, even – There was a lot more sex, and more violence. When we were making the video, I remember thinking that it just felt really good. Because we are such a working band, we could get the amount of work done in two days, that it used to take Guns two weeks to do, because Axl wouldn’t show up – “Don’t Cry” probably took us a month, and “Fall To Pieces” took three days.
ME: The success of the song should make your next tour here in America even bigger. I hear finding an opening band was a challenge...
MS: We can't find a band to open for us! Our agents are like, "Chevelle..." "Fucking Chevelle? Fuck, no!" "Hoober-what? Who’s is that?" Have you heard the Burning Brides? We talk to the promoters and they are like, "They don't sell tickets..." I am like, "Fuck, why don't we just go out, and play a venue even though it's smaller, so we don't have to go through all that?" I hope that the work that we have done in the last four, five months of touring is going to make people want to come see the show. We are going to add a lot of production, really cool lights, lighting and visuals, and play more music and a lot of different stuff.
ME: It took you a long time to find a singer - Was there ever a concern that you weren't going to find anyone?
MS: Dude, there is this VH1 special which documents us, and it was done over almost a year-long period of putting this band together - When you watch that, you will see the frustration in all of us, but probably most apparently in me. Let's just be realistic - Slash and Duff, they wrote fucking Appetite For Destruction, you know what I mean? Me? I am a working musician, "Let's get onstage and play some rock'n'roll!" I ain't hanging out for ten years while you are coming up with this genius rock album, dude - I want to go play, and I will. I said to Slash and Duff, "This ain't a fucking hobby for me, if this is a fucking hobby, and we come down to the fucking rehearsal studio everyday and rip ass, fuck that! We need a singer, and we need one now!" I paid my fucking dues long enough to not put up with that type of bullshit. I mean, when I moved to Hollywood in the early-'80s, I would be the guy that would go up to a club, meet another musician, and I could just look at the guy and tell if he is any good. I am like, "This guy is a fucking douche ball, there is not way he could play..." I always had a feel and a sense, and I think between all of us... Slash and Duff, they know how many more bands I was in before GN'R, so these guys would just come into the studio [to audition], and I would just be like, "No fucking way!" Slash and Duff would be like, "Awe, give it a chance..." "Chance? What the fuck? What's going on here? He got his chance to drive here, send him home..."
ME: Was the audition process that rough?
MS: Guys like Travis [Meeks], from Days Of The New. I was like, "Oh man, I can't believe we are having this conversation..." We had Axl Rose, one of the greatest frontman ever - Not just of the early-'80s and the early-'90s, ever! It's like Freddy Mercury, fucking Ozzy - We have to find a guy who has charisma, and a rad voice and melodies. I remember saying, "Someone like Scott Weiland..." They were like, "Yeah, Scott Weiland." And, I mean, all the great ones are insane! Look at Tommy Lee - He's a great fucking rock'n'roll drummer, and he's out of his fucking mind. All the great ones are nuts!
ME: Are you insane?
MS: [Laughing] I am just an okay drummer!
ME: Just, "Okay," so you're allowed to keep your sanity?
MS: Yeah, I can't put myself in the same category as Keith Moon or John Bonham... Then again, I am still alive! With all the frustration that we went through at the beginning, we all knew that it would be so strong, knowing that we have all been there ourselves. I was like, "I need a shirt that says, 'I have done more drugs than you, I just never got caught.'" We have a great opportunity to go out and play rock'n'roll, why fuck it all up? So we just stuck by him, and we knew that we were going to get through that point if we hung with him and got him through all this shit. We have a lot of camaraderie going on - I don't know how it went with the Stone Temple Pilots thing, what that situation was, but I think maybe they just dealt with it differently, with more anger, and tougher. It's not like we babied him through it, we just supported him in a different was than his old band. There was probably a ton of damage done [with STP] - There was too much resentment, I think anything that would happen, would just build... With us, we've all been through it. He may have been able to pull the wool over their eyes, but he couldn't pull it over our's - We've been there, so if he's on something, we're going to know it. We just worked our way through it...
ME: Does it get easier as it goes along? Is it easier with Velvet Revolver than with Guns N' Roses?
MS: Oh yeah, just like anything in life, you learn to appreciate things more, and you just don't take them for granted. It was such a wild rid with Guns, that it was really had to hold on, it was just fucking endless reckless abandon. There was so much drama, and there were so many people with their hand in the cookie jar, and in that situation I felt so out of control - My destiny was appointed by a guy that I didn't really like. It was like that guy was controlling my life and, now, I actually have something to say in this band. We know how much of a good thing we have, so we are not going to fuck it up.