|APPETITE FOR RECONSTRUCTION
Take three former members of Guns N' Roses, add the troubled singer of Stone Temple Pilots, and you've got one of the greatest supergroups in rock'n'roll history. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Velvet Revolver.
Words: Joshua Sindell Photos: George Chin
THE EL Rey Theatre in Los Angeles is packed, and anticipation floats above the audience's heads.
There's the usual coterie of jaded music-industry types, several lucky fans who won tickets by calling radio stations, members of the press corps, and even a few celebrities. Dave Grohl and No Doubt bassist Tony Kanal jostle for viewing space on the art-deco theatre's narrow floor. 'Hulk' director Ang Lee smiles from high atop the balcony's VIP section, looking tired and amiably confused. This concert is paid for by Universal, the movie studio that's releasing his movie, but Lee doesn't appear all that excited by what he's about to witness.
But when the lights dim, the scream that rises from the crowd is deafening. The curtains part, and five men take to the stage with determined expressions. Four of them are instantly recognizable. There's singer Scott Weiland, the slim frontman for Stone Temple Pilots. Then there's guitarist Slash, curly-haired and cigarette burning between his lips as always, and bassist Duff McKagen, his hair now grown out and coloured platinum blond, legendary former members of Guns N'Roses. Ex-GN'R drummer Matt Sorum is here too, smiling and energetic alongside guitarist Dave Kushner
Without any introduction, the guitarists slam into the opening riff of the first song: 'Bodies', from the Sex Pistols' classic 'Never Mind The Bollocks'. Weiland begins to twist and writhe in his famous lizard-dance, as the music grinds to a temporary crescendo, when he finally unleashes his scream as the main riff unfurls: 'She was a girl from Bir-ming-HAM!'.
'Bodies' hits this floor with the impact of a wrecking ball. Weiland, bobbing and weaving between the swaying forms of McKagen and Slash, runs around the stage like a man with something to prove. At times he narrowly misses colliding with his bandmates as he attempts to be all things to everyone in the room, a camera-crew hired to document the concert frantically trying to stay one step ahead of the manic frontman.
"We are Velvet Revolver l" Weiland says triumphantly at the song's finale. "Welcome to our first ever gig."
As it happens, the El Rey show might end up being their shortest ever gig too. Five more songs- including two originals (the radio-hit 'Set Me Free', and 'Slither'), Stone Temple Pilots' 'Sex Type Thing', Guns N'Roses' 'It's So Easy', and a thunderous run-through of Nirvana's 'Negative Creep' that had Dave Grohl headbanging - and Velvet Revolver's debut show is a matter for the history books.
As the crowd of hundreds filters outside through the main lobby, there isn't a sense that anyone feels short-changed or hungry for more. Yet, there's an unanswered question hanging over everyone's head like secondhand smoke: Has everyone witnessed the second coming of Guns N'Roses, or merely another in a series of side-projects doomed to disappoint? FOUR DAYS later, Duff McKagen turns up at his publicist's West Hollywood home with boundless enthusiasm, still riding high on the excitement of last week's El Rey concert. In recent years, McKagen, the Seattle-born bassist, had been playing with his own group, Loaded, and was straying towards an increasingly secure life. He had been attending university to obtain a degree, was a passionate devotee of martial arts, and had settled down with his lady and newborn baby in the canyons above Hollywood.
It's easy to speculate that Velvet Revolver is a group that was put together by a consortium of managers and promoters to make a quick dollar, but McKagen quickly sets that record straight. The lanky bassist claims that Velvet Revolver is a reunion that originally came together as a one-off and nothing more.
Kerrang!: What brought Velvet Revolver together?
Duff McKagen: "This was all done so organically. I had met Scott before, but because we were both so loaded at the time we didn't remember a lot about our meeting. Slash and Matt and I started playing together in April 2002 for this benefit show for Randy (Castillo, former Ozzy Osbourne drummer), where Josh Todd of Buckcherry sang with us, and Steven Tyler made an appearance. The feedback from the audience was amazing, and the next day we decided to get into it a bit more. Fate just brought some of the other players together. What was important to us was getting the right chemistry."
The former Gunners began to work on new songs with Todd and Buckcherry guitarist Keith Nelson in the spring of 2002. When matters didn't pan out with the younger duo, McKagen, Sorum and Slash decided to still make a serious go of things. McKagen brought in former Infectious Grooves/Electric Love Hogs guitarist Kushner, who'd been playing with McKagen in Loaded and who was a boyhood mate of Slash's. Izzy Stradlin, another former Gunner, turned up to jam and write songs, but would end up losing interest in the project. For most of 2002, the four musicians sought to discover a new voice for their band, an undiscovered 'diamond in the rough'. They listened to hundreds of demos, searching for the right new voice. They never found one.
Then, in late 2002, McKagen's wife, who was friends with Weiland's then-wife Mary, set up a dinner engagement. Introductions were made, and invitations accepted. Weiland's relations with his STP bandmates were at a low point. McKagen, who certainly has had plenty of experience around substance abusers, nevertheless sensed a renewed dedication in Weiland.
Kerrang!: You've managed to stay sober for some time now. Were you concerned about the possibility of working with someone like Scott Weiland, with his history of arrests?
Duff: "But I didn't get sober through any kind of rehab, but through my martial arts training. Martial arts has also taught me to give back help to those who need it, and Scott came to me seeking help. I mean, he's been to rehab 35 f**king times, and it hasn't worked for him. He told me about that, and he was very honest about it. He said, 'Obviously, rehab isn't working for me, and I know how you got sober and I've always thought that your way might be the final way for me to try kicking it all'. So, I said, 'If you're asking me for my help, that's a very serious thing. I'd have to call somebody, and for me to make that call, I'm putting my reputation on the line. I will call a martial artist, someone who won't give a f**k who you are, you know?'. And he said, 'I'm ready. Let's go'."
Scott Weiland, it should be noted, is also in Los Angeles on this fine summer's day. But he's holed up in his house, avoiding the media frenzy. A recent arrest in May was the troubled singer's fifth such run-in with the law in under a decade, and he was booked for investigation of drug possession. On a grimly humourous note, the band's new website lists Weiland's upcoming July 11th court appearance under the heading of 'Upcoming Events'. Till then, it seems, we won't be speaking to the elusive singer. However, at a press conference before the El Rey show, Weiland intoned that Stone Temple Pilots are on a "very, very, very long hiatus", and that playing with this new group for him was like being part of rock 'n' roll history.
SHORTLY AFTER McKagen drives off to other engagements, the eversmiling Matt Sorum turns up, reeking of cologne, with his shirt unbuttoned to reveal a tanned chest. The Orange County-raised drummer, of all of the musicians, appears the most excited to be playing again, and also the most eager to show up his former boss, Mr Axl Rose. And he's doubly pleased the US radio has taken such a liking to Velvet Revolver's debut single, 'Set Me Free', because he co-wrote it, coming up with the main riff and melody.
Kerrang!: How would you rate your current situation compared with that of the original Guns N'Roses, or your time in The Cult?
Matt Sorum: "This is probably the best thing I've ever done. Everyone just seems to be more focused, and there aren't those same distractions, like alcohol, drugs and chicks. We have a certain name to live up to, I think, and we have to represent that. That's why it took us so long to try to find a singer. We waited for years to do something together because there was either a lot of apprehension or a lot of nervousness, because we never thought that we could be as great as the thing that we once had."
Kerrang!: He's put his former bandmates through hell, though.
Matt: "He's a walk in the park compared to the other guy! I'll put it to you Scott's a sweetheart, and not that Axl wasn't a sweetheart sometimes, but...
Kerrang!: Do you think that Stone Temple Pilots will think that you stole their singer away?
Matt: "It could be what they're thinking. From Scott's perspective, there aren't a lot of good feelings in that camp right now. The very first track we worked on together, 'Money', the DeLeos were working with Alien Ant Farm right next door to us. They were in the very next room. That was f**king uncomfortable! And I know and like those guys. I didn't know what to think. Supposedly, from what Scott says, Robert doesn't like to tour. I don't want to say that we stole their singer. I want to say that Scott made his own decision."
AS THE afternoon turns to dusk, Sorum speeds off in his sports car. Finally, the third member of the GN'R triumvirate arrives. Without his sunglasses, and unruly hair neatly tied back in a pony tail under a baseball cap - disappointingly, not a top hat - Slash appears both youthful and alert, even with a smattering of salt-and-pepper stubble on his face.
The guitarist is soft-spoken and effortlessly polite. When complimented on the single's early success, he winces slightly. He says that things are going almost too well right now, and doesn't want anything to break the spell. Although the group doesn't have an album out yet (and they're not promising one until late this year, or early 2004), the El Rey concert will find its way onto a live EP, possibly even one packaged with a DVD of the event.
Kerrang!: Is it fair to call Velvet Revolver a 'supergroup'?
Slash: "A 'supergroup' I think is an imaginary word for an imaginary band. It's also always used as a one-shot deal, and this is something I don't want to be short term."
Kerrang!: Why hadn't you and Duff and Matt and Izzy ever formed a band together earlier?
Slash: "I had played on Izzy's solo stuff, and on Duff's stuff, and Matt and I had jammed together here and there. But we never formally joined up for a group until now because, subconsciously, we weren't comfortable with the idea of being 'Guns N'Roses' without actually being Guns N'Roses. The Guns 'thing' is bigger than all of us. The reality of it is, I'll forever be known as 'Guns N'Roses' guitarist Slash'. But we just never hooked up until the sad fact of Randy dying brought me and Duff and Matt together, and when we did, that was a huge, powerful moment."
Kerrang!: What's the immediate plan for Velvet Revolver?
Slash: "I plan on doing a lot more live dates before we go into the studio. That's the only way to really fine-tune a band before you go in. We just don't want to play a lot of new stuff yet, and we can't do certain Guns songs because they're just too anthemic. We can't do 'Paradise City' and 'Welcome To The Jungle' in another band, or even 'Sweet Child O' Mine'. They're just too personal. But there are a couple of songs that are more laid-back, and 'It's So Easy' is one of them. I don't think that Scott wants to dredge up his whole history with Stone Temple Pilots with this band, so we'll just do a couple of songs."
Kerrang!: Do you have extremely high hopes at this point?
Slash: "I had never seen Scott perform before last Thursday. I had never been to a Stone Temple Pilots show, I didn't even have their records, so that was my 'Cinderella' moment. I only knew Scott's voice from the radio. The moment of truth for me was going up there onstage with him and me really being blown away by him. It was way more than just a first gig for me!"
Kerrang!: Do you think that people will still be excited about seeing former Gunners playing again?
Slash: "I think that there's a real lack of rock W roll out there now. It's the same as it was in the '80s when Guns came out. I think people will always be into music that's heartfelt. I think that a band like ours can just go out and do shows and people will just lose it because it's genuine."
Thanks Arron for the scans.