IT'S ALL GONNA GO SOOOO WRONG
This week Slash and his ker-razy pals take on the music industry - and win!
THE WAY TO SUCCEED AND THE WAY TO SUCK EGGS
Ex-Guns N' Roses members Slash and Duff McKagan teaming up with Stone Temple
Pilots' troubled ex-frontman Scott Weiland. This could be the greatest rock'n'roll
story in history. Unfortunately, with these guys' individual track records,
it could also be the mother of all cock-ups. Paul Rogers prays for the former.
Former Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland is a magnet for drama. Over
the past few years he's accumulated enough arrests for a Crimewatch special,
weathered a famous fist-fight finale to STP and lately made more headlines for
his 'extracurricular' activities than his musical output ever did.
Velvet Revolver is the biggest supergroup to rear its rocking head since Soundgarden's
Chris Cornell got together with ex-Rage Against The Machine members to form
Audioslave. Teaming Weiland and former Suicidal Tendencies guitarist Dave Kushner
with ex-Guns N' Roses members Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum, VR have created
more of a buzz than any other band in recent memory.
It seems our Scott can't go a few weeks without a spot of bother - even at
the listening junket for his new band's debut album he's refused entry to his
own party at Hollywood's Rainbow Bar (Sunset Strip's last cock-rock bastion)
by the Grecian Formula Mafiosi on the door. In fairness to the old mobster,
the normally porcelain-skinned Scott is barely recognizable, having aged a decade
in the two months since Hammer last interviewed him - he almost looks his 36
years now! After a minor incredulous tantrum and intervention by the ever-affable
Duff, Weiland's allowed to pass, but still has to succumb to the indignity of
being the first hand stamped of the evening.
It's just another bump in the road for this much-hyped fivesome who between
them have more talent than a strip club dressing room and more addiction history
than a Betty Ford reunion. Which is why Velvet Revolver are either a truly great
rock band in the making, or a train-wreck just waiting to happen - or both!
While VR might raise suspicions of a label-manufactured cash cow, the band's
roots are in fact surprisingly organic. The story starts in April '02 when,
following the death of his close friend (and former Ozzy Osbourne/Motley Crue
drummer) Randy Castillo, Matt Sorum organized a tribute concert at Hollywood's
Key Club. He asked his old bandmates Duff and Slash to join him on-stage and
they were all struck by the amazing musical bond that still burned between them.
"The next day I was going, 'man, that chemistry!'" Duff recalls. "We've
all had our own bands, I was going to school in Seattle doing my finance major,
but this thing we had between us almost knocked the breath out of me. I forgot
y'know? I just forgot."
Dave Kushner had been in Duff's short-lived solo vehicle, Loaded, and had known
Slash since junior high school. His very contemporary approach to guitar was
the perfect foil to Slash's more traditional rock'n'roll signature. The four
of them then embarked on an epic search for a vocalist, considering all-comers
- unknown and infamous alike. Those in the frame included former Skid Row screecher
Sebastian Bach, Lit's AJ Popoff and ex-Buckcherry snake-hipped wailer Josh Todd.
While still known simply as 'The Project,' they eventually hooked-up with Scott
Weiland when STP's internal tensions finally tore that band apart. Duff, Slash
and Matt had already dealt with one 'unpredictable' frontman in Axl Rose whilst
part of Guns N' Roses so their decision to work with the similarly troubled
Scott raised eyebrows.
In the summer of last year, Velvet Revolver's first commercially available recording,
'Set Me Free' appeared on The Hulk movie soundtrack and they contributed their
version of Pink Floyd's 'Money' to The Italian Job remake. Their live debut
at LA's El Rey Theatre (where they performed both cover tunes and originals)
that June produced rave reviews and a bootleg fiesta.
The record labels weren't blind to the buzz either, and after fielding various
offers Velvet Revolver inked with RCA Records following a courtship from their
legendary mogul Clive Davis. So far so good - perhaps VR could stay on the tracks
and prove the doubters wrong after all. But then in November with their album
nearly complete and tour talk on their lips, Scott, in the early hours after
his 36th birthday, wrecked his BMW by driving into a row of parked cars in North
Hollywood while under the influence. He was ordered into six months of lockdown
rehab, but soon went AWOL.
FOLLOWING THE birthday incident Scott was again hauled before a judge
in late January and ordered into another six months of residential drug treatment
- hardly conducive to touring behind a new album! If Scott goes walkabout again
this time then a warrant for his arrest will immediately be issued. Yet his
bandmates - who in fairness are hardly in a position to criticize an addict
- remain philosophical.
"The important thing for us was t recognize integrity, talent and the
drive to persevere," says Slash on their choice of vocalist. "So when
Scott came into it, yes there was a conversation, an understanding
up until now, even though there's been all the press and all that shit going
on, Scott hasn't had any serious problems, just one continuous thing with the
law. He's been great - there's a big difference between having a guy in the
band who's nuts and doesn't want to do it and having a guys who's nuts but does."
Can you say Axl Rose?
"The situation with Scott was a nervous thing but I just knew that the
issue wasn't so serious, that what he'd got himself into, they weren't goin'
to fuckin' throw the keys away for god knows how long. People talk but I was
in curt and I know what happened with the judge and all that but at the same
time I can say that when all theses different things initially happened I was
like, 'oh fuck!' The only thing I can compare it too is being on the edge of
a cliff: we don't want to go down there, man! But at the same time we're still
itching to jump off that ledge 'cos that's what we do!"
Then there's the widely held belief that anyone with sufficient talent and
charisma to front a band of Velvet Revolver's caliber is going to bring along
with them their share of baggage. "Everything I've experienced in our career,
everyone I've ever looked up to - heroes or whatever - have had some shit so
I have sort of accepted that that's how it is," Slash admits.
It's almost as if it takes a level of inter-personal volatility, a degree of
lingering danger, to produce great rock'n'roll. "The best bands I've seen,
and I've been in, have been dangerous and unpredictable," says the lanky
Duff, reclining in one of the movie star bungalows at Hollywood's Chateau Marmont
hotel. "However, we are veterans. We didn't plan on getting a 'name' singer
- this thing happened so organically. We've been around long enough, we're not
in our 20s any more, so the train-wreck part is not going t happen - it's not
going to happen live, anyway - we've had enough of that, believe me! But there
is an element of danger in this band. It's not going to be safe to be in the
front row with this band. If you're doing something untoward towards the band
then someone's going to jump off the stage and beat the shit out of you! Anything
could happen - that's just the way we're built!"
But for all this chest-beating bravado, it's hard to believe that these five
musicians who are all now in their late 30s, comfortably rich (with the exception
of Dave who until very recently was humping equipment in a rehearsal complex
to make ends meet), and with yes-men at their beck and call are the hungry,
heckler-brawling firebrands they once were. Duff disagrees: "You can't
take the street out of the kid, y'know? We are what we are. We haven't changed
yet. When we strap on - when we put on our guitars and gut up in front of an
audience, it's not safe - and I can't help it myself. I grew up playing in punk
rock bands and that part of my coming of age stuck. I don't think it'll ever
It's true that from a small distance Duff retains the scraggy silhouette, too-small
leather jacket and tousled blonde locks that made him an easily identifiable
rock idol in the 80s. Yet on closer inspection, though he's smart as a tick
and wise beyond his years, he's beginning to show a few Ozzy-isms - the legacy
of years of excess. His speech slurs occasionally and he loses his thread, his
brilliant brain a few seconds ahead of this mouth.
Enter the man of the moment, Scott Weiland, hair now a bad black dye job, straggling
to his shoulders. He looks blotchy and drawn compared with the impossibly beautiful,
perpetually youthful Weiland idolized and imitated the world over. As the wordsmith
of the band, he quickly summarizes their walking-the-knife-edge situation with
a lyricist's metaphor: "I'll make it real simple," he sighs, slouching
on the pillows of one of the bungalow's generous beds. "One of the greatest
stadium draws during the 70s was not really rock'n'roll - it was actually (legendary
stunt motorcyclist) Evel Knievel. People didn't pay those ticket prices to go
see Evel Knievel make the jump. People are inherently interested in what possible
As Scott sits before us he's coherent, focused and seemingly determined. So
what's his relationship with drugs right now? His attitude to his addiction
is bluntly resigned, and far from a healthy message to his youthful admirers:
"I've been drinking since I was 15, I've been using drugs since I was 16,
I've been doing heroin since I was 23. And, with STP, I managed to sell 25 million
records, make millions of dollars, own a lot of homes and enjoy a great career
in arguably one of the best touring bands during the 90s. So I never worry that
on any given day that it's going to be the end of it, from a business standpoint.
The only thing that I worry about regarding drug issues is what kind of effect
it's going to have on my children (he has a three-year-old son and a one-year-old
daughter). I never worry what kind of effect it's going to have on my music
- that's trivia."
"I don't use continuously," Scott expands, "I've gone back and
forth for years - that's been my pattern. I can't just say that I'm going to
be drug free forever, obviously. So that's my statement: that I've had an ongoing
career that's probably longer than 99 per cent of people that have had a professional
career, and I've had an ongoing drug career. It's not by choice that I've had
an ongoing drug career but there's no reason for me to think that I won't have
an ongoing musical career or that I won't have an ongoing drug career, because
that's what's been happening. Both have co-existed, so if I was a betting man
I'd say they both will go on co-existing. I would like to not continue doing
drugs but looking at my past it would be hard for me to bet that I'd stay sober
for the rest of my life."
So what kind of album have this band of semi-reformed reprobates cooked up
in the autumn of their careers? Don't expect the musical fireworks of GNR's
groundbreaking 'Appetite For Destruction' or the melodic majesty of STP's classic
'Purple,' but Velvet Revolver's debut 'Contraband' (see what they did there?)
is certainly a respectable effort and way more spirited, for the most part,
than the mailed-in dross most aging super-groups serve up.
'Contraband' kicks off with muscle-bound promise on the 'Mr Brownstone' vibe
opener 'Suckertrain Blues' suggesting fire in the belly and gas in the tank.
First single, 'Slither,' really is a world-class offering, perhaps the one occasion
where VR combine into something more than the sum of their legendary parts.
Otherwise 'Contraband' is more solid than spectacular, it's one black sheep
being proposed second single 'Falling To Pieces,' an epic, acoustic-flavoured
Zippo-raiser that's more Bon Jovi than Bon Scott and stinks of cynical filler.
Elsewhere there are flashes of Beatles-esque psychedelia, early '70s stomping
glam and the 'Rocks'-era Aerosmith that's been such an inspiration to these
musicians throughout their careers.
WHAT IS IMPRESSIVE about 'Contraband' is that all five musicians have
retained their sonic signatures while reshaping their overall sound. Slash (who
takes every guitar solo on the album) still squeezes juicy, wind-in-the-hair
magic from his Les Paul, Duff clanks out brazen yet melodic basslines and Matt
is the anchoring powerhouse he was with GNR and The Cult. Don't underestimate
the more subtle contribution of the unassuming Dave Kushner either, whose almost
avant-garde approach to guitar playing, and processing, gives Velvet Revolver
at least one foot in the new millennium. Scott is still the elegant, Bowie-esque
crooner that made him a chart-topper. Rather than adopting some embarrassing
nu-metal or electro veneer, Velvet Revolver have been true to their roots in
classic rock and punk: "We fought tooth and nail to be ourselves,"
Every member of VR makes no secret of their desire to tour extensively behind
'Contraband,' to the point where they describe the disc as a vehicle for live
performance. But how can VR effectively hit the road when their singer seems
destined for periodic spells in rehab, prison, hospital or worse? Scott doesn't
foresee a problem: "I've used drugs or drink on most tours but I've never
had to cancel a tour because of drugs - there's been two shows when I've cancelled,
but there's never been a tour cancelled because of drugs." This may be
technically the truth (though STP's summer o'96 tour was apparently pulled because
Scott was in rehab) but whole sections of STP's career were blacked out (notably
after the release of their excellent 'No.4' album) by Scott's troubles. Even
if tours weren't actually cancelled, some just weren't scheduled in the first
place because Weiland was mentally or physically absent.
"Y'know what, usually it's been during the process of making a record
that I relapse," Scott explains. "But that was with STP and that was
a whole different dynamic. There was a lot of jealousy in STP - with those guys
towards me - and when there's a lot of jealousy people try to keep you down
and that was hard to deal with, especially as we used to be really close friends.
So I would get really down and I would fall into that pattern during the making
of a record and I would end up falling off the wagon and getting loaded. But
it was different during the making of this record."
There were nasty rumours that Scott's former STP bandmates only found out about
his involvement with Velvet Revolver when, by chance, they were working in adjacent
recording studios. "I don't know how they found out about it, actually,"
says Scott, "Our last experience together was on our last tour and it culminated
in a fist fight between Dean and I in the dressing room. And that was the last
time I saw them until about two months ago, when Dean and I finally made up.
We hugged and we spoke and, actually, he spoke with these guys in the band.
I saw Robert the next day and we embraced and spoke. I actually gave Dean a
copy of Velvet Revolver's demos - he was very fond of the music and he told
me that he was putting a band together with Chris Robinson (former Black Crowes
crooner) and I'm totally backing that."
SCOTT DENIES having an addictive personality - it's mostly drugs that
have consistently controlled his behaviour: "I'd say my wife and I are
addicted to each other and our relationship has been unhealthy over the past
couple of years. But I'm not a gambling person, I'm not a shopping person -
my pension is narcotics!"
Scott's all-time low was not some TV trashing hotel rampage, or distasteful,
multi-groupie overload but something of much greater significance: "My
low point has been when I'm not around my children. Having children has changed
everything for me. I was always completely happy being the perpetual Peter Pan
and I never really cared much about growing up but with the last couple of years
I've just come to this point where I'm not OK just staying who I am. I want
t be more and I want to occupy my children more. Actually, Duff has become someone
that I really look up to and aspire to as a role model and who he is as a person
and as a man - the way he is with his family, as a husband, as a father - and
I've learned a lot from him. I watch what he does and I kind of emulate that."
Duff McKagan's a great guy and no fool to boot: to maximize his GNR nest-egg
he took a finance degree, which he's close to completing. But it's worth remembering
though that GNR were hardly adverse to a bit of partying themselves and, in
the long hours of downtime that all bands endure, VR have compared backstage
stories of debauchery.
Slash: "One of the things about rock sensationalism is everybody bragging
about how over the edge they are or whatever - it really starts to be a parody
of itself," groans the guitarist, before promptly divulging his most noteworthy
addiction adventure: "My most memorable fucking experience was probably
when I first realized I had to get off junk. I was almost arrested in Phoenix,
fucking trippin' out at a golf resort and running naked through the place -
running from something that wasn't there and crashing through a lot of glass
and over people in the process. I was all bloody and beat-up - it was time to
Duff seems to recall a story even more Spinal Tap-scary than that one: "Look,
we're a bunch of guys who've been through worse than anything Scott's been through
- hey Slash died right before a show and when they revived him he said, 'we
gotta play,' and he was on stage that night!"
How does the craziness of the past, and in particular their time with Axl Rose
aboard, compare to dealing with Scott's potential 'situations' today? "It's
not really that kind of thing," sighs a diplomatic Slash. "I mean,
just an Axl sighting is a big deal. We're more concerned with what we're doing
in the present, just functioning and getting on with things. It's not really
important what anyone else is doing, or trying to keep up with the Jones' or
trying to get a record out before Axl gets his record out."
Unlike Axl Rose, who's apparently too terrified to actually release his long
awaited 'Chinese Democracy' album for fear of finally torpedoing whatever shreds
of cred he has left. Velvet Revolver on the other hand are about to one again
throw their hat in the ring and risk tarnishing their almost god-like individual
auras in the rock world. They claim indifference to any perceived pressure:
"Are we worried about album sales?" shrugs Duff. "No! They (RCA)
have a huge marketing machine. We just want to go play the live gigs! We mad
the record that we wanted to make and that's all we can do. In GNR we never
worried about sales: I remember 'Appetite For Destruction' coming out and I
was thinking, 'what if we sold 50,000 copies?' So we're just going to do what
we do and not compromise."
ANATOMY OF A CAR CRASH
SCOTT WEILAND'S HABIT FOR GETTING INTO TROUBLE
MAY 17, 2003
Weiland is pulled over by the LAPD at 0530 for allegedly driving without headlights.
A syringe is spotted in his car, Scott insists the drugs aren't his.
Weiland is charged with heroin and cocaine possession. He's freed after posting
$25,000 bail and faces repercussions if found guilty, having been arrested for
possession in both '95 and '97. He was arrested in '98 and served time following
a heroin overdose - a violation of his probation.
Weiland is confirmed as the singer for Velvet Revolver.
A request is made to divert Weiland's case to a drug court program, meaning
charges would be dismissed upon completion of rehab.
Weiland pleads 'no contest' to heroin possession charges and is sentenced to
three years probation.
Velvet Revolver sign to RCA
Weiland files for divorce from his wife Mary, citing irreconcilable differences.
In '01, Scott pleaded guilty to domestic battery after a fight with her in Las
Vegas. The charges were dismissed as Scott underwent counseling.
Weiland stays drug free following his no contest plea in August. Outside the
court he says: 'sometimes God offers you circumstances that fall in your lap.
Getting busted spurred my desire to get into recovery.'
Weiland is arrested on his 36th birthday after he drives his BMW into a line
of parked cars, the scene of which he tries to flee from. He's charged with
driving under the influence and misdemeanour hit and run. Already on probation,
he posts $15,000 bail and is released.
A judge orders Scott into the Grandview, Pasadena detox facility where he must
stay between 7-10 days with no visitors or phone calls. Following that he must
complete six months in a lockdown facility, with a four hour a day release allowed
under supervision to record with VR. Each day he's taken to the studio by police
and is immediately drug tested upon his return.
VR drummer Matt Sorum defends his singer stating that his incarceration is for
the best. Sorum went through the same process five years earlier.
Rumours fly around that Scott was caught attempting to smuggle drugs into the
Weiland finishes the vocals for VR's debut album 'Contraband,' to be released
on May 17. The same day he posts on his website blasting Rolling Stone magazine's
gossip column, saying it's for, 'rich college boys to wipe their fucking asses
Weiland switches to another Pasadena lockdown facility with the court's permission
a third of the way through his rehab program. The new facility is a smaller
clinic, allowing Weiland to get more personal care.
JANUARY 9, 2004
Scott moves to another clinic, only this time it's to a non-lockdown facility
and the court does not approve.
Weiland pleads not guilty to driving under the influence of drugs but because
he left the lockdown facility that his bail demanded, he is ordered to serve
another six months of aftercare treatment. If he walks out again or is tested
positive for drugs, a warrant for his arrest will be issued.