Matt Sorum, Guns N' Roses/Velvet Revolver - interviewWhen Matt Sorum sat for the first time on the drum riser behind The Cult, he figured he’d made it. It was 1989 and the British hard rock group were at the very peak of their powers, releasing music that had genuine crossover appeal in the United States.
But little did Sorum know that The Cult would merely be a stepping stone to one of the most storied bands in modern rock history. Los Angeles natives Guns N’ Roses were scouting for a new drummer, having fired Steven Adler for his continued substance abuse. Sorum joined the band, contributing his belting style to the Use Your Illusion project, and so began a feverish seven years lived on rock’n’roll’s leading edge.
Of course, the Gunners are now just one of the many arcs in the greater Matt Sorum story. After he left the group in 1997, Sorum bedded down behind the boards, becoming a producer for groups such as Poe and Candlebox. In the new millennium, when he finally returned to a steady recording project, it was as a driving force behind the propulsive Velvet Revolver, along with fellow GnR alumni Slash and Duff McKagan.
Velvet Revolver are currently on hiatus as the group search for a new singer (following the acrimonious departure of Scott Weiland). Sorum, though, has stayed busy, focussing on two recording projects, Darling Stilettos and Diamond Baby, his fashion label, Sorum Noce, and playing as a drummer for hire in a variety of high-profile touring bands.
It was on a recent visit to Australia to help re-open Sydney’s Hard Rock Café that TheVine caught up with Sorum and picked his brains about the ins and outs of his career so far.
TheVine: How was the opening last night?
Matt Sorum: It was great!
Great night, yeah. Awesome time.
I hear that you were lucky to make it down to Sydney. There’s a story floating around that you’d lost your passport.
Yeah, well. I had a bit of a whirlwind trip, I was doing four gigs in three days. I’ve got a couple of bands that I put together that are fun bands. I’ve got a band called Magnificent Seven with Steve Stevens, and some other friends from Billy Idol’s band, and we went to Mexico. We were in Cabo, came back, and I had a gig that night with Dave Navarro and Billy Idol at The Roxy [in Los Angeles]. I was kind of like bringing all these people to the airport; so it's more along the lines of I set my passport down but I didn't realise it until I had to go to New York. I did a gig with Courtney Love, and then I flew back on Sunday. I thought I had everything together and when I got to the airport I realised I didn't have my passport. I almost didn't make the last flight and the last flight was 11:50. I got there at about 11:00. They were getting ready to shut it down, and the guy found my passport in the airport – an immigration guy – so I got on the last flight out.
You're just talking about how you've got a few bands on the go. You’re known for your versatility, both as a drummer and in other fields. Those early days in L.A. when you were behind the kit for all sorts of different artists – Belinda Carlisle, King Solomon Burke, Tori Amos's band – how important was that for your development as a drummer? It sounds like a great apprenticeship.
I came from [an environment] of getting gigs, you know what I mean? The beauty about growing up in the '70s is that you had to have musicianship, number one, but you had to be able to sort of morph as well. When I came to Hollywood in 1979 I just grabbed every gig I could get because I didn't want to have a real job. I was jumping into all these different situations and I was picking up gigs and doing all kinds of shit.
There was one time I was in ten bands at the same time and I would drive around with this drum kit. I had this full station wagon, and I'd go from gig to gig. It was kind of a trip because I was playing in a Top-40 band five nights a week, and then going and doing other gigs to make sure that I wasn’t going to get locked up in that world, because I always looked at Top-40 guys as, "Oh God, they're making a living and they get lazy." But I wanted to break out, I wanted to be in the big bands.
Is that about the time you hooked up with Amos?
I was playing in this hotel in this Top-40 band and I walked out in the lobby and saw Tori Amos sitting behind a piano. She was working in the piano bar trying to make tips -- $100 or $50 a night or whatever they paid in those days. I went up to her and we formed a band. I thought she was the most talented singer. We started a band and started playing around Hollywood. I had that going, and then she ended up getting a record deal and they fired the band [laughs]. I spent about two years with Tori to kind of be left in the dust. That was my first real taste of the cutthroat music business. I tried to build a band up to get a record deal, a band called Population Five. All the time I was doing sessions and picking up gigs.
So how long was it before you got together with the guys from The Cult?
After the Tori Amos experience I did an album for a guy named Jeff Harris and Polygram Records. I just put my name out as a gun for hire, and I got an audition for The Cult. I got offered all these heavy metal band gigs, like Winger, Warrant, Survivor, and I just never felt that music. So I turned them down … When it came time to make a big decision, I always made sure that I made the right decision, so when I found out about The Cult, I said, "Here's a band that I can sink my teeth into and get some credibility." So when I joined The Cult that was really my first taste of the big time.
They were a band at the peak of their powers. You toured with them for a couple of years. Did it feel like a big opportunity? The Gunners saw you on the last show of that tour.
Oh yeah, I was on my first tour bus, hanging out with all the big rock stars. The first show I met Steven Tyler, and the Motley Crew guys in Vancouver. Our opening show with Metallica was in British Columbia. There were all these guys and I'm like, "Oh my God, I've definitely arrived into the big leagues."
The Cult was a big band then. We'd gone platinum on the Sonic Temple album and we were starting to play arenas. So I got a real taste of the big arena world and became pretty close with the Metallica guys. We toured with them for about six months. My next tour in Europe with The Cult was with Aerosmith and all of a sudden here I am on stage with Steven Tyler, a guy that I grew up [listening to]. I would be perfectly happy to have stayed with The Cult.
Then when Guns N' Roses came along that was the next career move for me. At the time I was a sideman for The Cult. They were paying me a salary. I'm thinking, “Make me a member. Include me in the band.” I made them that offer. They didn't really step up so I said, "Well I've gotta go." When I left and joined Guns N' Roses it was a big move for me.
I wanted to talk about the Guns N' Roses in a second, but skipping forward to that late '90s period, when you left Guns N' Roses and you hooked up with Lanny Cordola to work in production and on film scores. Was that the first time you started writing music, that late '90s period?
No, I always had that. I always played guitar and I always wrote and sang. I just never really was in a position to lend it to a band. I wasn't a voice in The Cult, as far as the music. I really spent a lot of time in Guns N' Roses being an arranger. I was really an arranger guy because I had a real good sense of that world, but I didn’t really share in the writing, so to speak.
After that, I really wanted to branch out. When I left Guns N' Roses I was like, “You know what, I'm just going to explore my avenues.” I ended up producing a platinum album for an artist named Poe. I started working with Candlebox and really started to work up the hours in the recording studio. Then I got into doing some film scores. After being in that band [Guns N’ Roses] I was a bit worn out, and needed to just be myself for a while and find out who I was as a musician again.
That makes me think of your days with Velvet Revolver. That was the first time you were out front of a band. Not on stage of course, but just in terms of taking a leading role in the affairs of the group. Was that something that came naturally to you at that time?
No. That particular band was really sort of an idea that came from a death of a friend. A friend of mine passed away. I had a tribute concert. I couldn't get Ozzy because Ozzy wasn't available but the drummer that passed away was Randy Castillo [Ozzy Osbourne’s drummer during the mid 1980s to early 1990s] so I called Slash and Duff and asked if they’d come and play.
We got together, Steven Tyler came, Josh [Todd] from Buckcherry sang. And Cypress Hill – those guys got up, which was kind of weird … But it came up killer, and the crowd just loved it, and the next day Slash and Duff were like, “Okay, let's do something.” That was the beginning of Velvet Revolver. Then we spent two years building this project. I was really a leader in that band. Slash and Duff have always kind of taken my voice, even though I was never really represented in that way back in Guns N' Roses – I was always that guy behind the scenes.
When Velvet Revolver came along I was like, “We need to make a modern rock’n’roll album here.” I was helping pick the producer, picking the mixer, picking the songs and a lot of the business end of things. I think I was a bit paranoid in a way, too. I didn't want to screw it up: “Let me help. Maybe if I help we won't screw this up.”
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