Velvet Revolver is everything the band's name suggests and much more. This is modern rock with a sense of danger and beauty that's been missing for far too long. Their suitably explosive yet gorgeous debut effort Contraband marks the spot for a new beginning from a band of rock & roll brothers united by some legendary pasts and a suddenly brighter future.
"We're all looking for a rebirth here," explains the group's lead singer Scott Weiland. "We're looking to get back that same feeling we had when we all first started making music--the sense of doing it for the pure joy of making music. Along the way the whole idea that got us into this had been raped and sodomized. We were all in mourning of that and wondering if we could somehow get it back. As it turns out, the only way we could get it all back was to start it all new. Now we have that opportunity and it's amazing. This music is just vicious, very aggressive and it forces you to lace your boots up and sort of get ready for the fight."
The idea behind Velvet Revolver remains a powerfully simple one. "There is no real concept to me," explains guitarist Slash. "We set out to make music we enjoy and can feel proud of playing--music that people we like will want to listen to. As soon as you start thinking beyond that--about wanting to keep up with the Joneses or about fitting in with somebody else's format--that's when you lose the map. So we've just done what we do, and tried to have a cool time doing it."
Everything you've heard about Velvet Revolver is true. This is the band that brings together three former members of one of rock's greatest groups Guns N' Roses--Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum--together with one of rock's most charismatic frontmen Scott Weiland, formerly of Stone Temple Pilots, and guitarist Dave Kushner, ex-Wasted Youth, Electric Love Hogs and Dave Navarro's band, among others.
While Velvet Revolver inevitably offers a few echoes of its members' illustrious pasts, their sound is defiantly forward-looking and truly fresh in all senses of that word. "Our music is very aggressive," says Duff. "There's always that 'F*ck you' element to it. Really that's all we know how to do. We can't play nice or play radio. Slash, Matt and I were always that way in Guns, and Scott and Dave are very like-minded. To me, this is the first dangerous band that's come around in a while--truly dangerous. People are going to say, 'Oh a supergroup. These guys have everything.' And I can understand that, but we're not coming at this that way. We really hope to bring some chaos back into the whole world of rock."
"This is the real deal," says Matt Sorum. "This is all of us firing on all cylinders."
Slash, McKagan and Sorum came together to play a benefit/tribute for their friend and fellow musician Randy Castillo in 2002. The buzz of playing together again got the three thinking. "There was still something very powerful and intense between us," says Slash.
"That chemistry never went away," says McKagan.
Sensing enough time had lapsed since their less-than-pleasant departures from Guns N' Roses, the trio linked with Kushner--a high school friend of Slash's who had been playing with Duff in recent years. "He's our secret weapon," says Duff. "He plays amazing textures and he can handle himself with Slash." After some false starts with other musicians, the four decided to try an unusually open call for a new frontperson.
Documented by VH1 cameras for an upcoming special, this process turned out to be long and sometimes painful. "We heard so many different singers, and every singer lent itself to a different vibe," Sorum recalls. Unfortunately, the vibes were usually not too good. "As soon as we heard the vocals that people were sending in, we knew we were in trouble," Sorum remembers. "And we knew we just couldn't put out some shabby rock tribute. It had to be something special."
"There were so many variations on the theme," recalls Slash. "And all of them wrong."
As Dave Kushner remembers, "The experience really was brutal. There was nothing fun about it except for the fact that I got to go and play with these guys five days a week. It was just really disheartening and frustrating at times. But in the end because of all the time we spent looking, we went a lot of different places musically. It seemed like we were killing time, but we were really building the foundation."
Fortunately, as the Great Lead Singer search was going on, Duff was spending time socially with Weiland, then still with Stone Temple Pilots.
"I was sort of at the end of my rope, mentally and emotionally with STP at the time, though we've actually sort of made up since our last explosion," Weiland explains. "Duff told me he'd gotten together with Slash and Matt and that Dave Kushner was also playing. Now I've known Dave for years since he was in Electric Love Hogs who I use to play on bills with when STP was known as Mighty Joe Young. And I was a huge Guns fan. Appetite For Destruction had the same impact on me as Never Mind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols, Nirvana's Nevermind and Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking. Appetite was one of those records that made me believe, that became my bible and taught me everything."
For Weiland, the idea of joining forces with this foursome proved enticing. Then when Slash dropped off a CD of some of the music the guys had been recording, Weiland was impressed. "There were like fifteen songs out of the sixty that I could really wrap my head around," Scott recalls. "I thought if we went in that direction, we could turn into a five-headed beast which would be completely lethal and indestructible."
With Weiland, the project became a living, breathing band. "This guy has lived," says Matt. "Because of where we've been as musicians--and the kind of frontman we were next to for all those years--it is pretty tough for any guy to step up immediately and be able to stand next to a guy like Slash or Duff. Those guys are rock stars in their own right. To front this band, we needed someone who was above and beyond, and we got one."
"I was beginning to think there were no more great rock frontman," says McKagan.
Quickly the five got down to work. "We recorded the song for The Hulk ("Set Me Free"), but the only way to really see if you can be a band is to do a gig," says Scott. "So we did a gig at the El Rey [in Los Angeles ] in June and that answered every question. It was worth more than any time in the studio or hanging out. This was undeniable and the most sonically violent thing I've ever been a part of. Singing 'It's So Easy' [from Appetite For Destruction] with those guys at the El Rey was amazing. When I wrote 'Sex Type Thing' [from STP's debut album], it was sort of inspired by that low vocal of 'It's So Easy'."
For Slash, "We were like a bunch of kids who just learned how to play the same chord together. That's what it's been like every time we've done something together. We're thrilled, like 'Hey, we wrote a song!' 'Hey, we played a gig!' Maybe that's why this has worked--because we're actually the opposite of jaded."
Yet for all the good will, launching Velvet Revolver hasn't always been easy, especially with the group's frontman publicly going through some personal turmoil of late. "This has been a pretty rough year for me," Scott admits. "The whole divorce thing really pulled me through a keyhole emotionally so I fell backwards on a narcotic slide and had to pay the price. But these guys were there to catch my fall. This has been like a gang. And it helps that they've all been through it themselves a million times so there's no judgment there. They've all kicked dope so it's not like I'm the lone junkie in the band or I'm the only one who knows what it's like to kick a three-gram-a-day heroin habit. Through all the difficulties I've been through, they've all been there. That's more than I could ever ask for--more than I've ever experienced before."
'We went through a lot of stuff with Scott," Duff explains. "We got him to come up to the mountains, to Washington State , and he was learning martial arts and learning how to live a different way. Whatever happens, he has some more tools that he didn't have before."
"I feel like Scott is still struggling in certain areas, but that this is all meant to be," says Matt. "Down the line our hopes are that with this strong a positive influence--and his knowing where we've all been with the rock and roll indulgence--we will pull through this together."
Early in its evolution, the group released the song "Set Me Free" on The Hulk soundtrack and recorded a cover of Pink Floyd's "Money" for another movie, The Italian Job. When it came time to sign a deal and record their first album, the band chose RCA in part because of the interest of Chairman Clive Davis. "Clive actually flew out here and courted us, and he watched us rehearse along with his little posse," Slash remembers. "It was really flattering because he's such an icon and he's been doing it for so long and can really recognize something."
That decision made, it was time for Velvet Revolver to take aim and make their first album.
Contraband is a rock & roll song cycle with an eclectic streak and a sonic nerviness. It's a rock-hard headphones classic for a new generation, reflecting the players' influences from The Beatles to Refused, and for obvious reasons a little Guns N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots too.
After sampling a number of producers, Velvet Revolver opted to go with Josh Abraham to co-produce the album with them. "Josh was very much for us a fresh face," says Matt. "We went out and we tried other producers and we tried the best of the old school, but we needed to go in a different direction. We needed a young, fresh collaborator with a modern element--whatever that is. We wanted to compete and we wanted to be represented now."
"Who you work with is important, and Josh and the people we worked with on this album made things feel effortless," says Slash. "They made it feel like us."
"If we sounded slick, we're going to be some over-thirtysomething, over-produced super rock band," says Duff. "But this is just a rock band and the album had to growl just like we do when we play together live."
The music came into sharp focus when Weiland added his deeply felt, deeply personal lyrics to the mix. "In a nutshell, this whole album for me is pretty much about the poisonous, toxic relationship that I had been in and the catastrophic effects my break-up and subsequent divorce has had on me," Scott explains. "It's complete honesty so if people relate, great."
Each song is about where I was at in the situation at that given day. As you can tell, some days I was dealing with it better than others. This is the most effort I've ever put into anything. I put as much effort into the first STP album, but now I know so much more."
With Contraband completed in the waning days of 2003, Velvet Revolver now looks forward to the album's spring 2004 release and hitting the road hard. "We can't wait," says Slash. "I'm just looking forward to fulfilling a touring thing that I never got to really finish with Guns. That's what I love, but we never got to do a lot of things for reasons that still don't make sense to me. I just want to play."
"We'll go down in the gutter and play dirtbag clubs and we'll play big stadiums," says Matt. "And that's the way we've always been. We're not precious."
But ultimately, Velvet Revolver isn't about firing at the past. It's about what these five men can do together in the future. "You know all the possibilities are there," says Slash. "And we don't want to miss them this time."