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2004.12.DD - Mojo - The Boys Are Back In Town (Slash, Duff, Matt)

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2004.12.DD - Mojo - The Boys Are Back In Town (Slash, Duff, Matt) Empty 2004.12.DD - Mojo - The Boys Are Back In Town (Slash, Duff, Matt)

Post by Blackstar on Mon Aug 24, 2020 3:49 am

THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN

Velvet Revolver are the hottest rock band on the planet right now. But can ex-Guns N' Roses man Slash and his pals keep it together this time?

By Paul Elliott

At six o'clock on a clear summer morning in 1994 Slash woke up alone at his Hollywood home. The previous night, he'd waited for Axl Rose at the studio where Guns N' Roses were recording a cover of The Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil. When the singer finally showed up, he wouldn't look Slash in the eye. Axl was leafing through a magazine when the guitar player headed home to sleep. No words were exchanged.

After two hours sleep Slash woke up. "I was suicidal," he reflects, sanguinely. "If I'd had a gun with me at that time, I probably would have done myself in. If I'd had a half-ounce of fucking heroin with me, I probably just would've gone. It was heavy. It was a headspace I'd never in before. Somehow I managed to go back to sleep. Then, when I woke up later that morning, I made a decision. I felt the whole weight of the world drop."

His decision was simple: He had done all he could to hold the band he loved together. Now he realised it was futile.

As Slash recalls the events of 10 years ago, he's philosophical rather than bitter. Never the kind to rant and rave, nothing much about him has changed over the years-save for a little grey in his two-day stubble. The mop of dark curls and easy swagger make him instantly recognisable to the guests sunbathing beside the pool at West Hollywood's Sunset Marquis hotel. Slash lived at the hotel for a year in the mid-'90s when going through a drug-fuelled depression, but still feels comfortable here. At 39, in blue jeans and an outsized Rose Tattoo T-shirt, he still resembles the 21-year-old I first interviewed in this same Los Angeles hotel in 1987, five months before the release of Appetite For Destruction . At that time Slash and Axl appeared inseparable. By 1994 they were worlds apart.

"Slowly but surely, Axl was killing us," says Slash, taking a long pull on a Gitanes cigarette. "I'd been depressed, but I used to drown that with alcohol. We patched it up and kept it going. But when we were trying to get this record made, the whole process was just such hell. Axl wouldn't show up at the studio until two or three o'clock in the morning. The band was spinning its wheels, and there was no way to get it back on track. Everybody thought I was nuts, but I knew what I had to do. And I can honestly say leaving was one of the smartest decisions of my whole fucking adult life."

Duff McKagan came to the same conclusion soon after. Since becoming sober in May 1994 as a matter of life or death, the bassist had acted as peacekeeper in GN'R. "I'd have Axl on one line and Slash on the other," he recalls. "I told our manager, Dude, you gotta do something, you can't leave it all to me. I've got a lot of emotion invested in both of these guys."

McKagan speaks to MOJO two days after Slash, at a photo studio on Exposition Boulevard. A fitness fanatic, the 40-year-old has the body of a man 20 years his junior, although the deep creases in his face betray a life well lived. His candour is unflinching. "Axl believed he was Guns N' Roses, but there was a whole way that this thing worked that he just kind of forgot. And he was never the lead guy, music-wise, ever. We'd write the songs and give them to him-a lot of times with vocals on. So I just said, Look, it's an autocratic situation that I'm not interested in. You never asked me, 'Hey Duff-do you wanna join my band?' so I'm opting out. I had a good run, thanks."

Matt Sorum's departure was less amicable. The drummer, now 44 and drug-free, remembers one night in early 1995 as if it were yesterday. Sorum arrived at The Complex studios in Santa Monica to hear Axl talking with Paul Huge, the guitarist brought in to replace Gilby Clarke (himself Izzy Stradlin's replacement). When Sorum heard Huge slating Slash he snapped.

"I said, Listen motherfucker, when I'm sitting in the room, I'd appreciate it if you don't fucking say shit about Slash. He's my friend. Then Axl got in my face. I said, Axl, man, you're fucking smoking crack if you think this band's GN' R without Slash. You're gonna go play Sweet Child O' Mine with fucking Paul Huge? Sorry, dude, it ain't gonna sound right. Axl says, 'I'm Guns N' Roses-I don't need Slash. I'm Guns N' Roses.' I said. You know what? No, you aren't. This bullshit went on for about another 20 minutes. And then Axl finally said, 'Well, are you gonna fucking quit?' I said, I don't fucking quit! So he said, 'Well, then you're fucking fired!'

"Paul Huge chased me out to the parking lot and said, 'Just come back in and apologise!' I said, Fuck you, Yoko! I'm gone! And that was it. I went home to my fucking six-level palatial rock star estate with two elevators. About a month later I got the letter from the lawyers."

Slash, Duff and Matt now had to face up to the reality of life outside Guns N' Roses. Slash did what guitar players do in bad times, putting together a pick-up band of old friends and gigging around LA clubs, playing Hoochie Coochie Man, Papa Was A Rollin' Stone and old Thin Lizzy songs. "I re-established in my mind what rock'n'roll was all about," he says. "And that was great. I knew I hadn't lost touch with myself completely. I was still intact." But only just. The guys in this band were mostly Slash's old drinking buddies. "I turned into a worse party animal than I was when I was in Guns N' Roses." There were days, he says, when he felt like "an irretrievable alcoholic".

Sorum was in no better shape: "GN'R was such a big thing in my life. It brought me fame. I got laid 50 times a fucking month. People handed me free drugs. I got to buy a house. Everything changed- the way my family treated me, the way everybody treated me. It was just a weird little bubble to be in. And after that, I had to rediscover myself."

Like Slash, Sorum numbed himself with booze and a serious cocaine habit. While Slash and Sorum had difficulty accepting the fact that the party was over, health-wise Duff McKagan had no choice. While in GN' R, he paid $1 million cash for a house on the north Pacific shore close to Seattle, a house he had first seen as a boy. Here he created a new life. He and his second wife Susan had two daughters. He studied modern accounting at the Seattle School Of Business, and finally learned how to make his money work for him ("I was never dumb," he explains, "just was fucked up!"). He jammed with various Seattle pals, including Mark Lanegan, made a second solo album, Beautiful Disaster , (the first, Believe In Me , was released in '93), and starred briefly with Sorum and Duran Duran's John Taylor in The Neurotic Outsiders. He also attempted to trace old friends from the days before GN'R. Many were heroin addicts whose miserable lives had inspired Duff to write Paradise City when he was 19 and hoping for something better. "They were either clean and sober or they were dead," he says.

At the turn of the millennium, Duff formed a new band, Loaded, with LA-based guitarist Dave Kushner, a reformed alcoholic who had attended LA's Bancroft Junior High School with Slash in the '70s. Slash himself had recorded and toured with his band Snakepit. Sorum had been through rehab and begun a new career in movie soundtracks. Meanwhile, in virtual isolation from the outside worls. Axl Rose was working obsessively on the next Guns N' Roses album, Chinese Democracy . In truth, nothing much was happening for any members of GN'R past or present.

"I had a moment of clarity," Slash recalls. "As successful as I had been, I was absolutely nowhere. I had to re-establish some semblance of a relationship with people in the business that I could trust."

With Snakepit disbanded, Slash was in the process of putting together a new group with ex-Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman when he was asked to play a benefit show for the family of Randy Castillo, former drummer for Ozzy Osbourne, who had recently died of cancer. The show, on April 29, 2003, saw Slash reunited on-stage with McKagan and Sorum. And it felt good.

The trio pulled in Dave Kushner and set to work on writing new songs and seeking out a singer. After nine months they had 50 songs. And, despite innumerable auditions, no one to sing them. Kushner, who was still in unemployment benefit of §311 a week, was panicking. He'd been tempted when Limp Bizkit's management offered him a try-out but eventually he declined. It was a smart move.

In June 2003, the band-now named, with a nod to their past, Velvet Revolver-revealed their new singer, Scott Weiland, former star of much-misunderstood grunge-era act Stone Temple Pilots. Weiland's wife, the model Mary Forsberg, was a long-standing friend of Duff's wife Susan Holmes, and when Duff heard that STP had split, Weiland got the call. "I always thought he had the coolest voice," says Slash, "like Lennon, Alice Cooper, a real rock 'n' roll voice."

But Weiland came with baggage. Only two weeks before he was officially named VR singer, he'd been charged with possessing heroin and cocaine. Weiland's arrest record stretches back to 1995, for possession. After a further arrest in 1998, he was jailed for parole violation relationg to further drug offences the following year. "Any problems that Scott might have, if he was willing to commit himself to this, we were willing to commit ourselves to whatever it took to make it happen," states Slash.

Such was Duff's commitment to Weiland's recovery that he accompanied the singer to his hearing before personally escorting the singer to a rehab course under the tutelage of a martial arts sensei on a desert retreat i north Washington. McKagan stayed with him for the first half of the course, shooting prescribed drugs into Weiland's posterior twice daily. "There's a ball that you can either grab or let go of," says McKagan wryly. "And Scott grabbed the ball."

To uncharitable outsiders, it could appear that Slash, McKagan and Sorum have simply swapped one problem singer for another. On the surface, Velvet Revolver is a successful work in progress. Their first album, Contraband , registered the biggest week one sales of any rock debut in US recording industry history and topped the US Billboard chart in June. Artistically the album is a triumph: a synthesis of GN'R's bad-ass hard rock and Stone Temple Pilots' alt rock sensibilities. Live VR's reputation is considerable. The band's current US arena tour sold out in near-record time and a ticket for a set of UK dates went in similar fashion. Such is the air of confidence around Velvet Revolver that Sorum is already talking of the next album-"a really sexy fucking rock'n'roll album," he purrs, "with a little bit more boogie, maybe?"

Indeed it is only when Scott Weiland speaks to MOJO, that the picture is tilted.

It's near nine o'clock, at the end of a long photo shoot when Weiland suggests we talk while he drives home to the LA apartement he is renting in the gated complex where Rick James died recently.

"This magazine is a music magazine, not a gossip tabloid magazine, right?" says the singer testily.

You've seen the magazine...

"I read the magazine," he sniffs.

An awkward silence follows. Weiland searches aimlessly for cigarettes as he pulls into traffic. The SUV is, he explains, his wife's car. When he finds a pack of Marlboro Lights, he shrugs, "Not my favourite brand," but lights one anyway. His demeanour is nervous, twitchy. He stares dead ahead and chooses his words carefully. As his dashboard confessional begins. the atmosphere inside the car grows more claustrophobic with each passing minute. This is not an interview based around question and answer, it appears more of a therapy session. Throughout the conversation Weiland makes no attempt to talk about what he thinks you want to hear. Instead he discusses what is uppermost in his mind, however intimately personal that may be. At times you feel as if you are intruding on his thoughts.

We begin talking about the music he loved as a kid (namely his dad's country records by The Outlaws, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash). Then, as "a sexually obsessed teen", the singer discovered David Bowie, The Sweet and Queen. At school he admits to being a loner with an "over-active" imaagination. Even now, he says, "I don't feel that need to hang out with a lot of people. I don't need that kind of stimulation to make me feel good, or validated." It is at this point that Scott's thoughts appear to turn inward and darken.

The singer suffers from bipolar disorder. It is the same depressive condition that has affected astronaut Buzz Aldrin, comedian Spike Milligan, and for which Axl Rose was allegedly treated with lithium. Effectively it means that Scott is prone to volatile mood swings. I ask him whether he accepts that, as a sensitive person, he will experience higher highs and lower lows? "Absolutely," he replies. "In a sense, I'm always at war with my head. The ultimate goal is to try to stay at peace with myself. And the best way of really doing that is to know that I can't control my insane thoughts. When you stop getting loaded and shooting dope, that part of the insanity's gone, but the brain then starts searching for other ways to start fucking with you, other things to start obsessing on. This is what I think-my mind is really trying to kill me."

This revelation hangs in the air for a full two minutes before he pulls up at the apartement he shares with his wife and two children. As the engine idles, I try to ask Scott about the positive things in life. Could he describe what he felt when, after cleaning up with Duff's help, he won his family back? Another lengthy pause follows. With a near-whisper, he finally says, "There aren't words..."

Then, with confessional honesty, Scott chronicles his recovery: "I knew the only way I could possibly get my family back was if I got myself back. My wife and I, we had children and we grew apart. I didn't notice. She took on and completely owned the role of being a mother, a wife, a woman. I lost my two years of sobriety right at the time when my son was born. I didn't even realise what I was missing. I didn't have a clue why my wife was becoming. when I cleaned up, I realised I was still an adolescent. There were no promises: my wife didn't tell me, 'If you clean up, you'll have me back, us back.' I just knew I had to become a man for myself and my kids."

At this point, it seems imossible to interject or to stop Scott from further emotional outpourings. "It was as if I had woken up from a coma," he continues, "and my family were there. I assumed the full role of provider: not just financially, but emotionally, mentally, spiritually. It's been the most fulfilling experience of my life, and that's what comes first before anything, before my music, anything. That's the foundation of my life."

In the half-light Scott seems on the verge of tears, but he continues talking for a few more minutes, shifting in his seat. His conclusion has an ominous ring.

"I like to keep my little world safe. It's my sanctuary. When I get out into that world, it's risky. I just thank God I've got these guys around me who have got my back. There's dangerous energy around this band. There's always that risk of that fucking grenade pin being pulled accidentally, or even intentionally. You got five guys that are ex-dope fiends. And I'm not necessarily talking about Scott Weiland."

Velvet Revolver is not, he says, "the '90s Aerosmith". "That's why we sell out shows," Weiland claims. He lifts his face to make his point eye to eye. "It's the fucking Evel Knievel factor. The guy didn't sell out stadiums because people knew he was gonna make the fucking jump."
You really feel that? "Fuck yeah," he sighs."Fuck yeah."

There is nothing left to say. Weiland bids us a polite farewell. We get out of the car. Talking to him has been a strange, sad, almost surreal experience, and one that offers a stark perspective on Velvet Revolver's future. In a band of survivors, Scott still appears worryingly on the edge. When he speaks of a "dangerous energy" in the band, is he really talking about himself? Could he be the man capable of pulling "that fucking grenade pin" and allowing the Velvets to simply explode? Only he seems to have the anwers.

"KURT, GRUNGE AND ME"

VR's Duff McKagan on his punk past and a fateful night with Cobain.

"I was totally aware of what was happening in Seattle in the early '90s," states Velvet Revolver bassist Duff McKagan, who'd grown up in what was to become the epicentre of grunge.

As a teenager, Duff cut his teeth in all-manner of local punk outfits (29 at the last count!). A brief stint drumming with The Fastbacks between '81 and '82 saw him switch to guitar and form Ten Minute Warning (the band he'd re-form in '98 after his exit from Guns). He then moved down to Los Angeles where he hooked up with Slash, Axl, Izzy and Steven Adler. His return to Seattle with Guns N' Roses in 1985 on the Hell Tour met with raised eye-brows among his old bandmates. But while a number of Seattle bands appeared to be the antithesis of GN'R, Duff himself was a firm supporter of the plaid-clad types emerging from his hometown.

"I knew the guys who ran Sub Pop. I have 1,200 old singles and shit," he continues. "I was like the LA liaison for all the Seattle bands coming down. When Alice In Chains came to LA on their first record I played bass with them on Man In A Box. I was really excited by those bands. It was great to see Soundgarden and those guys doing well."

By 1991, as Guns N' Roses began to slide into self-indulgence and disarray, one band in particular emerged and represented the dawning of a new era.

"Because Nirvana were also on Geffen, I'd gotten an advance copy of Nevermind four months before it came out. I wore out the tape, you know," recalss Duff.

On April 2, 1994 McKagan would also find himself on a late night, homebound flight with Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain.

"I sat near Kurt on the plane and when we talked, I could tell something was wrong," states Duff. "My buddy Eddie met me at the airport. Kurt and Eddie were outside having a smoke while I was collecting my bag. I said to Eddie, Why don't we take him over to my house tonight? Kurt was just gonna go home by himself having snuck out of [LA rehab centre] Exodus. So Eddie went running back out to get him, but a car had to pick up Kurt. We didn't know what was gonna happen, but you could sense something wasn't right."

Three days later that sense of unease would turn to tragedy.

During the dark days of Guns N' Roses, Slash found there was one fellow guitarist he could talk to...

KEITH RICHARDS: AGONY UNCLE

"The Stones were recording Voodoo Lounge up at Don Was's house. Ronnie [Wood] and Keith and their wives and myself and my wife at the time all went to a very famous Beverly Hills restaurant that all the movie stars loved to be seen at. I was sitting at the bar with Keith and we were talking, funnily enough, about drugs. He asked me what I was doing with Guns, and I told him about the situation with Axl. Keith said, 'You never leave.' I thought a lot about what he said.

"One of the things about Keith that I love so much is that he hangs in there, thick or thin. He's a hero to me because he's one of the few people that is completely unbendable when it comes to what he does, so I look up to him. So I got the wherewithal to be able to go back to rehearsal next day with a fresh attitude. I did that for weeks and weeks. It kept me in there for as long as humanly possible until it finally got to a point where it wasn't gonna go anywhere.

"I don't know what relationship Keith and Mick [Jagger] have, or any of the lead singer and lead guitarists. The one thing they all seem to have in common is the singer wants to do his thing. I was dealing with somebody who didn't want to do anything in particular except to keep fucking dragging the ship down. So finally I did leave. I talked to Keith later after that, and he said, 'There was nothing you could fucking do'."
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