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April, 2004
Velvet Revolver - It's all gonna go so wrong
Metal Hammer, Issue 125 April 2004

This week Slash and his ker-razy pals take on the music industry - and win!

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… but 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 go away."

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 could happen."

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," Slash confirms.

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 stop, y'know?"

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."


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.

MAY 20
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 detox centre.

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 on.'

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.

Thanks Gypsy.


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