March 12, 2014 Interview – Matt Sorum
Sometimes in life we should always expect the unexpected and put aside our preconceived notions about others. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Drummer Matt Sorum has been a part of some of modern rock’s biggest bands in his accomplished career including Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver, and The Cult.
While a rocker through and through, Sorum is ready to offer listeners another side of him on his new highly dynamic acoustic-based album titled Stratosphere. Baring his heart and soul, Sorum proves that you should never judge a book by its cover. Recently we sat down with the rock legend for an in-depth look at his time in Guns N’ Roses & Velvet Revolver, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, his new album Stratosphere, life, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have had quite an amazing music career from drumming with The Cult, to becoming a fixture behind the kit with Guns N’ Roses for seven years, to a great run with Velvet Revolver. How surreal is it for you to have complied such amazing achievements and been crowned a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer?
Matt Sorum – Well, when I got in The Cult I thought I arrived. I was happy and could have played with that band for the rest of my life. I was in Hollywood for almost ten years before I got a real professional gig. Funny enough, when I started moving into the other bands, especially Guns N’ Roses, I never expected that to come like that. That was a situation where I had to take the opportunity. I felt like if I was going to be recognized as a band member of a big group I had to step out. As a member of The Cult, I was a side man. After Guns N’ Roses, things were pretty weird for quite a few years. I dabbled in producing, I was doing film scores, I did a few other projects here and there, and I actually got back with The Cult for another record. When Velvet Revolver came along, that was really the icing on the cake for me. I never expected to be in a band at forty years of age, being that successful, going out competing against younger rock bands, being on modern rock stations, and playing festivals with a lot younger players.
When I picked up a Grammy for that, that was the pinnacle of my career. I really felt like I had a lot to do with putting that band together and being involved in all the business aspects of it. At that point I really felt that, even if other people don’t really like the music or respect what you are doing, the inner respect for myself changed. I felt like I achieved everything. I had been through so much with the other bands; mentally, physically, and all kind of different things people don’t realize. When the opportunity arose to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, first of all that I was included at all, was not a surprise… maybe a little bit of a surprise. Obviously I wasn’t an original member, but I was there for a very important time in the band I suppose. A lot of people don’t realize the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame picks who comes up there, not the band. It is not the band choosing who is coming. It is a very tight knit committee and no one really knows who they are; they pick who is going to be inducted. Luckily that committee picked me.
It was a tough time for me too emotionally because I had to go back twenty years and relive a lot of the internal stuff I had gone through with the band. At first it was a little hard emotionally, and once I got there I was definitely in an emotional place. I think a lot of people are when they have had something they felt was a very big part of their life. It is like going back and hanging out with an old girlfriend. Long story short, I feel like I got the award and I am in some sort of Rock-N-Roll royalty. It feels nice, I feel very confident in myself because of it. I feel like no one can really say much to me that can disparage that particular moment.
CrypticRock.com – You should be proud of all you have accomplished. It is obvious yourself, Slash, and Duff have remained close years after Guns N’ Roses with the formation of Velvet Revolver. I imagine you have been asked every question there is regarding Guns N’ Roses, but it has now been seventeen years since the classic line-up of the band has been together. What was the experience like ?
Matt Sorum – In a way I look at it as a great time and hay day; couldn’t have asked for a wilder time. If you have seen The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013), we are ten times that except we didn’t rip people off. We gave people a lot of music and helped people with whatever was going on in their life in that particular span of time. I think that is probably why a lot of people push for it. It was such a cultural thing, then people were saying, “hey man I like this band”. It was a moment in time that was based on a certain movement called Rock-N-Roll.
CrypticRock.com – There is plenty of music to be played still, especially with Velvet Revolver. That was really a great 6 year span. Can fans expect to see Velvet Revolver revisited at some point with a new vocalist?
Matt Sorum – It has been talked about. The interesting thing about rock-n-roll, being in a band, and having a career as a musician is you have to work just like anyone else. There is art, there is commerce, and there are other things you have to take into your career to actually have a career. You have to really put yourself into this career. You have to weigh your options, you want to make a piece of art, and you have to deal with great commerce; which is harder and harder as a musician. People can belly-ache about buying the music, but the reality is that is our music, we created it. Sometimes people don’t understand the amount of time that goes into making an album. They think it just magically appears; it doesn’t magically appear. The first Velvet Revolver album took two years to make. Why should we give that away, that was our heart and soul. We worked our asses off putting that together. People work hard jobs and I know their jobs are difficult, but I think the music business is just as hard in its own way. It has its own demons lurking around; it has sharks swimming in there. There are all kind of distracters; people want to give you drugs and all kinds of things. You are basically swimming in a sea with sharks trying to create a record that is a success; to be able to go out on the road to have people say they like it or don’t like it.
My point is, art versus commerce. I am a working musician, would I want to do it? I would have to weigh the options. Do I like Duff McKagan, Slash, Dave Kushner? Yes, I love those guys and I would play with them any day of the week. If someone completely new walks through the door one day, someone so fresh and perfect, you say that’s it and it clicks! There is no forcing a square peg into a round hole. To just define one great band in your lifetime is an absolute miracle. I have been somehow blessed to be in all these things. To find the perfect collaboration of guys is so hard. That is why all the great bands you see, how they are so great is because they were lucky to find those core members that made it perfect. Yes, if the right guy walks through the door, it will be the time.
CrypticRock.com – Chemistry is vital when it comes to art and music. You need to be on the same wave length for things to work.
Matt Sorum – That is the reason we got Velvet Revolver together. Slash, Duff, and I realized there was some chemistry between the three of us. We clicked when we went to play a benefit for a friend of mine who passed away. We looked at each other and said, “well, we can’t deny that we have something so we have to do this”. That was a feeling that you have inside. We didn’t even think about it as a monetary thing, it was almost a musical interaction that we felt was so powerful. When you are on stage it is like riding a fifty foot wave, you are at the Banzi Pipeline surfing the biggest wave; it is taking you, you are not taking it. It is difficult to describe.
Crypticrock.com – It sounds like a force bringing you together, telling you that you should be playing music together. You are quite a diverse musician as you have been involved in so many projects, but interesting enough you began a solo career in 2004 with your debut album Hollywood Zen. Now a decade later, you evolve with a new album entitled Stratosphere. On this album you play guitar, and it is completely different than anything you have done prior with a very natural acoustic sound. What was the concept about with this new chapter in your music career?
Matt Sorum – Well, it is basically what I talk about when I say art versus commerce. The first album I did purely as a fun thing. I didn’t promote it and I didn’t put a band around it. This album is really a complete personal diary of where I have been in my life in the last thirty years. The last eight years though really capsulate what this record is about. I looked at it as I am going to make a record I want to make. It doesn’t have to be a rock album. I don’t have to prove anything to my rock fans. I can say to them, “look this is who I am right now, I want to play guitar, I want to sing, and I want to write these songs”. I have always been a song writer, the thing about my songs was a lot of them never leaned themselves to the bands I was in. I always kept a little bit of an arsenal of stuff around. I have a full recording studio, like I said I have done film scores and produced a lot.
I have a love for good music. I love Tom Petty, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and so much diverse stuff to your typical hard rock such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath; I love all that too. As a singer/song writer at fifty three years of age, I didn’t see myself jumping up in front of a hard rock band. I decided to go in an opposite direction. I wanted to create an album that lyrically spoke to the feelings I was having about the planet, what is going on as far as global warming, how humans treat animals, and some heavy stuff. This is where I am acting spiritually and artistically, it is a complete other side of me. I love my rock-n-roll side, rock-n-roll is a different energy and it is a harder sort of feeling. When you go up on stage you feel encapsulated in the power of it.
Artistically, this record takes on a melancholy feel and a different perspective of the personality. Is there sadness in this record, is there regret, is there spiritual awakening, is there loss? Yes, there is a lot of that but it is completely from me. It is a complete personal offering of what people expect and think what I am. With the world being the way it is with social media, it was such a freeing thing to do because I was able to do it exactly the way I wanted it. I didn’t have a record company, I got an independent investor to put up the money. I am putting it out on my own between two labels. I look at it as a real challenge but I am a realist when it comes to the reality of what it is going to sell and how far I can take it. It is purely a cathartic process of a little piece of music that I am going to offer the world.
CrypticRock.com – That is usually the best music out there; something that is personal and so revealing of who they are at that moment in their life. The album is extremely relaxing and has an array of dynamics. Were you going for a warm sound like this?
Matt Sorum – Yes, I really wanted to encapsulate a warm, good-feeling record organically. All the instruments were played and recorded live. There is nothing that is not a live instrument on this record. I was very careful about the instrumentation. I used a lot of old guitars, old amplifiers, there are horns, and live strings; it is pretty epic. It is a lot different than two guitars, bass, and drums. It definitely has a lot more musical depth to it than my usual outings.
I love Alain Johannes who played with Them Crooked Vultures, Queens Of The Stone Age, and mixed a lot of Eagles of Death Metal. When I went to mix it, he mixed the record for me. I said to him to make it as organic as you can, make it sound like Tom Petty’s Wildflowers (1994), or something like that. That is what he did. Then when I went to master it, same thing, I wanted to make sure the mastering guy was just as subtle with his compression. I wanted it to sound very open, and I wanted the vocals way upfront, but be dry. I think we got a very good result for an independent record.
CrypticRock.com – It came out great. With this new material, there will be a bunch of fans eager to see it performed live. Have you contemplated on hitting the road to perform the material live?
Matt Sorum – Yes, I have been working a lot trying to book a tour. We have a really cool idea of how to take it out so a lot of people show up to the event. I want to do something really spectacular, in the next few months hopefully something will roll out. I have a good group of people. It is very cool because it is all me, it is all what I want to make it. It is the polar opposite of the machine that I am in when I am doing a big rock band. With the big rock band you have the big record company, the big management time, the big agent, and the big crew. This is totally grass roots and stripped down.
CrypticRock.com – That is great that you are keeping it simple and so personal.
Matt Sorum – I have faith when I hear bands like Mumford & Sons broke with only three people at the record. I am getting the record out, I had it on CSI. I am going to put it on as many movies and television as I can because that is a way for musicians to generate income, to license their music. I think people get upset when they see bands putting their music on certain commercials, but you have to realize this is what we do for a living. This is our bread and butter, our music is everything, and it is our nest egg if you will.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. That is completely understandable. You had mentioned earlier about all the hard work that goes into a record. Sometimes people don’t realize that and it is a shame that so many people steal the music on the internet. What do you feel about the digital opposed the physical format. There is something to be said about having the CD or vinyl record in hand, reading the liner notes, and looking at the artwork.
Matt Sorum – Yes, I spend about four months doing the artwork on my records. I have all the lyrics in there, a lot of cool artwork, and photos. Inside the booklet I am going to have all of that, then I wonder how many people are going to get that? I am going to do a vinyl run for fans. I love vinyl and have a huge collection. I miss that, I was a kid growing up with vinyl. I love the feeling of holding the record and looking at the credits and artwork. There is so much more that goes into it.
It really is an offering when you hold something like that, like a book. It is weird that people have gone so digital, but I get it. I understand that is where the world is headed. There are people out there that still love vinyl, and there are quite a few collectors. I understand vinyl is coming back and has a big upturn. There are people my age that want to relive their past, and want to relive it with a vinyl record. I still have a massive CD collection. I love it all. We are going to do it all, digital and physical. I went through a lot of trouble to do the artwork.
CrypticRock.com – The artwork is all part of the presentation of the music. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. Crypticrock.com covers a broad range of music but we also cover horror movies as well. I’d like to know if you are a fan of horror movies what are some of your favorite horror movies?
Matt Sorum – I actually don’t like horror films at all (laughs). I have seen quite a few. I remember when I was a kid The Exorcist (1973) scared the shit out of me. I was around twelve years old and remember my brother took me to see it in the theater. It was just terrifying. I remember trying to sleep that night and hearing things in the attic. How it affected me, I don’t know if I like being scared like that (laughs). Ever since that I think I was traumatized and have a hard time going to see a horror film. I have seen Amityville Horror (1979), the Friday The 13th’s, and all those classics. I am excited for Slash’s new horror film company. I know he is really into that stuff. I can’t say I am a huge horror guy.
CrypticRock.com – That is ok, they are not for everyone. Do you have a favorite type of film you enjoy?
Matt Sorum – I recently saw The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013). I was just surprised the movie didn’t get more accolades. Martin Scorsese is just…. talk about a story teller. Any film he has done, I love any Scorsese film because it really takes the person’s personality. Compared to American Hustle (2013), I thought it was ten times the film. I watch a lot of movies. I have been watching a lot of documentaries.
I recently saw a really interesting movie called More Than Honey (2012), which is about the bees in the world and what happens if the bees die. Blackfish (2013) I felt was a game changer for what is happening with whales. I am very interested in protecting whales and wildlife in the world. I love a lot of really great documentaries. I actually just executive produced a documentary called Sunset Strip The Movie (2012). I spent two years working on that film. It is basically the history of Sunset Boulevard from 1920 to present. Johnny Depp, Mickey Rourke, Sharon Stone, Hugh Hefner, and a lot of really great stars are in it.