Born of Scott Weiland’s self-destructive poetry and the remains of Guns N’ Roses unbridled instrumentals, Velvet Revolver seemed like a ticking time bomb from day one. Skeptics were humbled by their commercially successful 2004 debut, Contraband, but with the weight of the egos involved, the project seemed poised to collapse at any moment. But it didn’t.
Libertad, released in July, is fast, unapologetic, and, most importantly, written with a sober pen. Once the poster child for the “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” lifestyle, Weiland is celebrating three-and-a-half years away from the needle and pill. According to Weiland, this is the second album he has ever written sober (the other being Stone Temple Pilots’ Core).
After a cathartic bout with addiction, the newly consolidated Velvet Revolver brings us songs that look backward, forward, and inward with the same chest-pounding fury that built them from the ground up. “Let it Roll” and “She Mine” find the group returning to classic rock love anthems, with Slash imparting swaggering guitar work that is elevated by an always-intrepid rhythm section, consisting of drummer Matt Sorum and bassist Duff McKagan.
Sorum phoned in from the band’s tour bus in Pennsylvania to sort out the mythology of Velvet Revolver before their appearance at the Bowl on Tuesday, September 11. Formerly of Guns n’ Roses fame, Sorum is well versed in all things rock star. And after hearing his words of confidence, the future of Velvet Revolver has never seemed so certain.
When Scott [Weiland] announced Libertad in 2005, he said it would be a concept album, but later dismissed that idea. What was the original notion behind the album? He came up with the title before we even started writing the album, when we got off the Contraband tour. We all initially liked it, but when he started talking about the concept-I don’t know if it came from Green Day or what. As the writing process went on, the concept just kind of went out the window. The only real concept was the packaging and the idea of the artwork; it was more of an art thing than a music thing.
There were plenty of obstacles in your way while making Libertad, including Rick Rubin bowing out of production. The band must have been really discouraged. We wanted to sort of take the reigns a bit more. Contraband was made after Scott joined the band fairly quickly. The rest of us were together for a long time. This record had about 20 songs, and don’t get me wrong, Rick is a great producer and he’s made some great albums, but he just wasn’t hearing the songs like we were. So we called Brendan O’Brien, and things started to move really fast. We really needed a guy like that to crack the whip because we were getting very distracted on our own. Brendan was like, ‘Look, I want you guys here at 12 noon every day. I want to work six days a week.’ He was pretty serious. Once we started to record in the studio, the ball really got rolling.
Who is Libertad for? Well, I think it’s for people who want to sit and listen to a record in its entirety; people who will appreciate the album as a whole. I come from a background of sitting with my buddies or my girlfriend and really getting lost in a record, like the old Led Zeppelin records. I always used to think about where they were when they wrote it, or how they came up with the art design. If you’re an ¼ber fan of the band, then just sit and listen to Libertad from start to finish. Libertad is for the person who can appreciate an entire work.
Scott has a few vulnerable moments on the album, notably in “The Last Fight” and “Pills, Demons & Etc.” How have his three-and-a-half years of sobriety changed the band? Contraband was a very drug-laden album. Now that he’s got a clear head, things are sort of more apparent to him. I think he’s become a better singer. He definitely sings a lot better on this record than on Contraband. I also think he’s become a better person. I mean, now we’re on time at our shows almost every night! In retrospect, we’re very lucky, now that we look back on what we went through with him at first. When we did the Contraband tour, Scott could have fallen apart at any moment. He was very fragile.
It must’ve brought you closer, having gone through that. Well, we look at each other with the same sensibility. We’re not the best friends in the world, but we both know we have similar backgrounds, so we have that kind of a vibe.
In an interview with Spin, Scott said, “[Libertad] is the best album I’ve made since STP’s Tiny Music.” Where does this album stand on your resume? I think it’s probably the best record I’ve ever done. I’m really the happiest I’ve ever been with the sound, from a drummer’s perspective, and I even wrote a few songs myself. “For a Brother” was mine, as well as the guitar on “Just Sixteen,” and me and Duff had a big part on “She Mine.” I contributed lots of different parts to lots of different songs, not just drums. Slash did “Gravedancer.” We all did different things.
As we speak, you guys are heading to Scranton, Pennsylvania. Is Velvet Revolver a fan of The Office? Nah, not really. There’s not much time to watch TV out here. We do have satellite, but we mostly just watch movies.
September 11 is a heavy day to be playing the Bowl. Was that intentional? Funny, I thought the same thing. You see that date and it just initially hits you. It’s kind of a wild thing. But no, it wasn’t intentional at all. We’re just doing it and plowing it through.
Velvet Revolver plays with Alice in Chains and Sparta at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Tuesday, September 11, at 6:30 p.m. Visit sbbowl.com for more information