Velvet Revolver takes aim with a hard-rock merger
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Hard-rock credibility is hard to acquire -- and even harder to sustain. Audiences are fickle, radio programmers' tastes change, acts lose their edge and turn into simpering fodder for classic-rock package tours. Few hard-rockers go the distance, but two bands that have scaled the heights are Guns N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots. Guns ruled the '80s, the Pilots rocked the '90s -- both deriving power from over-the-top frontmen and a mix of metal, acid rock, and psychedelia that earned them hit singles and arena-headlining status even as band members battled substance abuse, legal hassles, and self-destructive streaks.
If you love survivors, then say hello to Velvet Revolver -- a much-anticipated "supergroup" combining three members of Guns N' Roses (guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan, and drummer Matt Sorum) with the Stone Temple Pilots singer and chief bad boy, Scott Weiland.
Their new alliance -- or maybe their last stand -- has resulted in a raucous new album that aims high and delivers despite fears that the band may implode at any minute. These survivors talk a good game but also back it up.
"One of the universal desires for every individual in this band," says Slash, "was to do something heavier than the band we came from. Maybe in the beginning of Guns N' Roses' career, it was as heavy as it could get. Or maybe in the Stone Temple Pilots, the first couple of records were really hard-core. And then some things softened. I noticed that with both bands. So when we got together, everybody was on the same page to make this the hardest-rocking band it could be."
The new Velvet Revolver CD, "Contraband," out June 8, is preceded by a sold-out show at Avalon tomorrow that should be a sonic hurricane. A recent concert included a bunch of new songs -- including the blaring "Sucker Train Blues" and the buzz-saw boogie of "Headspace" -- augmented with GNR tunes "Mr. Brownstone" (slang for heroin) and "It's So Easy," along with STP tracks "Sex Type Thing" and "Crackerman."
That's a mother lode of aggressive music, but Velvet Revolver seems downright humble to be making it.
"Finally, all this time later, you get blessed with hooking up with the right people to do something that you really want to do," Slash says. "It's hard to communicate the feeling of having five guys on the same page for the second time in your life. It's pretty overwhelming because it sort of came out of nowhere."
Velvet Revolver's public introduction came via soundtrack songs "Set Me Free" (for the "Hulk" movie) and "Slither" (for "The Italian Job"). Both were immediate favorites at rock radio stations and stoked momentum for the new CD.
"It's exciting to have a supergroup out there that's on par with or akin to Audioslave," says Oedipus, program director of WBCN (104.1 FM). "It's energizing in this period of nondangerous music in rock 'n' roll, when so much of the danger is now in hip-hop. And having Scott Weiland as your frontman really adds an element of danger."
Weiland has been in and out of jail in recent years for problems related to heroin addiction. There are concerns that he might not make it through this tour, but Slash says the band (which also includes guitarist Dave Kushner, formerly of Wasted Youth and Electric Love Hogs) has been offering support.
"The first day Scott walked in, we knew he had a certain amount of baggage -- and he knew he had it, too," Slash says. "But he was such the right guy for us that it was a matter of not overlooking the situation, but dealing with it. And there really wasn't a more perfect bunch of guys for him to be with, because we've all been through it. So there's no finger-pointing, no placing blame, no judgment calls here. You look at any one of the other four guys and they all have a solid hard-luck story having to do with excesses, but we've all gotten through it.
"And Scott really wanted to confront the particular issue that he has, so we went through a lot of different ways to deal with it to help him out. . . . It made us bond, and Scott has been hanging in there this whole time. I don't think anyone wants to pull this off more than he does."
Weiland was supposed to talk to the Globe but ended up canceling the interview. He did release a statement, saying that he and his Velvet Revolver mates were "all looking for a rebirth here -- 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."
Slash says one thing that helped Weiland was McKagan taking him to Washington state to learn martial arts, which had been a boon in McKagan's recovery.
"Duff got him into kickboxing, and it's funny, too, because it's in the middle of nowhere in upstate Washington. So you're just out there. There's no other place to go. But it really helped Scott a lot."
The origin of Velvet Revolver dates to the funeral of a friend two years ago -- drummer Randy Castillo of Ozzy Osbourne's band. At the service in LA, Slash ran into Sorum, who told him of a fund-raising concert planned for Castillo's family at the nearby Key Club. Slash and Sorum decided to perform together but needed a bass player, so they called McKagan, who came down from Seattle. They completed the yet unnamed group with a couple of former members of Buckcherry (including singer Josh Todd, who is at the Middle East Downstairs tonight).
"There was no dream that something was going to come out of this," Slash says. "At least until we showed up for a quick rehearsal and threw six songs together. Duff and Matt and I kicked into `God Save the Queen' and we thought, `Hey, this is powerful.' The next day we played the gig and it was insane and Steve Tyler [of Aerosmith] got up with us. We did a blistering version of `Mama Kin' and some other covers."
Slash considered cementing the band with the former Buckcherry players but soon realized there was an "overall difference of opinion." That led Slash, Sorum, and McKagan to search for another singer, and they thought of Weiland ("He's the last of the Mohicans in terms of rock 'n' roll singers," Slash says), but he wasn't available.
"He was interested but had commitments to STP," Slash says. "So we went through a list of 200 to 300 CDs a week for eight or nine months, and out of those we might get two to four singers to audition. We knew we would find it when we heard it, but it didn't happen."
By that time, though, Weiland had quit STP and was available. He jumped right in and started writing intensely purgative lyrics about some of the pain he's felt from his drug and legal problems, as well as from the breakup of his marriage. The pain and anger is topped with some bloodcurdling screams. It's a powerful scenario, and in songs such as "Fall to Pieces" and "You Got No Right," he sounds like a man possessed.
Asked to compare Weiland with Guns N' Roses singer Axl Rose, Slash says, "They're two really extreme talents but two completely different people. So, really, when it comes down to it, the twain don't meet on the same ground except for the fact that they're both singers."
Weiland is expected to make it to gigs on time -- something that Rose was noted for not doing. Slash says it has been rough to see Rose drag the Guns name in the dirt by having a pickup version of the group that still sometimes went onstage two hours late, which happened at the FleetCenter two years ago as fans fumed in their seats.
"We all just want to get on with it," Slash says. "So the last thing we want to do is be sitting around for a couple of hours before we go on. That's not fun."
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.