Velvet Revolver, A Legal Substance
The 1990s were a high-flying decade for singer Scott Weiland. And how: His band, Stone Temple Pilots, became a chart-topping rock-radio staple, with sorta-alternative stadium-rock hits including "Plush," "Interstate Love Song," "Vasoline" and "Big Bang Baby," while Weiland himself was famously in and out of drug rehab. STP eventually disintegrated as Weiland continued to battle his demons, not to mention legal problems. But he resurrected his career by joining Velvet Revolver, a hard rock supergroup featuring three former members of Guns N' Roses -- guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum -- plus guitarist Dave Kushner. Velvet Revolver's 2004 debut album, "Contraband," entered the Billboard charts at No. 1 and produced a pair of major rock-radio hits in "Slither" and "Fall to Pieces." (A second album, "Libertad," charted at No. 5 this summer.) Perhaps even more notable: Weiland got clean. J. Freedom du Lac, Pop Music Critic for The Washington Post, talked to Weiland in advance of Velvet Revolver's appearance Sunday at Virgin Festival.
Washington Post: The new Velvet Revolver album, "Libertad," doesn't sound quite as hard or venomous as the first one, "Contraband." Is that a reflection of where you are personally now versus then?
Scott Weiland: Nah, it's more that we figured out who we were and kind of wanted to explore different musical directions. When I joined the band, those guys had been playing together for a while -- just jamming with no singer. They were already in this rhythm. I came in and had to mold that rhythm into my own to make it work musically. But that first record did have a lot of ferocity and a lot of anger. I think that's where I was at the time. And I think everyone sort of felt like we had something to prove. On this record, we really wanted to push the envelope and try a lot of different things, to bring out a lot of influences. My own musical influences range from the Stones and Beatles to jazz, bossanova, the Carpenters and Jerry Jeff Walker. As I've gotten older, I've found that I'm not afraid anymore to throw my influences into making a record. Making an album should be an honest experience. It shouldn't be about trying to gauge where popular music is today; it should be about artistic expression and putting down what you want to put down. That's what we did.
WP: It's interesting to hear you say that you're not afraid to throw your influences into an album, because Stone Temple Pilots were slagged for being a copycat grunge band -- a Pearl Jam knockoff. Did that criticism sting?
SW: It definitely bothered me at the time. But I think on the song "Plush," you can make that connection to Pearl Jam just like you can make the connection from Rod Stewart's song "Hot Legs" to the Rolling Stones. "Plush" happened to be our breakout single. You have to remember that at the time, Pearl Jam was getting slagged brutally by Nirvana and the media. They weren't considered critics' darlings until Kurt (Cobain) passed away. And then he (Eddie Vedder) sort of took over as the disturbed and bitter genius, I guess. But I'm so proud of the legacy that Stone Temple Pilots has. We've written close to 18 Top 20 hits, and many of them are still played on the radio today. That's the legacy we wanted to create. We wanted to be played on rock radio for the next 20-30 years. That's actually happening. The only thing that's left unfinished is the completion of the story. I feel that there could be a better final chapter, a better bookend. If all the planets line up, you never know what might happen one day.
WP: I read an interview with Duff where he talked about the heavy touring load after "Contraband" came out. Pointing out that you guys were together nonstop once that album landed, he said: "I don't care what five people you do that to, you're gonna get sick of each other." As all of you came out of successful bands that imploded, do you talk about making sure something like that doesn't happen with Velvet Revolver?
SW: When things really go south and we start getting in that big drill car and driving to hell, we usually get together and talk. How successful that is depends on everybody's state of mind at the time. Usually it works out fairly well. But lately, there's been some things that have happened that definitely shouldn't have happened -- where band members have irresponsibly used the media as a tool and said things that they shouldn't have said. And that's [expletive] blasphemy, because a band should be a safe haven regardless of what goes on. It doesn't matter what kind of problems a family is having; it should always stay in the family. The [expletive] media is bad enough as it is. It seems like everyone's got an agenda, and the agenda seems to be selling magazines or air time with sensational stories. Look at the [expletive] with Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan, these tragic figures. It's not like any of that stuff is new; that kind of [expletive] has been happening for years. It's just that the media didn't hound them. When people fell, they either fell again or they picked themselves up and figured it out. But it wasn't on E! or the celebrity news shows 100 percent of the time. It's become an addiction for the American public. People are more interested in that [expletive] than the upcoming election.
WP: Do you feel like people are waiting for you to fall again?
SW: Ah, no. I think it's been so long now that most people have almost forgotten that's ever been an issue. The average person has, anyway. The press -- they're always hoping and praying. Makes a good story, you know what I mean? But I'm not planning on it. My life's pretty good.
WP: You're going to be 40 in October. Was there a period during which you thought you might not make it to see that day?
SW: I always knew I'd make it because I'm a survivor. I'm like a cockroach. If there was an atomic bomb, I'd be one of the last people left. I'd be crawling out of a hole in the dirt -- a wormhole. I've had so many chances, it's amazing. I've overdosed so many times and survived. I've been in the hospital with the doctors pumping Narcan into my veins -- a chemical that burns the heroin right out of your system so your heart will start again. I've been arrested for narcotics possession so many times and I've paid the piper, doing time. To tell you the truth, there was a long period of time where I didn't really give a [expletive] about my life. There was a period where it would have been a blessing if I wouldn't have woken up. But I always manned up and picked myself up. I knew I'd always land on my feet. My only fear was that I might end up going to prison for a long time and have to be away from my children, my wife and my music.
WP: Does performing sober feel any different to you than when you would get on stage in an altered state? Do the sensations change?
SW: First of all, I'm not sober. I haven't done drugs in 3 1/2 years, so I call myself clean. But I do drink a little bit. That's worked for me, but I don't recommend it for everybody. But yeah, there's a huge difference on stage. When I'm not completely loaded, it's a much more vulnerable place. I can feel the music, I can feel the energy and I really have to put it out there. When I was loaded, I was just oblivious. I was so emotionally detached that I was cocksure. I'd do anything. I'd go out on stage in a women's bondage suit.
WP:Um, yeah. I've seen the photos.
SW: Those pictures are definitely out there. Black tights, the whole thing. I was high. And there's something to be said for that, how that pertains to rock and roll. It had its moments and its place. But it can't last. You can't keep doing that. It's just not a pretty thing. And you can't continue recording when you're loaded on heroin or cocaine or pills. You lose contact with the emotional quality of the music. Your heart begins to just not connect. It doesn't feel anymore, and music's all about emotion and heart. The dope gives you come cerebral objectivity, but that only lasts for a while. After a while, everything is just a bunch of [expletive].
WP: "Libertad" includes a surprising cover of ELO's "Can't Get It Out of My Head." Spill beans: Who's the band's closet Jeff Lynne fan?
SW: My wife and I are huge ELO fans. Brendan (O'Brien, who produced "Libertad") is as well. He came into the studio and started playing "Can't Get It Out of My Head," just strumming the chords. I started singing and he started doing the harmonies. It was one of those fun little moments. He looked at me afterwards and said: "You know, it wouldn't t be the worst idea I've ever had." I thought we could approach it in a completely different way, and I did that with the vocals, which are kind of Grandaddy-esque. Granddaddy is one of my favorite bands, and I love how he sounds like his voice is filtered through a water faucet. I tried to get that sound and really sing it quiet and lonely. And Slash put down some of the most amazing guitar I've ever heard. I was really hoping people would get where we were coming from on that tune. Unfortunately, critics haven't really gotten where we're coming from on that.
WP: When you tried out for Velvet Revolver ...
SW: No, no, no. I need to get this straight for once. I never [expletive] tried out for Velvet Revolver. I've never tried out for any band. I wouldn't even try out for the [expletive] Rolling Stones. Stone Temple Pilots broke up and I was working on my solo album. The last thing I wanted to do was join another [expletive] rock band after all the [expletive] drama I went through with Stone Temple Pilots. I ran into Duff at the gym and he told me they were forming a new band and that I should check it out and see if it's something I'd be into. They gave me two different CDs with about 40 to 50 songs. The first CD was basically atrocious. It was stuff they'd also written with Izzy (Stradlin, another Guns refugee), and it sounded like Bad Company gone wrong. I told them I was busy and wasn't really interested in the idea. About three months after that, I got another CD with some more songs and there were two that I thought were pretty good. One was called "Slither." I thought it sounded a lot like Stone Temple Pilots around "Core" -- like "Piece of Pie or "Wicked Garden." In my head, I was thinking: What would I do with this? If you listen to the vocal on it, it's like very much "Core"-era Scott Weiland. During that time, my wife and Duff's wife became friends, and they lobbied me to join the band. What ended up happening was, my wife and I separated. She was with her kids in L.A. and I was living in our apartment in Hollywood, doing a lot of drugs. And those guys were clean at that time. I said that if I did get into this band, it might be an opportunity to hook up with some guys who aren't using and had gone down the same sort of path that I had. Right around that time, their manager called me and said there were two soundtrack opportunities on the table for a lot of money. Do the songs, get a big paycheck and if you find out you work well together, just take it from there. I didn't show up the first day because I was loaded and couldn't make it. But I came the next day and we got together and started working out Pink Floyd's "Money" and writing a new song, "Set Me Free." And I joined. But never, ever, ever, never did I try out.
WP: Did you have any trepidation about joining a group that featured three former Guns N' Roses guys?
SW: It had been a long time since those guys had worked at that kind of level -- a long time since Guns N' Roses as people knew them were together and had that big fan base. My only worry was that people might think it was sort of ridiculous. I didn't want it to be like when Styx and those kinds of bands get together at the county fair or when Def Leppard tours. My worry was that people would come and see it because they wanted to be reminded of seeing Guns N' Roses in 1991. It was just six months earlier that my band had broken up. I didn't want another [expletive] band. I had a completely different plan in mind. But we got together and ended up making a great record.
WP: Is a festival just another gig for you, or do you treat it differently?
SW: Every gig is a major gig. Listen, every time I walk out on stage I'm willing to, like, be gashed open, willing to bleed, willing to fall apart if I need to. I put out all of my body energy at every gig.
WP: Are you one of those stay-on-the-bus-and-play-"Guitar Hero" types, or do you usually get out and watch the other bands?
SW: Oh, I definitely go out. If it's a band I'm into, [expletive] yeah.
WP: Anybody in particular you're looking forward to seeing or running into backstage in Baltimore? Or anybody you're hoping to avoid?
SW: My wife and I are flying out a day early to see the Police. That was one of my favorite bands growing up. It's a dream come true that they're back together; I never thought it would happen. I'm not going to hold my expectations too high, but I can't wait to hear them and see them.
WP: Virgin Festival is at Pimlico Racetrack. So, if you owned a racehorse, what would you name it?
SW: I'd have to say Go Big Or Stay Home.
WP: We're asking each artist to come up with a question for the next person on our interview list. James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem wanted us to ask you if it's "better and more funny to have a totally good second-wind career" -- and I'm quoting here -- "than it was to have one the first time."
SW: Better and more funny? Hmm. Who's that from again?
WP: James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Great dance-rock group. Totally worth watching.
SW: Oh yeah? I'd have to say it was definitely more magic the first time. And a lot more funnier this time. (Laughs)
WP: Do you have a question for Wu-Tang Clan?
SW: Out of these two artists or groups of artists, who do you think that you are more influenced by: The Beatles or Grandmaster Flash?
WP: What's your guess?
SW: I think they might say the Beatles. They're pretty out there.
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