Matt Sorum has seen it all. If not all, well, then he’s seen a lot. From his days growing up as a hustler in Long Beach getting entangled in the drug trade, Sorum not only made it out alive but drummed for some of the monsters of rock. No one else can boast a resume that includes stints with The Cult, Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and a stint with Hollywood Vampires.
These days, Sorum is living the good life out in the Southern California desert with his wife and young daughter. But, while there, he found time to write his autobiography, Double Talkin’ Jive: True Rock ‘n’ Roll Stories from the Drummer of Guns N’ Roses, The Cult, and Velvet Revolver . It took him and two writers four years to get it done, which was slowed down by the pandemic.
Looking back at a nearly four-decade career from behind the kit, Sorum says there’s been one as to why he’s been able to succeed.
“I’ve always gotten those gigs because I could just hold down the fort,” the drummer tells SPIN over the phone. “When you’re up on a big stage in a stadium like that, you know, I’m kind of the guy who was relied on. I have to play big and heavy.”
Despite remaining relatively quiet on the musical front and busy with fatherhood, Sorum still keeps in touch with many of his old bandmates. But, now that he’s north of 60, he has other things on his mind.
“I get up in the morning and I’m happy to be in the life I’m in now,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of really cool stuff going on.”
That includes his recording studio out in the desert, his Adopt the Arts charity, playing in Kings of Chaos and producing and co-writing with artists such as ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. “That’s like a whole other level of iconic shit,” he says of that experience.
Did you find any mental challenges revisiting all of these wild times?
Matt Sorum: Somehow writing the stories down wasn’t the hard part. It was editing in them. That was harder because I probably got three books worth of stories. However, it’s picking out which stories you’re going to tell so it doesn’t turn into this wild escapade of rock and roll debauchery. As you see in the book in the Velvet Revolver years, everyone got married up, except for me, and I was still kind of trying to wave the flag for rock and roll, if you will. It was interesting because it became a cathartic process. You start to look at things differently. Like, man, boy, I kind of acted a certain way, but at the same time, here you are a guy who wants to be in a band, and you get the opportunity. I’ve always said, you know, take advantage of it, enjoy it. You’ve been given this great opportunity that you’ve dreamt about your whole life. It’s your job to go ahead and partake, because what are you supposed to do? Go back to your hotel room, go to sleep? I always lived every moment. I never wanted to miss out on all of the adventures.
You definitely give that notion early on.
It’s interesting because times have changed quite a bit with the way people represent how they talk about things. In those days, it just seemed apropos. In the ’80s and ’90s, there was no question of the interconnection between people backstage. The antics that went on weren’t frowned upon. Nobody got hurt, everyone was entertained, and the people that were there had just as much fun as the band. That was the beauty of it. I said this before, but when music got a little bit too serious, especially rock and roll when the grunge era showed up and rap metal. I remember going backstage at some rap metal band’s show and it’s 99 99.9% dudes hanging around back there. I was like, “Whoa, this is weird.” I never understood that.
What are some of the misconceptions about Guns N’ Roses from that era that you wanted to lay out there or maybe dispel about what was going on with the band at that time?
It’s nobody’s fault really. The band was way too big at the time. There’s a lot of people with their paws in the pie, a lot of distractions, too much money, and too many drugs and alcohol. Young guys don’t make clear decisions. I look back and go if that was me now, I’d make a phone call and have a conversation, but it just didn’t seem that easy in those days to do that. To be able to explain things between each other, to help mediate a problem instead of being egotistical about it or being arrogant. It could have gone a different way if there was more communication. Once you’re out of a situation like that, you realize that good God that was a great fucking band and I wish we could have kept it together. If you ask any band that stayed together, they have to go through those struggles, just like any other relationship. You gotta figure it out if you want to keep it together, like, how much is it worth to you? At the same time, when I talk about things that went down, I want to give accolades to people in the group. In the Use Your Illusion era, we were at the height of our game. Axl, Slash and Duff — and even Izzy Stradlin and Gilby — personalities that stand on their own, and sometimes those personalities mix and sometimes they don’t.
That said, you’ve dealt with some interesting singers during your career.
When you’re dealing with guys like Scott Weiland, Ian, and Axl, these guys are interesting characters. But, that’s what makes them great because they are maybe a little bit more difficult, maybe hard to understand at times. But once they get on stage, they’re the guys that are leading the band to the next level. You have to appreciate everything in the way they come from the demons and otherwise, it pours into that performance they give. When Scott Weiland passed away, I said as difficult as he was, I don’t think he would have been able to have that sort of persona or that lyrical and artistic astuteness to be able to come up with stuff if he wasn’t from an interesting and sometimes dramatic background and had all of these demons around him all the time. He couldn’t keep them at bay, but at the same time, it made for great artistry. But for him, it was always something he had to battle all the time obviously until the very end. It’s difficult to be at that level and to be a normal person, and to be able to bring that sort of artistry.
Absolutely. You, Slash, and Duff had a long run where you all were as thick as thieves.
We ran like a gang. There wasn’t one thing we didn’t do together and I was obligated to drink with them. In those days, I was a bigger guy than I am now so I could put away a lot of alcohol. Even if they got drunker than I did, I could carry them out of a club. It happened a few times. We were these three guys that were just loving the experience, three pirates on a pirate ship purveying the land.
What about Axl?
Axl did his own thing. In retrospect, he had to be this guy that was focusing on the show every night. He was the greatest frontman of that era. It was all eyes on Axl.
What are some of your memories about making the Use Your Illusion albums?
It was a different band with a different vision for what Axl wanted to do. I was surprised when I saw the piano. I thought I was joining a guitar-driven rock band. What he unveiled was next-level, epic proportions songs like “November Rain,” and even songs like “Coma” that were 10 minutes long and I was like “we’re really stepping outside the of the box here.” We could have made AC/DC records or another Appetite for Destruction. But we didn’t. We went into this bigger-than-life, big tom fills. Axl didn’t want want to make Appetite for Destruction again, even though how can you beat that? You can’t. It’s perfect in its own right. Use Your Illusion was supposed to be one record but ended up being two.
Which of those two albums do you like more?
I like both [Laughs.]. The songs I liked the most were “Double Talkin’ Jive” and “You Could Be Mine.” Those would probably be my two most representative tracks that I would go back out and play with the guys if they wanted me back for two songs. I also loved playing “Dust N’ Bones” with Izzy. There’s a lot of good songs on those records.
Having read Slash and Duff’s books as well, it’s hard not to have the view that the Illusion tour was unlike any of that time. Especially St. Louis and Montreal.
At the time it was pretty crazy and scary at times! But at the same time, looking back, it wasn’t anything that was staged or posed. We were that band. Our leader Axl had a certain way of doing things and looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way because the rest is rock and roll history and it made for fucking some great shows. I remember going out certain nights where we’d be late and I would think “fuck man, I’m gonna beat the shit out of my drums.” I was pissed off and it’s a very difficult thing because as a performer, you gotta get yourself ready to go up there and play for two hours. We just never knew when that was gonna be and a lot of times, made for a lot of really amazing musical tension on stage. That’s all the inner workings that go into it. braiding energy that. That is the definition of rock and roll.
Could that happen today?
I think that’s the problem with maybe rock and roll today is like, Where’s that band? Where is that? Music has become so corporate with the big conglomerates of Live Nation and AEG. So, you have to act accordingly. That doesn’t include rock and roll, fucking behavior.
To have lived through that era…
I’m a guy who never thought he’d make it in rock and roll. To be a part of that band, I’m very honored and it’s a real feather in my cap being there in that pivotal time. I came to Hollywood with a dream. I could have gone home with my tail between my legs, like every other musician that came to that town thinking they’re gonna be a rock star, but I did.
Velvet Revolver, too. It flamed out pretty quickly, but that was a big band.
We did really well. I’m super proud because I was an original member. I had a lot more say in what was going on. We were already all in our 40s and we all got in really good shape. People were like “is that Matt Sorum looking all skinny and shit” and it was like “Yeah, I worked at it.” The timing was good and there was good rock and roll happening with bands like Queens of the Stone Age and a lot of inspiration to come out fresh. We made a great first record. The second record is good too. We didn’t go into it thinking we’re a supergroup per see but Slash and Duff wanted to do another band. We didn’t try to be GNR, we wanted it to be its own thing, which is good, and Weiland really loved Axl. But, the old demons came back to haunt us and shit got weird. Money, the same old shit and the wheels came off.
It’s rare that you even got to the point where the second life in rock happened. It’s not usually the case and the way the band just ended with that 2012 show is a great what-if.
That was an interesting time. Scott wanted to do it. I remember him talking to me about it backstage. I remember thinking, let’s try. We all tried to talk about it, but it just never came to fruition. And now it never will.
What’s the best story from the book that got left on the cutting room floor?
I can’t remember exactly. It’s funny because I had these experiences with guys like Phil Spector and Charlie Sheen (before he started doing the vampire blood thing or whatever that shit was). I left a lot of that stuff out. I think I tell one of the Phil Spector stories because I worked with him in the studio quite a bit. Crazy shit, right? I left a lot of unnecessary sexual stuff out. I didn’t need to tell another one or else it starts to get goofy.
Do you have any regrets about how things worked out with any of the bands?
I wish I called Ian when I left The Cult. We still talk, I wished him a happy birthday and stuff like that. But we were really close back in the drinking days of the band. I think I remember saying something but those are the kinds of things you see where it’s like “well, maybe I need to pick up the phone.” You start to realize that it’s pretty easy to clean up the resentment of someone else or whatever. I’m glad you mentioned it because maybe I’ll do that. [Laughs.]