When I mentioned to a nurse-acquaintance I was going to speak with Matt Sorum, I was relatively certain she was going to remove her scrubs and offer herself as a rock sacrifice to his glory. I’m glad she didn’t because it would make for future correspondences to be mighty awkward and she would’ve justifiably lost her job. I get it though; there are those musicians who blare through your speakers and attach to your DNA. Matt Sorum’s drumming has embedded itself into my psyche. When I walk, it’s to his beats; when I dance, it’s to his breakdowns.
He isn’t just a backseat driver; he commands the whole damn stage.
Shockwave Magazine: You seem to manifest bands and collaborations out of thin air. What’s the trick to that?
Matt Sorum: Picking up the phone, calling people, saying, “Hey, what’s going on? Let’s rock.” (laughing) I don’t know man, I just have been around most of these guys that I play with for years now. I’ve known Billy Duffy since the 80’s. Robert DeLeo, I’ve been a band with The [Hollywood] Vampires. Steve Stevens, I’ve known since the 80’s, Billy Gibbons. As you tour in a band, what happens is you meet these guys backstage, or on a festival, or you’re co-headlining, or they’re opening, or whatever, and you create relationships. These relationships in rock and roll, there’s this little fraternity of guys that know each other. And girls too, I haven’t had a girl in the Kings of Chaos yet, but I’m planning to. There’s a couple I’ve got on my list. But, you’re fans of each other’s music. There’s a lot of mutual respect. The fact that you can even be in this business and survive, we all know what that is. It’s just sort of internal feeling amongst us that, “Wow, if you’re doing that, I respect you.” Maybe, that’s part of it. After Velvet Revolver, when that band split up, I just started wanting to go play. I wanted to kind of relive my youth in a lot of ways. I felt rejuvenated from music when I started playing. I got a tour together with Steven Tyler and we went to Africa together and I was playing Aerosmith songs, “Tough Stuff” and “Cheap Trick, and I was like, “Man, this it the stuff I grew up on and I love this.” I felt like it was making me a better musician again. I was kind of getting back to my roots and I like the way that felt. I was challenging myself as a musician, not getting lazy and dormant in a band, if you will. A lot of guys, you take them out of their band and they can’t even play other people’s music, they forgot how. The fact that these guys answer my phone calls and I say, “Hey, I’ve got a tour, do you guys wanna go,” and they go, “Yeah!” It’s the same feeling with them, I think. They want to go out and they want to challenge themselves. They want to play for the sheer joy of it, really.
When you talk about challenging yourselves, for the artists who have such different styles as some of your past bands, how do you mesh that together?
Well, I’ve always had to be a little bit of a guy that would mold with the situations that came my way. I came out of the studio, so I was a studio drummer first. Then, when I joined The Cult, here I was learning different catalogs of music, different early performances of other drummers, so I had to listen. I learned early on to have a knack to listen and be able to pick up and stylistically get as close to the original with my own take on it as possible. You know, you want to join G & R, I had the Appetites for Destruction album to learn and I tried to be respectful of the way the music was written, and play it as close to the original as possible, and give a little bit of my thing to it. Give it the Matt Sorum seal of approval with my style of drumming, but being respectful of the way the music was written. So, I would always listen. My wife always says to me, “Wow, how do you listen and just go play it,” and I’m like, “To be honest with you, I really don’t know.” I can listen to a song, I can sit down, and I can play it and my memory of that, and how to do that is- for guitar players, it’s a little different. They’ve got to learn all the chords and learn the solos. But, it’s like when you were a kid, and they all say that, like when I used to play Led Zeppelin, or I played to the Stones, and I learned the guitar part, they all come back and they’re learning these songs again that are all great classic songs. You know, you aren’t playing them every day, but as a musician you become a better musician because you are taking on different stylistic things that you may not naturally play. It just makes you better.
I know you’ve been doing this for a good amount of time. What made you decide to pursue this huge tour collaboration that has kind of an interchangeable, rock idol, set?
I think right now I’m just wanting to go play. The other guys want to go play. Everyone has their perspective gigs and bands they’re members of and part of. I have to find the time for each of these guys to jump in and also not to interfere with their band’s schedules. For me, it’s something that gives me instant gratification. I can get out and play drums, right now, get to a crowd, get to a venue where there’s a good amount of people that want to listen to great songs played by some of the best musicians in rock and roll, and get going. What I’m hoping is that this will morph into a more of a possible steady lineup, but I can’t say that cause I don’t want to say it’s going to happen tomorrow. But, I’m getting return guys a lot, I get guys coming back. It’s turning into a bit of a club. We’ve got our gentleman’s club here. Like I said, we’re going to bring in a couple of girls eventually when they say yes. It’s a little fraternity of rock and roll, if you will. It’s super fun and I pick the people I want to hang out with. There’s no drama, everything’s professional, no agenda, no ego. Everyone is just super cool. That’s really fresh and makes me feel good about doing it to. It’s not difficult.
What I love is, even with all the schematics of working with everybody’s schedules and their careers, there is a freedom in it. A core-rock freedom.
Yeah, there is a freedom. But, if you haven’t been in a band for a long period of time you probably wouldn’t know, that sometimes it can get a little stifling. When you are in a particular band that’s a brand name and has been around for a long time, or whatever, you gotta tour, you gotta go promote an album, you gotta do a ton of press, you gotta do stuff that’s not even involved with the music. Business, you gotta make sure about all that stuff. It takes away from the joy of it sometimes. I’m sure you’ve gone to concerts where you look up onstage and the band looks like they’re going through the motions, they punch the time-clock. Some of these bands, they’ll go out on the road, and they’re on the road for a year and a half, play the same set every night, and somebody’s having an off night, or you know, it happens. It sounds weird, and people will be like, “God, I’ll do anything to be in a band like that,” But, I’m sure you’ve been at your job for multiple hours, day after day, and you’ve got, “God, I’d rather be doing something else right now,” or whatever, but that doesn’t happen here. I don’t let it go long enough where people are going to get in that position. If anyone is having a bad time at it, don’t come back. But, that hasn’t happened yet.
It’s like a musical escape?
I think so. I like to make it super cushy for the guys, easy. Everyone comes and I make sure they’ve got a nice room and they’re flying nice and everyone’s got comfortabilities. It’s like a little bit of a country club kind of thing. I’m going off to the rock and roll country club ,and I’m going to hang out with my friends, and I’m going to play music. That’s the feeling we get. You walk away feeling cool, “We just did that and people came.” We are hoping we can build it up and a lot more people will see it and go, “Man, this is exciting stuff. I dig this.”
I’m in Utah, so I am tortured because it’s so far away.
I’m thinking of a trip, just to see it all happen.
(laughs) Well, cool.
You’ve talked about the kind of monotony that can happen being in a band with certain requirements and expectations. Do you have memories of a show you can laugh about now, but at the time everything seemed like it was going wrong?
I can’t even remember, but stuff happens out there. Not with this particular band. Either we’ve had really great, no drama, sort of experiences. To state the obvious, yeah, I’ve been through a lot of shit (laughing). I’m sure you could Google it and read a bunch of stories, but there are so many. I’ve had that sort of career. I’ve been in the most unpredictable rock and roll bands, probably, if not one or two, possibly three. But, rock and roll isn’t supposed to be perfect. That’s what brings a lot of the greatness to some of those bands, where you’ve had those wild times, you’ve had those wild shows, those crazy things that have happened with the craziness and the wild side that rock and rolls brings, or has brought in the past.
When you say perfection, that’s what I hear most about you when I talk to other drummers and your name has come up. There’s this idea that you have a natural perfection, everything you do is smooth and beautiful. When I talk to them, they might say, “Yeah, everything went wrong that night.” I say, “It happens to the big ones too.”
Yeah, that’s for sure. That’s been the biggest part of this that I like. Yeah, I’m the leader of the band, so the pressure is on me a little bit to make sure everything is running smoothly and I am such an A-game guy. I like everything to be run properly. I’ve got a great crew. I like that because I’ve been doing it for so long. Behind the scenes, you see what’s going wrong and a lot of times you don’t have control of it. I have sat in so many bands where I’m like, “Oh man, that could be done better,” or, “this could be done better,” or, “why are we wasting all that.” So, that is part of the reason there’s pros and cons to it. You’ve got a heavier workload. You can’t just show up and play drums and go, “Hey man that was fun.” There is more to running the machine. You’ve got to be on top of everything, but when it comes down to things done and finished up, it’s on me. I’ve been doing it long enough I think I have an idea of the way things can work without it being too much drama.
I think there’s some poetry in that. I feel like a drummer is somebody that leads and glues everything together. So, a drummer leading these huge collaborations makes sense.
Well, yeah! Thank you. I feel the same way (laughing). Here we are, if you look at the drummer’s perspective of a band, you’re the foundational core of the band. The band guys might never say that, but the reality is if you stop playing drums the whole things just stops, right? You’re really driving the train there. You’re really the guy that’s cranking up the engine and the horses are out of the gate. There’s been bands that are run by drummers, Lars Ulrich runs Metallica, Don Henley runs the Eagles, Dave Grohl runs the Foo Fighters, and the list goes on and on. You can look at a lot of these bands and go, “Wow, hey that’s interesting. I never thought that way.” Larry Mullen runs U2, a lot of people think it is Bono, but it’s not. Charlie Watts has a lot to say about what goes on with the Rolling Stones. They are behind the scenes guys. People always think of the drummer as, “Well, he’s kind of behind the scenes, does he write music?” “Oh well, I don’t know.” “What’s he do?” “Well, he plays drums.” I’m like, “Well, not really.” There’s a lot of guys in a lot of big bands that you’d be surprised how much input they have in what’s going on.
I think the drummer has to listen to everybody more than anybody else has to.
Yeah, you’ve got to be team player and a mediator at times. You’ve got to be the peacekeeper. Musicians say to me, “Ah man, how do you do it?” Well, you know, there’s a lot that goes into it, be professional, have a good attitude, show up on time, don’t be a pain in the ass, all that kind of stuff. In any job identification or going into a workplace, “What am I bringing to the table?”
I love what you’re doing. Especially for somebody like me who loves so many different genres of rock, getting the chance to hear someone pulled from so many different versions to sing these classics is- I want it.
Get on the plane, we’ll see you there.
When Matt Sorum tells you to get on a plane to watch the greatest minds of rock have a jam session, you do it. I mean, why the hell wouldn’t you?