Velvet Revolver shoots down critics
Seattle Times music critic
"It's sweet, sweet revenge," Duff McKagan said, followed by a conspiratorial chortle. "Heh-heh-heh."
The tattooed, leather-clad, bleached-blond rock star, known for playing his bass so low-slung it almost touches the floor, was talking about his latest band, Velvet Revolver, coming Friday to the Everett Events Center.
Naysayers doubted VR would survive because it includes several ex-junkies, including McKagan and lead singer Scott Weiland. Ex-Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash and drummer Matt Sorum also have had drug problems in the past (rounding out the band is second guitarist Dave Kushner).
"There were so many skeptics," McKagan said, calling from his home in Los Angeles, where he was spending a few days with his wife and two daughters before going back out on tour. (He also has a home on Lake Washington and a cabin on Lake Entiat — he's a big water-skiing enthusiast.)
"They were saying, 'Aw, they'll never get their record made. Scott or somebody will fall off the wagon, something will happen.' Then we got our record made."
"Contraband," released about a year ago, debuted at No. 1 in Billboard, has sold 3 million copies and is still going strong."Then they said we wouldn't make it through our first tour. And here we are starting the 11th leg. We've been all over America, Europe, Japan and Australia, and we're gonna keep going all through the summer."
Velvet Revolver isn't the first significant rock band McKagan, a Seattle native, has been in. He was a member of Guns N' Roses, the Los Angeles-based bad boys who made aggressive hard rock hip again in the late 1980s, when bland, thumping disco and hair-swinging pop metal were all the rage.
GN'R had a short, troubled run, falling apart in a mess of drug problems and personal squabbles. But it left in its wake some of the best rock songs of the '80s, including the snarling, swirling "Welcome to the Jungle" and the raw, bluesy "Sweet Child O' Mine."
McKagan, 41, a Roosevelt High School dropout, grew up in the University District, the youngest of eight kids. He says he's been in at least 30 bands since his early teens, most of them in Seattle, including the Fastbacks, Ten Minute Warning, the Veins and Crisis Party.
Within days of stepping off the bus in Hollywood, at age 19, he answered an ad in a music paper and joined a band called Hollywood Rose, soon to become Guns N' Roses. Through Seattle contacts, he booked their first show, at the long-gone Gorilla Gardens in Pioneer Square. The band's plans of incubating in Seattle were thwarted when they were paid only $50 of a promised $250 fee, because only 20 paying customers showed up. McKagan said they stole some money from the joint, then high-tailed it back to L.A. He called the adventure "a total bonding experience for the band."
The few short years of Guns N' Roses superstardom left McKagan rich and famous. After GN'R fell apart, he was in a few other bands, including Loaded, put out a solo CD and played on friends' records. But eventually he came back home, quit doing drugs and got married. Just a few years ago he could be seen here in a pop duo called the Gentlemen with Dave Dederer of the Presidents of the United States. They wore suits and ties and played mellow songs while sitting down.
"I was a full-time student," he added, "a finance major at Seattle U. I cut my hair all off. I wanted to go there to learn. I was Michael McKagan. But they figured out who I was."
He went to L.A. in 2002 to attend the funeral of drummer Randy Castillo of Ozzy Osbourne's band. At the wake, he played for the first time in years with Slash and Sorum. It felt so good, they wanted to continue. McKagan tapped Weiland to be the vocalist after his band, Stone Temple Pilots, had broken up, due to Weiland's several court-ordered trips to detox. McKagan knew Weiland was clean, healthy and eager to get back to work.
Their first hit single as Velvet Revolver was the incendiary "Slither," helped by a sexy video in which Weiland dances wildly onstage, shirtless, as is McKagan in some scenes. That was deliberate.
"If you're a junkie," he explained, "there's no way to hide that. Especially if you're taking off your shirt. Junkies don't run around onstage, and junkies don't live to be 40 years old."
I told him he looked younger than that in the video.
"No," he replied earnestly. "Not younger. Patrick, we're wiser."
Now they're working on their sophomore album, writing songs to be recorded in the fall.
"It's great to be back in a band that means what they do and does not compromise," McKagan said. "We've written so much material and jelled so much more. We've found our identity, who we are. We started to find that out on the road. And we found out that there is no envelope for this band. It can go from one extreme to the other and still be the same band. For me, it's a high water mark. You go into rehearsal and every day you have to be on top of your game.
"Our reputation precedes us, and there is a curiosity factor, the Evel Knievel factor. And there is the music-lover factor."
McKagan said he and Courtney Love recently sang GN'R's "It's So Easy" together in Las Vegas, as celebrity guests at a clothing-store opening.
"I'd talk to her a couple times since I've been sober," McKagan said. "This time she was sweet, just really nice, and healthy. She started apologizing to me for what Kurt [Cobain] said, criticizing Guns N' Roses, and I said there is nothing to apologize for. That's rock 'n' roll."
McKagan was one of the last, if not the last, person to talk to Cobain before his suicide. They flew together in first class from L.A. to Seattle in April 1994.
"He said, 'Man, I just escaped from Exodus' [a treatment facility]. I didn't have any foresight that the guy was going to do what he did. I could tell he was bummed out, and I'd been that way before. We were at baggage claim, and I thought I'd ask him to come stay at my house. I turned around and he was gone.
"What if. Only if. A lot of my friends have died. If only he'd ... " McKagan's voice trailed off.
"But we're alive. We had a band meeting the other night to talk about business and just kinda take inventory, like, 'Is everybody cool with each other?' And we toasted this thing that we've done, that we've done it on our own terms. And it was so powerful. We didn't say it, we didn't vocalize it, but you could tell it was also like — and we're all still alive. When all five of us could have been dead. And we're not only alive, we're stronger than we were when we were 20 years old."
McKagan sounded like he was choking up. But he pulled himself together.
"It's freakin' great!" he concluded.
Patrick MacDonald: 206-464-2312 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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