Matt Sorum, versatility is his success
Matt Sorum was born in Long Beach, California in the Rock ‘n’ Roll heyday of the ’60s. About 20 miles away from the cultural and musical explosion taking place in L.A., he had no choice but to blaze a Rock 'n Roll trail. After watching Ringo Starr of The Beatles on Ed Sullivan, Sorum became entranced by the drums and had to pick them up. The Beatles opened the door to Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Doors, and inspiration took hold of him.
At 14-years-old, Sorum was wailing with his band, The Prophecy, alongside the likes of Van Halen and Devo - at The Whisky-A-Go-Go and Crazy Horse West. Rock ‘n’ Roll had always called to him, but he embraced it with an unshakable grip. Over the next few years, Sorum honed his chops for people like Belinda Carlisle and King Solomon Burke, solidifying his reputation as a go-to studio drummer. In the midst of balancing 40 gigs at a time, Sorum crossed paths with Tori Amos while she was playing in a hotel piano bar. Immediately, they connected, forming Y Kant Tori Read. After rocking clubs for two years, Atlantic signed the band. Amos went solo shortly after, but opportunity came to Sorum. He joined The Jeff Paris band, recording for Polygram in 1987.
The next step skyrocketed him into the consciousness of music fans worldwide when he auditioned for The Cult. Sorum rocked all over the world with The Cult, on tours with Metallica and Aerosmith. He was back home in the summer of 1990. Duff McKagan and Slash of Guns N’ Roses caught the tour-ending gig and were blown away by Sorum, quickly asking him to join GNR.
With a mere month of rehearsals, the band recorded the landmark—Use Your Illusion 1 & 2. A marathon of touring followed for three years, playing stadiums with sit-in guests such as Brian May, Jeff Beck, Ronnie Rood, Steven Tyler and Elton John. GNR hit The Freddie Mercury Tribute at Wembley Stadium, as well as four sold-out nights in Los AngelesLA at The Forum and Madison Square Garden. In the meantime, Matt’s inimitable playing continued to infiltrate the pop culture consciousness as GNR songs popped up on soundtracks ranging from Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Days of Thunder, to Interview with a Vampire and Gross Pointe Blank.
In 1993 GNR received two Grammy award nominations and two MTV Awards. Selling thirty-million records with Guns N’ Roses, Sorum joined forces with Steve Jones [The Sex Pistols], John Taylor [Duran Duran] and Duff for Neurotic Outsiders, recording an album for Maverick rocking star-studded weekly gigs at The Viper Room in 1996. While Guns went through various evolutions, Sorum crushed on solo tracks for Duff, Slash and Gilby Clarke.
Officially moving on from GNR by 1997, Sorum brought his talents behind the board. He produced a Top 40 single for Poe entitled “Angry Johnny” as well as tracks “Hello” and “A Rose is a Rose” for Hollywood Records. Realizing he had a natural knack for bringing the best out of artists, he formed Orange Curtain productions. He completed six film scores and produced platinum-selling artists including Candlebox, Sen Dog of Cypress Hill, Little Milton and Ronnie Spector.
However, the drums still beckoned him. Upon finishing a two-year stint rocking with The Cult, Sorum found himself in the studio with McKagan and Slash. The three shared a chemistry that could never be matched, and they founded Velvet Revolver. With Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots singing, Sorum released two explosive albums with Velvet Revolver—Contraband in 2004 and Libertad in 2007. World tours saw the band etch a legacy of their own buttressed by the hits “Fall to Pieces” as well as “Set Me Free”—propelled by a riff Matt wrote. In addition, “Slither” garnered the band a Grammy for a “Best Hard Rock Performance” and the band received another three Grammy nominations. Contraband also debuted at number one on the Billboard Top 200, selling three-million copies. Matt was inducted into The Rock N Roll Hall of Fame with fellow Guns N Roses members in 2013.
Between the madness of touring with Velvet Revolver, Sorum recorded his first solo record, Hollywood Zen—a pensive, poignant and poetic offering that saw Matt singing as well as playing guitar and drums. As if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, he also joined Los Angeles’s coolest cover band Camp Freddy with Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro.
Camp Freddy’s Los Angeles shows have become legendary with guest appearances ranging from Ozzy Osbourne and Corey Taylor of Slipknot, to Juliette Lewis, and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. Camp Freddy disbanded in January 2014, and now Matt is pursuing his new super-group, Kings of Chaos with 2 tours completed from South Africa, and South America where guests were: Slash, Myles Kennedy , Joe Elliott and more. The upcoming tour will include guests, Steven Tyler and Billy Gibbons.
Matt also joined up with Alice Cooper, Joe Perry and Johnny Depp to tour Europe and the US with Hollywood Vampires, starting with warm -up gigs at the world famous Roxy on the Sunset Strip, followed by a headlining slot at Rock 'n Rio in Rio, Brazil.
The Vampires also appeared on the 2016 Grammy awards performing an original track entitled “Bad as I am” followed by a tribute to the late Lemmy Kilmister with a rowdy version of “Ace of Spades”
Sorum has also released his second solo album entitled Matt Sorum’s Fierce Joy which is quite a departure musically, hints of Americana folk, lush strings where Matt is singing as well as the writer and guitarist on his album entitled Stratosphere.
The future is most important to Sorum though. Right now, he’s producing Ace is High’s highly anticipated debut and working on his non-profit Adopt the Arts , Matt’s charity to keep music alive in schools, as well as a host of non-profit and charity gigs on the horizon.
Drums still speak louder than words for Sorum and he’s using them to spearhead one Rock ‘n’ Roll revolution at a time, in the studio and live. —Rick Florino
By Moshe Reuven Sheradsky October 2019
MR: Hi Matt. Thank you for taking the time for this interview.
MS: It’s my pleasure and thank you.
MR: Let me start with this question, how does someone, or a band, become that pop culture legend that you guys were able to achieve? What are the things that made you and the band become who you ended up becoming?
MS: Hard work.
MR: I can imagine it must be very hard work.
MS: Yes, it really is. People have a misperception about rock and rollers and bands. I think they think, from what my take is on rock stars and rock and roll and the kind of life that we live, I think a lot of fans kind of look at it like, "Wow, they just magically appeared. This just happened overnight and there they are and look how great they are." But there's so much back story to what goes into creating a band, the amount of hard work, dedication and then the team, you know, the people that are behind the scenes building that machine. That machine they are going to take out on the road. The crew, the management, the agent, the producer for the record, there's so many moving parts within a great band, right?
When you see the five guys on Velvet Revolver, Guns N' Roses, or any of the bands I've been in, it's really about number one, the camaraderie between the band being a perfect storm. Lightning in a bottle. Creating the best music possible and being true artists. Doing what you love and making people understand and believe it. How can you be honest and have the integrity that people are going to believe it.
I see a lot of music on TV and award shows, and I guess I don't believe it. I don't trust it. It's almost like, "I didn't feel that, I didn't believe that." I've been lucky enough to be in bands, a lot of great bands, The Cult, Velvet Revolver, Guns N' Roses, but there was no talk about being successful. There was no talk about having a hit. We just, that's what we did. It was in our blood. I say to any band getting together.
MR: Do you have any advice for other bands that are getting together and just getting started?
MS: Don't get in a band thinking that you're going to be famous, you're going to be successful, or you're going to be rich. Get into it for the right reasons. First of all, do it for the love of the music. If you're good enough and you practice and you have enough savvy to push, you might have success. Then when you do, it's even harder to stay on top. You have to keep up with what's moving and it's even harder once you get there. So, hard work, dedication, perseverance, integrity, honesty.
MR: What do you mean by believable? I think I know, but what do you mean when you say believable?
MS: I just think believable. When you look at somebody, when you look and their art is, a lot of these artists are manufactured. They'll find someone and they'll manufacture the songs or manufacture the look of, especially in the pop world. If I don't truly believe it, I can't watch it. I can't gravitate towards it. The guy, I believe in the pop world, Bruno Mars, I say he's the real deal. You know what I mean by the real deal? Like, Bruno Mars is the real deal as Iggy Pop. Because Iggy Pop believes in what he's doing, and it makes us believe it. Bruno Mars is the real deal. I could be a rocker and still like Bruno Mars, because I look at him and go, "That guy's a real talent. He's the real deal." And Adele, people at that level. I can't say I'm a huge Adele kinda guy, but I get it. I go, "Wow, well I know why she's so big and famous." Because she sings from the heart, she really is a true singer, performer, artist. That's what I mean.
MR: Wow. All right. Very cool. What you were saying before kind of leads into the next question. Earlier, I tried to clarify believable, was drumming something you did everyday growing up because you had this overwhelming passion where every day after school or whatever, you had to go and start drumming? Or did you grow up with a disciplined routine. where you had to make it, so you would force yourself some days? Or was it just about getting girls early on and then it became bigger than that? How did this come about for you that you made it to this level of success from that age?
MS: Music was a bug as soon as I saw the Beatles when I was six years old. It was something like, when you're a kid and you gravitate towards something that you see or sparks interest in you. You could be watching a show on TV and you see cops and you want to become a cop. Or you want to become a train conductor because you see a train go by and you think that's romantic. The idea of rock and roll and music was originally romanticized. The Beatles, and then the Rolling Stones, and that became like, "These guys are my heroes. Then I gravitated towards it. I want to be like that. I want to be like Ringo."
MR: Do you feel this was your destiny?
MS: Yeah, I do. I wanted to be in that position. Like wanting to be an athlete. If you see basketball, and you're a kid and you live out in the suburbs of Chicago, and you don't really know how you will get out of the suburbs of Chicago except for that. Maybe you want to become the greatest athlete you could possibly be. You could see the world. And that's what it was for me. It hit me like a lightning bolt, and yeah, I knew that was my destiny.
MR: So, like that athlete playing basketball, you gave 100% to your drumming?
MS: Exactly. So, what I did was try to be the best I could be. I practiced every day after school. I started a band when I was in the seventh grade. I started playing Hollywood when I was 14, and I didn't really have any other job. I had to keep moving. That's what ended up being my success in the late 80's. So yeah, passion.
MR: In those younger years, was being a drummer something that was accepted by your family and the general environment you grew up in? Were people looking at you strange for always playing the drums and having that passion, or was it something they also were in tune with?
MS: I can't say it was fully acceptable, no. Because obviously, it's a loud instrument, so it's not really great to play around the house when you have my brothers, my mother and my stepfather.
MR: I can imagine.
MS: Yeah, so, I did most of my playing before they got home from work. My brothers would try to get me to stop playing by being brotherly and kicking me around a little bit. I had to constantly sort of work out in the garage and play out there, but yeah, it was a struggle being able to do it. But that made me more resilient. It made me want to play more because I ha/ad to battle through a bunch of stuff.
MR: What about your neighbors? Playing in the garage, did your neighbors get upset with that?
MS: (laughing) Yeah, they didn't like it too much either. When I got really good, everything changed. When I started playing in bands, then everyone wanted to hang out with me. Then everyone wanted to come backstage. Everyone wanted a free ticket. So, as soon as I got talented and really good, all of a sudden, I was everyone's best friend. That's different, right? (laughing)
MR: Socially, was it an accepted thing to be doing, the drumming? Did your parents try to push you in another direction? Like, "What about a doctor?" Did you get any of that?
MS: Oh yeah, my mom was nervous. She was nervous for me to be a professional musician. She didn't like the idea of me playing music for a living. She felt that was going to be a struggle, which it was in the beginning. But I believed in it enough and I would say to people, "Look, there's going to be people who are going to tell you not to do something. But if truly deep down in your heart, you have the intuitive feeling that you can be successful, you need to go for it. You need to drive towards that goal. If you believe it, they will believe it eventually." Because, the kind of thing that motivated me was my internal feeling of manifesting my career and my life.
MR: So, I guess your mom finally got over that fear.
MS: (laughing) Yeah, she got over it.
MR: Do you have any other projects you’re involved in these days besides your bands?
MS: Yes. I'm doing tech now. I have a tech project. I have my charity, Adopt the Arts. We did a big event last night for that. We raised over $150,000. I love doing charity work. I do other things, and I do them with the same passion I did when I was a kid. If I believe it, they'll believe it. I make phone calls and I do things without fear. I take fear out of the equation and I don't hold myself back by saying somebody else is going to say something that I think they're going to say. I don't take that. You can't put yourself into somebody else's head. What you must do is believe in yourself, and that's it, period.
MR: What about people who continue to say, “Just stick with what you know, which is your drumming?”
MS: Well, there's always going to be naysayers everywhere at any time in your life, throughout your life. I don't care where you go and what you do. Those people aren't part of the equation. They're just different obstacles that you need to go through and avoid and move through.
MR: Good advice. Very powerful.
MS: The more you hit barriers and walls, and things that will push you back and you barrel through, the stronger you get, the better you become. And that's been my life lesson and everyone's life lesson if you believe it.
MR: Very true. What do you think you did to separate yourself from the pack to make you one of the best drummers in the world? What do you find that you did specifically? Obviously beyond the raw talent and the God given gifts, what do you think separated you?
MS: Well, I think, like I said, I had sort of a raw audacity to push myself and to be able to get in front of the right people. You could be very talented, but you could be sitting in your garage somewhere in Iowa and no one's ever going to know about you. I made a point of putting myself in the right center, the right circle, of the right decisions and people.
MR: Did you stay in your hometown or move to another city where music was really featured?
MS: I moved to Hollywood. My personality was always outgoing, so I did the best I could to meet people. I truly believe that meeting people through your life is God's way of saying, "This is your destiny." When you meet people, it's a vehicle to go to the next step. Connections of different people together is the best gift, because you meet one person, it turns, one door opens, another door opens. Things start to happen. So, got to get out there, you got to promote yourself. That's the difference. I promoted myself.
MR: Well, I think you did a great job of promoting yourself.
MS: Thank you. I’ve worked at it.
MR: Matt, thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. This has been a treat.
MS: Thank you.
Moshe Reuven Sheradsky
Tru Rock Revival Magazine
Moshe Reuven Sheradsky is Founder & CEO of Wedu, a tech company identified by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest growing companies in America and a potential Inc 5000 honoree. Wedu will be launching a productivity and lifestyle app that has been seen on Forbes, ABC, NBC, FOX and has had celebrity endorsements from figures such as Perez Hilton. Moshe was also a Forbes Tech Council Member in 2018 and 2019, a USF Advisory Board Member, 3x CMO, with a 200,000+ following.