When You’re Younger You Can Get Away with Murder: A Conversation with Matt Sorum

by Robin Sinhababu

Matt Sorum

Matt Sorum is one of the music industry’s most prolific and sought after drummers, best known for playing with Guns N’ Roses and The Cult but also celebrated for his work as a producer and bandleader. He is currently drumming for Kings of Chaos, a star studded band he put together currently featuring members of Cheap Trick, Deep Purple and more, who perform today, June 10th at ROT Rally. And be sure to read Robin’s interview with fellow Kings of Chaos member Glenn Hughes here.

Robin Sinhababu for Ovrld: Do you remember the first time you were in Austin?

Matt Sorum: I’ve got to say that first time I played here was with the Cult, in ’88 or ’89. I remember staying at the Four Seasons.

Ovrld: Do you remember where you played?

MS: I want to say it was at Stubb’s BBQ, or one of those. You know what, it might have bigger in those days. We were pretty big then. Probably whatever arena was around.

Ovrld: City’s changed a bit.

MS: Oh my God. I remember going out to Lake Travis; I was going to buy a house out there. I called my guy, and in retrospect – it was like a hundred and fifty grand, on the water, with docks – nothing. Now, that came out probably $2-3 million. But that was a long time ago. I remember it being really beautiful then. I liked it, and I gravitated toward it. And since then, a lot of friends of mine have moved down here.

It comes up in conversation all the time when people from L.A. go, “Hey man, I really dig Austin.”

Ovrld: What is it with rock’n’roll and motorcycles? Why do they go hand in hand, especially your brand of rock?

MS: Oh, man. I think rock’n’roll, it’s an energry, it’s a rebellion, it’s freedom, it’s being yourself, it’s all the same statements as being a biker. Rock’n’roll is a lifestyle, rock’n’roll is an energy. Everything you feel on a motorcycle is rock’n’roll.

Ovrld: You’ve said before that you wanted to “relive your youth” with Kings of Chaos. Thinking back to that time, have the shows indeed felt that way, or is the experience of being onstage very different now?

MS: Well, you know, I’ve been really fortunate to be in a bunch of great bands. But a lot of the guys that I invite along on this thing, they’re heroes of mine. There’s a few decades of rock’n’roll represented here. I still – in my opinion – think some of the greatest rock’n’roll bands came out of the ’70’s. And the ’80’s were a little bit of a weird time for rock’n’roll, and then we had a bit of grunge in the ’90’s, which was some good stuff. And a few good bands came out of the ’80’s. But in general, most of the great rock’n’roll bands came from the ’70’s. So I’ve got Robin Zander from Cheap Trick, probably one of the most underrated American rock’n’roll bands. And then I’ve got Glenn Hughes on this trip, from one of my favorite bands growing up as a kid, Deep Purple. I was more of a Deep Purple fan than a Led Zeppelin fan when I was in high school. You know, everyone was into Led Zeppelin. But I was into Deep Purple, mainly because of the drummer. Everyone loves John Bonham, and that was obvious, but Ian Paice was one of my favorite drummers, because he was a little faster, he had a lot of chops. I was really into that band. So I got Glenn. And then I’ve been doing gigs with Steven Tyler, and obviously that band came out of the ’70’s.

Ovrld: And you had Gene Simmons in there for a minute, right?

MS: Yeah, we were doing a gig in South America, and that’s the first time Gene’s ever done a gig outside of KISS.

Ovrld: Is that so?

MS: Yeah, he’s never really gone out and joined another band. I somehow talked him into it. With a big fat check! Ha ha ha!

Ovrld: Well, let me ask you about that. For you, is running this band like playing booking agent, or casting director?

MS: Yeah, I cast the band, I cast the roles. I’ve been in so many bands as a drummer – after Velvet Revolver, that was so much energy being put into building a new band. People don’t seem to realize the amount of time and energy that goes into making that happen, but it was years and years and years of us, just getting the record together to be able to then hope to have success. You know, to have radio and all the publicity. We spent probably three months just doing publicity on this record before it came out. That’s not even playing music, that’s doing interviews, photo shoots. I don’t think that people think that we work for a living, but we definitely do. They think that it’s all fun and games, but the reality is it’s a lot of work.

So when I came up with Kings of Chaos, after the Velvet Revolver experience, I was just not ready to go through the whole process of trying to do a new album, original material. I just wanted to go out and play.

People want to hear the hits. They want to hear shit they know. They come to a show to be entertained. They want to see a great show, and they want to hear great songs. So I’m like, “Fuck it, I’m going to put together a band of superstars, and chock full of hits.”

Ovrld: You were once in a scene loaded with hard rock bands, not yet famous and playing small clubs and maybe house shows. Is it weird to see bands with an arena-ready sound, playing small venues?

MS: Well, for instance, I just went to see Metallica in Philadelphia. And I saw them at a theater in L.A. before they started this big stadium tour. Lars [Ulrich] called me up and invited me, it was like “friends and family.” Tiny gig. Like, 1800 people maybe, tops, and that’s tiny for Metallica, right? We went in there, and I was like, this band is way too big for this venue! Because the volume of Metallica and the power of Metallica, right? I told Lars afterward, “Holy shit, dude, you guys about blew that building up.” It was almost too much, right?

And then I went to see them in Philadelphia, and they were playing a sold out stadium there, 52,000 people. I went to the gig, and I sat out at the board with my wife and watched the show,  and I went, “There’s a fucking stage for Metallica.” They’re a stadium band! That band, the bigger the better. It’s like, “Holy shit, look at that.” And I went backstage and I told Lars, “That was fucking awesome.” That’s the kind of stage they need to be on.

I think the problem with a lot of these young bands that are coming out, is they’ll never be able to represent a stage that size. You have to be a real entertainer to keep an audience in a venue that big. Somebody like Billy Joel can do a stadium, Elton John. AC/DC, bands at that level. They happen to have that person that’s going to be able to captivate that audience.

Ovrld: How did you join this band, Y Kant Tori Read?

MS: You’ve got to remember, it’s Hollywood in the mid-80’s, right? If you weren’t in a certain demographic, you weren’t going to get a gig, you weren’t going to get work, and you weren’t going to eat. New Wave music was happening at the time. Early ’80’s in Hollywood, there was no rock’n’roll. It was bands like the Knack, and Plimsouls. Punk was around, but it wasn’t commercial. The New Wave music was commercial; the Knack was commercial. [So was] Blondie, who actually came out of punk rock, and became a new wave band.

I was that guy who was trying to work. I met this girl, Tori Amos, who’s now a huge singer-songwriter in her own right. And we started a band. I found her – I was playing in a little club, and I introduced myself, we started a band, and we decided to call it Y Kant Tori Read. I had a fucked-up hairdo; Flock of Seagulls was big. Duran Duran, there was that whole New Romantics thing going on in England entering over to America. So I cut my hair, kind of like a rockabilly hairdo gone bad.

Y Kant Tori Read Tori Amos

Y Kant Tori Read, an ’80s Hollywood band that featured Tori Amos and Matt Sorum before their careers exploded

Ovrld: I’m looking at this press photo now. Which one are you? The curly blond one?

MS: The frilly blond in the back.

Ovrld: That’s a great photo, man.

MS: My hair’s really fucking curly. I figured out how to get it a little straighter, but I’ve got really curly hair. Obviously, in the G’n’R era, I had really curly hair.

Ovrld: You and him on the right both look about as white as a sheet, too.

MS: That’s probably because I was doing a lot of drugs.

Ovrld: Well, let me ask you  – with Kings of Chaos, what kind of partying are y’all doing these days? Is it like old times, or is it a bit different?

MS: A lot different, but we definitely party on stage.

I don’t want to die. When you’re younger, you can get away with murder.