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Appetites for dysfunction

Guns N' Roses, Stone Temple Pilots vets get their acts together as Velvet Revolver.

June 03, 2004|Steve Appleford | Special to The Times

The machine shop in industrial Burbank is nearly quiet on this April day. Inside is a clandestine rock star palace, where a new band plays with the volume turned low, working up an acoustic set beneath a ceiling of billowing red velvet.

At the moment, almost no one has heard the band Velvet Revolver, or knows much about its upcoming album beyond the pedigree of its key members: Slash, Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan of Guns N' Roses, and singer Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots. They have an appointment at KROQ-FM the next morning for an on-air performance, and they want to make a good impression.

One song is "Slither," the combative first single from Velvet Revolver's debut album, "Contraband," due out Tuesday, the same day as the first of the band's two sold-out nights at the Wiltern LG. The song is already enjoying robust airplay, and it marks an important step for this collision of two multimillion-selling acts, all survivors of good times and bad habits.

Slash, in leather jeans and a mesh T-shirt, sits with his acoustic guitar, muscular and as vibrant at 38 as he was as a decadent young rocker in the 1980s. The rehearsal drifts into the dark country rock of GNR's "I Used to Love Her," Weiland and McKagan harmonizing warmly at the chorus (" ... but I had to kill her").

"It sounds kinda Stonesy, where the voices cross over each other," says Weiland, 37, lighting a cigarette. "It's kind of a train wreck, but it's cool."

Slash smiles. "You sound real good singing that."

It has probably been awhile since Slash expressed much satisfaction about the singer of that song. He had been a key member of the original Guns N' Roses, the hard-rock juggernaut that self-destructed amid the alleged demands and domination of singer Axl Rose. Like McKagan, Slash quit in 1996, though Rose continues using the GNR name with a new lineup.

Slash first reunited with McKagan, 40, and Sorum, 44, at a 2002 memorial concert for the late drummer Randy Castillo. They soon recruited Slash's childhood friend, guitarist Dave Kushner, 37, formerly of the punk act Wasted Youth.

"No one wanted anything to do with anything related to Guns N' Roses for a long time," Slash says. "We all individually had to go through a major growth period."

Finding the right singer took longer, nine months of sifting through a seemingly endless roster of known and unknown vocalists. "We would listen to 300 CDs in a five- or six-hour sitting," Slash remembers. "We'd go in with one attitude and come out wanting to slit our throats."

Weiland, whose involvement with STP came to a tumultuous end in 2002, was invited to join the former GNR players to record a pair of songs for movies: a cover of Pink Floyd's "Money" for "The Italian Job," and the edgy "Set Me Free" for "The Hulk." The collaboration worked, as Weiland wailed across a blend of Kushner's modern guitar and Slash's lead flourishes.

Weiland was a rocker with his own history on the charts, on the road and in trouble. By the late '90s, Weiland was as known for his frequent drug arrests as he was for the dark streak found within his music. Last May, soon after the news of his joining Velvet Revolver, Weiland was arrested for possession of cocaine and heroin, then again in October for crashing into a parked car in Hollywood and leaving the scene.

THE singer, who had served a prison term in 1999, was sentenced to a six-month residential detox program, though he was allowed out to work on the album.

"We've all been through this," says McKagan, who reports he has been drug- and alcohol-free since a near-death experience in the mid-'90s from a failed pancreas. "I've done a 180-degree turn."

Weiland had told them he wanted to end the cycle of drugs, arrest and rehab. Addiction had cost him his band and his family. A year-long separation from his wife and two children coincided with writing and recording the album, and the self-loathing can be heard on such songs as "Big Machine" and "Dirty Little Things."

"I was going through a lot of pain, a lot of anger," says Weiland. "My emotions were just completely on the surface."

The songs reflected a desire to step back from the pop-influenced sound of later STP -- something "to peel the skin off and rub salt all over my music again," he says. The court-ordered rehab delayed the album and tour, but his bandmates understood. Weiland was on a mission to revive not only himself but modern rock.

"I think what has been called rock in the last six years is an atrocity," he says. "We're a band that's in retaliation to white jock rock of the late '90s, the nu-metal sexist morons who have confused rock 'n' roll with the WWF."

A few weeks later, at an invitation-only show at the Roxy for friends and fans, Velvet Revolver rocks hard and loud, with Weiland vamping and strutting, peeling off his military cap, his leather jacket, his shirt, down to nothing more than his silver pants, tattoos and eyeliner.

Then he introduces a torrid emotional ballad called "Fall to Pieces." He calls it "the kind of love song that gets written when she's kicking you out the door. Luckily, there's a happy ending because she's sitting in the audience with my ring on her finger."

It is the kind of epic electric ballad that GNR once did so well, and Weiland wails to a full house. For this moment, at least, one happy ending is shared by a band of embattled journeyman musicians used to something else entirely.

*

Velvet Revolver

Where: The Wiltern LG, 3790 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.

When: Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 p.m.

Price: $28.50

Info: (213) 380-5005

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