Duff McKagan

Velvet Revolver is everything the band's name suggests and much more. This is modern rock with a sense of danger and beauty that's been missing for far too long. Their suitably explosive yet gorgeous debut effort Contraband marks the spot for a new beginning from a band of rock & roll brothers united by some legendary pasts and a suddenly brighter future.

The idea behind Velvet Revolver remains a powerfully simple one. "There is no real concept to me," explains guitarist Slash. "We set out to make music we enjoy and can feel proud of playing -- music that people we like will want to listen to. As soon as you start thinking beyond that -- about wanting to keep up with the Joneses or about fitting in with somebody else's format -- that's when you lose the map. So we've just done what we do, and tried to have a cool time doing it."

Everything you've heard about Velvet Revolver is true. This is the band that brings together three former members of one of rock's greatest groups Guns N' Roses -- Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Matt Sorum -- together with one of rock's most charismatic frontmen Scott Weiland, formerly of Stone Temple Pilots, and guitarist Dave Kushner, ex-Wasted Youth, Infectious Grooves and Dave Navarro's band, among others.

While Velvet Revolver inevitably offers a few echoes of its members' illustrious pasts, their sound is defiantly forward-looking and truly fresh in all senses of that word. Slash, McKagan and Sorum came together to play a benefit/tribute for their friend and fellow musician Randy Castillo in 2002. The buzz of playing together again got the three thinking. "There was still something very powerful and intense between us," says Slash

"That chemistry never went away," says McKagan.

Sensing enough time had lapsed since their less-than-pleasant departures from Guns N' Roses, the trio linked with Kushner -- a high school friend of Slash's who had been playing with Duff in recent years. "He's our secret weapon," says Duff. "He plays amazing textures and he can handle himself with Slash."

After some false starts with other musicians, the four decided to try an unusually open call for a new frontperson. Documented by VH1 cameras, this process turned out to be long and sometimes painful.

"We heard so many different singers, and every singer lent itself to a different vibe," Sorum recalls. Unfortunately, the vibes were usually not too good. "As soon as we heard the vocals that people were sending in, we knew we were in trouble," Sorum remembers. "And we knew we just couldn't put out some shabby rock tribute. It had to be something special."

As Dave Kushner remembers, "The experience really was brutal. There was nothing fun about it except for the fact that I got to go and play with these guys five days a week. It was just really disheartening and frustrating at times. But in the end because of all the time we spent looking, we went a lot of different places musically. It seemed like we were killing time, but we were really building the foundation."

Fortunately, as the Great Lead Singer search was going on, Duff was spending time socially with Weiland, then still with Stone Temple Pilots.

"I was sort of at the end of my rope, mentally and emotionally with STP at the time, though we've actually sort of made up since our last explosion," Weiland explains. "Duff told me he'd gotten together with Slash and Matt and that Dave Kushner was also playing. Now I've known Dave for years since he was in Electric Love Hogs who I use to play on bills with when STP was known as Mighty Joe Young. And I was a huge Guns fan. Appetite For Destruction had the same impact on me as Never Mind The Bollocks by the Sex Pistols, Nirvana's Nevermind and Jane's Addiction's Nothing's Shocking."

For Weiland, the idea of joining forces with this foursome proved enticing. Then when Slash dropped off a CD of some of the music the guys had been recording, Weiland was impressed. "There were like fifteen songs out of the sixty that I could really wrap my head around," Scott recalls. "I thought if we went in that direction, we could turn into a five-headed beast which would be completely lethal and indestructible."

With Weiland, the project became a living, breathing band. "This guy has lived," says Matt. "Because of where we've been as musicians -- and the kind of frontman we were next to for all those years -- it is pretty tough for any guy to step up immediately and be able to stand next to a guy like Slash or Duff. Those guys are rock stars in their own right. To front this band, we needed someone who was above and beyond, and we got one."

For Slash, "We were like a bunch of kids who just learned how to play the same chord together. That's what it's been like every time we've done something together. We're thrilled, like 'Hey, we wrote a song!' 'Hey, we played a gig!' Maybe that's why this has worked -- because we're actually the opposite of jaded."

Early in its evolution, the group released the song "Set Me Free" on The Hulk soundtrack and recorded a cover of Pink Floyd's "Money" for another movie, The Italian Job. When it came time to sign a deal and record their first album, the band chose RCA in part because of the interest of Chairman Clive Davis. "Clive actually flew out here and courted us, and he watched us rehearse along with his little posse," Slash remembers. "It was really flattering because he's such an icon and he's been doing it for so long and can really recognize something."

That decision made, it was time for Velvet Revolver to take aim and make their first album, "Contraband."


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