Velvet Revolver’s Duff McKagan has seen and done it all. Simon Rushworth caught up with one of rock’s survivors.
DUFF McKagan, best known as a founding member of Guns N Roses, does not deny he has an addictive personality. Once it was hard drugs. At various times it has been alcohol. But now the all-consuming focus of his fast-paced rock star life is music.
Specifically the music of rock vanguards Velvet Revolver, the vibrant new home of McKagan, fellow Gunners Slash, Matt Sorum and Stone Temple Pilots’ lead singer Scott Weiland.
When I catch up with McKagan, it is only hours since Weiland has checked out of his latest 28-day stint in rehab. The vocalist’s latest battle to get clean led to the cancellation of VR gigs Down Under and there are no assurances the UK leg of the tour will finish as planned. At least not from McKagan. “Scott is OK as far as I know but I can’t say he’ll be fine when the tour kicks off or when it finishes,” said a man achingly familiar with the problems of an addict.
“You just never know. Addiction is crazy and I should know. I can’t be cagey and say, ‘Oh no, we’re going to be fine and everything’s going to go without a hitch’. The truth is I just don’t know what will happen.
“I don’t want to read this interview where I’ve said there’ll be no problems and then for us not to finish the tour. I don’t want to have to eat my words. All I can say is that right now I’m confident it will happen and we’ve never sounded better as a band.”
Weiland was always a strange pick for Revolver. Well known within the music business as the proverbial loose cannon, and now in the throes of reforming his original band, the raspy frontman lives a life of unpredictable twists and unforeseen turns. There are those who claim that is what sets Weiland apart from the average rock god but his mere presence means VR fans are never quite certain of what the future holds.
“Velvet Revolver is something that’s going to be around for a long while yet,” added McKagan with genuine conviction. “Because of the individuals involved, there are always going to be things going on around the band that will confuse fans once in a while but we’re here to stay. Slash and I have been doing this job for 20 years and nothing is going to get in the way of what we’re doing now.
“This band is the main thing in my life. It’s the thing that I need to fulfil myself mentally. It’s the perfect way for me to express myself musically and artistically. It’s not something that I look at in a commercial sense at all. That’s what will guarantee its longevity.”
At their chart-topping peak, McKagan and Slash were frontline figures on a Guns N Roses roster described as the most dangerous band in the world.
And for as long as that world awaits the fabled Chinese Democracy record from Axl Rose and his new cohorts a slab of live Velvet Revolver is as good as it gets for those of us who hark back to the glory days.
“This is pretty much the last time we’ll tour the Libertad record,” added McKagan, referencing last year’s second VR release. “It’s always good to end a tour cycle on the upswing and that’s guaranteed with the theatre shows in the UK. The people who are paying to see us this time around are pretty much the hardcore fans. It’s a great way to end a tour and head into a new writing cycle for the third album. The UK is still the best place in the world to tour if you’re a rock band. The fans have always been the most knowledgeable and I’ve thought about this a lot over the last 20 years.
“Word of mouth is still better than ‘word of internet’ so to speak. It’s stronger and more tangible and that’s still how bands and records become popular in the UK. The country is an island and even in this global age it’s cut off and very individual in its tastes and attitudes.”
Miss VR at Newcastle’s Academy and there is no doubt you will miss out. Just don’t go looking for a supergroup short on quality but bursting with attitude.
“It’s great to have two records under our belts now and two albums’ worth of original material,” said McKagan.
“That’s been so important in terms of identifying this band as Velvet Revolver and not just another so-called supergroup made up of ex-members of Guns N Roses and Stone Temple Pilots.”
Velvet Revolver play Newcastle’s Carling Academy on Wednesday, March 19.