When I told friends that I was interviewing in-demand drummer Matt Sorum, I kept getting the same response: "Find out what he's actually like." The stick master is best known for keeping the beat for the Cult, Guns N' Roses, and Velvet Revolver, but he shows his softer side on his second solo album, "Stratosphere," out February 25 under the moniker Matt Sorum's Fierce Joy. The follow-up to 2004's "Hollywood Zen" is a highly personal, orchestrated acoustic album. Sorum writes about the important things in life, like family and environmental and animal activism, and he nods to inspirations David Bowie and Nick Drake in two of my favorite tracks, "What Ziggy Says" and "Ode to Nick Drake."
Download.com chatted with the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer about "Stratosphere," his transition from drummer to frontman and from addict to activist, and his favorite mobile apps.
You released your first solo disc, "Hollywood Zen," a decade ago. How is "Stratosphere" different?
I had never really done anything on my own, especially being in a band my whole life, so I was really in fear of going for it on my own, the first time around. But I think it's much more my album than the first album. I completely produced this album, myself, so it was a very gratifying, cathartic experience. I think I've come a long way as a singer and a writer. I think I've changed a lot as a person. My outlook on the world is different.
How would you say that you've changed?
Well, I've just grown up, I guess. I think as a musician being in a rock 'n' roll band, it just takes a little bit longer; and as guys, living in Hollywood, it takes a while to grow up. People say that as you get older, you have more outward caring about different things. When you're younger, there's more of a focus on yourself and where you're going, so I think I'm much more present with world attitudes and what's going on in the climate, with other people versus myself. The album speaks outwardly more than before. It does have inward stuff. There are songs on the album that talk about family and loss, but there are other aspects that are more caring about other things that are going on outside of my life.
Now that you're coming to the forefront as a solo artist, what are fans discovering about you?
It's going to be interesting for my fans to listen to the record and see what's under the exterior stuff of being in the rock world and see who I really am. I think rock 'n' roll is a little bit of an act, and you're putting on a certain persona that's bigger than life. I'm always going to look at Slash as that guy, because he has that persona. I step into that role, but the other side of me has a lot of depth that I haven't been able to find a platform for. I had a lot of songs that I couldn't give to Velvet Revolver or Guns N' Roses, because they didn't fit the format.
This is me speaking to all my experiences of being in the world for 53 years and where I'm at now and what I think about. It's a weird thing for people to think about how Matt can sing, Matt can write songs, and Matt can play guitar. It's a weird thing for people because they want to keep you in Guns N' Roses. But as an artist, you have to grow. I've been in a band, watching all these guys go out and make solo records, and I said to myself that now, with social media and the way the world is and how music gets out there, it's the perfect time for me to do this, because it doesn't matter anymore. What are you going to do, get on the radio and compete against Beyonce? I can't care less about that. I just want to make music for pure satisfaction, which is why I got into music in the first place. That was very freeing and very cool, man.
And who is Matt Sorum?
My personality is that I'm really a survivor. I'm not saying I'm the greatest drummer in the world, but I always looked at myself as I gotta be that guy. I'm fun to be around, easy to be around, I'm on time, I got my look together. I always try to be a team player for the band, the foundational kind of guy, and from all the mistakes my bands have made, I've learned from those experiences. I said I never want to be "that guy." I always want to be a fan-friendly guy, always want to treat people with respect, everybody. That's why I use Twitter. I use UberSocial. I have this amazing connection with fans, which I didn't get on Facebook. The problem for me on Facebook is it becomes too long-winded and turns into people you don't really want to talk to from way back, like stalker weirdos. The thing I love about Twitter is that I'm able to have these short conversations. And even if it starts out with my animal activism, the things I do for the community, I'll have a negative person there, and they'll say profanities, and I'll try and use the Gandhi approach and win them over in a way that I make them at least listen to my side of the story -- and it's really fun to do.
Environmentalism and animal activism are two of my main passions right now. If you ask people "What's Matt like?", and maybe they knew me from 15 years ago, they'd say, "Matt's a partier, and he loves to go out, and he goes to strip bars." Yeah, I did all that, and I did drugs and drank alcohol and all that. I traveled the world, and my thing was drinking the alcohol of the country I was in, but that was a little bit of me trying to take all of it in. But at some point it was starting to get the best of me, so I quit using drugs and alcohol like six years ago, and then spiritually I've been changing. When I stopped eating meat, a lot happened for me spiritually, too. I felt more open somehow.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is "Ode to Nick Drake." This is almost a rhetorical question, but I'll ask it anyway: Why pay tribute to Nick Drake?
Thank you. I'll tell you. One of my favorite songs was "River Man" by Nick Drake. That particular song was a huge influence on this album, especially with the orchestration and the real strings. And Nick Drake's story, obviously, was brought out a lot later from guys like Beck and other artists that discovered him. He was such a great poet and such a great songwriter that was lost so early in his career, but his music is still so viable and so great.
You've backed up such singers as Tori Amos, Ian Astbury, Axl Rose, and Scott Weiland. What have you learned from your interactions with them?
Patience and tolerance. The most creative frontpeople like Tori and Ian and Scott and Axl [are] always going to be difficult, but that creates a lot of their genius and why they're so captivating onstage. It used to eat me up, like: Why can't you do this or do that? I always looked at it as rock 'n' roll is not that difficult of a job. I learned a lot of things I wouldn't do in my career. I saw a lot of sabotage, a lot of self-sabotage, and I did a lot of that in my own career. A lot of artists come from backgrounds where there's a lot of insecurity and a lot of fear underneath that talent. It's why they're up onstage, going, "Look at me, I'm OK."
When you replaced Steven Adler in Guns N' Roses, how were you received by the other band members?
The band loved me, because we got going right away as soon as I came in, because we did cocaine and they were doing heroin, and I said, "Get off the heroin and do cocaine, and we'll get a lot more work done."
I remember hearing, at the time, that you were replacing him because his heroin use had gotten out of control.
Yeah, he just couldn't handle it. It's like the old Keith Richards moniker. If you've got the job, if you've got this gift, if you're going to take the drugs, and you can't make the show because you're on drugs, then you're out of the band. Steven went further into the party aspect. When I joined the band, yeah, we partied, but we always made sure the gig came first. We would always pace ourselves before the show, a couple beers, a couple shots, but never drugs.
Drugs came mainly after. Once the show was over, the party started all night into the next morning, and then we prepared for the next show. But yeah, my drug use and alcoholism got worse, because I wanted to be part of the gang. I was always a drinker and did my share of drugs before that, but this was next level. It was all part of the time. And it all went into what we brought onstage -- a pirate mentality. We're rolling across the country and taking no prisoners and tearing it up, and that's the attitude. We weren't trying to be anything other than who we were at that point in our lives.
If you could drum for any artist, who would it be?
I've always wanted to drum for David Bowie. He's one of my favorite artists, and you could probably hear some of his influence on my album. I could probably do a good job with Led Zeppelin. There were so many great songs in their repertoire.
You're always on the road with one artist or another. What are some of the mobile apps that you use most?
The main one I'm on most of the time is UberSocial. It's the one I use for my Twitter, and I like it because it's a cool-looking version to get into Twitter, and I like it because I can change my page's look and colors, and it's easy to navigate. And the other one I play around with a lot, which I've gotten connected to my Twitter and Facebook, is Instagram. Initially when I started it, I wanted to be more artsy; I didn't want selfies on there or pictures of my dog. Recently I've been chronicling my travels or pictures with friends, and you can make your stuff look cool with all this post-production stuff. I don't like Facebook as much as I used to, so I just attach my Instagram to it and post from there.
I've got a few cool things on my phone, like I got my Metronome, and I love my Weather app. I'm huge on that because I'm traveling around, and you don't know what the temperature is. I just got into Spotify because I've been talking to my record company about how they're going to hook me up on that, and I've been hearing things about Spotify from the artist perspective, but also I gotta be there, so I gotta do it. But I've heard that the artists aren't being paid. But for my solo stuff I'm going to be across the board. I just met with my new social media girls, and they're so next level.
Oh, and I love my Uber. I'm a huge Uber guy. Oh, Viber, I like my Viber. The thing that's great is I travel so much, so I use that to make the texts, because you get killed on the text costs, especially in Europe, Asia, or Japan. And I got pretty good reception on the Viber phone calls through Wi-Fi. And then I got my Dropbox for my visuals and music ideas. Then there's Hightail, which is like the old YouSendIt, but it comes through an app. If I'm doing a drum cut, but I need vocals put on it, it's a massive file, so I'll send that through Hightail. But the one I use the most is my Voice Memo. I write all my songs on that now. When I did my album, I had everything on cassettes, and all these rips from the last 15 years on cassettes, and I'm sitting there rewinding. Now I sit at my piano playing ideas, and I'll just ship it to someone over Voice Memo. It's such a great little thing. MyCheckFree, a new app for paying your check at restaurants -- I've used it in New York, and it works pretty well.
Congratulations on your recent marriage. Did apps play a role in any of the planning or coordination?
Are you kidding? We used Pinterest a lot for wedding planning. When we did flowers, all the flowers come up, chairs -- Pinterest is incredible. Then we used Etsy. For instance, we wanted some hand fans, so we went on Etsy for that. And the Knot. We had it on the iPad, and my wife was always saying, "Look at this."