Matt Sorum’s Fierce Joy: “I’m not ‘Matt Sorum of Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and the Cult’ I’m just Matt Sorum, I was born that way. “
Matt Sorum was born in California and has lived the American rock and roll dream, rising through the Sunset Strip club scene to international stardom. Matt went from playing legendary haunts like “Gazzarri’s” with his early band Chateau to working with superstars like Tori Amos, The Cult and of course, the band he landed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with, Guns and Roses. Through it all and to this day, Matt has built a tremendous reputation as a drummer but with the release of his new solo project “Matt Sorum’s Fierce Joy” he is taking his music and his listeners on a completely new journey. Matt’s new album, “Stratosphere” is a truly personal and artistic trip through his life and influences with Sorum stepping to the forefront and delivering inspired lyrics and vocals to interesting and sometimes unexpected songscapes. I recently had the chance to speak with Matt about the album and more; read on…
Legendary Rock Interviews: Hi Matt, thanks for calling, it’s hard to forget the last time I spoke with you since it was at the kickoff show for Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusions tour in Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. It’s a venue with a lot of history but that date was definitely a really big deal, do you have any specific memories of that exact date?
Matt Sorum: I do actually, I do remember that date. I remember a lot of guys coming out to see us. I have an old photo of the guys from Metallica who came up and I remember the coolest thing was my dad was there. My Dad’s still alive, he’s 81 but that was a really cool thing having him there and I have an old picture of he and I there. The other thing about that whole time in Wisconsin was that we stayed over there for about a week before that show because I think we were doing pre-production and stuff. We were at the Americana Hotel, which was the old Playboy place where we actually went and finished the record that very same week. When we played Alpine Valley we hadn’t released the “Illusions” records yet and we actually finished a couple of the songs on the album over there in Wisconsin, there was a recording studio (Royal Recorders, Lake Geneva) and I remember me and Duff had to go in there and do background vocals and I think Axl had to sing a lead vocal. We did a song called “Don’t Damn Me” and another song called “Ain’t Goin Down” which is actually only on the Guns N’ Roses pinball machine so I remember all that stuff yeah (laughs).
LRI: Your new album “Stratosphere” seems to evoke a lot of influences of yours going way back to even simpler times than those days. There’s almost a 60’s or 70s feel and it sounds even more personal than your last album, is that fair to say?
Matt: I think so yeah, I think this album is really my album and it’s much more my voice than my first solo album (2004’s Hollywood Zen). I think I was a little nervous going into that first record and just not knowing how I would be able to fare on my own so it ended that I had a lot more collaboration on that effort. This record has a lot more to do with me going through a lot more in terms of personal things and revelations and things like that when it came time to write this album. This record was really a product of good timing for me spiritually and it felt good making it.
LRI: As far as the sound of the record this is a really natural, intimate sounding record with rock moments, a big change from what people might expect from your resume. Is some of that a result of your being comfortable embracing your influences ?
Matt: Yeah, I think it’s a different side of me musically from what I’m doing when I’m playing drums for the bands I’ve been in. I’ve always loved a lot of different styles of music so as a songwriter and a singer I find myself walking around the house singing Neil Young songs and Bob Dylan songs and Beatles and Bowie stuff that I can relate to vocally. So that stuff was a big influence on this record and it kind of fell together organically when it came time to write it and also in terms of the band that I put together. I knew I wanted the record to have that organic feel to it, a record that I felt confident performing up in front of an audience with an acoustic guitar, being the songwriter/singer guy. It had to be something that would feel real to me and feel natural. The influences on “Stratosphere” are very strong in terms of representing the other side of my tastes in music, if you will…
LRI: There’s a Bohemian Hollywood vibe to the whole thing that appeals to me as a Doors fan. Are you a big Doors fan?
Matt: Oh of course! You know, I was very fortunate to be able to play with Ray Manzarek when they got inducted into the Sunset Strip Music Festival Hall Of Fame and I’ve always been a Doors fan. I’m a Hollywood guy and it’s almost like their spirit is part of the environment here. There’s this sense that Jim Morrison always kind of lurks the streets of Sunset Strip. When I wrote “Killers and Lovers”, that particular song I was very much into that whole Doors “The End” kind of sound and the dark undercurrent of the city kind of trip. I kind of morphed The Doors and Taxi Driver when I wrote that song. I was initially thinking of a Wurlitzer piano kind of vibe really on that song and there is a piece which is very, very Jim Morrison, a spoken word thing called “Stratosphere” that is sort of Gil Scott Heron meets Jim Morrison over a musical section which is just something I’m into. A lot of people don’t know that I’m into that sort of spoken word, beat poet stuff too. I like that stuff so I threw that little piece in at the end of the album (laughs).
LRI: Some people get their wife’s name tattooed on their body but you got a portrait of her done on an episode of “L.A. Ink”. You are not afraid to take risks but this album is a true risk and you are really putting yourself out there as you are a famous drummer releasing a true solo record. You’re following your muse and being a true artist and a critic or cynic could say you are being self-indulgent. There’s always been the stereotypes over the years regarding drummers. Do you feel like drummers are still taken for granted in terms of being musical?
Matt: Yeah, I think that is an old stereotype but I think people are becoming more comfortable with drummers being upfront again, they were, especially from when I was a kid, they were a very important part of the music. I mean, god bless Led Zeppelin for never really going forward without John Bonham because it was such the sound of the band or even the Beatles with Ringo, who was a huge influence on me and so many others. Ringo just gave me and my album a huge shoutout on a video which is out there now which was great. He understands where I am coming from releasing this album because we had a conversation about what it was like for him to go out on his own and be Ringo. It was a huge thing for him but he always did write songs and the band always let him come up front and sing on “Octopus’s Garden” and all of those kind of songs. He had his own personality and voice in the band and I can’t say I have always been able to do that but I have always sang vocals on stage and in the studio and I’ve always been very involved behind the scenes as far as arrangement in the bands I’ve been in and there’s a lot of other stuff about me musically that people just don’t really know about. On this particular record this is really just my take on how I feel musically right now in my life and the beauty of it is I don’t have to worry about a record company, I don’t have to worry about having a hit. I can just make music and make art for art’s sake. That was a really good thing for me at a really good time, it was really cathartic.
LRI: Does having a more evolved view on life or a more secure personal life allow you to be more productive musically?
Matt: I think it just takes you someplace else. That’s why a lot of young bands, like for instance, Guns N Roses when they came out with those early records, those guys and I were young guys and there was a different kind of angst in the air. It was sorta all about rebellion and we were really throwing an ideal out there as far as what rock and roll was meant to be. The whole vibe of that band was born of that passion for being a bunch of insane pirates who would say some shit that would scare some people. That’s not to say that I’m boring and old now but I think I’ve definitely matured from that point and maybe that I am just concerned with different things. Maybe in my twenties I was thinking about chasing girls and getting drunk and now I’m thinking about what’s the future for my kids and what’s going on with the world and what’s happening with the environment, what kind of food are we eating and all kinds of altogether different stuff than I was twenty years ago. You start thinking about life and death and all kinds of different things when you’re a little bit out of “the haze” if you will…being in a band like Guns N’ Roses was kind of like being a part of this massive machine, it was kind of like being on a crazy roller coaster at that time. It was a different experience and different music came from that or was a product of that whereas now where my music is a little more of a reflection that I’m more comfortable in my own skin, more comfortable where I’m at creatively. The song that opens the new album, “The Sea”, kind of sets the tone in terms of that, it’s a song about spiritual awakening. It’s about who I am. I’m not “Matt Sorum of Guns N Roses, Velvet Revolver and the Cult” I’m just Matt Sorum, I was born that way. Opening the album with that song was a big message and was really important to me.
LRI: I heard about how Lemmy influenced the name of this project. How soon after talking with him did you decide to go with the name “Fierce Joy”?
Matt: I always liked it after he said it, it stuck with me and I just love Lemmy so much and when I went on tour with Motorhead it really gave me a different take on what it meant to play rock and roll and how blessed we all are to be out there playing rock and roll and how we are able to, in a different way, have an effect on a lot of people’s lives. At the end of the day, it’s all about whatever gets you through the day whether it’s Motorhead or Joni Mitchell or whatever. So when Lemmy said in this interview that his life is like “fierce joy”, the way he put it and what it meant just stuck with me because he is such an intelligent and profound man in his own right. I called him up and I said “Lemmy, I really love what you said in that interview and I was wondering if I could use that?” and he said “Huh,…What…what?” (laughs)and I said “Fierce Joy, you said your life was like fierce joy” and he said “Yeah, it’s yours, go ahead and use it”. So I call my project Matt Sorum’s Fierce Joy because I understand I have to put my name on it to get it out there and to do interviews with gentlemen like yourself but I would love if I have any form of success to be able to morph it into just being a band called “Fierce Joy” and not have to be “Matt Sorum’s Fierce Joy” just because I have to go out and do press or whatever. So, that’s the name story.
LRI: You’ve said that some of the material here goes quite a ways back to some material you had recorded on cassette tape. How much did the material change from it’s original form? Did you get a chance to elaborate greatly in the studio?
Matt: Oh yeah, the stuff that was recorded on cassette tape was very raw, just little riffs and little ideas I had compiled. If I get an idea I have guitars all over the house. I’ve got three in my bedroom, one in the office, a couple out in the living room and if I get an idea I always have to make sure I get it down, otherwise I’ll forget it. So when I have an idea, if something just comes, I’ll get outta bed and go put it down. Now, I’ll just put it on my voice notes on my iPhone but back in the day I would just have this little cassette player and I would put ideas on it and when I went back to listen to it it was just little melody lines and little riff ideas and I just took it from there. As I was writing the album I wrote some songs at the very last minute like “The Wild Ones”; I wrote that and “Lonely Teardrop” at the end of the album process.
LRI: Was it easy to get out of the “drummer” way of thinking and work with other percussionists?
Matt: Oh of course because I’m in awe of other percussionists. The beauty about drummers is that every drummer is completely different, there’s no two alike and everyone’s got their own style and the magic of that is that the music is always gonna sound different regardless of what the song is and depending on the drummer of that song, a different drummer’s gonna have a different rhythm, a different feel. On this album for the drummer I went with someone the bass player Paul Ill recommended… Brian McCloud and I love him as a drummer. He’s more of a singer/songwriter type of drummer, he’s worked with Sheryl Crow and then for percussion, I also brought in my friend Scott Breadmen who is one of the greatest percussionists who’s worked with Jose Feliciano, Lindsey Buckingham and on and on….these guys are monsters and I can say as a percussionist that there is a lot of percussion on this album. On “Lady of the Stone”, during the entire track, the drums don’t even come in until the chorus and that’s the only song that I play drums on. The song “Land of the Pure” has no drums, it’s all percussion as is the song “Goodbye to You”, there might be a little bit of brushes in one part but for the most part it’s all percussion.
LRI: Was it fun for you to watch all these other musicians work with you on your material?
Matt: Well yeah, the fun of being a producer, if you were to ask Rick Rubin, the fun of it has got to be putting great people together. You’re literally just collecting great talent, meaning, “I’m gonna get the best engineer, I’m gonna get the best drummer, the best bass player and on and on”. That’s why so many of the best records were made by studio players, guys who were the greatest players who could come in and play any song and you had albums like “Steely Dan” and all of these seminal records that were put together primarily by studio musicians. Those producers were well schooled in the art of “collecting” so to speak and I worked from that same sort of concept and thought “Ok, who are the best guys for this job”. I brought in my friend Alain Johannes who’s worked with Mark Lanegan and Arcade Fire and he’s a buddy of mine who lives down the street. Both of us have studios in our houses and it’s like, how are you gonna make a record these days with no money, as cheap as possible? You call in your friends and you all get together and just create which ends up really being the beauty of it all.
LRI: Well thanks for talking with me Matt. It’s a great record and it sounds cliche but it’s a perfect “spring” record for driving around with the windows down or kicking open the doors and windows of the house and just letting the music breathe.
Matt: Thank you, I’m glad you enjoy it. It’s a really great sounding record and it was created just by all of us getting together and connecting. In the old days with the big bands and the big record labels and big budgets it was all about “Ok, go to the big studio, spend all the money, spend, spend spend. It was really gratifying to be able see this all the way to release without all of that. I did all of the artwork on the album with a really young artist and worked on all the videos about making the album with another young artist and I’m making a video for “The Sea” with an incredible young filmmaker and that’s coming out here at the end of March. It’s really gratifying to see that it can all be done the way I want it to be done and still be done without all that big money budget.
LRI: It’s probably my favorite release from you since the Neurotic Outsiders record you did with Steve Jones and John Taylor.
Matt: Oh thank you, I really enjoyed that record too. I just ran into John the other night and I said “When are we doing the Neurotic Outsiders reunion?” and he just laughed (laughs). Of course I still see Jonesy and of course I see Duff, he’s one of my closest friends and he was in my wedding this past October.
LRI: Hopefully you can get out there and do a few sit down acoustic dates to promote “Stratosphere”, it would really lend itself to a “Storytellers” kind of evening.
Matt: I hope to as well and am working on a number of things so just keep an eye out on my Facebook and Twitter because there will definitely be some announcements as things continue to develop with Fierce Joy.