Scott Weiland: "I understand Axl Rose a lot more now"
In a world exclusive, the former Velvet Revolver singer gives Classic Rock his side of the story, just days before he was sacked from the band
"I guess the problem at the moment is that I have some great things ahead of me and I’m in a band that I’m not getting along with who are junkies and fucking tramps and are trying to pretend they are fucking St. Francis!”
Scott Weiland is, to use an American colloquialism, pissed. It’s Easter Monday, the day before Velvet Revolver’s first night at London’s Brixton Academy, and Weiland’s relationship with the band is in meltdown. Right now he’s aggrieved because he claims the management have confiscated his passport to prevent him absconding before the end of the tour. But he is also very optimistic about future prospects, including a reunited Stone Temple Pilots tour, a solo double album and a biography – all happening this year.
Wearing a skinny black suit and Wayfarer shades, he looks like a hybrid of Bob Dylan and John Cooper Clarke – the epitome of grunge chic. Still very raw and emotional from a recent and much-publicised stint in rehab, in this interview – a week before his sacking from the band – he speaks openly and uncensored about his grievances with Velvet Revolver, the tragic death of his brother Michael, his ongoing battles with addiction and the re-formation of Stone Temple Pilots.
What’s your take on the Velvet Revolver situation?
There’s a lot of baggage that comes with the band, and a lot of displaced anger. Y’know, when I first joined Velvet Revolver I already had issues regarding the politics of a rock’n’roll band. When you’re the frontman and the person who writes the majority of the music – all the melodies, all the lyrics – the person who comes up with all the creative ideas – video ideas, concepts for covers, that sort of thing – eventually other band members start looking at you.
Initially you’re the asset, especially in the first couple of years. You’re the one who has to give all the interviews – when times are great and when times are not so great. So suddenly people are saying: “Why is he getting all the attention?” Well, sometimes none of the other guys want the attention. Well, they want the attention but they don’t want any of the responsibility that comes with it. Which is one of the issues I brought with me from STP [Stone Temple Pilots]. The problem with STP – which leads into the Velvet Revolver problem – was that we were best friends for a long time. We grew up together as kids. I was 19 when I formed the band with Robert [DeLeo, bass] and I knew him when I was 16. It started out, like every band does, as a gang. And it really never was a case of me trying to jump out and seize the spotlight, because I was really conflicted about the whole thing.
I don’t mind doing photo shoots, and I don’t mind doing an interview if it’s an important interview. Talking to Classic Rock – that’s an important thing. It’s a respected, legendary magazine. I’m not one of those people who are into saturating the media. If you have an important thing to say, then say it. But along the way with STP our communication broke down. It was this great band with this great chemistry. We were not only great songwriters together, it was based on camaraderie, experience, the friendship I had with Robert. All this ended up breaking down because of resentment we never spoke about. It ended up with Dean [DeLeo, guitar] and I having fist fights.
So there was this period of time before Velvet Revolver that I really didn’t want to play in a rock band again. I was knee-deep in recording my solo record. I was in the process of putting together my record company and I was producing other bands. I co-produced two of the Limp Bizkit records. Not my favourite band by any stretch of the imagination, but it definitely put me on the map as a producer. I also had kids and didn’t want to spend the rest of my life on the road.
But those guys [Slash, Duff, Matt Sorum and Dave Kushner] were looking at a bunch of singers and doing a movie. They were sending me CDs of songs, and eventually I heard some stuff that I found intriguing and I started to get to know them a little bit. I felt a kinship with them in the beginning because they had gone through some shit with their previous band.
From the outside you and those guys getting together looked like two people coming out of horrendous divorces: relating to each other’s experience, but also having the baggage that comes with that experience.
Definitely. But it was almost like coming together off a rebound. At first it was very exciting and we did jive. We had the same common interests. Duff and I shared a lot of the same musical interests with punk rock. Matt and I shared an interest in experimental music. Dave and I had known each other from back in the days of playing clubs in Hollywood. And then you had Slash and I who were – and I don’t want to come over as self-serving – two iconic figures, which the media tried to turn into a Mick/Keef kind of thing. We did have that gang-type camaraderie at first. At the same time, I was in the worst period of my drug addiction I’d ever gone through.
Was Slash messed up too?
Not at that time. He was just drinking a lot. He hadn’t done drugs in a few years. He seemed pretty cool at the time. Duff had been sober for a long time and Matt had been sober for five-and-a-half years. Dave, of course, was as solid as a rock.
So VR was a musical thing that looked like it could be promising but it also looked like it could be a life-raft. These were guys that had walked the same streets that I’d walked and in the same shoes. They were totally supportive and non-judgemental.
In the last couple of years in STP the guys had become very judgemental. And, to sort of jump ahead a little, ironically Dean [DeLeo] ended up getting sober a couple of years later and came to me and said: “Listen, man. I need to make amends to you. I was a horrible hypocrite. I was strung out too.”
You told me in our last interview [CR107] that you were getting the brunt of STP’s criticism, while Dean was getting wasted at home.
Yeah. There were some tours where we would be smoking crack and heroin together. And then the next tour I would say: “Alright, let’s get on with it.” And he’d say: “What are you talking about, man? Get your shit together!” But he made amends to me. And I was shocked because he had gone to rehab and he’s been clean for some time now.
But going back to Velvet Revolver, at the time it seemed like a completely different situation to STP. It felt like the most non-judgemental situation, because the first six months was like a process of me getting clean. The first thing to go was the heroin, then the cocaine and then the pills. Then I got into treatment and I got clean. I was clean and sober for two years and then I started drinking. And that all seemed cool for about a year, but then it started escalating.
During that time is when the guys started falling off the wagon. Matt relapsed and went into treatment, then Duff relapsed and went into treatment, and then Slash had his situation. So everybody in the band ended up falling off, except for Dave, of course. At that time I was maintaining my problem in a sane way and I really didn’t fall off intensely until my brother died.
I was going to bring that up. It seemed a too little too current the last time we spoke, as you had been to his funeral just a week before.
He was a great guy. Very smart, very well read, a great writer. He was very loving, a great dad. He unfortunately didn’t love himself as much as he loved other people. There were years where he and I were just ripping and roaring together, and then unfortunately we were never clean at the same time. I was loaded, he was clean; he was loaded, I was clean. We could never be on the same page, on the same schedule, to support each other.
Did you write the song For A Brother, on VR’s Libertad, before or after he died?
I wrote it for him when… It’s the most fucked-up story. He had a custody date in court. There was a restraining order against him and he was going to be able to see his kids and have visitation again, which would lead up to partial custody. We’d been getting along the best we had in years; he spent Christmas with me.
Two days before the court date he did the same thing he always does: whenever something good is going to happen he shot himself in the foot. And he went out and got loaded and got arrested for possession. So that completely fucked up his situation. He turned up at court and told his wife what happened and that he wouldn’t be able to see his girls for a while and to tell them that he loved them. She told me afterwards that she had a feeling that she wasn’t going to see him again.
I was so angry when I heard about it that I never called him. I felt I had to wait a week before I called him, to let it sink in. So I never had a chance to talk to him again. I got a call when they found him. I had to go over and identify his body. Nobody knows for sure if it was intentional. When I got to his place he was laying on his bed with his sheets pulled up to his chest. There weren’t any works nearby. I feel that he just sort of gave up, died of a broken heart. There were drugs in his system but not enough to kill a junkie. There was a note on his fridge door that said: ‘Live for Sophia and Claudette’ – his daughters.
So that’s when things started going downhill for me. The family came out and we kind of had a wake for a week. I started drinking non-stop.
It’s strange that you responded to your brother’s relapse and tragic death by relapsing yourself.
Exactly! It was a bad year. My mother got cancer. They got the cancer but she had to go through radiation therapy. My grandfather got really sick with heart disease and emphysema. A lot of bad stuff happened that year.
You also split up with your wife. How do you deal with all that? Where does all the stress go?
How did I deal with it? It was even more confusing. Because in the band I was playing with, until then we were covering each other’s backs and then suddenly it all started evaporating. Suddenly these guys who had all fallen apart themselves became extremely judgemental. When they went through their shit I was the last person that would be judgemental after what I had gone through in my life.
The relationship I had with Matt became horrendous. He and I had come close to fist-fights so many times that it’s ridiculous. He has an attitude with lead singers. It’s a problem he had before Revolver – in Guns N’ Roses and The Cult. And, who knows, maybe even before that. Slash and I have always been able to maintain, except on a few occasions, a professional relationship. Duff and I have usually been close. Then everything started to erode. I couldn’t believe I was in this situation where I was getting ostracised by people who had been in the same fucking situation that I was in.
So while all this was going on I had been talking to the guys in STP and we said: “Let’s get back together. This story’s not over.” I feel like we have the best shit ahead of us. I definitely didn’t want to put Velvet Revolver to bed. I also don’t believe in overstaying your welcome when you are touring a dead album.
We toured our first record [Contraband, 2004] for a long time because it sold three-and-a-half million copies. But when you have an album that didn’t do that well, you don’t tour it for over a year. You take a break; you wait for the songs to happen. Like Keith Richards said: “You don’t fucking labour over songs.”
So the whole thing with STP doing a tour and some festivals was a perfect window of opportunity, while the rest of the band could have been taking some time off, working on some song ideas of their own. And then when I was done Velvet Revolver could get back together.
Right now it’s like a relationship that’s dead in the water, where you need space to figure out if it’s important enough to last. The band need time out to sit back and let the creative juices flow, and also time away to realise what everyone’s part is in why things have gotten to the point that they’re at. Now, I’m not saying that I’m innocent in this, but everybody’s at this place where the fucking finger is getting pointed and they’re all pointing the finger at me. When you think about it, isn’t it ironic that the band is regurgitating the same story that they did with Axl Rose in their last band, where the lead singer was being demonised? Originally I thought: “What a troll he must have been. What an evil man.” But you know what? I have to say that I have an entirely different opinion of him today.
That’s a turnaround. Last year you verbally laid into him in a very public manner.
But y’know what? That was a long time ago and I’d heard a lot of stories. But there are two sides to every story, and having been in this band I actually feel for the guy and understand him a whole lot more.
Is it true that VR’s Australian tour was cancelled because you relapsed and the band and management insisted you went back into rehab before going on the road?
Oh, that’s a bunch of bullshit! There’s absolutely zero truth in that. The band had nothing to do with me going into rehab at all. I never even had a conversation with them about it. I wasn’t even speaking to them at the time. As a matter of fact they didn’t even know that I was going until the night of the show.
Did you do that impulsively?
I was talking to my manager – who is not their manager – and was trying to get a bed at this place. The only person who had an idea that I was going was Matt, cos he went to the same place when the original tour got cancelled. What happened then was I went to dry out for three days at a place my shrink has, because I was drinking a lot. We were supposed to leave for Australia, but Matt came to rehearsals and was so fucked up that the band sent him back to rehab. That’s the reason the first tour of Australia got cancelled. A tour gets cancelled, and regardless of what Matt’s offences were no one pays attention to that because, to be quite honest, no one really gives a shit.
A couple of months later I was saying to my manager: “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I want to go back into rehab again.” I was looking for a place by my house but the prices had changed from five years ago. So Matt directed me to a place in Orange County. It’s fucking ironic that the band says they asked me to go, because I tried to stop the tour earlier and go. So eventually I said: “Fuck it! Book me a bed and after the gig I’m going.” So I packed a bag, did the gig and split off without them even knowing. So the last couple of shows [in the US] we didn’t do. But y’know what? It was more important that I went, because I was in a miserable place. It was the first time in years that I went to a rehab place because I wanted to.
Coming out rehab this time and going straight on tour must have been quite a shock to the system. You must be in quite a raw and vulnerable place.
Yeah, but it’s not like the first time I’ve done it. It’s what my life is, really. But it has changed my philosophy to the concept of what Velvet Revolver is about. With this band everything is about touring. I think by this time we should have made three albums. But we’ve spent nearly the entire life of this band on the road and I’ve missed a lot of things in my children’s life because of it. At this point I prefer recording. At least it gives you something a little more thrilling to do while you are touring. Something more challenging than playing It’s So Easy/Sex Type Thing every night.
I think the emotional let-down was that we achieved something special. We pushed the envelope and created something unique and then blew it. The initial goal was to tour our albums and not fall back on our old catalogue from our respective past. What ended up happening was exactly the opposite. We ended up falling back on the old material because there’s not enough confidence in what this band is about. It seemed to be more important to play the old rock stuff than build up a legacy with the new band. And it just became not fun. I think I have a lot more to say musically.
There have been rumours on the net that during the last shows you’re going to destroy the stage or just split prematurely.
Oh, I can’t do that, because the management have threatened to arrest me. How do you figure that one? What is this, a fucking Mormon Tabernacle Choir?!
Wouldn’t an alternative to this heated situation be that you all cool off, do your separate projects and then regroup and see how the land lies?
I think they should get Guns N’ Roses back together, to tell you the truth. I think that would be the greatest thing that they could do. I think the world would be very happy. If they could stop talking trash about Axl in the press. It almost happened. The pens were ready to sign. With the Greatest Hits there was a possibility but there was too much stuff being said. But it was a close call. I would love to see that happen, as a Guns N’ Roses fan. I’d pay to see it.
Alexander Milas of the Metal Hammer Magazine Show sat down with Scott Weiland backstage at the Rock On The Range Festival this summer to talk David Bowie, childhood and remaining true to yourself.
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This article originally appeared in Classic Rock #119.
For more on the ill-fated Weiland and Velvet Revolver when the going was good, then click on the link below.