MATT SORUM - “My Cocaine Consumption Went Into Overdrive, I Realized I Would Die If I Didn’t Stop”
May 9, 2022, a week ago
Double Talkin’ Jive – True Rock N’ Roll Stories From The Drummer Of Guns N’ Roses, The Cult, And Velvet Revolver is the title of Matt Sorum’s long-awaited autobiography. Co-authored with Leif Eriksson and Martin Svensson, featuring a foreword by ZZ Top frontman Billy F Gibbons, this terrific, eye-popping read will be available in both physical and digital formats on May 10 via Rare Bird.
Most notably, Matt was behind the kit for The Cult from 1989 – 1990, and again from 1999 – 2002. He played in Guns N’ Roses from 1990 – 1997, and was a member of Velvet Revolver from 2002 – 2012. He’s also played with: Slash’s Snakepit, Neurotic Outsiders, Kings Of Chaos, Motörhead, Hollywood Vampires, and Deadland Ritual to name but a few. Furthermore, he’s been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. With a career as impressive as Sorum’s, setting out to chronicle all those amazing events, and more, into a single book is no easy task.
“It was a lot of work,” admits Matt. “It’s always interesting when you’re trying to write your life story, and you’re actually editing stuff because there’s just so much sh*t that happened. I didn’t want it to feel quirky, but at the same time, up until the very end, the very last chapter, my life’s been pretty much full tilt boogie. Ups and downs and arounds, and everything else… that’s the way it came out.”
Matt’s confidence and honesty are on full display in Double Talkin’ Jive – which takes its title from the name of a song on GN’R’s Use Your Illusion I. At age 14, Sorum saw KISS in concert for the first time at Long Beach Arena in California. After Peter Criss’ drum solo, Sorum thought, he’s not very good. If he can do it, I can do it. “That’s what my buddy said to me who was standing next to me, after we got tickets for $5,” recalls Matt. “We were in the fifth row, and my friend says, ‘You’re as good as him.’ I said, ‘I am?’ The thing that was so beautiful about KISS was, it was simple music. Everyone could play it; you could play the music. It wasn’t progressive music which I was into. I can’t say I was a huge fan (of KISS) at the time. I was more into Genesis and Deep Purple. Everyone was into KISS – you could play the guitar parts; you could play the drums. I remember thinking, ‘Sh*t, I could do that.’ That’s when I gravitated to, ‘I’m gonna be a rock drummer, that’s what I’m going to do.’ It was a real lightbulb moment, like bam! Then I had support from my music teacher, and that sort of elevated me. That voice from someone that believes in you… as I say at the end of my book – I work with kids now – I remember those moments so vividly because it changed my life and my destiny.”
Drugs are a very big part of the Double Talkin’ Jive book, and Matt’s life; they very nearly changed his destiny. At age 18, Sorum started selling weed and cocaine. In fact, he says, “My cocaine consumption went into overdrive, and I realized I would die if I didn’t stop.” Elaborating further, Matt offers the following: “Yeah, that early portion of my cocaine use was interesting because I put the brakes on it somehow, which is hard to say. I don’t believe I was an addict when I was younger. I didn’t become an addict until much later in my life. I remember putting the brakes on, then heading up to Hollywood and getting the gig with The Cult. I was a heavy drinker cause those guys were Brits; we drank! Cocaine wasn’t really part of the equation with that band. We drank alcohol, and we had a good time. Me and Ian (Astbury, vocalist) would get a little out of control and we would overdrink, get hammered. But it wasn’t a cocaine thing. That didn’t really come until I joined GN’R – cocaine was there all the time. That became part of every party / activity that we were involved in. I think it was a way for us to drink more alcohol. We could do more coke, and we could drink more. We used to call it the great levelizer. It was like, ‘I’m f*cking drunk, let’s get some blow.’ That’s just what we would say… it was a way to keep going, stay up all night and keep drinking.”
Prior to even joining The Cult, Matt went from neighborhood drug dealer to international smuggler. Two kilos of cocaine illegally transported from California to Hawaii, taped to his body in small pouches. Sorum did this half a dozen times and put the brakes on. Without missing a beat, Matt’s roommate picks up where he left off, and his very first run gets him 20 years in prison! “My intuition was, and still is, fairly astounding,” asserts Sorum. “Obviously, when you’re doing cocaine, you’re paranoid anyway. But it wasn’t paranoia, it was more intuition. I felt like a voice from above said, ‘This is it. You need to get the hell out of here.’ Luckily, I did, because as I state in the book, I could have been in prison. It was 20 years for international smuggling in those days, if you get out in ten, you’re lucky. If that was me, my career would have been over. I never would have had the experiences and life that I have now. Luckily, everything just turned on a dime then and I got a phone call that The Cult was looking for a drummer. I knew I had to get out.”
“That was another sort of moment where I was going through this cocaine thing. You’ve got to remember, that was the ‘80s. It was almost like the movie Blow with Johnny Depp. That’s just the way things were. It was Orange County, Long Beach, everyone was dabbling. If you were young, you were partying, and that’s what I did. But once I made that move back to Hollywood and got in The Cult, my life changed for the better and my career started to take off. I got out of that lifestyle that… as I say in the book, the guy that was the dealer was also a bandmate of mine.
We had a band, that’s how we made a living. We didn’t really want to work. In those days, with that came girls, and everything else that goes along with that sort of lifestyle. It was dangerous. I felt the danger of it when I got on the airplane, but at the same time it was an adrenaline rush! In those days, you could walk right through the airport. I used to wear a baggy jacket and just get on the plane. There was no security screening, none of that shit. You’d just walk through in the late ‘80s. You always look around, ‘Is someone watching me?’ That was always my feeling, looking over my shoulder. But at the same time, it was like this thrilling adventure that I was on. It’s like that playing rock ‘n’ roll too, when I go on these mad excursions; I was just looking to push it to the edge.”
As The Cult’s Sonic Temple Tour was coming to an end, Matt isn’t shy about stating his annoyance with Ian Astbury, how he was destroying himself. Then ironically, Slash and Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses come to the final show in Los Angeles, and Sorum jokes to his girlfriend, “Maybe I should join these guys instead.” Unbelievably, that joke becomes reality. “That’s a classic manifestation that I talk about. To this day, I always believe in manifestation and setting the stage for your life; and I tell people that. I say, put yourself there and believe in it. I would say sh*t like that and make it appear. Lo and behold, that tour ended, and I end up down at my Mom’s, I talk about walking pneumonia, I’m covered in cancer lotion cause I’ve got a rash all over my body. The phone rings, and it’s Slash. And there it was, that manifestation of this particular situation. My Mom used to say when I was a kid, ‘You’re a dreamer.’ I would always dream, and I would always draw a drum set, bands on stage, imagine all of that stuff – being under the lights. So, the dream is real. Dream it and it can come true. So, when that happened, I was like, holy sh*t! This is a whole other level! When I got into that band, things were completely off the chain. At that time, they were the biggest band in the world; but they were trying to figure out that sophomore effort, that second album.”
Despite being the new guy in Guns N’ Roses, Matt wasn’t afraid to speak his mind. Regarding “Locomotive” from Use Your Illusion II, he actually asked, “Does this song really need to be so long?” “You know what, all those guys were really open. I came in the band, I felt like family right away. Maybe it was because I came from another band that they respected; they loved The Cult. They opened for The Cult in the early days. I just felt like they were regular guys. We were just dudes talking about the music. I remember playing it (‘Locomotive’) going, this could be as good as ‘Welcome To The Jungle’, but we need to cut it in half. I didn’t say it in a derogatory way. We became really open with each other about arrangement. Slash had riffs, Duff had riffs, and Izzy had riffs; I didn’t come up with any riffs, I was just there to support those guys and what they had. We went through all those riffs; ‘Don’t Cry’ was an older song. We used to listen to all these cassettes of old demos, ‘Remember that song, let’s listen to that.’ Then we’d go play it, and it became ‘Don’t Cry’; even ‘You Could Be Mine’ was an older riff, the drumbeat was my beat.”
Throughout the pages of Double Talkin’ Jive, Matt sheds light upon the inner workings of Guns N’ Roses – a scenario that everybody was immensely curious about. They were labelled the most dangerous band in the world in the early ‘90s. Axl’s unpredictable behavior made headlines on all seven continents. Sorum reveals that, “Slash and Duff never dealt with any problems and preferred to pretend they didn’t exist.” Talk about a perplexing admission. “Well, it was very confusing for me. For a guy who’s an A personality like me, it was hard to have that lack of control. It was very uncomfortable. Even as much as I partied and drank, and did everything else, I was always professional. I always wanted to be the most professional guy. Obviously, I went on my little tangents and stuff, but I always showed up on time. I never went on stage loaded. I had a couple of mishaps throughout the tour where I was still up from the night before – whoops, what day is it? But I always got on stage, and I was like, ‘Let’s not screw this up.’ We had those instances with me and Axl… but then I reflect on how great that was. In those days, that’s what created that tension on stage, that anger and intensity that we purveyed, that danger we had as a band because it was real. That’s what I try to say in the book. It’s not disparaging anybody, that’s the way it was. They would say, ‘Matt, just have a drink, relax.’ I’d be like, ‘We got to get on stage!’ I think that maybe comes a bit from me being a little bit more of a people pleaser kind of guy – what about the fans?”
“I’m the kind of guy who doesn’t want anybody unhappy; be it a fan, or the crew. As I state in the book, I have certain things and moments with Axl where I start to understand what he’s going through and understand him as a person. I always say, that’s what made him great. That’s what made him become one of the greatest frontmen in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. He was just, all those things embodied. He had that real sensibility of, this dangerous, unpredictable guy that was going to bring you something different every night – and that’s what we did. Even the band, as on edge as we were, like the one story I tell where he shows up, and we’re standing at the end of the ramp at the Nassau Coliseum; he goes in his dressing room and leaves us out there. I remember we all looked at each other like, ‘God damn it, f*ck.’ But, when we finally did hit the stage, it was all out, f*cking reckless abandon up there. I’d be beating the shit out of my drums, Slash would be smashing away on his guitar… it was a mix of frustration, anger, alcohol, drug-infused, piled on top of one another, created this great rock ‘n roll energy. I look back at videos and go, ‘F*ck man, we were pretty good.’ I tell the story, but I try to shed light on… well, I’m glad it was that way. At the time, it was difficult to understand.”
Fast-forward to the Chinese Democracy era of Guns N’ Roses, and after four years in the studio, there’s only “one verse and one chorus.” Despite sharing his displeasure with Slash after what happened with Snakepit, Axl essentially fires Matt from Guns N’ Roses for defending Slash. Again, making fans aware of something they previously didn’t know about. “Well yeah. In retrospect, I really didn’t have much to say. I wasn’t the guy to make any decisions. I just wanted to try and be the voice of reason. If I had to do it over again, I would try to figure out a way to get everybody to sit down and talk. We did that one night, it didn’t work out. Slash left, and that was it basically. We just never had any time when we were able to figure it out. We were younger guys; it was crazy what was going on. It didn’t make any sense cause it was all so convoluted.”
In his book, Matt shares his feelings post-dismissal from GN’R: “I guess I should have been sad, but I felt more relieved than anything.” That’s quite the testimonial. “At the time I did, I felt relieved. But then I got home, and I was like, f*ck! I’ve just been fired from the biggest band in the world, what am I going to do next? It was a moment of, ‘Oh my God, what happened?’ I sometimes think, what would have happened if I had just stayed there? I look back at it and Axl’s a loyal guy. He thought maybe it would be different if everyone would just stick together; I know that was his feeling about Slash going off and doing his own thing. Reflecting back on it, he was probably right. Look at bands like Metallica – there’s no solo albums. They’re not going out doing their own records, there’s certain bands that stick together, like U2. Certain bands are all about the band all the time. In Axl’s defense, he’s like, ‘This is Guns N’ Roses. Slash, you don’t need to be doing Michael Jackson and Slash’s Snakepit. Put all the energy into this band.’ I guess maybe I could have said that to Slash back in the day, but I didn’t think about it that way. But I do now, and I understand it. As I state in the book, me and Slash wrote all those songs to give to Guns N’ Roses, and Axl was like, ‘This isn’t good enough.’ So, we went and recorded that first Snakepit record because we felt like, ‘We like these songs.’ But if I had to do it all over again, I would have said, ‘Slash, forget it. Let’s just keep writing more songs and try and get GN’R going. The train’s going off the track, let’s focus on the day job.’ But I didn’t think about it that way at the time, I was more in Slash’s corner, I guess. That’s the only thing I would have done differently.”