Matt Sorum On Career, Longevity And Making His Vision A Reality!
Matt Sorum’s passion for music is deep-rooted. He received his first drum set at age 5 and his self-described obsession never waned while he formed bands and snuck out at night as a teen to play at Hollywood clubs. As one of the most respected drummers in the industry, he provided the back-beat to countless memorable jams as a member of The Cult, Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver, to name a few. When it comes to rock ’n’ roll, he has seen and done it all.
In 2016, Sorum focused his creative energy on one of his most ambitious projects — Kings of Chaos. A celebration of rock ’n’ roll music, Kings of Chaos gathers some of the biggest names in rock music on the same stage to blow the roof off of venues across the United States! The band recently announced a string of east coast tour dates kicking off December 17 in Montclair, New Jersey. The east coast run will feature the project’s brainchild Matt Sorum, along with Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington, Robin Zander of Cheap Trick, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Steve Stevens, guitarist for Billy Idol, and Robert DeLeo, bassist of Stone Temple Pilots. [Tickets are available at www.kingsofchaosband.com]
How did music take hold of your life and what made you pursue your passion professionally?
I got into music through my two older brothers. In the mid-’60s they were bringing home Beatles records. As I got into junior high school, I was starting to vibe out with my friends and we were into bands like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and all the greats. I started playing drums pretty young and I always say it was because I saw Ringo Starr on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” I really got into the drums at that point. You always say it’s like when the kid sees a fire engine and tells his mother that he wants to be a fireman or when a train goes by and he wants to be engineer. That whole Beatles invasion caught my attention and that was pretty much it! I was like, “That’s what I want to do!” I couldn’t really get it off my mind and was pretty much obsessed to the point where all I will talk about was drums. When I finally got the drum set, I think it was Christmas when I was about 5 years old, I never really turned back! My brother started to turn me onto other records and, as I got into junior high school and high school, I started forming bands. My first experience of playing in front of an audience, where I really got the bug, was when I started coming to Hollywood in my teens. I started playing up in Hollywood when I was about 14 or 15 years old. I would sneak out of the house and tell my mom I was going to my buddy’s house but I would drive up the freeway about 60 miles from where I grew up in Orange County to Hollywood. I started playing clubs like The Whiskey, Gazzarri’s, Crazy Horse West, Starwood and all these clubs in Hollywood. That’s why I really got the bug because I felt the energy of that time, which was the mid-’70s. I started meeting other rock ‘n’ roll musicians and it seemed like there was a real community amongst musicians. That holds true to this day. There was a camaraderie and competition at the same time! You were in a competitive band and, in a healthy way, we were all competing because we all wanted to be successful and, most of the time, famous. I moved to Hollywood right out of high school, when I was about 19, and I never looked back. I’ve been there since 1979.
I fought for 10 years to get a proper career. I didn’t have many other job skills to be honest, so it was kind of like do or die! laughs It was like, “If I don’t have success and pull this off, I don’t know what I’m going to do!” laughs I wasn’t very good at my school activities and I didn’t have any aspirations anywhere else. I was fiercely focused on making it in rock ‘n’ roll. Once I started having some success, I was happy I was making a living. I was able to pay my rent and tour from being in a band, which was the life I had always dreamt of and that still holds true to this day! I’m still doing it and still happy to be at it after all these years.
What is the key to longevity for a career in music?
People say, “Matt has been in all these big bands, he’s gotten into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and won a Grammy. What next?” Like I said, it still holds true, I don’t have any other job identification! laughs I’m starting to dabble in other things really late in my life. I’m starting to diversify and you get into other aspects. I have fallen into interesting projects that aren’t music related but becomes something that I have gained because I have a music career. I think the biggest thing it comes down to is perseverance and sheer tenacity. I say to young musicians, if you even think you can stand a chance in this business, you’re going to have to work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. This isn’t easy. If it was easy, there would be way more bands then we can handle. It’s a difficult business, the music business. First you have to learn the pitfalls and the politics of it. You’re dealing with a lot of personalities, the business, trying to stay credible, trying to have success and trying to have successful songs. I’ve had other musicians or drummers ask me, “Man, you have had a great career as a drummer. How do you do it?” You know what? I put myself out there, I stay positive, I try to stay professional and be on time. You know, I had little bumps in the road like everyone has in life but you just keep trucking. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and believe yourself!
You created a tremendous body of work. How have you most evolved?
I learned a lot along the way. When I first came into bands, I didn’t know anything about the business part of it. I just wanted to play drums and learned the hard way, a few times, what it meant to look out for yourself. As a drummer, you are sort of one of the last people that people go to. Traditionally, they say, “We need a singer. We need a guitar player. The rest of these guys, whatever.” A drummer tends to be a replaceable guy and a guy who is sort of put in the back. How was I going to build my career being someone people recognized with my name in the history books or maybe even in the top 100 rock ‘n’ roll drummers? I think that comes with being in the great bands. I got myself in great bands and I chose the band I was in. They chose me as well as me choosing them. I was asked to join The Cult. I was asked to join Guns ‘N Roses. I was called by Slash and he asked me to join the band. I didn’t chase him down. I had to make the decision of, “Is this a good move for me career-wise to go into that band?” It ended up being a great career choice! That career choice brought me into other bands because I had that pedigree and I had that legacy. Neurotic Outsiders and Velvet Revolver stemmed from that. We had major success with that band — 3 million records sold, Grammys, etc. that came out of that, so as a drummer I have made some good decisions. I didn’t play in every band, and I don’t want to name some names, but I got called for some bands that were big but they weren’t the right kind of band that I would have longevity. If you look at great actors, guys like Johnny Depp, they have a career that lasts a long time, it’s because he chooses the right projects to be involved in and that will build his career, his integrity and what he chooses to do as a musician. To this day, I still try to put myself with the best people possible. I reach out to people who I think, naturally, I might think, “Oh man, he’s not going to answer my phone call.” But you still try! “I’m going to call Billy Gibbons or Robin Zander. I’m going to call Steven Tyler. I’m going to call these guys!” Then you find them saying yes to something you asked him about and you’re like, “Oh my God! Anything is possible!” Now, you’re on stage playing with these guys who you grew up looking up to. So, it’s a whole other level of unexpected grandeur of rock ‘n’ roll. I couldn’t ask for more in my career now, being in a band, it’s maybe not super well-known but musically and artistically speaking, I’m right where I should be! I was there at the height of The Cult, GNR and Velvet Revolver and now I am building a project. I’m building something new that is an exciting challenge that keeps your blood flowing! I’m playing with my peers and challenging myself. That’s what keeps me moving!
Let’s talk about Kings of Chaos. What goals or aspirations did you have for the project when the ball got rolling?
It started out as purely a bucket list thing. It was just like, “OK, let’s see who’s going to answer the call and come out.” I can’t even tell you everyone that I’ve called but there were even members of the Rolling Stones and members of Led Zeppelin. I have this no fear concept! laughs I’m at this place where I feel like I’ve pretty much done everything in rock ‘n’ roll and now the rest is going to be just icing on the cake! I look at these other guys who went to Desert Trip and they are 75-year-old guys up there playing rock ‘n’ roll. They’re guys like Paul McCartney, Neil Young and The Stones. Those guys give me hope because I’m 20 years younger than those guys! laughs I can keep going! Mick Jagger — I would put him up against any kid! I don’t care who they are! If these guys are out there waving the flag for rock ‘n’ roll, so can I! That’s what I do! I’m interested in seeing if it organically grows into a band that is something different. I’m pulling in younger players now like Chester Bennington and Corey Taylor. I might even go a bit younger; I’m just looking for the right person. Who is worthy of being in Kings of Chaos? This is the country club of rock ‘n’ roll! It’s like, “Who’s cool enough, has done enough and can bring something to the table?” When I invited Corey Taylor, who people know from Slipknot, he gets up there and kicks ass! And for him it’s a great experience because he’s up there with some of his heroes! The same thing goes for Chester Bennington. It is a revolving circle of a community of rock ‘n’ roll that we need to nurture and keep on track. Yes, this isn’t new music yet but it’s a fresh perspective on music that’s great and will be part of the rock ‘n’ roll catalog for eternity!
What has playing with these guys brought out of you all creatively?
I’m telling you, man, it’s a challenge to go back and learn the music again. It’s a challenge to go back and play songs that you know but stylistically it’s all different music. When you grow up, as a young musician, you go out, learn and play all this stuff. Then you get in a band and you play your band’s music and that’s it. You forget. A lot of guys I know don’t go in and challenge themselves by learning new material. They are simply playing whatever band they are in songs every night. Out of their element, they go, “Oh shit! I’ve got to keep fresh by playing some of the stuff!” That’s something that keeps me fresh, keeps me challenging myself, learning and relearning. It’s great to go back and be that kid again who loved drums the first time I pick them up! I learned every song in the book by Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. You can probably ask guys who have been doing it a long time and there’s a point where they are on the road for so long, when they come home they don’t even pick up their instrument. That’s something that really keeps me going and keeps me fresh. Everyone who comes out of Kings of Chaos will tell you that they are a better musician because of it! That’s why we call it the Boot Camp of rock ‘n’ roll! I called up Robert DeLeo and said, “OK, you are going to learn 20 songs. Obviously, there are going to be a couple of yours in there but there are 18 that aren’t.” He goes, “OK … ” These guys go into the wood shed for a week and say, “Man, that was a lot of material but thanks! I’m really glad I did that! I didn’t really know the bass parts on ZZ Top and I didn’t realize they were so cool. I didn’t know the bass parts on Cheap Trick as much. I hadn’t dug in and didn’t have it under a microscope.” Billy Duffy from The Cult came to me and said, “I want to do this. I want to challenge myself.” At first, you would ask guys and it would be like, “Well, I only want to do four or five songs. That’s a lot of material to learn.” I would be like, “Come on, man. You can do it!” They will do it and then they would be like, “Give me more!” laughs It’s a drug. Rock ‘n’ roll is a drug! Once you have done it, now you know the songs and it’s in your repertoire! When someone says to me, “Matt, do you know how to play this,” my list of songs that I know how to play is probably a good 500 or maybe more. I don’t know but I can play a lot of songs! [laughs] I sat in with Aerosmith one night and they asked me to play drums. Steven Tyler said, “Do you want to play some Aerosmith songs? What do you know?” I said, “Most of your entire catalog! laughs ‘Toys In The Attic,’ ‘Back In The Saddle,’ ‘Walk This Way.’ What do you want? ‘Sweet Emotion?’ I know them all!” laughs
You had a busy 2016. What’s on tap for you creatively in 2017?
I have a bunch of other stuff planned for Kings of Chaos, so far. I’m working on a bunch of dates. I can’t say who’s in the band yet but I have a bunch of stuff brewing. Yeah, man. I’m going to try to get the stuff out and hopefully work on new music. I just keep plugging away and keeping at it to see what the rock ‘n’ roll world brings. I want to bring it to the people and go out and have fun doing it!
I know you do a lot of great work when it comes to charity. What can you tell us about that side of your life?
I’m working on my kids charity, Adopt The Arts. We are trying to keep public school’s arts and music programs alive, so I’m doing that back in LA. I’m also trying to spread it out across the country a little bit. I have a passion for that and a few other charities I work with. I’m really into doing that now in this part of my life. I’m not going on these extensive, long tours that I used to. These days I go out, do some runs and come home. I do other stuff too but it’s all in the creative kind of world. Mixing it feels right for me right now. I’m doing it all on my own terms. I’m not being toted around by another band or taking orders from anybody. I’m just kind of running my own ship, which is really cool. So, it’s all really up to me when it comes to what I want to do. I think I would say that to anybody — it’s all really up to you what you want to do with your life. I totally feel that way and I’ve got a great jumpstart because I have had this great career that provided me with a jump start. I don’t want to take that for granted, so I go out and I try to be respectful of that. At the same time, I’m still working really hard! Harder than ever! That feels good too! Life is good!
What’s the best lesson we can take from your journey?
You know, I’m no different than anyone else in life. We all go through hills and valleys and have bumps in the road. At the end of the day, it all comes down to what you’re passionate about and where you see yourself going. That’s how I look at it. I tried to manifest it, create the vision and go after it. My mom used to say I was a dreamer and I would say, “What’s wrong with that?!” laughs I never knew why it was bad to be a dreamer. I always looked at it like having dreams and aspirations was a good thing. If you dream it, you can make it a reality. I truly believe that. I’m really into manifestation of life and putting yourself out there. So far, so good! Sometimes I look over at the guys on stage with me like Alice Cooper, Joe Perry, Johnny Depp or Steven Tyler and think, “Wait a minute!” I kind of pinch myself and think, “Wow. You are living in this real-life, surrealistic dream!” laughs I’m very blessed that I think if there’s any lesson in that I think it’s you should aspire to be what you want to be. Go after it and respect everyone who has been put on the planet to do a certain thing in life. Everybody’s here for a reason!
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