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'Talkin’ Jive' (And Fatherhood) With Drummer Matt Sorum

Matt Sorum
Enzo Mazzeo*

Matt Sorum

The former percussionist for Guns N' Roses, The Cult and Velvet Revolver lays his life bare in his autobiography, due Sept. 7.

Drummer Matt Sorum and his wife, fashion designer Ace Harper, became first-time parents when their daughter, Lou Ellington Sorum, was born on June 11, and he seems thrilled with his new role of doting dad: “We’re nesting with her,” he says, calling from his family’s summer home in Santa Barbara, Calif. “She’s growing like a weed and becoming a cool little human.”

Sorum hasn’t always been so steeped in domestic bliss, as he shows in his autobiography, Double Talkin’ Jive: True Rock ‘n’ Roll Stories From the Drummer of Guns N’ Roses, The Cult, and Velvet Revolver (arriving Sept. 7 via Rare Bird). In the book, he takes an unflinching look at his tough childhood in Los Angeles, which evolved into dealing drugs before his drumming talent finally lifted him into the highest rock echelon.

Working on the project with co-authors Leif Eriksson and Martin Svensson was, Sorum says, “a cathartic thing to do. I wanted to look back and write it all down on paper. It was a good process to find forgiveness in a lot of things, heal some wounds and be able to tell some truths that maybe I never even spoke about before. It took a lot of soul-searching to come to terms with a lot of stuff that happened.”

This thoughtful approach is evident as Sorum details his time drumming for Guns N’ Roses from 1990 to 1997. It was a chaotic time for GNR, as vocalist Axl Rose’s tendency to start shows very late (or end them early) sometimes led to audience rioting. But instead of taking an accusatory tone, Sorum writes about these experiences with empathy — and now can even see some benefit in it all.

“When I talk about being backstage and we’re two hours late and I’m frustrated, once we got up there, it was just all-out rock’n’roll,” he says of those unpredictable times. “We were just throwing down because there was a lot of frustration, anger, anxiety -- but it brought the show to a whole other level. The crowd was fired up because they were angry that we were late. But once we got out there, some nights were just absolutely on fire. I take great pride in that period in my life. It’s just a great gift that I was there at that time with that particular lineup.”

This doesn’t mean that Sorum wishes he was still in GNR, though. “People will ask me, ‘Don’t you want to be out on the road with those guys? Why aren’t you on the tour?’" he says. "And I’m like, ‘Well, something else is in store. I had a baby. I’m doing different projects. I’m doing my own thing.’ That’s what the universe has intended for me. I’ve never tried to put a square peg into a round hole."

Sorum also doesn’t regret any of the debauched experiences he candidly discusses in the book. His time in GNR was especially harrowing: Prior to his very first gig with the group, playing for 145,000 people at the Rock in Rio festival, he bought seven grams of cocaine from a police officer assigned to protect him. Later, in Argentina, he befriended a cartel’s lead dealer, causing the federales to raid the band and its crew. He recalls how his bandmates could be just as excessive, consuming oceans of alcohol (with Duff McKagan admitting to Sorum that he was averaging 10 vodka cranberries prior to each show), and that they all bonded by smoking a massive block of heroin together.

“We were just wild, young guys playing rock’n’roll,” he says. “I always say to people, ‘Do what you’re going to do -- that’s what makes you who you are.’ If I wouldn’t have done it that way, I wouldn’t be here with my wife and the baby, being the guy that I am now.”

Still, there’s one thing that Sorum would change if he could: losing his Velvet Revolver bandmate Scott Weiland, who died in 2015. “I miss him every day,” he says. “I wish he was still here. I wish he could have come to terms with his demons and made it.”

Sorum talks about his bandmates’ substance abuse struggles in Double Talkin’ Jive, but he’s equally frank about his own. He pauses when asked what his daughter might think of it all one day. “I don’t know if I want her to read it!” he exclaims with a laugh, then adds, “Down the line, if she decides to read the book, she’ll go, ‘Oh my God, my dad was a pretty wild guy, I guess! But I’m glad he’s my dad now.’ I always say that to my wife: ‘You got me at a good time. I was finally ready.’ Finally, I feel like I can be good for somebody, and I can be good for a kid.”

Sorum’s own childhood was troubled. He describes his stepfather’s behavior as abusive and particularly damaging, but he found salvation in drumming; he was inspired to pursue it while watching The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. “That lucky evening in front of the television set seeing Ringo Starr — after that, [drumming] was embedded in me. It was all I thought about,” he says.

It was clearly a good career choice, for Sorum was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012 as a member of Guns N’ Roses. “I’ve rubbed elbows and played with so many great guys, people I never thought I’d be onstage with, like Steven Tyler, Billy Gibbons, Alice Cooper, Lemmy [Kilmister] from Motörhead. I’ve had so many experiences,” he says.

His status secure, Sorum is free to do as he pleases with his career. Next up, he’s launching his own beer, called The Drummer, with Brazilian company Companhia Brasileira de Cerveja Artesanal; U.S. distribution is set to begin this fall. Music remains his first love, though, and he plans to “make music for music’s sake — purely for the joy of it.” To that end, he’s building a recording studio in his Palm Springs, Calif., home. He also plans to continue producing other artists. Most recently, he co-produced the well-received solo album by ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons, Hardware, but he promises he won’t just work with famous musicians: “I’m going to take on some younger bands.”

Sorum has already demonstrated his commitment to mentoring youth: In 2012, he founded the Adopt the Arts Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to providing music and arts classes to elementary school children in the Los Angeles public school district. In this capacity, Sorum frequently visits schools.

“I just love the kids,” he enthuses. “I love inspiring them and seeing them grow and learn about who they are. That lightbulb goes off for them.” He says that this work also helped him realize that he was ready for fatherhood.

As he wraps up the call so he can return to daddy duties, Sorum says that he’s looking forward to the future, which will be “whatever comes. That’s my life. I don’t know what’s coming next, and that’s exciting.”