Matt Sorum, drummer for many a great rock band (Guns N’ Roses, The Cult, Velvet Revolver), has organized some supergroups of his own, and one such group, Kings of Chaos, decided to debut their sound in the studio with a track for the Deep Purple tribute album, Re-Machined: A Tribute To Deep Purple’s Machine Head, just released by Eagle Records. Kings of Chaos consists of Joe Elliott on vocals, Steve Stevens on guitar, Duff McKagan on bass and, of course, Sorum on drums, and they contribute their rendition of the Purple song “Never Before” to the Re-Machined compilation. The rhythm section on the “Never Before” track is tight and ecstatic-sounding and Elliott’s voice has such a deep, retro, raw groove to it that it will remind many of the early Def Leppard days.
The entire Re-Machined album is a successful tribute compilation — and such a great celebration of the 40-year old classic Deep Purple album, Machine Head — featuring bands as far apart musically as Santana and Flaming Lips, and Matt Sorum is proud to be a part of it. The following is a Powerline interview with the drummer.
Was Machine Head itself a big influence on you?
Matt Sorum: Oh yeah, I mean, for me growing up as a teenager in the ’70s, that was like my era, and that album came out [in] ’72, I was younger but the songs were around and, of course, “Smoke on the Water” was the first song everyone learned on guitar, right? It was an easy song to learn. It was either that or “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath, that’s what you learned on guitar. I had a little band that played “Smoke on the Water.” And then we tried to attempt “Space Truckin’.” We didn’t do a very good job of it. And “Highway Star” was just a beast of a song, too. We all tried to play “Highway Star.”
And as a drummer growing up I just really loved Ian Paice, you know. I was into Bonham. I was into Keith Moon. I love Bill Ward from Sabbath. Ian Paice was a real fancy drummer, man. He was like a jazz aficionado who did a lot of cool licks. I tried to emulate him as much as possible. I think if you listen to my drum style it was — probably more so in Velvet Revolver — where I do a lot of Ian Paice-type stuff.
Did you get to meet Paice due to this tribute album?
Sorum: No but I have met him, you know. And the interesting thing a lot of people don’t know about Paice is that he’s left-handed. The drum kits turned around to what I would call backwards. He played in the opposite direction. Instead of the hi-hat being on my left-side, it’s on the other side, and the toms go the other way around similar to Phil Collins’. So not only is he a left-handed drummer but a lot of people don’t know this but he’s only got one lung. He’s called the one-lung drummer. He lost a lung I believe when he was younger and I thought ‘Wow. God, when he really gets going he must have a hard time breathing.’ But I did meet him. Maybe about 4-5 years ago and I was just like a fanboy.
You must have experienced that yourself, with drummers coming up to you, right?
Sorum: I do get that. One of the things about me, it’s not like I’m the most recognizable guy on the planet. When people do come up to me, they are genuine fans, you know what I mean? It’s actually nice to know. You know what’s interesting? One of the drummers who I met early on — and kind of after things got big — this girl Samantha Maloney came up to me, the drummer that ended up being in Hole. She said, ‘I saw you with Guns N’ Roses when I was 13 years old. And I said, ‘Oh my God .. thirteen. You just made me feel old.’ (laughs) And that was cool because she ended up being quite a phenomenal drummer.
How did this project for Re-Machined come to be? How were you approached?
Sorum: Well, it’s interesting because I went down to South America and put together a bit of supergroup which we are now calling Kings of Chaos. We went on tour and I love playing in South America ’cause the fans are absolutely insane. And went down there with Joe Elliot, Steve Stevens, Duff McKagan, Glenn Hughes … we did this crazy tour. And when we got back I got this call from a friend who had connections with this label out of Australia that was doing this Deep Purple tribute. At first I was like ‘Oh, a tribute album?’ I usually shy away from those but then I heard Deep Purple, and then I heard the lineup that’s on it. I was like ‘What do you mean you’ve got Iron Maiden and Metallica?’ ‘Santana? Really?!’ And I’m like ‘Okay. I’m in.’ I had a new band that I wanted to kind of experiment recording with and I thought it would be a good opportunity. Get us into the studio, record a track, see what the vibe is. So, that’s what we did. And we knocked it out. The only problem was that Joe Elliott was out on the road and how were we gonna get the vocals. But the miracles of modern recording — he was able to record it on a laptop and email it to me, then mixed it and I think it sounds killer.
So everyone’s pretty happy with it.
Sorum: Yeah. We’re all happy with it. The only difference that we did from the original version we took it down a half step, and Ian Gillan [Deep Purple vocalist on Machine Head] was like, man, what a set of pipes. Not that Joe couldn’t sing that. Joe’s like, ‘That might sound heavier, too.’ So we tuned down like a half step to get a little bit of a heavier vibe. It really reminded me of Joe’s older style. like the way he sang on some of his earlier records before Pyromania and stuff. So Joe just gave it a rock n’ roll feel. It was really cool. It wasn’t as produced as Def Leppard. You know ,Def Leppard is heavily produced and Joe just gave it a rough and ready track.
A lot of times that’s the best rock ‘n’ roll — when it’s more raw.
Sorum: Fuck yea. Whenever we record — me and Slash and Duff — we do a lot of demos, when we were doing Velvet Revolver stuff. I’d be like, ‘There’s magic right there. That’s the vibe.’ Don’t go into the studio and over-analyze it because the thing we’d used to do back in the day with the Use Your Illusion records and stuff, everything was live and we would just having fun. Instead of over-analyze the tracks, and I always try to tell the guys, lay it down and let it fly, you know (laughs).
And look at some of the most popular rock bands today — like Black Keys and White Stripes — that raw rock ‘n’ roll sound. You can see why people like it.
Sorum: That’s because it’s real. A lot of stuff, you’re hearing [out there], it’s going through a computer. You wonder why you can’t gravitate towards it. Why it doesn’t feel right. Well, it’s just not natural.
I agree with what you said about the [Kings of Chaos] song, “Never Before.” Was there a reason for picking it?
Sorum: Not necessarily. It wasn’t the song I remember going to as a kid. I remember it being on the album. But it wasn’t “Space Truckin'” or “Highway Star” or “Lazy,” you know. So it was basically one of the last ones left. And I was like ‘Alright, we’ll give it a go. We’ll tackle it’ And it was fun to play, there were two solos like Deep Purple traditionally, and when I was playing it I was like, man, this music is so fun to play and these guys were so creative with how they mixed a little bit of progressive, always ripping solos. I mean those were the days, man. You could get away with murder being in a band then, you know.
You listen to some Deep Purple live recordings and they could just go off into jams.
Sorum: Oh yeah, they would play like 20-30 minute versions of each song.
What has been Deep Purple’s reaction? Have you gotten some reactions? Have they heard any of this?
Sorum: I haven’t heard anything from the Mark II lineup. The only guy I spoke to is Glenn Hughes, you know, who came in after the Machine Head album, which is basically the Mark III lineup. He liked it a lot. Sonically I think it sounds good. I recorded it in my backyard in my recording studio (Drac Studios). But I have an old setup, which is perfect. I have an old trident board from the ’70s. I tried to recreate that old sound, and then I mixed it.
What do you think of the other tracks on the Re-Machined album?
Sorum: I really like the Glenn stuff … Glenn Hughes has got just an incredible voice. He did “Highway Star” and, wow, he just took it out there. I liked “Lazy” with Joe Bonamossa, an incredible guitar player. And the other guys on that track are Billy Sheehan and Brad Whitford from Aerosmith and the drummer’s Anton Fig. And then a kind of random curveball with the Flaming Lips. Totally bizarre. (laughs) What’s that doing in the middle of a rock album? But there’s a little something for everybody.
The thing about Deep Purple — and you were part of the Guns N’ Roses Rock Hall Induction — they are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Don’t you think that’s crazy?
Sorum: I think Duff McKagan said it best. He was like, ‘Can’t we wait a few more years for us, you know?’ They’re trying to put on a television show, you know. This isn’t about anyone’s feelings or the situation. I’m like ‘Give it to Deep Purple.’ Because when I was growing up as a kid, they were on the same level with Sabbath or Zeppelin or any of those bands.
Do you think that this tribute album could produce at least one gig — a couple of people get together and jam some Purple?
Sorum: I told them, once you do the Machine Head album, why don’t you do like a Deep Purple tribute concert. So that’s been an idea that’s been thrown around. I have my supergroups. I have Camp Freddy, and now I’ve got the Kings of Chaos thing, and I could be a musical director. Get everyone together we could do like New York City. L.A., Chicago, or one great one and film the sucker. Get all these guys doing a live tribute to Deep Purple. It would be awesome, I think. We’ll see how it goes. I definitely put out the idea as a concept so maybe at the end you get the real group to come up and join you or whatever.