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Velvet Rope

Velvet Revolver fired up over debut CD

Velvet Revolver only officially came on the scene within the past three weeks with the release of "Slither," the first single from the band's debut CD, "Contraband."

But already the group — featuring former Stone Temple Pilots singer Scott Weiland and three former Guns N' Roses members — is making the kind of first impression few bands in the history of rock have made.

"Everything's really happened at the right time during this whole process," bassist Duff McKagan said in an interview just before the start of Velvet Revolver's current introductory club tour. "It's like the rock gods are behind us on this."

Immediately upon its release, "Slither" became the most added single at multiple radio formats and the song appears to be on a fast track to topping several charts — a signal that the "Contraband" CD also will make a seismic impact when it arrives in stores June 8.

"We were kind of blown away," McKagan said of radio's response to "Slither." "Hopefully that's an omen of what's to come."

The first incidence of the good timing McKagan was speaking of occurred in 2002. That's when two former Guns N' Roses members, guitarist Slash and drummer Matt Sorum, invited their former bandmate, McKagan, to play with them at a tribute concert to Randy Castillo, the late drummer for Ozzy Osbourne and Motley Crue. McKagan, who had stepped away from music somewhat to pursue a finance degree, said the tribute concert came at exactly the right time.

"It was just like lightning struck again," he said. "We hadn't played together, the three of us, since our last (Guns N' Roses) gig at the end of '93, I guess ... And this thing just came up, and boom, it hit us in the face and we were off."

Guitarist Dave Kushner, a high school friend of Slash who had been playing with McKagan, was next to join. The only missing piece of the puzzle was a singer. Not knowing whom to contact, the foursome put out an open call for applicants. That's when Velvet Revolver hit a roadblock.

Audition tapes flooded in — more than 1,000 in all. None of the singers, though, was the right fit. That's when timing once again turned in the band's favor. McKagan had been hanging out on occasion with Weiland, and the singer had asked the bassist from time to time about Velvet Revolver. Despite the frustration in finding a singer, McKagan said he couldn't consider Weiland as an option.

"He kept asking about this thing and there was no way we were going to try to get him because he had a band," McKagan said. "That's just not how we roll, basically."

Then fate smiled on the group. Velvet Revolver received offers to contribute a song each to the soundtrack of two high-profile movies, "The Hulk" and "The Italian Job" — a week after Stone Temple Pilots officially had disbanded. In short order, Weiland was in the studio and working on "Set Me Free," the song that went on "The Hulk" soundtrack. Velvet Revolver now was complete.

Of course, adding Weiland to the lineup wasn't without risk. As fans of Stone Temple Pilots know, the singer has fought a long-running battle with drug addiction — and the drugs have continued to come out on top. Once again, Weiland's drug problems have been a major story line for Velvet Revolver. After being charged with DUI last fall, Weiland was placed in a strict six-month residential rehab program.

Despite the restrictions placed on Weiland as part of his rehab stint, McKagan said the singer was able to fully participate in the making of "Contraband."

By all accounts, the recording of "Contraband" went well, and the spirited CD suggests that Velvet Revolver may have the musical chemistry to meet the expectations surrounding the band.

Not surprisingly, several songs on "Contraband" recall the reckless but hooky hard rock of Guns N' Roses. "Spectacle," "Sucker Train Blues," and "Slither" all are hard-charging rockers with plenty of catchy guitar riffs to go with potent vocal melodies.

The poppier side of the Stone Temple Pilots also finds its way into the band's brash sound on a few songs, such as "Do It for the Kids" and "Dirty Little Thing." Several tunes, though, sound quite different from the members' previous bands, including the effect-laced rocker "Big Machine" and the trippy ballad "Loving the Alien."

The next test for Weiland and the band is the current club tour. Being on the road with the temptations that the rock 'n' roll lifestyle can offer might not seem like the best place to be for a recovering addict like Weiland.

But McKagan offered an opposite view.

"It's the safest place for him because he's with us," McKagan said. "And he's even said: 'This is the best place for me.' All you do is work out there. When you get in trouble, historically whenever Slash and I got in really bad trouble, it was the down time."

Velvet Revolver begins its current club tour with a sold-out show today — May 13 — at the Pageant, 6161 Delmar Blvd.

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