To mark the tragic passing of that great misunderstood soul, Scott Weiland, here is the only slightly edited transcript of an interview I did with him over the phone from his home in LA in 2011. A heavily edited version appeared in Classic Rock at the time. This though is how the conversation actually went. It had taken weeks of no-shows to bring him to the phone. I was just about to give up when finally he called me, late one night. He had just published his autobiography, Not Dead & Not For Sale – a chillingly frank self-portrait in which he revealed he was raped as 12-year-old, that Velvet Revolver was ‘a manufactured product’, and numerous other in-and-out-drugs escapades.
Was it conscious decision to tell it in the book or were there any second thoughts about how deep you would go and what you would reveal?
“Not really. I felt like there’s so much media congestion… so much misinformation [including a guy impersonating him on Facebook] and I don’t do that many interviews anymore, that I felt like I’m just gonna like tell it as it is and just put it out there. The only thing I was conscious of was, you know, I didn’t want it to be in that style of [of his ex-wife’s book]. I didn’t want it to get into a pissing context. So I decided take the high road and basically that was really the thing that I spoke with a lot about with David Ritz, was the majority of my life with my ex-wife was wonderful. But there was some rough times. But I wanted to respect her and my kids are not having a… like, he said, she said, kind of thing.”
Was it also about setting the record straight about who you are, and why you’re the kind of person you are? Is there a common misconception that people who don’t know you have about you?
“Yeah, probably because of all the media attention that I used to get in the 90s with drugs, it’s like that is really a thing of the past. This December 5th will be nine years since I’ve done dope. And so I think that people, you know, they sort of hang onto that. It’s like the way people still think of anybody that’s been fortunate enough to have a long career and be successful, like Keith Richards, people still seem to think that he’s this guy that’s still junkie and all that kind of stuff. In interviews, he still to this day gets asked about stuff like that. You know, I don’t want any questions about that stuff so in the book I said, this is how it all happened, this is like how it all began and why it began and this is how I got over it.”
I grew up in the 70s and we didn’t think of it then as ‘drugs’ we thought of it as ‘enlightenment’. We saw it as a journey, as explorers. I ended up a junkie but it was never my intention to be that. It was always my intention to be a very creative, far out person.
“Yeah, well, I think for a lot of artists it starts out that way. When you’re younger you sort of romanticise the notion that that’s part of the equation to being creative and opening up your mind, your perception and that. But in the end it doesn’t end up being that way. It just becomes the greatest nagging thing to be hooked on something like that.”
That’s when you find yourself crossing the line between this is my business and no one else’s and it becoming actually a big problem for everyone else because of the hurt and pain and trouble you cause those near you. It now becomes their business too.
“Right, right, right. I mean, I think that’s exactly right. I look back at all the sleepless nights that my brother and I caused my parents and it definitely ends up taking its toll. It ends up becoming a real overall family disease, you know.”
Your younger brother died of course.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Which we thought was an overdose but it was cardiomyopathy [heart muscle disease], which was an effect due to just years of substance abuse, you know. The hardening and swelling of the heart. But he died in his sleep and, you know, and at such a young age. There’s a part of me that still grieves for him every day. Because really he and I we were so close, losing a person that’s your bother and your best friend and, you know, we were creative partners as well… it was just beyond anything I’ve ever … the feelings… the pain it caused me and my whole family and his family, it just, you know, you kind of never quite get over it.”
Has the price been too great – unfairly so even?
“Well, yeah. But you can choose to have a pity party about it or you can just sort of take it like… with fame and the notoriety and everything that goes with it, and success, there’s always like a negative side to it too. People think they know you, who’ve never met you, and have strong opinions about people that have influenced pop culture. But, you know, I’m 43 now and I’m pretty much a private person and I really… I’m looking at what I do for a living as, there’s the artistic part of it and then there’s the work part of it. And I just, I mean, I couldn’t have kept working, especially at the level that I do, if I was still using drugs like that. Because in the beginning it gives you like another sort of way of looking at things, but after a while it really it starts taking away because your time is so consumed with needing to be well… to get well. It’s not about getting high anymore, it’s just maintenance…
“No matter what it is, whether it’s a loss of privacy or whatever, everybody in life goes through life and they make mistakes but they’re not reported about in the mainstream papers or magazines or online. But then again I wouldn’t have this wonderful job that I have,m this wonderful career that I have, to be able to express myself on an artistic level. I’m always finding new ways to express myself, and I’ve been very fortunate in that everything, from music being the foundation of it all has allowed me to branch out to write the book and to design a clothing line and to paint and… The person that’s gonna be repping [representing] me for my art work… so those are positive things and you’ve got to look at the positive things as opposed to the negative things.”
People don’t understand the courage and strength it takes to do what you do. Bad things happen to everybody but not everybody can turn it into a song, a book, a painting. Were you always a strong person or has overcoming the bad things helped you become a strong person?
“I’ve always been a very driven person and I kind of look at it like, every time you falter and fall you have to pick yourself back up again, and every time you do it just gives you a further sort of a belief that it just you don’t have to quit and never quit. Just take an experience that is a bad experience and turn it into something positive. Take a good experience and turn it into something ever better, you know? That’s sort of overall my philosophy.”
Were you able to feel that strong with the whole prison experience?
“Well, it wasn’t prison, it was jail. [But] yeah, definitely. I was in this part where everyone was a drug addict so we had groups every day and did a lot of work. It wasn’t pleasant at all being in jail. I don’t think the jailing of people that are just users is necessarily the right way to go. But that that time there was a programme within the system that allowed me to deal with the issues. So there was definitely a positive thing to be taken from it.”
Were there any of the other inmates that were able to offer you any advice about how to survive it?
“I met a couple of friends that I’m still friends with that I see every once in a while. And they’re doing good as well, so we kind of like became real close friends and we shared ideas and bounced ideas off each other, and support. Also at the time that was in 1999 and then Mary and I were taking time to get married later on in the year. So we got engaged and then that Spring we got married and we had our son Noah. So she definitely helped me get through it as well. We wrote each other multiple times a day and we spoke on the phone at night and I saw her on the weekends. So that was huge definitely, all sorts of inspiration.”
What are you most proud of?
“I am definitely most proud of my children [Lucy and Noah]. They are what keep me up when I feel low and, you know, seeing the light in their days and that kind of unconditional love is more than anything. Even more important than my music, they keep me going definitely.”
Is there such a thing as a secret to success?
“I don’t believe so. People often think that people that get successful and have successful careers that it’s luck, because there are so many talented people who don’t ever get to have kind of success or even a record deal. But I always look at and have this mantra that is you really create your own luck. But it’s part of serendipity too. If you work hard, you have talent and you put yourself in situations enough of the right times, then you’ll meet people along the way that eventually notice you and that’s how we looked at getting a record deal. That’s how we looked at, once we got a record deal, making the first record and trying to ensure the best we could that it would be successful. You know, of course, like I said, serendipity, timing, and God, and hard work, they all sort of have to merge together at this serendipitous moment where things end up working. And I’ve always felt that was the case and so, um, yeah, it’s not just luck. It’s a lot of hard work and sort of having a vision of where you want to be and what it’s gonna take to get there.”
Do you accept there is a higher power?
“Oh, yeah, I believe in God, definitely.”
Is this recent or was that always the case?
“Oh, always. When I was a kid I went to church every Sunday. My brothers and I would be watching cartoons and my dad would be, ‘All right, Mark, Scoot, Michael. Get dressed.’ I’d kind of be like argh. [But] I look back on it fondly and when I go to church, and I don’t go regularly, but it brings like a sense of get back in touch with what you believe in. And what I believe in. And I think that I was very lucky with the church that I went, a Catholic church, it was very sort of progressive and wasn’t all that dogma based. And my mother and father also were brought up with believing in God and Jesus, but I think that’s a personal thing too. In my personal opinion, isn’t something that you try to push on others, that spiritual connection that you have.”
With STP you were shot out of a cannon into fame and fortune,. And if once wasn’t enough, a decade later, you did it all again right out of the box with Velvet Revolver. When that happens does it in some way shorten the life of the band in some way? It’s almost like your journey is over?
[We talk about the grunge era STP first became famous in…]
“That was a magical time for music, music and art and social change. It was a different climate and there really hasn’t been such a massive movement in rock’n’roll since then. And I think a lot of that has to do with the downloading of records. It doesn’t afford young rock bands which have to grow and to maintain, it’s kind of like, well, put out a single, it doesn’t work? All right, like, throw it against the wall see if it sticks, if it does, all right, move forward. If not, put the kibosh on it. And that’s kind of a shame, cos it was really a special thing to be a part of that whole movement in music. There’s been the 60s movement, the glam movement, the punk rock movement and there was the 80s sort of second British Invasion, and then what they called grunge, though we never really considered ourselves a grunge band, and we exceedingly moved further away from that as, er, every album. But it was a real sort of time of enlightenment and a lot of hope.”
Did it feel in anyway like that in Velvet Revolver? [In book he calls VR ‘essentially a manufactured product… we came out of necessity, not artistic purpose.”]
“That was a magical thing too. That was right when I was getting off dope [heroin] and those guys were all sober and they were clean, and I had like a very special kinship because we’d all experienced the same things. So it felt like this is kind of us against the world and we’re gonna play like just pure rock’n’roll. And I think we did a really good job of it. It was a great band to see live and I think we made two exciting albums.”
You seemed to go into a sort of overdrive onstage with VR that we hadn’t seen before in STP.
“Yeah, I mean it was a much more fast-paced, like just like from start to finish, you know? It was like just, it was like just controlled craziness. And that’s like the feeling that we had and the feeling we got off our audience, our fans. And it was very, very intense, yeah. Very exciting. But it’s hard to keep a band that’s like that together for a long time, because everybody, except for Dave our rhythm guitar player, who was really kind of knew to that, had experienced rock’n’roll on a huge level, a really massive level. Those guys coming from Guns N’ Roses who were arguably the biggest band in the world for a few years there. And made such an impact. I mean, I was a huge fan of Appetite For Destruction, one of the best records for the last like 30 years.”
These days where is it at between you guys? If you were having dinner tonight and they were in the neighbourhood would you invite them over?
“Oh, yeah. We patched things up and we get along. I see them every now and again, we text each other every now and again. And, you know, I mean, you can never say never. But, you know, it’s like, uh, um, who knows, maybe we’ll do some shows sometime. ..”
You can do anything you like these days…
“Um, yeah. On a musical level, it’s like that’s the thing you get, the freedom you get with having a success. When I put out my solo records I don’t expect they’re gonna have the same mass appeal because my musical tastes personally are different. But that’s [the same] in every band. I mean, everyone has their certain… vibe, musically. In the stuff you listen to and the stuff that has influenced you. And I think that’s what made Velvet Revolver such an attractive band, in that I brought my influences to the table and they had theirs. And Dave also played a critical part because he added this element of this sonic… you couldn’t really predict what he was gonna do. It was a lot of sound and a lot of effects mixed with basic blues-based rock’n’roll and types of melodies and harmonies that I would write. And the words really sort of fit with the music so it was good symmetry, you know?”
Do you have a political view?
“Well, I mean, I’ve never been involved in a political band, like say rage Against The Machine. But I do have political views, like I’m a big President Obama supporter. And I think that if it was any other time in history he would have been able to do some amazing, magical things. But if FDR or if Lincoln or if JFK were in the same situation with all these challenges and having to be sort of the leader of the free world with all the social stuff that’s going on and economic stuff, it would be difficult for anyone to be able to really have all the dreams that I’m sure he wanted to fulfil and maybe still will. I think he’s doing as good a job as anybody.”
How do you stay so thin?
“Oh, I was a lot much more thin when I was in Velvet Revolver. I’m not nearly as thin as that [now]. But being skinny like I was when I was in Velvet Revolver… I’m still thin but I’m not like that. That sort of became like my… I wasn’t doing drugs and I wasn’t drinking and so my obsession was kind of like I wanted to be as wiry onstage because of the way I move, like Iggy Pop. And so I definitely was on the, uh, somewhat slender side. [Now] I’m not fat or anything I’m just sort of normal. But then again I’m 43. That was 10 years ago. [But] I think I did kind of grow old gracefully. You know, I look at like David Bowie and Bryan Ferry as sort of an example. For the most part I wear suits onstage now. Whereas before it was much more of a theatrical [look]. You know, but I made a vow to myself that once I hit 40 I would not put on another pair of leather pants. I don’t think men over 40 should be wearing leather pants. That’s my own personal thing…”
What should we write on your tombstone when that day comes? Here lies Scott Weiland…
“… he loved his family. He loved his children, he loved his friends. And never ceased to pick himself up off the ground.”