Fierce Joy: Matt Sorum Talks Guitars and New Album, 'Stratosphere'

by John Katic
Posted Mar 11, 2014 at 2:21pm

Matt Sorum's resume is studded with highlights, including — but not limited to — being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Guns N' Roses and high-profile stints with the Cult and Velvet Revolver.

The newly married Sorum has fought the demons of addiction and has come out the other side a stronger person. So it seems only fitting that he'd create a highly introspective album — Stratosphere, which was released today, March 11.

The album, which is credited to Matt Sorum’s Fierce Joy, is an organic rock record that suggests mid-Seventies and 2014 at the same time.

We recently spoke to Sorum about the new album, guitars and more.

GUITAR WORLD: You have a pretty interesting new record with Stratosphere. This isn’t what people are used to hearing from a Matt Sorum-associated record. How did this collection of songs came together?

Well, this is a quite a different thing for me. I’m singing and playing guitar and piano on the album, and I play drums on only one track. I’ve always been a guitar player and a singer. I’ve played piano since I was a little kid.

I’ve been writing these songs and waiting for the right time to put it out. It felt like where I’m at with my life now that I should wrote this introspective album. I felt the music needed to be played a certain way. It really was an organic process, and I've been working on the songs for quite a few years. I’m very happy with it — but it is quite a different album for me.

The album sounds like it was very comfortable for you.

I love Tom Petty, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie and Nick Cave. There are a lot of styles and different music I listen to besides rock and roll.

Do you write alone or do you prefer collaboration?

I wrote about half of the record by myself, and I worked with another friend of mine who I’ve written with for quite a few years. He was good with chord structures, etc., that weren’t in my wheelhouse. But everything started with me on the initial ideas with the melodies and chord changes.

As far as lyrics, you can tell current events had an influence. Where there any particular themes you tried to focus on?

I had some friends listening to the record, and they were like, “Wow, Matt. Some of this stuff is pretty heavy." In rock bands, we sing about different things, current events, tragedy, personal things and all that stuff. For me, this is a little bit of all that, but songs like “The Sea” are about my spiritual awakening.

Not unlike Philip Seymour Hoffman, I struggled with addiction in the past and was able to get clean about seven years ago. That song was about me having that awakening and realizing life is not that bad. I felt it was a good song to open the album. Songs like “Lady of the Stone” are my take on global warming and the planet.

There are songs about family. Everyone in the lyrics of “What Ziggy Says” is members of my family. As you get a little bit older, you don’t take your family for granted. “Josephine” is about my grandmother, who's 101. I wrote a love story about her and my grandfather. A lot of the lyrics were things that naturally came to me and the way I was feeling.

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Do you plan on doing any touring with this record?

I’m working on that at the moment, making plans. It’s a lot harder for new artists. I’m not a completely new artist, but I am in the sense that this is a new project. It’s harder to just book a tour. I have to figure out interesting ways to subsidize that. It’s harder these days to do that kind of stuff.

Hopefully people will gravitate toward the album. Maybe my old fans will like it. Some may not. We’d love to find new fans. Either way, I’m really excited about it. That’s the beauty of the modern world with social media, podcasts, etc. I did the record on my own, and I'm releasing it on my own. It’s a new paradigm.

Your resume sort of went from zero to 60 with Tori Amos and then GNR and the Cult. It's a new thing for you to start at ground zero. It has to be refreshing.

Listening to the record, I had no pressure. No one said, “You need to make a rock record." I can just say, “Here’s the record, this is what I came up with." It’s very freeing.

What sort of gear are you using on the record?

When I made this record I was very careful of the musicians I worked with. The first thing I asked the guitar player, Randy Ray Mitchell, was, "Do you own a Rickenbacker 370?" He had a six-string and a 12-string. So I asked him if he had a Gibson ES-335. He did. I asked him if he had any Gretsch guitars. He had a Country Gentlemen.

I was very particular about the instruments that were on this record. There aren’t any Les Pauls on the tracks. Mostly we used hollowbody or semi-hollowbody guitars. I bought a 1970 Martin D-41; I love their guitars. I have a Gibson J-45, and I play a Gretsch White Falcon and a ‘59 Country Gentlemen Reissue. Live, I'm going to play the '59 Gretsch, the White Falcon and a handwired Vox AC30. I clean it up and it can jangle like an acoustic. The hollow body gives me a clean tone, almost like the Byrds or early Beatles.

My guitar player will also plays through a Vox. In my studio, we used my amp collection that includes Silvertones, Magnatone amps, a collection of Sixties Ampegs, a Gemini, a Jet, a Reverb Rocket. Of course, I have a couple of Fender amps and a few old Marshalls. The keyboards were all B3 and Minimoog. The bass player, Paul Ill, used a bass from the Seventies with flatwound strings. We used an Ampeg SVT for the bass rig.

I love listening to old Seventies records and wonder why they're so cool. A lot of that has to do with the gear. I treated my album in that sort of way. We recorded most of it live. The drums are old Gretches. We didn’t use the computer. We recorded it to a Seventies Trident board and mixed it as old school as possible.

Any chance we’ll see this on vinyl?

We're already talking about that!

Matt Sorum's Fierce Joy’s Stratosphere was released March 11 on Rok Dok Recordings via Kobalt Label Services. For more information, visit mattsorum.tv.