NEW YORK — The rumors are indeed true: Velvet Revolver and the remaining members of Alice in Chains will be joining forces late this summer for a run of U.S. and Canadian gigs that will stretch well into the fall. But when you have two huge names on the same bill, the question one must ask is: Who will end up opening for whom?
"We'll be closing out the shows, as far as we know," Velvet guitarist Slash said with a gravelly laugh, adding that the trek, which kicks off in August, will run through October. Texan rockers Sparta have been tapped as the opening act for the tour's second leg, and Velvet Revolver are still mulling a number of potential openers for the trek's first half.
While Alice in Chains' imminent plans remain something of a mystery, it is believed the reunited band has been working on new material, with plans to release a full-length LP in the not-so-distant future. Last year, Alice in Chains re-formed for a series of highly successful summer and fall gigs throughout the U.S. (see "Alice In Chains Unlock North American Fall Tour"), with Comes With the Fall frontman William DuVall taking over at the mic for the late Layne Staley, who died from a lethal mix of heroin and cocaine back in 2002 (see "Layne Staley, Alice In Chains Singer, Dead At 34").
Velvet frontman Scott Weiland said he didn't catch any of Alice in Chains' reunion shows last year, but he's looking forward to the matchup nonetheless. "They're good friends of ours, and obviously they have amazing songs," he said. "People have been saying the shows were amazing, and they were drawing some pretty big crowds, so we figured it would be kind of a cool gig. It would be fun to watch them play every night and listen to those songs."
Before the tour, though, comes Libertad (see "Scott Weiland Pumped For Velvet Revolver LP, Solo Collabo With Pharrell"). Weiland and Slash agree that fans will be hearing a different Velvet Revolver when the band finally dishes the follow-up to 2004's Contraband on July 3. According to them, VR have become a collection of seasoned rockers who are more laid-back and comfortable with one another.
"The first record ... rocks with a real focus, and it is what it is," Weiland said. "I think it's vicious, and we felt we had something to prove because people doubted us in a certain way. On this record, we'd been touring for 18 months straight, and [in that time], you learn how to be a band. You learn each other's idiosyncrasies and then there's a trust that develops from that. So when you want to try new things musically, you feel a lot more safe to be able to do that in the studio and when you are writing and recording. That's probably why this record has a bolder feel. It's a more soulful record, as well as more experimental."
"I think everybody just felt a lot more comfortable," Slash added. "When we first started, we were just so excited to have four other guys to be able to do the same kind of thing with. That first record — it represents that period for us. But we've just grown over this period of time, and we stuck it out with each other, so the vibe is much more relaxed. Everybody just played what they wanted to play."
Libertad will feature a dozen tracks in all. "Get Out the Door" is a funk-filled number that tells the story of "someone tripping through West Hollywood and coming up upon a transvestite who they did not know was a transvestite and having an encounter that they weren't quite ready for," Weiland said. The album's likely second single, "The Last Fight," relays the story of a soldier who spends his last night in the U.S. arguing with his lover before heading to fight overseas. A cover of Electric Light Orchestra's "Can't Get It Out of My Head" is also tossed into the mix.
"That was [producer Brendan O'Brien's] idea," Slash said. "He goes, 'I have this great idea for a cover,' but then he wouldn't tell us what it was. Towards the end of the recording for this album, he finally comes out with it. I didn't know if we could cover that song, and I was against it at first. But I knew Scott was perfect to sing that sort of song. So Brendan was patient with me and had us just do an acoustic version of the track. The thing that did it for me was when Scott put a vocal on it. It just came out really good."
Velvet Revolver recently shot a video for Libertad's first single, "She Builds Quick Machines," with director Dean Karr (Marilyn Manson, Deftones). Weiland said the clip was "fun to make" and was born of an idea he's had for quite some time.
"We came up with this idea, and it just sort of coincided with the album idea and title," he said. "It originally started as just a spaghetti Western and then morphed into a combination of a spaghetti Western married to this freedom-fighter concept," with a splash of "City of God" thrown in for kicks. "We spoke with several different directors, and no one could wrap their head around that concept. It was a two-day shoot, and we had no idea if it would look like crap or if it was going to look amazing. We knew it had to be cool, that it had to have a vibe and it couldn't look cheesy. ... And it came out looking badass.
"I've always been such a huge fan of those spaghetti Westerns," continued Weiland, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Clint Eastwood — circa "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly" — in the video. "I always thought it would be cool to do a remake of 'A Fistful of Dollars,' so it was kind of a childhood dream to be able to do something like that."
The video pits Velvet Revolver against a crew of bad men who kidnap a fallen angel — literally a chick with wings who falls like a meteor from high above the Earth, crashing into the desert sand with atomic force. The VR boys use explosives, Molotov cocktails and powerful six-shooters to exterminate the evildoers and rescue the winged woman.
Originally, the treatment had Slash carrying matching black Les Pauls "symmetrically, spinning the guitars in a manner similar to Bruce Lee's nunchuck scene meets 'V for Vendetta' 's classic knife fight. One of the bandits draws a knife but is pinned against the wall as Slash flings one of the guitars through his midsection." A second bandit would then start firing off shots at Slash, who'd deflect the bullets with his other axe.
Sadly, the scene was never shot. Slash wasn't too jazzed about the idea.
"There was no way I was going to be doing that," Slash said. "There's certain things you do with guitars, and there's a line where there's cool and uncool — and that stepped over that line."