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Velvet Revolver Relaunching Careers

New York – OK, let’s see: The former Guns N’ Roses bandmates have exchanged one loose cannon, Axl Rose, for another who seems even more volatile, Scott Weiland. And rock critics are placing bets on whether Weiland can get through a worldwide tour without winding up in either rehab, jail or a body bag.

But after three Grammy nominations and one hit album, the supergroup known as Velvet Revolver is just getting started.

The band consists of heavyweights from two of the biggest – and most troubled – rock bands of the past 15 years: Former Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland and Guns N’ Roses expatriates Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum. Rounding out the quintet is one of Slash’s high school pals, Dave Kushner, who has ripped guitar riffs in bands like Wasted Youth, Electric Love Hogs and Suicidal Tendencies.

“This band is an incredibly powerful, violent and sexual animal,” Weiland said during a phone interview from a Los Angeles recording studio. “It’s subversive. It’s dangerous and it’s just everything that’s exciting about rock ‘n’ roll.”

If you’re looking for another “Appetite for Destruction” – keep looking. But the band’s alternative/grunge Stone Temple Pilots sound blended with the raunchy GNR Sunset Strip-style rock has made an explosive combination.

“I watch MTV and VH1 and I’m appalled,” drummer Sorum said with a laugh. “I don’t want to be a jaded rock guy, but I’m just like, what the… ‘Hoobastank’ and ‘Yellowcard’? Where do they get those names? Thank God ‘Creed’ is dead. What happened to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and the Rolling Stones, those kind of bands?”

VR’s debut album, “Contraband,” has sold 1.6 million copies since it debuted atop the charts in June. The band is playing medium-sized arenas around the world through the winter and then coming back to the States for a three-month summer tour. Plans are in the works for a series of live albums from key performances late this year, and for a new studio album in 2006.

Weiland describes “Contraband” as “the most confessional record of my life.” His emotions create an intense biographical epic, revealing a tortured soul’s fight against drug demons, loneliness, frustration and betrayal.

Although the rockers are all in their late 30s and early 40s, many look astonishingly similar to yesteryear. Watching Slash and bassist McKagan in tight leather pants, long locks and shirtless for much of a recent New York show made one wonder if they had Dorian Gray paintings stashed away somewhere. And the androgynous Weiland, though heroin-chic thin, has a commanding, charismatic stage presence.

Weiland’s highly publicized drug battles have cost him half a year in jail, countless rehab stints, two marriages (although his second wife took him back), and an eye-poppingly successful career with the Stone Temple Pilots. Personality clashes and Weiland’s nonstop drug problems – like tales of him going out by himself to score drugs in strange cities – shattered that band in 2003.

Slash and McKagan garnered their own ink with GNR. Slash (born Saul Hudson) says he clinically died four times from drug and alcohol combinations, while McKagan had to abandon the bottle when his doctor warned him to start making funeral plans.

Eventually egos, disputes over musical direction and legal wrangling led to GNR’s implosion. Slash, McKagan, Izzy Stradlin and Sorum left, leaving only Rose and Dizzy Reed. (Rose continues to tool away in his Malibu mansion, re-recording an album called “Chinese Democracy” with a new GNR lineup. More than nine years in the making, the album is quickly approaching urban legend status).

In 2002, three of the ex-Gunners, having flopped at solo projects, reunited at a benefit gig for the late Randy Castillo, a former drummer for Ozzy Osbourne and Motley Crue. Following the show, the three decided to form a band and began an exhaustive search for a lead singer, auditioning everyone from Buck Cherry’s Josh Todd to Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach before picking Weiland.

Weiland vowed to stay clean. However, less than a week after inking a deal to join the band in May 2003, Weiland was arrested on two felony drug possession charges after police pulled over his car and found heroin and cocaine inside. A few months later, on his 36th birthday, the troubled rocker was arrested again after crashing his BMW into a parked car in the middle of the night.

Now Weiland says he’s been clean for almost a year. On the road, the band is older, wiser, and living healthier lifestyles – or so they say. Slash can still be seen putting a few away at hotel bars, and Sorum admits he still craves the rock ‘n’ roll life.

“When I’m on the road, I feel like a gypsy. I feel like a vagabond. I don’t want to just go through the motions of getting onstage, going back to my hotel,” Sorum said with a mischievous edge in his voice. “(But) I’m not doing the hard drugs anymore.”

Drugs aren’t the only threat to the band’s longevity – there’s been talk of a rift between Weiland and lead guitarist Slash. The band suddenly fired its management company, with Slash opting to hire his own manager while the rest of the band chose a different one. And there were reports of clashes at a UK photo shoot.

“I love Slash and Slash loves me, and he and I get along great,” Weiland said defensively. However, he added, “there are always conflicts that exist in every band,” and “the only problem that Slash and I have are a couple of external variables and those external variables are private matters.”

He declined to elaborate. “Bands have problems all the time. It’s a marriage. It’s a family,” he said.

Is it egos? Too many chefs in the kitchen?

“Everyone’s got an ego, right?” Weiland said. “One thing we’ve learned through the differences that we’ve experienced and the problems we’ve gone through in our last bands because of ego problems and mishaps – and that’s how to keep a band together.”

Will this toxic music cocktail drive rock to explosive new heights, or will they crash and explode?

“That’s what you call the Evel Knievel factor,” Weiland said playfully. “People didn’t pay big bucks just to watch him jump. If he never crashed and burned once in a while, he wouldn’t have sold out those stadiums.”

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