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the future for velvet revolver
RCA Records is betting heavily on the potential of Velvet Revolver -- a new rock band formed by former members of two hugely successful bands of the 1980s and 1990s -- Guns N' Roses and Stone Temple Pilots. Here, journalists Melinda Newman, Leonard J. Beer, Jeff Leeds, and Dave Marsh, along with Nic Harcourt, the music director of KCRW and host of "Morning Becomes Eclectic" examine whether this "super group," whose first album will be released in June 2004, can achieve the same level of success.

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Melinda Newman
West Coast Bureau Chief, Billboard Magazine

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The pressure's on for a group like Velvet Revolver because the members come from such pedigrees in terms of Guns N' Roses and in terms of Stone Temple Pilots. So in some ways, they are probably not going to get any love from critics at all because critics are going to think this is a manufactured match made solely to make some money.

But then you have a very compelling story in Scott Weiland, the front man, who is probably one of rock's strongest front men in the last decade. He's an incredibly compelling live performer. Regardless of what you may think of his music, whether his solo stuff or his STP stuff or the Velvet Revolver stuff, he is tremendously compelling. And then he has the whole drug issue, so you kind of never know when he's going to implode. You never know if they've booked a gig, if he's going to show up or if he's going to get arrested two hours before. So there's a certain whole rock 'n' roll drama that he adds to the picture.

But they have a tough, tough road ahead of them in that they're not going to get any doors opened for them because of their past. Instead, it will be like "wow, you know, they've already had their success" or "we want the next new thing, not the next manufactured thing." So it's going to be tough.

I haven't heard the new album. The first single, which was from The Hulk, didn't light fires for them like they had hoped it would. It was a little bit of an event record, and it was the first thing we heard from them. But not the sustained hit that people would have wanted it to be. And it could be that the movie absolutely tanked. So that could have hurt it, but the movie just came and went.

But it's more like people waiting to hear the record and really see, okay, does this really combine the best of both of the bands? And in some ways, you know, is it just going to be Guns N' Roses with a different lead singer? Or is it going to be Stone Temple Pilots with a different band? Is the sum going to be greater than the whole of its parts? Are you going to sit there and go, "Wow, this just makes me miss Stone Temple Pilots," or, "Gosh, this just makes me miss Guns N' Roses."

Doesn't sound like you'd want to buy stock in this company?

I would not say that. First off, there is a plus with fans in that there's a built-in fan base for this kind of music. They aren't starting fresh. You know, the label can go to radio and say, "Listen, you guys loved Stone Temple Pilots, you loved Guns N' Roses, God only knows when the next Guns N' Roses is coming out. Axl has been working on it for a decade. Here's something for you." You know, "Here is rock that has such a pedigree that you can't deny it." There are fans who will go crazy for this because of their love either for Guns N' Roses or for Stone Temple Pilots or both. So what [it] has going for it is somewhat a built in fan base, even though critics might not necessarily jump on it, there'll be tons of press on it because these are names, these are names that can probably sell magazines.

So you can't count it out at all. And given that there was a bidding war for them, the label has a strong investment in wanting to make it break. You don't want to be the label that paid X amount for Velvet Revolver and couldn't make them break. …

So if you're handicapping … when will we know if they're making it or not making it?

What you're watching for, for a band like Velvet Revolver, where there's already such anticipation, is if it's going to live up to the hype. You are going to look immediately for radio success out of the box. You're going to look to see how many stations, what different formats add it. Now, the label may say, "Okay, we're going to start at modern rock and some time later in the summer start to cross it over to the Top 40." You don't normally go to all formats at once.

But you're going to look for some kind of action. In a band like this, you're not looking for a slow build. As much as the label will say this is a new artist and we have to treat it like a new artist, you're looking for some kind of really big indicator that the public cares that members of these two huge groups have come together and are making what they consider this new hybrid of music. And you need that pretty fast. I would say if you don't have something by the second single, it's not going to catch fire.

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Leonard J. beer
Editor-in-Chief, Hits Magazine

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They're going to get a shot on the radio right away. And the music that I've heard so far I liked a lot. So they're going to get a run. You know, we hope Scott stays healthy. And, you know, Stone Temple Pilots made great music in the past. And let's hope for the best. …

Now we've spent a lot of time with the marketing guys, and the RCA people talking about how they're going to handle this band. They have, you know, high-end management here. They have serious people behind them, and they're managing every single step of the way. Worldwide tour about to happen in speedways everywhere, right around the time the album comes out.

But like we said before, just because you do everything right doesn't mean that the magic's going to happen. They're creating a scenario where if the magic does happen it will be really big. By doing things right. But just because you do things right doesn't mean the magic's going to happen.

[What do you think is their chance for success?]

What would I guess? It would be a semi-success. Maybe do between a million and 2 million albums.

Why?

Because there's going to be a curiosity and there's going to be a following and there's going to be a lot of exposure. So it's going to get a strong head start. From what I've heard, the music is good. It's competitive in my opinion. I think they'll do okay. I don't think it's going to be a blockbuster.

You know I was interviewed by MTV before the Justin Timberlake album came out. And they said, "How do you think that one's going to do?" That was an easy answer. Everything was aligned. He's an incredible talent, he's the right age, he's perfect for the MTV generation. … I don't think everything's going to align for Velvet Revolver. But if they do a million and a half it's a win.

Win means what? They get to do it again? …

Well, if they could sell a million and a half albums, they could make a fortune on tour. That's their win. It's not a big win for the record company but it's a big win for them. If they could sell a million and a half records and keep their songs on the radio for about a year, they could make a fortune on tour because they already have a touring base and the base would be energized.

So for the band this could be a big win. For the label? You know, they'll do better with Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard. …

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Nic harcourt
Music director, KCRW (Santa Monica, Calif.) and host of "Morning Becomes Eclectic"

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I haven't heard [the record]. But my guess is that because of what they've done before and who is in the band -- it's Slash, right, from Guns N' Roses and Duff -- I mean, they've got the guys. They've got these guys who have huge recognition. My guess is that it will come out and it will sell very strongly at the beginning. And they'll get radio on the first single because they sure got a story of who's in the band. But where it goes from there is anybody's guess. I don't know if it delivers musically.

But these types of groups are usually marriages of convenience, where you are putting together some people who, for whatever reason, are unable to do what they used to do. Scott Weiland has blown it so many times with Stone Temple Pilots because of his addiction problems, then that band is probably cooked.

And, of course, the guys from Guns N' Roses, Axl doesn't want to play with them anymore, so that's never going to happen. So you've got people who want to work, obviously, and want to taste it again who said, "Well, look, we'll get Scott as the singer. We'll get these guys and put it together." You're manufacturing something to a certain extent. And whether or not there's any soul underpinning that musically remains to be seen. Maybe there is. But, oftentimes those things, there's not. …

So why does Clive Davis, and why did every label get into this huge bidding war for these guys? What's up with that?

Because it's too obvious. It's too obvious, isn't it? It's like, "Well, Guns N' Roses were huge, and Stone Temple Pilots were huge, so let's put those guys together and it's going to be huge," you know. And it may well be. But, that's such an old way of thinking. It's so boring. It's so stale. The thinking is just uninspired.

The inspired thinking would be, "Let's go scour the clubs in various cities and let's find the next Rolling Stones, or the next Guns N' Roses. Let's find a band that is doing that now, that is going to speak to their generation." That's what these guys should be doing. …

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Jeff leeds
Reporter, Los Angeles Times

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… What's the business story associated with [Velvet Revolver] and this album? At the rollout in May what's at stake? What kind of money are we talking about?

I think that's a really interesting situation. I was a fan of both of those bands, and so I'm looking forward to hearing what the new album sounds like. And I can tell you there was a tremendous amount of competition within the record business to sign that [group]. There was a bidding war. And I think that that was partly fueled by almost a nostalgia on the part of some of the record executives, because they think back to the era when Guns N' Roses was a big band. It was one of the biggest bands in the world. It goes back to when Stone Temple Pilots is really a powerful force and was selling millions and millions of albums. And they're thinking, "Wow, if we can somehow recapture the momentum from the early '90s, we'd be in really good shape."

I think that they're probably right. I think there's going to be a market among people who were big Guns N' Roses fans, or big Stone Temple Pilots fans who will at least give them a chance. It's certainly not a sure thing, but I think that they're making a bet that there's an existing audience for that that they can use as a starting point.

And so because those are proven rock stars, they're going to obviously command a lot more money when it comes to marketing and promotion. And the record company will probably be willing to go out a little bit further on the limb to try to make that work.

But it will be an interesting thing to observe too, of course, because it's a new reality. I mean, these guys all got started in the late '80s, early '90s. Completely different economics. They were telling us stories about million-dollar recording sessions. Now it's half a million bucks to record this album. [Then it was] 727's filled with coke and girls. Now, a much different orientation. The marketing is very different. They're worried about the Web. Worried about how they're [going to get on the radio], Clear Channel's [stations]. That's the new reality.

It's definitely going to be tough in some ways because the audience that existed for those bands when they were really popular has grown up a little bit. The challenge for them will be to see if they decide to go the route of trying to make it a new sensation among the youngest fans and the teens and so forth.

Like I said, I don't think they're going to have a lot of problems attracting the audience that will be curious, that will say, "I was a big Gun N' Roses fan, I was a big Stone Temple Pilots fan, I want to check this out." But, those people are 30, 35, and in that sort of range. They can't market it like it's the newest rapper to come up from the streets. And so I think that's going to be their challenge. …

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Dave marsh
Editor, Rock and Rap Confidential; former contributing editor, Rolling Stone

I think the other thing … that also needs to be looked at with that band is the history of super groups, because very few of them are successful in the long term, or even in the short term. …

[Are you saying that] mostly the hybrids don't work?

It's an expensive proposition to put together. The reason why people don't do this very often, with rock bands generally, why fewer rock bands get signed to big labels now than individual singers and stuff, is it's very hard. It's very hard and it's very hard to sustain it.

You mean financially?

Well just in terms of selling records, yeah. It's a harder marketing task because you've got to market an image, not a person. You have the fragility of the group that can break up, you know. I mean an individual artist can crack up but they can't break up physically, stop working together.

Then you've got the whole question of, you know, do people really remember Stone Temple Pilots? I mean I presume people remember Guns N' Roses because they had their couple years as the biggest band in the world, or at least America. But what do they remember about Guns N' Roses? I remember Slash, but I think everybody else basically remembers Axl.

 

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posted may 27, 2004

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