So before getting to what's happening with the band, it's only fair to promise a moratorium on drugs and eyeliner queries.
As for Axl?
"I think if Scott (Weiland) or I saw something about Axl or whatever, we might just bring it up out of conversation because those guys know him," Kushner said in a recent telephone interview.
"It's just like if some guy you used to work with, and I hung out with him or heard a story about him, just because I knew you knew him, I'd be like, 'Hey dude, so-and-so did this or that.' It's just because there's an interest there. But it doesn't come up that much." (Uh... come again, dude?)
After almost a full year on the road, the five California rockers who make up Velvet Revolver have become a band in the truest sense. What once was a collection of acquaintances who got together to make an album has turned into a tight-knit group of (mostly) reformed musicians coping with endless tour dates.
Just don't call them a supergroup. After all, as Kushner told Rolling Stone last year, "This can't be a supergroup. Otherwise, I wouldn't be in it." Asked to verify the remark, he laughs and cracks, "There was a time that I was in Led Zeppelin, but besides that..."
Actually, he played in the band Wasted Youth, and in another band with guitarist Dave Navarro (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction), which means Kushner well knows the Hollywood rock scene. But until he joined the Revolver, Kushner never played to thousands of fans, sold records by the hundreds of thousands or made lots of money.
"It's great and I'm beyond grateful to be where I am, but it also doesn't fix all your problems," Kushner said. "If you're all frustrated, you're just in a house instead of an apartment doing it. You're still frustrated, you're still scared. It's just a matter of geography, really."
And a matter of miracles that any of them made it this far. Velvet Revolver began with a 2002 jam session involving Sorum, Slash and McKagan at a benefit for the family of the late drummer Randy Castillo (who played with Motley Crue and Ozzy Osbourne, among others). The ex-Gunners enjoyed the on-off gig and decided to form a new band. They enlisted Kushner, a schoolboy pal of Slash's and former member of McKagan's band, Loaded.
The newly christened Velvet Revolver lacked just a single ingredient: a lead singer. Numerous candidates were considered and then scrapped. Among them: former Skid Row screamer Sebastian Bach and Buckcherry's Josh Todd. In the end, Weiland got the gig and subsequently was arrested — twice, on charges of drug possession and driving under the influence — during the recording of Contraband. He was sentenced to a detox center.
Weiland needed judicial permission to attend recording sessions, and the industry and media had a field day cracking jokes about the new band. Seems only Slash and company could find a lead singer less reliable than Axl Rose. Despite Weiland's legal and drug woes, he finished the record (which is more than can be said of Rose's GN'R project Chinese Democracy, an album a decade in the making and described by The New York Times as the most expensive in the history of the music industry).
Even more surprising, Contraband is a good one. Released last June, it sounds exactly as it should: a cross between Guns n' Roses and STP — the blend of heavy metal and alternative rock Kushner favors. Velvet Revolver's debut has now sold more than 1.6 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Three singles — the chugging rocker "Slither," Weiland's autobiographical addiction ballad "Fall to Pieces" and the scorching "Dirty Little Thing" — have scored at rock radio (what's left of rock radio, anyway) and on VH1.
As their upcoming headlining gig at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre demonstrates, Velvet Revolver has graduated to large-scale venues after playing mid-sized theaters last summer. For a bunch of rock & roll reprobates, they display a solid work ethic, as well. A live concert DVD is scheduled for later this year, with a second studio album following as soon as December. For the moment, they're continuing what seems to be an endless tour. IN fact, they'll be swinging back through Charlotte in September as part of Ozzfest, also at Verizon.)
"That's why STP and Guns n' Roses did what they did, because they're bands that love to tour and love to play," said Kushner. "We're just grateful people want to see us."
With or without eyeliner, right?
Velvet Revolver plays Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, with Hoobastank, at 7pm, Sunday, May 22. Tickets are $23.50-$39.50.