Neurotic Outsiders

STEVE JONES (guitar/vocals)
JOHN TAYLOR (bass/vocals)
DUFF McKAGAN (guitar/vocals)
MATT SORUM (drums)

 

STEVE JONES, JOHN TAYLOR, DUFF McKAGAN and MATT SORUM have never been afraid to confront their demons–and as they’ve proven in their respective work with the Sex Pistols, Duran Duran and Guns N’ Roses, they don’t like losing.

They may come from diverse British and American punk and rock backgrounds, but their lives only had to intersect once onstage at a sweaty Hollywood club before the members of NEUROTIC OUTSIDERS knew they shared a common ground in their desire to rock without any restraint, and put what they’ve seen of the world under the microscope in their songwriting

Nothing’s airbrushed on their self-titled debut album. Nothing’s sacred, either. They draw the listener inside the mess with caustic songs that go beyond sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, to penetrate relationships and uncover personal breakthroughs–often packing a sharp twist of irony or a bit of self-effacing humor that would make less secure rockers uncomfortable.

Fittingly, the music is brash, jagged and intense. There are hard-edged chords, incisive guitar leads, breakneck tempos and three lead vocalists (Jones, Taylor, and McKagan) who passionately guide us through the wreckage. The trick of creating great rock ‘n’ roll is to blend a sense of true urgency with inspired musical chops, and this is what Neurotic Outsiders do.

Neurotic Outsiders chose Jerry Harrison to produce the album. Most recently, Harrison is known for producing Live’s Throwing Copper disc, and he has one of the most esteemed backgrounds in rock, having been a member of both the Modem Lovers and Talking Heads. Both groups were favorites of the members of Neurotic Outsiders, who collectively trace their roots to the origins of punk rock–Stooges, Sex Pistols. In fact, Taylor claims it was the Sex Pistols who inspired him to take up guitar. Recording took place at a Los Angeles studio, as well as McKagan’s home studio and at The Plant in Sausalito, near Harrison’s home.

“You wouldn’t think the mixture would work,” says McKagan. “It sounds like 1979 English punk rock with an American feel. It’s rockin’, it’s heavy. The record is really quite diverse. It’s three different singers. Jonesy writes the coolest pop. The Pistols’ songs were great pop songs, hooky songs.”

Even N.O. members weren’t sure the mixture would work. But as the songwriting on Neurotic Outsiders demonstrates, their individual viewpoints complement each other. Steve Jones, who penned eight of the tracks, tackles what he sees in the world around him: a bawdy, true story about being asked to pay for sex in the opening track, “Nasty Ho,” or the humorous rocker “Jerk,” with the lines “You’re a bitch/I’m a jerk/l don’t think that we can work/You’re a cunt/I’m a cock/Are you ready, ready to rock?” “Story of My Life” is his own addict’s lament, while “Good News” is for modern haters who use sexually transmitted diseases as murder weapons.

John Taylor delves inside himself, anguishing over a painful obsession in the driving “Always Wrong,” and doing some soul-searching in “Better Way,” which he co-wrote with Jones. In “Feelings Are Good,” he shares a simple but hard-won discovery, concluding, “This feeling thing is something new…Feelings are good.” All the members of the Neurotic Outsiders were feeling good after their first gig.

What began as a benefit jam (to raise money for cancer treatments for a friend of The Viper Room’s co-owner) quickly turned into a full-blown band right in front of the public’s eyes. When word got out about Neurotic Outsiders’ Monday night jams last fall, Rolling Stone and Details were among the first to take note of what Details calls Neurotic Outsiders’ “crude punk rock”- even though the band wasn’t seeking publicity or even a recording contract.

“I asked John Taylor if he’d play bass,” says Matt Sorum, “because I’d always liked his playing in The Power Station, but didn’t get to hear enough of it in Duran Duran. Duff’s been playing guitar lately, so l asked him if he’d play. Duff knew Steve from mountain biking.”

“We rehearsed in the afternoon and did it that night,” recalls McKagan of the Neurotic Outsiders’ first gig. “We thought it was cool, everything was good. Good karma.”

The first show contained cover versions of some of the members’ favorite songs; the set list revealed the common interests that drew them together. Taylor, who claims N.O’s bloodlines crossed with the Sex Pistols, calls it “a sound that we all felt comfortable in” Iggy Pop and the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog,’ “Raw Power” and “No Fun”; “New Rose” from the Damned; the Sex Pistols’ “Pretty Vacant” and even Roxy Music’s first hit, “Virginia Plain.” Keeping things interesting, the band also covered The Clash’s “Janie Jones” and Duran Duran’s “Planet Earth.” “Janie Jones,” sung by John Taylor, made the Neurotic Outsiders’ album.

Soon friends like Simon LeBon, Billy Idol, Iggy Pop, Izzy Stradlin and lan Astbury were showing up to join them at the Viper Room, and as many as 1,000 fans were being turned away. As Jones says, “We were like the hot band in town for no other reason than we just wanted to play.”

It wasn’t long before record companies were interested, even though N.O. wasn’t even looking for a deal.

“Maverick was into the energy of the band,” says Sorum. “They’d come to the Viper Room and see a lot of people were getting rowdy. It turned into a whole shindig. We chose Maverick because even though it’s part of Warners, it feels like an indie.

Says Jones: “We knew after the first gig we wanted to do it again. It’s fun. We have a good time. We’re all kind of equal. And we’re all getting to play some good rock and roll shit. I love it

Since John Taylor and Steve Jones both had material completed for solo albums, each Monday at soundcheck they would learn one or two of the new songs.

One of the new songs was Steve Jones’ “Union,” about a previous band he was in, the Sex Pistols Their goal was to make rock and roll dangerous and challenging again. They did so with just one album, Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, and just one short U.S. tour. “Anarchy in the U.K.,” “God Save the Queen’ and “Pretty Vacant” have since taken their place in the history books as a major turning point for modern music, but such intensity doesn’t lend itself to a long life. After the Pistols’ disbanded, Jones escaped to Los Angeles where he launched a solo career that included two solo albums on MCA (Mercy and Fire and Gasoline). In addition to his work with Neurotic Outsiders, he’s also reformed the Sex Pistols with original members Johnny Rotten, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook for their 20th anniversary reunion tour.

The Neurotic Outsiders’ gigs at the Viper Room gave John Taylor a welcome opportunity. As he points out, “I’ve been playing with Duran Duran for nearly 20 years and I’ve never sung a song live. In this band,” Taylor says, “the atmosphere is open and spontaneous–it inspired me to sing lead.’ As bassist for Duran Duran, Taylor has co-written and played on countless hits from their 1982 breakthrough “Hungry Like the Wolf to “Save a Prayer,” “Rio,” “Is There Something I Should Know,” “Union of the Snake,” “A View to a Kill,” Wild Boys” and 1993’s smash, “Ordinary World.” Neurotic Outsiders isn’t his first band outside Duran Duran. In 1985, he formed The Power Station with Robert Palmer and another Duran Duran member, Andy Taylor. The group’s multi-platinum album produced an array of hits, including a hard-rocking cover of the T. Rex song, “Get it On 5 (Bang a Gong).” Taylor is continuing to work with Duran Duran bandmates on the first disc of new material since 1993’s platinum Wedding Album.

Duff McKagan, who sings lead on “Good News” and “Revolution,” has been called “the punk spirit of Guns N’ Roses” by Rolling Stone. Before he became a founding member of G N’R in 1985, he had played in Seattle punk bands like The Veins and Fastbacks since he was 15 years-old.

Guns N’ Roses’ albums, Appetite for Destruction, GN’R Lies, Use Your Illusion I and 11, and The Spaghetti Incident?, have sold more than 70 million copies worldwide. A self-taught musician on bass, drums and guitar, he has released one solo album, Believe in Me, which featured guest appearances by Jeff Beck, Lenny Kravitz and fellow bandmate from both Guns N’ Roses and Neurotic Outsiders, drummer Matt Sorum.

Sorum joined Guns N’ Roses in 1992 after leaving The Cult. He may have only played with those British rockers for a short period of time (he began with them on their Sonic Temple world tour and continued on through their follow-up Ceremony album and concert trek), but his drumming style earned him great respect and acclaim–the kind that landed him an invitation to join Guns N’ Roses. “We’d do a soundcheck and learn a new song, then work it out in front of everybody,” Sorum says with a laugh, recalling the formation of Neurotic Outsiders. “It sounded pretty sloppy sometimes.”

Perhaps it’s Taylor who best explains the free spirit of the band: “We did a West Coast tour and then played New York and Philadelphia,” he says, recalling the point “when we really felt we were on to something. We were in these high-profile, high-maintenance bands with very little actual playing. With Neurotic Outsiders, things felt completely loose

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