Here are some facts that we know about former Guns N Roses drummer Matt Sorum: He joined the band in 1989 following a stint with The Cult; he left GNR in 1997 but hooked up with former bandmates Slash and Gilby Clarke for Slash’s Snakepit, then with Slash and Duff McKagan to form Velvet Revolver; he released his first solo album, Hollywood Zen, in 2003; he played drums on Tori Amos’ first record when they were a band known as Y Kant Tori Read; he married the love of his life, Ace Harper, earlier this year; his long curls have been replaced by a funky spikey do alongside a fun eclectic rocker style; he’s won a Grammy and is in the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.
But there’s an important fact about Sorum that maybe not a lot of people are familiar with and that’s his involvement with an organization called The Dolphin Project. Sorum has invested his heart and soul into this project, headed by Ric O’Barry, and gives himself physically to helping – which means he doesn’t just sit at his desk and sign a check every now and then. No, Sorum actually walks the walk, traveling to a cove in Taiji, Japan, to see for himself the horrific torture that goes into what is known as the hunting season. He went there to further educate himself and his fans, his followers, his friends and his colleagues. He tweeted as the heartbreaking events happened before his very eyes. You felt his pain and his anger. And you felt his determination to bring about stopping this holocaust of the sea.
Last month, Sorum gathered up his band, the Kings Of Chaos, invited some of his other friends to join in, and along with the Dolphin Project’s Lincoln O’Barry, put together a killer concert at the Avalon in Hollywood to raise funds and awareness for what this organization tries to do. The show sold out and people went home not only having been rocked but having been informed. Both Sorum and Ric O’Barry gave speeches that brought tears to many, a fact that I witnessed myself when I covered the concert for Glide, and in that way alone it was a huge success.
Following an extended soundcheck, Sorum and I sat on a stairwell, away from the noise and hustle and bustle of all the activity that goes on before a concert of this grand nature, and started an interview that we would end up finishing a few days later, just prior to his leaving with KOC to do a few shows in South America. Music was not on our agenda for this interview. That will come in a few months when he releases his next solo album with his band Fierce Joy. The conversation on this particular Friday afternoon was strictly about his work with the Dolphin Project and why it has become so important to him and how he hopes it will become important to you as well.
Matt, how hard was it to watch these beautiful creatures being slaughtered when you first went to the cove and not just totally fall apart?
Well, the first day that I was there, they didn’t do a slaughter but they did take eighteen captive. So for me, that is just as heart-breaking, or even more heartbreaking somehow than even the slaughter. The captive thing is just such a tragedy and I think it’s more out of control than ever with the dolphin Swim With programs and the aquariums around the world. It seems like they’ve upped the ante on the captive trade. You know, it was hard to see those creatures ripped from their family. Then just the emotional part of that and knowing how intelligent they are and how family-oriented they are and how tough that must be for all of them emotionally. That’s just as hard as seeing the slaughter, which obviously the slaughter is absolutely horrific.
I was happy to be there, that I had made the journey. I stayed about four days in Taiji and I got the Associated Press piece that went all over the world, and the one thing I realized is in making that trip and making that journey at least when I got that press out that story was still in the forefront of people’s minds and hopefully we made it out to a few million people. But I think out of sight out of mind is what a lot of people are working with in their lives. There’s so many things going by and so much going on and Twitter and Facebook and all this other crap. Only the real serious activists are the ones that are involved in the thing but I think the world coming together in an idea that this can stop is really my thought process. And that only comes from awareness.
Hence the show the other night, the same idea. Like, how can we make people more aware of this? When you talk about Ric O’Barry, that starts with, don’t go to Sea World, don’t go to Marine Land, don’t buy a ticket to a dolphin show, that kind of thing. Spread that awareness and let people know what really happens to these creatures. It’s almost like with people that eat meat. If they don’t have to watch the animal get killed, they’re fine with it. It’s like I don’t eat meat, you know, but if people don’t have to see what happens, they could really care less. It’s like, ok, you’re going to go swim with the dolphins but this is where they come from, the ocean.
Is that little cove in Taiji the main place all these parks and aquariums get their dolphins from?
Taiji is the biggest cove, the biggest area in the world, for the captive dolphin trade. They ship more dolphins to the aquariums around the world than any place else in the world.
And most of Japan doesn’t realize this?
If you know where Taiji is and you travel out there, it’s in the middle of nowhere. It took six hours just to get there from Tokyo so it’s almost like a little bit of a void. It’s this small little fishing village and I think six, seven hours away from Tokyo. It would be like if something was going on in the middle of Iowa that none of us knew about because it’s so displaced. It’s only if people bring attention to it. And now the world knows about the cove because of the film [The Cove]. But being so displaced and so far out and so remote, I think most of Japan is sort of off doing their own thing, just like Americans do. Like in New York or LA. We don’t know what’s going on in the middle of Oklahoma or Iowa or Nebraska with these factory farms or whatever and we don’t really care, most people. So the fact that we have to go there and bring the story to the world is something that obviously is a major, major focus of the Dolphin Project.
When was the turning point where you became physically involved with helping the organization?
Well, over the last three years I’ve started to get more involved in more charitable work and I formed my own NGO and a non-profit for kids called Adopt The Arts. So organically I started to change as a human being. I’m getting a little bit older, I’ve had a really blessed life, I’ve been given a lot of gifts. I started just kind of turning around naturally. I can’t say, oh, hey, I’m going to go out and do this. What happened to me was a little bit what I said on stage [at the Avalon concert November 18, 2013], is that one day I was in Cabo San Lucas and I saw this Swim With Dolphins program going on and it really bothered me so I started researching it online. I knew about the cove but I didn’t really connect the two. I always thought slaughter, you know. I didn’t think captive dolphins so I really got interested. So what I started to do was tweet about it on my Twitter and I saw all these kids coming back with how it bothered them and I thought, wow, I’ve got power to at least have a voice to help educate people and my fans around the world. So I ended up sending a contact to the Earth Island Institute out of San Francisco. I got online and realized they were very focused on the captive trade mainly and doing a lot of work in the ocean. The next day I got an email back from Ric O’Barry and that was about a year and a half ago.
Then I kept trying to go on a few of these things with Ric but my schedule didn’t allow it. But then I had this opening to go and Ric said, “I’m going to Japan, to Taiji, me and my son.” And I said, “I want to go.” He said, “I’d love that. That would be amazing.” So I said, “I’ll fly over and meet you guys” and we did a little bit of a protest with some Japanese activists. Ric is old school, he believes in the organic process of activism and environmentalism and bringing people together. It’s the one main focus of Ric and the Dolphin Project is to get the Japanese people involved in stopping this. Because what we talked about the other night at the Avalon was that we have to help Japan stop this. We can’t be in a negative with Japan as a whole because, like we said, 95% of the country doesn’t even know what’s happening. Let’s HELP Japan stop this.
I don’t know if you follow me on Twitter, but lately I’ve been texting Caroline Kennedy. Caroline Kennedy just became Ambassador to Japan. So I’m like, “Caroline, I need to get with you,” and she’s not answering me but we have to make all the certain steps to have a conversation. I thought about going over and like vocally blasting to the Japanese people. As Ric says, there’s only forty fishermen in a small village that are reaping the benefits of this multi-million dollar organization that kills these dolphins and captures dolphins and whales. So the conversation has got to happen to make change.
When you first met Ric, he said he didn’t even know you as a musician. He knew you as somebody that just wanted to be involved.
Yeah, he’d never heard my music (laughs) But he knew that my band was a big band and he knew that the idea of having somebody like me onboard could bring other celebrities – and I hate to use the word celebrity but the world has such focus on that. But what I said I could do, I said, “Ric, look, I want to do the work.” God bless all the people that do stand for certain causes but a lot of them come and go. For instance, the Haiti earthquake. When it hit, everyone jumped onboard and put themselves on a video and a PSA about, “Help Haiti.” Then, the rest of the world doesn’t know Haiti is still in a major struggle and they were all on to the next thing. So I really believe in follow through and getting the job done, sticking with it till it’s finished. So when I met with Ric and he goes, “I really don’t know your band,” I said, “Well, we’re a big band” and I told him how big we were in Japan and then he realized when I went to Japan all the cops knew me and we were treated very nicely in Taiji, not by private fisherman, obviously, but by the police officers and they were taking care of us and making sure we were alright. And, to be honest with you, I think a lot of Japanese people in that community are really tired of it too, because they’re not making any money off it. Only these certain guys are. 95% of the Japanese people don’t eat dolphin, don’t eat whale. It sounds like a barbaric trade that’s going to have to phase out soon. But we have to just keep diligent and stay on top of it or otherwise it’ll just continue.
So that’s my cause and I want to stay focused. People ask me, why dolphins and not other animals? And I’m like, why not? I can’t focus on everything but I can do one thing. And I know about me and my career, I look at it the same way and that’s why I said, if I can swim with sharks in the music business and still come out strong, I compare myself to a dolphin, same thing. A dolphin swims in the ocean with sharks. Sharks are having a major problem too but I can’t do it all. I’ve got to focus on one thing. I have one other cause that I work with about Moon bears but I have to do one thing at a time. It’s just like anything in life, you have to really focus and you have to go straight through. You can’t jump around and do twenty million things.
What have you picked up and learned the most from being around Ric O’Barry and what he’s doing?
What I like about Ric is he’s a guy that does the work. He’s about people. His way of doing things isn’t militant, it’s about a conversation. It’s more old school, seventies style, let’s work this out, everybody on this planet together, including the animals. I’m the voice for these mammals, these creatures, educating people. He’s the real deal and if you read his book [Behind The Dolphin Smile] or watched the EPK from that night, you realized he takes a lot of responsibility for this situation. I think he’s got a mission he’s on to try and turn it around. He said, “Look, I spent ten years building up this institution and now I’m spending the rest of my life tearing it down.” He’s spent thirty-six years fighting to get it the other way around because the reality is the way we treat our animals is going to be the end result of how people view our country. And America is the leading country that treats it’s animals worse than any place on the planet, including China. We’ve got more captive animals here in America, we have more wildlife importation of animals from all over the world, we’ve got more zoos and circuses. And here we’re supposed to be a leading country.
You know, countries like India can outlaw aquariums and Swim With Dolphin programs. What does that say about us? We need to be a leader. We need to be a modern thinking country. This is barbaric behavior. And I said that at the end, as soon as we got done playing, to stop this barbaric behavior. This is Dark Ages shit. Animals entertaining us. There’s plenty of other entertainment to go have, you know. Get on your new Samsung iPhone android and play a game. You know, don’t do this. And that’s what we have to teach our youth, that this and the future of this country and this world, is about telling our kids, man, we’ve got to change this cause this is old behavior.
I heard that the date of the Avalon concert was a red flag date.
Yeah, they killed a bunch of Pilot Whales that day. Pilot Whales are in the dolphin family, they look a lot like a dolphin but they have a round head. They slaughter them too and they take some as captives. They are really beautiful. They kill a lot of dolphins at the cove, not just Bottlenose. They kill Risso’s. But the most trainable dolphin is the Bottlenose. And the thing about dolphins is they don’t fight back in this process. These humans are in the water with them stabbing them and they don’t even bite them. And some of them are six hundred pounds. The fact is they’re just docile when this is happening, and it’s unbelievable. It’s an absolute horror for them. A bad thing about it is just around the corner from the cove is a huge aquarium where they keep all the rest of the captive dolphins and all those dolphins over there can hear the slaughter every day. They can hear it underwater. It’s horrific.
If you’ve studied anything about dolphins or know anything about dolphins, it’s a species that’s been on this planet for 65 million years. They’re a perfectly formed species. A larger brain than humans. It’s a non-human mammal, meaning, there’s been scientific study that they’re just as intelligent or more intelligent than humans. People say to me, well, what about the rest of the animals on the planet? And I say, well, I’ve got issues with a lot of things but I look at this as this is a real marker for humanity. This is a creature that we’re actually related to someway. There’s been study that there is more connection with us than apes. They’re the only other mammal on the planet that has sex missionary style. They’re the only other mammal on the planet that has sex for fun. Did you know that? (laughs) They’re very much like us in a way and there’s been studies that the dolphin family was originally a land creature 65 million years ago. It morphed from the land.
Having a voice for a creature that is so intelligent and a mammal like us, it can only get better from there. You know what I mean? Let’s work on the whales, the dolphins, all animals. People can take on any passion they want. Pick a passion and let it tell you what to do. If you love dogs or cats, that’s your passion. If you love pigs, let that be your passion. People say, why not kids in Syria? I say, well, you know, there’re a lot of things that are going on but I can’t do it all. I have to pick my passion and let that passion tell me what to do.
How did the concert in Los Angles last month come together?
You know, me and Lincoln O’Barry basically put on the whole thing and all we asked Ric to do was show up, because he is so focused on all his other work. I said, let me put the band together, let me get the artists, let’s raise some money. But also, let’s keep the awareness alive, let’s keep the vibe out there and let’s make this the precursor for a bigger concert in Tokyo next year. So the fact that all these musicians came and saw what it really was and they were able to walk in and feel the energy, is a stepping stone to the next level. Something bigger than a lot of people realize, especially in a town like Hollywood, where everybody is pretty self-absorbed. To be able to look outside yourself and actually say I can do something to help change the world where a lot of people don’t think they can do anything. I say to people, “You’ve got the power now to do it, even if you don’t do anything but tell a friend.” Or get on your Facebook and put something up or tweet something. That’s you doing the work. Be part of it, be part of something. You’re an everybody. Everybody that was in that room. Maybe a lot of them came for rock & roll, maybe a lot of them came to see Slash play guitar, but when they left, they were like, wow, I learned something too. I learned that as people we can be compassionate and caring about other beings on the planet. It doesn’t have to be just about myself or other humans or what I got to get today.
There were people in attendance from all over the world at the show. I met some people from England.
Yeah, the Dolphin Project movement is worldwide. There are people all over the world that believe this needs to stop and putting millions of people together with the same cause and the same focus and the same energy manifesting change is how things work in this world. I can’t remember the last total but we’ve got signatures on a petition that we can take and hand in that’s in the hundreds of thousands. You have to put the pressure on the Japanese government to say that this has got to stop. You know, most of these countries get embarrassed to the point of, “This is a bad look, so we got to look good to the rest of the world so we can’t continue to act like this.” But who are we as Americans to tell the Japanese what to do? When they probably look at us and say, “Oh you guys are over there slaughtering cows and pigs and chickens and everything else.” So it’s a tough fight but it’s a fight worth fighting.
To follow Matt Sorum, www.twitter.com/mattsorum