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© Steven Tackeff/ZUMA/Corbis
With Sorum now part of the Guns gang, the studio beckoned with the band facing the daunting challenge of following-up Appetite…
They tackled the task by putting the hard-edged sound that had made them superstars on ice. “Axl wanted to create big rock. I think subconsciously he was thinking of the stadiums. He wanted to test the boundaries with songs like ‘November Rain’ and ‘Coma’, these epic numbers.
“I was surprised with the piano and everything. I thought I was going to join this rock band and here we are coming up with something very different to what I was used to hearing. But I saw the diversity in Axl’s songwriting.”
Big rock meant a big kit for Sorum. The huge rock tom sounds found on the likes of ‘November Rain’ and ‘You Could Be Mine’ demanded a set-up that could cope with sizeable punishment.
“On that album I used the Rock Tour custom kit which was a medium-line Yamaha kit. They had these huge toms, they were like square sizes 12x12-inch, 13x13-inch, 14x14-inch - big, big toms. You can hear that on the album, the tom sounds are huge.”
Mike Clink was again in the production booth for Guns, and just as he had with Adler four years earlier he was on hand to help Sorum find the perfect kit sound to match their stadium-sized ambitions.
“When we miked up the toms we were very particular with how they sounded. I tuned them to a piano. I was using Pinstripe heads, they were the go-to for that really thumpy, big rock sound. I was always a Zildjian guy so I played all my Zildjians.”
With his kit in place Sorum was then able to indulge in just about every drummer’s dream - a game of musical snares.
“In those days I had a large collection of snare drums and I used about 30 different drums on that album. Every time I’d do a song I’d pick a snare to go with it.
“There was a snare we nicknamed Big Red. That was an old Tama that I used on ‘November Rain’, ‘Don’t cry’, and ‘Estranged’. It was a big 14x8-inch birch drum. It’s owned by a buddy of mine Mike Fasano who techs for Green Day. That’s a famous drum now. If you’re in LA now doing a session you can call Mike and rent Big Red. It wasn’t a high-level Tama, it was a medium-level birch but it was just fat as f**k and sounded huge.
“We had the Black Beauty as well. There’s a song called ‘Locomotive’ that I used a killer white 14x6-inch Noble and Cooley on. On some of the real radical rock stuff I had a Zildjian Noble and Cooley.
“They only came out with a few of those and I still have it. It’s made out of Zildjian brass with Noble and Cooley hardware, 14x6 1/2-inch. It was an insane-sounding bell brass drum."
Despite plenty of time for chopping and changing up the snares and the huge size of the double album project, Guns spent just a few weeks in the studio cutting both Use Your Illusion albums.
Sorum suggests this was a sign of the times. “In those days there wasn’t a lot of time to work things out unless you did it in the studio because we cut to tape, there was no Pro-Tools. In retrospect I could have gone in there and played the most incredible drum tracks by making some edits. But I had to do it in one take.
“You listen and that’s the band performing, those records are live takes from beginning to end. A performance was a performance. It wasn’t getting seven performances and making an edit. I’d do two or three takes usually.
“We weren’t using click tracks. Everything was just, ‘lets do this.’ I think that’s a lost art form. There’s something to say why people gravitate towards those great old records - Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Stones. They sat around and played together. It’s not a chemistry project, it’s a rock’n’roll band.”
Still, that didn’t mean Sorum couldn’t put some thought into his drum tracks… “The one thing I always tried to do was create a good intro. ‘Pretty Tied Up’ has the trippy hi-hat at the start, real signature things. That was always my thing, creating a signature.
“People joke with me a lot about ‘November Rain’ asking why I did that tom fill so much. I wanted to create a signature, a musical part of the song that was a hook so I kept doing the same fill. That same fill leads through ‘November Rain’, ‘Estranged’ and ‘Don’t cry’. The reason I did that was because those three songs were a trilogy so I tied them together.
“Axl told me they were a trilogy and the videos were all connected so I said, ‘lets make a drum sound that’s connected.’ That’s the kind of s**t we’d talk about!”