Matt Sorum, known to rock fans for his drumming stints with the Cult, Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver, is hosting a benefit gig with Slash and Macy Gray in L.A. this Sunday for his Adopt the Arts charity, a program he started to combat funding cuts in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Sorum will be performing, though not in his familiar role behind the drum kit. He'll be showing off his troubadour side, to be featured on his January solo album. "It's much more introspective than my usual heavy rock stuff," he tells Rolling Stone. It's more of a singer-songwriter thing. I play acoustic guitar, and it's a little mellower kind of album."
After working with one school facing budget cuts, Sorum says, "I came up with this idea – why don't I adopt the school? I'll raise the money, I'll be the figurehead of that music and art program.' So I went downtown to a rally and I spoke to the superintendent of the school district and got up there and spoke in front of the board. Basically, they held the cuts. They didn't cut the program."
Sorum has been a very active participant in the organization. "I come in with instruments, I do art programs," he says. "The curriculum I've created, it's basically teaching about where music comes from, the great artists of the blues – John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson – then it goes way back to classical. So my kids in the third and fourth grade are learning about Beethoven and Mozart, and then they're learning about modern artists, jazz – Miles Davis, John Coltrane. My curriculum is basically guitars, drums, keyboards, bass and vocals. So my kids learn modern music – Bob Marley, John Lennon – they play more modern songs even by, like, Rihanna. It's exciting and fun for them."
A year and a half after he helped create Adopt the Arts he is continuing in his quest to involve more celebrities in the battle to save schools, something he hopes Sunday's fundraiser will help not just locally, but on a global level.
"We're doing a school with an Iranian lady who wants to work with kids that speak the Farsi language. And we partnered with a really cool guy in Pakistan because I was really taken by the Malala [Yousafzai] situation, and we partnered with a guy named Shehzad Roy – he's the biggest pop star in Pakistan," he says. "We thought it was a really cool concept to bring the Pakistan community together with our kids."
The upcoming album and Adopt the Arts are both indicative of Sorum's changing outlook as he matures. "I've been sober about six years now and my life's just changing. I'm getting married, getting a little older, and I just started feeling different – not being so self-absorbed in the rock & roll world," he says. "I changed quite a bit, for the better, I think."
He also feels philanthropic work can be huge in the often narcissistic world of music. "Especially when you're in the music world and you've got people telling you how great you are all the time, a lot of people can get caught up in that. So for me I do [the charity work] – I get lost in it. It just makes you feel better," he says. "And the thing about Adopt the Arts is I really want these celebrities to get their hands dirty. I really want them to be involved, because I know what it's done for me."