Left photo credit: Steven Georges/O.C. Register, all other photos taken by Rocco Guarino
The following is a guest article from Rocco Guarino, late Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver frontman Scott Weiland’s close friend and collaborator. Guarino was Weiland’s studio manager/chief engineer at Lavish Studios, and directed Weiland videos including Velvet Revolver’s “The Last Fight” in 2007.
For as long as I knew Scott Weiland, he wanted to have a record label. He liked the idea of helping new bands realize their dreams, and he always fostered an atmosphere of fairness and enthusiasm for new music.
The success of Velvet Revolver allowed him the opportunity to partner with Sony/RED Distribution and New West Records, and in 2006 he launched Softdrive Records with his partner Doug Grean and VR manager Dana Dufine.
Softdrive released albums from The Actual, The Color Turning, Something To Burn, and Tommy Joe Wilson, along with Scott’s albums Happy In Galoshes and Blaster.
In April of 2014, Scott asked me to partner with him in his Lavish Studios as Studio Manager/Chief Engineer, and to spearhead the transition of the studio from private sandbox to commercial recording facility. Shortly thereafter I proposed a complete re-branding and re-imagining of Softdrive Records. Technology is always pulling the music business to keep up with its changes, and I felt that we were in a perfect position to leverage that.
My plan for the re-launch included a complete overhaul of Lavish Studios, strategic partnerships with high-end recording equipment manufacturers, fresh company branding, a business model that could easily pivot with industry changes, and most importantly – killer new bands. Artist development has always been a big part of what I do as a producer, so my goal was to harness the power of the major label muscle via a joint venture, while retaining complete autonomy in terms of the artists we sign and how we develop them.
There’s never a dearth of demos coming my way or artists looking for deals, so the task of finding our breakout act was somewhat daunting, since the overwhelming majority of bands simply don’t have what it takes. Breaking a band is no small feat, and with the amount of competition in the marketplace I knew we’d have to come out of the gate strong.
In November of 2014 my friend Mark Walbaum hit me up about a band he was managing called Vox Waves (now known as Turquoise Noise). I knew Mark had an ear for potential, since he helped launch another celebrity-owned label when he brought Rocco DeLuca to Kiefer Sutherland, and they subsequently signed Rocco to Ironworks Music in 2003.
After hearing their songs “New House” and “Wasting All My Time,” I knew this would be the flagship project that would define the new Softdrive Records label. Scott loved the band and their sound. He had discerning taste and it wasn’t very often that he got excited about new music. This was a rare exception. What Scott heard in the band was the urgency of call-to-arms lyrics combined with a new sound tinged with psych-rock, surf-rock, and hit songs. The garage vibe re-revisited to reflect the future sound of rock ala Arctic Monkeys, Tame Impala, Black Angels, Broncho, The Growlers, and others of that ilk. The lead singer evoked an energy that conjured the dark matter of Jim Morrison, while the band blended musicianship with driving rock n’ roll and an urgent need to shake your bones. Scott was a fan of them right away, and offered them a recording contract that by industry standards would be considered groundbreaking. Complete creative control would be left in the hands of the band and myself, and keeping in line with the artist-first culture we aimed to maintain at Softdrive, the deal terms were incredibly generous. He invited them to open his sold-out show at the El Rey Theater, and on February 22, 2015 the band loaded into Lavish to begin making the record. I set the guys up in a round in the live room, and with Scott’s generosity we had no time limit, and a dream collection of vintage instruments, amps, and microphones. We tracked through an MCI console and a Neve sidecar to 2” tape.
The following year was eventful, to say the least. I lost my best friend (and Scott’s guitarist) Jeremy Brown, and Softdrive battled with an ever-changing team of business managers, label services, publicists, red tape, and logistics. Against all odds, the band and I holed ourselves up in the studio for 10 months, sometimes forced to take month-long breaks, followed by settling back into the groove, only to be interrupted again. The vibe was thick, and we went deep into the creative process, living and breathing the music. Often times friends would swing by, and impromptu parties would ensue after a hard day’s work. It was a true rock ’n roll experience, one that we all cherish. On the very last day of tracking, the band and I were at Lavish celebrating the completion of the recording and toasting to the future, when we got the phone call that Scott passed away.
Scott was my close friend, my mentor, ally, inspiration, and the most loyal person I’ve ever met. He was also a badass motherfucker with few peers. The last real rock star. His sense of fashion and persona were at the forefront of what he held dear as an artist, so for him to put his image in my hands at the height of his time with Velvet Revolver was a true honor. He launched my career and shaped who I am as a person in many ways, and I’ll forever be indebted to him.
After weeks of desperate scrambling to keep the studio alive, in February of 2016 I was forced to shutter Lavish Studios and Softdrive Records, and close the door on a 13-year chapter of my life. As broken-hearted as I was, I felt that the band and I needed to release the album to the best of our ability, and bring this music to the world. The band changed their name to Turquoise Noise, and we trudged forward. The next couple months were spent mixing the album whenever we could in various studios around LA, including NRG Studios in North Hollywood, 4th Street Recording in Santa Monica, and to end with a sweet bang, Christopher Thorn from Blind Melon was gracious enough to let us use his studio Firesound Sound in Silverlake for the last two days of mixing. Despite it being mixed in different rooms, Dave Cooley at Elysian Masters did a really great job of tying it all together sonically and polishing it into a cohesive album.
On December 2, 2016, the eve of the one-year anniversary of Scott’s passing, and almost two years after we began, we independently released the self-titled debut album from Turquoise Noise. We’re currently shopping for a record company that shares our vision and passion, in hopes of giving the album the wide release it deserves. I’m looking for a studio to run, and a label to partner with to develop new bands and foster the same atmosphere of fairness and enthusiasm that Scott always had. I’ll carry the torch for him, and my new imprint will surely have a moniker fitting of the giant that he was.
The band’s EPK and music video for the first single “Wasting All My Time” can be found at roccomusic.com/turquoisenoise, and the album is available on Spotify and other streaming services.