Tom Zutaut Tried to Convince Axl Rose to Release “Chinese Democracy” As a Solo Record
A new article by our buddy Art Tavana on Billboard dives deep into the making of “Chinese Democracy.” The article features an interview with former Geffen A&R Rep Tom Zutaut who tried to convince Axl Rose to release “Chinese Democracy” as a solo record instead of under the Guns N’ Roses name. The excerpt from the article reads as follows:
Fans’ ears may not have been ready for it, and certainly, had there been a public opinion poll conducted in 2008 asking fans whether Chinese Democracy belong in GN’R’s catalog, plenty of protests would have been lobbed.
“If he had released it as an Axl Rose solo record, it probably would have sold millions,” says former Geffen A&R executive Tom Zutaut. “But when we sat in the studio and talked about Chinese Democracy, he [Axl Rose] just wasn’t ready to go there yet.” Nielsen reports that Chinese Democracy sold 549,000 units in the first 12 weeks of release. Records by Metallica and AC/DC release during that same period went Platinum in their first 12 weeks. Chinese Democracy was, by most standards, a commercial failure. Would it have quickly moved a million units as a solo effort? Probably not. Zutaut was recruited in 2001 by Interscope-Geffen as consiglieri to Axl, a well-paid advisor and comrade who was there to help the volatile composer meet his Interscope-Geffen deadline—which was extended so many times that Chinese Democracy became a synonym for unpunctuality; even Dr. Dre’s Detox had become the “Chinese Democracy of rap.”
Zutaut intended to persuade Axl to release the album under his name, “W. Axl Rose,” not Guns N’ Roses. It was a strategy that Zutaut felt would have alienated less of the outspoken fans. Klosterman, one of the most fluent GN’R fans, says, “almost nobody listened to it as a piece of music. They only listened to it as a series of ideas and functions of Axl Rose as a person, which really skewed the perception of how the record was perceived.” Had it been released as a solo record, the critics who viewed Axl’s usurped GN’R as a moral dilemma, may have been more sympathetic. Then again, it would been completely out of character for Axl Rose to proceed with a policy of appeasement.