Ace Harper wears a Bottega Veneta dress and heels. Matt Sorum wears a Celine suit and Gucci loafers. (Hair by Anna Silverstein; makeup by Alexa Hernandez)
PHOTOGRAPHY BY AARON FEAVER
Matt Sorum’s 1962 Ford Galaxie is a transplant from Iowa. Like the Grammy-winning drummer, songwriter, and entrepreneur who originally hails from Long Beach, it’s soaking up the good life in Palm Springs, ready to embark on the next ride.
“It doesn’t have seatbelts?”
The words slip out before I can stop them, as Sorum gives the passenger door a strong push. A metallic click in the doorframe calls to mind the lock of a safety bar on an old Coney Island roller coaster.
“Is that legal?”
“Seatbelts were an option back in those days,” Sorum says, shrugging and evading the question in a way you might expect of Rock & Roll Hall of Fame royalty.
His daily driver departs slowly from the light and airy, mountain-view home by architect Charles Du Bois, where Sorum lives with his professional dancer–turned–fashion designer wife, Ace Harper, and their daughter, Lou Ellington, who will be 2 in June. We’re headed to Sorum’s newly finished private music studio, a dark den shrouded like a sleeping bat in an unmarked commercial space off Palm Canyon Drive.
The Galaxie glides along, topless — a sleek, chestnut beast of a road machine. It looks and coasts like the perfect set of throwback wheels for someone who has set aside their sordid past in a tell-all memoir (Double Talkin’ Jive, Rare Bird Books, 2022) and is genuinely thrilled to be penning a kinder, gentler chapter. It’s also instantly recognizable wherever Sorum and Harper go: Bar Cecil, Tropicale, events at the Palm Springs Art Museum. “The cat’s out of the bag,” as they like to say. The rocker parents are bona fide locals now, active in the community and at peace with surrendering their anonymity as poolside part-timers.
En route to the studio, Sorum tosses out a well-researched nugget about almost every property we pass. Sure, he toured the globe as a hit-’em-hard drummer for Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver, and The Cult, collecting major awards that fill more than one studio wall and a shelf in his home, but he also happens to relish midcentury cars, homes, and history.
“You know the Kaufmann House? That was Barry Manilow’s,” he points out. “Everyone pulls up and takes pictures. The pink house, that was Jack Benny’s. The one with the piano mailbox is Liberace’s. Did you know Liberace had four houses?”
No. I actually had no idea.
“And the bass player for Jane’s Addiction just moved in over there. See? They’re coming,” he says.
The musicians are coming.
“Palm Springs feels like we’re on an endless vacation.”
FRESH OFF A YEARLONG renovation, the couple’s midcentury-modern home solidifies their future intentions. Architectural Digest picked up the vintage-studded outcome the moment it was ready to photograph, releasing the cat from the bag in a major way. While preserving the early 1960s mood, designer Ryan Saghian translated Harper’s request for serenity into a neutral scheme grounded in earthy textures and materials. The boldness she desired appears in custom lighting, custom wallpaper, and a rust-colored Italian couch that’s nightclub-low and loungey.
The night before I arrived, the couple had attended the Grammys. Before that was Clive Davis’ pre-Grammy party, where they shared a table with Metallica and Alice Cooper. Today, they’re watching the baby monitor because the nanny called in sick. Coco can be heard on the flat screen. Lou’s favorite Disney/Pixar film follows the story of a boy who longs to become a musician despite his family’s wishes — an unlikely scenario here; Sorum says Lou already shows a firm grip on the sticks.
Part of me had expected rock music to be blaring through their front door before it even opened, pulsating the sidewalk under my feet as I strolled past the Galaxie and up the front walk. Perhaps the driving adrenaline of “Judgement Day,” the first single from Kings of Chaos, the supergroup Sorum formed with former bandmates Slash, Duff McKagan, and Dave Kushner. (Their full album is set to drop later this year.) Or maybe some gritty, soulful riffs by Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top. This summer, Sorum will tour Europe for 20 shows with the man who founded the bearded band. “He’s one of the greatest blues guitarists in the history of music, and there’s not many of them left,” Sorum says. “If he asks, I say yes.”
There are raucous days at this house — singing, dancing, laughing, playing music, hosting friends and neighbors. They bring in tacos and live music or a DJ to hang around the pool and new backyard bar before kicking back in the open-air movie theater equipped with a projector. This is not that day. Nanny off duty, Lou had just dozed off for the first time since sunup, and I was greeted with a grunting pair of French bulldogs. It’s a far cry from basslines and percussion,
but it’s real.
Sorum and Harper are a high-style study in change your address, change your life. The place they loved to escape to (they married at The Colony Palms Hotel and Bungalows in 2013) emanated a stronger, more spiritual pull for them once pregnancy and pandemic collided. The move has brought their life and marriage into clearer focus and resulted in more authentic connections.
What’s constant is the music.
Sorum got his break drumming for Guns N’ Roses at age 29, which felt old by rock ’n’ roll standards, he says. But he had paid his dues and rose to rare heights on the global stage. “Music is a thing I do, and I love doing it. The rest is just gravy,” he says. Being in Los Angeles is no longer a factor, as people come to him at the studio. “There’s always been that mystique, a creative energy coming from the desert. Now I feel it. I’m making music out here, and there’s no distraction. There’s nothing pulling at me.”
Harper, meanwhile, seeks to uplift women with an inclusive fashion line launching this fall. The couple’s extensive travels, the 1970s, and music icons like David Bowie, Deborah Harry, and Iggy Pop influence her design sensibilities. In her first collection, Little Miracles, a nouveau-punk spirit blends into “a glam aesthetic” to make the wearer feel untamed, awakened, seen — their alter ego set free.
“I want to be an example to other women to have courage, put yourself out there, and do exactly what you want to do,” says Harper, who was a singer and visual artist after dancing for Duran Duran and Britney Spears. “You can work, have a business, be a mom. It’s important for me to be an example to Lou, too. My mom was a principal at a deaf school, and I loved that.”
The pair’s path to Palm Springs mirrors many before them: Buy a weekend place with a great view, realize life should look more like the weekends, relocate full-time, aspire to do less, feel inspired to do more.
Daily pursuit of their creative and business endeavors gives way to a softer version of nightlife. Dinner in or out with friends is their social norm. “We cook a lot more at home here, too, instead of calling Postmates,” Sorum says. If an evening swim is on the menu, the backyard is baby-proof, devoid of perilous barrel cactus now rehomed in the front yard.
“In the height of my career, I probably didn’t have enough gratitude,” he reflects. Settled in the desert, deep in new ventures, sans the stress, “I feel like this is the great light at the end of the tunnel. Ace and I say it all the time, this is the happiest we’ve ever been, by far.”
With Lou up from her nap, our conversation has shifted from the patio to the dining room table. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch Sorum blowing kisses to the baby, who has turned from the movie to gaze at her dad. One of the dogs is snoring across the room.
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“We want to be in a joyful place, so we reflect that back to her,” Harper says. “We love the energy in the house to be peaceful, positive, and fun. And she’s really such a happy baby.”
Sorum recalls his own youth as a “California kid who grew up in rock ’n’ roll and never
had a real, 9-to-5 job. But,” he says, “I finally grew up when I met Ace. And as soon as the kid was born, I quit smoking. I had tried before but was struggling.”
“We really support each other,” Harper adds. “With our drive and discipline, we relate on a lot of levels. We both knew exactly what we wanted to do at a young age.” Over their 18 years together, he taught her she doesn’t always have to be perfect; she taught him that if he doesn’t land a gig, it isn’t the right one.
WHEN THE GALAXIE SIDLES UP to Good Noise, Sorum’s studio, he mentions he is always on the hunt for “inspiration, good feelings, and collaboration” — all of which he has hit upon in the Coachella Valley. He acquired the 4,000-square-foot former gym last April, then put in a hot summer overseeing its sumptuous remodel.
Our eyes adjust to the low lighting from custom sconces. Framed photographs of music legends by Jim Marshall pop from the walls, cloaked in Wrought Iron paint by Benjamin Moore. Past the lobby kitchen and bar with French bistro seating, past the ladies’ room painted coral and the men’s restroom (a cheeky man cave within a man cave), and past the wall where Sorum posing on the cover of Rolling Stone is almost lost amid myriad other accolades, we reach the plush control room. Sorum’s guitar collection and a 1979 sound board steal the spotlight. Straight ahead, a large window peers into the live room, where a grand piano he’s babied for 30 years hugs one wall; two sets of Gretsch drums gleam front and center.
A back room stores Sorum’s vintage amps, and a secret door opens to a private “vinyl lounge,” completing this beautiful extension of his 40 years in the rock trenches. “I’m doing it purely for enjoyment now,” he says. “There’s no agenda. When I signed a record deal, I said, ‘You’ll get the record when I’m done.’ ”
Between work on the upcoming Kings of Chaos album, Sorum invites his inner circle to record while expanding his philanthropic goals, using the studio as a venue for charity events. “I’m going to help the community. That’s why we did the Plaza Theatre benefit,” he says, referring to November’s Rock the Plaza, which raised almost $400,000 for the restoration of the historic Palm Springs theater. “I don’t want to just show up and be a taker.”
“I’m making music out here, and there’s no distraction. There’s nothing pulling at me.”
April 1, he’ll host an event at the studio with Rick Allen of Def Leppard to raise money and awareness for veterans, first responders, and trauma survivors with the nonprofit Raven Drum Foundation. Soon, Sorum plans to bring his Adopt the Arts charity to local schools to develop music programming for grades K to 6.
He has also delved into another passion as a tech-preneur. He travels to Brazil on business and has devoted three years to building Gigaverse, a new project in social media video broadcasting focused on authenticity and empowerment.
“I got really into it and studied it the same way I studied music,” Sorum says. He speaks on panels about the future economics of blockchain and music, exploring NFTs (non-fungible tokens) as a way for musicians to market themselves and be paid in real time. “Incremental ownership of music and art is coming,” he attests. “I want to be involved.”
Driving back to the house, Sorum reveals a backup plan: celebrity tour guide for celebrity home tours. Matt Sorum and his Galaxie present the prettiest back streets and the juiciest backstories. “The Galaxie is a great cruiser,” he says. “We can get eight people in here.”
“My mom always used to say, ‘You need something to fall back on. You can’t just be a rock ’n’ roll drummer.’ I’m like, ‘Why not?’ Now I go, ‘I’ve got a VIP celebrity house tour in my classic car.’ ” So far, only friends have had the privilege.
Ten years ago, this edgy, straight-out-of-a-music-video couple might have stuck out on a bicycle ride around Vista Las Palmas. Not anymore. This is the new neighborhood — a friendly, increasingly trendy mix that welcomes all, including those who’ve adopted the mountain backdrop without giving up the music scene.
“Palm Springs feels like we’re on an endless vacation,” Sorum says.
They appreciate the Mad Men vibes and the sense that they can create their own new reality, which includes lots of Lou time before she starts school. “I was born in 1960, the house is from 1961, the car is from 1962, and my studio is just a few minutes from the house,” he muses. “Right now, I’m in the perfect place.”
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