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Robert DeLeo on Stone Temple Pilots’ Resilience, New Album and New Singer, Jeff Gutt (The Interview)
Stone Temple Pilots have been an alternative rock institution for going on 25 years. Their 1992 debut Core celebrated that big anniversary with a reissue package in the fall, and their latest self-titled album is out on March 16.
Of course, one cannot think of Stone Temple Pilots without visualizing longtime vocalist Scott Weiland or the band’s next vocalist after Weiland’s passing, Chester Bennington of Linkin Park, with whom STP recorded an EP in 2014.
Bennington, too, has since passed away, ushering in a new era of Stone Temple Pilots in the form of vocalist Jeff Gutt, who worked on the new material with founding members Robert DeLeo, Dean Deleo and Eric Kretz.
Robert DeLeo spoke with Rock Cellar about his band’s resilience over the years and how perfect a fit Gutt was in our new feature interview. Enjoy it below.
Rock Cellar: The new album, Stone Temple Pilots, is out on March 16, right after you finish a tour with your new vocalist, Jeff Gutt. How did he get involved in the band and how did the album come about in the studio?
Robert DeLeo: We’re always working on material. Back when Chester was part of the band, we had the notion to start working on a new record, but … he didn’t really have the time. The short amount of time he was in there was a great, positive, very enlightening time for us that we needed at that moment. That’s kind of how I look back at Chester, I always think of that guy smiling and always being positive, being in the solution of things, but we had these ideas that we were talking about making into a record. That’s kind of what we wanted to do.
I think we all feel like there’s something to offer still, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it.
We want to keep on making Stone Temple Pilots music together. When the three of us, me, Eric and Dean get together after all these years, you really cherish and value something that maybe we took for granted in the past. And you realize that the three of us really do have something that we cherish in our lives. It’s a big part of my life.
Rock Cellar: So you were working on the bulk of the new material back when you had hopes of being able to record it with Chester?
Robert DeLeo: We had a few ideas with Chester, but we didn’t really get that far. A lot of this was written once Jeff came into the picture with his energy. We saw what he could do as a lyricist and as a singer, and that in itself is inspiring. You see that and you think, “Alright, there’s a lot of hope there” that we could actually continue making music how we make music.
Rock Cellar: The handful of songs released ahead of the album, you can definitely see how Jeff’s voice fits the music and how it might be pretty well-suited to tackle those classic songs on the road, as well.
Robert DeLeo: Yeah. It’s a tall order to ask of someone, you know? It’s not easy to be in that position, to be able to try and carry on the legacy of someone who has made such an indelible mark on music and on our records. Also, just as or more importantly, moving forward, creating your own thing — that’s a lot to ask of anyone, especially when you’re a singer. I think he’s up for it, and that’s a huge part of moving forward is getting someone who’s up for it.
Rock Cellar: And unfortunately, you, Dean and Eric have had to “move forward” in this capacity twice, now, which can’t be very easy.
Robert DeLeo: Oh man. When I think back at the past 30 years, that’s a huge chunk of my life. There’s probably some things that happened that I wouldn’t have thought would happen, but they did. It’s been an interesting ride, and I think there’s been a lot of challenges. One of the things on this record that I really see after finishing it, there’s a lot of resilience. A lot of that poured into this record, and that says a lot about all of us, moving forward.
Rock Cellar: Safe to assume the tour will find you playing a good portion of new material along with the classics?
Robert DeLeo: Yeah, I think for this first run … you always have to put yourself in the fans’ point of view. I’m a fan of music — well, I don’t like to use that word if I can help it because it’s short for ‘fanatic,’ so hopefully people aren’t fanatics. But I still enjoy listening to music, and if I was going to go to a show I’d ultimately want to hear songs that I grew up with and meant a lot to me. And especially with new songs, this first tour we’re going to do, the album won’t even be out yet. The album won’t be out until we get off this first tour, actually.
So to sit there and play a bunch of songs that people don’t know, well … I think songs take a little while to digest and feel and ultimately become a part of your life.
Rock Cellar: STP released a special 25th anniversary edition of Core a few months back. When that album came out, it seems like the band attracted a lot of criticism or negative attention, as compared to how work from bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam were so celebrated.
Robert DeLeo: Well, I don’t know if it was about the music, I think a lot of those people who were saying those things didn’t even listen to the music.
It’s happened throughout time, really, Led Zeppelin got compared to Black Sabbath, Zeppelin got bagged in the press initially. And when you’re in the moment and you’re young, it affects you. But, shit — some of those who wrote that stuff in the early days are now like, “Hey man, I’m sorry about that, I didn’t even really listen to your records,” and that’s really the truth of it.
I think when a whole movement of music comes, you’re just overloaded with so much of it that you go, “You know what, that’s it, just turn that shit off!” And it’s a human thing.
You’ve got a record company trying to push a band, and you’ve got many record companies trying to push many bands. For someone who’s a critic, well, a critic is someone who criticizes. I don’t think we ever made records for critics, that wasn’t the intention. I don’t think critics are pleased with a lot of things, but it was just growing up on what we grew up on. Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, all that stuff in the ’60s and ’70s. It was a great time to grow up on music. And it just happened that the other bands around at the time grew up with the same music, too!
Rock Cellar: In our chat with Dean, he mentioned what it was like working alongside Scott all those years and being around him for so long. What was it about Scott that made him such a powerful lead singer?
Robert DeLeo: I knew Scott from the mid-’80s. I saw someone who really worked at trying to be something that … I don’t think Scott was really comfortable in his own skin. I think that’s what drove him to do other things in life, and I think he looked at people like David Bowie for inspiration to do that. I think when you’re in that position of being a front man, you’re trying to find different ways to express yourself and put across your art. Scott became very in-tune with that by probably the third record, Tiny Music, when he really became aware of all that. His awareness rose.
But unfortunately, so did the drug use, and like other people … here we go again, you look at someone like Jim Morrison, a self-destructive type. It’s a shame that it’s such a blueprint that happens in rock and roll. People become victims of their own expression.
Rock Cellar: You brought up Chester earlier. He was a very interesting person and, as others have told us in recent interviews, just a total joy to be around in a creative capacity. When he started working with you guys, I have to assume he was particularly excited due to his personal musical interests and the fact that he started out fronting a grunge band of his own, Grey Daze.
Robert DeLeo: Well, Chester brought such a positivity to the whole thing, which we really needed at the time. Things were not in a good place at the time that he decided to do this. And I just remember that whole time of him being in the band and me having a smile on my face, all of us having smiles on our faces when we got together.
Chester was part of the same community that I live in, school, with our kids, all that. The guy always brought a positive solution — there are some people who always live trying to figure things out, but he had this sense of, like, “This is what we’re gonna do. We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to kick ass!”
That was something we needed at the time. I wish we could have made more music together. I know that Linkin Park was a very high demand on his time. Things happen for a reason in life. You look back, at the time you think, “Oh man,” but as time goes by you realize everything has a time and place and a reason, you know?
It was a positive part of our career, though, for sure.
Rock Cellar: It’s always so sad when that happens.
Robert DeLeo: Yeah, the guy’s not here anymore, and … fuck the music, the guy’s not here on Earth anymore, you know? That’s the real sad part of it as a person. I miss that guy as a person.
Rock Cellar: I’d never realized this, but you co-produced Alien Ant Farm’s 2004 album TruANT. That was a weird record. Any fun stories working with them back then?
Robert DeLeo: Oh yeah, that was a great experience. I love those guys, they’re really talented musicians. And a little insane, and our insanity kind of rubbed off on each other. We had some great times making that record. What I got from them was they got caught up in that “Smooth Criminal” thing and really wanted to show what they were made of musically. I think we made a great record, I’m really proud of that record.
I love those guys. They’re really great.
Rock Cellar: I always have the riff in “Drifting Apart” in my head, all those years later.
Robert DeLeo: We had some fun times making that one.
Rock Cellar: You’ve also been doing some stuff with the Hollywood Vampires, the supergroup involving Alice Cooper, Joe Perry and Johnny Depp, right?
Robert DeLeo: Well, I was for a while and hopefully will again someday, but I had to put that down for this Stone Temple Pilots stuff. I’ve had a great experience these past few years playing with my idols, those who inspired me, and it’s been a great time. But I always think, “I kinda want to play my songs again.”
But the Vampires are going out this summer and hopefully making a new record, so they’ll be doing that. Hopefully someday I’ll reconnect with them on a musical level.
— Rock Cellar Magazine (@RockCellarMag) March 3, 2018
Rock Cellar: Everything they do is so sporadic, thanks to their individual schedules.
Robert DeLeo: Johnny’s got a day job, you know? (laughs)
Rock Cellar: What’s your favorite Stone Temple Pilots radio song, and what’s one you think didn’t get enough credit or exposure?
Robert DeLeo: I look at a certain part of my songwriting that really brought it to the next level, and I think that’s “Interstate Love Song.” It blows me away sometimes when I turn the radio on and a song I wrote is playing. It’s pretty humbling.
I think musically, I really enjoyed the direction we were going in on Shangri-Ladi Da, with some great musical moments. I think the song ont hat record I really enjoy is “Hello, It’s Late,” I think Scott really came up with some beautiful melodies and lyrics on that one. When you write a song musically and someone adds the lyrics, it’s an amazing feeling.
Scott was really great at doing that.
Rock Cellar: Looking back on your career, Stone Temple Pilots’ success, the highs and the lows, all that. What’s a lesson or two that you’d impart on somebody trying to make it as a musician?
Robert DeLeo: I think being in a band is really like no other thing in life. There aren’t many things in life that you can compare it to, because it’s like joining the carnival. It really depends on the individual and how they’re going to experience life. There are so many different facets and aspects of being in a band that you can delve into or become addicted to or … there’s really no rules, man. I think just trying to keep the most level aspect of my life in check over the years has been the thing for me.
Native Americans say “remember who you are,” and it always stuck with me. I always remembered who I was. I’m a kid who grew up in a coastal town in New Jersey. I still have friends I went to kindergarten with back there, and it keeps me grounded. I think if I did something different they’d be like, “what the fuck are you doing?” so it keeps me remembering who I am.
It’s pretty fleeting. I’m thankful to all the people that decided to give STP a listen back in the day and keep doing so today. I’m thankful for those people. It’s a huge part of why we continue to do what we do. People enjoy it, and we’re thankful.
I never wanted to be a “rock star,” I just wanted to be a great songwriter and someone who could go make a living out of something I enjoy. It would suck to have to go to a job that they don’t dig, and they have to be there 40 hours a week. That’s a big part of your life, man! And those people are the ones that want to spend some money that they might not have to go out and see a show. Those people deserve the best show that they can get.
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