Keep on truckin’: Despite tragedies and other setbacks, Stone Temple Pilots—currently, from left to right, Dean DeLeo, Jeff Gutt, Eric Kretz, and Rob DeLeo—have continued to evolve as a band and make rock albums that chart.
Photo by Michelle Shiers
Laughter is perhaps the most auspicious way to start an interview with Dean and Robert DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots. The deaths of their two former lead singers, Scott Weiland and Chester Bennington, who passed in 2015 and 2017, respectively, has been casting a bit of a dark cloud over their every move. But Dean quickly sets an amiable tone for our conversation with a quip he nicked from Cameron Crowe’s liner notes in Led Zeppelin’s 1990 Boxed Set. Upon introducing myself and offering my credentials, he responds with, “I don’t come to you with my problems.” Laughter ensues and the ice is broken.
The line comes from an interaction Crowe witnessed as a young man when he was a journalist on tour with Led Zeppelin. He saw Peter Grant walk up to Bob Dylan and say, “Hi, I’m Peter Grant. I manage Led Zeppelin.” And Dylan responded, “I don’t come to you with my problems.” Dean is clearly bemused by the set up: “How great is that? I use that line for everything and I crack up every time.”
Starting an interview about Stone Temple Pilots’ self-titled new album in this way is pleasantly disarming and illuminates the immense modesty the DeLeo brothers appear to share. It’s a welcome character trait from two bona fide rock stars that literally reshaped the musical landscape in the early ’90s as part of the grunge movement with albums like Core and Purple.
In the ensuing years, STP evolved into one of the most musically diverse alternative-rock bands, growing sonically on albums like Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop and No. 4 by interweaving elements of classic rock, glam, psychedelia, and Motown. The only obstacle that seemed to prevent them from rising to even greater heights was Weiland’s well-documented battle with drug addiction and his resulting departures from the band.
Despite those troubles, Dean and Robert, along with STP drummer Eric Kretz, never appeared to wallow in self-pity, and they certainly don’t seem to dwell on the past—especially when it comes to music. Instead, they’ve opted to escape the tumult by entrenching themselves even more deeply into their music via offshoot projects like Talk Show and Army of Anyone, or beginning the monumental task of rebranding STP with a new front man—first with late Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington and now with Jeff Gutt. They’ve even explored side gigs along the way, performing with Joe Walsh, Hollywood Vampires, Kings of Chaos, Delta Deep, and others. No matter how challenging the circumstances, the DeLeo brothers always seem to stay above the fray by seeking out a good tune … and perhaps a good laugh.
Which isn’t to say they are indifferent to the suicides (accidental or otherwise) of their two former front men. There’s obviously a tremendous amount of reverence for the band’s legacy and the people they’ve collaborated with. They just aren’t overly nostalgic about it. In theory, it would’ve been economically viable for them to hire a Scott Weiland clone, forego making a new album, and go out on tour exploiting STP’s past. They sure have enough hit songs to ride on. “Plush,” “Interstate Love Song,” “Vasoline,” and four others have reached the apex of Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, and 17 more have wedged in its Top 20. But the DeLeos aren’t inclined to rest on their laurels. They are eminently motivated by what they both call the “power of song,” and it is the pursuit of songcraft, and making new music, that ignites their drive. And now, after a year-long online search for a new singer, from which they landed Gutt (a former contestant on The X Factor), it seems STP has firmly embraced the future and delivered what’s arguably their best album in years.
Stone Temple Pilots is an album of immense emotional depth and musical breadth. There are the familiar artistic components that have come to define STP’s sonic blueprint, like Dean’s eclectic guitar tones and stylistic choices, and Robert’s gritty, Motown-inspired bass lines, but the wistfulness of “The Art of Letting Go,” “Thought She’d Be Mine,” and “Finest Hour” demonstrate a peak level of songwriting. The hooks seem smarter than ever, the performances more sensitive and nuanced, and the production value just a smidge tighter than their previous albums.
STP produced their latest album and credits the band’s early producer, Brendan O’Brien, with teaching them the secrets of the studio. “Brendan worked fast and efficient and he got the best out of us, quickly. That’s how we learned to make records,” says Dean.
Gutt is a singer of inspired rhythmic phrasing and melodic sensibility, and he has clearly taken the baton and ran with it. He doesn’t seem intimidated by the role he’s stepping into, and it’s clear that the DeLeos didn’t simply want a singer who could only cover the back catalog. The real criterion for their new singer, they explain, was the ability to write at a very proficient level. “He’s really good,” says Dean. “We’ve been very fortunate to be able to write at a certain level of musicianship in this band. Writing music with Scott was just incredible—so fulfilling, what he brought to a song—and it’s the same with Jeff.”
PG caught up with Dean and Robert as they were preparing for Gutt’s inaugural U.S. tour with STP. This summer they embark on the Revolution 3 Tour with fellow ’90s luminaries, Bush and the Cult. The DeLeos are humble, gracious, humorous, and willing to divulge intimate details about the instruments, live rigs, recording techniques, and songwriting and arranging ethos that keep STP humming.
What was the writing process like for Stone Temple Pilots? Did you write with any of the potential singers?
Robert DeLeo: There were a few songs that were around back when Chester left the band, so we put it all down because we knew we had a task ahead of us—getting a new singer. But a lot of these songs really came from the spark of having Jeff’s presence there and getting together in the studio and speaking the conversation of songwriting. I think one of the most important things for finding a new singer was someone who could move forward and write, and Jeff really applied his art to what we were doing.
Did you share files or were you literally writing together, in the studio?
Dean DeLeo: A lot of the stuff was pre-written. Robert would come in with a song completed or I would come in with a song completed. But the song that was written from the ground up, in the moment, and sounds like it would be the last song on the record to be written that way, was “The Art of Letting Go.” We were at Eric’s recording vocals, and I picked up a guitar and that song literally came out in minutes. Jeff heard what I was playing and came in the room and immediately started singing what you hear. I even think he used the “art of letting go” lyric right away—it was immediate. The song was based around that lyric. That is the song that really solidified Jeff’s talent.