Latest release: Perdida (Rhino)Website: www.stonetemplepilots.com
San Diego rock giants Stone Temple Pilots left their mark on the world with a series of top-selling albums in the 90s that showed a band with an ever-changing musical face. At first accused of regurgitation in the wake of grunge with debut album Core, STP evolved their style with each subsequent release, filtering their rock sound through metal, grunge, psychedelia, glam and even bossa nova to create one of the 90s alternative rock scene’s most interesting catalogues. Their relationship with charismatic and problematic vocalist Scott Wieland finally ending in 2011, STP worked with Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington on a single EP; the band would thus suffer the double tragedy of losing both frontmen to drug overdoses 18 months apart.
The band’s latest album, Perdida, the second with singer Jeff Gutt, is an introspective collection of acoustic songs that takes their music in yet another direction, as discussed with chief songwriter and bass player Robert DeLeo.
It’s a very different way of presenting Stone Temple Pilots than anything you’ve done before.
It is. It is, but it feels like part of home. And it was very therapeutic to make. I think it needed to be made. It was just a pull-off-to-the-side-of-the-road moment to digest everything and kind of take it in, and then move on.
What was the ultimate inspiration? Your band has certainly faced some tragedy, and this album has that melancholy aspect to it.
Life! Life… it’s been an interesting couple of years and it’s been an accumulation of life. Taking a minute to observe and document it. I think if a lot of the songs that I personally wrote were kept in this kind of format they would have come out very differently. They would have probably sounded like this. It’s really music you can take in any direction and make it sound like what you want and shape it into what you want. But there really wasn’t a lot of shaping. It was a lot of leaving it alone, keeping it simple and keeping it in that format. It’s just how it was originally written.
In that regard, then, was it an easy record to make?
When you’re tracking acoustically, you’re a bit naked when you do that. I think the concept of what the songs are about, it’s a bit of revealing things to the world… it’s, like I said, a good form of therapy, to get out what you need to get out. So, no, it wasn’t easy. It was difficult to kind of face those things, and get them down like this.
Of course recording with acoustic instruments creates a very different atmosphere and sound from what you get from amplification too, doesn’t it?
Yes absolutely. There’s a certain beauty with acoustic instruments. They kind of are, what they are. I have a great appreciation for older, vintage, pieces of wood! There’s something about that wood, when it get turned into an instrument, that becomes your mouthpiece. It becomes your therapist and your friend. That’s really what they are on this record. They’re friends that help me tell stories.
You’re certainly relying more on the instrument itself when you play acoustically. Some musicians who rely more on amplification have found that they have had to relearn how to play or change their style when it comes to playing acoustically. Was there any transitional issues for you switching over to an acoustic style?
No. I play some nylon string guitar on this record. I found this beautiful, old 1950s nylon string, a three-quarters size guitar and I have a beanbag, and I just sit in the beanbag all the time and play this guitar, and it gets to the point where it’s not really playing. It’s more like hanging out. It’s something I’ve always done with this guitar. It’s the perfect couch guitar. If you find that perfect couch guitar, eight hours can go by, and it’s dark, and you don’t even realise it. That’s what a good instrument does. It takes a lot of your time, in a positive way.
As a musician then, I suppose that music really does take up so much of your time, so having a instrument that you can just strum away on like that serves as a sort of break away from it, in a way.
You’re right. After this record, there was so much emotion put into it that had to come out, and it was hard to listen to it for a while. Then again, you’re worrying about the sonic balance , the mixing of it and once it’s all out, I’m ready to take in my break, and trying to get back into it and trying to look forward to enjoying this tour! Playing these songs that were written thirty years ago and give people a great time.
It is almost thirty years since Core came out, and that’s obviously going to be a very special time for you as a band and for your fans. But there must also be a lot of pain there, too, coming up to an anniversary like that without Scott.
It’s very bittersweet. The person that I wrote that stuff with is not here to share it. It’s very bittersweet. But every night that we play those songs, there’s not a time I step on stage that I don’t think about something or somewhere we’ve been. Somewhere we wrote the song or where we’d get a chuckle on stage or a laugh. That’s the beauty of music. That’s your immortality.
It must give you a great deal of comfort in the knowledge that you were able to immortalise him in that way, and Chester too, of course, because that was another terrible tragedy.
Yes, yes… Well, you know, I just look at it that I was fortunate enough to spend some great times with some very, very talented people, and it’s great playing those songs: what a great way to remember someone!
Now, Stone Temple Pilots are of course coming to Australia next month, and the bands you are touring with – Live and Bush – are bands that you have no doubt been through the grinder together with before.
Yes, we’ve done shows with both bands. We did a tour with Bush a couple summers ago which was really great. We had a really good time and I’m looking forward to this. It’s going to be a good tour with great people. They’re going to be bringing some great music to people in a country far, far away, and that is a gift. I’m humbled by that, and I’m really looking forward to getting down there.
It is a great way to see the world, isn’t it. Do you actually get to see that much, when you’re touring around?
Absolutely! I try to… we did a tour last September with Rival Sons – I really love that band, great people! We had a really great time, the bands got along together great, just sharing that music with people. I managed to rent my own car and drive around for two weeks. I saw a lot of places that I normally wouldn’t have seen on the bus. So I sometimes take that pleasure of just getting my own car and getting out on my own. It makes the tour manager nervous, but sometimes you have to do it because there’s so many amazing things out there.
So I don’t suppose you’re the least bit worried about this virus scare that’s causing so much panic everywhere?
It’s a weird thing, isn’t it? There’s always an epidemic, and social media doesn’t help… that feeling of fear is awful, but you’ve just got to do the best you can. I’ve gotten sick, very sick, on a couple of tours we just did, and we just gotta to the best was can to protect ourselves and keep ourselves healthy. That’s all you can do, right?
That is true, and it is something of an occupational hazard when you’re touring and appearing in front of people all the time too. Speaking of occupations, have you ever thought about what you would do as a job if you couldn’t do STP anymore for some reason?
Well that’s a great question! Thanks for asking that. You know, I think I would probably get into architecture. I’ve always had an eye for that, and I think that may be my next goal. Other than that, I’m an avid fisherman, so I could get pretty comfortable just sitting on a stool! I don’t know if I’d get paid for that. I think it would be more of a hobby than a job. But I think that being able to travel with a band has been a great learning experience and so I think I would love to be able to do something that would still allow me to travel. As I said, I think that’s the greatest gift, being in a band and seeing different countries. I’ve been around this world many times and I’m honoured to be doing that, going to these different places and seeing different people and cultures. It’s been an honour.
STONE TEMPLE PILOTS were appear at the Under the Southern Stars Festival in April with LIVE, BUSH, ROSE TATTOO and ELECTRIC MARY but this tour has been postponed until 2021.