“If We Had Got This Wrong, Then It Would Have Been Over” – Stone Temple Pilots
It was understandable to think that Stone Temple Pilots might not make another album, given their troubled recent history. Their original singer, Scott Weiland - with whom the grunge legends made six studio albums - including their 8x platinum-selling debut Core (1992) and Purple (1994), was fired in 2012 and died of a drug overdose three years later. In 2013, Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington joined the band, much to Scott’s well-publicised consternation, although this iteration only released one EP, High Rise, before the singer’s departure in 2015. Chester took his own life in 2017.
In 2016 it was announced that Stone Temple Pilots’ remaining members – guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz – would be accepting worldwide audition submissions in search of a singer. More than 15,000 people applied, but, as Dean explains to K! below, despite overwhelming interest in the much coveted role, the band didn’t find the person they were looking for. Instead, Dean’s brother Robert, who was touring with Hollywood Vampires alongside Alice Cooper, Joe Perry and Johnny Depp, was approached at a show with the suggestion that they check out singer Jeff Gutt, formerly of the nu metal band Dry Cell, and a well liked contest in two series of the American version of The X Factor. They did just that – and the rest, as they say, is history. Except that it wasn’t quite yet: the band kept their new recruit a secret, working with Jeff for a year to ensure they had the right person for the job – their caution understandable – while also recording their seventh album. That resulting album, their second self-titledrecord after their last one with Scott in 2010, has garnered critical acclaim, and finds the band on fiery form, thanks in no small part to Jeff’s powerful vocal performances.
Stone Temple Pilots are currently on tour across the U.S., and recently announced an additional jaunt dubbed ‘Revolution 3’ alongside Bush and The Cult that stretches into September. Despite their busy schedule, guitarist Dean DeLeo took time out to speak to discuss the frustrations the band experienced while searching for a singer, their eternal gratitude for finding Jeff, and the pain that’s come with revisiting their past.
GIVEN THE TRAVAILS OF THE BAND, HOW DID IT FEEL TO RELEASE A NEW STONE TEMPLE PILOTS ALBUM INTO THE WORLD?
Robert [DeLeo, Dean’s brother and Stone Temple Pilots bassist] and I have had some of these songs kicking around for a while, so to finally get them out of our heads has been great. When you release them from the internal wonderland and hear them back through the speakers it’s so cathartic and such a relief. What I’m extremely, extremely grateful for is for Jeff [Gutt, singer] – he came along at the 11th hour.
DO YOU BELIEVE IN EVERYTHING HAPPENING FOR A REASON? ROBERT TOURED WITH HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES, AND SOMEONE APPROACHED HIM TO SUGGEST JEFF…
Exactly! Robert was playing with the Vampires up in Detroit, and somebody came backstage and said, ‘You’ve got to check out this local cat – his name’s Jeff and he can sing.’ Honestly, just prior to that we were sitting back, because we didn’t have anything going on. We did the worldwide submission thing, and went through something like 20,000 submissions and thought for sure we’d end up thumb wrestling over which person to pick, but it wasn’t the case at all.
THAT BRINGS TO MIND-
I’ll tell you what it brings to mind: there are a lot of people out there listening to their mums and dads saying, ‘You’re a great singer – you should try out!’ (Laughs)
YES, BUT 20,000 PEOPLE WANTING TO AUDITION IS SURELY A GRATIFYING THING?
Yes, there were some people that came in with some great, great confidence, and grace and style. I somehow ended up being the guy to make all of the calls to tell people that we were looking at somebody else, and that we really appreciated their time and so on. There were a couple of people I called to do that and they replied, ‘You’re joking, right?! You must be joking!’
CAN YOU PUT INTO WORDS THE KIND OF PERSON YOU SET OUT LOOKING FOR?
We wanted to be with somebody who knew how to write a song, plain and simple. If someone sings the back catalogue well, then that’s great, but what we were really after was someone that we could move forward with, and make more records with. We wanted somebody that understood a song, its ins and outs, and how to write a melody and a lyric. It was very evident early on that Jeff knew his way around a song.
WE UNDERSTAND YOU PUT THE CANDIDATES THROUGH THE WRINGER, WITH THE MUSICAL EQUIVALENT OF AN ASSAULT COURSE OF SONGS TO DO IN THE AUDITIONS…
(Laughs) Look, man… Scott [Weiland, original STP singer] was an extraordinary singer – he was a singer, man. One of the songs we put in there was Interstate Love Song, because there are these half step inflections in it. Some people came in and missed the whole half step thing out, so we knew that wasn’t the person. We gave everybody the same seven songs, from Big Empty and Interstate… to Trippin’ On A Hole On A Paper Heart and Piece Of Pie, where they had to get up to an A for a great portion of the song. Piece Of Pie was actually the song that Jeff came in and sang first, and when he did that first yell in the intro, it sounded like we hadn’t heard it in a number of years.
WAS THAT THE PIVOTAL MOMENT WHEN YOU KNEW, THEN?
The moment wasn’t that day. It was very evident that Jeff could sing the songs from the catalogue. We started jamming one day, and Jeff was right in humming a melody. The next time we got together, we said, ‘Let’s see what you’ve got’ and through him in front of a microphone, and he eagerly and confidently laid down some great melodies – not lyrics, but just scatting melodies – most of which are on the record.
SO THAT’S WHEN HE HAD THE GIG?
Not quite. Just to be sure, we spent pretty much the next year together before we gave him the gig. We couldn’t get this wrong, man. If we had got this wrong, then it would have been over. We’d have had to stick a fork in it. We were very, very methodical about it, spending the next nine months shoulder to shoulder, just hanging out. We actually started recording the record before we said to Jeff, ‘Man, we’d love you to be the singer of the band.’ A defining moment was when we were writing a song on the new record called The Art Of Letting Go, which came about in a matter of minutes: I was plonking on some chords, Jeff came in and threw down the melody, and started arranging the song. That’s when we knew this cat can write a song.
SPEAKING OF THAT SONG, HOW MUCH OF IT IS TO DO WITH WHAT THE BAND HAS BEEN THROUGH?
I’ll just say this, and I’ll leave it at that: that song is very personal to Jeff. You’ve got to think of what he’s had to do: he packed up and left home to come and do this. He rolled the dice. You asked earlier if things happen for a reason… I think that we as human beings have this ability to will things, and maybe see glimpses of the future. I think Jeff has that ability – I think he willed this.
CHESTER BENNINGTON WAS A FRIEND OF JEFF’S, AND ATTENDED ONE OF HIS AUDITIONS. HOW IMPORTANT WAS THAT BIT OF BATON PASSING?
When we’d been together for maybe six or seven months, we did a showcase in Los Angeles, and Chester came down. We had about 50 people there – friends, family and management – and it was like a party where STP played. Chester jumped up and did Pruno with us. It was a really special night, because it was the last time we got to play a song with Chester. Chester gave the microphone back to Jeff, which was an interesting moment, and holds more weight now after what has transpired.
STP’S LAST FULL-LENGTH ALBUM, WHICH WAS ALSO SELF-TITLED, HAD SOME CLASSIC ROCK LEANINGS. THIS ONE SEEMS TO HAVE THE URGENCY OF THE BAND’S EARLY DAYS. YOU WERE WORKING ON THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY REISSUE OF YOUR DEBUT CORE AT THE SAME TIME, DID SOME OF THAT BLEED INTO WHAT YOU WERE DOING?
Quite possibly it did. We were in the throes of making the new record while we were compiling the outtakes stuff for Core. Robert, Eric and I were broken up – we were a mess! I don’t know if you’ve heard it, but there’s a DVD that comes with the deluxe set [of Core] that has about nine songs in their demo form. We demoed that entire record on a Fostex 8-track; and when we pulled up those tapes we could hear Scott talking, and us talking to each other. It took us right back to the room when we were writing that record, and we were reduced to tears because the guy who was such a huge part of this wasn’t here to enjoy this – or anything for that matter. It really fucked us up.
THE NEW RECORD IS YOUR NINTH RELEASE TO GET INTO THE TOP 40 IN THE BILLBOARD CHART. IS THAT SORT OF RECOGNITION IMPORTANT TO YOU STILL, OR IS IT SUPERSEDED BY WHAT THE FANS THINK?
What did you say we got? (K! explains) Oh… I’m just finding this out. I’m going to tell you a little story, and you tell me how this would make you feel as a songwriter. Danny Goldberg was the president of Atlantic Records, and I got a call from him around 1994. He said, ‘Hey Dean, I want to congratulate you for having a number 1 song for 17 weeks for Interstate Love Song’. I was like, ‘Wow, thanks for the call. Is that good for 1994?’ He replied, ‘That’s good for all time! You beat out We Are The Champions and an Elvis Presley tune that I forget now. It’s been surpassed now, but when he said the words ‘…of all time’ that clomped me over the head – I almost dropped the phone. I’d be a complete liar if I didn’t say that filled my heart, man. Any achievement like that does. If I go to the store and buy my little girl a dress and she says, ‘Daddy, I love that’, it makes me happy. You know what I mean?
THE SETLISTS YOU’VE BEEN PLAYING RECENTLY INCLUDE SOME SONGS YOU HAVEN’T PLAYED FOR YEARS, AND IN THE CASE OF A SONG LIKE ATLANTA, HAVE NEVER PLAYED BEFORE…
You hit the nail on the head with that song, because this tour was the first time we have ever played it live. We went back to the original track and lifted the string section off it, and put it to a click track, so we play to the strings. That’s a song that when we play it, I can’t help but to think of when we cut that on that [STP’s fourth album, 1999’s] No.4 session, and how brilliant Scott was on it. We did two takes of that song, fully live, and that was a full performance of all of us in a room going for it. There are many nights playing that live now where I’m thinking about Scott, and it brings a tear to my eye.
HOW EXCITING HAS IT BEEN TO REALLY STEEP YOURSELVES IN YOUR WHOLE HISTORY?
For the first time in our career, with everyone on time and bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, we’re really able to rehearse, so we’re interchanging three different setlists. Even then we might work up another song that day and throw it in. It’s really fun, because we never had the opportunity to do that… to really go wide with our tracks. Jeff said he really wanted to do Glide [from No.4], which we’ve never played live, and it sounds like it was just made for him. We’ve also pulled out Regeneration and Too Cool Queenie [both from 2001’s fifth album Shangri-La Dee Da]. There’s a lot of deep stuff we’ve been doing, which has kept us on our toes.
WHEN, THEN, WILL YOU BE COMING TO THE UK? HOW IMPORTANT IS THE UK TO THE BAND?
It’s very important to me. Do you want to know why? Because I have a craving for fish and chips from The Windsor Castle pub in Notting Hill!
Stone Temple Pilots’ self-titled new album is out now. Check it out on the stream below.
STP will hit the road promoting their new album recorded primarily on vintage instruments.
According to the band’s Instagram, the exchange appears to be all in good humor.