‘There was no room for error’ when the Stone Temple Pilots chose new lead singer
Against all odds, AC/DC and Queen were able to bounce back after the deaths of their respective lead singers. But Stone Temple Pilots is the only rock band in memory to soldier on after the deaths of not one, but two, successive lead singers.
Former Coronado resident Scott Weiland, 48, was found dead in his tour bus in late 2015. The cause of death was an accidental drug overdose. As STP’s original singer, he was in the band from 1989 until 2002, then rejoined from 2008 until 2013, when he was fired.
Weiland’s replacement, Chester Bennington, committed suicide last July. Only 41, he was best known for his long tenure in Linkin Park. He quit STP in 2015 to devote all his time to Linkin Park.
STP’s new singer is Jeff Gutt, also 41. Gutt and the Los Angeles band’s three surviving co-founders — guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz — perform a sold-out Sunday show at Observatory North Park. Their repertoire will mix vintage STP songs with two numbers from the band’s self-titled new album, due March 16 on Rhino/Atlantic.
Yet, while Dean DeLeo is elated to be back on tour with the band he loves, the former San Diego resident admits that — had the band not clicked with Gutt — STP was ready to throw in the towel for good.
“If we didn’t find the person we felt we could move forward with, we ultimately would have put a fork in it,” DeLeo said by phone from Los Angeles.
“There was no room for error. That’s why we spent nearly a year together with Jeff before we invited him to join the band. We wanted to make sure it was the right decision. But we did find somebody who could not ony do the catalog of our previous songs justice, but someone we could write new songs with, too.”
A veteran of the 2013 and 2014 seasons of TV’s “The X Factor,” Michigan native Gutt was previously a member of the bands Rival City and Dry Cell. While vocal ability was a key criterion, DeLeo stressed there were other requirements.
‘Scott laid down a pretty strong foundation’
“Vision was a pre-requisite,” the veteran guitarist said. “Because Jeff’s ability to move the band forward with more music and more records was very important to Robert, Eric and I. Jeff has a really great sense of what a song needs. It’s just so important to really allow the song to dictate what it needs, and Jeff had a great sensibility about that — not to mention he’s such a great singer.”
Is it an advantage that Gutt is not an established star, like Bennington was, and therefore joins STP free of any fan expectations and pre-conceptions?
“I wanted a person I knew we could write songs with,” DeLeo, 56, replied. “And, look, Scott laid down a pretty strong foundation, and that is what our template was. So I didn’t give a sh-- if Jeff was well-known or not. I just wanted a guy who could do the gig.
“My brother, Robert, was out on the road with the Hollywood Vampires and they played in Detroit. Somebody came back stage after the show, and said to him: ‘Hey, have you guys found a singer yet? There’s a local guy you should check out.’
“Robert called me the next day and we brought Jeff out to L.A. We played music together and probably spent eight months before we gave him the gig. For Robert, Eric and I, there was no room for error. We had to get this one right.”
A dozen selections strong, the hard-rocking new STP album is an accomplished work by a reconstituted band that sounds like it has something left to prove. The four members share songwriting credits on every number.
“Everybody brought their piece into it,” DeLeo said. “Usually, with STP, music comes first. It’s kind of been the blueprint of how most of our songs have been written. Robert or I come in with a song that’s either entirely done, top to bottom, or Robert is really good at: ‘You know that part you have? I have a great part that will work with that,’ so we bring the two together.
“Music comes first, then melody, then lyrics after that. Then we record it. Usually, Robert and I have a good idea of what we want the back beat to be and Eric does his thing. So it’s is a very communal effort.”
DeLeo happily discussed the new STP album, including the descending guitar figure at the start of “Finest Hour,” whose similarity to The Beatles’ classic “Something” he regards as purely coincidental.
But he grew uncharacteristically terse when it came to the lyrics for “Finest Hour,” which evoke troubled souls and sudden death — Bennington and Weiland, perhaps? — with such somber lines as: “You never said goodbye,” “A darkness hid inside,” “I know the pressure you were under” and “I’ll miss you, brother.”
“I don’t want to talk about it,” DeLeo said, when asked what “Finest Hour” is about.
He brightened when asked to reflect on music’s enduring appeal to him.
“Fundamentally, I just love playing,” he said. “And the best thing of all with what has transpired for us, professionally, is that I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to play with really great guys, where I not only have a great experience, but I also learn stuff. I’m just starting to get good at it, man, so I wanted to stick with it.”
DeLeo lived in San Diego “for years,” in a neighborhood he describes as being “east of La Jolla.” He moved here after his band’s 1992 debut album, “Core,” propelled STP to stardom. In 1993, more than 200 people signed a petition in an unsuccessful attempt to have the band removed from that year’s San Diego Music Awards awards ballot.
Despite Atlantic Records’s STP bio, which stated the band was from then-very-trendy San Diego, fans here maintained that — no matter how often STP and its predecessor, Mighty Joe Young, performed here — both bands were based in Los Angeles. When STP won Album of the Year honors at the 1993 San Diego Music Awards, which were held at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, the controversy led to a brawl near the stage.
“I was the only one living in San Diego,” DeLeo acknowledged. “I can’t say I got out that much there. It was a long time ago. If we’re going back to Mighty Joe Young, our goal was we wanted to continue to be recording artists and go out and play music, and do all the things a touring and recording band does.
“When we opened Circus and Creem magazines in the 1970s — well, that holds true for me, not Scott, because he was too young — I wanted to do what I saw in those magazines. I wanted to make lots lof records and have the ability to go tour. I love playing. I love it!”
He laughed when asked how many guitars he plays on STP’s new album, which features him playing multiple parts on nearly every song.
“Oh, gosh, I don’t remember!” DeLeo said, laughing again.
“You know, we usually have a lot of guitars laying around, just so that if the first one you go to doesn’t work, you can go to another. We have at least a dozen or a dozen and a half guitars laying around the studio. I’d say we used at least eight.”
Deleo’s layered guitars on such new songs as “Meadow” and “Good Shoes” are intricately constructed and provide depth and dimension. They also are impossible for a single guitarist to replicate live on stage.
But that doesn’t pose a problem, maintains DeLeo, who cites other factors that compensate for him not having six hands.
“Well, what happens in a live format is that you’re not just getting audio, you’re also getting a visual sensation,” he noted. “And, of course, there’s a performance involved. That’s kind of the fun bit of it for me — maybe on some nights I’ll grab this (guitar) part, and — on another night — that part. It’s something that keeps me entertained on the road
“We bring three or four Les Pauls on the road, and a few Telecasters, and they’re all tuned differently. And I bring these Paul Reed Smith guitars that PRS made me that kind of emulate an acoustic (guitar), with a pickup in the bridge, so I can blend.”
Does music mean something more or different to DeLeo now than it did 30 years ago?
“The only difference is that, back then, I used to have a lot of time to listen to music,” he replied. “And now, what’s really changed is that I dont have a lot of time, especially when we’re working, and I know it’s the same for Robert, Jeff and Eric. When you’re recording, the last thing you ant to do is have a 10-hour day in the studio and then listen to more music. And, with all of us being fathers now, I’d rather spend time with my kids.
“When things mellow out professionally and I have a nice lull for a moment that’s when I’ll listen to music. And it’s usually in my car. That’s kind of my thing. Sometimes I find music to be inspirational. I also find the twists and turns that life throws at us definitely affects me as well, and that can take me to a place where it brings a certain something out of me. It can be a lot of different emotions.”
What, exactly, does DeLeo listen to in his car?
“Honestly, I don’t listen to too much rock music,” he said. “I love a lot of the ‘60s and ‘70s pop that my mom was playing when I was growing up, because it brings me a back to a very innocent time. And I’m, more or less, allowing it to bring me to a melancholy state, which is nice.”
His choices may come as a big surprise to STP fans.
“I’ve been playing a lot of songs by The Carpenters and early Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb stuff,” he said. “And, you know, popular music, basically (Frank) Sinatra, Percy Faith and stuff like that.”
It’s safe to predict STP won’t be breaking into The Carpenters’ “Close To You” or Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” when the band performs Sunday at Observatory North Park.
How many songs will DeLeo and the group do from their new album?
’Well, I know that — right away — we’ll do two songs off the new record,” he said. “And, once the record comes out and people have time to digest it, we’ll start to integrate more of it. So, hopefully, in the next year we’ll probably do at least five new songs.”
Stone Temple Pilots, with The Dirty Hooks
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: Observatory North Park, 2891 University Ave., North Park
Tickets: Sold out
Phone: (619) 239-8836
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