Stone Temple Pilots interview
Riding the crest of the post-grunge wave, Stone Temple Pilots proved to be one of the most durable acts of their generation, despite well-publicised personnel issues. Over a series of multi-million selling albums they went on to explore their significant psychedelic and 60s influences before breaking up in 2002 after another on-stage dispute. The band (Scott Weilland, vocals; Dean DeLeo, guitar; Robert DeLeo, bass; Eric Kretz, drums) re-grouped in 2008 and issue a new, self-titled album later this month. They hit UK shores in June to play the Download Festival and a one-off show in London, so TMF spoke with bassist Robert DeLeo to discuss their current projects and what goes into writing and recording new STP material after a few years away ...
Robert DeLeo: How’s the weather over there?
Typical English weather I have to say!
I didn’t need to ask did I? [Laughs]
What are you up to at the moment?
We actually have some time off right now. We’re getting ready to go to New York on Monday, and we’re going to be doing the David Letterman show and a couple of shows on the East Coast. Then we are going to come back and I am actually having a new baby. My wife is pregnant right now.
Next month you'll be over here for your first Download Festival.
We're really looking forward to it!
There are a lot of great acts playing this year. It’s amazing to have you guys on board as well.
Well, It’s been long enough right? [Laughs]
I know Scott has played in the past with previous projects, so it must be quite exciting for you as a band to be finally playing. It’s probably one of the biggest festivals on the circuit at the moment.
That’s what I hear. I think the last time we played over there was when we played Brixton and we have a show at the Academy this time too. I have to say I think we finally figured it out, I think we’re really good now! [Laughs]
How do you find the audiences over here compare to how they do back home?
Quite honestly, I enjoy talking to the European press for sure. I just think that as people, you guys are a lot more aware and a lot more attentive and a lot more heartfelt with music, you know? There’s not that crap that you have to sit through with what’s happening here in America most of the time.
Your new self-titled album is out at the end of the month. Are you guys excited about what you have produced?
Absolutely! I am very proud of what we’ve done. I think it’s been a long time coming and I think it’s kind of a new beginning as far as starting in the studio with producing this ourselves. I think we achieved! You know, it’s funny. I’m thinking about how proud I am before the record has come out, and people really want to have the record to come out and do well, and I feel like we have already achieved a lot without the record even coming out yet! I feel like with producing the record, and writing the record, and arranging the record, we've really achieved something special.
When looking back at your later albums, 'Tiny Music' and 'No4' and then the release of 'Shangri-La Dee Da', it felt like you were progressing into an almost psychedelic direction, and then you had your hiatus in 2002. Does the new album capture and continue the momentum and original direction you were heading?
That’s an interesting question because I feel like each one of our records has been different, and musically speaking Dean and I have grown a lot, learned to mix things up a bit. I kinda see 'Shangri-La Dee Da' ending a certain place we were in our career, and you know when you think about all the records before this one, they’ve been produced by the same person, Brandon O’Brien. I think there was a kind of feeling from me that maybe 'Shangri-La Dee Da' would have been the last record for a while, and I think musically speaking it probably went over our fans' heads.
It seems like the records we recorded in a rented house - which would be 'Tiny Music' and 'Shangri-La Dee Da' - we were offered a lot more freedom. To be in that environment to record in, to be able to get up and actually play and write and record in the place that you live is amazing. So I kind of see 'Shangri-La Dee Da' as kind of an ending to perhaps using Brendon O’Brien and maybe to where I saw that musical direction going. The fact we haven’t made a record in nine years, I think it was more like a starting over again and wiping the slate clean, especially with us producing it and actually graduating to taking on the production ourselves.
I think it puts you in a different frame of mind then just being the writer and the player of the songs, you now tend to be on the other side of the glass, looking in at what you’re actually doing. You have to monitor, judge, make calls on your own stuff and I think what was important for me was to sit down and maybe ask myself what kind of STP record would I like to hear, and I think that’s what you have to do as a producer. I think you could easily go on to make a very lengthy self-indulgent record if you don’t make the right calls when you’re producing yourself. Dean and I just made sure that wasn’t the case that we made a very concise, focused record that people would want to hear after all this time.
In your later albums there sounded like there were a number of influences prominent, like Bowie and the Rolling Stones as well as The Beatles. Have there been any major influences during the years you were apart that you bought into the creative process of the new album?
I consider myself a huge fan of music, before I even pick up an instrument. So there are many different avenues and areas, and feelings and moments in music that I’ve really enjoyed listening to as well as playing. I think that for me it’s hard to get out of the 60s and 70s! [Laughs] I think it might be a part of how great my childhood was, and how great I made it. I can’t say it was necessarily great, but it was what I made of it and the fantasy land that I put myself into. That’s the beauty of music for me, it helps me to continue being a little kid on Saturday morning. That’s what’s was special to me when I was little, and that’s still what’s special to me, that feeling if I can conjure up that feeling of being a little kid. There are so many different influences, not only musically but just in life, life influences.
You reformed back in 2008 after a five year break. Did you find it hard coming back together after time apart and being involved in different projects away from Scott, and maybe growing in different directions as musicians, or was it a natural return?
No, I think you certainly don’t get in the same room and say 'Hey, we’re going to make a new record, where are you at musically?' But I’ve been with, well obviously with my brother, but with Eric and Scott, I have been with those guys longer then I’ve been with my wife! [Laughs] There’s a certain relationship there that after more than two decades of being together, I think there are certain things you can do to spark each other’s inspiration on things. With old songs that we’ve written in the past, once you start playing those songs there is an instant connection again to each other, that happens when you play certain songs. A great reintroduction to each other is simply playing these songs that we’ve played and written so many years ago. I think it’s a progression, once you get into that frame of mind and into that place I think that’s what ultimately leads you into writing another record.
Many artists have their own approach to writing new material. What is the process of writing new material for STP?
For me personally I think there are really no rules to music, I think that’s what originally drew me to music because I wasn’t a very regimented child. It was funny because I was just going through some of my report cards from school when I was a little kid, my mum actually saved all my report cards from first to sixth grade and for some reason on all those report cards its says I don’t listen very well. [Laughs] So I think what drew me to music was the fact that there are really no rules. I think I daydream too much and for me writing music is actually putting my daydreams to good use, because writing songs is really putting your daydreams to good use. When I personally get a song to come out of myself out of that place, that’s really when I know I have a great song. There’s other things, I can listen to an old Paul Revere and the Raiders record or something or Cat Stevens or something and there’s an obvious inspiration that you will musically feel from that and maybe try to mimic or take from it.
But there is always that feeling of the daydream that you can capture, and yeah there’s been quite a few songs I have been fortunate enough to be able to do that with. That’s kind of where it starts, it starts there and then you kind of transpose it. There are also different instruments to inspire you to write different ways, there’s really no rule to it, there is no road map to it. You are making your own road map, and that’s what’s great about it.
Traditionally it tends to be the guitarist that writes the riff, or skeleton of a song. How many STP songs have actually started life out as a bass riff?
You know, I got to say never! [Laughs] Never! I started playing guitar before I played bass, like any bass player. You get handed the bass because the band needs a bass player! I probably didn’t pick up a bass until I was 16 or 17, and I was that guy for my brother Dean's band. My brother‘s five years older than me and he needed a bass player back then and he handed me a bass, and that’s really how that started, more out of necessity. Now more than 25 years later I tend to like writing on a guitar or piano or some kind of keyboard and bringing that to the band and maybe having a beat of bass line or something in mind I think as it comes along. I will pretty much have the song written in my head, all the parts and everything written and sometimes that just keeps me up at night as those parts are bugging the hell out of me and can’t sleep because of it. I think when that comes to the band, everyone has their own way, but I think for me it’s pretty much written as a song.
What I enjoy is being able to have the guitar, have everything down, and be able to write my bass line after everything is down. It gives me that freedom to see where the spaces are and where I can kind of tell the story with the bass. That is really how I look at bass: it’s a really great way for me to tell a story.
During your time in STP, have there ever been any musical conflicts when it comes to creating new songs or do you all tend to agree on the overall direction and allow each member to have full creative control?
I think if we didn’t monitor each other we would end up making a Yes record! I think it would turn into that! I’m not mocking that, I love Yes and I love Yes records but there’s a certain thing I personally get off on trying to get everything into a three minute song. There is something about that, getting a great lyric, getting a great melody, getting a guitar solo, getting everything into a three minute piece of music to me is more challenging to me to fit all that into format where the listener is like 'I want to hear that again'!
Is any new material ever written whilst you’re on tour or do you usually write it whilst recuperating after the tour has ended?
It comes at all different times you know? I have a home studio in my house now so it’s definitely going down and picking up an instrument and something coming out of it, or walking down the street while I’m on tour. There is a great inspiration to being on tour that puts you into a situation that I think any artist will agree, that when you put yourself in a place with despair or loneliness, will tend to bring out certain writing skills in yourself that you don’t normally have otherwise. I’ve in the past consciously put myself there to come up with things.
Lastly, what album are you most proud of?
I think this one. As I said before I am very proud of what we’ve done and achieved, so for me I have to say this album is the one I am most proud of.
Stone Temple Pilots is issued on 24 May.