Pops­macked Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots shrug off legacy to march boldly on­ward

Waterloo Region Record - - Front Page - JOEL RUBINOFF Water­loo Re­gion Record

As much as Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots bassist Robert DeLeo would like to dis­cuss his band’s new al­bum and lead singer Jeff Gutt, and as much as I would like to com­ply, there is no way any­one in­ter­view­ing a found­ing mem­ber of one of the most suc­cess­ful rock acts of the ‘90s can avoid the topic of its two de­ceased for­mer front­men.

One: charis­matic Scott Wei­land, with whom they rode the crest of the grunge wave, and who died in 2015 af­ter a pro­duc­tively volatile ten­ure that ended with his 2013 fir­ing and death by over­dose two years later.

Two: lov­able Ch­ester Ben­ning­ton, the for­mer Linkin Park front­man who hopped on board in 2013 be­fore leav­ing am­i­ca­bly two years later and — strug­gling with de­pres­sion — com­mit­ted sui­cide in 2017.

“I think a lot of that stuff goes back to child­hood, doesn’t it?” notes DeLeo, speak­ing specif­i­cally about Wei­land.

“I’ll be tak­ing away from that for the rest of my life. We had a gift to­gether and it puts me in a place of grat­i­tude. I feel very for­tu­nate for the time spent with some­one like Scott.”

It’s not like there weren’t plenty of red flags, he notes, with Wei­land’s ad­dic­tions dat­ing back to his 1995 ar­rest for heroin and co­caine pos­ses­sion.

Ben­ning­ton, how­ever, was dif­fer­ent. “I never saw any of that in Ch­ester,” notes DeLeo, equally re­spect­ful of both his de­ceased band­mates.

“He was a sweet, laugh­ing pos­i­tive kind of per­son. That was a huge shock what hap­pened with him, and still is.”

Dev­as­tated but de­ter­mined, the band — with DeLeo and brother Dean at the creative helm — shifted gears by re­cruit­ing a pol­ished,

show­biz savvy con­tes­tant from TV’s “X Fac­tor” as their singer and put out a well-re­ceived new al­bum ti­tled, sym­bol­i­cally, “Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots.”

“It feels more com­plete,” ad­mits the 52-year-old New Jersey na­tive of the cur­rent lineup. “There were many years that went by where we weren’t run­ning on all four cylin­ders, so to speak.

“Now when we play live I think peo­ple are get­ting the true essence of the band. It feels good be­cause ev­ery­one’s on the game. As for mak­ing a record, ev­ery­one shows up.”

DeLeo — who played bass with rock su­per­group The Hol­ly­wood Vam­pires — is not the most out­spo­ken in­ter­view sub­ject, but his point is clear: when scal­ing the heights of alt-rock star­dom, sta­bil­ity is para­mount.

“There are some things that go along with be­ing younger and hav­ing spon­tane­ity and mak­ing mu­sic,” he ac­knowl­edges, care­ful not to cast blame. “That’s the gift of mu­sic.

“But as you get older, your tol­er­ance level for all the ex­tracur­ric­u­lar things ... (trails off ) ... you know what I mean?”

To be fair, STP — as they are known to fans — were hardly un­usual in the land of rock and roll ex­cess, where mer­cu­rial lead singers are more com­mon than songs that use locker-room eu­phemisms for sex.

“I wouldn’t want to be a lead singer,” he con­fides. “It wouldn’t be in my per­son­al­ity, what you have to put out. There’s a fo­cus on lead singers peo­ple have.

“You can take 10 dif­fer­ent bands and match up the same story of what hap­pens to each. It’s kind of in­ter­est­ing when you look at it that way. It’s very text­book. There’s a blue­print there of what hap­pens.”

He sighs re­flec­tively: “It’s an age-old thing. I don’t know if it’s ex­plain­able.”

But with age comes wis­dom, or at least ac­cep­tance.

Which prob­a­bly ex­plains why they chose Gutt, a 42-year-old re­al­ity show con­tes­tant who grew up wor­ship­ping Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots and, pre­sum­ably, has no de­sire to rock the boat.

“I don’t think it’s about hav­ing con­trol,” coun­ters DeLeo.

“It’s about hav­ing some­one who’s com­pe­tent and can con­trib­ute. When you have some­body who’s go­ing to give you 100 per cent, there’s no room for try­ing to con­trol any­thing. This is a band.”

But surely there’s el­e­ment of hero wor­ship that wouldn’t ex­ist with a singer who was more of a peer — an un­der­ly­ing re­spect.

“You need some­body who has balls,” cor­rects DeLeo. “And Jeff has balls and can go out there and make it hap­pen. That’s re­ally the thing — get­ting some­one to ‘make it hap­pen.’”

At this point, an eaves­drop­ping pub­li­cist tells me to quit dwelling on the past, for cry­ing out loud.

Which is my cue to point out that, de­spite the crit­i­cal slams of the band’s early days — when they were painted as “fifth-rate Pearl Jam copy­ists” — STP is one of the last real rock bands stand­ing.

With eight No. 1 rock hits, in­clud­ing “Plush,” “Va­so­line” and “In­ter­state Love Song,” an­chored to an era when songs had cul­tural clout, this grunge/glam/hard rock hy­brid has a legacy that reaches far­ther than a ran­dom play se­lec­tion on some­one’s Spo­tify playlist.

Not sur­pris­ingly, crit­ics are fi­nally com­ing around, with STP now rec­og­nized as “the best straight-ahead rock sin­gles out­fit of their time” (all­mu­sic.com) and Wei­land cited by fel­low rocker Billy Cor­gan as “one of the great voices” of his gen­er­a­tion.

DeLeo, mod­est and low-key, takes it in stride.

“I don’t even think about it,” he con­fides with­out miss­ing a beat. “If I was caught up on that, I think I’d have to go to ther­apy.”

It’s not about ego, he points out. For bands like STP, mu­sic is “part of the soul.”

“As long as this band has some­thing to say, we’re gonna do it. When that stops, we’ll pack it up. I don’t look at mu­sic as a busi­ness that I’m gonna re­tire from.

“I don’t know if I’ll be putting out records when I’m 80, but I’ll prob­a­bly be writ­ing mu­sic still ... (laughs) ... maybe it’s gonna be sound­tracks to ex­er­cise videos — I don’t know.”

A sec­ond ca­reer as a Jane Fonda-styled dancer­cise star? That, of course, is a long way off.

“As long as peo­ple are lis­ten­ing and com­ing to shows, I feel blessed,” he sums up.

“I think good songs live on. It blows me away ev­ery night.”

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