Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots

Right from when Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots re­leased their de­but al­bum, they were pil­lo­ried like no other band be­fore or since. Even though they be­came one of the great groups of the 90s, the wounds from those at­tacks never fully healed.

Classic Rock - - Contents - Words: Dave Ever­ley

They were pil­lo­ried like no other band be­fore or since, but that didn’t stop them be­com­ing one of the great bands of the 90s.

In an episode of one of the most pop­u­lar TV shows of the early 90s, there’s an ex­change that sums up the pre­vail­ing crit­i­cal view of Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots when they first came along. In it, those two un­likely ar­biters of cool, Beavis and Butt-head stare blank-eyed out of the screen as the video to STP’s hit sin­gle Plush plays. “Is this Pearl Jam?” cack­les Beavis.

“Yeah, Ed­die Ved­der dyed his hair red,” snorts Butt-head.

Beavis: “Wait a minute. This isn’t Pearl Jam.” Butt-head: “They both suck.”

Beavis: “Pearl Jam doesn’t suck. They’re from Seat­tle.”

In that brief con­ver­sa­tion, those an­i­mated sofa-dwellers with the sin­gle-digit IQs neatly summed up the re­cep­tion the Los An­ge­les band had re­ceived from sec­tions of the main­stream mu­sic press: they were copy­ists, op­por­tunists, band­wagon jumpers. They had the temer­ity to sign to a ma­jor la­bel with­out putting in the hours on some god­for­saken in­die la­bel than no one but the hippest hip­ster knew about. Je­sus, they weren’t even from the right city.

The vit­riol heaped upon Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots was vastly out of pro­por­tion to their sup­posed crimes against cool. The band’s de­but al­bum,

Core, was si­mul­ta­ne­ously con­fi­dent and pained, an­themic and in­ti­mate. Sure, it slot­ted neatly into pre­vail­ing trends, and yes, singer Scott Weiland’s chameleonic bari­tone evoked both Ed­die Ved­der and Kurt Cobain. But Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots were their own men – and men of the peo­ple at that, as the eight mil­lion peo­ple who bought Core can tes­tify.

If there’s a band that Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots should be com­pared to, it’s Led Zep­pelin. Not mu­si­cally – the sur­viv­ing mem­bers of STP aren’t fool­ish enough to draw a par­al­lel there. But cer­tainly both bands were forced to en­dure an in­or­di­nate amount of shit be­ing un­de­servedly dumped on them early in their ca­reers, and both even­tu­ally rose above it with dig­nity and pride in­tact.

“We grew up lis­ten­ing to bands like Led Zep­pelin, who got heavy crit­i­cism,” says bassist Robert DeLeo, a man with the slicked-back hair, deep-set eyes and warm vo­cal tones of a 1920s stage hyp­no­tist. “When you model your­self on some­one you ad­mire, and you see they got the slings and ar­rows too, it gives you a kind of strength. The whole men­tal­ity of STP at all times was: ‘Let’s write the best songs.’ That’s what it was all about. It was hon­our­ing the craft of the song.”

This year Core turns 25, and the craft DeLeo talks about hasn’t just stood the test of time, it has aged bet­ter than many of its con­tem­po­raries. While the jour­ney since taken by the band that made it has been marked by breath­less highs and heart­break­ing lows, the al­bum that started it off stands as a val­i­da­tion of every­thing Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots set out to achieve.

Robert DeLeo moved to Los An­ge­les in 1984 with $1,200 in his pocket and am­bi­tion in his head. He and his elder brother Dean had grown up on the other side of Amer­ica in small-town New Jersey, where they spent their early years lis­ten­ing and play­ing along to Led Zep­pelin, T.Rex and Cheap Trick.

It was in LA that Robert met a skinny sub­ur­ban kid named Scott Weiland. Cleve­land-born but raised in Or­ange Coun­try, Weiland was an all-Amer­i­can quar­ter­back type with a wild streak a mile wide. As a teen he’d dab­bled with mar­i­juana and co­caine and been sent to re­hab by his mum and step­dad for his trou­bles.

“He was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent per­son back then,” says Robert. “He was fresh out of col­lege, kind of on a frat­boy, jock kind of trip. He was very en­er­getic, very al­pha male. But he def­i­nitely had the gift of singing.”

Weiland and his best friend, gui­tarist Corey Hickok, had a band called Soi Dis­tant, whose pre­ten­tious, would-be Euro­pean-sound­ing name was matched by their pre­ten­tious, would-be Euro­pean-sound­ing mu­sic. A chance en­counter with Robert DeLeo prompted them to ditch the Du­ran Du­ran and Ul­travox in­flu­ences and form a new band, Swing. Soon the trio were joined by drum­mer Eric Kretz.

“We were into the more funky, James Brown­meets-rock type of thing,” Kretz re­calls. “The stuff Robert and I were re­ally try­ing to do was in that Zep­pelin, James Brown, Grand Funk Rail­road vein, with funky back­beats un­der­neath the rock mu­sic. The songs were a lot more silly.”

But ev­ery chain has a weak link, and Swing’s was Corey Hickok. In 1989, Robert sug­gested the band bring in his brother Dean as a re­place­ment. Dean was ap­proach­ing 30 and liv­ing in San Diego, where he ran a con­struc­tion firm. But he’d never given up the gui­tar, or the dream of be­com­ing a mu­si­cian.

“I was asked to play some so­los early on, and it was pretty ev­i­dent that they needed to make a change,” says Dean. “I was just get­ting on with my life, and they said: ‘Hey, man, why don’t you join the band?’ Corey was Scott’s best friend, and I think it was hard for him. But he knew that the band had to grow and ex­pand.”

Dean in­sisted the band change their name to mark a fresh start, and Swing be­came Mighty

Joe Young, af­ter the black-and-white 1949 King Kong knock-off. It wasn’t the only thing that was dif­fer­ent. “When Dean joined the band, the dy­nam­ics changed and the song­writ­ing changed,” says Kretz. “We got a much more hard rock type of sound. As far as the lyrics Scott was com­ing up with, a lot of the jok­ing and silli­ness went. And his vo­cal ap­proach got a lot heav­ier. He started chan­nelling Jim Mor­ri­son and David Bowie.”

Life in a strug­gling band in LA was tough. Robert DeLeo earned a pal­try wage work­ing in a gui­tar shop amid the hook­ers, drug deal­ers and dream­ing mu­si­cians on Sun­set Strip. “Work­ing at the gui­tar shop and see­ing some of these hair­band guys come in was an ed­u­ca­tion,” says Robert. “Ev­ery one of those could play re­ally great, but it was a blueprint of how not to treat peo­ple.”

His job put Robert on the front line of the LA mu­sic scene, watch­ing the chang­ing of the guard as it hap­pened. The glam-metal groups still ruled the streets, but there was a new breed of bands wait­ing in the wings, in­clud­ing Jane’s Ad­dic­tion and the Red Hot Chili Pep­pers. “It felt like some­thing was hap­pen­ing,” he says now. “And it felt like we could be part of it.”

While Robert was sell­ing axes to soon-to-be­has-beens, Weiland was work­ing across the

“When you model your­self on some­one you ad­mIre, and

you see they got the slIngs and ar­roWs too, It gIves you

a kInd of strength.”

robert deleo

street at a model agency, chauf­feur­ing beau­ti­ful women to as­sign­ments around town.

“It was great be­cause I would have an idea and run over there real quick, or he’d have an idea and run over to me,” says Robert. “Scott was very fo­cused; he was like a lion. He was very am­bi­tious, very pas­sion­ate about all as­pects of be­ing in a band. Lyrics and mu­sic and suc­cess – he wanted it just as much, if not more, as the three of us.”

Weiland was un­der­go­ing a change. When he and Kretz moved into a loft apart­ment in down­town Los An­ge­les, the drum­mer watched his band­mate trans­form­ing be­fore his eyes. “I saw him delv­ing a lot more into the arts – po­etry, strange nov­els, watch­ing re­ally avant-garde movies,” says Kretz. “You gotta de­velop this ‘tor­tured artist’ in­tel­lect, and you have to be able to ex­press it in your own form. And that’s what he did.”

Hol­ly­wood in the early 90s wasn’t a mil­lion miles away from Hol­ly­wood through­out the 80s. Money ruled every­thing. The Sun­set Strip clubs had a pay-to-play pol­icy, which meant a band had to bring in a few hun­dred peo­ple just to cover the out­lay. For Mighty Joe Young, that was eas­ier said than done.

“We were al­ways on the out­side,” says Kretz. “You hear about these un­signed bands that have this huge crowd base and have a thou­sand peo­ple at their shows. We were never that band.”

They man­aged to bag shows at venues with names like Club Lin­gerie and The Co­conut Teaser, and 100 miles down the Pa­cific coast in San Diego, where Dean DeLeo lived.

It was at a long-for­got­ten East Hol­ly­wood dive called Sham­rocks where the fu­ture sud­denly opened up for them. They had recorded a demo com­pris­ing a hand­ful of songs that even­tu­ally ended up on Core. The demo tape came to the at­ten­tion of At­lantic Records A&R man Tom Carolan, who saw the band at Sham­rock and of­fered them a deal. He also sug­gested they find a new name, as Mighty Joe Young was al­ready taken by an ag­ing blues­man.

As a kid, Weiland had been weirdly fas­ci­nated by STP Oil Treat­ment, a lu­bri­cant used in mo­tor en­gines. He sug­gested they fit a name around the ini­tials. One early sug­ges­tion, Shirley Tem­ple’s Pussy, was re­jected for be­ing too frat­boy­ish. But the next one stuck: Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots were born.

Over the course of a few months at the end of 1991 and into ’92, STP recorded their de­but al­bum with pro­ducer Bren­dan O’Brien at Rumbo Recorders in the San Fer­nando Val­ley. Some of the songs that ap­peared on their demo were re­tooled for the al­bum. Newer tunes were added, among them the stut­ter­ing Sex Type Thing, an anti-rape song that found Weiland as­sum­ing the char­ac­ter of the pro­tag­o­nist with barely con­cealed dis­taste (some­thing which the band’s crit­ics later seized upon with mis­guided glee), and Plush, a vivid if ab­stract dis­sec­tion of ob­ses­sive re­la­tion­ships partly in­spired by the story of a mur­dered wo­man in San Diego. Ac­cord­ing to the DeLeos and Kretz, the ses­sions were a breeze.

“We all had the same vi­sion at the time,” says Robert DeLeo. “As you can see from the his­tory of the band, that didn’t al­ways last. But back then there was a strong ca­ma­raderie and vi­sion for what we were try­ing to achieve with that record.”

Re­leased in Septem­ber 1992, Core was a con­fi­dent de­but. While it nod­ded to the pre­vail­ing al­ter­na­tive rock trends that had been shoved front and cen­tre by the suc­cess of Nir­vana and Pearl Jam, it also had a flavour of its own, not least in Dean DeLeo’s com­plex, tex­tured gui­tar work. Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots knew they had a good record, one that did jus­tice to their il­lus­tri­ous fore­bears on At­lantic.

“Since we’d signed to At­lantic Records, which was one of the great­est la­bels in the world, I was like: ‘If we fail and get dropped, there was no com­ing back from get­ting dropped from the top,’” says Eric Kretz. “That was my big­gest fear.”

His con­cerns proved un­founded. Thanks to help from MTV, who pushed the videos for Sex Type Thing and Plush, the al­bum started to sell steadily. It helped that they had a mag­netic front­man who em­braced the lime­light while so many of his peers pushed it away. Un­like Kurt Cobain or Ed­die Ved­der, Scott Weiland was a nat­u­ral-born rock star.

“I’ve got to tell you that term,

‘rock star’, I don’t care much for it,” says Dean DeLeo. “But I never re­ally looked at Scott like that. I looked at him like my brother. He was my brother, and we were in this thing to­gether. We all wanted the same thing – to make an in­deli­ble mark on the face of mu­sic.”

In Novem­ber 1992, STP em­barked on their first na­tional tour. Holed up in an RV with an equip­ment truck trail­ing them, they criss-crossed Amer­ica, stop­ping off at such sweat­boxes as Wash­ing­ton DC’s 9.30 Club, the Phan­tasy Night­club in Lake­wood, Ohio, and

Club Downun­der in Tal­la­has­see, Florida. Not ev­ery show was a ring­ing suc­cess. At one gig in Buf­falo, New York, the band counted seven peo­ple in the venue, as well as them­selves – in­clud­ing the bar­tender and the bouncer. The next night, in Toronto, the club they played was sold out.

Their met­tle was tested early the fol­low­ing year when they opened for thrash linch­pins Me­gadeth. Ev­ery night they would face down a front row who would flip them the bird or sim­ply turn their backs.

“Scott re­ally had to start work­ing the au­di­ence,” says Kretz. “They hated him, they hated us, they hated any­body who was open­ing for Me­gadeth. We def­i­nitely earned our stripes on that tour.”

“We all Wanted the same thIng – to make an In­delI­ble mark on the face of mu­sIc.”

dean deleo

While Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots were out on the road, Core be­gan to cook with gas. The suc­cess of the Seat­tle bands had spawned a pub­lic ap­petite for any­thing that sounded grungey, edgy, an­themic and prefer­ably all three, and STP fit­ted the bill.

“I don’t know if you could ever be pre­pared for that rocket ride,” says Robert. “Our A&R guy, Tom Carolan, said some­thing I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber:

‘You gotta fas­ten your seat belts.’ He was right. We were on the road for four­teen months. Not a lot of peo­ple can do that. But it’s the men­tal and emo­tional side of what oc­curs that plays with your soul.”

If any­one was play­ing with Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots’ soul, it was the me­dia. While the band had their cham­pi­ons in the rock press on both sides of the At­lantic, the main­stream me­dia piled in on them. The New York Times com­pared them un­favourably to Pearl Jam and Nir­vana; Rolling Stone voted them the Worst New Band Of The Year.

From be­ing a cool lit­tle out­fit do­ing their own thing in the LA clubs, STP sud­denly be­came the press’s whip­ping boys. They were ac­cused of every­thing from cyn­i­cal plagiarism to the cor­po­ra­ti­za­tion of grunge. The crit­i­cism snow­balled – it be­came a weird form of school­yard bul­ly­ing. Eric Kretz and Robert DeLeo look back on it all with the grace that only a quar­ter of a cen­tury’s dis­tance can bring. “Some­times you just take the pun­ish­ment,” says Kretz. “You just say: ‘You know what? I can turn it around to my ben­e­fit.’ And crit­ics aren’t al­ways right.”

“We weren’t mak­ing records for them,” says Robert DeLeo. “Most of those peo­ple didn’t even lis­ten to our records. They just kind of copy­cat wrote what ev­ery­one else was writ­ing.”

Dean DeLeo is a dif­fer­ent mat­ter. The crit­i­cal kick­ings meted out to the band still ran­kle af­ter all this time. When the sub­ject is brought up, there’s a pause, and the con­ver­sa­tional tem­per­a­ture drops by sev­eral de­grees.

“I’ve been mak­ing records for twenty-five years,” he says even­tu­ally. “So I’ve earned where I don’t need to en­ter­tain a ques­tion like that. If I was ask­ing you ques­tions, and you had a decade and a half un­der your belt, I wouldn’t ask that kind of ques­tion. You’re ask­ing me about some­thing that hap­pened twenty-five years ago. I wouldn’t even know how to an­swer that.”

If the crit­i­cism hurt the band, it cer­tainly didn’t hurt them com­mer­cially. By the end of 1993, Core had topped three mil­lion sales. But there were darker clouds gath­er­ing on the hori­zon – ones that would ir­re­vo­ca­bly change the band.

On June 12, 1993, Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots kicked off their Bar-B-Q-Mit­vah Tour, a kind of mini Lol­la­palooza pack­age tour also fea­tur­ing Texan loons But­t­hole Surfers, Ok­la­homa weird-beards the Flam­ing Lips, funk pi­o­neers Base­head and cult punk he­roes fIREHOSE.

“We told the pro­mot­ers we want to do shows where shows haven’t been done – like fish­ing ponds and golf cour­ses,” says Kretz. “Lol­la­palooza was out at the time, and they were try­ing to do some­thing dif­fer­ent. We thought: ‘How do we do some­thing dif­fer­ent? Well, fuck it, let’s try to make some­thing all our own.’ And it was quite a big party.”

For Scott Weiland, that party was about to spi­ral out of con­trol. In his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, 2011’s Not Dead And Not For Sale, the singer re­called his fas­ci­na­tion with heroin – or at least its then-dis­tant al­lure. “I as­so­ci­ated heroin with ro­mance, glam­our, dan­ger and rock’n’roll ex­cess,” he wrote. “More than that, I was cu­ri­ous about the con­nec­tion be­tween heroin and cre­ativ­ity. At that point, I couldn’t imag­ine my life with­out at least dab­bling with the King Of Drugs.”

When the tour hit New York, Weiland de­cided to take the plunge. When other, un­named mu­si­cians clubbed to­gether to buy some China White heroin, he added his name to the or­der. For that night’s show, Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots de­cided to dress up as Kiss. Be­fore he hit the stage in his Paul Stan­ley drag, Weiland snorted heroin for the first time. “I was undis­turbed and un­afraid,” he re­called. “A free-float­ing man in a space with­out demons and doubts. The show was beau­ti­ful. The high was beau­ti­ful.”

No mat­ter how he gussied it up in po­etry, a line had been crossed – one that the singer would never truly come back across.

“The start of his heavy drug in­take def­i­nitely came to­wards the end of that tour,” says Kretz. “Be­fore that we were all heavy drinkers. I’d watch him drink un­til he passed out. He didn’t do it all the time, but it hap­pened. But that tour changed things. He learned some bad habits, and un­for­tu­nately they stayed with him.”

By the time the cam­paign for Core was over, the al­bum was well on its way to sell­ing eight mil­lion copies. Suc­cess pro­vided scant ar­mour against the brick­bats of the press. In­stead, STP dou­bled down and chan­nelled their anger, frus­tra­tion and song­writ­ing craft into a glo­ri­ous fol­low-up, Pur­ple. Like its pre­de­ces­sor, it sold in the mul­ti­mil­lions – and it si­lenced their crit­ics.

But for Scott Weiland, suc­cess – and cu­rios­ity – came at a cost. His on-off-on-again drug habit would de­fine his life over the next 20 years as much as his mu­sic did. He fell into a trag­i­cally pre­dictable cy­cle of ar­rests, re­hab and re­lapses, while his re­la­tion­ship with his STP band­mates ebbed and flowed, with singer and band split­ting and re­u­nit­ing mul­ti­ple times over the years, like a married cou­ple who couldn’t live with each other but couldn’t live with­out each other too.

“We Were on the cusp of an ex­cIt­Ing move­ment In rock’n’roll, and We Were part of It. no one can take that aWay from us.”

erIc kretz

In De­cem­ber 2015, the in­evitable hap­pened. Weiland was found dead in the bunk of his tour bus be­fore a gig in Min­nesota with his new band The Wild­abouts. A com­bi­na­tion of drugs was found in his sys­tem. The cause of death was de­ter­mined to have been an ac­ci­den­tal over­dose of co­caine, MDA and al­co­hol. His for­mer band­mates in Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots re­leased a state­ment pay­ing trib­ute to their fallen col­league: “You were gifted be­yond words. Part of that gift was part of your curse.”

“I think about Scott a lot,” Robert DeLeo says now. “Ev­ery sin­gle day. Ev­ery as­pect of his char­ac­ter, from the be­gin­ning of the band to the day he passed. We went through a hell of a lot to­gether.”

A new, deluxe 25th-an­niver­sary reis­sue of

Core stands in part as a trib­ute to Weiland, but also as a marker of Stone Tem­ple Pi­lots’ tenac­ity. Other bands would have crum­bled in the face of op­pro­brium, but STP didn’t just tran­scend it, they turned the ta­bles on their crit­ics. To­day, they should fi­nally get the re­spect they de­serve.

“Man, we were just so young and hun­gry back then,” says Eric Kretz. “We were fired up to make a dif­fer­ence, we truly were. We were on the cusp of an ex­cit­ing move­ment in rock’n’roll, and we were part of it. No one can take that away from us.”

“I don’t much care for the term ‘rock star’. I never looked at scott lIke that. I looked at hIm lIke my brother.”

dean deleo

The 25th an­niver­sary edi­tion of Core (re­viewed on p99) is out on Septem­ber 29 via Rhino.

STP play­ing at the Greek Theatre in Berke­ley, Cal­i­for­nia on July 4, 1993.

Feel­ing the heat in the early 90s: Scott Weiland (left) and Eric Kretz.

Early promo shot: (l-r) Scott Weiland, Robert DeLeo, Eric Kretz, Dean DeLeo.

Scott Weiland in Kiss make-up with STP at Rose­land in New York City, Au­gust 3, 1993.

Weiland and Dean DeLeo at STP’s first Lon­don show, at the Un­der­world on March 11, 1993.

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