Ask Stone Temple Pilots guitarist Dean DeLeo about the records that changed his life, and he'll tell you about listening to Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti while growing up in New Jersey with his brother (and STP bassist), Robert.
"We lived in this old English Tudor that was built in 1928," he says. "It was a big, scary house. There were definitely some things lurking around that property. You could feel it. But I will always remember listening to Physical Graffiti on eight-track in that house. I had a black light on, and I just remember being enamored and petrified. I was so moved, emotionally and musically. I just couldn't believe what I was hearing come out of the speakers. For me, it was a time when gods walked the earth."
Fast forward to right about now: the DeLeo brothers and Stone Temple Pilots drummer Eric Kretz are in Las Vegas, where they're about to play their seventh show ever with new singer Jeff Gutt. After a heartbreaking period in which both of the band's former vocalists — original singer Scott Weiland and his replacement, Linkin Park's Chester Bennington — passed away under tragic circumstances within two years of each other, Stone Temple Pilots have re-emerged with Michigan native and former X-Factor contestant Gutt at the helm of their first new album in eight years.
The fact that it's their second self-titled album in a row doesn't seem to faze DeLeo in the least. "I think the best album title ever was a record Joe Walsh made — it was called You Bought It—You Name It," the guitarist says with a laugh. "But as far as our record goes? If you dig it, that's wonderful. If you don't dig it, we tried!"
In the conversation below, DeLeo discusses his fallen comrades, the band's laborious singer-audition process and their auspicious future.
WHEN CHESTER BENNINGTON LEFT STONE TEMPLE PILOTS TO FOCUS ON LINKIN PARK, YOU GUYS POSTED AN OPEN CALL FOR SINGER SUBMISSIONS ON YOUR WEBSITE…
DEAN DELEO Yeah — where were you, man? Why didn't you submit?
I FEEL LIKE YOU'RE DOING JUST FINE WITHOUT ME. BUT WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO OPEN THE FLOODGATES LIKE THAT? YOU GUYS MUST KNOW SO MANY TALENTED SINGERS YOU COULD'VE JUST CALLED.
It would've been the same situation as [it was] with Chester, though. All of our friends are affiliated with other bands that take up a fair amount of their time. And we were well aware of that Linkin Park thing looming over us with Chester, but we weren't able to endure that kind of schedule. We wanted to see what the world had to offer and find somebody who was able to make this a priority, so we opened it up for anyone and everyone to audition to the be the singer of Stone Temple Pilots.
IT'S BEEN REPORTED THAT YOU GUYS GOT 15,000 SUBMISSIONS.
I think it was well over 20,000, quite honestly. Rob and Eric and I sifted through them — I actually went through them on three occasions — so there was a lot of effort. I spent well over 100 hours on my computer going through these, and oddly enough, Jeff didn't even submit.
SOMEONE REFERRED HIM TO ROBERT AT A HOLLYWOOD VAMPIRES GIG IN MICHIGAN, RIGHT?
Yeah, somebody approached Robert after a Hollywood Vampires show and said, "If you guys haven't found a singer yet, you might wanna check out this local cat." So Jeff was actually one of the last three people we auditioned, which is crazy when you think about it. Jeff has been a godsend, quite honestly.
HAD YOU SEEN HIM ON THE X-FACTOR?
No, I was completely unaware. I never even saw that show. But when I found out he had been on it, I didn't want to pursue watching his stuff. I just wanted to get the feel for what kind of person he was and what kind of talent he carried by getting in a room with him. When we got together, it became very evident that he's an extraordinary singer.
YOU WORKED WITH HIM FOR ALMOST A YEAR BEFORE YOU ASKED HIM TO JOIN THE BAND. WAS THERE A SPECIFIC MOMENT WHEN YOU KNEW HE WAS THE GUY?
We spent a lot of time writing and playing music, and when it came down to the writing process — we started recording the album before we even gave him the gig — there was no room for error. If we didn't get it right, that was it. So we spent a lot of time together — like you said, nearly a year — which says a lot about Jeff's character because he had to keep that under wraps. We all did. We wanted to make sure it was right before we went and shot our mouths off.
THAT MUST'VE BEEN DIFFICULT, ESPECIALLY IN A DAY AND AGE WHEN EVERYONE'S GOT A VIDEO CAMERA IN THEIR POCKET. SOME RANDOM THIRD PARTY COULD'VE SPILLED THE NEWS BEFORE YOU WERE READY.
Well, yeah. Plus you're excited about the music you're making and you want to play it for your friends and stuff. But even after we gave Jeff the gig, I felt awful for the guy because he just got this wonderful news — you're the lead singer of STP — and he left that meeting unable to tell anybody. [Laughs] I mean, how awful is that? But none of us like saying anything we can't back up, so we needed to be sure.
DID JEFF EVER EXPRESS ANY FEELINGS OF HAVING BIG SHOES TO FILL?
He might've felt that way internally, but he never expressed it to us. You know, there's something about the longitude and latitude up there by the Great Lakes, man. It carves out some pretty stoic personalities. [Laughs] Jeff's a humble guy, but he's a confident guy. He definitely told me he didn't want to do any watered-down impression of Scott, though. And we didn't want that, either.
YOU'VE SAID THAT IF YOU DIDN'T FIND JEFF, YOU WERE READY TO END THE BAND. DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD'VE STARTED SOMETHING NEW?
I don't know that we were there yet. We were suffering some great losses. That was a sad, sad time for a lot of reasons. When we went through those 20,000 submissions, it felt pretty futile. Out of all those people, we only auditioned about 40.
I IMAGINE THERE WAS A LOT OF COMEDY TO BE HAD IN SOME OF THOSE SUBMISSIONS.
[Laughs] There were some spectacular moments, my friend. I thought we were gonna have like ten solid people to choose from, but it wasn't that way whatsoever. So I don't know if we would've publicly put a fork in it, but internally we felt like we were looking for something else to come about. And lo and behold, it did.
BOTH SCOTT AND CHESTER WERE NO LONGER IN STONE TEMPLE PILOTS WHEN THEY PASSED AWAY, BUT THEY DIED WITHIN TWO YEARS OF EACH OTHER. DID YOU FEEL LIKE SOME SORT OF CURSE WAS CLOSING IN ON THE BAND?
No, I didn't feel that way at all. I wish I could say the well being of those two gentlemen weighed more upon me, because if it did, I would've changed it. [I wish] I would've had the power to make a change for them. But yeah, man … it was decisions made by them. Some of the greatest memories of my life were with those two gentlemen. To be able write songs with a guy like Scott, to be able to have the luxury of a songwriting partner like him and his extraordinary talent, it was very fulfilling. It kills me that neither of those guys are here to enjoy all that they carved out. I'll be scratching my head for the rest of my days, man.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PERSISTENT MEMORIES OF EITHER OF THEM?
There's a lot of Scott because he and I lived together when we were pursuing a recording contract and playing everywhere we could. He was so electric and so full of life, so full of art, so expressive. I really looked up to him in a lot of different ways, man. I have just the greatest memories of us going out in the very early days of STP and how wonderful that was — and how wonderful he was before things really started stepping into his life. He was very pure.
Chester was very pure as well. Here was a guy that completely lived in a solution. He was infectious to be around, just a beautiful individual. So there are many memories — I could go on and on.
CHESTER'S SUICIDE WAS A HUGE SURPRISE TO FANS AND PEOPLE OUTSIDE THE BAND. WAS IT A SURPRISE TO YOU AS WELL?
Complete and utter surprise. I never saw that one coming. We emailed each other that night. We told one another how much we love each other, and how we can't wait to see each other. He said, "Please give your family my love," and that was that.
STONE TEMPLE PILOTS RECORDED AN EP WITH CHESTER. DO YOU REGRET NOT DOING A FULL ALBUM WITH HIM?
You know, I don't think about that. I don't know if "regret" is the right word, but I'm heartbroken that he's not here. Not for me — that would be very selfish — but for his family and the people that were closest to him. We were merely an extended family.
YOU'VE SAID THAT YOU FELT LIKE YOU LOST SCOTT YEARS BEFORE HE ACTUALLY PASSED AWAY. WAS THAT BECAUSE YOU DIDN'T HAVE MUCH OF A RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM IN THE LAST FEW YEARS, OR WAS IT SOMETHING ELSE?
I think it's just the way Scott chose to live his life. And maybe it wasn't a choice. Other things took over and Scott was no longer in control for many years. No matter how you slice it, the ending like that is just tragic. And these are just the publicized ones, man. Thousands of people do this on a daily basis. When you think about all the moms and dads and aunts and uncles — anyone who suffers a loss of that magnitude, man — it's so heartbreaking and it just leaves you puzzled. You're inundated with unanswered questions. I just hate it, man.
ON A MORE POSITIVE NOTE, DOES THIS RECORD FEEL LIKE A NEW BEGINNING?
Absolutely. Last night was our sixth show as a band, and it absolutely feels like a new beginning. There's a sense of security here now. There's a peace of mind that comes with this band now, and for Robert and Eric and I — wow, did we ever need that.