September 29 marks 25 years to the day that Stone Temple Pilots roared onto the musical landscape with the release of the band’s debut LP, Core.
Guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo, drummer Eric Kretz and vocalist Scott Weiland were almost instantly megastars, and by the following summer were one of the biggest rock bands on the scene.
Powered by exhilarating live shows and a string of now-classic songs from the album — which peaked at #3 on the Billboard charts and went on to become certified 8x Platinum and earn the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance for the smash single “Plush,” STP also dominated rock radio waves with songs like “Sex Type Thing” and “Wicked Garden.”
To mark the album’s silver anniversary, a Super Deluxe reissue (spanning four CDs, featuring a newly remastered version of the original album plus more than two hours of unreleased demos and live performances including the band’s performance on MTV Unplugged and scorching live recordings from the summer of 1993 and the band’s Reading Festival appearance, the original album on 180-gram vinyl and a DVD that contains a 5.1 Surround Sound Mix of the album along with videos for the album’s four singles) is being released on September 29, as well as a 2-CD Deluxe edition and single-disc version featuring a remaster of the original album.
Guitarist Dean DeLeo sat down with Rock Cellar to discuss the reissue and the roller-coaster ride that being a member of STP was, from beginning to end.
Rock Cellar: It was really fun getting the new expanded edition of Core and listening to it, because the songs are a part of our collective DNA as rock and roll fans. It’s a huge package — it’s almost 50 songs — and what struck me was that it’s such a document of that time and place in so many ways. When you went back and you were putting this together and you were listening to everything, what did it bring back to you?
Dean DeLeo: Scott.
Yeah, yeah. He was in such a great place and the performances are just magical, aren’t they?
Dean DeLeo: He was in a great place, man. You know, there was a time when I really looked up to him. I looked up to him for his approval when I played guitar, or when I brought a song in to the band. I really wanted to please him. I wanted his nod of approval. I wanted him to go, “That’s great, man. I love that.” And it’s amazing how sadly, and not quickly, but over two decades, that light just slowly diminished. Over 20 years, man.
My guy wasn’t that way for long, you know. He burned bright and fast. But, you know, just to answer your question, we were really reminded when we dug into this stuff of Scott and how incredible he was. And, you know, that goes for all the records, really, how brilliant he was. Just brilliant, man. My brother put it best: “He was the perfect guy to have as his writing partner because he was just so brilliant. And I’ll tell you what, man, when we were making records, he never wanted us around when he was doing his vocals. He wanted to be left alone with Brendan (O’Brien, the band’s producer). He would always do vocals just after dinner. He would start drinking around dinnertime so he was good and oiled. Oiled as a diesel train, as Elton puts it.
Or, I guess, maybe Bernie (Taupin)?
Yeah, that would be Bernie.
Dean DeLeo: And I tell you, man, when those vocals were done, it was so fulfilling as a songwriter and as a member of the band.
Well, I have to say, when I got this, I couldn’t help but go back and go through my collection and put on Purple and Tiny Music – man, I’d forgotten how much I loved that record — and even (Weiland’s solo album) 12 Bar Blues, because I think that was a special record in a lot of ways. But, boy, listening especially Purple and Core, God, he was just such a great front man, in kind of the traditional, old-school sense of when people say front man. They just don’t exist like that anymore, do they?
Dean DeLeo: Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, because I always knew how extraordinary he was. I was up there with him and it always felt like the guy oozed with confidence, man. That’s what it felt like being on stage with him. It just felt like you were on the moon. I don’t know if Scott would appreciate this or not — what I’m about to say — but he was a poet, too. His lyrics are extraordinary.
Extraordinary! He was a true poet, man.
The other thing I was thinking when I was listening to Core — all in a big chunk when I first got it — was how prolific you guys were. It doesn’t feel like bands are creating at that rapid clip anymore. We live in a different universe, for sure. Bands can’t go into the studio for long stretches anymore and they don’t have A&R people who are mentoring them. There certainly aren’t a lot of Brendan O’Briens out there working with young bands anymore, either. What are your memories of that period, and stepping into a real studio for the first time with a real producer like Brendan?
Dean DeLeo: Brendan let it be well known when we met that he liked working fast. He said, “If this isn’t going to be done quickly I’m going to lose interest, so I’m just letting you know that right now.” But more than having the luxury of making all of our records with Brendan, aside from one or two, was that I can call him my friend. I love him dearly, and that is one thing that I’m I am so grateful for. That I got to learn and be taught so much as a guitar player and as a musician, just making these records with Brandon, I can’t say enough about that, though. It was just amazing.
Talk a little bit about your working habits.
Dean DeLeo: I’ve got the best story ever. You know, Brendan O’Brien… “One of the most sought-after producers on the planet.” How many records do you think he’s done since 1989? 300? 400?
I don’t know, but it’s a lot of records. And a lot of big records.
Dean DeLeo: You know how I got turned onto Brendan? You’re going to dig this, man. Robert and I were up on Sunset Boulevard. We had some time to kill. We were in pre-production, and we were talking about producers for the first record, and Atlantic actually brought us Eddie Offord. He did a few Yes records, and so of course we were a reasonable facsimile of the Chris Farley Show, just beside ourselves as fanboys.
So eventually we were in a room with Eddie, and Eric and Robert and I – though not so much Scott — we had Yes albums coursing through our veins. So that was incredible. But Robert and I had some time to kill before pre-production one day, so we went up to some of the guitar shops on Sunset Boulevard, and we were in a shop owned by a good friend of ours called Guitars R Us, and Michael Lockwood, who was in a band called Wink, and a really great guitar player, was there. He’s like, “So what’s going on man?” And I said, “We’re in pre-production. We’re thinking about producers.” And he’s like, “Man, you’ve got to check this guy out. He’s doing a Counting Crows record right now. He’s just a killer guitar player.” He wrote Brendan’s number down on a matchbook and handed it to us. That’s how we got in touch with Brendan O’Brien!
And what did the label think? Because it sounds as though they had some other vision, and that was still the days of big budgets. What did they have to say about a guy’s number on a matchbook?
Dean DeLeo: Oh, they were thrilled about us and Brendan getting together. You know, Atlantic, I’ve got to tell you something, you know, you hear a lot of horror stories about major labels? They were amazing! They were an amazing, amazing business partner. I couldn’t have asked for a better situation to be in. They gave us creative control. Whatever we wanted to do. And I’m not just talking about making records, I’m talking about the videos we chose to make, the directors we chose.
Of course all of our records were made with Brendan, and anytime someone from the record label would come in while were making the records, they became our dear, dear lifelong friends. Tom Carolyn, who signed the band, he was our A&R guy, and Tom would come by a few times while we were making our records, just take us out to dinner and hear stuff, and he would go back to the label and go, “Oh, man, wait till you hear what the boys are doing!” So Atlantic was a great place for us and they did nothing but give us support.
Do you think that was a result of the success of the first record? Or were they like that from the outset?
Dean DeLeo: They were like that from the get-go. But the success surely dictated how they were treating the band. If we had come out and sold no records I think we would have parted ways, you know, so the success definitely dictated their involvement.
Let’s talk a little bit about STP’s Unplugged performance. That Unplugged show is one of the defining Unplugged performances. What are your memories of it?
Dean DeLeo: Well, I never react well to being under the gun, like live TV. You’ve got one crack at it, you know? So you’d better make it count! I don’t like that pressure. “We’re recording this and it’s going out live.” That makes me crazy. So I wasn’t able to really enjoy it, because I knew we had one crack. I kept thinking, “Don’t fuck it up!”
I don’t like that pressure. But I do remember one thing: Walking in and seeing the set! It was gorgeous. I remember walking in with Scott and we looked at the set and we were, like, “Oh, my, this is gorgeous. This looks so beautiful.” And, of course, there was the excitement of being in Manhattan. It’s always so much fun to be in Manhattan. Playing there is always a really, really great time.
In the ’90s they were figuring out CDs — figuring out mastering — and there was a lot of brickwalling and things of that nature. The new set sounds much more open. Were you involved in the remastering?
Dean DeLeo: Yeah, definitely. We took a couple of cracks at the mastering to get it right. You know, you start pushing too much and the snare starts to change, the guitars get a little ratty. You know, it’s a fine line there. But the mastering team were great people. It took us a couple of times to get it right but we’re pretty pleased with it.
When you were listening to Core after so long, you had to be listening on two levels. Of course, you’re always listening to the sonics. But you’re also, inevitably, especially after so much time, listening to your performances. We talked about Scott, but what did you think listening to the band after all this time? Now that you have the benefit of a little space from the project, what do you think of that band when you hear it? Do you still feel like, “That’s my band!”? Or are you able to step away a little bit and kind of think, “This is a pretty kickass little outfit here!”?
Dean DeLeo: You know what’s interesting? I don’t have Core in my iTunes. The only time I ever really hear those songs is if they come on the radio. And I never listen to the radio, though my wife is notorious for leaving the radio on in her car, so when I get in my car and the radio’s on, that’s when I’ll really hear something off of Core. Purple is a record I would actually have an easier time listening to, honestly. That record’s a little bit more appealing to me.
And if I were to go back and listen to any STP, there’s a couple of songs that I like going back to from the later period, because I think the band was stepping into some terrain I really, really love. There’s one song in particular off of No. 4 that I just really, really adore, and that’s “I Got You.”
I just love the aspect of the six string bass solo in it. I love Scott’s vocal. I love the character that Scott took on. You know, Scott was a singer, man. He was a crooner. He could sing country. He could do it all. So there’s that song that I might go and listen to, and there’s some stuff on Shangri La Dee Da that really hits my heart. “Hello It’s Late” off that is pretty special, especially where Scott took that song. It was extraordinary and, boy, that song reminds me of something off of Carole King’s Tapestry.
I get what you mean, but you’re right, it’s down to Scott’s performance, because it wouldn’t give you that feeling without the way he approaches that stuff.
Dean DeLeo: Absolutely. I mean, he really got into a character. You know, if you listen, just look at the two songs I mentioned, “I Got You” and “Hello It’s Late,” they’re two different people!
Inevitably, the anniversary of Purple is going to come up in two years, and they’ll surely be remasters and expanded editions. Are you looking forward to it? Is it like visiting old friends or is it hard?
Dean DeLeo: I love it. No, I love it, man. I’ll tell you what I really dig about it: As a band we’ve never just given everything away. We’ve kept our cards very close to our chest, as you can see you on this re-release of Core. We’ve been sitting on those demos for 26 years! I don’t want to say it’s cathartic, but it’s nice to be able to share them now, 26 years later. It’s like a cool way to go, “Check this out!”
Honestly, man, I forgot about that demo for “Creep.” I forgot that there was that whole middle section in there! So that was really interesting. And digging into it all and hearing us talking to one another in and out of the songs, because we always had the tape rolling all the time, and hearing Scott’s vision for the songs, or hearing Robert kind of explaining the songs. So, yeah, it was really cool, and for the upcoming stuff we just have tons of that stuff that people have never heard before, so it’s going to be fun to dig into it, and more to be able to share it. Because I know I dig that kind of stuff whenever something from Zeppelin comes out. I’m a fan! So I hope people feel the same way as I do.
I’m curious, because you guys got lumped in with the grunge phenomenon, but I always felt you were bigger than that label, especially you and your brother as players – who clearly loved Zeppelin, as you say – and with Scott, of course, as a front man. Did you guys ever chafe at that label? Because listening to STP now, the band just feels like a classic rock and roll band.
Dean DeLeo: Nah, man, it doesn’t cross my mind much, really. I think we, as a band, knew what we had up our sleeves. Between Robert and I there was a lot of material, and we knew what we had up our sleeves going into Core, and then Purple. You know, when you’re sitting on a song like “Interstate Love Song” or “Vasoline” you’re not too worried about labels.
You know, what Robert brought to the table… Don’t let those four strings fool you. Rob was responsible for bringing the biggest songs to the band. He wrote “Plush” and “Interstate,” and that’s aside from being one of the most extraordinary bass players. When a guy can play a story on a bass guitar, you know you’ve got something going on.
So Robert brought a lot to the table and set a high bar that we all had to live up to. And it’s like what I said earlier, man, I really looked up to Scott. I sought his approval when I came in with a song. And it was very healthy and it was very productive. You know, that was kind of the name of the game: To get one another off musically.
It was an amazing kind of the camaraderie we shared, the four of us in STP, so it was always, like, “Okay, you have a song? Oh yeah! All right, man. I can sink my teeth into that!”