"I always knew this day would come," says Stone Temple Pilots guitarist Dean DeLeo of the band's reformation and their brand-new, self-titled album, a disc so jam-packed with goodness that many (including us) are already calling it one of the great comebacks in recent music history.
"I've heard Scott [Weiland] talk about us making more music as 'unfinished business,' and you know, c'est la vie," says DeLeo. "Here we are. I hope to make five more great records with this band."
In late 2002, the multi-platinum Pilots - DeLeo, his bassist brother Robert, drummer Eric Kretz and singer Scott Weiland - imploded, and Weiland soon joined the trouble-plagued supergroup Velvet Revolver.
"A lot of people called our situation a 'break-up,' says DeLeo, "but we - and I'm talking about the band - refer to it as a much-needed respite. Look, if we didn't go our separate ways right then and kind of tuck this in bed for a while, we never would've gotten back together. We were shoulder-to-shoulder for 14 years. We spent most of our adult lives in tight surroundings and quarters.
"So a lot of things happened during that rest," he continues. "Scott got involved in Velvet Revolver, Robert and I got involved in Army Of Anyone [which also featured Robert Patrick from Filter and drummer Ray Luzier]. But I always knew that we'd come back to the table and do this, 'cause it didn't end with 'I don't ever want to see you again.'"
And now, following Weiland's highly-publicized (and extremely messy) 2008 departure from Velvet Revolver, the Pilots are indeed back, having lost little momentum it would seem. The new album is self-produced (with some assistance from noted boardsman Don Was) and its12 songs are immensely satisfying, running the gamut from '60s-laced pop gems (Between The Lines, Cinnamon) to heavy-duty rockers (Hazy Daze, Fast As I Can) to admitted Aerosmith homages (Huckleberry Crumble) to a passel of tunes that reveal the DeLeo brothers' deep fascination with country music.
MusicRadar sat down recently with the New Jersey-born Dean DeLeo to talk about the state of STP, their reunion and what the future holds for them. We also got a chance to talk a little (OK, a lot) guitar and gear action.
So much has been made of Scott's exit from Velvet Revolver. While he was in the band, did you guys have contact with him? Did you have an inkling that he was unhappy?
"Yeah, yeah. Scott and I saw each other and talked with each other quite a bit during Velvet Revolver. He came out to my house and expressed that things were a little strained. You never want to hear that. It was kind of a drag to hear that. But we were all very respectful for what one another had going on; we never wanted to get in the way of that.
"With me knowing that Scott was unhappy in that camp, another thing came into play: I was getting calls from our agent telling me that promoters were calling to see if the band was interested in doing a bunch of the summer festivals. And I was like, 'That's interesting to know…' Scott and I talked and…if Velvet Revolver was fine, I would've been respectful and not made the call to Scott, but I knew that things were fragmented in that camp, and I called and said, 'A lot of stuff going on right now, is this something we want to do?' And I spoke to Eric and Robert and it was like, 'Why not?'"
So it was kind of like, "If you're unhappy in that home, there's another home right here"?
Did you and Robert have a backlog of songs that became this new album?
"Yeah. We're constantly sitting on a woodpile of material. This album was no different. People seem to want to pick apart this record: 'Oh, we hear you were working in separate studios - was there any unity in the band?' Nothing's changed. Everything's been exactly the same. Robert, Eric and I get in and hash out a lot of material. Scott doesn't like to take part in that first week because who would want to be there when three guys are hashing through piles and piles of material? As a singer, I wouldn't want to be there and be overwhelmed by all that stuff flying around.
"We spent out time shifting through it all. We really listened to what the music had to say. We really listened to what the music was telling us, what the sonic adventure was."
There have been bands through the years that have featured brothers. Do you and Robert share the same kind of musical mind? Is it an easy relationship or do you guys butt heads a lot?
"No, we don't butt heads a lot. I'll tell you, you know you hear about people being able to finish each other's sentences, well…Robert and I are brothers, and we have a whole different life we share beyond Stone Temple Pilots. Music is one small aspect of what we share. Musically speaking, we are of one mind.
"I put my brother up there with the finest songwriters on the planet, and definitely one of the finest musicians on the planet. He's pretty extraordinary. Robert was responsible for writing some of the band's biggest songs. Musically speaking, Scott writes melodies and lyrics. Interstate Love Song, Plush - Robert wrote those. Me being the guitar player, I get a lot of the credit, and I had nothing to do with writing those two songs."
Your past records were produced by Brendan O'Brien. What led to the decision to do this one yourselves?
Scott Weiland and Dean DeLeo at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas last March Image: © Tim Mosenfelder/Corbis
"Well, I have to bounce that back to Robert. He was very firm about taking that duty on and doing it ourselves. I'd like to talk about Army Of Anyone a little bit. Robert and I really wanted to produce that record ourselves. [The self-titled 2006 album was produced by Bob Ezrin.] We had the luxury of making every one of our records with Brendan O'Brien, and each one of those records was like going to school. So, when we were on this hiatus and in-between Stone Temple Pilots, Robert and I were out making records ourselves; we were contracted as producers.
"When it came time to do Army Of Anyone, Robert and I - and I say this with great humility - were very well equipped to produce our own album. But our record label demanded - and I'm going to use the terminology they used; this is record company politics, folks: 'We want a big name producer.' So sometimes, you know, the record company, who can dictate whether your record gets on shelves or not…sometimes you have to play the game.
"We really wanted to produce that Army of Anyone record ourselves, and we could've. But the best part of making that record was, you're in very tight quarters, in a very intimate situation, sharing your music, which is really a bit of you, isn't it? And you come out of a situation of that with…a new friend. So the best part of that was coming out of it with Bob Ezrin as a dear friend.
"But Robert was like, 'We're producing this record - the Stone Temple Pilots record - ourselves.' And Atlantic said, 'We think you should have a producer.' This time we didn't play the game. We said, 'If you want another record, this is how it's gonna be.' And they said, 'OK.'"
Let's talk about your guitar playing and your guitars. Now, you're pretty much known as being a Les Paul player -
"Well, that's what everybody pretty much sees me pictured as."
Although I have seen you pictured playing some Teles and what have you. What were your main guitars on this record?
"Exactly what you just said. I came into these sessions with two Les Paul, one of which was set up for slide. I had three Teles: one was set up with a Bigsby, which you hear on the Bagman solo, another was straight up for the song Hickory Dichotomy, and another Tele was strung with a Nashville tuning for the song Cinnamon. I also used that on the song Maver."
I can tell. It definitely has that sound.
"I also had a Strat, of course. I mean, what's a session without a Strat? And a Danelectro with those wonderful lipstick pickups…I used that on a lot of the record. And on one song, First Kiss On Mars, you'll hear a '50s Danelectro Longhorn six-string bass."
I'm told you have quite a guitar collection.
Dean on stage at The Joint in Les Vegas, 2009. Image: © Scott Harrison/Retna Ltd./Corbis
"I have some guitars."
How many do you have? And where do you keep them all?
"I have about 100. I keep them in a storage facility not too far from my house."
When you have 100 guitars, how do decide what to use on any given track?
"I'm a creature of habit, man. I use the same ones. I have a certain few that I quote-unquote 'go to' [laughs]…I have a couple of '70s Les Pauls that I always use. I have a '56 Strat. Then I have some mid-'60s Teles - all my Teles are, like, '65 through '66, the three of those I mentioned earlier. Then I have an early '60s double-cut Danelectro."
Have you made any special modifications to them?
"Yeah the black Les Paul has some interesting wiring to it. I hope that Gibson will one day re-create this guitar, I'm kind of talking to them about putting this guitar on the market. It really is very special. You know when you plug in a wah-wah pedal and you find that really sweet spot to solo with? Well, when you pop the tone knob on this, it allows you to get that wah thing."
Any other mods?
"No, no, that's really the only guitar that's been touched. A lot of the stuff is '50s and '60s stuff, and once you change a wire or do anything, I feel like you've spoiled something, you know? So all my guitars are original."
What kind of amps did you use on the record?
"Well, we had some cool stuff. A lot of the Valco stuff - they were the manufacturer for Supro, Gretsch, Airline, National, a lot of the fine stuff. Even like four-inch speaker stuff. Four to 10-inch speakers. Ten watts, 15 watts, 20 watts…And I had some real nice amps that always seemed to make their way onto sessions. Marshall made these combos between 1966 and 1968 - they never introduced them to the US - and they're 18 and 20-watt combos.
"And then a friend of mine in San Diego named Jeff Snider makes amazing amps. He makes these two models, a California model which features tremolo and reverb, and another model he gave me, aptly named the New Jersey. [laughs] If you really want an amp that will offer you everything and accentuate all the sounds you're trying to get, his amps are truly amazing."
A lot of your playing bears the influence of Jimmy Page, who, as we now know, didn't record with these giant Marshall stacks.
"Guitar frequencies take up a lot of room. You have to think, you have two speakers, one right and one left, and you're trying to get all of this sound to come out of them. And something else to remember: a microphone knows no size. It is non-judgemental. When you use a smaller amp, it allows the backbeat, the rhythm section, to be that much bigger, hence those Zeppelin records. You listen to a lot of those early records, there's not a not of overdubbing. Zeppelin II, a lot of that stuff is a single guitar track."
Many of the riffs on the new album have a real country vibe to them. There's Maver, First Kiss On Mars, Hickory Dichotomy, Huckleberry Crumble…
"They really are a lot of country riffs, but in typical STP fashion we stepped into some other areas. I mean, Robert's notorious for taking Brazilian chordings and jazz chordings and presenting them into a rock format. To me, that's the real interesting thing about our band, and it's very apparent when you see a cover band or a guitarist try to do one of our songs - they never get it right."
Are you a big country music fan?
"Absolutely. I've been listening to a lot of Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West, Lloyd Green, Pete Drake, Hank Garland, Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell - a lot of that stuff."
Quite a list. Still, it's amazing how you're able to take these country licks and turn them into big-time rock music.
"Yeah, well…take Hickory Dichotomy, for example. The guitars really aren't terribly distorted on that track. Tonally, I think this is one of the cleanest-sounding records that we've done. Most everything else was ground-out. But on this record, I purposely wanted the tones a little cleaner. I had that in mind, with that countryesque thang goin' on."
Are you using an alternate tuning on that track, Hickory Dichotomy?
"No. But I painted myself into a bit of a corner. That is standard tuning except for the solo, which is in open G. So in a live format…well, you can see us do it on YouTube and I'm actually playing the song in its entirety in open G, but I recorded it in standard tuning."
The first single, Between The Lines, is classic STP in many ways. It's rock, it's pop, there's hooks like crazy...
"The whole backbeat, it's '60s pop, man. It's Paul Revere And The Raiders, The Animals, The Zombies. Musically, when I write a song, I know what I want it to be melodically. But Scott always, always, always knocks my melodies out of the water. Where he went with that verse, I was just loving it. It's really kind of a love song, in his own way. What an interesting line: 'You always were my favorite drug, even when we used to take drugs.' And we know, Scott does like his hallucinogenics."
Talk to me about the song Huckleberry Crumble. It's very reminiscent of Aerosmith's Same Old Song And Dance.
"I'd have to agree on that. The arrangements are almost the same: it starts out with a riff, goes right into a solo, a verse, chorus, solo out of the chorus, back to a second verse - it's pretty much the same setup.
"It's amazing how if you were to present that opening riff on a Tele really clean, it's almost a country riff. But if you present it with a Les Paul through a Marshall, it takes on this whole different thing. It's almost T-Rex-ish, if you will."
Let me ask you, when you guys got back together and played your first gig, what did it feel like?
"Well, I'll take it one step earlier, when we got into the rehearsal room, 'cause it all started there. The first song we played was Vasoline. When we fell back in and played with Eric Kretz, it really did feel like we had climbed into our nice warm bed. It really did, it was like 'Oh, boy, well, I'm very familiar with this.'"
The new record is so strong. Do you feel surprised in a way that you could all come back and be so unified?
"I know one thing: we're our own worst critics. We demand the most from ourselves and one another. This record had to reach a certain level till we would even release it
"Let me tell you a little story. This is how I know my job is done: I go back home, I go back to South Jersey to the little town I grew up in. I have the luxury of renting a real nice car with a real nice stereo in it. I go pick up my friends like we used to do when we were teens, but instead of blaring Zeppelin and Yes records, I'm playing my new record. And when I feel that excitement, with the same people, in the same town on the same streets…I know I did something right, man."