STONE TEMPLE PILOTS
- Interviews with Scott Weiland and Dean DeLeo
© Dave Ling - June 2001 - previously published in METAL HAMMER magazine
The firemen clank their way into Room 903 of the plush Metropolitan Hotel in London's Old Park Lane, looking anxiously around for the cause of their summoning. Mere minutes earlier, Scott Weiland and Dean DeLeo's billowing plumes of cigarette smoke had set off the alarm system.
A frantic phone call to Reception later and the siren was halted, but apparently nobody had the foresight to inform the emergency services of the false alarm.
"Where's the fire?" the men in uniforms bellow unanimously.
"Er. there is no fire," we reply, somewhat shocked at the suddenness of their arrival.
"Well, what have you been smoking?"
The irony is not lost on Weiland, who spent the summer of 1999 in Los Angeles County Jail’s rehab facility, throwing the future of his band the Stone Temple Pilots into disarray for the umpteenth time. After joking that we had been smoking crack cocaine, the reformed heroin addict and his guitar-playing buddy quickly convince the firemen that it was regular cigarette smoke, and the heat from the situation fades.
Nothing in life, it seems, is simple with the Stone Temple Pilots. Following the San Diego band’s initial multi-Platinum breakthrough, their story has only ever become more and more unpredictable, evermore sordid and tragic. Now a fifth chapter is beginning.
“My mother’s entire side of the family were alcoholics. All of them are now in recovery,
except for the ones that are dead.”
In the flesh, Scott Weiland is taller and even skinnier that you’d expect. Earlier that morning he’d taken a six-mile run through the streets around Hyde Park. Already pipe cleaner thin, he exercises to focus his mind.
“I need to keep on the right path,” says the singer. “The more I run, the less chance there is of doing… other things.”
If they can keep their act together, things are looking hopeful for Stone Temple Pilots. In recent years the quartet have added critical acclaim to their vast commercial success. Although they sold more than four million copies of their debut album, 1992’s ‘Core’, and saw the follow-up ‘Purple’ enter the Billboard chart at the coveted Number One slot, the US press slaughtered them, claiming they had stolen all their best ideas from Soundgarden, Alice In Chains and especially Pearl Jam.
“It was the same for Led Zeppelin, and being musicologists we had been weaned on that type of rock ‘n’ roll. They showed us that there could always be light at the end of the tunnel,” Weiland recalls. “Zeppelin were maybe six albums into their careers before the critics realised that they were one of the greatest bands ever. There was a point where we stopped reading reviews, or even speaking to the press. It was very disheartening because we knew we had something special. We were never in this just for one hit album or two; we always felt we’d make a minimum of a five-album statement.
“But we persevered, and things have gone full circle with other bands, and with the critics,” he continues. “Many of the bands we toured with in the early days – even ones we had admired – were tepid towards us. But it’s amazing to think that we’ve now sold more than 20 million albums, and we’re only just starting to peak as a live band and as songwriters. Our personal lives are starting to take shape, and last summer we were out co-headlining with the Chili Peppers and we got the most amazing reviews. It must have been hard to be in the Chili Peppers and read those reviews; they were the band with the hit record, but suddenly the magazines that’d slagged us were all eating crow. In 1993, Spin Magazine had a writers’ poll which said we were the worst band of the year – nearly ten years later we were being told we were the best live rock ‘n’ roll band on the planet… that must be pretty unique.”
Nevertheless, Weiland himself was even blasted at the start by Eddie Vedder, who claimed he had been “coppin’ his trip”.
“That was tough to take, and also kinda odd because Pearl Jam went through the same thing when they first came out,” sighs Scott. “But we’re friends with all the guys from Pearl Jam, except Eddie. He’s kind of a loner,although Stone [Gossard, guitarist] and Mike [McCreadie, lead guitarist] always come to see us when we play Seattle.”
It was during the two-year gap between ‘Purple’ and 1996’s ‘Tiny Music… Music From The Vatican Gift Shop’ album that Scott Weiland’s life took a turn for the worse. The Pilots had snubbed the offer of an opening spot on Aerosmith’s tour and gone out on the road with the more underground credible Butthole Surfers instead. And so, in New York in 1994, with Butthole chief Gibby Haynes right by his side, Weiland took heroin for the first time. How significant that STP could have gigged with the reformed Toxic Twins, but instead chose the more treacherous path.
“Who’d want to go out with Aerosmith – those guys are boring these days,” retorts Weiland, before DeLeo jabs him in the ribs and reminds him of the band’s significance. “Scott said that – don’t misquote me about Aerosmith, man!” he warns. “I cut my teeth with those guys.”
“Yeah,” Weiland corrects the guitarist, “but you cut your teeth with them when they were speedballing, playing stuff they actually wrote.”
Meanwhile, back at our story, Weiland explains that various other addictions had preceded his mid-’90s heroin dependency.
“I come from that type of a family, my mother’s entire side of the family were alcoholics,” he says. “All of them are now in recovery, except for the ones that are dead. My mother is of Swedish royal descent and her family came to America with millions of dollars, but the entire fortune was lost gambling. And from that point on, the family struggled with gambling, drug and alcohol addiction. I drank alcohol from the age of 13, and I figured that it would probably catch up with me in my fifties or something… wrong!”
"Dean [DeLeo] met his wife, put down roots and stopped the narcotics.
But not me. I took it all the way until the wheels fell off."
But the singer, who in 1995 rightly predicted that it would be necessary for the band to “deconstruct in order to reconstruct”, was not alone in his substance abuse.
“After the success of ‘Purple’, we were emotionally frayed. It was like living in the middle of a whirling dervish," offers Scott. "And to combat that, myself, Dean and Eric [Kretz, drums] took an enormous amount of drugs and alcohol. It was only Robert [DeLeo, bassist] who abstained, and that made him feel very isolated. Brazilian jazz music and his collection of shoes became his only friends.
“Robert is a very strange bird,” Weiland offers as an amusing distraction, “he used to sit in the back lounge [of the tour bus] and video tape his shoe collection, then take a toothbrush and polish them. Then Dean met his wife, put down roots and stopped the narcotics. But not me. I took it all the way until the wheels fell off.”
The first disaster struck in early ’95, when the singer was arrested for possession of heroin and cocaine. He was then forced into rehab just as the Pilots completed ‘Tiny Music…’, cancelling all touring plans. Naturally, the other three were livid.
“Trying to get Scott straight was like pissing up a rope, man,” sighs Dean. “Our feelings have run the gamut, but after a while your professional feelings take a back seat. Every time the phone rang I suspected it would be to tell me that Scott was dead.”
Many observers felt the band had run its course in 1998 when Weiland made a solo album, ‘12 Bar Blues’, and rest of the Pilots recruited another singer, Dave Coutts, to record an album under the name of Talk Show.
Again, Weiland shot himself in the foot when he was arrested in New York in possession of drugs, scuppering his solo tour. A $250,000 warrant for his arrest was then issued after missing two court appearances in as many months.
“Being shackled, thrown into a police car and put back behind bars is not a natural state for any human being,” he recalls sadly. “Being temporarily enslaved doesn’t do a lot for your self esteem.”
Released on bail of $10,000, the singer’s first wife picked him up from jail. When Weiland instructed her to go by his dealer's house, she refused.
“So I jumped out of the car at 45 MPH, rolled across the street, found a pay phone, called a cab, went to my dealer's house and got well,” he later recalled.
Incredibly, STP regrouped for the ‘No.4’ album two years ago, but plans to tour were yet again thrown into disarray when Scott was sentenced to a year-long jail term after a probation violation. Eventually he served 246 days, but the counselling he received during his incarceration put his life back on track. Each day he would rise at 5.30am, he received one visitor per week, the playing of music was forbidden and lights would go out at 10pm.
“My first week was spent in solitary confinement, because I’m a person of notoriety – it’s for your own protection. But being in this tiny white room with no windows was the lowest I’ve ever been in my life,” he relates. “But it got better. I made a few decisions that were the right ones, and I was transferred to an outside programme. There was barbed wire and it was like a prison yard compound, but you could spend time outside.”
Each day he would receive an average of ten letters from STP fans. Without wishing to sound ungrateful, Weiland says they were of little real help.
“They were kinda depressing. Everybody cares, but people don’t know who I am. On a professional level it was nice to know that there was still a lot of love for our music, but it was the letters from my wife Mary that helped me to survive.”
“After a while your professional feelings take a back seat. Every time the phone rang
I suspected it would be to tell me that Scott was dead.”
Dean paid regular visits when he was allowed, although for some strange reason he reveals: “I used to rub my testicles up and down the glass that was between us!”
Ahem! Nevertheless, singer and guitarist both insist that throughout all the group’s tribulations, their long-term future was never in doubt.
“After ‘Tiny Music…’ the air was very thick with negativity, and it was so uncomfortable that Robert would even have his own dressing room,” admits Scott. “But our solo work saved this band. Management wanted us to make another record right away and go out on tour, but if we’d done that we’d have ended up finished – or dead.”
It’s early days yet, of course, but Scott Weiland doesn’t yet have the authority of Steven Tyler or Joe Perry when he talks of being clean. “Shit man, when I feel bad I know what gets me out of that state – at least temporarily,” he sighs, almost nostalgically. Weiland also mentions the temptation he felt running past several London pubs that he had frequented in the past, and stresses the significance of believing in “something greater than yourself” in order to defeat one’s demons. He seems to forget that the arrival of a semblance of organisation in his life was only forced upon him when he was sent to jail.
“That was all part of the equation. It’s not like I’m cured yet,” he continues sadly. “There are times when I feel I need something to help me. It’s just the fear of what would follow that keeps me from going back. If there was a way I could take that kind of a vacation and then climb back onto the horse after a few days, I would do it. It sucks to not feel comfortable. Each night I go to bed and just hope I’ll wake up the next day feeling better.”
These days, the singer has a new wife and son and appears completely changed. But Dean sets those alarm bells ringing once more when during our conversation about drugs he chuckles: “It’s a drag that Scott and I can’t party together anymore, man.”
Thankfully, the promotion of an excellent new album, ‘Shangri-La Dee Da’, and a plethora of live dates should provide a useful distraction. Inevitably, the lyrics touch upon events of the last few years, particularly ‘Dumb Love’, which is about trying to find “a way to live through the shame”. Yes, Scott Weiland is ashamed of what he’s done.
“I try not to be, but I am,” he sighs. “I traverse between two lives; one is being who I should be and another is who I really am. But for the first time I’m expressing hope.”
In August, the Pilots play their first UK shows in nearly seven years (see Tour News), before possibly heading out on this year’s Family Values tour in the States. Last year, STP even gigged with Godsmack and Disturbed, confirming a crossover appeal with the nu-metal crowd.
“It’s strange when those bands cite us an influence because we grew up listening to way different things. My own rock ‘n’ roll tastes don’t go much beyond 1984,” admits Dean.
“The bottom line is that we are a rock ‘n’ roll band, just like Disturbed, Staind and Godsmack,” agrees Weiland. “These days rock fans just want to hear sheer volume and raw energy.”
In 1998, Weiland declared he was going to save rock ‘n’ roll. He still feels that is his band’s destiny.
“We bring an element of danger that’s been missing for a long time,” he smiles morbidly in conclusion. “People never used to go and see [70s stunt motorcyclist] Evel Knievel jump… they wanted to see him crash.”
The official Stone Temple Pilots website
Honesty time: I was never really a fan of Stone Temple Pilots till the ‘Purple’ album bewitched me in 1994. Since then, pretty much everything else they’ve done has been worth hearing. A serial miscreant, Scott Weiland is now of course a member of post-G'n R combo Velvet Revolver. As you’d expect he is a fascinating character to talk to, and it was intriguing to experience his honesty first-hand. Scott’s now apparently stopped speaking to the press, so at least I got in my audience with him before the shutters slammed down. It’s not every day the fire brigade interrupt you during an interview. Check out the Dean DeLeo reference to visiting his pal in prison; what’s that all about?! (25th August, 2004)
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