Stone Temple Pilots were certainly one of the headline attractions at the recent South By Southwest Music + Media Conference in Austin, Texas. But that didn’t keep bassist Robert DeLeo from feeling “a bit nervous” about the group’s March 18 performance there.
“There was a lot going on, new songs and everything like that,” DeLeo recalls. “But I was happy, man. After the South By Southwest show, I felt really locked in.”
“New music” is the key point for STP these days. The group, which effectively split in 2002, has recorded its first new album in nine years, “Stone Temple Pilots,” which comes out May 25. A first single, “Between the Lines,” is already out, which the quartet is celebrating with a short 10-date tour before full-scale touring kicks in following the album’s release.
“We hadn’t put a record out in nine years,” DeLeo, 44, acknowledges, “so I guess I had to sit back and think about what I wanted to hear from an STP record at this point. I had to sit back with the ears of a fan and a listener and asked myself, ‘What would I want to hear from this band now?’
“That’s the way we approached everything this time.”
STP has certainly given fans reasons to have high standards for the group’s work over the years. Formed as Mighty Joe Young in 1987 in San Diego, STP — DeLeo, his older brother Dean on guitar, singer Scott Weiland and drummer Eric Kretz — were a hit out of the box with its eight-times platinum 1992 debut album, “Core.” Since then, STP has sold more than 35 million copies of its five albums worldwide and scored six No. 1 rock singles — one of which, “Plush,” won a 1994 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance.
But STP has had a troubled history as well, from critics who wrote the group off as nothing more than grunge wannabes — it was voted Worst New Band by critics and Best New Band by readers in the 1994 Rolling Stone magazine poll — to Weiland’s battle with substance addictions that occasionally derailed STP’s momentum.
“With STP, I don’t think it’s ever been on an even keel,” the younger DeLeo says, “and I think that’s what I’ve grown to accept.” Consequently, when the band regrouped in 2007 and started touring again the following year — just after Weiland left the band Velvet Revolver — any discussion of new music was tabled until STP felt like it was on solid footing again.
“I think the first thing is baby steps, especially for a band like this,” DeLeo explains. “I think it was really important to get into a room and start playing the songs we were familiar with. Those songs — ‘Plush,’ ‘Creep’ — when you play those songs, it instantly brings back so many different feelings and things that, as a band, we can all relate to.
“I think it’s very therapeutic, for Scott especially. I think it brings us all back to a time when things were a lot easier, a lot simpler, and I think when you’re carrying on that kind of attitude towards your playing and all-around being with each other, I think it’s then a proper step to go to that next level of saying, ‘Hey, let’s go make a record.’ ”
Material, at least, was not an issue when the group convened to start recording in February of 2009. “Dean and I always have music going,” DeLeo says. “Between the Lines,” in fact, is “a song that we had around for awhile and we ... just felt something like that would be appropriate for the record.” But this time what STP learned was a way of working together that did not dampen the newfound solidarity of its reunion.
To that effect, the three instrumentalists worked at DeLeo and Kretz’s studios, hammering songs into what the bassist calls “finished demo” form. They were then handed off to Weiland, who had released a solo album in 2009 and was working separately at his own Lavish Studios with producer and Detroit native Don Was (né Fagenson).
“Don was helping Scott out over at his studio with his vocals and vocal arrangements and everything,” says DeLeo, adding that Was also helped knit the two camps together when necessary. “Don was responsible for bringing Scott over and sitting down with the band and kind of getting us together on the same page. Don’s very good at doing that; he’s a people person. And I think sometimes you need someone in the middle to bring the ends together, so to speak, and Don did that.”
While Was was working with Weiland, meanwhile, the DeLeos and Kretz kept up with song ideas, some of which — including “Between the Lines” — had been around for awhile. DeLeo acknowledges that the process was “complicated” but still doable.
“We kind of guessed our way through it,” he explains with a laugh. “It was challenging because we had to get as much as we could done to complete a song, but then we had to hold back ’cause we had to see if it was in the right key and stuff like that.
“But, y’know, we’ve been a band for 18 years now — more like 23, before we were signed. There’s a certain understanding you have where you know what the other person is going to like and dislike and you know what’s going to work. So even though it is challenging and you’re not in the same room, to me it’s a great achievement being able to write and produce and do this record the way we did.
“I’m very, very proud of that.”
With “Stone Temple Pilots” in the can and awaiting release, the group is gearing up for more touring — though Weiland is also finishing up an autobiography he hopes to publish later this year.
DeLeo, whose second son is due just after the album comes out, says the group has scheduled dates through 2011, with jaunts through South America, Australia, New Zealand and Japan as well as multiple visits to Europe and North America and “every place in between.”
But, he adds, this batch of touring stands apart from the 2008-2009 reunion dates the group played.
“There’s a difference between just getting together and playing songs that you’ve played and getting back to making a new record,” DeLeo says.
“We haven’t made a record in eight or nine years. This is back to making a record and doing that kind of promotion and that kind of touring. Playing is always fun and exciting, but this is ... more.”
Stone Temple Pilots perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 31, at the Fillmore Detroit, 2115 Woodward Ave. Tickets are $45. Call 313-961-5451 or visit www.livenation.com.
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