Backspin: Stone Temple Pilots reflect on 25th anniversary, Weiland and Bennington tragedies

Lyndsey Parker

“There’s something that doesn’t feel quite right to sit here and talk about Scott. It saddens me that he’s not able to be here and do it himself.”

So remarks Stone Temple Pilots guitarist Dean DeLeo, sitting at Yahoo with his bassist brother Robert DeLeo and STP drummer Eric Kretz. They’re discussing the 25th anniversary deluxe reissue of their massive debut album, Core, but without late frontman Scott Weiland sharing his own memories of the band’s glory days, “It’s heartbreaking that he’s not here to celebrate this,” laments Dean.

Stone Temple Pilots have experienced great highs — they’ve sold 20 million albums in the U.S. alone, including 8 million copies of Core — and as they sit with Yahoo for their career-spanning Backspin interview, they recall their happy times, like excitedly playing the Core mixes through giant speakers they called “flamethrowers,” Weiland trying to play two-chord guitar on “Tumble in the Rough,” shooting the low-budget “Big Bang Baby” music video, and geeking out when meeting idolized Yes producer Eddy Offord. But STP’s lives have often been plagued by tragedy.

Not only did Weiland die of an overdose in December 2015 — two and a half years after he was ousted from the group and replaced by Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington — but then Bennington took his own life less than two years later. Stone Temple Pilots are rumored to be among the special guests performing at this Friday’s Bennington tribute concert at Los Angeles’s Hollywood Bowl, which will raise money for Music for Relief’s One More Light Fund in memory of the late singer. The event, eerily, also takes place on what would have been Weiland’s 50th birthday.

Bennington and Weiland, both incredibly charismatic and talented performers, were only in their forties when they died. “For the rest of our days, we’re going to miss those two guys immensely,” Dean says softly. “You record music with somebody, you write music with somebody — that’s very intimate. You’re really putting all of yourself out there, and you’re very vulnerable. … These are two men that we had the luxury and honor of doing that with for many years, so we’re really, really going miss those guys. A lot.”

While the STP survivors admit that Weiland’s death did not come as a shock, they say Bennington’s suicide was “a huge, huge surprise. Everyone you meet has a battle inside that you know nothing about,” says Robert, loosely quoting Scottish author and theologian Ian Maclaren. “We still get together weeks later, and we’re scratching our heads, wondering what made sense to [Chester] at that moment, you know?”

As for Weiland, however, Robert remembers seeing that frontman’s dark side early on. “There was something inside of him that he was always searching for. He was always searching for something that wasn’t really him. I don’t think he was generally happy with himself,” says Robert. “I think when we went in to do Core, he really was getting in touch with that internal strife, which is a Catch-22, because it ultimately leads a singer to a key that unlocks a door to many different things. That makes people go, ‘Wow, that’s deep,’ but ultimately it leads to someone’s demise. It goes back to people like Jim Morrison, you know? I’ve talked with [the Doors’s] Robby [Krieger] and John [Densmore] about things like that, and it’s sad to see that someone ultimately goes to that place, somewhat not in control of the door they opened.”

Robert recalls Weiland’s much-publicized drug problems started during a 1993 tour with the Butthole Surfers, and says now, “I think resentment was growing since Purple,” the group’s Core followup. By the time they were recording their third album, Tiny Music… Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop, in a mansion in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, “Things were getting bad,” according to Eric.

“Yeah, I think there were times when we did go upstairs, and you had to walk past Scott’s bedroom first when you went up, and we just were checking in on him to see if he was alive. Literally,” says Robert.

However, hope sprang anew for the troubled band’s future with 1999’s No. 4. The marketing and promotion of that record hit a major stumbling block when Weiland went to jail for five months for drug possession, but STP played some of its greatest concerts during that era, and the album unexpectedly spawned one of the STP’s biggest hit singles, “Sour Girl.”

“So we had released the first single, ‘Down,’ and then we went out to Vegas and we did a show,” Dean recalls. “I don’t know how Scott pulled off a show the way he did that night, knowing what he knew … because we were at the L.A. County courthouse the very next morning, bright and early, where we watched Scott be cuffed and taken away for a sentence on, like, his second or third bust. So it went from having this record out to doing this great show to literally watching Scott being taken away. … Atlantic [Records], at that point, said, ‘This record’s done. Let’s just go work on something else.’ And Scott really went, ‘We need to release “Sour Girl.”’ And they did, and that song really helped that record out a little bit — probably put it on the map, you know? So that was an interesting time. Here we have this record, and our quarterback’s on the bench.”

“There was a window during the making of the No. 4 that Scott genuinely had the clarity of the Core days,” recalls Robert wistfully. “He was genuinely sober, genuinely focused, looking great [after getting out of jail], and all there. And that hadn’t happened since Core. There was a great energy there of taking this band to a further place. That was our moment, right there, to take this band to the next place.”

Unfortunately, while Robert says the band’s subsequent album — 2001’s Shangri-La Dee Da — is his personal favorite, the “moment” did not last. A long hiatus followed, and when STP reunited for 2010’s self-titled final effort, it was sadly obvious that they could not get back to that good place with Weiland.

“I think before it came to working with Chester, it was evident — this is so sad to say — where Scott was going,” Dean says, choking up. “He had a new ‘posse’ of people around him. They just kept feeding him all that he was, and they left out one vital part of that — and that was his health and his well-being. Because everybody just wanted money. I think Robert and Eric and I exhausted ourselves just trying to help him and just to be a friend. He wanted no part of that.”

“Well, I think when the truth comes around to someone that heavily in addiction, they want to run away from that,” adds Robert. “It’s really sad to see.”

“To be affiliated with somebody of that musical magnitude and to be so fulfilled by it, and to watch this person just go into this deep hole of demise was just f***ing awful. It was just awful, man,” sighs Dean.

However, when Bennington joined STP in 2013, he brought an “energy that we so desperately needed at the time,” says Robert. “And you know what? He didn’t need to do that. He was in a huge band; he had plenty going on. But he wanted to do this and he was excited about doing this, and now that he’s gone, I hear from people that he was so excited about it. … He gave everything he had, and that was such a great thing for the three of us. I look back at the touring that we did and the time we spent together, and it was just laughing and having a good time, such a positive thing, going out there feeling really energetic and great about this. … He made us look back at our legacy and go, ‘Yeah, this is what it could be.’”

While Kretz and the DeLeos are still in mourning for Bennington, Weiland is never far from their minds. “Not a day doesn’t go by that we all think about Scott. Every day,” says Dean, confessing that getting in the car and hearing Weiland’s voice on the radio, or even seeing a dashboard compass pointing to “SW,” will trigger bittersweet memories.

“I mean, we were brothers for half our lives and shared a lot of intimate, creative things with each other. It’s a part of our being. It’s part of my makeup as a person, to be able to share a dream with someone and actually follow through,” says Robert. “Actually, the people in this world catching onto what we did — that’s pretty amazing, if you look back.”

While Weiland isn’t around to commemorate Core’s 25th anniversary, he would no doubt be pleased to see Stone Temple Pilots’s legacy celebrated after the band took such a vicious and unjustified lashing from the music press in the early ’90s. “I don’t think we ever made records for critics,” Robert shrugs, adding with a chuckle: “Talking to some of those critics these days, they’re like, ‘Sorry!’”

“I had not listened to those [Core rarities and outtakes] in 24 years, 25 years. To listen to those again, man, it was a smack in the face emotionally, because it brought me right back,” says Eric, smiling. “I just remember being in the room, the smells of the rehearsal room, how bad they were — and just how excited we were, how great Scott’s voice was. It was really refreshing to hear that again.”

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