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Core 25 Years Later: A Conversation with Dean DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots

on October 05, 2017, 12:00am

Dean DeLeo spent his morning in the throes of household chores you wouldn’t expect from a rock star. He had to feed the chickens and the horses and act as a hit man getting rid of a body after discovering a monstrous rat the size of a poodle trespassing in his swimming pool. He then dedicates a large portion of his time to discussing his brother, his wife and kids, his close friends. In fact, hard work and relationships have always been at the core of the Stone Temple Pilots guitarist’s life. He, his brother Robert, Eric Kretz, and Scott Weiland came together as young men and put in the work to rapidly rise and break through in the music industry.

But those ideals weren’t the only elements of the Stone Temple Pilots equation. The band recently released the 25th anniversary reissue of their debut, Core, leaving plenty of time for reminiscence. Now down to a trio since Weiland’s tragic passing, Kretz and the DeLeos dug through hours of tape from the Core sessions, and in addition to a set of previously unreleased tunes, Dean came away with equal parts bourbon-smooth laughter and melancholy reflection.

The mercurial Weiland’s penchant for keeping things off-kilter and thriving in chaos at times clashed with DeLeo’s stability — but then again the guitarist is clear that none of it would’ve been possible without both halves. That duality runs through his mind constantly, putting everything into perspective. Looking back at life 25 years in the rear view can be difficult for anyone — not to mention the strain, pain, and loss that followed Stone Temple Pilots in the interim — but DeLeo handles it all in his stride. Though it never felt like a chore it’s been a lot of hard work, but he’s gotten through it thanks to his friends and family.

stone temple pilots core artwork Core 25 Years Later: A Conversation with Dean DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots

Whereabouts are you right now?

I’m at home in Los Angeles. There’s no rest for the weary. I’m just getting over this crummy old cold, but I feel like I’ve turned the corner today, and I’m on the mend. I had a busy morning picking up after the horses and feeding the chickens. I had a rat in the pool, so I had to get him out and throw him out by the crick. He gave his life, and I’m sure some coyotes will eat him soon.

That’s definitely a metaphor for life: enjoying something that you shouldn’t be enjoying will only get you eaten by a coyote. Shame. I’m sorry to hear that.

[Laughs] Once in awhile, a rat goes in the pool. They’re really big, and I’m thinking it’s probably older rats who can’t see so well. Their senses are a bit off. But they’re really highly intelligent animals; their sense of smell is incredible.

That is terrifying. Can you imagine minding your business, doing the backstroke, and just having this rat relaxing beside you.

To make it worse, the guys that land in my pool are the size of a poodle.

But lately we’ve been doing a fair amount of press, but it’s felt calm. I’m in the comfort of my own home; it’s nice and very accommodating. I appreciate it.

Of course. In terms of having to reflect back on this time after so many years, is it feeling very fresh, still? Obviously, you played the material on tours throughout your career, and I’m sure playing music has helped you understand the music more, but how often did you go back to it before you started talking about the reissue?

I haven’t been back to it at all. When we started digging into this reissue stuff, we went into some very memorable things, some things that we unearthed from twentysomething years ago that we had never heard before. Those were all the demos that you hear on the re-release. We originally demoed out the record in a small room in North Hollywood, on Robert’s 8-track machine. Revisiting those tapes and hearing us talking, especially with what has transpired with Scott, hearing his voice, hearing us talk about the songs … we were really just rolling the tape constantly and hearing the laughter and how we were communicating. It was very melancholic.

To think back to a time in your life is one thing, but to also live with it is another. I can’t imagine how challenging it is to dive back in.

It was a really exciting time, you know. Everything was new. With newness comes excitement. It was an exciting time to say the least. We were forging friendships with Mr. Brendan O’Brien. We were compiling songs for our first album, and it was on Atlantic Records, where the Zeppelin tapes lie in the vaults. We were all just thrilled about what was happening at that time.

I’m reminded of it. I’m reminded of it a lot. I don’t listen to the radio much at all, but my wife will put the radio on for the kids. She sifts through stations, and we’ll always run into an STP song playing. So I’m reminded of it daily. But I hadn’t really delved into it in order to unearth the things we did for this re-release. That really took me back. I could smell the room where we recorded the album, just a dank, nasty rehearsal room. It just brought back a lot of really wonderful memories.

thumbnail Core 25 Years Later: A Conversation with Dean DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots

 

Why do you think it resonated with the fans back then? When it came out, it was just a debut album from a touring band.

You know, I can’t answer on behalf of what other people were thinking or feeling. For me, as a fan of music, when I first heard Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti, that resonated with me. It coursed through my veins. Before I heard that record, my mom would be playing The Carpenters. I would hear Karen singing “Rainy Days and Mondays”, and that resonated with me. I understood that. I felt like she was talking to me. I’ve become friends with Peter Frampton over the years now, and I saw Peter on the Frampton Comes Alive tour in 1976. He opened up for YES at JFK Stadium, which has since been torn down. There were 90,000 people there at the stadium in Philadelphia. It was Gary Wright, Peter Frampton, and YES. And the first time Pete and I spoke, I said, “Man, you know I was at that show!? In July of ‘76 at JFK!” He goes, “You were there?” I said, “Yeah! When you came on, although you were one-inch tall — I was probably a mile away — you came to the edge of the stage and put your hand in the air, and I was convinced you were doing that to me.” [Laughs]

Man, I love Peter. His guitar playing resonated with me. I’m so grateful to have come up through the 1970s. The music that I got to experience as a guitar player was the best of the best, and I was just digesting all of it. I just breathed music.

In terms of historical context,Core was released days after the one-year anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind and in the same era as Pearl Jam’s Ten. That brand of guitar rock was something that people turned to lyrically and melodically for its emotional capacity. People still turn to your album and those of your contemporaries for that feeling.

Apparently so! Music is just a place to dip your mind and your soul. It’s a form of escapism, somewhere to find solace and to be moved. There are so many facets of music, and I really do allow it to put me in a mood or a feeling. There are songs that remind me of the great days of my childhood, and I swear I’ll sit there and I’ll listen to one of those songs back to back for maybe five, six, or seven times. I feel this energy, this feeling that I’m overtaken with. That’s the beauty of music.

Was that a feeling you shared with your brother, Eric, and Scott? Did you feel a connection right from the get-go when you were touring and just cutting a few demos before you recorded the album? Was that camaraderie and energy there?

Robert and I being brothers, we were connected at the hip for many, many years. We were your typical brothers where we got into little squabbles because I caught him using my fishing pole, or I was using his pogo stick! But when we got a little older, music really brought us together, and we grew out of that kid jive. Rob and I have been playing music together for many years — since he was about 15 or 16 and I was about 19 or 20. But yeah, Scott, Eric, Robert, and I all can easily be defined by music.

Just having that family member close by, there must be such comfort and familiarity. You were delving into a whole new world with the album, but having a brother there must have felt like having a sidekick.

Absolutely. I’m sure glad that we got to experience it together, that one of us wasn’t calling home saying, “Oh my goodness, I wish you were here to see what I saw today. I’m standing below the Eiffel Tower. Wish you were here!” I’m really grateful that we got to experience it together. I’m really appreciative for what Robert brings to the band. Don’t let those four strings fool you: Robert’s responsible for writing the band’s biggest songs, like “Interstate Love Song” and “Plush”. What Robert brings to the table is immeasurable.

Did you always feel that way? Do you remember turning around in that dark, dingy studio, and being like, “Shit, this brother of mine is so extraordinarily talented”? Did he push you to be even more focused about your music?

I knew Robert was very gifted years, decades before that. He would grab my guitars and learn songs. He wore those grooves in the records quite deeper, just playing parts over and over, but I knew Robert was gifted well before the days of STP. At 15 or 16 years old, he was extraordinary, emulating people like Robert Fripp, Steve Hackett from Genesis, and Steve Howe from YES. He would grab my guitars and pedals and sit there. He was a prodigy.

Beyond your brother, it seems that friendship is an integral and important aspect for you all.

It was as important as the music to be surrounded by people that you love and respect. We all wanted the same thing. Whatever your duty is, whatever your job is, you just want to do it the best you can. Look, I like the path of least resistance. [Laughs] It’s really interesting, as I look back at spending 30 years on the road, I had been shoulder to shoulder with Eric, Scott, and Robert more than my own family, more than my own kids! When you’re in close quarters for weeks upon weeks, years upon years, it’s pretty important to be authentic and to be able to get the job done. There has to be some sort of harmony. [Pause] You know what? That’s bullshit. That’s total bullshit what I just said. It really doesn’t have to be, but it’s how I like it personally. I like harmony. I kind of dig that.

But that wasn’t always the case with the band. In Scott, you were having to be around someone who might not have felt the same way. How did you get through that?

Yeah, Scott was the complete opposite. Scott’s existence was the complete opposite. Scott’s harmony was that it wasn’t right unless it was wrong. [Laughs] And that’s how he ticked, man. That’s just how he ticked. And like I said, you’re spending time with him, you get to know one another, and you know one another’s routines, one another’s ins and outs, and you know when to stick around and when to walk away.

And you did. It feels like you’re incredibly honest with yourself, which is difficult because when you are in a band, you’re working toward this goal of moving together. That’s especially true when you’re first starting out. It must have been rewarding, yet challenging to have somebody in it who feeds off chaos. How did you keep yourself on the right path when you saw all of that happening?

That was a double-edged sword because, you know, in the early days the shows weren’t suffering yet. Things got to a point where the shows were suffering because of one’s routines. And that’s when it got really hard on Robert, Eric, and myself. It was when the shows were suffering, when the band was suffering, and not because of the band. I want to be really clear.

I want to say something on behalf of singers in general and Scott, if I may: A singer has a whole different array of calisthenics that they’re doing out there. As a guitar player, I’m not exerting nearly the amount of energy a singer needs to. A singer has to exert an incredible amount of energy and physicality to get their voice across. Guitar playing is not nearly the amount of physicality. So, I’m sure that’s very hard on a singer, very taxing. I feel for singers that have to sing over a band that have a bunch of guitars playing nice and loud. It’s a lot of work. I’ll tell you what: I couldn’t do it. To get in front of a microphone and then sing on key over a rock band? That is not easy.

And with integrity and charisma, as well. You have to hone in on your own talent and almost step out of your body as a frontman to put on a thrilling show.

I would look out at the people that took the time, the money, the work, the effort to come see the band, and I would have a duty to put the knife in my throat and pull it out of my belly button and just put it all on the stage. That’s my duty. And when the band was unable to really fulfill that duty, that’s when it got really hard on Robert, Eric, and I.

When you disbanded, did you feel that that was exactly what you needed to do?

Of course, we were so affected. We were there on stage. How can we not be affected? That came later on … actually, it wasn’t much later on, to be honest with you. The first record was really a time that was amazing for us. Everything was so new, and our dreams had come to fruition. More so than that, when we were writing these songs and during pre-production for that record, we were pretty pleased with what we were putting together. And I firmly believe that if you’re not getting one another off, you’re not going to get anybody else off.

Well, it make sense, doesn’t it? Music is so visceral. If the listener can’t hear what you are feeling, they won’t feel anything. Were there any songs that you didn’t connect with at the time that you recorded them?

That gets weeded out before we hit the recording studio. If I bring a song and Robert brings a song, and either of us says, “I’m not really feeling that,” we move on. We don’t even flush the song out. Everything on the record was everything we were feeling. One interesting thing about all the records: we would track the music during the day, and Scott would go in and do the vocals about 8:00 p.m., right after dinner. He would do it alone with Brendan [O’Brien], and we would take advantage of the amenities at the studio, whether it was ping pong, pool, or basketball. And I just gotta tell you, it was so fulfilling as a songwriter, as a bandmate, and as a musician to hear what Scott would do to our songs. That was really the payoff when we were recording, when we would hear back what he did vocally, lyrically. It was very, very fulfilling. He was an amazing, amazing, amazing person to get to write songs with.

You all got some flack for your songs being difficult to understand at the time, but now looking back, he approached even things as complex and difficult as feminism and rape without fear. He just dove into it, and I can’t imagine how that must have been to see a song like “Sex Type Thing” or “Creep” get taken to a point like that.

Scott really, really disliked when women were treated poorly. He hated it. It was actually tough to be out at a bar with him. If he saw somebody just so much as yelling at a girl — you know when alcohol kicks in, God knows what’s going to happen — but he wouldn’t even know these people, and he’d be like, “Hey, don’t talk to her like that.” Most likely a fight would ensue. But he just did not dig that sort of thing at all. I miss that guy. I miss that guy that was around back then. He definitely turned into something else. I saw that there was really no coming back. The last five or even seven years of his life, it was like he was never coming back.

Do you feel like you lost him a long time ago, not just two years ago?

Oh, years ago. Yeah. He left us long ago.

You’re armed with this 30-year perspective and such a beautiful way of articulating your passion, your difficulties. What would you say to your early ‘90s self if given the opportunity?

If I had a magic lamp … I wouldn’t change a thing. Everything was just as it should have been. If I would rub a lamp and the genie gave me three wishes, I would do two wishes and my third wish would be for more wishes. And I’d just keep doing that. [Laughs] My first wish would be for all of our families, all of mankind to be loving, respectful, healthy, and safe. My second wish would be that people didn’t have to work 40 hours a week, that society changed and people worked 20 hours a week.

Is there a song that you’re most excited for people to hear?

What really hit us over the head was when we pulled up those tapes of Robert’s, those Fostex 8-tracks. On the version of “Creep”, Scott’s lyrics are different and there’s this whole middle section that I had forgotten about. When we listen to those tapes, you can hear us talking in the room, talking about the song and how we wanted it to sound. It was just amazing because I was reminded of how focused and vibrant Scott was. His vision was just brilliant. And it was a time when there was just so much love between us. It was very beautiful but also very sad.

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