The Stone Temple Pilots reunion -- Why Scott Weiland rejoined the 90s grunge band
With his cut-glass cheekbones, artfully mussed hair, and Mick Jagger wardrobe, Scott Weiland looks like the Platonic ideal of a rock star. And indeed, he has the album sales (35 million worldwide), the hits (15 top 10 singles since 1992, including 6 number ones), and attendant bad habits (a well-documented cycle of addiction, arrests, rehabs, and relapses) to back it up. As he stands distractedly in the dim anteroom of his Burbank studio, the whippet-thin frontman sounds the part, too. ”Man, I am so fried,” he murmurs, rubbing his jaw with ringed fingers. ”I can’t believe I’m standing right now.”
Days from now, he’ll be dealing with the repercussions of a November 2007 drunken-driving charge, an arrest that broke a four-year clean streak. But on this sunny April afternoon, having ingested nothing stronger in the previous two hours than a wan-looking muffin and an endless succession of cigarettes, Weiland is disoriented from sheer exhaustion, not illicit substances: In the preceding days, he has officially split, somewhat acrimoniously, from rock supergroup Velvet Revolver (more on that later) and reunited with Stone Temple Pilots — the band he led for 16 heady, lucrative, and often unhinged years — for the first live appearance since their dissolution in 2003. On this balmy day in April, there are songs from that appearance to be mixed for release, a massive summer tour to plan, a solo album to finish, and, just his luck, a journalist here to observe it all.
”I feel extremely fortunate to be here,” he says, gesturing around at the velvet-draped, bordello-like space, strewn with instruments, hand-scribbled lyric sheets, and water bottles — but clearly meaning something larger. ”There were a couple years in between when I was starting to question whether I would make it, for different reasons, but I’ve been driven all my life to make this happen.”
What he has made happen is undeniable: Stone Temple Pilots’ roaring grunge-era anthems — hits like ”Interstate Love Song,” ”Plush,” and ”Big Empty” — owed much to the snake-hipped, narcotic-swathed allure of Weiland himself, whose rock & roll excesses were constantly, almost gleefully chronicled in the press. But for all the band’s commercial success, music critics were habitually unkind, lauding contemporaries like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden while dismissing STP as mere slick imitators, opportunistic grungy-come-latelies. ”It was really painful in the beginning,” Weiland admits, ”because I just assumed that the critics would understand where we were coming from, that these weren’t just dumb rock songs.”
The most infamous example of that disconnect came in 1994, when Rolling Stone magazine simultaneously dubbed them the Best and Worst New Band in its readers’ and critics’ polls, respectively — an incident Weiland remembers well. ”Our story is similar to Led Zeppelin, who were hated by critics,” he says. ”They called them a poor version of other bands, too. When STP came out and our first album was massively successful, fans adored us and the critics hated us. The second album was also really successful, started to get better reviews, but was still not critically adored. By the third album, the fans thought it was a little bit strange but the critics finally got what we were about. And our last album critics loved. Of course,” he adds, ”that one sold the least of all.”
His fellow band members are slightly more sanguine; over a fruit plate and tea at the Sunset Marquis hotel in Hollywood, 42-year-old bassist Robert DeLeo, alongside his guitarist brother Dean, 46, is able to laugh good-naturedly at that dubious critical distinction. ”I would have settled for mediocre,” he cracks, ”but I guess you either love us or hate us.” Haters aside, their catalog has turned out to have a surprising longevity: Many of the songs still get regular spins on rock radio stations across the country. The band is one of the core acts featured on Sirius Satellite Radio’s ’90s station, Lithium, and remains consistently popular because, according to Sirius’ VP of programming, Gregg Steele, ”first and foremost, Scott Weiland is a prolific entertainer, not just songwriter. There are very few major frontmen today in rock music that you can truly say, ‘That guy’s a star.”’ The appearance of the band’s music on the enormously successful Rock Band videogame also, no doubt, helps explain the presence of peach-fuzzed college kids pushing up against the late-30s superfans at the band’s inaugural, invite-only reunion show in early April, a circus-themed affair for 300 held at the creepy-decadent, only-in-L.A. estate of Harry Houdini.
It’s a pleasant, humbling shock to the band that their music has been passed along to another generation. ”We haven’t toured, we haven’t done any press, we don’t sell merchandise. We haven’t even had a manager,” drummer Eric Kretz, 41, marvels, ”and we’re still getting played? It’s amazing.” Even so, the band took its time making the leap from nostalgic radio presence to a full-fledged, touring reunion act. ”We’d all been doing other projects, but a lot of different bands and our record-company people started talking about it, and I was getting the buzz off of them,” says Kretz. ”It wouldn’t have been the same two years ago. We weren’t ready.”
Several months ago, Dean DeLeo reached out to his lead singer to discuss a concert promoter’s offer to have STP headline a few summer festivals. Weiland was sitting by his hotel pool in Atlantic City with wife Mary (they’ve since separated) and their two young children, still on tour for the 2007 Velvet Revolver release Libertad. VR, which is essentially Guns N’ Roses minus Axl Rose, had done solidly with Weiland as frontman, releasing well-received albums, winning a Grammy, and touring consistently throughout Europe and the U.S. Nevertheless, their last album was foundering, and Weiland found it hard to resist the call of his old bandmates. ”I pulled [VR guitarist] Slash aside,” he explains, ”and said, ‘Listen, it’s really no big deal, we’ll be done touring by this time, but STP has some offers to headline some shows this summer and make a lot of money, and I agreed to do it. We’ll be done in the fall, and then I can commit to the next VR album.’ And everything was cool. Then it wasn’t. Things got weird, and nobody was talking to me while we were on the road. So March 21, I announced on stage that this would be the final Velvet Revolver tour.” He did so without telling his VR bandmates because, he says, it was clear they were already pushing him out; he and drummer Matt Sorum, who had clashed in the past, were soon engaged in a war of words fought largely secondhand, through the media. (”He’s an ass,” Weiland says simply.) In the end, though, claims Weiland, it was fairly straightforward: ”With STP, it’s a situation where it just feels good. And the opportunities — selling tickets like crazy, a whole new generation turned on to us, people being appreciative in the press…I mean, VR was fun for a while, but it’s just got so much baggage from guys who went through hell with Axl Rose. It’s not how I want to spend the next 10 years of my rock life, so I had to make this decision. They can say whatever they want to say.” (VR’s remaining band members declined to comment for this article.) ”Honestly,” he continues, ”I think they should just get GN’R back together. And I’m not being facetious.”
Weiland will be busy anyhow, finishing that solo album, working on the four other acts signed to his imprint, Soft Drive Records, completing a memoir due out in the fall, and planning for a summer on the road with STP. As they gear up for the 65-date tour, which kicks off May 17 in Columbus, Ohio, the band is looking to fans to help determine the set List — ”We’re asking on our website what songs they want to hear,” Weiland explains, ”and then we’re also gonna play some nuggets, more obscure tracks” — and hopes to reenter the studio later this year to record their first original material since 2001’s Shangri-La Dee Da.
Before all that, however, he’ll have to make a detour through the L.A. County penal system. On April 28, Weiland was sentenced to an eight-day jail term for his DUI, to be served before May 28; the tour, his team confirms, will go on as planned. While it’s easy to be skeptical, Weiland insists that his sobriety is reestablished and stable; in fact, he’s surprisingly open to talking about his past abuse. ”Creatively, in the beginning, I think heroin helps a lot of artists for a while,” he says. ”It gave me confidence, it took away pain, and it just did something. Eventually, though, it destroys what it helped…. It’s like a self-injected cancer.” For many years, it was his only constant. ”When you look at it on paper, all the ODs and maybe 40 or so detoxes, it was like a revolving door,” he recalls. ”And back then, rehab was not a hip thing like it is now. It was better if you just died, your record would go to number one and you’d sell a lot of T-shirts.
”There are a lot of junkies that have died with that Keith Richards poster pinned inside their minds,” he continues, alluding to the legendarily hedonistic — and still thriving — rocker. ”Like, ‘He can do it, why can’t I?’ But no one is Keith. God doesn’t make many of them. There’s going to come a time when I’m not going to feel very comfortable on stage in skinny jeans and boots, doing this thing. I want to evolve gracefully and more realistically.” His bandmates, who’ve seen him through far more harrowing times than these, remain upbeat; each one says he has faith that Weiland will be able to stay straight through the upcoming months.
Even if he doesn’t, one gets the impression that they’ll stand by him, and do whatever it takes to preserve this thing they’ve spent nearly half their lives building. ”There’s an acceptance that STP has always been an unmade bed, you know?” Dean DeLeo says, leaning back in his seat and spreading his palms on the table. ”It’s messy at times. But at the end of the day, you always crawl back into it.”