Stone Temple Pilots: Reunited and Thriving
Seven years after their messy breakup, the multiplatinum alt-rockers reflect on why they matter again.
The streets of downtown Detroit are quiet on a Thursday night in late March. I’m walking even though I’ve been told not to; the hotel wanted to drive me to the venue just a half-mile away.
In front of a shuttered office building, a man in a hooded sweatshirt yells at his girlfriend. Or maybe she isn’t his girlfriend. He’s young but carries a cane, which he wields like a club. Otherwise, there’s no one around, until I turn the corner toward the Fillmore Detroit.
Suddenly: life. The bars near the theater are packed. A line of people curves around the building. The street is barricaded and filled with tour buses and black-clad roadies carrying walkie-talkies. Stone Temple Pilots, the headliners tonight, are a little bit like this city: After years of neglect and disrepair, there’s hope that, with a little luck and a lot of work, a comeback is imminent.
Inside, the sold-out crowd of 2,800 skews young: mostly guys in their early 20s, holding beer and pizza slices. They’re largely white, which means they don’t live anywhere nearby; they came across the bridge from Oakland County or, further down the interstate, Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor. There are frat boys with neat haircuts standing next to old rockers in trench coats standing next to long-haired heshers in flannels standing next to punk kids.
I work my way through the crowd to the dressing rooms backstage, where guitarist Dean DeLeo, 48, bassist Robert DeLeo, 44, and drummer Eric Kretz, 44, relax before the show. They seem loose, happy, healthy.
Conspicuously absent: lead singer Scott Weiland. “He usually comes in just before they go on,” their tour manager, Steve Drymalski, says with a shrug.
An hour later, I’m at the side of the stage when I hear somebody muttering something into the microphone, followed by loud cheers. There he is, smoking a cigarette, wearing sunglasses and a black jacket. A buzzing starts to rise from Dean’s guitar like a nest of hornets. Kretz joins in with a soft snare, and Robert fills in with the bass line.
The beats twine together, working toward a guitar lick like a plane taking off, as the band launch into “Vasoline,” from their second album, 1994’s Purple. Weiland, 42, points his megaphone to the audience, they holler back the lyrics. “Between the Lines,” the sneering new single — their first in a decade — with its lightning-rod refrain, “Even when we used to take drugs,” fits in well alongside Alternative Nation classics. Weiland is magnetic, moving across the stage with these strange steps like a snake, like he’s possessed, as unselfconscious a performer as I’ve ever seen. He’s not a great dancer, but he is in total control.
I had been prepared for something else. A couple of days ago I read that Weiland was out of it in Milwaukee, forgetting lyrics and looking confused, and that his bandmates had walked off in disgust. Before that, in Sioux City, Weiland fell off the stage.
But that’s not what I see.
Afterward, I wait in the alley behind the theater. Weiland is led from the back of the building, head bowed and covered in towels. Something about the towels swaying over his head, the dark night punctured by the bus’ headlights, reminds me of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Quickly, young men surround him, asking for autographs. He signs a few without saying much. Then, still bowed, body curved like a question mark, he tilts his head up and says quietly, “I’m sorry. I just have to go in now. It’s cold.”
I make my way through the bus, the singer’s own, past the long, tan leather seats, to Weiland’s room in the back. He’s stretched out on his bed, lighting a cigarette. I mention that a line in the new song “Hickory Dichotomy” (“Is it a hickory hypothesis / Or one-man show?”) seems to acknowledge his functional detente with the band.
“I need my bus with my assistant so I can work on other business,” he says. “Besides, I don’t like to sleep in a submarine anymore. We leave at different times. They like that vibe of having the elaborate dressing rooms, and I could give a shit. I wanna do the show and go to the next place.”
So how did it happen that, after falling out with two high-profile bands and one wife in lurid fashion, the ever-troubled Scott Weiland found himself back with STP, making their first album together in a decade? Simple.
“Dean called me in 2008 and asked, ‘How’d you like to make a million bucks?’ “
A week later, I visit Weiland’s home, a modest ranch house in the San Fernando Valley. There’s a small lawn out front and heavy curtains drawn across the windows. Across the way, a young boy throws a basketball at a hoop above a garage. The houses are built right against one another, and I can’t help but wonder what the neighbors think about having one of the world’s most notorious rock stars on their block. Or if they even know.
“Hey man, c’mon in,” Weiland says. “Give me a minute. I’m changing the sheets.” He disappears into the bedroom, and I take a seat on the silver snakeskin-patterned couch. The wallpaper is red velvet — it almost looks rock’n’roll, but not quite. The place is too tidy, and there’s not enough stuff — two bronze-colored chairs with a W on the back of each, a Rolling Stones photo book on the coffee table.
Ten minutes later, Weiland putters through the living room with an armload of bedding. He throws it in the washing machine and I follow him into the kitchen, where he offers me a drink. I have an Orangina and he pours himself a Scotch and Coke, heavy on the Scotch. An electric toy car set sits on the floor, the only evidence of his two children except for a photo on the end table near the front door. There’s a large flat-screen attached to the kitchen wall.
Glass doors probably lead to a backyard, but all of the curtains are closed here, too. The kitchen is clean and looks like it’s never been used for anything other than fixing drinks.
“How long have you lived here?” I ask.
Weiland separated from his wife, Mary Forsberg, three years ago. His anguished 2008 solo album, “Happy” in Galoshes, was primarily about that relationship. On Howard Stern, Weiland accused her of leaving him for another man. In her recent memoir, Fall to Pieces, she blames the separation, at least in part, on his relapsing with cocaine.
Given the seemingly endless turmoil that surrounds Weiland, it is slightly shocking that the new self-titled, self-produced STP album isn’t just good, but that it exists at all. The same heavy guitar and melodic hooks the band is known for, a little Aerosmith here, some Bowie there. But the question hovering over everything is, as always: Will Scott Weiland stay out of his own way long enough to return the band to their former glory? Or, better, help grant STP the respect they never quite attained during said glory. His well-chronicled drug problems led to the dissolution of the band in 2003, after he nearly came to blows with Dean DeLeo, who had addiction issues of his own.
“I always knew we’d get back together,” says Weiland. He’s still skinny, not as distressingly gaunt as he has been at times, wearing a black striped shirt and tight jeans, though he insists he needs to lose 15 pounds. “I felt like we were on leave. But we put everything behind us — Dean went and got clean and made amends to me for always making me a scapegoat.”
Weiland’s assistant arrives with a friend and a brisket sandwich, which she places on the coffee table. “Do you need anything else?” she asks.
“I’m fine,” Weiland says. Then the two girls unhook the large TV from the kitchen wall and walk it out of the house. “Do you want help?” Weiland asks.
“We’re okay,” the girls reply.
For all their previous success, STP have rarely been taken seriously, especially by critics. They were seen as poseurs at a moment when authenticity—or at least the careful appearance of it—meant everything. A 1993 band profile in this magazine, titled “Steal This Hook,” opened, “When you first heard the Stone Temple Pilots… you probably thought it was a Pearl Jam song you’d forgotten about, unless you thought it was Kurt Cobain singing, except that the chorus sounded a little bit more like Soundgarden.”
“When I first heard the music, it sounded very commercial,” says Danny Goldberg, Nirvana’s former manager, whose first act as senior VP at Atlantic Records in 1992 was to sign Stone Temple Pilots. “Rock radio had gotten huge on the shoulders of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, and STP were the first band to benefit from that. But it was really when I saw them live that I realized what a big band they could be because of Scott.”
Selling a combined 14 million copies of their first two albums, Core and Purple, cemented them as one of the biggest bands in the world but didn’t get them invited to the cool table. “We wanted to be loved by the masses and the critics,” Weiland says. But by their third, and possibly best album, Tiny Music…Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop, STP were falling apart. The band released a candidly worded statement: “[Weiland] has become unable to rehearse or appear for these shows due to his dependency on drugs. He is currently under a doctor’s care in a medical facility.” They managed two more albums, No. 4 and Shangri-La Dee Da, to diminishing returns, before the bottom finally fell out.
After STP, Weiland joined Velvet Revolver— which featured former Guns N’ Roses members Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum, who traded one mercurial head case for another— while he traded in his stylish duds for a leather daddy getup. It’s hard to imagine Eddie Vedder making a similar move. But Velvet Revolver’s first album sold four million copies—Weiland’s so-called lack of authenticity now appeared to be his greatest asset. Nobody blinked an eye when he sang “Mr. Brownstone” every night.
“It was a great band,” Weiland says, sipping his drink and lighting a cigarette. “One of those situations where people were waiting for a train wreck. When I first joined, I was looking to kick dope, and everyone in the band was sober. I kicked dope and other members relapsed. Slash was using dope—we were making a second record, and his wife told him she would kick him out of the house if he didn’t get clean.” (When contacted for a response, Slash had no comment.)
But when Velvet Revolver imploded after a show in Scotland in 2008, Weiland took the blame, while the singer and his ex-bandmates traded increasingly blunt punches in public. McKagan told one magazine, “Sometimes there’s certain people who’ve just gone too far and you can’t fix it,” while Matt Sorum wrote on his blog, “Unfortunately, some people in this business don’t realize how great a life they have.”
Easy for him to say.
Weiland met Mary Forsberg when she was 16 and he was 23 and hired to drive models to their shoots. Their relationship was tumultuous, with Forsberg also drinking heavily and shooting heroin. In 1999, while Weiland was serving five and a half months in jail on drug charges, Forsberg entered a rehab facility that allowed her to visit Weiland every weekend, and they spoke on the phone every night.
“She was my rock,” Weiland says. “We were married right after I got out.” They soon had a child, and then another, but Weiland found his way back to drugs, shooting up in their Los Angeles apartment while Mary stayed with the children on Coronado Island in San Diego. Both Weiland and Forsberg have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder—in March 2007 she dragged Weiland’s wardrobe to their driveway and torched it. A day later she was sent to a mental hospital.
“This incredible amount of rage that ended the marriage, it was totally emasculating,” says Weiland. “We tried for six months: I lived in a shithole apartment, walking distance to my $2.4 million house. I didn’t mind sacrificing to be able to see my kids all the time. But then I’d be watching TV there, and she’d walk out of the bath, and it would just…it’d freak me out. I don’t know if she was trying to fuck with me or not. I would have stayed with her forever. If she was willing to go to counseling. I could own up to my stuff, but she wasn’t there yet. Now she’s there and, you know, someone else gets the rewards.”
According to Forsberg, “After eight or nine years of counseling, I discovered there can be such a thing as too much counseling.” But just as Weiland has found ways to salvage, if not quite heal, his relationship with his bandmates, so he has with his ex-wife. “We took [our son] camping with the Boy Scouts, the three of us in a very tiny, very cold tent,” Forsberg adds. “I don’t know how many couples divorced for a month and a half could pull that off.”
By now the Scotch is taking effect and Weiland begins slurring. He says he doesn’t take drugs anymore, except his bipolar meds. “I haven’t taken an opiate of any sort in seven and a half years. Three years since I’ve done coke.”
But 2007 wasn’t just the year he and Mary finally split, it was also the year his younger brother Michael succumbed to cardiomyopathy, the hardening and swelling of the heart due to drug abuse. “We used to get high together a lot,” Weiland says, “living in fancy hotels for days at a time. He was my best friend. There’s a part of me that will never be the same.”
His brother died. His wife took his kids, burned his clothes, and wrote a book about it all. He’s an open wound. There’s an irony to the knock on Weiland—that he’s cynical, that he lacks authen- ticity. His suffering seems pretty real to me.
“I still try to put on the same kind of show as when we started, and it’s hard,” he says. “After a show, I immediately get out of my sweaty clothes. I play Halo, watch a film, or read from my Kindle. And that’s about it. I call the kids and they cry and say, ‘When are you going to be home, Daddy?’ It’s a job. It’s not a party anymore.”
it’s two hours past his call time, and Weiland still has not shown up at Hollywood’s Roosevelt Hotel for the SPIN cover shoot. The hotel needs to turn over the first floor of the penthouse, so the sandwiches are transferred to the roof, where they bake in the sun, the cheese leaking out the sides. He finally arrives at 3 p.m., clutching two packs of cigarettes. He smokes one after another, lighting each from the last. He asks his assistant to get him four glasses of Scotch, neat.
“This is bullshit,” Robert DeLeo tells me. “Look at him. He can’t go on tour. He needs help.” Robert thinks Weiland is abusing prescription medication. “He thinks he’s clean just because he’s not shooting heroin. But he’s popping pills.”
But before that, when the band members get together for a group shot, Dean lays his arm over Wei land’s shoulder, and there’s a concern, an affection that’s almost electric. Though the buffer between Weiland and his three bandmates is by design—the DeLeo brothers and Kretz recorded the music for the new album in January and Wei land added lyrics and vocals separately, with help from producer Don Was—it’s all in the name of maintaining a delicate chemistry. Frustrations aside, Robert acknowledges the pressure Weiland has had to contend with for nearly two decades now. “There was a lot of criticism thrown at us,” he says. “How can he not take that personally?”
Meanwhile, Kretz, who still sees in Weiland the irascible charmer from the band’s early days, understands that the band is more than its often frayed relationships. “If the music wasn’t so great and the fans weren’t so great,” he says, “there’s no way this would last.”
Robert Deleo lives in a two-story house built onto a hillside in Palos Verdes with his wife of ten years, Kristen. She runs a small business, teaching exercise to children. Nearby is a cove where he goes surfing. Robert is tall, handsome, and fit. We sit on the floor of his basement recording studio, which is filled with vintage amps, like a small museum. “That song that’s out right now, ‘Between the Lines,’ I wrote that in five minutes,” he says, strumming one of the guitars. “Rock’n’roll songs should be like that.”
Though moments of the new album recall the leanness of Core and the flourishes of Tiny Music, no one is counting on it to go platinum eight times over. Once would be nice. In any case, the band won’t be accused of sounding like Pearl Jam; in 2010, Stone Temple Pilots really just sound like Stone Temple Pilots.
“There are a handful of bands that have been able to keep making vital, relevant music,” says Craig Kallman, chairman and CEO of Atlantic Records, which has released all of STP’s albums, despite the label’s 2008 lawsuit (since dropped) accusing Weiland and Dretz of trying to extricate themselves from their contract. “The market is screaming for records like these, straight in-your-face rock records.” As for the band’s perceived lack of respect, Kallman says, “I think [selling] 35 to 40 million albums speaks for itself.” (Actually, an Atlantic publicist clarifies, it’s more like 20 million worldwide. But who’s counting?)
Robert’s brother Dean lives at the opposite end of the beach, out in Malibu, far up a hill where it’s quiet and solitary. The DeLeos write all the mu sic for STP and as such are primarily responsible for the band’s sound. Like Weiland, Dean is no longer with his wife and has lived in his house for two years. But this house feels more like a home. Tall and rangy and a little weathered, Dean is on the mend but, despite Weiland’s provocations, doesn’t want to talk about his former heroin problem. He’s just happy to be back on the road. “I love taking in what each city has to offer,” he says, “the museums, the architecture, the food.”
We walk through the house, through his son’s room, and then the pool room out back with a view of empty hills and the ocean. He’s the only member of the band who doesn’t have his own recording studio—when he comes home, he wants to leave it behind.
“I’m just glad to be able to make a living making records,” he says. “I figure I’m one of the luckiest 5,000 guys alive.” Dean shows me a 500- year-old bench near the front door where he says his prayers in the morning and at night. “I pray for Scott,” he says. “I pray for all my family.”
Four days after the photo shoot, Weiland doesn’t acknowledge the tension he caused, or that he may yet cause, as STP move forward. The band is built to operate around Weiland but can’t move far without him. Everyone under- stands this. It’s what works.
“I don’t set expectations anymore,” he tells me. “Early on, I got accustomed to having things work out and selling boatloads of records. Since then, I’ve learned to not expect anything, so when things go well, I can be pleasantly surprised.”
“Right now,” he adds, cautiously, “I’m pleasantly surprised.”