Stone Temple Pilots’ ‘Interstate Love Song’ Was One of the Best Songs of the ’90s
Ten reasons why the 'Purple' hit was the late Scott Weiland's unquestioned finest moment
You probably don’t need us to tell you that Scott Weiland, who died last night at age 48 following cardiac arrest, was different than the other major rock stars of his era. Despite coming to prominence at the height of the grunge boom — debut album Core was released the same month in 1992 as Cameron Crowe’s Seattle-centered Singles — the Cali-bred Stone Temple Pilots were far obviously more traced back to the pop-friendliest hair-metal groups of the late ’80s. As the group’s singer and lyricist, Scott Weiland wasn’t overly burdened with the underground loyalty of Kurt Cobain, the political conscience of Eddie Vedder, or the all-consuming personal demons of Layne Staley. Scott Weiland wanted to run through your wicked garden. Scott Weiland wasn’t all that complicated a figure.
Stone Temple Pilots weren’t a great band, but they had some great songs. The best of them, by far, was “Interstate Love Song,” the group’s biggest airplay hit and the one jam even haters who derided them as Pearl Jam-ripping trend-hoppers have to recognize — their “Don’t Stop Believin’,” perhaps. The song evolved from a bossa nova number jammed out by the Brothers DeLeo (Dean, guitarist, and Robert, bassist) on the Core tour to a country-tinged, Jim Croce-quoting road-tripper about “honesty, lack of honesty, [and Weiland’s] new relationship with heroin” (according to a 2006 Greatest Songs Ever Blender series entry) that sent the band’s second album, 1994’s Purple, into the stratosphere. It wasn’t as zeitgeist-capturing as contemporary hits that year by Oasis or Beck, as impactful as Hole or Nirvana, or as generationally intrinsic as Weezer or Green Day, but in songcraft terms, it’s endured as well as any of them, and it never doesn’t sound great.
Here are ten reasons why it’s one of the best hits of its era, and reason enough on its own for the musical immortality of STP’s frontman. Scott Weiland was his name, he was loved and we all will miss him.
1. The brilliantly tense “…2…3…4…” drum count-off after the languid intro, as the guitar feedback swells, and the main riff comes crashing through for the first time. As satisfying a moment as exists in ’90s alternative.
2. “Waiting on a Sunday afternoon for what I read between the lines.” Weiland explained in autobiography Not Dead and Not For Sale that the song’s opening lines were written from the perspective of his girlfriend, knowing that he was lying to her about his heroin usage. Just being about something was often a stretch for Weiland’s lyrics, but “Interstate” was unusually lean and affecting for his wordplay — no smelling dogs, no bankroll lotteries, no too much walking shoes worn thin.
3. Speaking of which: The entire song was unusually efficient for STP at the time, whose pre-“Interstate” hits (“Creep,” “Plush,” “Big Empty”) tended to drag on to the five-minute range. “Interstate” runs a cool 3:14, and it feels even shorter — just an intro, one-and-a-half verses and a couple choruses. The brevity and easiness gives the song the feel of pop, and would point the way to even hookier and better-honed late-period STP singles like “Sour Girl” and “Days of the Week.”
4. That guitar riff and bass melody, borrowed from the instrumental refrain in singer/songwriter Jim Croce’s 1973 hit “I Got a Name.” Whether or not the swipe was intentional, it gave the song an instant classic-rock familiarity, and writ large the idea that STP was never Cool, and were much better off for their relative corniness.
5. The way the line flips from “All of these things you said to me” to “All of these things I said to you” over the song’s two choruses. A subtle trick that gives the song extra layers of empathy and resonance.
6. The harmonies — provided by Robert DeLeo live and in the video, though maybe just Weiland accompanying himself on record — coating the main vocal throughout, light and piercing like a subconscious desperation.
7. Oh yeah, the video. STP didn’t have a lot of classic clips — most of them were more about making the band look cool than trying anything particularly interesting — but “Interstate” was almost certainly their best. The trés ’90s silent-film framing device. The kiss between Weiland and DeLeo. The on-brand purple hues. Weiland in a cowboy hat. Weiland in a pink boa. Give back that ’95 VMA, White Zombie.
8. The drumming throughout. Eric Kretz was an integral part to STP’s success, his intricate boogies providing the shuffle to “Vaseline,” the sashay to “Big Bang Baby,” and the stomp to “Sex Type Thing.” He motors “Interstate” beautifully, his swing keeping the song moving at a steady 50 MPH, his fills announcing the chorus with the majesty it deserves.
9. The chorus. If you were between the ages of six and 16 in 1994 and your knees still don’t get weak every time Weiland comes in with that first wailed “Leaaaavinnnnnn’ on a souuuuuthern train….” then you were way too young to be listening to so much Pavement already.
10. The title. Few tunes were ever as designed for the road as this one, the feeling of sticking your arm out and catching the open-highway breeze as the gravel catches under your wheels and the world unfurls before you. The song plays like the carefree escape that its lyrics know is actually impossible; the desire to run away from the things you can’t ever really run away from. And for a misleading three minutes and 14 seconds every time it comes on the radio, it sounds like Scott Weiland maybe actually could have.