Interview: Stone Temple Pilots
Tue, 16 Jun 2009 08:03:59
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Scott Weiland remains alternative rock's most powerful voice. Something of a rock n' roll poet, the Stone Temple Pilots frontman has always had something to say, even if he's said it through a shroud of lyrical mystery.
Is he being coy or cryptic? Is he thinly veiling some secret to life in classics like "The Big Empty?" Is he fucking with us? No, he's really just being true to himself, and isn't that what any great poet does?
When everyone else zigged, Weiland zagged. In the early '90s, his peers donned flannel and ripped jeans, while he was sporting dapper suits. After Stone Temple Pilots' highly influential rock epic Purple, he and his band mates ventured into the realm of pop psychedelica on Tiny Music…Songs From the Vatican Gift Shop, deviating from the mid-90s hard rock template they helped create. In 2004, Weiland brought life, vibrancy and fire to Velvet Revolver, giving the Guns N' Roses vets a new edge. Then he gave us 2008's Happy (In Galoshes), his most personal offering yet. A poppy and dark rumination on love, it's hard not to feel Happy. Weiland keeps giving too. Right now, he's holed up in a Los Angeles studio working on Stone Temple Pilots' next masterpiece, while running his label Softdrive and preparing for St. Jude's Rock N' Roll Hope Show at the West Hollywood House of Blues on July 1st.
He spoke to ARTISTdirect.com in this exclusive interview about St. Jude's Rock N' Roll Hope Show, Softdrive Records, new Stone Temple Pilots and much more. He might've even revealed a secret or too. Or did he?
Where in the world are you right now?
I'm in the studio working on new STP music. It's coming along really, really well! We have about 18 songs written, and vocals are written on about ten of them.
Your most recent solo record, Happy (In Galoshes) truly felt boundless. Was there something especially liberating about the process behind that album?
Definitely! I've played in bands for most of my life, ever since being a teenager. At the age of 16, I formed my first band. Being in a band, you write songs and you make decisions based on a democratic process. I guess not every band does, but for the bands that I've been in, it was that way. I find it tends to work like that as long as the actual members are talented and they have something to say—whether it's musically or socially. This record, in the same sense of 12 Bar Blues, my first solo album, gave me the opportunity—whenever I was feeling that desire—to create in that arena which was not a rock band. It gave me the chance to do whatever I wanted to do with my partner Doug because we have our own studio. We could get as sonically "out there" as we wanted to and tap into all of our different musical influences. We also got to use all of the various forms of instrumentation that we have here in the studio. It's a fun place to hang out, write and work without a lot of pressure.
That fun and free vibe definitely comes across, but the album has some of your most poignant and powerful lyrics in songs like "Crash." It can be bright, but it's really heartfelt.
Yeah, the record was really written over a period of the last ten years since I've known Doug. It seemed like the majority of the writing sessions took place during times when Mary and I were separated. For the most part, I'd say about 90 percent of the songs were about her and my relationship with her—whether I'm directly or metaphorically speaking. There are songs written about my brother as well because he passed in the last couple of years.
Some of these songs had the same vibe as Velvet Revolver's "The Last Fight" from Libertad which you also dedicated to your brother.
Yeah, I think where we were trying to go as a band on Libertad was a natural place. We weren't trying to force anything. We were just getting to know who we were on the first record, Contraband. After touring for over four years straight, we were writing songs on the road and during rehearsals for tours. We knew what kind of record we wanted to make. We knew it wasn't just about straight-ahead punk rock, rock n' roll. We knew the record that we were going to make was going to have more depth to it, and we were going to tap more into our other influences. Just like STP, the guys in Velvet Revolver also have a lot of different influences. Duff and I have a lot of very similar influences just like Matt Sorum too.
Happy is a free record, musically and lyrically. I didn't instantly get into it, but after listening to it more and more, it became one of my favorite records that you've ever done.
I appreciate that, thank you. The songs inspire that reaction of, "What the fuck is that?" [Laughs] You know? On your second and third listen, you realize that underneath all of the layers of craziness, there are basically pop songs.
In some ways, it feels like it simply picked up where Shangri-La Dee Da left off in 2001.
Yeah, it was kind of like that. Shangri-La kind of picked up where 12 Bar Blues left off.
Before that you made Tiny Music which took STP in a whole different direction after Purple.
Which is all sort of a mirror for who my biggest influences are as writers, recorders and producers, and that's The Beatles. I don't think that they were ever afraid to take a chance in the studio. I was just watching this documentary on them again. They're boundless in their musical freedom and musical integrity. In the '60s to be doing that, they were the first ones. The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson were doing amazing stuff back then and there was a lot of other amazing music going on, but I really think The Beatles were. Bob Dylan even said it himself, "These guys are where it's at. They're the ones that are at the forefront of rock n' roll."
The Beatles could have the most beautiful melodies, but there was always a hint of uneasiness or darkness thinly veiled. When listening to one of STP's songs like "Seven Caged Tigers," you see the beauty, but you feel that darkness. You capture that too.
Thank you very much. I appreciate that.
When you can be in the middle of those two extremes and say something, that's the mark of a true artist.
You're getting what we're about and what we set out to do. That's the best compliment that you can get really.
People need to exist within those two extremes because everyone feels both of them every day. Only true artists will ever capture that middle ground.
Yeah, that's true. I think to capture every element is where it's at really—everything in between, sonically as well as emotionally.
How did everything come together with the St. Jude Rock N' Roll Hope Show?
We were approached and asked if we would be interested in doing it. Of course, we were! More than that, we're grateful to have the opportunity. My mother survived cancer. I know what a debilitating disease it is. She actually was a survivor. Forms of cancer that attack young people, like Leukemia, doctors don't seem to have had as much headway in finding a cure as they've had with the fight against breast cancer. You don't know why that is. It's just one of those things that doesn't seem fair. None of it seems fair. For the first time, I had my cancer check-up because now I know that it runs in the family. It's a scary thought. To think that kids at a such a young age have to deal with that and the idea of death is horrible. Yet, they're courageous to do it and be able to get through it.
Every show means something to you, but to get up on a stage and play a benefit like this must be especially powerful.
Yeah, the only time we do benefits is when we really feel a connection to them. We did a Katrina benefit with Velvet Revolver. We've done very few benefits with STP. There are benefits everywhere and you could spend your whole entire life playing them. If you pick the ones you feel are really important, you have the opportunity to really make an impact and raise some money.
St. Jude has been so crucial. To be a part of their legacy must be an honor.
Definitely! It's funny, actually when I saw "St. Jude" on the paper, at first I thought it was Sts. Simon and Jude because that was the church I went to when I lived in Huntington Beach [Laughs]. I was like, "Whoa! Oh, it's St. Jude's Children's Hospital." So I'm familiar with St. Jude [Laughs].
What was your initial idea behind Softdrive Records? It seems really artist-driven, natural and exciting.
It is. We have some great people that work with us. My partner Doug, Dan, Carly, Eric and John. We have interns that come in and work their asses off all the time. It's a label that's really passionate about the artists on the label. When we tell these artists that we're going to work hard for them, we mean that we're going to work hard for them. I remember the feeling I got when I got signed for the first time, and that's the reason I wanted to form a record company because I wanted to bring others that feeling of what it felt like to get signed, make my first record, go on tour and hear my song on the radio. Those are the reasons behind starting this.
Where did the inspiration behind the Softdrive webisodes come about?
That's something we had done before with Velvet Revolver. Our friend Rocko does that, and he actually directed "The Last Fight" video. He's quite a filmmaker. He's also a producer. He edited all of that stuff together and shot a lot of it as well.
Do you feel like you're in one of the most creative spaces you've ever been in between the new Stone Temple Pilots, Softdrive and your solo work? Are you on fire?
I think I definitely am. I come to the studio, and I work every day. The whole idea is to get a song done a day—at least to rough it out. Most of the time, we get pretty close to getting a finished vocal done, not necessarily a mastered vocal, but a finished complete demo vocal done with harmonies, backups and everything.
How have you grown as a lyricist? Have your ideas or perspective changed?
Definitely because in the '90s I was so overwhelmed with my heroin addiction, and so a lot of the stuff was just from my point of view. Now, I tend to look at some of the greats like Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. I look at their storytelling. I try to tell stories. Every song doesn't have to be narcissistically written about how I feel on that day.
Are you taking a cinematic approach?
That's been the goal. That's the new challenge.
Going back to a song like "The Big Empty," you've always done that though.
Yeah, but there are times when I did it and there were times when I didn't. As a whole, there are some new songs that really tell stories. I've chosen some interesting characters to write about. I don't want to give anything away, but you'll get to hear it, and you'll hear it probably before 99.9 percent of everybody else hears it [Laughs].
I look forward to it very much! Are there any filmmakers or novelists that particularly inspire you?
Yeah, I could run down a whole list of people, but I think art is art. I've been painting a lot lately. I think that's one of the things that has opened up my creativity again because I just finished a solo album after getting off a tour, then I went on tour for my solo album and then I came back and started writing for this STP record. I felt like I didn't know where to go which direction to go in so I started drawing, sketching and painting again. It's opened up a whole vast array of ideas. My stuff is kind of abstract. My favorite artist is Egon Schiele. His work is modern. You'll have to check him out.
Right when you got back into the studio with STP, did music instantly begin pouring out of you?
Definitely, there are a lot of songs written.
Was the reunion tour last summer particularly fun? I'll never forget the Hollywood Bowl show.
I think that show was one of our best shows on that tour. There were some really good shows. I think we perhaps toured two months too long because we were doing the "Greatest Hits" set really. Once we get out on the road when our new album comes out, we'll start playing a lot more of the new material mixed in with the old material, and that will reinvigorate the band and everyone will feel a lot more inspired.
Last summer to see a song like "Sin" come to life on stage was amazing because it felt like you guys were improvising and adding more of a psychedelic vibe. That vibe had always been improvised but it was amplified.
That was the idea! We're playing with smaller amps and going with smaller amp sounds, not just relying on a wall of Marshalls to create sounds that were actually created by an amp that you could put in the passenger seat of your car right next to you.
Would you ever want to publish your lyrics in a book?
There will be some. It's funny because there's that book about the most often misinterpreted words from songs. We're in it [Laughs]. In "Plush," it says, "Where are you going for tomorrow? Where are you going with the master plan?" [Laughs] A lot of people misinterpreted that one there.
You've always had a great sense of style—almost like the Sinatra of alt rock. How intertwined are style and performing on stage?
I see style and rock n' roll as hand-in-hand. If you look at The Beatles, The Stones, those guys knew how to dress. Bowie is my ultimate fashion icon. It was all part of the same thing. It's just something that feels like a natural thing for me. It's a natural part of rock n' roll.
We have Softdrive releases planned through the year. Tommy Joe Wilson's record is out, and we're working hard on that. We partnered up with a management company and another label Nashville because we are obviously not a Nashville-influenced label, but he was just too good to pass up on. Something to Burn is a band that we have going to coming out soon. Their release is out September 18th. The Color Turning is slated for August 4th. We have a few shows lined up with STP, we'll finish the record and then we'll be out doing our thing, touring for awhile once the record comes out. It'll probably be a Christmas release.