Robert DeLeo of Stone Temple Pilots

by Greg Prato

The STP songs that have most connected with fans, and the stories behind songs from Tiny Music.

Tiny Music lineup Stone Temple Pilots [L-R]: Robert DeLeo, Scott Weiland, Dean DeLeo, Eric Kretz

When Stone Temple Pilots burst on the scene with the album Core in 1992, the band came under fire by critics who felt the group – singer Scott Weiland, guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo, and drummer Eric Kretz – sounded too similar to their competition: Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Nirvana.

But then a funny thing happened. STP went on to become one of rock's most musically diverse bands, notably on their classic 1996 offering, Tiny Music... Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop. As this year marks the 25th anniversary of the album's release, Rhino Records has assembled a killer box set featuring outtakes, rare tracks, and a previously unreleased live performance from 1997.

Robert DeLeo spoke to Songfacts shortly before the arrival of the Tiny Music box set to discuss the album, the stories behind several songs on the tracklist, and STP's original frontman, Weiland, who died in 2015.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): Could you sense that the band was firing on all cylinders creatively while work began on Tiny Music?

Robert DeLeo: Firing on all cylinders? No. But if you have music and you're committed to making a record, then you move forward and make it. But firing on all cylinders, no.

What came out of that was an interesting record and a great time of hanging out at a cool house on a cool property [Westerly Ranch in Santa Ynez, California] and having a good time doing that. You don't get many opportunities to do that. It's one of those things I look back on and really appreciate my job.

Songfacts: The reason why you said the band was not firing on all cylinders was because of Scott's drug use at that point, right?

DeLeo: Yeah. I think we all know that.

Songfacts: On which STP album was the band "firing on all cylinders," then?

DeLeo: I think the first record [Core]. It was all or nothing. That record and the energy we put into that, it allowed us to make another record.

When you get signed to a major label, it's scary, and you don't know what's going to happen next, so it was great that that first record allowed us to make a second one, and a third one. I look at that as a really good time right then. Ambitious.

Songfacts: What do you recall about writing the song that opens Tiny Music, "Press Play"?

DeLeo: We all picked up instruments in the room, and Dean had a really cool '60s Hagström 8-string bass. He just plugged it in, and Eric started playing a beat. Brendan [producer Brendan O'Brien] had a tambourine and I had Dean's guitar. It was kind of a goof.

We just starting to jam and Brendan was like, "That's kinda cool. Press play." Dean came up with the title for that. It's just a little jam.

Songfacts: "And So I Know."

DeLeo: I was deeply digesting bossa nova music at the time and really getting into that, so that's where it came from. I was wondering if that should be on the record or not, but I thought it was a good addition to what we were doing. But it came from really just getting turned on to a lot of bossa nova at the time and learning those kind of chords and those voicings.

It's one of the most beautiful types of music to listen to. It's so pure, and when I listen to that, it kind of puts me in another place. That's what I love about bossa nova and the Brazilian spirit, and just how they approach music and their attitude towards it. It's hypnotic. It's addictive, too. It's beautiful music.

Songfacts: "Big Bang Baby."

DeLeo: I was thinking of those old Little Richard records, trying to get a '50s beat going with the tom and the hand claps. I had that riff roaming around in my head for a long time. It was one of those things where I was like, "Damn it. I've got to find a way to make a song out of that!" [Laughs]

I like the way that one came out. That one came out really good. Fun track.

Songfacts: "Daisy."

DeLeo: That was about a specific girl and me being sad about that kind of ending. I put a sort of sadness into it when I played it. I think Dean played the slide part. Like all songs, it was about someone.

Songfacts: "Adhesive."

DeLeo: That's a special one. When I wrote these pieces of music, I didn't know where Scott was going to go lyrically, so it was a surprise sometimes to hear where he went and what he chose for that. Sometimes, you write a piece of music and you have a melody, and then you hear the words and you go, "Ah, I wasn't really thinking that. But it's great." With that song, what he wrote about and how he approached it was beautiful.

I always try to incorporate different instruments into our music. I wanted to hear a Herb Alpert kind of trumpet solo, and I think it was the right song for it. I love what the gentleman who played on it [Dave Ferguson] did on that. It was so fitting.

It's one of those things when you write a piece of music, you get it out and you send it out into the Universe. I don't really go back and listen to my music, but when somebody else embellishes on that and adds something to it, you get to listen to your music rather than criticize it. It was a nice journey.

Current STP lineup with lead singer Jeff Gutt

Songfacts: Which STP song seemed to make the biggest connection with fans?

DeLeo: I think "Plush" has. "Big Empty" has. "Interstate Love Song." There's a few that have done that.

"Plush" was a big single and "Interstate Love Song" was big. What's funny is I always have people sending me someone in a bar playing "Interstate Love Song." That always blows me away. I'm such a fan of music, and we all grew up with such great music. To hear someone play one of our tunes or a tune that I wrote, it's humbling. Very humbling.

Songfacts: What was the most memorable music video STP made?

DeLeo: I like "Vasoline." On "Vasoline," we had so many ideas, and we were coming up with them on the spot. We had so many different ideas that I think we made three different versions of that video.

But I really like that video. It's got a vibe to it. And I got to dress up like a clown in it! A lot of cool stuff in there.

Songfacts: Why do you think the early '90s gave us so many great rock singers – possibly more than any other era?

DeLeo: I think people had a lot to say. And it was timing. Things were going a certain way, and there was a reaction, and sometimes when there's a reaction, something that is really explosive comes out of that, and I think it was the time for that to happen. There were a lot of very talented... and I hate to use the word "was." A lot of those people are gone, and it's a shame, but it was a great time for music. It really was.

Songfacts: A singer I also really enjoyed was Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, who I saw some similarities with Scott.

DeLeo: I played with them, and he seemed like such a nice person. He was one of the first to leave us [Hoon died in 1995 from a drug overdose]. But those guys were always very, very nice people.

Maybe behavioral [there were similarities between Shannon and Scott] – maybe not singing-wise. But I think addiction eventually puts everyone in the same place, doesn't it? It's sad.

Songfacts: Do you recall anything about Stone Temple Pilots playing shows with Shannon and Blind Melon in 1993?

DeLeo: Neil Young, that show was kind of a blur [when STP played with Neil Young and Blind Melon on September 11, 1993, at the Sports Arena in Los Angeles]. Just the fact that we were newly into our career and playing with someone such as Neil Young... God, those are the kind of things you dream about. We've been fortunate enough to play with a lot of our idols and people we grew up on. That's the most satisfying thing in music to me: mingling. Or as Joe Walsh would say, "Stirring up the hornet's nest" with some people that we grew up on.

Songfacts: If you're not familiar with Blind Melon's second album, Soup, I highly recommend you check it out. Similar to STP's Tiny Music album, it is very musically varied. There is a bossa nova song, a country song, a folk song, New Orleans Dixieland jazz, etc.

DeLeo: I've got to check that out. Obviously a lot of different influence in the band. That's always fun to listen to.

Songfacts: Why do you think Scott, Shannon, and so many other talented musicians from that era wound up turning to drugs?

DeLeo: I think that goes back to childhood. I'm not a psychologist, but I think everyone's got their own issues. I can't even explain what it's like being in a band, and being in a band that has had success. It's not really normal.

You have to remember who you are. That's a constant reminder along the way – it has been to me. That's really a Native American way of looking at things: Remember who you are. And that goes back to before any of that happened, meaning signing a record contract and making money, joining the circus and doing whatever the hell you want to do.

I think you have to remember who you are. Some people don't and they can get consumed by it. In the end, it kind of compounds and there's no stopping it. It's a blueprint of people in entertainment. You can watch it and see it. That - like addiction - turns into the same thing. You either die or you go to jail.

Songfacts: For someone like me who's a fan of the music, I always wonder what people like Scott and Shannon would have gone on to do if they hadn't gotten involved with drugs.

DeLeo: People think drugs enhance what you're doing, but take it from me, ultimately it really gets in the way.

June 22, 2021

For more Stone Temple Pilots, visit facebook.com/stpband.

Further reading:
Scott Weiland: Memories Of A Rock Star
Interview with Eric Kretz
Interview with Kim Thayil of Soundgarden
Matt Pinfield's 10 Greatest Alt-Rock Videos Of The '90s
Fact Or Fiction: Grunge

Photos: John Eder (1,3)

More Songwriter Interviews

Comments: 2

  • Jim from Mobile, AlGood Interview, I always felt that Interstate Love Song was one of the best songs of the 90's. One of those once in a decade type songs. Mr DeLeo's observations about drug use is spot on.
  • Patrick from PentictonGreat interview and I'm not familiar with Stone Temple Pilots.
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