Robert De Leo: Lessons Learned Track by Track

by Greg Prato

Robert De Leo of Stone Temple Pilots takes us track by track through his first solo album, Lessons Learned.



As with most of the world in 2020, Stone Temple Pilots bassist Robert De Leo suddenly found himself with a lot of unexpected time on his hands. Having been one of the chief songwriters in STP since their debut album (1992's Core), De Leo put this time to good use and embarked on writing and recording his first solo album, Lessons Learned.

Released on October 21, 2022, the album is billed as a De Leo solo offering, but several vocalists and guest players contributed. It does not musically reflect what many would expect from a Stone Temple Pilot, with songs that are much more folk/country-tinged.

A week before the album's release, De Leo took us through it track by track.

Big Sky Woman

The title is pretty self-explanatory: someone very special from Montana. This whole album is based around universal feelings that everyone has felt. I guess this is just my version of these experiences and my journey.

It's love gained and love lost. Of someone very special to me that I lost.


She Brings The Rain

I was looking for the ultimate couch guitar. I went out to a town here called Claremont [California], where Ben Harper's grandfather started a folk-music center. It's kind of a museum/store. They've got everything – it's a wonderful place.

I went out there knowing they have a lot of acoustic instruments. One day I acquired a guitarrón, which is usually a six-string and unfretted. I found one that was converted to four strings and fretted, and it's a beautiful-sounding instrument.

I also acquired this little three-quarter scale, old 1950s nylon-string guitar – it doesn't even have a name on it. I always wanted one, and that became my couch guitar.

Playing that guitar on a rainy day, which it never really rains... isn't that a song? "It Never Really Rains In Southern California"? [Robert is correct! "It Never Rains In Southern California" by Albert Hammond.]

I was sitting here in the rain, and I had the door open. Where I live, I have wild peacocks that roam this area. I was sitting here all alone, and one of these peacocks came up and sat right at my doorstep and was keeping me company. It knew I was in a sentimental, somber mood. I wrote that song that day with that peacock at my doorstep.

I always love the lyrics of old country songs, and how smart and wise and catchy they were. I was trying to liken someone coming to visit, and when they do it's always raining. That's very odd for Southern California. It's trying to figure out whether that rain is a good thing or whether it's a bad thing. But I took it from the standpoint of when love comes, it starts raining, so it can be taken both ways, good or bad. Water brings life, or you just get rained on.


Love Is Not Made Of Gold

"Love Is Not Made Of Gold" is one of the last things I came up with for this record. I was lyrically kind of stuck, but I had the first three lines: "Love is not made of gold, no matter what you've been told, it's a lie."

A really, really talented person, Pete Shoulder, he's the singer on "Big Sky Woman" and "Put Aside Your Sorrows." Pete is a brilliant singer, lyricist, and guitar player. I asked him to help me with these lyrics, and that was Pete's interpretation. I gave Pete the melody and those first three lines, and just said, "Come up with something." He never ceases to amaze with his lyrical content and his poetry. So, those are Pete Shoulder's lyrics.

I always like having other people involved. I know I'm kind of looking at this as a solo record, but I had many really talented people on his record to bounce off of. They were so open to my lyrics and melody, and this song is a case of my disappointment in love. Pete can definitely connect with where I was coming from.


Anew

"Anew" is kind of a diary to myself. It's me talking to myself and examining myself and my actions and behaviors through life. Trying to be there for myself, to give myself a new start, I guess I should say.


Put Aside Your Sorrows

"Put Aside Your Sorrows" started from an instrument that I acquired from a friend. It's called a cigfiddle. It's a four-string instrument that is made from a cigar box. It's one of those instruments that when you pick it up, you're instantly writing a song, and that was the inspiration for that song.

Pete is British and lives in a little village up in Northern England, and I thought that he could really relate to the sound and the quality of the song. Once again, it's Pete's lyrics on that – brilliant lyrics. I love what he did with that song.


Lessons Learned

I felt like this album needed a title track. That song really started by me trying to get back into my fingerpicking. I had some patterns that I was doing as practice. All this time the world allowed [due to the pandemic], it gave me the opportunity to sit down with my instruments, pull them out, and really try to re-polish my guitar playing. I originally started on guitar.

Once again, it's a self-examination of my actions through life. I'm kind of writing that song as a diary to myself, really. Tim Bluhm on vocals there, who did a great job.


<i>Lessons Learned</i> has a memorable album cover, with a photo snapped by De Leo. "That's a photo I took on my iPhone 7. It was an evening up in Santa Barbara – with a beautiful full moon. And I just snapped that photo outside of a really old oak tree against that moon. It was pretty striking to me. Trees always represent wisdom and age to me. And something that I'm acquiring, and trying to learn still – age and wisdom."Lessons Learned has a memorable album cover, with a photo snapped by De Leo. "That's a photo I took on my iPhone 7. It was an evening up in Santa Barbara – with a beautiful full moon. And I just snapped that photo outside of a really old oak tree against that moon. It was pretty striking to me. Trees always represent wisdom and age to me. And something that I'm acquiring, and trying to learn still – age and wisdom."

What Will Be

I love Brazilian music, and it kind of started from there. I just wanted to capture this moment musically.

Those are my lyrics and melody. It's knowing something is over – a relationship is over – and this is the way it's going to be. It's seeing a relationship die.


Everything

I wrote that song a long, long time ago. I think I wrote that probably in 1993. I had that part, "Can't you see, I just want you to be my everything." That was the lyric I had from a long time ago, and I think it was the first song I ever wrote that I just wanted to have such a gentle side. It was so fitting because that's what I really wanted to get across on this record: a gentle side.

There are certain songs that I always use as templates. I always think of Roberta Flack: "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." It just captures a moment for me, and it's so naked. That's what I really wanted to get across.

And there's something about a female doing that, that just makes it that more special for me. [Lead vocal is by Kara Britz.] When Burt Bacharach was writing songs and he gave those songs to Dionne Warwick or Dusty Springfield or Karen Carpenter, I think I know how he felt.

That's my dear friend Gary Wright on backing vocals with me. You know him from "Dream Weaver."


What'll I Do

It's that feeling of being a little helpless and swimming around in that ocean of not really being there for yourself. I don't mean to sound so therapist-like, but kind of swimming and wondering what is going to happen. Another part of my journal.

That's Johnny Irion on vocals on that one, who just nailed the sentiment.


Is This Goodbye

That's the one I sing. I just felt like I needed to sing that one. These are universal feelings – I don't think I'm writing anything new here. This is my interpretation of it. But I just wanted to end the album and it be a journey. We grew up on albums, not just singles and songs. I felt like that song completed the journey.

A gentleman by the name of Dave Eggar, who is a brilliant cellist, he played on that with some friends of his. I wanted something at the end that led out, that felt like two people having a conversation, and I just love what he did on the end there. The strings he did on this are beautiful. This song is just questioning what's happening with a relationship.

October 19, 2022

Lessons Learned is available to pre-order on vinyl at Bandwear. You can also find Robert on Instagram.

Further reading:
Our 2021 interview with Robert, where he took us through songs in the STP catalog
Our interview with Scott Weiland a year before his death
Interview with Eric Kretz of Stone Temple Pilots
Fact of Fiction: '90s Metal edition
Interview with Curt Kirkwood of Meat Puppets

Photo: Duke De Leo

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