Photo of Stone Temple Pilots in 1992. Core was released 20 years ago today. This article is a GrungeReport.net exclusive and features a new interview (read the full interview here) I conducted with former Stone Temple Pilots manager Steve Stewart.
Stone Temple Pilots’ beginnings can be traced back to the mid 1980’s. Scott Richard Kline was born on October 27, 1967 in Santa Cruz, California to parents Kent and Sharon Kline. His parents divorced when he was two, and his mother quickly remarried Dave Weiland, who adopted Scott and gave him his surname Weiland. Scott mainly grew up in Chagrin Falls, Ohio and spent his summers in California with his biological father, the back and forth took its toll on him emotionally. After Scott’s stepbrother Craig was hit by a car and died in California, his biological father became detached from him, and the summer visits became less frequent. Weiland and his family later moved to Huntington Beach, California when he was 14 years old and he began attending Edison High School. During his time at Edison he initially played a lot of sports but he was a hard partier and never quite felt like he fit in, his partying eventually led his parents to put him in a psych ward for three months and have him carted off from school.
During Weiland’s formative years his musical influences were very diverse, he was a chameleon from the start. His first musical influence as a child was country music, listening to Hank Williams with his father in his car. He often credits his father for teaching him how to sing. In middle school John Lennon and David Bowie became two of his major influences along with R.E.M. At Edison High Scott met Corey Hickok while playing football, who turned him on to records by The Jam, Echo and the Bunnymen, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Buzzcocks. Scott also began to attend local Orange County punk rock shows seeing bands like Social Distortion during his teen years. Corey played guitar, and he and Scott quickly formed a postpunk band called Awkward Positions. The two eventually formed Soi-Distant. Soi-Distant featured Weiland, Corey Hickok on guitar, bassist Dave Stokes (Scott Tubbs at one point), keyboardist Britt Willits, and drummer Lonnie Tubbs. Weiland stated in a July 1987 interview with Gig Magazine, “A lot of bands are writing about social problems, we write on a more personal level.” Weiland and the band’s look and sound were influenced by Duran Duran’s first album, The Cure, and U2 with a punk edge. Soi-Distant played all around Orange County in Huntington Beach, at clubs in Newport Beach like Déjà Vu, and at a frat house at UCI in Irvine. After high school Weiland attended Orange Coast College but quit to focus on his music career, he had a high GPA but later stated they didn’t teach classes on being a successful recording artist.
While Scott Weiland was working on his musical chops, bassist Robert DeLeo was in Point Pleasant, New Jersey playing with his older brother Dean, five years his senior. Dean’s band played in bars, but Robert was so talented the band let him in and snuck him in to play shows. One day Robert decided to pick up and leave New Jersey and move to California. He lived out of his car initially in the Long Beach area with no music gear, but he eventually got an apartment and a home eight track studio after inheriting some money. DeLeo, whose biggest influences were James Jamerson and Led Zeppelin, met Scott Weiland at one of Soi-Distant’s gigs in Orange County, joining the band to perform a song. Weiland was blown away by DeLeo’s talent, but it took awhile before he could finally get him to form a band with him. Sometime in late 1987/early 1988, Soi-Distant dissolved and morphed into Swing, the first incarnation of Stone Temple Pilots. Guitarist Corey Hickok and keyboardist Britt Willits initially remained from Soi-Distant, and the lineup was rounded out by ¾ of the STP lineup we have come to know: Scott Weiland, Robert DeLeo, and drummer Eric Kretz. There was also a drummer named David Allin, a high school friend of Scott’s, who played drums before Kretz. The details surrounding his time in the band are vague. Scott and Robert had seen Kretz performing with another band, and were impressed and immediately asked him to join their band. Kretz was from San Jose, California and attended Willow Glen High School. DeLeo eventually decided that they didn’t need a keyboardist, and they became a four piece. The band were based in Hollywood but played in Los Angeles and Orange County. Swing had more of a funk and hard edged alternative rock sound than Soi-Distant, one of their early songs was called “Drop the Funk.” Dean, Robert’s older brother, moved to San Diego in the mid 80’s and became a successful businessman. He had given up the guitar, but helped out the early version of STP get some gigs down in San Diego.
By 1990, Robert told Scott that Corey Hikock had to go and they needed a new guitarist. While Scott was hesitant to fire his close friend from the band, deep down he knew they needed a different guitarist. Corey cried when told the news, but he understood why they had to do it. The guys convinced Robert’s brother Dean to join them, and in their first ever jam session with him they wrote the 8-minute epic “Where The River Goes,” which later ended up on the band’s debut album Core. By 1990, the band’s name was Mighty Joe Young. They began recording demos in mid 1990, with the initial demos leaning more on the band’s funk influences from their previous incarnation as Swing. Steve Stewart, who managed STP from their early days up until 2000, remembers, “I shopped that tape for the first record deal. It’s true, the band’s sound was much more ‘LA funk’ than what came out on Core in 1992. Except for Where The River Goes. The demo version of that track (which is on the cassette) is one of my favorite STP songs. Thick and tasty – I think it sounds better than the album version on Core, but it’s pretty much unchanged.” By late 1990/early 1991 STP began to form the signature sound they would later have on Core, recording demos of Wicked Garden, Naked Sunday, Piece of Pie, and Only Dying. Crackerman was also written during this time period. The full demo tape featured these songs along with some of STP’s funkier numbers like “Dirty Dog” and “Scary Area.” During the band’s early days, they relentlessly played the club scene, Steve Stewart says they played “pretty much every club in southern California. Raji’s, The Shamrock, the Golden Bear – all the Hollywood and O.C. venues.” They also opened for bands like the Rollins Band, Ice T, and Soul Asylum.
The band had jobs to make ends meet. Weiland chauffeured models (including his future wife Mary, who was 16 at the time) and got a graphics job by pretending to be a student at the Otis School of Art and Design. He drove a 1986 Nissan pickup at the time. For a time Robert worked occasionally as a counter clerk in soda fountains, he later worked at a record store. Weiland and Dean DeLeo lived together for a time in a flat in Los Angeles, which they believed to be haunted. The band was thirsty to get outside of Southern California, and when the Seattle Grunge scene broke out in late 1991 and record labels began seeking out alternative rock acts, STP would finally get their shot. Steve Stewart recalls the band getting signed by Atlantic Records in April 1992, “The band was signed off the Mighty Joe Young cassette, when a very hard-working A&R guy at Atlantic named Tom Carolan came to see them after hearing from his best friend Don Muller, to whom I had given a demo tape and invited to a show. Don became their first booking agent and is one of the top music agents in town today. Tom’s immediate boss was Jason Flom, who also believed very much in the band. Danny was being brought in to run Atlantic on the west coast at that time and was also there for the signing.”
The band all quit their day jobs and began working on Core. They chose Brendan O’Brien to produce their first album. O’Brien helped the band hone their sound and stay focused on their angsty alternative rock sound that was featured on their Wicked Garden, Where The River Goes, Naked Sunday, and Only Dying demos. Steve Stewart recalls, “Yes – the best rock producer of that era, Brendan O’Brien, had a lot to do with that. Robert asked me to find him and inquire about producing Core. At that point, the LA scene was dominated by bands like the Chili Peppers and Fishbone, etc., while Seattle was starting to come into its own with a post-punk, stripped-down version of rock.” O’Brien would go on to produce STP’s first five albums. Scott Weiland was obsessed with The Doors while recording Core, with Jim Morrison being his main influence. As the band were finishing the album and deciding on artwork, their lawyer told them that an old blues singer named Mighty Joe Young was making a comeback, so they had to change their name. Weiland always liked the initials STP from the motor oil logo, and the band initially joked around about the idea of renaming the band Shirley Temple’s Pussy. They eventually decided on Stone Temple Pilots.
Core was released on September 29, 1992 with the lead single “Sex Type Thing.” Sex Type Thing was an anti-rape song, with Weiland singing from the perspective of a macho rapist. In a September 1993 interview with SPIN magazine Scott Weiland recalled the creation of Sex Type Thing, “Dean was out in the front yard of his house in San Diego, washing his car or something, and he was, like, listening to some old Zeppelin song [In the Light].” Dean described his memory of coming up with the guitar riff and being influenced by the Led Zeppelin song, “’Duh bug ngaow, buh-neh-neh-nah- neh-neh-nao-nhe’ except because the music was inside and I was outside, it sounded different. You know how you can hear music sometimes in a different way? I heard it ‘buh-neh-buh-neh-buh-neh,’ which is like the riff idea to ‘Sex Type Thing,’ and ran in and hit it out on the classical guitar.” Weiland’s first impression of the riff was, “The first time he played it for me over the phone, it reminded me of an old-style Sonic Youth-ish kind of riff. And when he told me how he got the thing, I was tweaked. Hey, I write songs that way, too.” Dead and Bloated’s guitar riff was based on an idea Scott Weiland hummed to the band, while the lyrics to “Plush” were written by Weiland and Eric Kretz while they were in a hot tub. The song was about a woman who had been murdered. Two of STP’s first shows from the Core era were performing two shows on a side stage at Lollapalooza 1992, Scott Weiland said his voice was hoarse and it was two of the worst shows the band ever played. At the shows Robert DeLeo introduced himself to Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, both ignored him and shunned him, angering DeLeo. Core exploded by early 1993 when the Grammy winning “Plush” became a mega hit, and with STP’s new found fame the tensions with their contemporaries up in Seattle increased. Eddie Vedder told Rolling Stone in 1993, “Beth (Vedder’s first wife) and I were part of the scene in San Diego. We knew what was going on, which was not a lot. Those guys are supposedly from there? I have never heard of them.” Vedder’s remarks were off the mark, since the full STP lineup featuring Dean DeLeo did not start playing live shows until August 1990, a month before Vedder moved to Seattle. The band were also based in Los Angeles contrary to media reports, while also playing shows in San Diego and Orange County. Vedder also claimed Weiland was “coppin his trip.”
These ripoff accusations infuriated STP, who had spent years formulating their sound and paying their dues playing clubs. Weiland told Metal Hammer Germany in 1994, “I think he burnt his mouth on that one. It’s funny. Dean, my guitarist, has been living in San Diego for ten years. Neither he nor his friends have heard a whole lot about Vedder. As a matter of principle I find it arrogant for a musician to talk down about others. But I have nothing against him, I don’t even know him. His band plays this classic rock that’s too boring for me anyway.” Weiland was more diplomatic about Vedder in a 1993 interview with Rolling Stone, “I have a lot of respect for Eddie Vedder and the ideals and things he stands for. As an artist, he’s very valid. But I never really thought that if you put us next to each other, we looked like Siamese twins or anything. I mean, visually, onstage, I kind of liken myself to a disco-dancing Frank Sinatra – a cross between Perry Como and John Travolta.” Robert DeLeo also added, regarding the comparisons of STP to Seattle bands, “People get so shallow, thinking that you grabbed your influences from the bands that are out now. Wouldn’t anybody stop to think that we’re all the same age and we all grew up on the same kind of music?” Dean DeLeo joked in a May 1993 Metal Hammer Germany interview, “We’re planning to go on tour with Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains, so people can compare us immediately.”
With a hit record, by summer 1993 it was time for STP to plan their first big tour. The band were offered a chance to open for Aerosmith on an arena tour, but turned it down. They wanted to play smaller venues that held 2,000-5,000 fans with cheaper ticket prices. So they put together a festival like tour, titled the Bar-B-Q-Mitz-vah tour with the Butthole Surfers, Flaming Lips, Basehead, and Firehose. The band had hoped to be part of the 1993 Lollapalooza tour, but weren’t asked. In a September 1993 interview with Guitar School Dean DeLeo stated, “We didn’t even get asked! We were really let down, because we would have loved to do that gig. So now we’re on the ‘God-I’m-a-loosa’ tour. [laughs] I’m only kidding.” Despite missing out on Lollapalooza, STP’s summer 1993 tour was one of the most explosive of the summer, and they established themselves as one of the premier live bands in rock. The band even came out dressed as Kiss at the Roseland Ballroom in New York on August 3, 1993. That night was also the first time Scott Weiland ever tried heroin, which led to tensions in the band that lasted for a decade.
Later in 1993 STP performed on MTV’s Unplugged. The acoustic version of “Plush” was a hit, having already being performed earlier in 1993 on MTV. Atlantic Records wanted the band to record an EP based around an acoustic version of Plush, but the band shot this down, telling the label they didn’t want to be known as the Plush band. STP debuted “Big Empty” during their Unplugged performance, which ended up appearing on The Crow film soundtrack and Purple. STP had originally planned on contributing a new version of their 1990 demo “Only Dying” to the soundtrack, but lead star Brandon Lee’s death on set made the band decide to use another song. Steve Stewart recalls, “I don’t recall a new version of Only Dyin’ actually being recorded, but it might have been. Whatever the case, it is true that we decided to scrap it for The Crow in deference to Brandon Lee’s passing. We negotiated for Big Empty to be in all the trailers for The Crow, which got more attention on TV, than the song got at radio, and the coup was coordinating it to lead the off the record as the first single, while the song was so hot on TV, resulting in a #1 debut for Purple (very narrowly beating out a release by Warren G) in June of 1994. Much of this was pure circumstance, but there was quite a bit of jockeying going on behind the scenes.” After the Unplugged performance and after the recording of Big Empty, the band headed into the studio to record their second album Purple, marking the end of the Core era. As of 2012, Core has been certified 8x Platinum in the United States, making it one of the most popular albums of the 90’s alternative rock era. The album was released 20 years ago today, but songs from Core are still played in heavy rotation today on rock radio. STP fans continue to debate which of STP’s six albums is their best, but Core will always be remembered as what started it all. While it is enjoyable to look back at Core, let’s hope the ride isn’t over yet and that STP come roaring back with a seventh studio album next year.
Stone Temple Pilots on MTV Unplugged (November 1993)
Wicked Garden (1990 Demo)
Where The River Goes (1990 Demo)
Wicked Garden (September 1993 Live on David Letterman)
Naked Sunday (August 1993 Live at Reading Festival)
Plush (June 1993 Live at MTV Movie Awards)
Naked Sunday (1990 Demo)
Only Dying (1990 Demo)