Stone Temple Pilots’ debut album Core was released 20 years ago today. We have a retrospective up on the band’s early days and Core, that features quotes from former Stone Temple Pilots manager Steve Stewart. This is the full interview I conducted with him. Stewart managed the band from their early pre-major label days up until August 2000. At the time of this interview I was under the impression that he managed the band up until their first breakup in 2003, so a couple of questions I asked about 2000’s era STP will go unanswered until STP finally decide to reveal what happened to the Shangri LA DEE DA documentary!
When and how did you meet the band? Was the lineup Scott/Robert/Dean/Eric at that point, or was Corey Hickok still playing with Scott/Robert/Eric? Do you know the timeline of events as to when Scott and Robert started playing, then Eric joined them, then eventually Dean? Details surrounding all of this are very vague, so I was curious if you might know.
My band gigged with Soi Disant (1983-84?) which I believe featured Scott, Corey and the Tubbs brothers (Scott and Lonnie) – Robert and Eric came in somewhere between Soi Disant and Mighty Joe Young, I believe. I don’t remember the exact timeline. Dean was last.
Do you remember exactly when the Mighty Joe Young demos were recorded? I’ve seen a picture a cassette featuring the band’s funkier songs like Love Machine, Dirty Dog, and the early Piece of Pie and then another demo with Wicked Garden, Where The River Goes, Naked Sunday, and Piece of Pie. Then there is also the 11 track demo tape that features Only Dying and other songs like the ones I’ve mentioned as well, which is available online. Do you remember when these were recorded? I’ve heard talk of 1989-1990.
It was definitely before 1991. as 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. “Only Dyin'” was also going to be in “The Crow,” before Brandon Lee was killed.
Did you notice a progression of the band during their early years, from playing some funk songs to focusing more on hard rock stuff like Wicked Garden? You can tell there are two different sides to the band on the early Mighty Joe Young demos, and they obviously went more in the hard rock direction on Core.
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.
What venues did the band play in their early days? Where were they? Predominately in Los Angeles, Orange County, or San Diego? Or a mix?
As Mighty Joe Young, pretty much every club in southern California. Raji’s, The Shamrock, the Golden Bear – all the Hollywood and OC venues. As STP, not so much, as the band changed names right before the first record came out and then was off to tour the states surrounding the record release in Sept. 1992. By the time they came back to LA, in early 1993, the album was already Platinum and it was time to look at larger venues. There was no indie album, there was no list of various players – it was like starting from scratch in many ways.
Do you remember when some of the Core hits like Plush and Sex Type Thing were written and first performed live? I’ve read [in the 1995 STP mini book written by Mick Wall and Malcolm Dome] that you gave Danny Goldberg a demo tape featuring Plush, Sex Type Thing, and Dead and Bloated and that’s what got the band signed. When was this demo tape recorded, and will it ever see the light of day?
That’s not true – the band was signed off the Mighty Joe Young cassette (mentioned above), 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. I believe Plush, Sex Type Thing and Dead and Bloated were all completed after the signing, although parts may have existed before. They were never on any Mighty Joe Young demo – although some parts of those demo songs did make it onto the first record in different songs.
Is there any video footage of the band from the Mighty Joe Young days? There was a brief clip of an early club show on STP’s 1996 Rockumentary. Why is there so little documentation of the band’s early days?
You’re probably not old enough to remember the days when not everyone walked around with a 20 megapixel 1080p video camera in their pocket! This was before email – well at least the mass-consumer version you’re accustomed to today. The only cameras that were affordable to the common person were either 8 or 16mm film or bulky, multi-piece video decks that weighed 30 lbs. and cost $1200! No Facebook, no Twitter, no YouTube – you actually had to call your friends on a wired telephone (remember those?!)
There has been talk that STP recorded a studio version of ‘Only Dying’ for The Crow soundtrack, but that they decided to scrap that and go with Big Empty after star Brandon Lee died on set. Is there really an unreleased studio recording of Only Dying out there somewhere?
That’s mostly true. 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.
Did it get frustrating when the band had to postpone and cancel tours in the mid to late 90’s? How much money do you imagine was lost in 1996 because of this. Is it true that the band made Scott pay them for any money lost on canceled dates?
It was very frustrating. It’s hard to figure what lost opportunity costs, but human beings can only do so much. The band worked as much as it could. It’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback, but when you’re immersed in the trenches, it’s a much different view. I do recall Scott having to make good on some canceled shows.
Is it true that the band were offered 1 million dollars to record a song for the Godzilla soundtrack in 1998 while they were on hiatus?
I don’t recall the figure, but that’s within the realm of song licensing circa 1998!
STP had a documentary filmed by Chapman Bahler while they were recording Shangri LA DEE DA. Why wasn’t this documentary released, was it ever completed? Will it ever be released?
I have no idea – I wasn’t managing them by that point.
How did you get along with the band? Were there guys you liked to deal with, and others you found more difficult over the years?
I think we did pretty well at times, and not so well at others. They are all very talented and creative individuals (each one with a different personality), and I was the “business” guy. I didn’t party. I didn’t socialize with them at that level and I think that was always somewhat of a barrier. But it was also a necessary point of delineation from my perspective, as there are many examples of managers and “assistants” getting caught up in the mix and losing the ability to relate to the artist on a business level. At times, I would relate it to a marriage – you love the person, and you know them and they know you, but outside circumstances can wreak havoc. It’s unbelievable how many ways you can be pulled on a daily basis when things are on fire. There are many sources of pressure, with different agendas and most of them at odds with each other. 300 phone calls a day. A good part of my job was to shield the band from this tornado and give them the space to do what they do best – write and perform.
Why haven’t you been managing the band since they reunited in 2008? I remember hearing some talk that you were co-managing the band when they reunited. If so is it true that Coachella initially offered them a bunch of money to reunite? Are you still in touch with any of the members of the band?
We parted ways in August of 2000. At that time, they were on tour with the Chili Peppers and the Chili Peppers’ managers (who are highly respected music managers) started managing them at that point. I think that lasted about a year. Then they went to The Firm (also a highly respected management company), and that went for a few years. I’m not sure what they were searching for, but I don’t think they found it during those years as far as management went. I was asked by the band to help put together the greatest hits album Thank You in 2003, while Scott was incarcerated (which made things slightly difficult!), and then asked to help put together a tour a couple of years later. That never materialized, and I believe the band had separate managers at that point. I don’t have any knowledge about Coachella. I haven’t spoken to the band in years, but I do hope they are happy, healthy and enjoying all the best life has to offer.They were very fortunate to have caught the last bit of the glory days of the major label artist. I don’t think there will be anything like those days again, and so many talented, young artists today will never achieve the notoriety and fortune that the music industry made possible over the last 50 years.
Former Stone Temple Pilots manager Steve Stewart