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An Interview With Stone Temple Pilots' Robert DeLeo
By Krishta Abruzzini, Pacific Northwest Writer
Thursday, April 11, 2002 @ 10:00 AM
ROBERT: That’s really funny because we were in the back, in the dressing room, and we were actually intimidated. Not by the bands, but mostly by… well, you know, when you have a show that consists of bands like that, you usually get a lot of male meat-heads. And when you go on stage in front of a bunch of male meat-heads, things can get kind of ugly. So we were a little intimidated by that.
KNAC.COM: I noticed that the guys in the audience were all totally into you. You didn’t have the guys flying around like you did with Slipknot, but...
ROBERT: And more breasts!
KNAC.COM: Yeah. [laughs] And they weren’t the tattooed ones like they were earlier.
ROBERT: Well, I definitely got a mouth and nose full of dust.
KNAC.COM: Yeah. Me too. I was still coughing this stuff up for weeks afterward.
ROBERT: That’s why I sound the way I do right now. You have a 15-year-old son?
KNAC.COM: Yeah. He plays guitar, and is just loving life. Thankfully, his guitar is his girlfriend for now.
ROBERT: That was my girlfriend! My girlfriend, and my therapist, and my friend. That’s kind of how I got started around that time, at the age he’s at. It was a really important time of my life, when family was very much needed. My parents got divorced around that time. So the guitar really became…
KNAC.COM: Like an outlet?
KNAC.COM: Yeah, it is for him as well. It’s there for him when he is angry, it’s there when he’s happy. He practically sleeps with his guitars. They are right at the foot of his bed. He’s collected three already.
ROBERT: Great. One day my mom was like, “I was going to get you a therapist, but I couldn’t take you because I couldn’t tell what you were doing in your room.” She probably thought I was masturbating. But I was just glued to my guitar.
KNAC.COM: And your brother plays with you as well?
ROBERT: Yeah, he plays guitar.
KNAC.COM: How is it being in a band with your brother?
ROBERT: It’s great. We’re very different people so that’s interesting sometimes. But I don’t think I could have anyone interpret my music better than my brother. Or vice-versa. I think we interpret each other well.
KNAC.COM: That’s awesome. Did you kind of both grow up playing guitar then?
ROBERT: Well, he grew up playing guitar. I grew up with him beating me up because I’m younger. But when he would go out of the house, and go play with his friends, I would grab his guitar and kind of sneak some licks in. I think it was it was initially because of him that I got into it. I was emulating him, as younger brothers will do with their older brothers. And I just got to the point around sixteen, when the guitar really became an important part of my life, as a means to communicate with myself and with other people. So that was an important time.
Dean threw a bass in my hands when I was about 17, and like all bass players, they’re needed rather than taking the initiative to play. I was always tall so when I played bass it felt more comfortable than when I played guitar. So I just went with it, and Dean was in a really great band. We both grew up in New Jersey, and we started playing in bars. We did the whole bar thing when I was still a junior in high school. I joined his band. Dean’s five years older than me, so his friends were out of high school already. I picked it up really quick, and I’ve always had a really great ear for music. I couldn’t find anyone good to play with that was my age, so I had to play with the older guys.
KNAC.COM: So did they have to sneak you into bars?
ROBERT: Yeah. I was playing in bars when I was sixteen, seventeen.
ROBERT: No, I looked like I was 21. I had the height. They believed I was 21. That’s how I really learned how to play. To do the Jersey bar scene, you had to do covers. So we would do covers and throw in an original or two. But we were doing covers like Rush, Yes, and the Who. You know, just right there between Rush, Yes, and the Who, there are three amazing bass players. John Entwistle, Chris Squire, and Geddy Lee. So that’s what I grew up on, those cats. I literally had to learn 30 songs in two weeks. They were like, “We have our first show in two weeks. You have to learn these songs.” And I was learning “The Real Me” by the Who, which is an amazing bass song.
KNAC.COM: I love John Entwistle.
ROBERT: Me too. And Chris Squire of Yes, and Geddy Lee’s a great bass player, too. And we played Tom Sawyer, and that’s kind of how I learned how to play.
KNAC.COM: Musician’s music.
ROBERT: Yeah. We played Duran Duran. This was probably around 1982. Duran Duran was a pretty big band around the area when Dean was in high school. He bought his first Les Paul in ’78 for probably $500. A ’78 Les Paul in ’78. Worth a lot of money now. He still has the receipt.
KNAC.COM: So had you and your brother been in bands that whole time?
ROBERT: Well, we had that band for a couple of years, then I moved out to California. I just really had nothing else going on back in New Jersey. The town I grew up in was maybe a square mile, 5,000 people. So I really needed to just expand, grow, to travel. So I moved out to California, I lived in my car for a little while. I just drove around and lived like a gypsy. Without an instrument. I didn’t even have a bass, because the one I had out in New Jersey was a borrowed one. So I just kind of slowly tried to survive. [laughs]
KNAC.COM: So how did you end up forming STP?
ROBERT: Well, my brother kind of gave music up. He had a job offer back in California through one of my brother-in-law’s friends, who owned a wholesale construction supply company. Dean got a job there managing the company. He literally gave up music. This was in probably ’85. I moved out in ’84. He was into this job. I think that around ’87 he got the urge to get some equipment again. Meanwhile, I was in Long Beach, and thank God I had gotten some inheritance money from our dad passing away. He passed away when I was a year old. So I got about $15,000 when I was 21. I sunk it all into a home studio. So I had a home studio in an apartment in Long Beach, and started really getting into recording and engineering and writing songs. It really allowed me to start writing songs rather than trying to emulate and get my chops together. I had my chops together really well by then, I just really needed to learn how to write songs. This was around ’86 I guess, because that’s when I met Scott [Weiland, vocals]. He came over with the band that he just broke up with and asked if I could record some songs for the new band he was forming. I started recording some songs for him, and then he asked me to play on the songs, and then he asked me to join his band.
I didn’t really know if that’s what I wanted to do right then because I didn’t really believe in the other players in the band, who were really good friends of his. I told him that if he wanted to do something, I wanted to do something, but that we should go do something else. It was tough for him because they were his friends. We had gotten Eric [Kretz, drums] out of the paper. He was playing with us for a while. I really wanted to keep him, I liked his playing, and we played well together, and I loved Eric as a person.
KNAC.COM: And that’s an important piece of the band. The bass and drummer kind of form the band’s pocket.
ROBERT: Yeah, definitely. So I guess around ’88 or ’89, we played around with that band for a while. It got to the point where we had a publishing deal, but when I thought about putting my name on paper with these other guys, I told Scott, “I want to do something else.” And I asked Scott, “Do you want to do something else? Then let’s do it.” So we decided to keep Eric, and my brother was into playing music again so we got him. And we still have the footage of the first time we went into a rehearsal studio together. It was probably around ’89, and it was just like… the only way I can describe it is the way I’ve heard John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page say it when they got in a room together. When we got in a room together the chemistry was all there, from the beginning.
KNAC.COM: Well, it still is.
ROBERT: You know, it was just one of those things where it was like, “Hey, we have a bomb here.”
KNAC.COM: That is interesting. Then there was probably no doubt that you guys were going to go somewhere with this.
ROBERT: Yeah, I firmly believe in humility, I love being humble, but when you have a goal to reach, and that goal is a dream, just really stick to it. I starved out in California. I was young. Thank God I was young. I think about all I did, and I don’t know if I could do the things now that I was doing back then. I tried to survive. We were playing around in LA in an environment of heavy metal, pay-to-play kind of thing, so we didn’t really fit in very well. And we began playing a lot down in San Diego because that was where Dean was living then. Everyone just seemed to appreciate good music a little more down there. So that’s how we kind of started. We just had someone come to a show in ’90 or ’91 that was interested in signing us.
KNAC.COM: Was it an independent label at that time or was it…?
ROBERT: No, it was actually Atlantic.
ROBERT: Atlantic Records. And it wasn’t really a big bidding war, it was kind of like, “Wow, Atlantic Records!” because pretty much all my favorite artists were on Atlantic: The Stones, Aretha Franklin, the Spinners, Zepplin, Ray Charles, all these wonderful, wonderful artists.
KNAC.COM: So was it just a scout who came out and signed you guys?
KNAC.COM: There’s no longevity for bands either.
ROBERT: They think they’re rock stars unfortunately. And it doesn’t last.
KNAC.COM: But you guys are in a different caliber now, wouldn’t you say?
ROBERT: Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally humbled and surprised. After the show we played with Slipknot and Slayer, somebody came in to the dressing room and said that Slayer wanted to come in and say hi and meet us. I was flattered by that. And Slipknot, were like fans.
KNAC.COM: I met a couple of the guys from Slipknot running around backstage -- and they were totally normal looking guys. They didn’t look the part that they play that’s for sure. Wouldn’t you say that your band has probably a better chance at longevity in this business than most?
ROBERT: When I write songs, like “Interstate Love Song,” I think I’ll hear that tune years from now. Or when my brother wrote “Big Empty,” that’s another one I think we’ll hear years from now. I think that’s because when it really comes down to it, I’m a big fan of music. And what I grew-up on is what you’ll always hear. How old are you?
KNAC.COM: Twenty-nine something.
ROBERT: And you have a fifteen-year-old son?
KNAC.COM: I started young. Besides, I said twenty-nine something. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
ROBERT: Well, I’m thirty-six. And in our generation, it just seems like we had better music to listen to, you know?
KNAC.COM: I think not only did we have better music, but the musicians seemed so huge back then. Untouchable. Now it seems like most of the music could be coming from a neighbor’s kid.
KNAC.COM: So you come from a big Italian family?
ROBERT: My father’s passed-away. I wish I knew more about that side of the family. My grandparents were right from Naples. So I’m half-Italian. My mom’s side is Jones. And then there’s Swedish relatives as well, so I’m Italian, Irish and Swedish.
KNAC.COM: My mom was a Jones as well. Betty Jean to be exact. I think that’s why she gave me such an unusual name.
ROBERT: My mom was Jenny Jones. But dig this, my Grandfather was Clyde Leroy Jones. Sounds like a Black bluesman. [laughing]
KNAC.COM: So I’ve got to tell you that you guys are my biggest ‘blow-it’ case since I’ve been a music journalist. It must have been when you guys first started out -- probably your first album. I got a call from your publicist, who I was pretty good friends with. Anyway, she told me all about you guys and tried forever to get me to go see one of your shows. She kept telling me that she’s got this great new band, and I really should go hang out with you, take some promo shots, interview you guys, basically whatever I wanted. Anyway, you guys were playing locally, my friend called me, told me that I should go, and I told her I was busy. I had another, better show to go to.
ROBERT: That’s funny. A lot of people blew us off then. We were up in Minneapolis one time and this A&R girl came to see us. We were playing 7th Street Entry -- this tiny, tiny, little place. Across the street was an arena, and Def Leppard was playing. So she blew us off for Def Leppard.
KNAC.COM: Yeah, I think I blew you guys off for Aerosmith -- but I still kick myself, every time I hear one of your songs.
ROBERT: At least it was Aerosmith.
KNAC.COM: Yeah, I feel so much better about it now. So are things okay with the band now? I mean there have been so many problems with Scott.
ROBERT: I can honestly say, and I wouldn’t be saying this if I wasn’t feeling really good about it -- everything is going the best it has ever gone with our career. This is like the band I always wanted to have.
KNAC.COM: Well, it seems that even with all the problems you’ve had throughout the years, you’ve consistently produced good music.
ROBERT: Nothing’s going to break us. I think it’s taken a long time for us to grow and mature and realize that this doesn’t happen to a lot of people. It doesn’t happen to a lot of bands. We have this power to go out and do what we do, and we really cherish it. I keep on catching myself saying, “Whoa, I haven’t seen Scott like this in a long time.” But you know what? I’ve never seen him like this.
KNAC.COM: His energy just seems to be amazing now. Unfortunately, I never got to see the earlier version of your band, but it seems pretty fantastic.
ROBERT: You’re catching the best part of the band right now.
KNAC.COM: Scott is already a flamboyant, almost androgynous character.
ROBERT: I can honestly say, that I spent a lot of years being uncomfortable with that aspect. Even for myself. There are certain times when I’m up on stage thinking, “Oh, I’m posing right now.” But I can say that I can play my ass off and I can pose. There’s nothing worse than a band that poses and can’t play. But I know how to play my instrument, I know how to write songs, and I think I’ve proven -- we’ve proven -- ourselves as a band. We’ve been through sin, through jail, through drugs, but the bottom line is the songs. And that’s what blows me away when we do these radio shows. These bands like Godsmack and Lit, and bands like this are like, “Man, you guys are fucking awesome. I can’t believe how awesome.” And it’s such a good feeling because there has been a lot of real nice people that we’ve met. That wasn’t really around when we started out. There weren’t a lot of nice people in other bands.
KNAC.COM: I think it was more the ‘Me’ generation.
ROBERT: I think everybody is having a little more fun now. I remember the first gig we played as STP, and it was second stage in ’92 at Lollapalooza in Phoenix. I remember after we played, walking up to Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell who were talking together, and I said, “Hey” and introduced myself and talked a little about my band, and those guys just stood there looking at me and didn’t give me the time of day. They just looked at me like, “What do you want asshole?” It was just unbelievable, I guess, at how naďve I was. It’s hard for me to walk around with a chip on my shoulder like a lot of these bands were doing at that time. It’s a different atmosphere now. I feel like we’re the old guys.
KNAC.COM: Have you run into Chris Cornell or Eddie Vedder since then?
ROBERT: No. There are so many nice guys I’d rather talk to. The guys from Staind and Godsmack are really cool.
KNAC.COM: Is it still amazing for you to have such success. I mean, do you ever just have ‘normal’ days?
ROBERT: Oh sure. I have a lot of normal days. It’s a bit annoying on the road all the time, because you don’t get any time to yourself. Think about what it is to go into the airport. Going there is a stress in itself. Well put on top of that, everyone coming up to you and asking for your autograph, but you’re running late for your flight. It takes a lot of energy. It takes a whole day of expending a lot of energy, just to do those two-hours up on stage. The road is really tiring. Especially if you get sick.
KNAC.COM: Well I know, in just going to one show, how tired I am the next day. It’s got to be exhausting.
ROBERT: It’s tough. Coming home is great, I live in a really mellow neighborhood. I dig surfing, I’ve been surfing since I was nine. I really love gardening and antique shopping. It’s like my therapy. And I just really try to have a normal life. I grew up in an old English tutor house in New Jersey, so I love having old things around me. Touring is a good excuse for me to go antique shopping. I’ve filled my 1930’s house up with a lot of old things.
KNAC.COM: That’s wonderful. I’m so jealous. I was actually starting to have some sympathy for your hectic touring schedule.
ROBERT: Your son sounds very gifted.
KNAC.COM: He is quite an extraordinary young man. And as you know, the teen years are tough anyway, especially being a boy that doesn’t exactly fit in with the cookie-cutter Abercrombie & Fitch kind of crowd. But he does seem content to be who he is. And again, not that he wouldn’t love to have a girlfriend if he could, but he seems to be okay with just his guitar for now.
ROBERT: Don’t be so sure of that. I lost my virginity when I was eleven. In a tree-fort.
KNAC.COM: Eleven! Eleven is young. Thinking of my son like that is almost like thinking about my parents doing “it.” Make that image go away!
ROBERT: [laughing] Girls are kind of disposable at that age. Don’t be too surprised when it happens.
KNAC.COM: I’ll just remain happily in denial that my son loves only his guitar for now. It’s safe sex at the least. So let me ask you, would you recommend that someone just starting out on guitar should play an acoustic exclusively before picking up electric?
ROBERT: I was all electric. I plugged that thing in and just cranked. I did have an acoustic, too, and I think it’s really important to know how to play an acoustic. Acoustic is really how I wrote all of my songs. If you can write a song on an acoustic guitar, you know it’s going to be a good song. I had a big ear for jazz music when I was younger, I think maybe even before rock music. All I play now is a nylon string guitar and I listen to a lot of Brazilian music. A lot of bossanova. The jazz chords really touch me.
KNAC.COM: Well, a bass is pretty hard to write a love song on isn’t it?
ROBERT: Yeah, the bass really needs accompaniment.
KNAC.COM: Although, I did see Stu Hamm play one time, and I’m telling you, this man could write an opera on his bass. I even told him that he’s the only bass player I knew that could actually serenade his girl.
ROBERT: He’s really amazing. He takes bass to a level that a lot of people don’t bring it to. Wow, I haven’t heard about Stu in so long. You know what record you need to get for your son? Jeff Beck’s Wired. Another good one would be Alan Holdsworth. He’s probably the best guitar player in the world.
KNAC.COM: Wow, thanks. I’m not too familiar with Alan Holdsworth.
ROBERT: He’s so amazing. Next time you interview someone like Satriani, ask him about Alan Holdsworth. He’ll tell you he’s God. He’s insane. Almost like he’s from another planet. He is easily the best guitar player on this planet. Do you listen to Steely Dan at all?
KNAC.COM: Huge fan.
ROBERT: Steely Dan is one of my biggest influences. Alan Holdsworth actually lives in San Diego and my brother hangs around with him. This guy who has a music shop in San Diego is a friend of Donald Fagan (Steely Dan). One day, Fagan came in to this guitar shop and wanted to know how to get a hold of Alan. He wanted to ask Alan if he would go out on tour and play with Steely Dan. Fagan said it took him ten years to get the nerve to ask Alan Holdsworth to play with them. And Alan Holdsworth said no.
KNAC.COM: No? To Steely Dan?
ROBERT: Because Alan is like this mad scientist, and he’s a mad scientist over beer. He’s an Englishman and he loves his beer. He didn’t want to go out on tour because he was inventing a patent for a new kind of a handle for a beer. My brother has partied with Holdsworth, where Holdsworth has woken up on my brother’s living room floor with a dog licking his face [laughing].
I actually saw Alan in concert when I was in the tenth grade. He had a record called I.O.U -- and that’s actually what we were going to call our album Talkshow. He said we could use the name. And you should also know, that Alan doesn’t use a whammy bar. It’s all his fingers. He’s always been fascinated by the sound of the saxophone. He didn’t start playing guitar until he was seventeen. It’s just humanly impossible to play like he does. He’s so smooth. He makes the guitar sound like a saxophone. He’s really fast, but not jerky fast, just tasty.
KNAC.COM: Do you have an album you can recommend by him?
ROBERT: Road Games. Pick up that record.
KNAC.COM: So I heard you were doing some writing for Ozzy and Aerosmith?
ROBERT: Yeah. That was pretty amazing. I got asked back in like ’95 to go out and write with Aerosmith. And I’ve gone out several times. I remember pulling up to Joe Perry’s house and he was outside and had just got this stereo for his car and he’s like, “hey, check this out.” And then Steven [Tyler] had just drove-up. We all got in Joe’s car to check out his new stereo. And I thought I was dreaming! We wrote songs in Joe’s basement. I hung with his family. I have to say Aerosmith is just some very nice people. Those guys are very amazing people. I don’t know whether you knew, but on the Tiny Music tour when we played Madison Square Garden, I called them up and they were in the city mixing the record and I said, “You guys need to come by and do a couple songs.” Half way through the set, we introduced Joe and Steven, and we did “Sweet Emotion,” and the place just went crazy. Then we did “Lick & a Promise” off of Rocks, which is one of my favorite songs.
KNAC.COM: Well, you’re about my same age. Twenty-nine something. Wow, Aerosmith?
ROBERT: Yeah. That was one band when I was a kid that could get me up on my bed with a tennis racket. Probably above anyone else, it was Aerosmith. And now I’m writing with them. And I’d be playing something, and Steven would be playing something on piano, and he’d say to me, “What do you think?” And I’d kind of look around and go, “Who me?”
I remember Joe had to bring his son to a play one night. So Steven and I just hung around singing and playing all the old songs, like “Home Tonight” off Toys, remember that one? And I was just about crying. It was like, whoa, this is a dream out of my childhood or something.
KNAC.COM: Steven just seems like he’d be the coolest person to hang around with. I’ve always thought of him like a black man trapped in a white man’s body.
ROBERT: Steven is cool. We hit it off really well. He always tells me that I remind him of his father. And Joe, too. They did a really great gesture in taking Talk show out on the road. I’ve got to tell you, I think most of the fun I’ve ever had was going backstage and jamming with these guys. They had a drumset set up backstage and everything. I’d go back and jam with Joey Kramer. He’s a great rock drummer, but he’s an even better funk drummer. I originally got into bass because of funk. Bootsie Collins and James Brown and all that Motown stuff. So backstage Joey and I were just laying out some really greasy, mean funk. With those guys, it was really an honor.
KNAC.COM: We have this really funny Aerosmith computer game, where you’ve got to learn these guitar licks. Totally hilarious. You start off playing simple tunes in your garage and when you’re good enough you actually get to play up onstage with Aerosmith.
ROBERT: I’ve never seen it. I’ll have to check it out. Yeah, every Christmas, the guys from Aerosmith send these totally wacky gifts through the mail. I think last year I got an Aerosmith cookie cutter thing and some Aerosmith fake snow. The year before I got this box with two pieces of coal and a carrot, and, well, you know what it was supposed to look like. Anyway, ultimately they didn’t use any of the material I wrote, because I think I was just so nervous. I think I wrote some really great songs with them and they said they will use them. So we’ll see.
For Ozzy, I went into the studio with him. His A&R guy told me that he needed ballads. So I went in there with these great ballads. So I get in there and Ozzy says, “Hey man I got enough fuckin’ ballads man, I need some rockers. So what have you got?” And so I was literally sitting with Ozzy looking over my shoulder asking me what I’ve got, and I was totally put on the spot. And I told him, “Hey man, look, your people told me to write you ballads.” So I told him to just leave me alone for a couple of days, and I literally just camped out in the studio. I played drums and guitar and bass and put three songs together in just two days. So, we’ll see if they use them. We played with Ozzy in New Jersey. He was amazing. I met Sharon, I really have a lot of respect for her.
KNAC.COM: She is so supportive of all the bands that he goes out with, and for the newer bands as well. Ozzfest has really given a lot of the newer bands an incredible opportunity to be heard. I have a friend that toured with Ozzy once, who said she used to come in at night at the hotel, and make sure everyone was comfortable and see if they needed cookies or anything. Just a true mom.
ROBERT: Yeah, she said that she and Ozzy were at the side of the stage for one of our shows, and that they both just stood there with their mouths open because they liked us so well. She’s just very sweet.
KNAC.COM: Well, it is nice that she’s gotten into the business side not to mention that she’s a true nursemaid for Ozzy as well.
ROBERT: He has quite a shake to him, and a little drooling… and a little hunched over -- almost like he can’t really get it together. [In a thick cockney accent-Robert impersonates Ozzy] “Yeah, my daughter, man… my wife found these pills and my daughter had some fuckin’ speed. I couldn’t believe it. You know, I took them from her, and I took a couple before I threw them away.” [laughing]. You know, this is the dad! But he is amazing.
Schecter Guitars sponsor me and I just had pictures taken of my house, and me with these Schecter basses. Actually, if you go to our website and to my personal page, the picture they used is actually taken in my living room. I’m pretty lazy with photos, but my house is so dramatic, so that’s where we did the photo shoot. Anyway, so while I was in the studio with Ozzy, Schecter brought me a bass and the catalogues. So I’m sitting there thumbing through these pages and a picture of me comes up, and Ozzy’s looking over my shoulder and he shouts out, “You look like a fuckin’ homo!” And I thought, this guy is just a fucking nut! [laughs] I just let this guy call me a fuckin’ homo. But it’s Ozzy, you know?
KNAC.COM: So you didn’t punch him, right?
ROBERT: Oh no. But I did sit down and thank him for raising me. Because he was like one of those people who were utterly and totally responsible for what it is that I do.
KNAC.COM: Well, your mom has got to be so proud of you.
ROBERT: Yeah, she sounds like a groupie when I call. It’s funny.
KNAC.COM: And to hear your songs on the radio. Does it ever just blow your mind?
ROBERT: Every day. I’ll be in a different state, and I’ll hear one of my songs, and I’ll just go wow, what a trip.
(All photos by Krishta Abruzzini)
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