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Stone Temple Pilots Break Down 'Core' Track by Track

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Stone Temple Pilots Break Down 'Core' Track by Track

When guitarist Dean DeLeo reflects on the time surrounding the release of Stone Temple Pilots mega-selling 1992 debut, Core, the thing that strikes him is a constant flow of creativity and the sense of togetherness he felt with his bandmates at the time. "We were all really shoulder to shoulder prior to making that record," he says. "The four of us were in the rehearsal room at least five days a week. There was such a newness in the air, and with newness comes excitement."

That enthusiasm spilled into the 12 tracks the group recorded with producer Brendan O'Brien over a period of three weeks for the LP and it fueled six singles, including the jazzy, mammoth rocker "Plush" and sensitive acoustic number "Creep," which became staples of MTV's Buzz Bin, as well as hard-rock and alternative radio. Stone Temple Pilots weathered comparisons to fellow grunge titans Pearl Jam and controversy that came from people misunderstanding frontman Scott Weiland's first-person lyrics in "Sex Type Thing" to become one of the biggest bands of the era. The album made it up to Number Two on the Billboard chart and the RIAA has subsequently certified it eight-times platinum, making it the most popular record of STP's career.

Since then, the band – whose lineup on Core featured DeLeo, his bassist brother Robert, drummer Eric Kretz and Weiland, who died of an accidental overdose in 2015 – subsequently put out a succession of Top 10 albums (including Core's 1994 follow-up, Purple, which hit Number One) amid breakups, re-formations and a short stint where the late Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington fronted the group. The group has since launched an open audition for a new singer and hopes to announce the results of the search in the next month or so.

"We've been working with someone – I don't want to name names yet – and we're making music," Robert says. "I don't know if he's well-known or unknown; I don't look at him as 'well-known.' But we're writing music and we're hopefully looking at finishing a record and putting it out soon."

In the meantime, the band is celebrating Core's legacy by issuing a deluxe, filled-to-the-brim box set edition of the record. The collection features four CDs, containing a remastered version of the original release, plus demos, rare tracks and live recordings (including the band's session for MTV Unplugged), a copy of the album on vinyl, and a DVD containing music videos, a surround-sound mix of the album and high-res audio of all the tracks, as well as a book with new linter notes by Rolling Stone's David Fricke. The set is also coming out in more pared-down and affordable configurations.

"Scott not being here to celebrate this is a little melancholy," Robert says. "He had so much to do with contributing to this and he's not here to enjoy this moment. That's a little bittersweet for all of us. We're in the throes of that and going through all this stuff and having so many memories of something that was a huge part of my life, while at the same time what we want to do is move on and continue to make music as Stone Temple Pilots."

In anticipation of the Core reissue, Robert, Dean and Kretz spoke with Rolling Stone to share stories behind each of the album's songs and reflect on Weiland's influence on the quartet's earliest days.

"Dead and Bloated"

Robert DeLeo: I was working at a guitar shop [LAB Sound] on the corner of Sunset and Gardner, and Scott was actually working catty-cornered across the street, driving models to their photo shoots. When either one of us had a musical idea, we'd call each other. He would usually have more time to run over and work it out. It was perfect because, since I was in a guitar shop, I could pick up a guitar right there. Scott didn't really play an instrument. When he had an idea, he would hum it to me. And "Dead and Bloated," was one of those things; he hummed that verse riff to me.

Eric Kretz: I remember Scott and I were at this Mexican restaurant on Beverly, and they had dollar margaritas. We had a plate of enchiladas, and he's like, "Hey, man. I came up with this idea." And he started singing, "I am smellin' like a rose ... " and veins were popping out of his neck. He was just so excited. So we just started pounding the table to the rhythm of what he had going on, and, man, we were working on something good here.

Dean DeLeo: I have to be very careful with what I say about Scott's lyrics, because I don't know how much Scott would really want people to know what he was writing about. He was a guy that kept his cards pretty close to his chest. I can tell you one thing, though: Scott was 23 years old writing those lyrics, man. When we were writing this record, and I say this with humility, we knew what we had was good because we were getting one another off. I think that a lot of the lyrical content on that record was about the big question mark that stood in front of us about the future: What was going to happen to loved ones? What was going to happen to family? Where were we going to be? Were we going to be at home much anymore? When that record started taking off, we were on the road for 14 months and weren't even home.

Kretz: When we got into the studio, I had Scott sing right in front of the drum kit, facing me with a handheld mic, and he was just staring at me the whole time he's singing. It was like football players bashing their helmets right before a game, trying to get each other psyched up. And I just beat the crap out of the drums on that track.

Robert: What you hear in the beginning is Scott singing into Dean's guitar pickup.

"Sex Type Thing"

Dean: I had the verse riff for a very long time. It was part of a song that I had written when I was about 16 years old. I wrote it on a beautiful summer day. I was out in my driveway – I might have been doing some gardening or something – and [Led Zeppelin's] "In the Light" came on, off Physical Graffiti. After the verse, a lick comes in and if you put "Sex Type Thing" on the top of that lick, it just falls right in the holes. What I was hearing when I was in the driveway, because it wasn't entirely audible, was the notes between those notes. I ran right in, grabbed a guitar and transposed that onto guitar.

Kretz: Scott's lyrical content was pretty bold. Do you remember Ice-T and Body Count and N.W.A and, fuck, just how awesomely violent and shocking their lyrical content was at the time? I don't want to speak for Scott, but that influenced us, like, "OK, how can you shock at this point?"

Robert: Scott was very much against [sexual assault]. He was very sensitive to women's feelings. But once it's out there, it's out of your hands and everybody takes it the way they want to.

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STP in 1992. Credit: Katrina Dickson

Dean: Scott just did not dig when women were talked-down to. Hanging out with that guy was harrowing, because you always knew a fight was going to ensue at some point. You get a few drinks in you, and there would be some guy at the bar yelling at his chick or treating her badly, and Scott was like, "Hey man, don't talk to her like that." We're like, "Whoa." He had a great respect for the female power.

Kretz: Scott was definitely anti-rape, so when those lyrics came out, a lot of people were like, "Oh, my God. You're promoting that?" He was like, "No, I'm not promoting it. It's a lyrical twist having the point of view in the first person." It got a lot of backlash but once people realised what he was doing and the type of person that he was, it was like, "OK, we get it. Not everything is literal."

"Wicked Garden"

Robert: That's an early song for us. It was two brothers throwing shit against the wall. It was probably on a first demo that we did in my apartment in Burbank.

Dean: Robert had a couple parts; I had the lick after the intro. That song was kind of Frankensteined together.

Kretz: When you hear the demo version on the box set, the song's 90-something percent to what it is on the record – the drum pattern in the beginning, the little drum solo thing. I think I was going for a little more of an Eighties sound.

Robert: The video was shot down in San Diego. It's interesting how video was such an important part of promoting your record back then. I always had this thing in the back of my mind that a video taints the whole mystique of a song; you get a certain impression in your mind after you see a video and don't just listen to the song. I can't remember what the imagery was behind that, but there was no gimmickry. It just paints the song for me. By the time we got to Purple, we tried to be really involved in the imagery of the videos, which you can see in "Vasoline."

"No Memory"

Kretz: I have no memory of that [laughs].

Dean: It was just a piece I had that I thought would be a nice little segue into "Sin." When Scott and I were living together, there were times where he and I would sit around and just hang out. It was always nice to pick up and play some melancholy guitar and get into this mood.

Kretz: Actually I do remember a little, but not a lot. We had been in the studio for two-and-a-half weeks, and Brendan O'Brien, the producer, said we needed to add something to the album. Dean had that cool guitar part sitting in the vault, and it's one of those ones you just do in the studio. You take a few hours and keep developing it and putting on more layers and more sounds, trying to make it a beautiful, ethereal piece. As we were finishing it, we were like, "Oh, my God, this would be a great intro to a song like 'Sin.'" The chords lined up.

"Sin"

Dean: Robert called me and said, "Listen to this thing I just wrote." As a guitar player, to stumble onto a new chord – especially the opening chord to "Sin" – was great. I had really never played that chord before. It was really a very simple chord, but I had really never stumbled onto it. I felt like we were getting into some sort of unearthly terrain on that one. I used that chord again as the opening chord to "Trippin' on a Hole in a Paper Heart" and on "Meatplow."

Robert: When I look back at "Sin" now, it's a bit Rush-inspired, guitar-wise. I'm a huge fan of Alex Lifeson; he was one of my first guitar idols.

Kretz: When [Atlantic Records A&R man] Tom Carolan came to see us at a really dingy club in Hollywood, we played that. I remember there were 30 people in there that night – maybe 20 – and that's not the optimal night for an A&R chief from Atlantic Records to come see you. But we played like it was the last day on Earth. It was just like, "We've got to do this." We opened the show with "Sin," because I think we wrote it that day or maybe the day before at a rehearsal spot. Scott didn't have any lyrics for it or anything. I think we just kind of did the intro for about 40 seconds as an opener, but it was something we were proud of. Tom loved it.

Robert: I always liked playing that one live, too. I think at the time when we were writing a song like that, we were thinking about the most effective kind of song for playing live, and that's how it came about.

"Naked Sunday"

Dean: That song came very late in the process of making the record. It just started as a rehearsal-room jam. The entire song is two chords. I was strumming them, and Robert planned out the rhythm. It was credited to all of us, because it really was just all of us kind of jumping on these two chords and doing our thing to it.

Robert: I was trying to do an R&B, James Brown kind of thing on bass. It's James Brown sped up and louder. We tried to incorporate that into our rock & roll. We were just jamming on a lot of stuff back then. I think "Vasoline" came from back then, too. I had an old 1967 Buick, and the blinker on that car would go [makes clicking sounds] and I reversed that for the riff to "Vasoline." We'd just find ideas and start piling on and it became a song.

Dean: I remember we cut it as a demo late at night. The engineer, Tracy Chisholm, had just finished a session and we strolled in at midnight to cut some songs and we went until the morning. We cut "Wicked Garden," "Naked Sunday" and a third one that night. We were all kind of groggy, because it was five in the morning. I remember hearing Scott sing that part in "Naked Sunday," "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," and it was as if an alarm clock went off and my sleepiness was completely pushed aside. I was just brought to life; I was so moved by what he did there and how he approached that.

Kretz: I know Scott really was going for that flailing, crazy snake-oil salesman on top of the soapbox thing. He wanted to take on a great character role in that middle section. We kind of distorted the vocals a little bit. We wanted that song to be very tripped out, vocally, and it was a really good, energetic song to be playing back then. Back in the Nineties when shows had mosh pits, it was just such a fun, energetic, chaotic song to throw into sets. I remember arms flailing.

"Creep"

Dean: "Creep" was one of the songs Scott and Robert wrote around the time they worked across the street from each other. They wrote it together in the back seat of Robert's car, parked behind the guitar shop.

Kretz: Because of our age, a song like this made sense for us. I'd listen to AM radio in the back of the car. You know, Gordon Lightfoot, Jim Croce, John Denver, Fleetwood Mac, occasionally you'd hear some Led Zeppelin, a lot of Peter Frampton stuff, so the song had a bit of a country influence. It was definitely how we heard a lot of country back in the Seventies. "Creep" is not a country song, but it's definitely not a rock song; it's something right down the middle.

Robert: It was easy to write a song like that, because Scott could take it where it needed to go vocally. It's pretty much your basic cowboy chords. He could create a character for the songs we'd bring to him. There's that line "Bobby's got a gun" in the song. That's basically a reference to me coming out to California at 18 and experiencing a lot of life in a matter of five years or so, living here and being there, being shot at [laughs].The rest of that story is going to be a book right there.

Kretz: On the 25th anniversary Core, you'll hear the song originally had a whole bridge section but it didn't quite fit the song. I'm sure it's one of the things when Brendan came in like, "Let's just try it without it and see how it goes."

Robert: I think that removing that bridge made the song more poignant. It made a little bit more of a point of the song, just making it a little bit more concise. I don't think it expressed the right mood of the song.

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"Scott was always into creating the ambience that he needed to get in the headspace or the place to sing songs," says Robert DeLeo. Credit: Katrina Dickson

Kretz: When we recorded that with Brendan, we had a beautiful dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, and we came back to candles in the room.

Robert: Scott was always into creating the ambience that he needed to get in the headspace or the place to sing songs.

Kretz: We were all kind of sitting in a circle. The drums were off to the side, and we just tracked that song live in the studio. That's first take right there. Boom.

Dean: After we recorded it,everybody was very solemn, very quiet, late in the evening, a little bit tired from the day's work. When we heard that playback of "Creep," I just remember seeing Brendan's face, and after the song finished, we all looked at one another like, "All right. That's pretty good." [Laughs]

Kretz: That's one of the STP songs that when I listen to on the radio, I don't get butterflies in my stomach, because I feel a very peaceful feeling. I have so many memories of Scott over such a long time, and so many are good and some are bad, but that's the one song where it feels like a band in complete harmony with each other.

"Piece of Pie"

Robert: "Piece of Pie" was a combination of a couple of earlier songs that were kind of pieced together – Frankensteined together. There was a track called "Only Dying," and if you listen to the pre-chorus of that song, it contains the same spot in "Piece of Pie." After we recorded it, we couldn't believe how big and massive it sounded, and we had these huge speakers in the control room. I mostly remember just going, "Oh, man, so this is what our music could sound like."

Dean: There was a version of "Piece of Pie" [before I joined] that was a little bit different. It kind of had some of the elements of what you hear on Core, that they did with the original guitar player, Scott's very dear friend, this guy named Corey [Hicock]. When they called me, they asked me to play solos on three of the songs they did. That's kind of opened everybody's eyes. It was pretty evident to Scott that his vision was to have a guitar player that was doing what I was doing. Sadly, Corey was a really great rhythm player but did not have the proficiency to play solos. When I joined, it became more of a rock thing. When I went up and did that that day, I sadly kicked the guy out of the band. He has since forgiven me. He's a sweet kid.

"Plush"

Kretz: Never heard of that one [laughs].

Robert: That song started out as a couple of guitar exercises. I would noodle on this country riff, and I love ragtime guitar, so I took the country riff and the ragtime chords and put them together. Then I just played it on an electric guitar, putting on a little bit more of a darker undertone of bass root note on it. It was just my love for jazz and other kinds of music, and trying to incorporate that into rock and make it a little more interesting.

Dean: It's a beautiful piece of music. I've heard people play that song on piano, and it's just one of those songs that really transposes to any instrument.

Kretz: Scott came up with the title for that one. It's one of those words that got thrown around for an album title early on. It's just a very intriguing kind of word. I'm sure when he was throwing around "Velvet Revolver" and "Softdrive Records" [Weiland's label], he was trying to get textures in with words and his thoughts. That's just one of those great words where you do feel the texture when you hear the word.

Robert: We didn't know "Plush" was going to be a big song, but we knew it was a song that was probably going to get attention. Atlantic were very respectful and they gave us full creative control on everything. Their intention is to sell records, and they were like, "Oh, that's the first single." We were like, "No, that's not the first single. And furthermore, we're going to bury it at track nine." We did that intentionally. We didn't want to be that band that had a huge hit and then it was like, "What next?" We wanted to have a career. We didn't want to be the kind of band that came out with a big song and then went away. But yeah, when that song came out, it changed everything.

Kretz: You can hear on the demo on the box set that lyrically, it was not all there yet together, but all the parts were kind of there. I could see how overwhelmed Scott was getting with lyrics on that one. There were so many hooks you have to write and get every word correct. We wrote it at the Oakwood Apartments, this condominium short-term hotel, where we were for about a month. It had tennis courts and swimming pools and a hot tub. I remember after a recording session, Scott and I were drinking beer and sitting in the hot tub, and we started putting together the rest of the lyrics for that song, hinting on where we were in our lives, how we got there, and the uncertainty of what the future was for us and people that we love. It was really esoteric, but there it's definitely a play on words that we put together there.

Dean: Everything on that record was done live. The guitar track on "Plush," that's a live track playing with Eric, Robert and I. We were all right in front of one another. It was just us going for it.

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'Core,' 25th-anniversary edition

Kretz: The line in the song about dogs is basically because dogs have always fascinated me because their sense of smell is so incredible. If someone comes to your house and walks around the corner, they don't have to see you, but they can still smell the scent. I put that part in there because of the uncertainty of who's going to be around when we're gone, what's going to be happening and how much everyone in the band loved dogs, how much we loved having dogs there for watchdogs and certain types of protection. They were man's best friend. And yeah, that's kind of an odd thing but it all made sense at the time. With the mask in the lyrics, it was around the Day of the Dead – the Mexican festival – and there's a lot of masks. We were always excited about ethnic art. If you look at ethnic art, masks are such a big part of it. It could come from a million places.

Dean: We did this interview recently and somebody played us the vocal track from "Plush." I had never heard it. I looked over at Robert and Eric, and we were all teary-eyed. To hear the brilliance of his performance was incredible.

"Wet My Bed"

Robert: I think I played the guitars and bass on that. It was about creating something musically that Scott had in mind. He was very into Jim Morrison, too, and I think it has a very Morrison-esque kind of a feel to it. It was just another little passing thing that we were trying to be artistic with to go from song to song. That's about it.

Dean: I was not in the room for that. I could hear through the wall something was going on, but the door was shut.

Kretz: If you listen carefully, you hear us whispering in the background. We were reading from magazines. It was just like, "We need to make this sound weird." And I believe Scott said, "We sound like the fuckin' Beatles in there." You hear him smoking right up to the microphone, the lighting of the cigarette and the burning of the paper

Dean: They were in there for a couple of hours. It turned from a spur-of-the-moment idea to what we're now hearing on the record.

"Crackerman"

Dean: When Scott and Eric were living downtown, just a block away from Skid Row, Scott would go out to get his breakfast, and there were some of those [homeless] people you were able to converse with, and some were, sadly, on the street for a reason. They were unable to have health care and be in a mentally fit atmosphere. This one guy that lived under a stairwell, he claimed his name was Crackerman. Scott would give him some bread or get him some breakfast or get him a coffee, and they'd chat once in a while. That song spawned out of meeting this guy and seeing him on almost a daily basis for several months.

Robert: This song was a bit different before Dean joined. It was another song that was kind of Frankensteined together. It was more of an R&B-ish kind of thing with a King Crimson kind of twist to it. We all grew up on prog rock. We were huge fans of Yes. The guy who was originally going to produce Core, Eddy Offord, was the producer of the first few Yes records. It was funny, because we were playing our songs, and then all of a sudden we'd stop, and it was that Chris Farley moment where we were all like, "Uh, how did you get that sound? " We were asking him Yes questions rather than trying to work on our record, because there was the guy that knew the answers.

Kretz: I'm sure this is another one that was probably live in the studio. "Crackerman" definitely has that appeal to me like, "This is STP. This is what we sound like all together. This is all the elements put together in a very straightforward way."

"Where the River Goes"

Dean: The first song we wrote when I joined the band was "Where the River Goes." I had that lick, and everybody jumped right in.

Robert: Dean and I were playing together back in New Jersey since 1982. So having that familiarity, musically speaking, of playing with my brother again, that was the thing that kind of glued it all together when we all got together. I remember that moment. It was explosive.

Dean: Eric played a very vital part in that. There's a chord that kind of blends the two sections of the song together.

Kretz: The only part I came up with is the chorus riff on the guitar. I just hit the same key and had kind of the same type of feel. That was probably the first song we ever demoed as Mighty Joe Young. When you hear it, it's 99 percent of what's on the record.

Dean: You would see Scott humming some melodies. I think the melodies always came before the lyrics, and you could see Scott writing as he was humming melodies. He was brilliant, man. He was one of the greatest lyricists of our time. I can confidently and proudly say that.

 

Topics: Stone Temple Pilots

 
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