The year is 1992 and the majority of the rock world has its eyes turned to the Pacific Northwest of The United States. Seattle’s grunge/alternative scene has already turned out Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. This new genre of music will change the face of rock n’ roll music for a good several years, and some might say forever. Making a complete U-turn from the 1980’s and its excess glitz, hair and….. well, everything, the grunge movement is a complete and total makeover of how the business of rock will be conducted. Looking unwashed for several days and as if you had pulled your clothes out of the hamper is the order of the day. Simpler, less produced instrumentally with socially conscious lyrics, this new breed of rock resonates with the youth who look back at the 80’s as selfish-indulgent and phony.
While nobody was looking, the needle was ripped 180 degrees to the extreme south of the West Coast and sunny San Diego, California. Stone Temple Pilots burst onto the scene with their debut album Core. They were initially mistaken for Pearl Jam early on, due to some similarities in the sound of their debut single, Plush. STP, as fans commonly refer to them would quickly differentiate themselves from being seen as a grunge coattail rider and go on to enjoy a five-year period of great commercial and critical success. Remaining intact after five albums into the early 2000’s, they would reemerge after a five-year hiatus with new music in 2010. 2013 would see them part ways with vocalist Scott Weiland who would subsequently die from a drug overdose two years later. Enter Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington, who would front the band for a few years and later leave to concentrate on his primary band. Left without a vocalist, the band embarked on a search for a new front man. The apparent year-long search resulted in the ultimate selection of former Dry Cell vocalist and two-time contestant, one-time semi-finalist on the singing competition television show X-Factor, Jeff Gutt.
There are probably many reasons why Gutt may have been selected for this job and not the least of which is that his voice and vocal style seem to fit right into the Stone Temple Pilots’ framework. Some of that may be due to his personal influences while coming up in the industry and prior. Gutt offers, “All the 90’s singers had a huge influence on me, because music did a huge shift back then. It’s the last time that’s really happened. It’s easy for rich people to change the music industry, but when poor people change the music industry, that’s when it really changes for real. Then it’s about the art and the artists and about keeping it real. I spent a lot of time out at my dad’s alone on weekends, so I would sing along to things, Jeff Buckley is one of the things I concentrated on.” Buckley was a singer/songwriter whose career never had the opportunity to take off as his life was cut short by an accidental drowning in 1997. Sharing another influence, he continues, “There’s a song off of Skid Row’s Slave To The Grind record, Waste Of Time, I sang probably ten-thousand times until I sang it correctly, but the power of Sebastian’s (Bach) voice is always something that’s gotten me.”
The new offering from STP is quite a departure for the group. Perdida is a ten track mostly acoustic record, which explores a varying array of musical landscapes. A number of guest musicians were employed to contribute diverse textures to the traditional instrumentation handled by the members. Some of the differently colored threads that make up the fabric of the record come by way of use of flute, saxophone, violin and cello. It could be viewed as a risk for an outfit that has only one previous album under its belt with a new singer to release an all acoustic album. Fan reception could be a double edged sword, and Gutt echoes that perception, “Yes, yes. It’s different than I think people were expecting, Robert and Dean (DeLeo, the band’s bassist and guitarist respectively) wanted to do an acoustic, stripped down record for a long time, with extra musicians involved, it was such a creative and organic time to be writing music for us. It all kind of came together on its own, and wrote itself, which those are the best kind.”
In addition to the legacy instruments utilized, the record also explores a wide spectrum of musical influences and styles. There are ventures into Spanish, Celtic, Country and Italian Folk styles among others. Gutt explains the inclusion of these influences: “The (DeLeo) brothers have a very eclectic vocabulary when it comes to music. They have a lot of influences themselves, I guess it’s just traveling the world and going through life is pretty much how it came about. I’d have to credit the brothers with coming up with the feels and the vibes of the songs. I just tried to hop on and not screw it up.” In spite of the vast range of melodic expression of the record, it still sounds like Stone Temple Pilots. Gutt continues, “Nothing is really contrived or pre-thought, most of it’s a flow of consciousness sort of vibe. They come in with a lot of amazing ideas, so they make my job a lot easier.”
Adding to that signature sound can be a daunting task for a newcomer in a band. It’s hard to contribute a sincere effort to preserving the feel of a crew with decades of history without sounding like a cheap imitation of what came before. He reminisces, “When I was becoming a singer and decided to put down the guitar and concentrate on singing, Scott (Weiland) was a huge influence on me and singing along with STP songs was one of the ways that I learned how to sing, along with many others, but STP was definitely one of them.” Already having some of the D.N.A. of the band in him, seamlessly sliding in seems pretty natural, he continues, “You know, I just try and stay as pure hopefully as possible. I’ve played cover gigs most of my life, so I’ve always had people coming up to me and saying I sound like this or I sound like that and Scott was definitely one of those people. So, for me to walk in and sing, it just kind of happens that way.”
With six full length albums to their credit prior to Gutt’s entry into the band, Robert and Dean DeLeo are seasoned veterans at writing Stone Temple Pilots songs. Aside from one number each, penned solely by each of the DeLeo brothers, Gutt receives co-writing credit with either Robert or Dean. Gutt explains the collaborative process, “Robert would come in with a lot of melody ideas, Robert had a lot of lyrical ideas, Dean definitely had song titles and things like that. With other projects I have worked on in the past I always had to micromanage everything. With STP, I get to walk in and everything is top of the line finished and amazing, so it’s definitely a luxury to be able to sing for Stone Temple Pilots because they’re amazing songwriters and that is the most important thing to be remembered for.” Speaking specifically of writing with Dean Deleo, Gutt offers, “When it comes to Dean, he is very musically eclectic.” He pauses and collects his thoughts, then continues, “If I equate songwriting to painting, he has a lot of colors that he comes in with, and sometimes his songs can be harder to write for, because there’s so much going on. It’s so easy to write with these guys because they’re so musically ahead of everything else, so it’s really not an issue to come up with an idea. Sitting down with a guitar and writing a song with either one of them I would highly suggest it to anyone out there.”
One of the two tracks from the record with sole songwriting credit is the electric piano and guitar guided Years. This track has a feel like something out of the late 1960’s pop/easy listening arena. Robert DeLeo not only composed the number single-handed, but Gutt relates an interesting story about who sings it, “We were in the studio writing and recording Years and I came to the realization that the song was far too personal to Robert for me to sing it. I actually I guess I kind of twisted his arm and was like ‘dude, I’m not singing this song for you, you have to sing your song.’ He would send me demos of the song and voice was perfect and I was like there’s no way I’m gonna do any better than that. So he made his lead singing debut on this record, which is a cool thing.”
The band was planning to tour behind this record, and Gutt shares the following, “Well, we were supposed to be doing it right now, but I hurt my back. Yeah, we were going to tour with a lot of extra musicians and instruments, piano and flute and all those things that we were gonna have out there, saxophone and just kind of put it all together. We would do a little over half the record maybe and then some older songs we could rework and songs off the last record and things like that. We’re going to try and reschedule that for later in the year. We have Australia coming up in April with Bush and Live then after that we’re out with Nickelback for like five months.”
Putting out a stripped down record and hitting the road to play that music could bring mixed reactions from the fans, and a band could worry that this type of tour would not be well received by their target audience. If Gutt’s attitude toward that is emblematic of the rest of the group, his intrepid proclamation dispels that: “I think there’s people that really love that side of STP and there’s enough people who would come to see that. I’m not worried about people not liking it. To be able to sing these songs and other songs I don’t get a chance to sing, Hello It’s Late and Wonderful and other songs that would really be amazing in this setting. Hopefully we get to reschedule it soon.” He goes on to elaborate about who might come to see this type of show: “Maybe if a fan doesn’t want to come to a big huge rock concert, or would rather bring their kids to something like that. It’s a little more class to our sass.”
Songwriting, like few other endeavors can be one of the most intensely personal undertakings. Musicians tend to be creative in general, and many admit that it can be a sort of therapy, or a way to express things for which you have no other outlet. Gutt shares some of his feelings on this, “I tend to people watch when I’m out in the world, I’m more of a watcher than a doer, when it comes to watching the world. So I try to put myself in other people’s shoes from a place of compassion and I try to see the world through those people’s eyes. Sometimes that’s very sad and very hard to do if the person isn’t here anymore. The title track, Perdida, is one of the numbers that seems to carry that deep personal meaning for Gutt. “It’s about loss obviously, because perdida in Spanish is loss. It’s kind of a universal vibe for that, of loss, but it definitely has some specifics to it too, when it was started. One of us had a huge loss, and it was really hard to present my lyrics for that song for the first time because there was a lot that went into it. It’s definitely about losing people that you love and knowing that you’ll see them again someday. Where the wind meets the breeze.”
There are many instances where artists and groups have executed departures from their norm and have met with some resistance from fans to the new direction, or even a small detour. Stone Temple Pilots have a full slate of activity for the foreseeable future. The acoustic shows will hopefully happen after their other touring commitments. If they do get a chance to indeed take that to the people, you can rest assured, that based on Gutt’s comments, that they will face that with zero fear. Perhaps that is what comes from cultivating an audience for the better part of three decades, that fearlessness that grows out of a trust between artist and devotee. However the stripped down record and the impending tour are received, it looks like Stone Temple Pilots are facing it naked and unafraid.