“I like painting new paintings,” says Stone Temple Pilots guitar slinger Dean DeLeo. “I like creating different things with
different colors. If there’s a guitar, a tone, or
a style that I use on something, I try to not
repeat it.” That ethos has served DeLeo well
over the course of his career. He has been
more than willing to mix up his tones and
techniques so as not to duplicate himself, but has carved out an identifiable sound
and style just the same. From the massive,
dirty-yet-clean chords of “Plush” to
the angular, lo-fi solo squawks in “Trippin’
on a Hole in a Paper Heart” to the
delicate, clean strums of “Sour Girl” and
beyond, DeLeo has been tough to pigeonhole
as a guitarist, aside from labeling him
a guy who “plays for the song.” You could
also call him a guy whose playing racked
him up a ton of hits, awards, and platinum
albums, although—understatement alert—
it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
It’s easy to point to the lead-singer ups
and downs the band has been through—
courtesy of charismatic original frontman
Scott Weiland—as its defining characteristic,
but the fact is, the DeLeo bros (Robert
plays bass and is a primary songwriter)
have always defined the STP sound and
vibe. With their uncanny knack for infectious,
hooky riffs and complex, intriguing
tones, they deliver melodic, powerful rock
that is firmly in the tradition of great bands
like Aerosmith, with whom they’ve toured
and jammed many times.
The endless episodes of bad behavior
from Weiland—which resulted in cancelled
tours, sloppy gigs, and high drama—led many
observers to pronounce STP dead and bloated
several times over, but the DeLeos apparently
didn’t get that memo. They teamed up
with longtime fan Chester Bennington from
Linkin Park and set about creating High Rise
[Play Pen/ADA], a five-song EP that will no
doubt please their core fans while silencing
their doubters. And now, more than 20 years
after STP’s debut album, when confronted
with his well-deserved rep as a rock and roll
survivor, DeLeo took it in stride with the
quiet confidence that has gotten him this
far. “There’s a lot more to come.”
Let’s break down this new EP. How did “Out
of Time” come about in the studio?
That came about differently than any
other song we’ve ever recorded, because the
entire song was written on bass by Robert.
For that main riff I used an old Ampeg distortion
pedal into a block logo 50-watt Marshall
bass head and a 4x12. My guitars were
just a Les Paul and a Tele. You can hear the
Tele tone come in on the pre-choruses. I
wanted to make each section breathe, so I
came down a bit in the verse. That’s how I
try to approach things. I let the song dictate
what I should play, and sometimes that means
playing a little less, sometimes a little more.
What about the solo on that tune? Was
that planned out or improvised?
I’m not a heck of an improviser, so most
of my solos are kind of worked out beforehand.
A lot of times, before I even pick up a
guitar, I’ll hum a few things. When I start on
guitar, I’ll want to play the same licks that I
play sitting around jamming on the couch.
It allows me to get out of myself a little bit
if I hum along first.
When in the tracking process do you typically
cut your solos?
For the most part, solos go down at the
very end. I don’t even like getting into the world of solos until I hear the vocals. Sometimes
you want to pick up where a vocal
leaves off, but sometimes not. For instance,
the solo in “Tomorrow” went down very fast.
I had an idea and I said, “I’ve got a great solo
for this,” and just threw that down early in
the session, whereas every other one happened
at the end.
What gear did you use to create all the
tones in “Black Heart”?
Oh my goodness. These are trick questions!
[Laughs]. I think it’s a Paul on both
tracks, but we used different amps. I used
a little Silvertone 1x12 on one of the tones,
and the other one might have been a little
Marshall combo or something for the verse.
For the pre-choruses we wanted that little
stringy line that ascends on the B string.
You get the power of the chord but you
also hear the definition of every string. So
we brought that section down to a single
chord and used a Tele for those pre-choruses.
Then it was back to humbuckers on
the chorus. We loved the sound of one of
those chorus guitar tones. I don’t know if
it’s coming out left or right, but it’s a Les
Paul turned up really, really loud through
That song also has one of your signature
little sweetening parts, the slide lines you
add. What’s your thought process for putting
those lines in tunes?
You’re talking about in the verse where
the vocal goes, “Stay down and lay down.”
That was a neat little ear candy thing. A
lot of guys might use a part like that to
introduce the second verse or something.
In this instance we used it as a cool thing
behind the vocal line. As for how those
little parts work within the process, it’s
almost about removing yourself and not
ruining the track, per se. It’s funny. On
the song “Between the Lines” on our selftitled
record, we wanted to do something
to introduce the second verse. We tried
a couple of things and the song was just
saying, “You don’t need anything here.” So
not every song will allow you to do those
kinds of parts.
“Black Heart” has another great solo in
it. Do you remember how you got the tone
and what the composition process was for
that guitar solo?
I remember exactly what I used on that.
My dear friend Bruce Nelson, who takes care
of my guitars when I’m in a live situation,
built me a couple of Telecasters and a Stratocaster
that are three of the most beautiful,
well-playing guitars I own. I played his
Nelson Tele into this little amp by Cactus.
They make an amplifier in a 16-ounce aluminum
can with a two- or three-inch speaker
that runs on a 9-volt battery. I split that with an AC30. I got a nice, cool blend between
the two, but we kind of favored the Cactus
because it has this great character. We have
to remember that a microphone does not
racially profile [laughs]. By that I mean that
a microphone knows no size. And I find that
with little amps, the microphone sometimes
seems to absorb that sound a lot better than
with big amps.
How did you get the dry, in-your-face
tone on the intro to “Cry Cry”?
We close-miked it and then we put a
room mike in one of the bathrooms. It’s
kind of cool—you’re getting the close
mike on the left, and the room mike on
the right. You know what that amp is? The
Cactus. No one believes me. People say,
“That tone! What amp is that? That’s the
coolest tone I’ve ever heard.” I tell them,
“It’s a can with a 9-volt battery and a two inch
What makes that part cool is that bent
note you throw in there. You don’t do it
every time but in my mind, it makes the riff.
Honestly, probably a little bit of my ego
got in the way because Chester wrote that
riff. It’s not something I would really write
and it felt a little rudimentary. I just felt like
I needed to put my stamp on it, so instead of
bending up to a note, I wanted to bend from
the note down—almost like a whammy bar
kind of thing. I fingered it a half-step down,
did a pre-bend, and then just kind of let it
drop. I think I just wanted to kind of show
that I knew what I was doing.
At the very end of the “Cry Cry” lead
break you do this huge, major-third bend
that really ties the solo together. Bends like
that one seem to be a big part of your style.
There’s no better feeling than when you
bend a note and it’s actually in tune. I love
all kinds of string bends, whether it’s grabbing
a few strings down low and making a
massive swell, or on one string up high to
give you that beautiful representation of
a woman’s voice. Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford
is a guitar player that not many people
talk about, but I really dig his way of bending
and reaching for some beautiful note
and really letting that note vibrate. A lot of
people probably can’t differentiate between
Brad’s solos and Joe Perry’s, but a perfect
example of great bending is the solo in “Last
Child,” and that’s Brad.
When you spin your early records, like
Core and Purple, how is that guitarist different
from the guy you are today on High Rise?
Drastically different in every sense of the
word. Back then, I was a single man with
no kids, 30 years old going on 15. Now I’m
married with two kids, and 52 going on 19.
If you look back at Core, there wasn’t much
soloing happening. I really wasn’t very proficient
with the instrument. I’m not saying I
am now by any means, because I’m learning
so much every time I play the thing. There’s
so much left to learn and there’s so much
that I don’t know, but I’m somewhat comfortable
with my playing right now. I think
you can hear my playing progress with each
record. I hope so, at least.