Dean DeLeo

October 17, 2008

WHEN THEY FIRST CAME ONTO THE NEWLY minted grunge scene in 1992, Stone Temple Pilots got more than their fair share of unfavorable press. Critics said the sludgy, modulated riffs of guitarist Dean DeLeo and his bass-playing brother Robert were pale imitations of Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, and they called singer Scott Weiland a preening Eddie Vedder wannabe. But that didn’t stop STP’s debut album, Core, from racking up several radio megahits, including “Creep,” “Sex Type Thing,” and “Plush”— for which the band received a Grammy in 1994.

Fortunately, STP’s subsequent albums — 1994’s Purple, 1996’sTiny Music…Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, 1999’s No. 4, and 2001’s Shangri-La Dee Da—received kinder appraisals, thanks largely to the savvy psychedelia and jangle-pop interspersed with the hard-rock riffing on songs such as “Vasoline,” “Interstate Love Song,” “Big Empty,” and “Sour Girl.” Dean’s richly textured guitar parts didn’t hurt, either.

Nevertheless, the not-so-flattering media coverage continued. Famous as much for his drug problems as his vocal prowess, Weiland was in and out of rehab—and tabloids—more times than anyone could count. The partying and internal strife came to a head in 2002, when Dean and Weiland effectively ended the band with a bare-knuckled brawl onstage. Weiland bolted to join Velvet Revolver (with former Guns N’ Roses members Slash, Duff McKagan, and Matt Sorum, as well as guitarist Dave Kushner), which went on to storm stadiums across the globe and win a Grammy in 2005 for “Slither.” Meanwhile, the brothers DeLeo and STP drummer Eric Kretz recorded and toured as Army of Anyone with former Filter vocalist Richard Patrick. Dean also did studio work for such diverse artists as Alanis Morissette, Smokey Robinson, and Chicago.

For disheartened STP fans, there was a glimmer of hope early this year when the music press publicized grumblings from the Revolver camp. Before the world knew what hit it, Weiland had left the band, and STP had announced a 65-date reunion tour.

Has it been hard seeing Scott play with Velvet Revolver for the last few years?
It really hasn’t been. I knew their first record debuted at No. 1, and I can tell you right where I was when I heard the news: I was driving home, and I called to congratulate him. The kind of thing that we have doesn’t happen very often. I feel so blessed to play music with Scott, Robert, and Eric. And when Scott hooked up with those guys and had some great success, I was truly ecstatic. But I will be honest with you. I stumbled on a video of Velvet Revolver doing “Mr. Brownstone” [by Guns N’ Roses] on YouTube a couple of days ago, which was a little disheartening. And it was also a little disheartening when Army of Anyone didn’t do STP songs justice on some occasions. And Velvet Revolver surely didn’t do STP songs any justice. Scott was Scott, but that band just couldn’t play that stuff. I don’t think they knew the right chords. It’s sad that all of us were out there kind of doing injustice to our legacy.

Are you guys writing songs now?
We’ve never stopped writing songs. Between the four of us, we’re sitting on plenty of material.

Is there a planned album release?
There’s nothing planned.

Are you guys recording together or experimenting to see where it goes?
No, we haven’t really shown one another any new material. We’re just out here having a blast playing live.

Has your playing and songwriting evolved since the breakup of STP?
Well, I’ve stumbled upon a couple more chords and stolen a few more licks, so I like to think I’m somewhat better. A lot has happened in my life. The main thing that has changed is that we’ve all had children, which for me was one of the most beautiful, lifechanging experiences I’ve ever had.

Has that changed how you approach music— directly or indirectly?
Everything affects how I play. Sometimes I don’t even touch the guitar for maybe six months. And then something overtakes me— I fall in love or I’m inspired by something my son does or how the sun shines on the ocean one day. And then, like an antenna, I feel something incoming and I pick up the guitar—and out comes a song in a matter of minutes. If I try to sit down and force something out, it can be frustrating.

One of your sonic signatures is the artful use of chorusing and modulation to enhance heavy riffs and chords—without sounding cheesy.
Thank you. I never used chorus on studio stuff—well, I have once in a while on overdubs. I use a tinge of it live to make the sound a little bigger, especially because I’m using a stereo rig. But it’s really all about texturing.

STP sounds pretty straightforward, but you actually mix in bluesy stuff, pop, and even Indian flavors. Where do those influences come from?
Growing up, my mom played Burt Bacharach, Andy Williams, and Edith Piaf. Out of my older brother’s room we heard Hendrix, the Doors, Blue Cheer, and Cream. And out of my sister’s room we heard Cat Stevens and Neil Young. I love Joe Maphis and Hank Garland and Barney Kessel. Robert and I are also big fans of the bossa nova movement of the ’50s and ’60s—Jobim’s compositions just get into my bones. There’s some amazing new stuff, too. I love the band Grizzly Bear—they’re so beautiful. And we just did a gig with the Flaming Lips, and we hadn’t seen them since they opened for us in ’92. Man, they went on to make some of the most beautiful records—like The Soft Bulletin, which is so gorgeous.

Have you had any equipment epiphanies in the last few years?
Yeah, my dear friend Jeff Snider from Snider Amplification started making me boutique amps a few years back. They’re the best-sounding amps I have—and I have about a hundred. You plug a Strat into the New Jersey model—which uses EL84 power tubes and can run at 18 or 30 watts—and cut back on the guitar’s volume to about 7, and it just adores it. It is so chimey and bell-like. Turn it up, and it’s just an amazing amp. What I really love is when I can get a pretty aggressive sound but still have that string articulation. That’s important because we use some not-so-typical chords.

Have you retired your AC30s?
No. When I go into the studio, I bring everything. I have a Vox AC10, an AC15, and a couple of AC30s that I always take. From ’66 to ’68, Marshall had these little 18- and 20-watt plexi combos that are really good sounding. And, of course, I also have a Sovtek Mig 60 head that I’ve been using a lot, too.

Do you use the Sovtek for a rattier, more aggressive sound?
It’s ratty, and definitely has its own sound. Sometimes you just need to fill that pocket, and it’s nice to have a few different amps, because the first one you try doesn’t always give you what you want.

What are you using on the road now?
My usual rig—a Demeter TGP-3 preamp and a VHT stereo power amp into two Marshall 4x12s. I get the bottom and top end with that rig, and I get the midrange with the Sniders.

What about effects?
I’m using an old Rockman MIDI Octopus to control the Demeter, which has three channels—clean, rhythm, and a real blastoff channel. I’ve had the Rockman for about 18 years now, and it has never let me down. I have it all MIDI’d up with a Rocktron Intelliverb. I also have a Dunlop CryBaby that goes through the Snider and Demeter sides. I use the SIB VariDrive to blow up the Snider—it’s like having an extra amp. I also have a Boss CE-1 Chorus that I crank up to sound like a fast Leslie.

Which guitars are you using on the road?
I have four Les Paul Standards from around ’76 to ’78, and a ’67 Fender Tele. I also have a couple of semi-hollow Paul Reed Smiths with piezos in the bridge that I use to do nice renditions of “Sour Girl” and “Creep.”

As you mentioned, you use a lot of uncommon chord voicings that have a real airy feel. Do you just experiment to find those or have you studied theory?
Robert is the chordmeister of the band. He is an extraordinary guitar player, and I lift a lot of stuff from him. It’s like, if you’re a tennis player are you going to progress if you play people you’re able to beat all the time? You’ve got to get in there with people at a higher level so it brings your game up.

So you prefer to absorb music knowledge rather than study?
Absolutely. I have no knowledge of theory whatsoever. I’ve never been able to read or write music. I just, quite simply, play. I know what I want to hear—and it sometimes takes me a while to work it out—but I eventually get my point across.

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