To paraphrase Mark Twain, the demise of Stone Temple Pilots has been greatly exaggerated. You can’t really blame anyone for thinking that, given the tragedies that have befallen the band’s two former singers — founding member Scott Weiland died of an overdose in 2015, while successor Chester Bennington left the band amicably to return to Linkin Park, only to commit suicide in 2017.
But after spending 18 months exhaustively looking for a new vocalist, Stone Temple Pilots, or STP, for short, went with Jeff Gutt, the former frontman for nu metal act Dry Cell and a contestant on two seasons of the reality television competition show “The X Factor.” Interestingly enough, Gutt’s intersection with the three STP members was more happenstance, given the fact that the three had been searching the globe for a new singer, according to group guitarist and founding member Dean DeLeo.
“We did that whole worldwide submission thing,” DeLeo said in a recent phone interview. “I know everybody — (bassist) Robert (DeLeo), (drummer) Eric (Kretz) and myself — along with our wives, who were so supportive — put in a lot of time behind the computer going through submissions, not only once, but I went through them twice. I have well over 100 hours clocked behind my computer. It was a lot and the payoff was grim.
“You go through 20 (tapes) and you find one that’s maybe worthwhile going back to and checking out,” DeLeo said. “So, it was a lot of work and Jeff didn’t even submit to that. Robert was out with (his side band) the Hollywood Vampires, and they were in Detroit and somebody approached him after the show about this local guy named Jeff. Robert called me the next morning and told me to check this cat out. Jeff came (to us), we played, and he was great. So that kind of kicked it off.”
Like other vocalists auditioning for the STP singer’s slot, Gutt was given seven songs to sing ranging from “Interstate Love Song” and “Big Empty” to “Trippin’ On a Hole in a Paper Heart” and “Piece of Pie.” And although he duly impressed the DeLeos and Kretz, they wanted to see what he brought to the table creatively in the studio. The Michigan-born vocalist was up to the task, according to the STP guitarist.
“While we were floored by his talent, the question was whether he could craft a song and if he even knew how to do that,” DeLeo explained. “It became very evident the first day we got into a room (with him) and met at Robert’s house, where we recorded most of the record.
“I always say that you really need to allow the song to dictate what you’re going to do to it. It’s not me, Robert or Jeff saying that we’re going to do this or that. What is the song telling you to do? Once you listen to that, you’re going to do pretty well. It was very clear that Jeff had a great sense of melody and a great sense of a song. We threw about seven things at him the first day, and he came up with these incredible melodies, most of which appear on the record.”
The result is “Stone Temple Pilots,” the band’s first full-length outing in eight years, and seventh album from the group overall — a catalog that includes two platinum-plus albums, “Core” (1992) and “Purple” (1994) and total album sales of 35 million worldwide.
Gutt’s vocals on the new self-titled album are eerily reminiscent of Weiland’s, and he shows comparable range, whether he is wailing amid the soaring guitars of “Six Eight,” infusing the light psychedelia of “Thought She’d Be Mine” with a sweet vulnerability or applying the right mix of grit and growl to “Never Enough.” Most impressive is the tenderness Gutt applies to “The Art of Letting Go,” an ethereal ballad that he seamlessly navigates.
And though this latest chapter in the STP saga seems to be starting off on a positive note, it doesn’t diminish the effect of Weiland and Bennington’s deaths to DeLeo, even beyond the repercussions it had for the band.
“I think it was more of a personal thing than a professional thing. The tragedies between each person, being Scott and Chester, were very different as well. Scott was in a very long-term decline. I don’t know which hurts more — to watch that over a decade or just the suddenness (of what happened to Chester),” DeLeo said. “They’re both tragic and an incredible loss. When it’s all kind of said and done, I’m still scratching my head, man. There are still unanswered questions for me. It just goes beyond words. It’s very, very sad.”
At least for the immediate future, STP is gearing up to do what has always been a constant in the band’s career — hitting the road and playing live dates in any and all markets, including a stop in Winston-Salem for the annual Gears & Guitars music festival.
Concertgoers can look forward to the band having prepared a template of a few different set lists that will be rotated on a nightly basis and features anywhere from eight to 10 songs the band has never played live before. DeLeo and the rest of STP are pleased about getting to commune with fans who have been waiting nearly five years to see the band play live.
“Being out playing is an aspect of our lives in STP that we just absolutely love. We love being out there, playing music and being in a room where everybody is tossing energy around,” he said with glee. “That night doesn’t just belong to us. We’re the last people that can claim ownership of an STP show. It belongs to everyone in front of us. We don’t take that for granted and we just love that aspect of it and seeing everybody and just sharing, not only music, but love and this kindred spirit of music.”