Fellow Stone Temple Pilots Robert DeLeo and Chester Bennington, now pulling double duty as frontman for both Linkin Park and STP, sat down with Rolling Stone recently in North Hollywood. Before a revealing hour-long interview, DeLeo brought a reporter his laptop and a pair of headphones to hear the band's forthcoming EP, High Rise.
Featuring five songs, the EP ranges from the straight-ahead hard rock of the lead single "Out of Time" and the planned second single, "Black Heart," to "Cry, Cry," a song written by Bennington, which segues nicely into the EP's closer, the atmospheric long player "Tomorrow."
With legal battles with Scott Weiland ongoing, DeLeo didn't want to say too much about the band's former singer, yet a lot emerged over the course of the interview. "Dean (DeLeo), Eric (Kretz) and I have been saddled by someone for a long time," he said at one point. "We've always looked out for Scott's best interests and tried to be a great friend to someone who really didn't care to be friends with us." That eventually led, he said, to "a very difficult decision."
There is a freedom of collaborating in this day and age, and I'm sure that ties nicely into you guys being able to try something new.
Chester Bennington: I think that this is happening at the right time. From an outsider, this is something I expected was going to happen. For us the transition has been about as smooth creatively as a band as possible. And the fact that we all get along so well, we enjoy each other's company, we have the same work ethic and we're all enjoying what we're doing, it's a trip in a lot of ways. At the same time I have the chance to write songs with two of my favorite songwriters that have ever written, Robert and Dean. Writing songs with these guys, that's something I can check off my list of shit to do.
Robert DeLeo: We're all complementing each other very nicely.
I recall Slash and Duff McKagan admitting that after their experiences with Axl Rose and Scott, Velvet Revolver was a little gun-shy about bringing in a new singer. What were your thoughts on bringing Chester in?
DeLeo: I welcomed it because we've known each other for quite some time. I don't think there was any other choice or options to make the band work. That's the way it was. I remember I was producing a record over at Conway Studios and I saw Slash there, and I remember shaking his hand when I first found out about Velvet Revolver and I said, "Good luck with that." [Laughs]
It's like any relationship – you get burned and you're hesitant to trust again.
Bennington: Part of the appeal of doing this, and part of the vibe that I bring, I'm just coming in here and doing the same things I would do normally, only I'm writing different music with different guys. It's been interesting for me to see how the normal day-to-day stuff that I'm used to doing with the other guys that I work with is just a fucking complete shocker over here in this camp. It's like, "Dude, you're here?" Simple things like that, or, "Let's play this song." "OK, cool," and I just start singing the song. Robert was like, "Are you sure you don't need a teleprompter?" I was like, "I'm pretty positive I don't need a teleprompter." If I fuck up the words it just makes the show more human, and I'd rather fuck the words up than be latched to something that tells me what I'm supposed to do.
One of the things I've enjoyed the most about this process is seeing these guys have a good time doing it, and everybody's talking and we're all smiling. I've seen this whole process become fun for these guys again and see the joy that everybody is having when we're doing band-related stuff. So that, to me, is a really great reward . . . The depth or the length at which I think these guys have been operating for the last 10, 15 years, they've put their dues in and they've really tried to make it work. This was the choice they had to make, and if it wasn't me it was going to be somebody else. STP is moving forward without Scott 100 percent, whether I say yes or no. So I'm just glad that it's me, because I am such a big fan of the band – I know the songs as well as these guys know the songs, maybe even better than some guys know the songs. And I do my best to honor the legacy of the music. We just want to go out and fucking play and have fun doing it – play rock & roll really loud and smile.
DeLeo: Loud is allowed.
It feels like this is a situation that should have very little pressure.
DeLeo: There are our own pressures of making great music. That means a lot, and it always has, and I think Dean, Eric and myself have earned it to be in this situation. I don't think any of us are getting any younger, and I certainly don't want to spend the next 10 years of my life the way I spent the last 10 years of my life, or the last 15 years, for that matter. So I think this is humbly saying very [well-deserved] for me, Dean and Eric to be in this situation. I know what kind of human being this guy [Bennington] is. It's not all about him sounding just like someone. I'm talking about the quality of the human being and that means a lot to me, Dean and Eric.
Using the relationship analogy again, you come out of a bad one and you just want to have fun.
DeLeo: I wake up every fucking day and I put my life in perspective. Here's a perfect example: we were doing pre-production one day, we were working on "Out of Time," and I had to stop. I just looked at the four of us down in my basement and I went, "Do you guys realize where we're at right now?" We're down in my basement right now, and 35 years ago that's where I started using a tennis racket, which came to a guitar, which came to other people involved and playing other people's music. That all developed in the basement. So to come around full-circle 35 years later, to be a grown man and have us all playing in the basement, that's pretty fucking beautiful. It puts things in perspective, and my point is I don't ever want to lose vision of how important it is that my childhood dream has become reality and that's gonna continue for the four of us.
Bennington: The weird thing is, I come in and we sit down and we're all telling the same fucking fart jokes in the same funny voice. Things just were going at hyperspeed all the way. We know each other, but we don't know each other intimately. Now we're all really great friends, and we know that the only way to justify this type of move is to be a band that feels like this is our thing and we're creating our music and our vibe. There are gonna be a lot of expectations from fans, mostly from the Stone Temple Pilots crowd and in some way the Linkin Park crowd, because they're gonna wonder what could possibly be cool enough to take your attention away. You want to be an astronaut, you're already in fucking outer space with a whole different crew.
The thing is, for me, it's an opportunity to write with these guys, play rock & roll music that I like to play, and the competitor in me is like I want the challenge. I get off on the challenge of making something this difficult work. This is coming into a very well-known group that has a legacy and musically has some of the best songs written of its time. So to maintain that identity and stay true to that, there's the pressure. But then also to take the reins and create something new and create our own vibe still feels very true to what the fans expect musically. Those are challenges we take very seriously, so that's why I think being independent right now, with no label, and we're doing everything on our own, we are able to produce the songs the way we want them to be produced. We are able to put out music when we want to. We don't have to follow an album kind of thing – we can make one song at a time and put it out. And people are going to be interested in coming out to see us play, and that's where it all matters. We show up with good songs and let the music do the talking.
The whole thing has gone better than expected, and I think making the music has been the hardest part. But, dude, you listened to the EP, there's a vibe going on there. There's a consistent vibe throughout the tracks that I feel really represent who we are as a band.
It starts off as more straight-ahead rock & roll, but I feel like "Tomorrow" ventures off a bit – more epic – and "Cry, Cry" is a bridge between the tracks.
DeLeo: Chester wrote that one. You always have a bank of songs that are hanging out, but for this it really was a matter of erasing the board, starting over again. That was a really big inspiration for me, to have this chance to wipe the slate clean and really start over again with this new energy.
So while it's STP, it feels like a new band.
DeLeo: It was a very difficult decision to terminate the face of your band. There are many paths to the history of certain bands and each one is a little different, but it all kind of turns out the same at the end. But it was a very difficult decision to do that. That's as big as it gets. But we really didn't have any other choice. I don't want to get too into that right now because of legal things, but Dean, Eric and I have been saddled by someone for a long time. We've always looked out for Scott's best interests and tried to be a great friend to someone who really didn't care to be friends with us . . . And I don't think we had any other choice. We knew that was what we wanted before we thought about getting another singer. I think Scott's made it very clear, his path and his decisions on what he's done with or to this band. So when you're in that situation, Dean, Eric and myself would rather move ahead. I want to have fucking fun, man, making music. I have the complete luxury of making music for a living. If I'm around people that don't fucking get that, then I want to be around people who get that.
Bennington: I really respect the decision these guys have made. I also understand how incredibly difficult having that conversation would be. At the same time, it isn't a surprise. Everybody who knows the band understands why decisions have been made. This is something I don't necessarily need – I have a great career with a great bunch of guys who I love deeply, and we make awesome music together. There's no need for me to do this, but at the same time I do realize this is their life. This is how they're gonna pay their bills and put their kids through college, this is how they're gonna want to spend the rest of their lives. So by saying yes to that means I'm 100 percent in as well. I didn't want to dick around with these guys and their future and put a year of time and work on something to go, "I don't know if I really want to tour on my downtime." You can't do that, so for me I need to make sure that I'm honoring everybody that's involved.
DeLeo: I had the complete gift, and so did Dean and Eric, of writing music with Scott, and I cherished that for as long as I could. I think now it's time to embrace this and cherish this. I feel very humbled by the fact the guys in Linkin Park are cool with this. All these guys are great dudes. It's not about music – it's about the humanity of it. They're the kind of human beings you want to be around at this point in life.
Stone Temple Pilots With Chester Bennington Tour
9/4 – Bethlehem, Pa. – Sands Bethlehem Events Center
9/6 – Sayreville, N.J. – Starland Ballroom
9/7 – Atlantic City, N.J. – House of Blues
9/9 – Boston, Mass. – House of Blues
9/10 – Huntington, N.Y. – Paramount
9/13 – Oklahoma City, Okla. – Downtown Airpark (w/ Motley Crue)
9/14 – Newkirk, Okla. – First Council Casino
9/17 – Sunrise, Fla. – BB & T Center (FLA Panthers Event)
9/18 – Orlando, Fla. – House of Blues
9/20 – Columbia, S.C. – Township Auditorium
9/21 – Ft Myers, Fla. – Shockwave Festival – Jet Blue Park
9/24 – Midland, Texas – La Hacienda Event Center
9/26 – Tempe, Ariz. – Marquee
9/27 – Las Vegas, N.V. – Fremont Street Experience
11/1 – Biloxi, Miss. – Hard Rock Live