AFTER A 21-YEAR RUN OF EXHILARATING CROWDS AND
creating genre-spawning music that propelled them to success in the ’90s
and made them legends of alternative, post-grunge rock in the 2000s, Stone
Temple Pilots announced in February 2013 that they were permanently
parting ways with troubled singer Scott Weiland. Amidst the chaos of news
reports on the topic, online gossip, and a lawsuit and a countersuit regarding
the split, the estranged bandmates had reached a difficult impasse with
their vocalist. But rather than folding their cards, founding members Robert
DeLeo, his brother and guitarist Dean, and drummer Eric Kretz decided to
do the only thing they knew how to do: move forward.
Robert assembled his bandmates in his Southern California home studio,
where they began hashing out new ideas and putting together material for
an album that would usher in their next chapter. Adding Linkin Park vocalist
Chester Bennington to the mix, STP quickly completed the EP High Rise
following a run of tours in the late spring. While the record proves that Bennington
fills Weiland’s shoes and falls in suit with his bandmates, as always,
the driving force of the music lies in Robert DeLeo’s powerful bass lines.
Using the same finesse that thrust him into the spotlight on such beloved
songs as “Interstate Love Song,” “Big Empty,” and “Plush,” DeLeo once again
explores the rhythmic and melodic range of the bass on “Tomorrow” and
“Same on the Inside,” which features complex and lightning-fast bass runs on
the outro. Driving with gritty tone at points and falling into a deep Motown-inspired
pocket at others, DeLeo shines most when he steps beyond the foundation
and executes one of his signature bass fills that effortlessly transitions
one riff into the next.
In taking its new material on the road, STP exhibits the same relentless
energy that has made the band an arena staple for over two decades. Clad in
his blacked-out aviator glasses, and sporting his bass slung low to his right
hip, DeLeo’s larger-than-life stage persona anchors the band as he executes
blistering lines while belting vocal harmonies—all without so much as glancing
at his fretboard.
For longtime fans, it’s a thrill to see STP commanding stages with a blend
of new songs and old classics, while young fans adamantly approve of the celebrated
veterans embracing the new era of rock. For DeLeo, his work is a statement
of character from a man who loves his craft and supporters so much
that he won’t let anything slow him down.
What inspired the sound of this new record?
I find that wherever you go to record something, the location somewhat
subconsciously dictates what you’re doing. We did this at my home in my
basement, and it just has this great homemade feel. That influenced what we
played. I’ve been lucky enough in my career to work quite a bit with Brendan
O’Brien, and I’ve learned a lot from him on recording
and what gear to get. I partially blame him for all the
vintage gear I’ve collected over the last two decades.
Did you and Dean collaborate in writing
the new material?
Dean and I bring in our musical ideas, and then
we work on it from there. My brother brings out
the best in me, and it makes me want to make his
songs the best they can be, and that is an important
part of my drive. As for my writing, bassists
have an important role in what the song is trying
to say, and I always try to bring that out anytime
I’m writing. Sounds and tones are very important
to achieve that, so on this EP I played a different
bass for each song.
Did you get any new basses specifically for
Of course—any excuse, you know? I have a good
friend who had a guitar shop that closed, and he
had about 800 instruments for sale. I asked him
if he had any vintage Jazz Basses, and he brought
a few by, and there was this 1967 model that was
very inspiring, even just holding it. I rarely pick up
a bass and just start writing a song, but that bass
was so inspiring that I actually wrote “Out of Time”
on it acoustically without plugging in. The tone and
resonance is amazing. I actually ended up writing
that whole song right there. Also, right before we
started recording, I finally found a 1971 fire-glow
Rickenbacker 4001 with “toaster” pickups, and that’s
what I used on “Black Heart.” That bass is a monster.
I never bring vintage gear on the road, though,
so I leave those beauties in my studio and use my
Schecter signature basses on tour.
What was the rest of your studio bass lineup?
I used a 1965 Fender Precision on “Same on the
Inside.” Not a lot of people know, but Fender was messing
with padauk fingerboards on their ’65 P-Basses,
and because of that, this bass has a fingerboard like
a Ricky [Rickenbacker]—it has this midrange snot
to it, and that’s what I went for. The tone that I go
for on the bass blends to a certain extent before it
starts messing with the guitar frequency, and we try
to get it right there at the point of the crunch. For
“Cry Cry” I used my 1976 Thunderbird, and “Tomorrow”
was my 1959 P-Bass with flatwounds. I’m kind
of a vintage geek; I honor and cherish the gear my
heroes made music on, and I’m trying to pass on
that beauty to the next generation.
Are you still using the same formula for
your signal chain?
My studio chain hasn’t changed much in a lot
of years, because on our third record, Tiny Music,
I found something that works for me. It’s a blend
of three tracks: a direct track with a Demeter tube
direct, and then another that goes through a 1961
Fender Bassman amp, which has a Showman cabinet
with a 15 in it, and then the third is an Ampeg
VT22 combo with a 100-watt head. I run the power
section into a 1970 Marshall 8x10. So those are the
three lines together that make up my sound.
There’s some impressive bass work on the
outro of “Same on the Inside.”
I was just showing off, man [laughs]. A good
friend of mine was over the day that I was tracking
that line, and he was sitting next to me watching
me, and we got to the very end and I literally just
started showing off. I was fooling around, but then
I thought, Let me grab that and lock it down, and
then we kept it. Almost all of the time I play for the
song, but the fact that it was an outro gave me some
space to throw that in there.
What was it like working with Chester on
It was such a great experience. He’s a great human
being, and he came in here with a real understanding
of what we wanted to do. It wasn’t a lot of talking;
it was a lot of doing. I’m not a person who talks
about things—I just get right down to doing them.
When you’re with people who do that, you get things
done. That’s as simple as it is. He jumped right in
musically with what we were doing, and he made it
clear that he’s a fan of the band, and you know, I’m
a big fan of what he does. For him to come in here
and lay down what he laid down, I’m really proud
of it and very proud of him.
Did you feel pressure adding a new front-man
to such a celebrated band?
Absolutely. Look, man, it wasn’t an easy decision,
but we’ve tried for a long time to make things
work, and we just didn’t have any other choice. It was
pretty clear to all of us that the last record we made
[Stone Temple Pilots, 2010] would be the last one with
our lineup. I feel extremely fortunate to have made
some great records and great songs with Scott, and
we did it for 21 years—that’s half my life! But this
is a new chapter, and there’s much more to come.
You really dig into the bass when you play.
How important is your technique to your tone?
If I were a guitarist, I would break a lot of strings
because I dig in so hard. In STP I play so hard that
my fingers can’t handle it, so I put Krazy Glue on my
fingertips. I douse my right-hand index and middle
fingers before I go onstage. I’ve been doing it for
years and I’m so used to it, and I love it because it
gives a little extra bite to my finger work. It sure
helps getting through a tour, because there’s nothing
worse than having blood blisters on your playing
fingers. Finger work is a huge factor in tone, and
I know that I would sound very different if I hadn’t
always played the way I do.
So you’ve always been a finger player?
I grew up watching guys who played with their
fingers, and that’s what drew me to this instrument.
When I was three, we had an old, battery-operated
AM radio, and I remember listening to Motown on
that thing. Subconsciously, that was affecting me
when I was just a baby. I remember hearing James
Jamerson, and I never grew out of that. He always
stuck with me. It blows my mind what he was doing
back then, and the songs he was doing it on were
incredible. What really got me into bass was that
era of R&B music.
What led you to first start playing bass?
It was something I just started doing, when I was
16—and once I did, I just ran with it. My brother was
playing in a cover band with some older kids, and I
picked up the bass to join them. We were playing
Rush, Zeppelin, U2, Yes, and King Crimson, and my
introduction to the bass was pretty much just learning
how to play what they wanted, which made me
step up quickly. That’s when I discovered Louis Johnson.
In a weird way, my advancement with bass came
from Louis Johnson and a serial killer at the time.
We’re going to need an explanation.
When I first heard Louis Johnson, I ran out with
the last of the money I had and found a beautiful ’77
blonde StingRay for $200. I bought the “Star Licks”
tape [instructional program] with Louis Johnson, and
I learned how to play that whole thing in two weeks.
But the real reason I learned it so quickly was that
Richard Ramirez [the “Night Stalker”] was on the
loose in the area at that time, and I was afraid to go
to sleep or leave my house. So I stayed up paranoid
for two weeks and learned Louis Johnson’s licks.
How has your playing changed throughout
I went through a phase of playing flashy to the
best of my ability, and then I discovered in my 20s
how to really write songs and compose ideas together.
When you think about songs, the playing takes a
backseat, and you start thinking about your instrument
and how it applies to the song you’re writing.
That’s what I always love about Motown and R&B:
There’s such a great sense of who is there playing it,
but more important, there’s an overwhelming sense
of the song. It was a great marriage of playing and
songwriting that I learned a lot from.
What motivates you to put on such an explosive
It’s always been my goal to go out and give people
the best show possible. You can never—and this is a
huge mistake that musicians make—you can never
take yourself out of the position of being a fan of
music, because once you do that, you lose perspective.
People who come to see you play, they work
all week and they’re possibly sacrificing things like
food to save up money, and they’re paying a lot to
go see you, and they want to see a great show. When
you look at a great showman like James Brown or
Sly Stone or Elvis and see what they brought to the
stage, it’s about being a performer for the people. I
enjoy getting out there and performing like I’m still
in my 20s. That’s what it’s all about, man. Playing
music should all be about fun, shouldn’t it? There are
a lot of people in the world, the majority in fact, who
don’t get to have fun with what they do for work,
and it’s unfortunate. That’s why I do what I do.
Stone Temple Pilots
(with Chester Bennington),
[Play Pen, 2013]
Basses Schecter Robert DeLeo Model-
T Signature, 1959 Fender Precision
Bass, 1967 Fender Jazz Bass, 1971
Rickenbacker 400, 1976 Gibson Thunderbird
Rig Line 6 Bass PODxt Pro, 2 Ampeg
Pedals EHX Bass Micro Synth
Strings SIT Round & Flatwound