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 this recording?
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 vocals?
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 your career?
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 live show?
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), High Rise [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 SVT 810s
Pedals EHX Bass Micro Synth Strings SIT Round & Flatwound (.050–.105)