Earlier last month, rock legends Stone Temple Pilots released dates for their upcoming 2018 tour, their first time on the road with new lead singer and The X Factor contestant Jeff Gutt. Twenty-five years since their debut record Core topped charts in 1992, STP continues releasing new material despite having to replace their lead singer twice. Both former vocalists subsequently passed away over the last two years, leaving the remaining members heavy-hearted and without a frontman. Original member Scott Weiland passed away on a tour bus in 2015 at the age of 48, two years after leaving the band. That same year, Chester Bennington, Scott’s replacement, left to focus on his career with Linkin Park.
After a lengthy audition process began in 2016, STP found Jeff through a friend and announced their final decision in November, only a few months after Chester Bennington’s suicide broke news last summer. With the announcement came a debut show with Jeff at the Troubadour and the promise of an album release for the new year. They’ve been hinting at album artwork on their Facebook page and debuted their first single with Gutt, “Meadow,” in November. mxdwn spoke with one of the original members, drummer Eric Kretz, about the audition process, what it was like welcoming Jeff on board and what to expect from the band’s new material.
mxdwn: The process of auditioning was long and involved tons of applicants. Was it exhausting for the band?
Eric Kretz: It was more mentally exhausting. It was 15,000 submissions we had to go through and it’s not that type of thing you can farm out to other people to whittle it down for you, so you gotta check every single one hoping to find that “magic” voice. And then, sure enough, it was a referral from a friend. When Robert was out on tour with the Hollywood Vampires someone referred this guy Jeff Gutt to Robert. So we took a listen and called him and then he came out – ironically enough – on the last day of auditions. And yeah, he just floored it, he did such a great job.
mxdwn: Musicians get their start being judged and trying to get gigs. What was it like being on the other end of that process?
EK: Well, we didn’t approach it like a Simon Cowell would or anything, maybe because we wrote the music so we feel a lot closer to it. And you know, some of the people that auditioned were phenomenal singers that we’re friends with. So more of it was just getting together like musicians do and jamming on some of the STP songs that we told them to get together. With some of the vocalists we would even start writing new music on the spot because we’d get inspired by them and kinda saw where it went. Some of the singers, like Jeff in particular, could instantly grab hold of a melody and start working on it. Other singers had a hard time and those would be the ones we’d pass on right away.
mxdwn: I imagine there were a lot of Scott Weiland sound-alikes in the group of hopefuls. What were you looking for in a new sound?
EK: It was a cornucopia of every style. Some people did just sound a lot like Scott and that’s not what we were looking for. We wanted some elements to be familiar, but also it was about covering the catalog and then being able to move forward with new music. I mean, it’s such big shoes to try to fill by covering Scott’s catalog and performance with STP. When we had Chester in the band too, Chester’s performance was spectacular, so it was a lot of criteria to cover within a 30-minute audition. Usually we’d just throw out the songs, see how they moved, how they sang, how comfortable they were with us and then a few of the people got called back a second or third time to see how we could progress, especially with the writing of the new material. Also trying some of the really deep cuts and seeing if they could grab hold of the more artistic side of those, seeing how they could bond with those.
mxdwn: How did you know you’d found “the one”?
EK: We played with Jeff a few times and took him to the studio and we already had some songs partially recorded, I think about five songs. We just kinda threw them at him and he came up with melody after melody. He was knocking out two or three songs a day, not with the lyrics but just with the melodies and some harmonies. We knew that he understood that he had such a great concept of songwriting. He fit in with us so naturally as far as, “How do we structure a song? How do we build up to the chorus? How do we put a tag on the end of chorus?” And it was a very natural fit, which was so important. And on top of that, his voice is just fantastic.
mxdwn: Being a band for such a long time, what was it like inviting someone new on board to work with artistically? Did it make you reflect on your past material?
EK: Yeah definitely. With the passing of Scott, that’s been weighing heavily on us emotionally. Then you throw in that we’ve just completed the 25th anniversary of Core, so we were putting together that whole deluxe box set, so there was a lot of material, photos interviews, a lot of stuff there to reflect on all the years with Scott. In some ways it was a really good time to bring in someone new. Instead of going forward, we actually had that year to reflect upon where we were so we could delve into that and bring up all the emotions we’ve had since the beginning, the middle and stuff towards the end, and it was a full cabinet of emotions. On top of that, we started being really excited with where the new material’s going and how easy it was for us to write with Jeff. He was very similar to the writing process we had with Scott and Chester in the early days where we just get into a small room, we don’t have to play that loud and we’re just writing, writing, writing, throwing out parts, coming up with great ideas, bringing back some old ideas. Just having a vocalist there to cement everything together, that’s the part that’s really, really exciting for the new record.
mxdwn: Have you guys done anything in particular to bond as a band?
EK: We really haven’t had time! Writing the material and then recording it, and then with the 25th anniversary of Core, plus we just did a show at the Troubadour, (that was kind of our first announcement with Jeff) and we’ve just been building up from that. I think coming up, because we’re still finishing a record right now, once we start rehearsing with that we’ll be able to slow down the pace a little bit because we’ve been pretty much just trying to keep going as fast as we can, get as much done as we can. So yeah, we haven’t done any trips to Disneyland quite yet!
mxdwn: Many people were surprised the band stayed together after Scott’s death, what made you decide to keep going?
EK: I think the fact that we released Scott two, three years before he passed, we already were moving forward because unfortunately with Scott at the end there, STP just couldn’t move forward. We had to move on and then when Chester came in, he was so excited to bring the band, especially in live performances, where we all knew it needed to be, with love and energy and enthusiasm. And then from there we just kept writing new material. With the new album coming out it’s going to be really fantastic. There’s so much more left in what we have and we want to present it, we want to keep playing for the fans and keep recording.
mxdwn: How does the new material reflect a new beginning for the band?
EK: Of course it’s different, because we worked with Scott for so long, for years even before we got signed to Atlantic Records. That was just a natural growth that we all went through, whatever styles we were trying to convey. And then with Jeff, he’s kind of jumping on board a moving train where we already have a history, we know how to work well with each other. We’re all very stubborn and opinionated but we all bend sometimes and with Jeff it was kinda like, “Okay, hop on!” And he’s just so quick coming up with melodies. As a group we all work very fast together, because we know each other so well, so we can change styles and sounds, we know where things work and where they don’t. And sometimes working with new people, yeah, that can be a little frustrating, but it wasn’t at all with Jeff. He was such a natural fit for where we’re going in the future.
mxdwn: What are you looking forward to for the 2018 tour?
EK: It’s just going to be great getting out there. We’re doing a lot of festivals with a lot of great bands, some bands we’re friends with, so going out and playing 25 years of music on top of presenting the new music will be great. I think if you just play the new stuff, that can sometimes get a little stale since there are some great songs from our past that people want to hear, whereas if you just play the old stuff, that can also get a little stale because it’s like, “Hey man, we’ve got all these great new songs we want to play!” so the fact that we can mix the two together, the old and the new, it’s going to sound like the same band in a nice refreshing way. And then going out and playing with our contemporaries, it’s just always nice to hang out on the tour circuit.
mxdwn: What would you say to fans about welcoming Jeff on the tour?
EK: He’s just such a wonderful person. Embrace him and give him a big ol’ hug! He’s a wonderful guy, he’s a great dad, a great band member, and gosh darn it, we just love the guy.