Under the Southern Stars - STONE TEMPLE PILOTS' JEFF GUTT ON THE LONG ROAD BACK TO AUSTRALIA

STONE TEMPLE PILOTS' JEFF GUTT ON THE LONG ROAD BACK TO AUSTRALIA

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Feb 23

To put it bluntly, it’s been a lot longer than it should have been since the Stone Temple Pilots were last on Australian shores.

Having toured the country in 2011 with founding vocalist, the late Scott Weiland, a planned 2014 tour with Linkin Park’s late frontman Chester Bennington was also canned, with the cancellation announced just weeks before kick-off.

Since then though, the band had undergone a bit of turmoil. While Weiland would pass in 2015, Bennington would follow in 2017, leaving the group uncertain of their future, and ultimately in search of a new vocalist. Recruiting Jeff Gutt, the band announced their return soon after, unveiling a new self-titled record in 2018, and effectively kicking off their comeback.

With new album Perdida arriving in early 2020, the group were set to finally make their way back to Australian shores, having been announced alongside Live and Bush for the Under the Southern Stars national tour. Of course, the bad news wasn’t done yet, with the COVID pandemic putting these plans on ice for the foreseeable future.

Since then, the tour has been pushed back a few times, with the final lineup now featuring the likes of Cheap Trick, Bush, Stone Temple Pilots, and the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.

Needless to say, it’s been a long time coming, and with the tour finally set to kick off in March, Stone Temple Pilots’ frontman Jeff Gutt has spoken to Rolling Stone Australia about the incredibly protracted journey to bringing back international shows to Australian shores once again.

Let’s begin with the obvious question: How have you been dealing with the last few years? Have you been getting by or writing safely?

Yeah, man. Thanks for asking. Have you been all right? [Laughs] We’ve got to ask each other these days. Not being able to basically tour or even go to shows as a fan to anything, that was a bummer. It was a kick in the dick, basically. You couldn’t really do anything, couldn’t enjoy music the way we used to. And that felt like something that was taken away for a little while. So I’m glad to see we’re at least starting to get back to it all here.

When everything sort of first went down, how did that affect you guys at the start of the pandemic? Because you had the new album out just one month before the pandemic hit and then there’s supposed to be an Australian tour. So what did that mean for all of you at the time.

Yeah, I mean, we had a whole tour set up just for the Perdida record, which was going to be a very interesting thing. I hope we get to do that at some point because it was in more of an acoustic setting with extra musicians and that kind of vibe, where that would have been something different and fun. But just getting back to it in general and just getting back on stage with those guys and performing with them and playing those songs that everyone loves and I love and I’m sure they love [laughs]. 

I mean, just being able to get back out and do that, especially since I’ve never been to Australia in my life. So it was one of the things that we were supposed to be doing right when the pandemic first hit. And then it got cancelled a couple of times. My clothes made it there and I haven’t made it through yet [laughs]. My clothes have been there a couple of times, so I’m jealous of my clothes.

Before we get into the tour too much, I would like to have a quick look at your time with the band. Your first album with the band came out in 2018 and it was pretty warmly received. For yourself, was that a validating experience knowing that you’ve come into this band with high expectations from everyone and they’ve really welcomed you?

Yeah, I mean, the amount of freedom they’ve given me and respect they’ve given me, as for what I bring to the table and being able to allow me to do what I do and basically get the best out of me, is kind of what they’re good at. I mean, they’re great musicians and their vocabulary far exceeds mine. So most of the time, I’m just shutting up and trying to learn something [laughs].

But you know, being in a band with those guys has been very rewarding, and before in my life, I felt like I had to micromanage everything, including mixes, or songs, or whatever it was. And now, a lot of that’s done. So I just get to come in and do the parts that are expected of me and really contribute in a way that isn’t too overwhelming for me. So I kind of see it as a very organic thing because that’s kind of how it came together.

Did that warm welcome also extend to the live stage as well?

Yeah, I mean, in the back of my mind, I’m always thinking they want to like it, you know? Obviously, I’ll never be Scott, and he’ll always be that part of that band. So for me, it’s just going up there and trying to love the music and feel the music. And really, I’m not trying to think about anything when I’m up there. Otherwise you can get in your own head and then you’re lost forever.

Going on from that, I assume then it would be important to just try and blaze your own trail rather than trying to sort of live up to any expectations?

Yeah, I mean, I believe in myself, and I’m humble but I’m also confident in what I bring. So I feel like getting a chance to get in a room with guys like that and then writing songs and bringing my imagination into the world that they’re creating, I feel like that’s really kind of what I’m good at. So if I put pressure on myself to be something else than what I’m good at, it ain’t gonna work. So I just figured I’d just roll with it and do what I know. That’s all I can do.

In early 2020, it was when we received Perdida, which was your second album with the band, and one that was arguably softer than what had come before. Was that a little bit daunting to sort of go along with a sonic change so soon into your tenure? Or was it more a case of just being happy to expand the Stone Temple Pilots palette where possible?

Absolutely. For me, I was just making a record with these guys who are incredibly gifted musicians. And we wrote that when we were on the Canadian tour playing in the hockey arenas, in our downtime, during winter, and there was nowhere to go, there was nothing else to do. So that was kind of its own experience in a way. And to have it be more of a melancholic and mellow record is kind of right in my wheelhouse [laughs]. So that kind of came naturally to me, and I was like, “Oh, thank you for doing something that I’m so comfortable with”. I kind of felt like they were catering to me in a way by doing that.

A lot of guys I grew up with and played with in other bands, when they heard that they said, “That sounds exactly like you. That’s pretty much you right there”. So it made sense to everyone who knew me before. And that was important to me too that they felt like that I really could be myself on a record with these guys and make it work like that and make it still feel like STP somehow.

I’d listened to a lot of your work before Stone Temple Pilots, and I do agree that it definitely suited you. It was also rather fitting to release a melancholic album like that just before the pandemic, wasn’t it?

Yeah, it’s crazy. I mean, I had to have back surgery, which is why we ended up doing that tour. And then right after that, we were supposed to go to Australia – then the pandemic hit. So, you know, it was like it was one thing after another. So that’s why this tour is so important; to get back out there and start really just playing internationally again, which is a huge deal. It’s kind of a milestone that we can get back to this and we can make it work.

It must have been crushing to have the Australian tour cancelled. I mean, Stone Temple Pilots hadn’t been here since 2011, and you hadn’t played with them here before. It must have just been blow after blow by that point. But how were you feeling? Was it just like, “What more could go wrong at this point”?

We had been so busy up until that point, and then – not just in STP but in my whole life – I never had a break like that. So half of me was welcoming it just to have vocal rest for a while. Before I was in STP, I was singing in clubs, five or six nights a week and just doing what I could to pay the rent. So being able to take a break like that was, I mean, I don’t know any other opportunity I would get to do that [laughs]. So I hope it’s the last one, but I tried to enjoy it as much as I possibly could, even though I knew – y’know – I’m not going to make any money for two and a half years, but whatever.

It was a real double-edged sword, wasn’t it? On one hand, there’s the respite after so many years of playing, but then there’s the fact you’re not out there, practicing your craft, or even making money.

It feels like part of you is missing. It’s like it’s an emotional release for people up on the stage, just as much as to be there at a show, which I’ve been on that side of, too. But it’s kind of the same thing. There’s that excitement and there’s the moment when that song that you love hits and you hear the rest of the crowd get behind you on it, and it’s like a connection to humanity. But it’s an unspoken thing, which makes it all the more special.

Once the pandemic truly hit, what were the thoughts within the band? Were you thinking, “Oh, with that in mind, should we just work on new music?” Or was it an environment not very conducive to new music?

Yeah, but you know, a lot of creativity comes when you’re isolated and when you’re alone. Most of mine does, it comes from listening, really just listening and visualising in whatever it is – whether it’s Simon & Garfunkel or… Ozzy [laughs]. It could be anything. I think to be a musician, you have to be a fan of music, too. So to choose it as a profession is insanity [laughs], but you make it work.

The Australian tour did get rescheduled to 2021 at first and then pushed back again and again. That must have felt almost cruel to be so close, then to have it all move back and then changed again. I mean, fans are tired of it, but I imagine it must have been so awful for you as well.

Yeah, I feel terrible for fans, because I know STP hadn’t been there in a while and I’ve never been there. So I want to go there and do that for these guys and for everyone in Australia. And then with myself being in Australia for the first time, I feel like it’s just a great combination of excitement. I mean, I’m going to be having to try to wipe the smile off my face on stage just to take it seriously [laughs].

This tour is also the first major international tour to be hitting Australia after a few years. Is that a daunting prospect? To be one of the first international bands back on stages must make it feel like there’s a lot of responsibility to not just bring your A-game, but to bring your A+-game, just so that folks are so blown away and reminded about what they’ve been missing.

I just want to bring the game, man [laughs]. I think it’ll come back naturally. I’m not really trying to put too much pressure on myself. I just want to get out there and sing these songs and have people singing them back at me. If I forget where I’m at in a song, I can look at the crowd and see their mouths moving and know that they’re such big fans of Stone Temple Pilots that they’ll be in the right spot [laughs].

The band have been playing shows again recently, but how has that been feeling in the not-quite-post-COVID world? Is the feeling in the crowds different? Is it a bit more cautious, or are people just going right back into it?

I can’t speak really for people in the crowd, but the reaction from the stage is that I feel like they’ve been yearning for it, and there’s a release there that has been a long time coming.

What can fans expect from these upcoming shows? I’ve looked at recent setlists and it’s predominantly Scott-era material, with a couple of tracks from the 2018 album. I hate to use the phrase, but it seems like more of a ‘nostalgia set’ than a showcase of newer material?

The thing is that there’s so many records and songs to choose from. It’s a great problem to have, but there’s just so much that it’s hard to fit everything into an hour. I haven’t seen the setlist yet, and we’re going to start rehearsals here pretty soon. I just got back to L.A. a couple of days ago, and I think Eric [Kretz, drummer] just got back on Monday. So, we’re going to get together here and start hashing out some setlists, and I can’t wait to see them But if you hear anything before me, let me know [laughs].

I always find myself looking at setlists, and I can definitely see the desire in wanting to play deep cuts that haven’t been played for a long while. But I feel it must be a bit of a catch-22 for yourself, because you’re aware fans are there to hear the ‘classic’ songs, but I’d feel you’d also want to be showing off the material that has come from your time in the band, too.

I kind of feel like the guys would feel the same way, too. They’re about moving forward as much as they are remembering the past. To me, it’s just an honour to be able to sing those songs with those guys, to represent that for the fans and for everyone that’s loved them and followed them throughout their career like I have. Yeah. So to me, it’s just about paying respects to that and making sure it’s done right.

And I just kind of get lost in the songs myself and remember what they meant to me and how impactful they were in my life. They’re kind of the soundtrack to people’s lives, too. We usually roll with more than one set list – we usually have two or three different setlists – so we’ll see what what comes together.

Looking away from the tour, is the band up to anything else currently? Are you working on new music, or are you hoping to get these tour dates out of the way first?

We’re always working on material. I am, personally, and I’m sure they are too. We haven’t gotten together and been able to talk about that in that sense, because once that process starts, the floodgates kind of just open and that’s kind of where you’re heading. But there’s no like, ‘half-in, half out’ where they would say, “Let’s write a bunch of songs”.

We did that hen we had that downtime and when we were together, and that’s kind of different than just kind of being off on our own. So, us getting back together is going to feel good; us getting back on stage is going to feel good as well. Us playing the songs is going to feel good, and then coming together to show each other our ideas while we’re in proximity with each other a lot will be good, too. So maybe the next record will be written on the road in Australia [laughs].