Stone Temple Pilots: The Billboard Cover Story
From venomous public feuds with his former hard-rock supergroup Velvet Revolver to a long history of drug abuse and run-ins with the law, Scott Weiland-the slinky, gruff-voiced frontman who became a grunge-era heartthrob as the leader of '90s giants Stone Temple Pilots-rarely has been one to hold his tongue. During an interview with Billboard in November 2008-when STP was six months into its highly anticipated reunion tour, the band's first set of shows in about six years-Weiland candidly expressed his disinterest in continuing to work with the group's longtime label, Atlantic Records. When asked if the comeback tour would lead to a new STP studio album with his bandmates Dean and Robert DeLeo (guitar and bass, respectively) and drummer Eric Kretz, Weiland seemed open to the idea-but not if it meant releasing the set on the Warner Music Group label, which signed the band in 1991.
"It was sad to find out that we're still in some way locked into a contract with Atlantic Records, which is a travesty, actually. When we signed to them it was a great label. It was a beautiful time in music," Weiland said. "When we first talked about putting STP back together, it was, 'Do this tour and then see about doing a creative deal with another company.' So if it ends up being we have to make a certain amount of records for Atlantic in order to be free, then I don't know if I have that in me."
While the road to reconciliation wasn't easy, Weiland seems to have come to terms with the label in the past two years. The band's new self-titled album-its sixth studio release overall and first since "Shangri-La Dee Da" in 2001-will be released May 25 on Atlantic. While Weiland may have had grandiose visions on how to innovatively release a new STP album without label interference, his bandmates had to remind him of an important fact: They were still under contract with Atlantic.
"Yeah, that sounds fine and dandy, but I had to tap him on the shoulder and say, 'By the way, we're contractually obligated to two more albums,' " Dean DeLeo says. "I would've loved to have done that too, but I knew what was at hand on a legal front."MAKING AMENDS WITH ATLANTIC
STP has sold nearly 13 million albums in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and the band's older hits are still in regular rotation at rock radio. Losing STP could've been a significant blow to Atlantic, especially since the act had returned to the limelight with a successful tour that was generating millions of dollars.
In June 2008, as buzz about a potential new STP album grew, Atlantic responded by filing a complaint in U.S. District Court in New York that reportedly accused Weiland and Kretz of attempting to prematurely end their recording contract with the label. The action contended that STP had already delivered six albums to Atlantic, and that the label wanted a seventh, and up to two more releases, if it so desired.
STP attorney Gary Stiffelman, who also represents other powerhouse artists like Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake, says the short-lived complaint resulted from a "good faith misunderstanding" that occurred during contract negotiations.
"In the process of negotiating, the fact came up that [STP] had been under contract for more than seven years. And somehow the business affairs executive at the label sort of misheard me and thought I was making a threat to terminate and got very concerned that they were going to lose the band under the seven-year statute," Stiffelman says. "So they filed this action to protect themselves. But almost as soon as it was filed, it was put on abeyance."
An Atlantic representative describes the situation as an "old disagreement over contract terms that has already been amicably settled. In fact, although the complaint was filed, it was never even served upon the band before Atlantic voluntarily dismissed the action."
STP and Atlantic reps declined to elaborate on what specifically went into resolving the issue or to discuss the terms of the band's existing contract with the label. But both parties consider the snafu "water under the bridge" and foresee a healthy working relationship moving forward-beyond the new set, STP owes one more album to Atlantic, according to DeLeo.
"We have more music left in the contract," says Atlantic chairman/CEO Craig Kallman, who was instrumental in signing STP and developing the group throughout the '90s. "But I can't say we've had a single conversation beyond this, because it's such an immense road ahead just in launching this album around the world."
Weiland is also at peace with STP's current relationship with Atlantic. "I didn't want to record for Atlantic because I didn't know anybody there anymore, except for Craig Kallman," says the singer, who has been off drugs for seven-and-a-half years. (He admits, however, to indulging in the occasional glass of scotch.) "Since then I've gotten to know Craig much better, and I've gotten to know the Atlantic staff pretty extensively, because we've had several listening parties.
"I feel like this is their Dreadnought-their big rock thing," he continues. "And if they're going to prove themselves that they're still worthy and valuable today, and not just based on the enormous and creative legacy that they have, that this is the album to do it with."PILOTING A RETURN
With the contractual issues settled, the primary challenge for Atlantic will be mounting a brand-new album from a heritage rock act that hasn't released any new material in nearly a decade. Luckily for both sides, STP didn't fall off the map after splitting in 2002: The band's repertoire is still played daily on radio stations around the country, and its members have remained in the public eye with other musical projects.
In addition to starting his independent label Softdrive Records, releasing the 2008 solo album "Happy in Galoshes" and starting his own clothing line, Weiland was the lead singer of Velvet Revolver, which sold a combined 2.3 million copies of its two albums, "Contraband" (2004) and "Libertad" (2007), according to Nielsen SoundScan. (Weiland and the band had a falling-out in mid-2008, shortly before STP's reunion trek.) The DeLeo brothers kept up their musical chops by teaming with Filter frontman Richard Patrick to form the rock band Army of Anyone, whose 2006 self-titled release has sold 88,000 copies.
These elements, along with a heavy marketing campaign and the lengthy reunion tour that reintroduced STP to its primarily 25- to 35-year-old fan base, have provided Atlantic an ideal setup going into the release of the band's new album, Atlantic GM Livia Tortella notes. "There's still a really strong appetite for this band," she says. "And it was evidenced by the tour and also by how radio still loves them."
Since re-forming in 2008, STP has performed in venues ranging from clubs to arenas, grossing more than $9 million from 54 concerts that drew approximately 211,000 fans, according to Billboard Boxscore. STP booking agent John Branigan at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, who has booked the group since its inception, says the band has played about 125 shows since reuniting. (Billboard only tracks data reported by concert promoters and venues.)
Offers from festival organizers initially led STP to reunite for its first public performance in six years at the 2008 Rock on the Range festival in Columbus, Ohio. "It started out as festival offers, then took on a life of its own and kept on going," Branigan says. "When you're at the show, it's just hit after hit."
It remains a challenge to persuade fans who dished out money for STP concert tickets last summer to pony up for an album of new material. Atlantic execs and STP manager Dana Dufine were locking down several deals at press time to ensure that the group's new music doesn't fly past anyone's radar. One key way to accomplish this is by licensing it to film, TV and videogames.
In recent weeks, Universal Music Publishing Group signed a multiyear worldwide publishing deal with Weiland and extended its deal with STP. (Weiland's existing publishing agreement with Bug Music for his share of the STP catalog expires in September.) The new deal with UMPG encompasses the band's catalog, including the new album. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
"We already have major things in the works, like film trailers, big commercials and videogame opportunities," UMPG chairman/CEO David Renzer says, noting that the agreement had just been signed and deals hadn't yet been finalized. "We're very highly focused on the whole synchronization area."
In addition to licensing STP music for the upcoming "Rock Band 3" and "Guitar Hero 6," Dufine says that she's targeting synchs for programs like "True Blood," "Gossip Girl" and "Vampire Diaries."
Additionally, ESPN will use eight STP tracks-including new cuts "Between the Lines," "Dare If You Dare," "Take a Load Off" and "Fast As I Can"-across its programming. And footage from the band's March appearance at South by Southwest will air on TV screens in Best Buy stores and be used for album teasers on STP's Web site. The group has several TV appearances lined up around the album's release-including "Late Show With David Letterman" (May 19) and "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" (May 25)-and it's scheduled for Howard Stern's Sirius Satellite Radio show May 18. STP's March 27 concert at Chicago's Riviera Theatre will air on VH1, MTV2 and sister HD channel Palladia in late May.
A deluxe version of the album with expanded artwork and two bonus tracks will be available on street date. Target will be given a CD/DVD version of the set with exclusive interview content, and Walmart will air an exclusive STP performance in stores and on its Soundcheck Web site.STEADY RADIO ROTATION
Another driver of the album will be radio airplay. First single "Between the Lines," released in late March, has been very well-received. This week the track blasts up the Alternative chart (39-9) and the Rock Songs list (40-2) and flies 36-7 on Mainstream Rock, marking the act's first top 10 radio hit since 2003.
"They've always been good at giving people something consistent with the Stone Temple Pilots identity, but also a little newer to let fans know they were paying attention and moving forward and trying to grow in their own right," WIIL Chicago music director Stephen Salzman says.
Since the release of its 1992 debut "Core," STP's biggest-selling album at 4.9 million copies, the band has enjoyed huge success at radio. Up until 2000, it was a vital act at mainstream and alternative rock. The group has notched 16 top 10 hits on the Mainstream Rock chart, six of which went to No. 1. And many rock stations have helped keep STP's legacy alive by playing hits like "Plush" and "Interstate Love Song."
"Stone Temple Pilots is definitely one of our core artists," KRZQ Reno, Nev., PD Melanie Flores says, noting that 12 of the band's songs are in regular rotation at the station. "It feels good to have some of these older artists on our station again with new music that's actually good."
Most programmers agree that new music from STP will likely go over best with the band's 25-35 demographic. "I don't think a teenager is necessarily walking around saying, 'The Stone Temple Pilots is my favorite band,' " KROQ Los Angeles music director Lisa Worden says. "But I think they're really going to be into the new music, because it's really good."
To target a younger audience, the band is planning a secret event with MySpace surrounding the album's release and will premiere exclusive content on the social networking site during the album cycle. The STP camp also will buy targeted ads on Facebook, and a live streaming event with YouTube is in the works.ROCK ROLLED
After gauging the reaction to the band's 2008-09 tour, making a new album seemed part of the "logical chain of events," DeLeo says. "We started this record while we were in the midst of touring. We'd go in and work for a month, then go back out on the road for three weeks, then work on it. That sprawled out over eight or nine months."
During the writing process, Dean and Robert DeLeo would send Weiland demos of the instrumental tracks. "Then I went to my studio, Lavish, which also staffs our record company, and started working on lyrics and melodies," Weiland says.
Although STP self-produced the new album, the band brought in producer Don Was to get all the members in sync. "He had us come in together and play live as a band," Weiland says. "That's really when things started taking off."
The resulting collection should please longtime STP fans, says Weiland, who calls the release a "straightforward STP rock'n'roll record. There's a lot of blues to it, a lot of R&B to it and a little Louisiana Purchase to it. But at the core, it's a rock album."
Some rock bands launching a comeback album may have considered bringing in outside songwriters to help pen a big radio ballad, but true to its writing style, STP chose to handle such duties without any assistance. "I never had a problem writing songs," DeLeo says. "You have Robert and I, two pretty prominent songwriters, throwing a wealth of material at Scott."
At press time, STP was finishing a nine-date promotional run of theater dates to help push "Between the Lines." The band will appear at a handful of U.S. radio festivals in April and May before heading to Europe to play festivals and one-off shows through June. STP will headline a North American summer tour that will feature a handful of opening acts yet to be determined. Fans who preorder a ticket to the summer trek will also receive a free download of the band's new album, according to Atlantic's Tortella.
"We're expecting to do 20-25 major-market amphitheaters or arenas in the later summer and fall," Branigan says, noting that STP has also confirmed a handful of North American festival dates. "I expect the tour to go into 2011 and possibly 2012."
Despite the fact that touring accounts for the bulk of STP's revenue these days, Weiland hopes the new album sells well enough to allow him time off from the road at some point. "I hope the record sells 10 million," he says. "I have two young kids who call me, crying, 'Daddy, when are you coming home? When is two weeks up?' I love playing shows, but I want to be with my children."
Weiland recognizes, however, that the "onus is really on touring, because basically only country music sells CDs anymore." His words reflect a growing concern among veteran acts like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails that have questioned whether aligning with a major label in a digital age is the savviest business decision.
But if Weiland-ever the outspoken frontman-gets his way, the band will find other creative outlets to release future STP material. "You can do a 360 deal, like Madonna did [with Live Nation], if the money is right. Putting it out on Softdrive, or our own label. Doing things more creatively with the Internet. Giving stuff for free as well as selling stuff," he says. "I like Radiohead's idea, where they let their fans have the choice to pay what they wanted to pay. They ended up making a lot more money doing it that way."