In 2018, Stone Temple Pilots released their second self-titled album in eight years, marking their recording debut with new lead singer Jeff Gutt and their first release since the death of their original lead singer, Scott Weiland, in 2015 and his 2013-2015 successor, Chester Bennington, in 2017. Alternating between hooky alt-rock anthems and meditative power-pop ballads, Stone Temple Pilots granted a well-earned victory to a band that had suffered its fair share of public tragedy. With a new frontman and a new album under their belts, Stone Temple Pilots had once again resurrected themselves in the face of adversity.
Now, the band members — guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo, drummer Eric Kretz and Gutt — are looking to the past to forge their future, drawing on the sounds of their childhood for their new acoustic album, Perdida, which translates to “loss” in Spanish. Recorded primarily at Kretz’s Bomb Shelter Studio, Perdida is a sweeping set of reflections on past relationships, equal parts mournful and celebratory. Inspired by the singer-songwriters and folk artists who populated ’60s and ’70s AM radio, the album allows Stone Temple Pilots to expand upon musical elements they explored on a series of increasingly experimental albums during their commercial heyday, including 1994’s Billboard 200-topping Purple and 1996’s Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop.
“For myself, growing up on ’70s AM radio, there were so many great folk musicians, between Joan Baez and John Denver and Gordon Lightfoot,” Kretz says. “I was surrounded by all of that as a child, and Robert and Dean grew up on the same kind of influences. So it’s really nice to be able to pull from emotions and influences you had as a young child that weren’t related to loud, heavy rock n’ roll.”
Perdida‘s stripped-back sound gave the band a chance to incorporate a variety of instruments not usually found in hard rock, including alto saxophone, flute, cello and Marxophone. The album challenged every player to emphasize the space between the notes and create dynamics without simply cranking an amp or pummeling a cymbal. Stone Temple Pilots recorded several songs live in the studio and ironed out the arrangements together, much like they did decades ago when Robert presented the acoustic shells of future super-hits “Plush” and “Interstate Love Song.” “We were approached to do a couple songs acoustically, and we have the luxury of Robert and Dean just having so many great ideas at their fingertips, so it was pretty easy to put together the whole album,” Kretz says.
The drummer also attributes much of Perdida‘s vintage, lived-in feel to Gutt, who, like Weiland before him, channels the achingly melodic sounds of ’70s vocal groups such as the Carpenters. “They can truly live it, and that’s a huge credit to why those songs sound the way they do,” Kretz says of both singers. “Musically, we can come up with those styles, but vocally there’s no hiding what’s behind the human voice, as far as getting that emotion correct, and getting the lyrics correct, and getting pronunciation and phrasing correct to fit that style of music.”
It’s tempting to view all of Perdida as a tribute to Weiland and Bennington, but most of the songs deal with romantic and familial relationships instead. Often, they sound like they could be about all three, as on the haunting “Miles Away,” where Gutt sings: “I’d canvas the sea / Just to know what you knew / Wanna feel everything / You’ve ever been through /You’re so far from me / I can honestly say / I’m longing for you / Not just memories of you, miles away.”
These are not the kind of lyrics that would sound convincing if simply read off a sheet; they require a lot from Gutt as a singer and interpreter. He rises to the occasion on both fronts, powering through the chorus of relatively upbeat lead single “Fare Thee Well” and pulling back on the somber, classically tinged title track, dipping into his lower register as orchestral strings swell behind him. Gutt claims co-writing credits on eight of the album’s 10 songs, and they sound like the work of a singer and lyricist who has labored alongside his bandmates for several years now, sharing in their triumphs and disappointments.
“We were kind of with Jeff day and night for the last two years,” Kretz says. “So all the heartache that Dean and Robert and myself were going through over the last couple of years, Jeff could interpret it in his own way, where he felt comfortable presenting it lyrically and to be able to sing it. And he really lived in it. He really had an understanding of what it’s like to be in a band and what your brothers are going through sometimes.”
Despite its often sorrowful lyrics, Perdida ends on an optimistic note with the six-and-a-half-minute “Sunburst,” a tribute to the people whom the members of Stone Temple Pilots have loved and lost, and who continue to light up the world with their memories. “A sunburst comes / A sunburst goes / Leaving behind more than anyone knows / Glimmer of light for a flower to grow,” Gutt sings in one of just two verses. In true classic rock tradition, the band vamps for the song’s final three minutes, settling into a hypnotic groove and delivering tasteful fills as Gutt sings repeatedly, “You’re sunbursting again.”
Musically, it’s new ground for Stone Temple Pilots, who have never been prone to extended jamming on record. Lyrically, it synthesizes the feelings of love, misery, uncertainty and gratitude that populate Perdida. “Myself, Robert and Dean are in our fifties, so we’ve lived a full life, and we’ve lost some really wonderful, special people: family members, loved ones,” Kretz says. “Growing older with relationships, things change, things mature, things get better. We all have kids. I can look at them and their future. It is all across the board that way, ’cause it’s all a part of living and maturing and getting older, and just reflecting on everything we’ve been through, and what’s going to be in the future as well.”