Call it instinct or well-earned experience. But Stone Temple Pilots' Robert DeLeo can't help waiting for the other shoe to drop with his latest lead vocalist. The band co-founder experienced countless run-ins with on-again/off-again frontman Scott Weiland, whom he felt forced to fire three years ago after an abruptly canceled 20th anniversary tour of the group's 1992 debut Core. But so far, he's relieved to report, Linkin Park's Chester Bennington is fitting in quite nicely.
STP — which also includes the long-suffering bassist/songwriter's brother Dean DeLeo on guitar and Eric Kretz on drums — first revealed its new surprise lineup at an outdoor L.A. concert in May of 2013, three months after Weiland's exit. The outfit has since issued an EP, High Rise, with propulsive new collaborations like "Tomorrow," "Black Heart" and the single "Out of Time," all revealing Bennington's pneumatic power-drill singing voice to be a perfect aesthetic match. Currently, the members have been in the studio, polishing off a full-length followup album.
"I still have to pinch myself," says Robert, who's often sat tensely through STP press days, embarrassed over the mercurial Weiland's last-minute (and possibly substance-abuse-related) no-shows. "Chester just had a really bad accident — he's got a broken ankle that's got plates and screws in it right now, so he's in a considerable amount of pain. But we're trucking on — we're actually going out on tour, and he's game for it."
On tour, the singer's dedication shines through even more clearly. Bennington may still be anchoring Linkin Park, DeLeo acknowledges, but when he's with STP, he behaves like there's no other band on Earth: "When I hear him in the hotel the day of a show, above me or below me or beside me in another room, going over our catalog of songs, I know that he's putting in the time, and he fucking cares."
Lawsuits and countersuits may or may not still fly between Weiland and his former pals, but everything feels surprisingly serene on the creative home front. Even though Core was initially dismissed by some as little more than dark, faux-Pearl Jam grunge from sunny California, the DeLeos proved themselves a force to be reckoned with on inventive stylistic expansions such as Purple and Tiny Music.
During arena shows with Linkin Park back in 2001, Bennington would jump onstage to join in on vocals. So when the slot opened up, DeLeo gave him a call. "Chester is in a very big, successful band, so we were just wondering if he had the time to do it. But from the start, he pretty much had it together — no use of teleprompter onstage, he's got the songs down. And I think he pretty much grew up on this, and he still digs the music that we make."
Meanwhile, DeLeo feels the band is finally getting back in touch with what it's all about. "Over the past two decades, we've been pulled and pushed and stretched in every direction — there's been a lot of trial and tribulation. So I think it was a matter of just pushing ahead and finally figuring out what kind of quality of life we wanted to have."