David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 98: Stone Temple Pilots (Interstate Love Song)

August 2, 2020

I was not a big fan of most 90's music. In fact, if you look at this completely unscientific (or, more accurately, un-examined for its assumptions by me) website, I own a studio recording (so in other words, no "Best of" or "Greatest Hits" collections counted, as in almost all of those cases, I picked those up much later) for 13 of the Top 100. Throw out 4 of those as 80's (or even 70's) stars still holding their own in the 90's (REM, Neil Young), and it's 9 out of 100 that I own. Factor in some flavors of the day (Alanis Morrisette, Hootie & The Blowfish) and I would argue that it's only three 90's icons that I purchased 1 or maybe 2 CD's of.

Sometimes I wonder if I should blame my dearth of 90's artists on the demise of records and not on the easy culprit: me turning thirty. REM's Out Of Time, when it came out in 1991, is the last album I ever bought. Even though I have now bought more CD's than I ever did of albums, including replacing so much of my record collection, they just don't provide me the same "feel."  My purchasing of truly new artists doesn't increase significantly in the 2000's and beyond. I am often only turned onto new music through gifts, usually from my sister.

So of all the 90's icons (grunge, pop, something else), I can say I really only explored three at the ground level (don't fret, 90's fans, later purchases of "best of" collections have provided me great later-day appreciation of other icons). Two have already been discussed in this series--Hole and Weezer. The third and last one comes today with Stone Temple Pilots. STP's 1994 CD Purple was bought on the strength of several singles: "Vasoline," "Big Empty," and especially "Interstate Love Song." I loved these songs even if I didn't want to love the band. The sound seemed a bit murky (maybe I was thinking everything was too much grunge at the time), the lyrics hard to understand, either sonically or logically, and the personas, especially of lead singer Scott Wieland seemed too cliché. Despite that, whenever those opening bars to "Interstate Love Song" come in, I am hooked.

Part of the hook is the understatement of those first fifteen seconds, lightly strummed acoustic guitar, subdued bass and drums, and the hint of slide guitar. One would not be blamed for thinking that the song was 1970's Eagles, the B-side to "Peaceful Easy Feeling" perhaps. It's absolutely delightful (especially because there's no Glenn Frey or Don Henley singing).

Oh, how that changes quickly, as Dean DeLeo, Robert DeLeo, and Eric Kretz outright attack the power chords providing the song's backbone.  Robert DeLeo's bass sounds like it could penetrate a stone prison wall, while brother Dean's guitar work both muffles and elucidates the melody. Kretz's drumming adds its own texture to the driving beat. If The Eagles opened the show, they were quickly kicked off stage and replaced by Led Zeppelin.

Scott Wieland's vocals, reportedly completed in one take, are a thing of amazement. They convey passion, pain, and even patience in rolling out the long-distant love letter to his girlfriend. It's like Robert Plant got kicked off the stage, and Jim Morrison took over, drug addictions and all.

According to Wieland, the song was his admission of guilt to his distant girlfriend about his heroin usage, which notably became attached to the singer through to his tragic death in his 40's. Knowing that, the song becomes melodrama, Wieland's voice a confessional, with no hope of forgiveness: "breathing is the hardest thing to do/with all I've said and all that's dead to you/you lied/goodbye." It's tragic, it's gut-wrenching, and it's sing-it-at-the-top-of-your-lungs worthy as one drives down an interstate.

Even writing this, I feel ill-equipped to really determine if I love STP. I have this one album, occasionally hum to other songs when I hear them ("Big Bang Baby"), but seem unwilling to explore them more.  I remember them taking a lot of abuse at the time for riding the coat-tails of grunge, so in my mind, I am thinking people more knowledgeable than me know they're frauds.

And then I see this Youtube video: Rick Beato's really cool series "What Makes This Song Great?" featuring "Interstate Love Song." Beato can speak with musician's knowledge, so I am not that far off in declaring deep appreciation for this song and this band. The DeLeo brothers clearly have some "classical" training, whether in jazz or something else. I am glad to learn this, but then I wonder, why I am bothering here? I can't speak to the chord changes, the susschords (spelling?) or even the wonders of a specific studio.  I love Beato's videos, especially when I agree with his choices, but what can I add through this pithy series of blogs?

In the end, I am just a fan, and this series is a year-long exploration into fandom. At least for today, I know I can embrace my love of STP, and that I don't feel like I have a "hand in rusted shame?"

"Interstate Love Song." Stone Temple Pilots. Purple. 1994. Link here.

Beato, Rick. "What Makes This Song Great." Episode 65: "Interstate Love Song." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAHLpaYQDds&list=RDTntNxv8wFR4&index=11

Day 97: Bill Withers "Ain't No Sunshine."

Day 99: The Headboys "The Shape Of Things To Come."

See complete list here.