I had never seen anything like it before.
Aug. 19, 2000. Montreal. Molson Centre. Riding the wave of their latest release No. 4, the Stone Temple Pilots were crisscrossing the world as openers for the Red Hot Chili Peppers (who were touring their record “Californation”). Both bands were juggernauts of the 90’s rock scene, both putting out mega-albums that tied a loud and dirty bow on the end of the turbulent decade.
I was 15 years old, and though my high school friends were there for the Peppers, I was there for STP. You see, as a 90s rock-n-roll kid, we all had “our band.” For some, it was Nirvana or Pearl Jam or Soundgarden, while for others it was Alice In Chains or The Smashing Pumpkins or the Peppers.
Shirtless, in leather pants with a mohawk, STP’s frontman Scott Weiland bolted onto the stage. His energy soared. The band was a muscle car engine, with Weiland the gasoline. I knew, from that moment forward, that all I wanted to do was be around that energy, around live music and the incredible atmosphere it creates. Weiland had set fire to my soul, where every cell in my body vibrated happily. With one performance, he set the course and trajectory of my life — I had become, magnetically and unapologetically, a music freak.
I was an odd, somewhat alienated and picked on adolescent, something that I found solidarity in with the persona, words and sounds that radiated from Weiland. He was out there, almost to a fault, where the more you tried to pin him down, the more elusive he became. He didn’t want to be defined, and also was so transparent in his actions and motives. They say the easiest way to hide something is to place it right in front of someone. Well, Weiland put his heart right out there on the stage, and yet critics either couldn’t figure him out or made brash judgments that were so off-base from what was really going on.
Only the fans knew who Scott Weiland was. And in our eyes, our hero could do no wrong.
He sang about deeply sensitive and personal topics, where you knew that beneath all of his bravado and tough skin was a guy who was just as vulnerable and in search for truth as the rest of us were. Scott Weiland was innately human, and projected that more so than many of his contemporaries in the grunge era.
Listening to “Interstate Love Song” or “Big Empty” you immediately felt this urge to walk right out your front door, get into your car, put it in drive and leave it all behind in the rearview mirror. It was escapism, camaraderie, tragedy, heartache and the endless potential of tomorrow all wrapped into one man, one band, one uniquely singular tone.
But, as Weiland’s personal problems with drugs and alcohol (and a crumbling marriage) took a toll on his professional work, in the studio and on the stage, his world got darker. Things weren’t just kid’s play anymore. There were real consequences to his actions. Heroin. Divorce. Rehab. Arrests. Cocaine. Cancelled shows. At that time, anything was possible with Weiland, for good or ill.
What resulted from those haphazard and dangerous years of the late 90s was the group’s fourth record, aptly titled No. 4. A perfectly crafted collage of songs, where for every pedal to the floor track (“Down,” “No Way Out”) was a sorrowful ballad (“Sour Girl,” “Atlanta”) — beauty to complement the beast. The album intricately reflected the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” complex that haunted Weiland throughout his entire life. He was hurting, physically and emotionally, and we could hear it echo from our car speakers and handheld CD players.
As the millennium came and went, STP was still in the forefront of American rock. Shangri-La Dee Da was a postcard record from Weiland and Co. The album looked back at the 90’s like a house ablaze. All the atrocities and bullshit was laid out on the table, each song a tarnished memory of an era that would be impossible to believe unless it actually had happened to you. Truth is stranger than fiction. Time to move forward. Time to find some new digs.
But, it seemed Weiland could never really move on, or escape, the biggest obstacle in his life — himself. He was his own worst enemy. He loved as much as he destroyed. He was a bull in a china shop, one who, in essence, just wanted to play around, but only ended up cracking and shattering anything or anyone within grasp.
And yet, the fans, myself included, never gave up on him, even through being kicked out of STP. Even after a meteoric rise and devastating fall of historic proportions with supergroup Velvet Revolver. Even when Stone Temple Pilots got back together and he was kicked out after one album, only to be replaced by Chester Bennington in recent years.
That’s the thing we do as people, as lovers of music. We’ll follow our heroes to the ends of the earth. When the train comes roaring down the tracks, we know, in our heart of hearts, that they will surely step aside from being hit before it’s too late, right? And up until last week, we thought Scott Weiland had dodged that bullet, the same fate that took Kurt Cobain and Layne Staley, where drug addiction was the only way to cope with being placed in the cage that is celebrity.
Yet through it all, coming into this latest endeavor with the Wildabouts, Weiland had landed on his feet, stronger and more determined than ever, like a cat with nine lives, one whose fierce loyalty and curiosity was balanced with a need for freedom and independence. Though only 48 when he passed away on Dec. 3, in his sleep on a tour bus Minnesota, we figured Weiland wouldn’t just become another casualty of the scene. He had transcended the grips of his demons and desires, but the years of abuse had taken their toll on his body.
For myself, I’ve spent the last decade or so as a music journalist. Running around America to seemingly every corner of this country, I track down the latest sounds catching my ear or catch up with those incredible musicians from the past who can make anyone feel young again when in the presence of songs immortal.
Through all these endless miles and performances, Scott Weiland always remained at the top of my list. This mythical character, he was my “Moby Dick,” in that one day I hoped to interact and be in the presence of this whale of a personality and talent. He remained my pinnacle interview pursuit for my career thus far. At least that was, until a couple weeks ago.
After finding out he’d be taking the stage with the Wildabouts at The Orange Peel in Asheville, North Carolina on Sunday, Nov. 22, I made it my mission to track him down and finally get to interview my hero. Though most of November was spent trying to nail down a time to speak with him, it was finally agreed upon that the conversation would take place. I couldn’t believe it. It was really going to happen.
But, then he cancelled and rescheduled, only to cancel again. By the third attempt, I was told by his management on Wednesday, Nov. 11 that our chat for that afternoon would have to be moved again. Third time is the charm, and not for the better. I was crushed. I figured that was it. I wouldn’t be able to interview him before my article deadline.
So, I went to lunch that day. Returning to my desk around 2 p.m. I started work on other features and projects. The office phone rang, as it normally does on a busy workday. By the third ring, I realized I was the only person in the newsroom. I quickly picked up the phone.
“Hello? Smoky Mountain News.”
“Is this Garret?”
“Yes. Who is this?”
My heart jumped into my throat. A moment of shock was quickly replaced with the immediacy of locating my handheld recorder. It turned out that there had been a miscommunication between Weiland and his management. Thus, he called anyhow, and our conversation began…
Part One: Over the phone in Waynesville, North Carolina
Garret K. Woodward: With The Wildabouts, do you feel like the third time is the charm?
Scott Weiland: Yeah, I do. We’re heavy and we’re tight. It’s a different music business environment than it used to be. When Velvet Revolver released its debut album [in 2004], it went to number one on the Billboard charts and sold six million records, I mean, that’s impossible now. Rock bands, unless you’re like U2, don’t sell anymore. I mean, The Rolling Stones don’t even sell records anymore.
GKW: And now you have to rely more on touring, which gives no down time to the creative process.
SW: And that’s my favorite part of being an artist, is the art part, which is making records.
GKW: Now that you’re approaching 50, do you see any change in your thought process?
SW: Well, I wouldn’t say I’m nearing 50. I’m still in my 40s. [Laughs]. I don’t tour like I used to. I don’t chase around looking for drugs, looking for groupies, or anything like that. I’m happily married and in love with my wife. Given a healthy measure of my wants and pleasures that there are, it’s different now. It’s about the music and rocking out with the band.
GKW: During interviews, you’re one of the most truthful and open musicians out there, and yet why are you also the most misunderstood?
SW: It started with “Core” and how that album skyrocketed to fame so quickly. And I’ve always had to answer to that, always had to answer for everything from that point forward. The times in my life when I was doing drugs and getting busted, it kind of made me a regimental outlaw. So, there was a lot of controversy that surrounded my celebrity existence, and that shadow still follows me.
GKW: Even though you’ve never hid behind any excuses, too.
SW: Yeah, I mean it has been 13 years since I lived that way and I still have that tag on me. But, they still do the same thing with Keith Richards.
GKW: And Rolling Stone magazine recently did a cover story on Keith. He’s 72 and still kicking ass. Do you see yourself doing the same at 72?
SW: I don’t know about 72, maybe 65.
GKW: Can you still create good art if you’re happy?
SW: Yeah, you can, but I’m not happy all the time. I’m happily married, but it doesn’t mean I’m happy all the time. I’m bi-polar and I have to take medication for that. Sometimes I fall into stark places, and I think I write better music when I’m in those places. And sometimes I write better music when I’m on a high, not a narcotic high, but an actual high, a bi-polar high.
GKW: Where you’re in a dreamlike state?
SW: Yeah, exactly, like where I can just write three songs in one night.
GKW: What’s the biggest misconception about you?
SW: That I’m a lazy sod.
GKW: Through all the ups and downs in your career, was it all worth it?
SW: It was. It was all worth it. I learned life lessons — what to do, what not to do, what to tell my kids to stay away from, what to tell them to go for.
GKW: And nowadays, you’re looked upon as one of the torchbearers of rock, one of the statesmen.
SW: It’s wild. At every meet and greet, there are people that come to tears, saying how my music changed their lives, how it got them through truly difficult times. It affects me in a major way — it brings tears to my eyes.
When I got off the phone with Weiland, I realized that I hadn’t really asked him any of the questions that I’d intended. My original sheet of queries was not at my desk, so I flew by the seat of my pants during the interview. A day or so later, I decided to ask his management for another shot at him. A few back-and-forth emails later, they agreed. I was to meet the tour manager, Aaron, at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22 during soundcheck at The Orange Peel in Asheville, NC.
As I reached for the front door of the venue, I could see and feel the glass vibrating, only to hear the boom of a bass guitar from inside. Entering the large room, the Wildabouts were soundchecking. The razorsharp slide guitar and thundering percussion of “Big Empty” shot out from the stage. It was powerful. It was heavy, very heavy, where you found yourself thinking, “Hell, they could blow the roof off Madison Square Garden.”
Aaron met me out front and brought me backstage. Weiland and his wife, Jamie, who had recently joined him on tour, were out to a dinner and would be back shortly. Sitting in the green room, Aaron and I talked about the tour and hopes for 2016. Immediately, I felt welcomed by his positivity and jovial nature, something that put my thoughts at ease as to who Weiland’s inner circle was these days.
The backstage was silent. No groupies. No booze. No chaos. Peace and quiet. The kind of atmosphere you were hoping existed in your hero’s world after decades of debauchery and controversy. Weiland and Jamie then entered the room. Bundled up in an elaborate winter coat, gloves and sunglasses, he sat down on the couch, eyes aimed forward to the wall, never once looking over to me during the first few minutes of the conversation.
He was unsure of my motives, as he should be. I can’t imagine being badgered by journalists, critics and fans most of your adult life, and yet, still being “down” to chat with other writer. And he sat there, slowly opening up to my questions, always twisting around his coffee cup in his hands, always within a few inches of Jamie, whose loving smile and eyes never once left her husband’s face.
Part Two: Backstage, in-person at The Orange Peel
GKW: So, how’s the tour going?
SW: Tour’s going great.
GKW: You’ve been touring for about 25 years, right?
SW: About 23. Well, I’ve been playing in bands since I was 16, but got signed in 1991.
GKW: What does that mean to you that people are still showing up at your shows, still showing that they care?
SW: It’s cool. It’s great. It’s an honor. I think it’s important to interact with the fans.
GKW: STP. The elephant in the room. Chester is out. What would you say if they called right now and asked what you were doing next summer?
SW: I’d say maybe the summer after that.
GKW: Who was Scott Weiland in 1985?
SW: I was in my first rock band. Sang in the choir. I played football and wrestled. And I quit sports for my first band.
GKW: Who was Scott Weiland in 1995?
SW: A troublemaker.
SW: I had my shit together and was having kids for the first time.
SW: Happily married and also the stepfather of a great kid named Wolfie.
GKW: And what about 2025?
SW: Hopefully retired.
GKW: What do you see these days when you look in the mirror?
SW: It depends, whether it’s evening or the morning.
GKW: Ok, well the morning…
SW: I see puffy eyes, stuffy nose and a need to brush my teeth.
GKW: What about right before the show?
SW: Looking sexy.
GKW: You’re not old by any means, but you’ve been through a lot, onstage and off. What does it mean to still be out there performing?
SW: Well, I’ve been an athlete my whole life. So, the way I move onstage is very athletic. It’s a minor composition of the martial arts training over the years and a little bit of James Brown. Mick Jagger, too, though Mick Jagger stole his moves from James Brown.
GKW: What are some of the lessons you took away from STP and Velvet Revolver that you’ve applied to the Wildabouts?
SW: Be in a band with people that you’re friends with. I started off being friends with people in other bands, but the bands got so big that egos inflated the band and it overtook the music and the desire to tour for our fans. And with the Wildabouts, I’m just playing with a group of friends and we’re having a good time.
GKW: See, with the STP thing, I was playing devil’s advocate, thinking that maybe you might not want to open that chapter again. You seem in a good place these days, and that maybe there’s no need to disrupt that.
SW: I don’t know. It’s something that I know. Never say never in rock-n-roll.
GKW: What’s been one of the happiest days of your life recently?
SW: I would say marrying my wife, Jamie, here. And making my record, “Blaster.”
GKW: If you ran into your younger self just getting into the music industry, what would you say to that person?
SW: That the most important thing is writing songs, because without great songs, nothing can happen. Live fast, live long.
GKW: How would your younger self respond?
SW: Sounds cool to me.
GKW: What’s something you’ve recently overcome that meant a lot to you?
SW: Firing my old management and getting my new manager. Not to trust everyone, especially in the music industry.
GKW: But you landed on your feet. Do you think about that, that you weren’t a victim of the 90s like Kurt or Layne?
SW: Not at all. I surpassed that stage of music and that lifestyle, and live a whole different life now.
GKW: What do you see as the next step?
SW: I want to move out of L.A. and hopefully to Sonoma. I want to continue making records and touring until it’s no longer possible.
GKW: Would you like to get back to that arena level?
SW: I think everyone would like to get back to that level, but it’s difficult. There’s not many rock bands that play arenas anymore. This band (Wildabouts) could play an arena.
GKW: What has a lifetime playing music taught you about what it means to a human being?
SW: That being a celebrity doesn’t mean dick. And what it all is, is about being around people that love you and having family and friends and keeping in touch with those people. Staying close and developing and nurturing those relationships.
GKW: Do you look at this tour, band and album as kind of a victory lap for you? Perhaps redemption for all that hate people may throw at you?
SW: I wouldn’t say hate. It’s a few people out there that say those things. But there’s so many supporters who say great things. You know, out of 50 comments that are positive, there may be one or two that are negative and have a loud voice and get picked up on social media. But, fuck’em and feed’em fish.
GKW: And I’ve seen so much positivity come your way when you write about and have discussed being bi-polar. A lot of people connected to that with you.
SW: Yeah, it’s something that’s so common. Most people that have it don’t even know they have it and people that know that they have it don’t want to be medicated for it because it’s not something like taking an aspirin for a headache. It’s something that is trial and error. It’s like throwing darts at a dartboard until you hit the bull’s eye and finding the right medication that works.
GKW: And for 2016?
SW: We’re going to make a record in January and start writing sessions soon. Doing demos and touring, and go back to recording. There will be a record in 2016.
As soon as I turned off my recorder, Weiland finally took off his sunglasses. There was no equipment or piece of paper and pen jotting down his every move. He looked me right in the eye. He was warm, friendly. He knew I wasn’t there to vilify or scrutinize him. He has been my hero since I was a kid. My favorite. I held nobody higher in my eyes than him. It meant so much to me to tell him that he was the reason I became a music journalist, how he launched my love and obsession for music when I first saw him live those many years ago in Montreal.
I snapped a couple photos. As he posed for me I asked if he could pull his jacket hood up, seeing as it might make for a better photo. He agreed. It was surreal to be around him, to watch his live show where he never lost a step, to shake his hand goodbye, each of us heading back out into the world, down our separate paths that only crossed once.
I felt like I was standing at the center of the universe next to Scott Weiland. And now he’s gone. Just like that. I hope wherever he is in the cosmos that he knows he was loved. We all loved him, especially those incredible people I met in his inner circle, especially Jamie.
And when I learned of his passing, through the inevitable tears and shaking, the STP song “Where The River Goes” spilled across my thoughts.
“If I was stronger, I could be a mountain range
If night was longer could I escape the day?
Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide
Sing the song or keep it inside
Bought the farm, but the farmer done died
Sing that song, sing that song inside
I wanna be as big as a mountain
I wanna fly as high as the sun
I wanna know what the rent’s like in Heaven
I wanna know where the river goes…”
I have never seen anything quite like Scott Weiland before. And I don’t think I ever will, ever again.
Words and photos contributed by Garret K. Woodward, an arts and entertainment editor at The Smoky Mountain News in Waynesville, North Carolina. You can email him at Garret@SmokyMountainNews.com or follow his Instagram at GarretKWoodward.