Jeff Gutt lands plush gig as Stone Temple Pilots singer
When Jeff Gutt tried out to be the new lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots, he was given a list of a half-dozen STP songs to work through before his audition with the group.
Most were classics from the band’s catalog, modern rock staples like “Plush” and “Interstate Love Song” that helped STP become one of the most successful rock outfits of the 1990s. But one — “Piece of Pie,” an album cut from the band’s 1992 debut effort “Core” — was giving Gutt a hard time.
“It was the only one I didn’t have completely memorized,” says Gutt, on the phone last week from Los Angeles. “So when I walked in, they were like, ‘Which one do you want to start with?’ And I said ‘Piece of Pie.’ They were like, ‘Really? You want to start with that one?’ I was probably literally the only person who said that, because their reaction was like, ‘Whoa!’ But the real reason was I just didn’t know the lyrics that well, and I wanted to get through it first.”
Gutt sailed through “Piece of Pie,” and the rest was a piece of cake. The 41-year-old singer from Marine City landed the gig at STP’s new singer, and “Stone Temple Pilots,” the group’s seventh album and first with Gutt as frontman, will be released Friday.
For Gutt — his last name rhymes with “boot” — the STP gig is the culmination of a lengthy rock ‘n’ roll odyssey that has seen him flirt with his dreams several times, but never seal the deal.
His band, Dry Cell, was a victim of major label reshuffling and was dropped from Warner Bros. Records before its debut album was ever released. Gutt washed out of the L.A. rock scene, returned to Metro Detroit and became a staple on local stages, performing cover songs at Cheli’s Chili, Fifth Avenue and various Hamlin Pubs. While living in Clinton Township, he auditioned for the second season of Fox’s singing competition “The X Factor” in 2012. He was cut from the show, but returned a year later, and made it all the way to the finals before finishing as the runner-up in 2013.
Gutt’s experience on “The X Factor” — he was 37 during his season — was valuable, he says. “It showed me how much work goes into something like that, and how many people it really takes to put a show like that on,” he says. “And also, seeing that red light go on and knowing there’s millions of people watching you really helped me.”
In another rock ‘n’ roll universe, Stone Temple Pilots were searching for a new lead singer following the 2015 overdose death of Scott Weiland. In July 2016, STP bassist Robert DeLeo — who formed Stone Temple Pilots in the early 1990s with his brother Dean, drummer Eric Kretz and Weiland — was playing DTE Energy Music Theatre with his all-star cover band, Hollywood Vampires. Chris Doliber, a friend of Gutt’s who played in the 1980s Detroit rock outfit Madam X, was headed to the concert.
“He’s a good friend of mine, and he told me, ‘I’m going to see Hollywood Vampires tonight, I’m going to tell them about you,” Gutt says. “I was like, ‘Yeah, go for it!’ ”
Thousands of audition tapes for the open singing position had already poured in, but Doliber’s recommendation helped move Gutt to the front of the line. A few months later he was getting his Stone Temple Pilots tryout, and the rest is a rock ‘n’ roll fairy tale that is still being authored.
Gutt was a junior at Marine City High School when “Core” was released; “Dead and Bloated,” the album’s opening cut, was the first song he recalls hearing from the group. He was already performing in bands at the time, and “Core” hit around the time Gutt was pivoting from guitarist to lead singer.
“I felt I had a good ear, and I had the ability to sing like my influences,” says Gutt. “And that really struck me about (Weiland), because he could cater to each song, using different influences to make the song exactly what it needed to be.”
After Gutt landed the STP gig — after an eight month getting-to-know-you period, he played his first show with the group in November — he delved further into Weiland’s life and inspirations. Reading Weiland’s 2012 book “Not Dead & Not For Sale: A Memoir,” he saw similarities. “In the first chapter he’s rattling off his influences — the Carpenters, John Denver — and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s my dad’s record collection,’” says Gutt, a single father whose son, Talon, is 9. “We grew up on the same things.”
On the new album, Gutt sounds a lot like Weiland, which he says is very natural. On stage with STP, Gutt has a slithery shuffle that mirrors Weiland’s, but he says it’s more of a homage than an imitation.
“There’s nothing preconceived, and I don’t go up there to do an impression of Scott,” says Gutt. “I try to feel the music as best I can, and if there’s little hints of Scott here or there, then I see that as a good thing.”
One thing he won’t do is sing through a megaphone, which was one of Weiland’s trademarks. “That’s sacred with him,” Gutt says.
A megaphone did play an important role in Gutt’s path to STP, however. On the day he received a phone call that he got the gig, Gutt was living in a house share in Los Angeles. He ducked into a laundry room to take the call in private, and as he was hearing the news, he glanced down at the floor and saw a megaphone sitting next to the washing machine.
“I felt like that was Scott’s way of giving me a little nod,” Gutt says.
STP is currently in the middle of a tour, and Gutt is hopeful a summer tour will swing the band through Michigan.
He’s still getting used to being on stage with such an iconic alt-rock unit, “and I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to it, to tell you the truth,” he says.
But he’s been preparing for this moment his whole life, he says.
“I’ve always had to keep my life very basic: I didn’t have a mortgage, I’ve never been married, I’ve had to keep my life completely open for something like this. And thank God I did, because its all led me to this,” he says.
Stone Temple Pilots
‘Stone Temple Pilots’