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‘Purple’: How Stone Temple Pilots Hit An All-Time High With Their Second Album
In Depth

‘Purple’: How Stone Temple Pilots Hit An All-Time High With Their Second Album

Deciding to branch out on their second album, ‘Purple’, Stone Temple Pilots quartet began pushing beyond the confines of grunge.

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Though it was an absolute tragedy on a human level, the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, in April 1994, reignited interest in the still-buoyant grunge scene. The same year that Cobain passed away, Nirvana’s Seattle compatriots Soundgarden and Pearl Jam enjoyed multi-platinum sales with, respectively, the albums Superunknown and Vitalogy, while other bands of a similar stripe came to prominence – not least Stone Temple Pilots, whose second album, Purple, proved to be one of 1994’s biggest releases.

With hindsight, the group would likely have made a seismic impact regardless of the wider context. The San Diego quartet, fronted by the charismatic Scott Weiland, had staked a claim to greatness with their 1992 debut, Core – which peaked at No.3 on the Billboard 200 – but they were determined to make a record which bettered it both creatively and commercially.

Listen to Stone Temple Pilots’ ‘Purple’ album here.

The recording: “We wanted to manipulate the studio to our liking”

“When we did Core, we were still just coming out of playing clubs between San Diego and Los Angeles,” Stone Temple Pilots drummer Eric Kretz told Billboard magazine in 2019. “And we knew that we wanted to create these hard rock songs with specific tones to them… For Purple we really honed-in on different types of sounds and how to manipulate the studio more to our liking.”

Keen to keep momentum going, Stone Temple Pilots took just a month off after touring Core, entering a rehearsal room in Los Angeles to work intensively on new songs and arrangements – a decision which worked in their favour as their second album, Purple, began to come together.

“We flew to Atlanta to cut the album with [producer] Brendan O’Brien almost immediately afterwards,” Kretz recalled. “For Purple, it was so streamlined. I mean, we had that album recorded and mixed in three and a half weeks.”

The songs: “Seventies pop radio was in our DNA”

Purple’s biggest rock numbers, such as Meatplow and the looming Silvergun Superman, showed that Stone Temple Pilots were still enamoured of the hard-driving heavy rock sound they’d established on Core, yet Purple more accurately reflected their own diverse range of influences. Collectively, the band were big fans of artists such as David Bowie and The Beach Boys (they would cover the latter’s She Knows Me Too Well in their post-Purple live sets), and Brian Wilson’s pioneering use of the studio as an instrument in and of itself inspired them to add different textures to their songs.

“For Lounge Fly, Robert [DeLeo, bassist] had this whole part worked out in his head where he’s playing the harmonics on an open tuning on his 12-string guitar and would then run it backwards,” Kretz told Billboard. “So that way the decay is before the note.” Looping that bass part, along with a tom pattern Kretz devised, not only gave the group the intro to the song, but it also helped them devise a whole new way of working. “It was a lot of fun to try new stuff,” the drummer admitted. “The more we delved into the studio, the more we discovered we can do.”

Elsewhere, the twangy baritone guitar embellishments on Interstate Love Song paid homage to Robert DeLeo’s love of country singer Glen Campbell and the Bakersfield sound, while the jazzier sections of Big Empty and the R.E.M.-esque Pretty Penny also stemmed from the band’s early love of the folk and country music they heard on the radio while growing up.

“Our parents would play us stuff like John Denver, Gordon Lightfoot and then a ton of country music like Emmylou Harris and Johnny Cash,” Kretz recalled. AM radio acts such as Carpenters, Fleetwood Mac, Elton John and 10cc would also come to inform Stone Temple Pilots’ wider aspirations. “It all gets so absorbed into your DNA,” Kretz reflected. “Seventies pop radio was so fantastic in terms of the craft of songwriting and performance.”

The release: “We’re a completely different entity than anyone else”

The suitably cinematic Big Empty also provided Purple with a springboard to mainstream success, as it appeared on the soundtrack to the ill-fated Brandon Lee movie The Crow, a box-office No.1 in the spring of 1994. On 7 June, just weeks after The Crow’s release, Purple capitalised on that exposure and also shot straight to No.1 in the US, in addition to making the Top 10 in the UK. With help from the infinitely radio friendly Interstate Love Song (which spent 15 weeks at the top of Billboard’s Album Rock Tracks chart), Purple sold heavily over the next few months, moving around three million copies by October 1994.

Indeed, at this stage, the only issue of concern for Stone Temple Pilots was hinted at in the lyrics to Purple’s third major hit, Vasoline. The chorus (“Sometimes it blows my mind/Keep getting stuck here all the time”) was hardly specific, but in his autobiography, Not Dead And Not For Sale, Scott Weiland later confessed that it related to his burgeoning heroin habit. “It’s about being stuck in the same situation over and over again,” he wrote. “It’s about me becoming a junkie. It’s about lying to Janina [Weiland’s first wife] and lying to the band about my heroin addiction.”

Yet not even Weiland’s personal demons could derail the success of Purple, and, at least for a time, Stone Temple Pilots simply soared. After touring the album extensively, it remained a fixture on the Billboard 200 and eventually went on sell over six million copies in the US alone. Indeed, at the end of 1994, the San Diegans could realistically count themselves among the biggest bands on the planet.

“I’m so confident with the songwriting of the people in this band… that I’m not going to let any person try to judge me as a person or songwriter, because I know where we’re at,” Scott Weiland told RIP magazine around the time of Purple’s release. “I’m not saying we’re better than everybody else, but we’re a completely different entity than anyone else. I’m really satisfied with this album, and I hope that we continue challenging ourselves and progressing as songwriters.”

Find out which Scott Weiland album ranks among the best Record Store Day 2023 releases.

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