Behind the Album: ‘Tiny Music… Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop’ —Stone Temple Pilots

Stone Temple Pilots (Photo: John Eder)

Flying into Detroit before the band’s recent tour, Eric Kretz and Robert DeLeo both started thinking about when they first met and the earlier days of Stone Temple Pilots. 

“It was nice reminiscing about things, like ‘remember the car you had and the piece of crap it was,’” remembers the STP drummer, who met the bassist when both were living in Long Beach, California in the 1980s. “I can’t believe that’s all we had,” adds Kretz. “There are so many stories. We were such starving artists back then.”

At times, DeLeo would visit his mom and return with canned food. “We were so happy, like ‘oh my God, we can eat for a few days,’” says Kretz. “In the early days, when we were playing the clubs in Hollywood trying to get a record deal there was a Del Taco by the house Robert and I were sharing in Culver City that had two dollar egg and cheese burritos, so whatever money we made—the 10 bucks from playing that night— that would be our dinner… with the green Verde sauce. I loved it.”

Kretz, along with Robert and brother, guitarist Dean DeLeo, and vocalist Scott Weiland made STP official in 1989 at the cusp of a metamorphic ’90s, releasing their debut Core in 1992, a year after the mega-surge of debuts like Nevermind and Ten. Right then, STP had already punctuated the era with their own musical gravitas. 

More than 30 years later, STP released their eighth album Perdida in 2020, and second without former singer Weiland, who died in 2015 after an accidental drug overdose, and are touring around the 25th anniversary of the band’s third album Tiny Music… Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop. 

To celebrate the 25 anniversary of the album is a newly remastered edition featuring unreleased studio and live recordings, including a March 14, 1997 concert in Panama City Beach, Florida, along with 15 unreleased tracks, including an alternate take for “Big Bang Baby,” a percussion mix of “Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart,” and earlier incarnations of “Tumble In The Rough,” “Pop’s Love Suicide,” “Seven Caged Tigers” with instrumentals of “Ride The Cliché” and “Adhesive,” and the previously unreleased “Kretz’s Acoustic Song.”

Released on March 26, 1996, Tiny Music… Songs From The Vatican Gift Shop revealed a new, more experimental phase of STP, leaving something more removed from Core and the 1994 follow up Purple, and hit singles “Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart,” “Big Bang Baby,” and “Lady Picture Show.”

When the band recorded Core they were basically homeless, says Kretz, before starting with Atlantic Records, touring, and going through the processes of success. “It was only five years later, but we were in a different place with different struggles at the time,” says Kretz. “We were dedicated young, green musicians, and we’re traveling the world, and we’re doing great, and the performances were great, so when ‘Tiny Music’ came around, how could we challenge ourselves from what we’ve done previously.”

Having some time after touring Purple, the band used the downtime to be creative and write for piece together what would become Tiny Music. “Someone would be presenting a song or two or three, and we’d just start working on those parts and arranging them, and Scott was there most of the time on that,” says Kretz. “It’s great when you have a couple of lyric ideas coming in on top of putting together the music and trying to get a feel of the tempo. In the past, we could write a whole song, record it without any vocals, and arrange it for Scott, so that when he found his inspiration he could sing it.”

To make the album, STP used its “muse”, a 25,000-square-foot home studio in the Santa Ynez Valley with producer Brendan O’Brien—the same spot where STP recorded Core and Purple. The expanded space allowed each band member to record in various rooms to flesh out their Tiny Music.

“‘Purple’ is really great because we wrote, recorded, and mixed the record in three and a half weeks, so it was us being creative in a different way,” shares Kretz. “We were just on top of our game musicianship-wise, but it was a little rushed, so with ‘Tiny Music’ it was wonderful for all of us to be in a house and have a whole month to write an album and just live there and enjoy the excesses of life because this house was more than 20,000 square feet with nice entryways and living rooms and closets and even outside. We just utilized everything and really put on our creative hats thinking ‘what haven’t we done before? Let’s try that.’”

Making Tiny Music, the band had more time living and working together with space to create. “There weren’t any surprises,” shares Kretz. “We could be walking around the house eating lunch and someone would be playing something, so you’re hearing it from another room and can come in and say ‘we should put this part here or there,’ as opposed to always be in a room and looking at each other.”

Stone Temple Pilots (Photo: Lisa Johnson)

Friends of the band liked STP on the first two albums, says Kretz, but loved them after Tiny Music. I think it’s because we made this record more for ourselves, to challenge ourselves and what we’ve done previously. In a way it was acknowledging what we’ve already done and say ‘fuck that, we’re going in a different direction.’ It was nice to have a change, especially with the video for ‘Big Bang Baby,’ during a time of million-dollar videos from Puff Daddy and Guns N’ Roses. We just said ‘fuck that. how do we make like an old ’70s-’80s cheesy video.”

Working with photographer and director John Eder, they went to a local junior or community college and shot everything for just around $10,000. “People just said ‘oh fuck, they went lo-fi’… just the props that we had—gorilla masks and some firecrackers, dollar bills… it’s not what you would expect from the height of our career.”

Reflecting on the past 30 years, Kretz is ready for what’s ahead for STP, currently touring with the band, along with vocalist Jeff Gutt who joined in 2017, and possibly hitting the road again for the 30th anniversary of the band’s debut in 2022. 

“I would love to go out and do ‘Core’ in its entirety,” says Kretz, “especially with something like surround sound or something different than we haven’t done before, to make it more special.”

Now 25 years later, Tiny Music was the most cohesive hodgepodge STP could have ever created. “The album came out a little more lighthearted instead of being overly serious,” says Kretz. “There are songs on there like ‘Adhesive’ that we were really just drawn to because they’re so dreamlike. Then you have a song like ‘Art School Girl’ and a few others that are just punk and we were just laughing when were recording them. We weren’t always sure that everything had to be on the record, but we just recorded it and had a really great time.”

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