Scott Weiland‘s favorite holiday was Christmas, so in honor of the holiday being this week and the fourth anniversary of his death earlier this month, we are publishing this piece that we’ve had ready for awhile. In other Weiland news, Stone Temple Pilots recently unearthed an unheard ‘Purple’ song.
Original Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland was known for shaking up his musical style and image constantly, but nothing in Scott’s career can compare to his enigmatic solo debut, 12 Bar Blues, released 21 years ago on March 31, 1998. A schizo acid trip of an album recorded during the depths of Weiland’s heroin addiction, 12 Bar Blues prominently featured esteemed session musician Victor Indrizzo as one of Weiland’s main creative partners. Though the name might not ring a bell, you’ve probably heard Indrizzo’s drumming: he’s worked with artists ranging from Queens of the Stone Age and Chris Cornell to Avril Lavigne and Alanis Morissette.
Scott and Indrizzo’s creative partnership dated back to a previous band they had formed, Magnificent Bastards. Operating in 1995, the Bastards sort of overlapped with the creative sessions behind STP’s Beatleesque third album, Tiny Music… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop. The Bastards lineup included Zander Schloss of the Circle Jerks and Jeff Nolan on guitar, Bob Thompson on bass, and Victor Indrizzo on drums.
Scott’s bad habits started really taking hold, and his transformation from the flaming-haired, fresh-faced rock frontman to the skinny and self-destructive image he’s known for today began. Even before his arrests, Scott’s deteriorating relationship with STP led to him catching a whiff of their desire to replace him with another vocalist (internal discussions about hiring Dave Coutts of Ten Inch Men reportedly began around 1994), planting the seeds of Scott’s desire for a solo career.
“That’s kind of how 12 Bar Blues got started,” Victor told me over the phone last December. “It was originally meant to be a solo album, but Scott decided to make a band. We got the [Bastards players] together and recorded a couple of songs.”
These songs would be “Mockingbird Girl” and a cover of John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?”, the latter a scathing attack against fellow Beatle Paul McCartney. Despite some initial success in landing a spot on the “Tank Girl” soundtrack and achieving MTV airplay of the music video for “Mockingbird Girl”, the Bastards would soon be defunct: Scott, himself already a household name and only a few years into his career, grew suspicious of some of his bandmates. He already had one bad experience with STP; and he made the pre-emptive strike by firing most of the band.
“I think Scott was afraid the others were seeing him as a meal ticket of sorts,” said Indrizzo, who became the only member of the Bastards working on an official basis with Weiland.
It didn’t help in Bob Thompson’s favor that he abstained from the excesses the other Bastards shared with their frontman.
Not much progress was made during further Magnificent Bastards sessions besides a proto-version of the Scott solo tune, “Where’s The Man”, which would be reconfigured with the new direction Scott wanted to take: a proper solo record. “I remember Zander and I [Victor] working on that song. That project fell apart and pieces of it were later added to 12 Bar Blues.”
For the time being, Scott’s priorities remained with STP: Tiny Music would release in 1996, but Scott’s increasing drug problems would lead to the first breakup of that band. The rest of STP, enraged at Scott for an arrest that would stifle the promotion of their third record, had no reason not to proceed with their Plan B: a full record with vocalist Dave Coutts, released as Talk Show in 1997. Coutts gave his first in-depth interview to Alternative Nation last year.
With his drug problems increasing, a failing first marriage, and a defunct band he helped propel to stardom, Scott had all the time and creative inspiration in the world to go hogwild with his solo debut. “12 Bar Blues had a weird arc, since we were working on that for so long,” says Victor. “It was the start of my addiction as well. We would work on the album together off and on as we were both going in and out of rehab.”
The end result was far flung from the grunge-pop proceedings of STP: experimental, abrasive, simultaneously beautiful and ugly. A dichotomous experience from beginning to end, a blank canvas for Scott’s career turned into Jackson Pollock painting of every fleeting idea Scott had. “I feel it’s not a commercial record even if it’s pushed!” explained Victor. “It’s a funny record, because people either love it or really don’t get it! You didn’t have to worry about being commercial. In those regards, these were times we were being really creative.”
“Bowie is a very big influence on the record,” reminisced Indrizzo. “People were playing it so safe and we wanted to stretch the recording process, how we did things. We read how the Beatles did things… the guitar on ‘Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down’ plugged directly into the back of the tape machine. We would take guitar amps and I would put BB’s on the cone or poke holes in them. This was long before computer recording and pro tools, so we were doing it all on tape. Just having fun doing a record like Sgt. Pepper’s, where there were no rules and you could do anything.”
Atlantic Records did everything in their power to prevent the album from happening (at the same time, stifling promotion of the Talk Show record to force STP’s hand at reunion), but ultimately let Scott have his fun for the time being: “It makes sense,” says Victor, “you have this guy as the frontman of this huge band, and they wanted him to get his shit together. Here, you have him going off and doing more drugs and making this crazy record!”
Perhaps the tune most representative of the project as a whole is “Jimmy Was A Stimulator”, a bizarre electronic dance-pop meets bad acid trip tune with a similar melody to Local H’s “High Fiving MF”. “The mixing on that song is so crazy,” Victor told me with a laugh. “There are parts of it where it’s screaming at you and so harsh, but then it goes to something so pretty. The record has so many things going on at the same time… very ambitious.”
Scott never really did anything more than dabble in playing any instruments, and was always more interested in capturing a vibe with his vocals and stage performances over writing music; generally speaking, the music of STP was written by Robert or Dean DeLeo (Eric Kretz co-wrote two of the biggest STP hits, “Plush” and “Trippin on a Hole in a Paper Heart”), and Scott’s creative decisions on 12 Bar Blues didn’t always jive well with his musical partner in Victor.
“Even the piano I played was a shitty, weird little piano we had where keys were sticking and didn’t quite play right. But he liked that it was what it was! To me, it was a hard record to listen to because there’s a point when I thought it was going to be a great record and another point I thought we drove past that. We were piling so much shit on there and it got so crazy that there are some songs that are hard for me to listen to. I think towards the end, the drug use became so bad that there were decisions made that probably weren’t the best.”
One of Indrizzo’s biggest contributions to the record is the ballad “Son”; Scott was childless at that point, but he wrote lyrics based on discussions with Victor pertaining to fatherhood and loss of innocence. “It was about my son, Zack, who now goes by Casper and is in a band called Fever the Ghost. We did strings on it. Our buddy Martyn LeNoble plays cello on it. It always bummed me out because I thought the cello was wildly out of tune. There was a point where we got into a fight about it and he was super heated, saying ‘why are you trying to sabotage perfection?’ I’m like, ‘I can’t hear it, it sounds terrible to me!’”
“It’s funny to me even now when I listen to it. I think we should’ve fixed the cello part.”
Another highlight of the record was “Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down”, used in the soundtrack of the Gwyneth Paltrow film Great Expectations. Co-written by Indrizzo, the song features a guest appearance by Sheryl Crow on accordion. Despite having co-written the song, Victor ended up leaving the studio the day of recording: “I think [Scott & Sheryl] took ecstasy that day, and there was an actual hot tub in the studio. It was a funny time for me. I was already a dad and my own drug usage got up to the worst point. Hanging around Scott using so many drugs, I’d go do my thing, and when things like Hot Tub Time would come, then I would get out of there.”
“It strikes me just how talented he was, but I think that there was a point that his drug use impaired that. Scott could be found downtown selling his shoes for heroin. It’s so sad, because there were times that he was clean and happy. He was truly gifted but truly tortured by his addiction. ”
Despite Scott’s increasing problems and the label’s hesitation with the record in the first place, 12 Bar Blues was released. It was a boundary pushing record for the time, but by sheer coincidence: Scott may have been beaten to the punch.
“I remember finishing the record,” said Indrizzo. “We were really proud of it… then we heard OK Computer by Radiohead and we were super bummed!”
After a Man Who Fell To Earth inspired music video for lead single “Barbarella” was released and some touring as “Scott Weiland and the Action Girls”, things would fizzle out for Scott’s first attempt at a solo career, and Atlantic’s bid at an STP reunion would take place.
From there, Scott and Victor went their separate ways: Victor got clean, Scott didn’t.
“After getting clean, I didn’t want to hang out with him. Then we had a period where he was clean for a year and we would hang out and go to meetings together but we didn’t write. We did write a pop song for a girl called ‘Pretty Mess’.”
The Prince-esque tune was never fully realized or sold to another musician: “During the recording, he was still using, so I would go into the studio either before or after him, but not at the same time.”
“What is sad, in the years after, people would come up to me and say ‘Scott wants to talk to you and get clean’. I’d tell them to have him call me, and he never did. I have to think that, for some part of it, it was a very loving thing, because it was this relationship where we would be away and clean, but the second we’d get near each other then we would get loaded together. I felt that he was doing the loving thing and keeping his distance from me when I was clean and he wasn’t.”
I’m a younger guy; born in 1993 (during the same weeks “Plush” dominated the Billboard rock charts), I never got into STP until I was in high school during their reunion/2010 self-titled album years. Scott’s album 12 Bar Blues, for me, represents a weird but happy time in my life, transitioning into college and taking advantage of the, uh… whole “being 18 years old” deal. When I told Victor what the album meant to me, he contrasted it with what he views as a low point in both his and Scott’s life.
Music, artwork, our creations, transcend those low points and emotions that lead to their creation, and have the ability to be reinterpreted and recontextualized by others.
Our positive memories also tend to win over the negative ones.
“There were many different versions of Scott,” Victor Indrizzo concluded, echoing the sentiment of many who were in Scott’s circle, “but at his core, he was a very talented and giving kind of a guy.”
“He was my friend, and I loved him very much.”
Editor's note 12/24/19: Updated article to reflect that "Son" was, in fact, written by Scott, NOT Victor, but based on Victor's thoughts about his own son. Also, clarified that Bob Thompson was apparently the only clean member of the Magnificent Bastards, a factor that also contributed to the band's breakup in addition to being a "power move" by Scott.
Special thanks to Kyle McCambridge for transcribing certain quotes. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org