When Jeff Gutt gave his first performance as the new lead singer for Stone Temple Pilots, at a secret L.A. industry showcase in November 2016, he wasn’t that nervous. As a onetime X Factor USA contestant, he’d had plenty of experience covering other artists’ songs, and as the former frontman for several estblished rock bands, he knew how to work a crowd. But he still felt pressure — not only because he had to late fill iconic STP frontman Scott Weiland’s shoes but because the singer who replaced Weiland from 2013 to 2015, Chester Bennington, was in the audience that day.
“I knew Chester. I’ve known Chester since 2001,” Gutt reveals to Yahoo Entertainment. “I was in a band called Dry Cell, and we were signed by the same guy that signed Linkin Park, so that’s how I knew him. He would come to some of our writing sessions and rehearsals; I’d see him in the studios that we were at. When we were recording, they’d be recording there. We just had a good friendship.”
Gutt and Bennington were such good friends, in fact, that Bennington invited himself to the L.A. showcase. “It my first private audition with STP, and he called and asked if he could come. He wanted to be there for that first show. So, I put him on my guest list. It was very cool that he could be there for that.” Bennington even ended up jumping onstage to sing a couple of songs with Stone Temple Pilots, in what must have felt like a torch-passing moment at the time.
After the show, Bennington told Gutt he’d done an “awesome” job, and Bennington’s company at the event kept Gutt calm. “I was pretty much hanging out with him, because I’ve known him for so long,” Gutt chuckles.
Little did Gutt know that just eight months after he received Bennington’s encouragement and blessing, Bennington would be dead. Both Weiland and Bennington — incredibly charismatic and talented, if troubled, performers — were only in their forties when they died. “I’m actually the same age as Chester. I needed a couple of days, I’m not going to lie,” Gutt says about his reaction to the tragic news of Bennington’s suicide. “It was a shocker. I mean, I feel for his family and kids and his wife. It’s horrible.”
However, Gutt found comfort during studio sessions with his also-grieving new bandmates, STP guitarist Dean DeLeo, bassist Robert DeLeo, and drummer Eric Kretz. “We were recording at the time. We just really talked to each other and shared each other’s feelings about it,” he says. “It was very good to be around people, because I was going to be like, ‘Hey, I need a couple of days off,’ and they were like, ‘You should come to the studio. Come over and let’s hang out.’ I remember I just wanted to hide, but we went in the studio and some beautiful, beautiful songs were made. And they’re real. That’s the best part.”
Recalling Bennington’s positive attitude, Gutt says, “Everyone just wants to see STP do well, and he was one of those people, for sure.” And it makes sense that fans and friends would want to root for Stone Temple Pilots, after all they went through with Weiland — who battled drug addiction for most of his tenure with the band and even derailed STP’s career when he went to jail for five months in 1999. They’ve always alt-rock underdogs. And so has Gutt, a 41-year-old single dad, in his own way. After being eliminated before the live shows of The X Factor Season 1, he returned in Season 3 and made it all the way to the finale, but he still had to settle for second place. At the time, The X Factor seemed like his last chance, but he figured going on a national television could help him make “the biggest splash.”
“I had walked away from the music industry because I had a certain integrity and all that. Then when I needed to come back, it was years later, because I didn’t want to give up on my dream,” Gutt says. “That was why I chose television. I had always looked down upon those [reality/talent] shows, just because those people stand in line for a day and get their shot. And I’d spent 20 years in bars and nightclubs, dealing with promoters and getting ripped off and just everything that comes with all that stuff — paying your dues, I guess. I did that over and over and over again, so I figured, you know what? If someone’s going to go on one of these shows and win it, it could be someone authentic and real and doing it for all the right reasons.”
Gutt didn’t win, but becoming the new singer of Stone Temple Pilots, a band he grew up with, is a bigger prize than any Syco Records deal. The revamped STP’s self-titled album (not to be confused with 2010’s Stone Temple Pilots, the group’s last LP with Weiland), comes out March 16, and Gutt says, “I’m just really excited for the record itself, because it’s the first time I’ve actually had a record released on a major label. I’ve been trying my whole life to get to this point, and it’s finally here. It’s an amazing record, and it happens to be with Stone Temple Pilots. I mean, what could be better than that?”
Gutt promises the album will be “everything a superfan of STP would want” with a classic sound that honors Weiland and Bennington’s legacies — even as he finds his own voice within the lineup. “I love Scott, so that’s definitely part of what I put into this. I’m very respectful. I listen to everything [the STP band members] have to say, and I just try to be me at the end of the day, because that’s the only thing I can do,” he says. “I have my own story, and my story is meeting with their story. It’s a very awesome thing that we come together and help each other out.”
Listen to the exclusive premiere of the new Stone Temple Pilots track “—-Never Enough” above, and watch the DeLeos and Kretz discuss Weiland and Bennington in the video below.