It’s not easy getting Eric Kretz’s attention while he’s in the zone. When the Stone Temple Pilots drummer emerges from the practice room, he sounds winded. It’s a healthy sound, like someone interrupted in the middle of a satisfying workout. The Pilots are rehearsing in their North Hollywood studios for a massive six-month-long reunion tour, and Kretz has finally managed to sneak away for a bit.
“Oh, man, there’s like 30 or 40 songs to sift through,” he says as though just now realizing how prolific his band was. Nailing all the hits in the STP catalogue is a daunting task after six years off, but for Kretz, still a boyish surfer dude at 41, nothing could be better.
In case you were playing with blocks back in the early ’90s, the Pilots were one the primary movers behind grunge: the slowed-down, slicked-over, beefed-up punk sound dominating American rock for the remainder of the decade. The Pilots’ spectacular rise would plateau early due largely to the drug problems of leader Scott Weiland, a situation inflamed by an antagonistic media. Inner-band turmoil reached critical levels when a near bout of onstage fisticuffs between guitarist Dean DeLeo and Weiland at the end of 2001 essentially ended STP as fans knew it.
The guys went their separate ways, the years passed by, and nothing much happened. And then out of nowhere, during a spring 2008 European tour with his “new band,” Velvet Revolver, Weiland announced his departure to – gasp! – reunite Stone Temple Pilots. It sounded like typical Weiland bluster, so even the most ardent fans were wary. But after playing an impromptu gig at Houdini’s mansion in L.A. in April, this group of buddies discovered something: That ol’ STP magic was still there.
Yanked from early retirement, Kretz is stoked at the idea of once again performing in front of tens of thousands of people, starting in Columbus, Ohio in two weeks. Now if he can just get through the next run-through of “Interstate Love Song” without his calf cramping up.
FINDING HIS WAY. When Eric Kretz thinks about his earliest experiences with drums, he remembers riding his ten-speed around the San Jose, California suburb of Willow Glen, where he would hear some random band practicing in a garage. He remembers in particular the day when some older teens were jamming a Foghat song. He’d park the bike and plop himself down on the lawn – an outdoor concert for an audience of one. Before that there was the KISS Live LP he unwrapped on Christmas morning. “Remember you open that up – the double album – and there’s the drums and the fire and the blood and all that,” he recalls. “And I was about ten years old at that time, so that’s when I started banging on pots and pans.”
After Kretz started driving the household mad, his parents seemed to get the hint. “My mom actually asked me if I wanted drum lessons around 11,” he recalls. “I had to do all the paradiddles and learn all that stuff on a practice pad. I was, ‘This isn’t drumming, this is discipline.’”
For beginners there’s no better place to start than the straight-ahead crunch of Phil Rudd, which is what Kretz re-enacted religiously for a year when he got his first kit, an inexpensive CB700. “In my high school in San Jose you were either a rock guy or a Depeche Mode guy.” He graduated from AC/DC to Aerosmith, and for a while, Queen. Seeing his rapid progress, mom and dad upgraded him to a Ludwig kit. “Then I heard Led Zeppelin and went ‘Aw, man — this is the path.’”
Vital as the classic rock chestnuts were, Kretz got bored quick. “What happens is the more you get into music the more you start developing chops, the more you got to start pushing it so then eventually, yeah, you veer on to Rush — the difficulty starts getting pretty good. Then I got onto a jazz fusion kick for a while my last few years in high school like with Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return To Forever, Jeff Beck stuff, Genesis, and just anything prog-y and weird and fast and difficult.”
Sophisticated stuff for a high school senior. It wasn’t that playing like Billy Cobham and Lenny White was setting the bar too high, it was just that for this hungry youngster, it proved to be the wrong bar.
SHANGRI-LA-LA LAND. As Kretz realized after moving to Los Angeles in 1986 the pursuit of ever-greater rhythmic challenges — the logical goal for any drummer — was the very thing that was derailing his rock star dreams. “You can’t put all those chops into pop-rock records and make a living.” He played in a variety of “semi-prog-y” bands around SoCal before answering an ad in the Recycler, a local classifieds rag, and hooking up in Long Beach with Weiland and bassist Robert DeLeo.
Unfortunately, these early jam sessions came off like a Chili Peppers cover band. Following several name changes and fruitless hours of practice, STP had yet to find their sound. Technically a quintet at this point, the band decided to axe their keyboard player and second guitarist for a more raw approach. Still, they weren’t quite there.
“Then Robert’s brother, Dean, came into the studio one day when we were cutting some demos and just played some solos,” Kretz recalls, “and we’re like, ‘Man, that’s what we’re missing right there.’”
Once Dean entered the picture, the band started doing the Sunset Strip shuffle, trying to score a record deal like a million other Tinseltown hopefuls. “We were kind of splitting our gigs between Hollywood and San Diego, because when you’re playing the clubs in Hollywood you have to pay to play. So you have to buy a bunch of tickets, and if you don’t sell them you’re losing money, so it’s a really, really hard gig to play because when you’re doing original music, the more you play the less people will show up every night. So you can only play once or twice a month if you want a couple hundred people there.
“But down in San Diego it was a way more friendly, musician-loving vibe where, not only do a lot of people show up, but the club owners would actually pay us and feed us and give us beer. Hollywood is really tough because even with the pay-to-play thing when a lot of the bands are perceived to be doing well, someone in the band has a rich daddy and that’s usually where the money’s coming from.”
The Strip is a humbling experience for any band, but wounded pride wasn’t going to put STP off their hustle. Whether it was luck, talent, hard work, or all the above, once they distilled their writing smarts into hook-laden head-bobbers, the call from Atlantic Records came. The rest is almost history.
THE PILOT PROTOCOL. For a guy who likes to record live without a click, Kretz goes out of his way to make the studio process as complicated as it can be. Take the track “Big Empty” from STP’s sophomore outing, the 1994 mega-seller Purple. “On the verses — the various swampy kind of verses — I’m actually using that 1929 Ludwig kit,” he says, referring to a vintage setup he rented from a New York City drum shop and subsequently used for the MTV Unplugged sessions. “And then when it cuts to the drum fill going into the chorus, that’s when I switched over to the GMS kit with the more standard rock toms and everything. You usually don’t notice anyways, but now, next time you listen to it, you’ll be like, ‘Okay, I hear it now.’”
Replicating this live would be a nightmare for any drummer, and that’s precisely what he likes. “The more studio trickery you do the more fun it makes it in rehearsals. Like what we’re doing now, especially songs that, some of them, we’ve never played live before, so like, ‘Okay, how are we going to do this?’ Because we have so many layers and different things, so everybody has to get on their dynamics and figure out where they fit in so that it sounds just like the record and the band.”
On the other hand, staying out of the way of a producer’s bells and whistles has its advantages. “On record I definitely do not overplay,” he says. “It’s one of those things where if you know you’re going to be hearing it for the next ten, twenty years, you don’t want to be doing too much because then you’ll go, ‘Aggh! Why did I do that?!’ Records, I really keep it simple, whereas live — especially night after night — you start throwing in as much as you can. You want to find the point where it becomes obnoxious and go, ‘Okay, tone it back now.’”
The more immediate concern of this humble Californian on the eve of the tour is the prospect of playing for two hours a night at a high volume. “In order to get in shape, I’ve just been going back to all the prog stuff where it’s just really fast, really complicated — kind of gets everything in the brain fired up, all your hands and feet, just gets everybody moving, you know? And then when I come into rehearsal and play the mid-tempo stuff it’s just kind of like a breeze.”
Speaking of endurance, Kretz has recently moved toward a heel-down approach in order to get more power. It’s an interesting evolution from a guy who was strictly heel-up for years. “With the STP beats there’s a lot of bu-bumps all over the place so [the heel] is kind of still always creeping up, so if anything I’m trying to bring it back down,” he says. “Some songs like, especially the slower songs, you want to bury the beater to kind of choke the sustain on the bass drum, and then sometimes if you want a longer sustain you definitely got to pull it back and just kind of tap it and make sure it doesn’t hit.”
Given his funk-inflected style — think Bruford/Bonham-esque footwork — a double pedal shouldn’t be part of Kretz’s setup, but there it is. “Yeah, I mean, the double kick has probably rarely been used in the studio, but definitely for live because you can just put a lot more fills in and kind of get away with it. And of course, ending the songs, nothing’s better than to have your feet going as fast as they can and your hands hitting everything all at once.”
These days, nutrition, exercise, and proper sleep play a part not just for the tour, but for overall drumming excellence. “I’d say it started in about the mid-thirties where like, man, you just got to get on the cleaner side of life in order to play five, six nights a week. And then your bones start to hurt so you got to start stretching more. In your twenties you’re pretty resistant to all that stuff, but if you want longevity and you want to keep going when you’re older and not hurt yourself, then you definitely have to change your ways.”
This means having discipline on days off because he doesn’t have a minute to himself prior to show time to do adequate warm-ups or get in the proper headspace. “It’s really hard to meditate backstage because there are so many people walking in and out, and those people just want to come in and paaaaaar-TAY,” he shouts in his best debauched rocker voice. “It’s like, ‘I have a job to do.’”
A MAJOR PRODUCTION. In the years between Stone Temple Pilot’s 2001 breakup and reunion last spring, Kretz kept busy with a variety of projects, the most notable of which was Talk Show, a band better known as STP minus Weiland. “The problem is when you have three out of four members working together it’s always just going to sound like the three members,” he laughs. “Either way, it was just such a fun project because we produced it ourselves so it was not having the comfort of relying on someone else’s ears. It’s like, ‘Oh, we have to do it ourselves.’”
Although Talk Show only lasted one album, Kretz eventually found gainful employment on The Henry Rollins show. Far from the backslapping nostalgia-fest you might expect, the gig was a steep learning curve for Kretz. Accustomed to a weeks-long timeline encompassing everything from drum tracks to mixing, he now had to manage deadlines within the hour. “Bands would come in, sometimes two a day, and you got like 20 minutes to set up, do a quick check, make it sound great, ‘Okay, we’re recording.’ And while you’re trying to set up mikes and run in front of the guys — some are bands that I knew and some are bands that I just met — you got the lighting guy, the camera guy, everyone trying to run around.” For this preternaturally mellow fellow, it was the toughest job he ever loved. “A lot of times they go, ‘Man, this sounds better than our record,’ and you just smile.”
Working by the seat of his pants also helped him crystallize his studio philosophy. “Whenever a band develops their particular sound, pretty much it’s not going to change a whole lot from producer to producer and mixer to mixer. It should always sound like that band.”
This was about the same time he built Bomb Shelter Studios in downtown Los Angeles. The original idea was just a place for friends’ bands to do their demos, but Bomb Shelter has since taken off as a pro-level facility rented out to big-name acts, including No Doubt. “It’s just great, man, having world-class bands come in there, because I built it on everything I’ve learned from being in other studios of what is great, what is horrible, and what really drives bands crazy.”
As far as being behind the boards himself, Kretz is cautiously optimistic. “It’s kind of a pain-in-the-ass factor, actually. You’re already pushing them to make them better players and you don’t need someone standing over your shoulder going, ‘We need a hit! We need a hit!’”
IT’S ONLY ROCK AND ROLL, BUT HE LIKES IT. Having sold tens of millions of records, the critical drubbing of STP’s music over the years hit Kretz particularly hard. This is surprising. After all, he got paid well — and is getting paid well once again — to do every day what he loves most. Who cares what geeks with word processors think?
“You always care,” he says. “You want the respect from your peers, especially from journalists and anybody with the power of the pen, which is really ironic. Now some of those journalists are excited because there has been such a lull in bands that continually write great songs and play well together and do a great live show. In fact, a lot of the journalists that hated us are in love with us now.”
Kretz says there was no single factor behind the Pilots getting back together, that it was simply an idea bandied about among bandmembers who continued to keep in touch over the years. “The feeling was just right for everybody,” he says. “And then you start to realize like, ‘Oh, that’s right, we’re still brothers, and we still can have a lot of fun together and still make great music together.’”
Spontaneous as Weiland’s announcement last April seemed, the idea of a reunion tour was only a done deal after every possible negative was weighed, and to everyone’s mutual delight, there weren’t any. “The only reservations I had was just like, ‘How much drama is there going to be again?’ And I’m sure there’s still going to be plenty. But that’s what it is, that’s what keeps it exciting.”
When asked if he is referring to Weiland’s substance abuse issues, what follows is one of the most uncomfortable pauses in recent memory. “I mean, it’s pretty obvious,” he says coolly. “You haven’t read about anything with the three of us.” True to form, Weiland was busted for a DUI just days after our conversation.
What’s most exciting for fans in these days of STP 2.0 is talk of a new album. Nothing is firmed up yet, but Kretz isn’t worried about delivering, figuring the band will jump in the studio at the end of the tour in autumn and knock out 15 or so new tunes, a third of which he has composed in his head. “Some stuff is definitely STP stuff, and some stuff is just trying to figure out where to put it.”
At this point, what’s got Kretz jazzed is not the ridiculous amount of money the band will get from touring again. It’s not even the nostalgic pull of once again playing with his “brothers.” Nope, he just wants to recapture the feeling he had as a kid in San Jose, riding around the neighborhood on his bike when he came across teenagers bashing away in a nearby garage.
“The power coming from it was so exciting,” he says. “And you know what’s great? It still is, man. It still is.”
DRUMS GMS (Blue Sparkle)
Eric Kretz also uses DW hardware, Remo heads, and Pro-Mark signature sticks.
Anyone who has witnessed Robert DeLeo’s busy fingers making runs over several bars before coming back to the pocket knows the four-stringer pulls it off thanks to Kretz’s rhythmic bedrock.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been that kind of band to think that the kick drum has to lock in with every note of the bass,” says DeLeo, chilling in his Hollywood Hills pad. “I can’t say I never followed that approach, it just never felt right to me. Eric is one of those drummers that can really lay a groove that allows me to offset what he is doing. I think he actually locks in with Dean a little more, kind of lets me hang out there, which I really dig, man — it feels good to me. So for me to be able to play that and have someone I can play that with, I don’t take it lightly at all.”
DeLeo and Kretz are the embodiment of synergy, which comes down to great communication of the unspoken kind. “If you have to talk about beats and talk about working things out, you probably shouldn’t be doing it,” DeLeo laughs. “I guess my point is, if you’re not just doing it then something’s not right there. [Mocking voice] ‘Put your kick beat there … put your bass line there.’ That’s pretty ridiculous.”
When Robert and brother Dean put together Talk Show in late 2000 at the height of STP’s internal strife, they invited Kretz to play as well as write music and lyrics. “I knew what he could do drum-wise,” DeLeo says. “And I think that record was very therapeutic for us, and for Eric to step out and do that, I think that was great, and something really different for him.
“It’s so funny because that record just disappeared and then all of a sudden people are like, ‘That record is amazing.’ It’s just kind of blowing me away that people have actually discovered, or rediscovered it now.”
For the latest DeLeo brothers side project, Army Of Anyone, session whiz Ray Luzier manned the throne. How would he contrast him and Kretz? “Totally different drummers,” he says. “I think Ray is a lot busier than Eric. I think as far as a groove goes there’s a lot more things put in there. A perfect example is the end of the song ‘Goodbye.’ The whole outro of that song is pretty much Ray. There were certain aspects of that kind of drumming that I totally enjoyed growing up and wanted to hear on a record that I wrote, and Ray did it amazingly.”
As far as rhythmic soulmates go there is only one guy, and for DeLeo, a trapsman’s charisma is greater than the sum of his parts. “When you’re auditioning people and going through a bunch of drummers, you know when that person comes in,” he says, referring to Eric. “And you know the guy hasn’t changed a bit. He’s still the same sweet dude he was back then.”
If there’s a guy you want on your team, it’s Orange County Drum & Percussion’s Daniel Jensen, the tech behind Travis Barker, Adrian Young, Taylor Hawkins, and now, Eric Kretz.
“Eric is obviously very different from a lot of the other drummers I’ve worked with,” the manic Jensen says. “He definitely knows how he wants his drums to sound in contrast to the guitars and the bass and pays extra attention to that.”
The fact that Kretz knows precisely what his sonic needs are takes the guesswork out of the at-times-thankless task of teching. “Eric likes his drums very note-y, very wide open, even his bass drum very … boom. I’d say he’s definitely the guy who really likes to play for the song, not looking to throw in as much or overplay.”
The wear-and-tear factor is also a plus. “He does not necessarily go through a lot of gear, whereas Travis [Barker] is always trying different snares and different cymbals and breaks a lot of heads, a lot of sticks. It’s not that Eric doesn’t hit hard, but Travis is the most destructive guy I have ever worked for.”
Jensen, while knowledgeable about equipment, says there is no need to advise his employer on that front. “His love and knowledge of mikes and how they interact with how his drums are going to sound in a live or studio situation is definitely more than any drummer I’ve ever worked with,” he says, citing but one example. “He’s more hands-on working with the sound guys, too.”
Another veteran drum tech, MaGee, has taken over for the remainder of the tour, but Jensen looks forward to jumping back into the studio with Kretz for the new STP album at the end of the year. He chalks up their easy rapport to Kretz’s painstakingly acquired studio savvy. “He produces and plays a lot of instruments himself so I think that gives him a wider stance on playing and how he associates it with the rest of the guys in the band.”
Stone Temple Pilots is a great band with stellar songwriting, melodies, and hooks. While Army Of Anyone and Velvet Revolver have proved to be worthy ventures for STP’s members, fans were thrilled to learn that Scott Weiland had left VR and would tour and record again with STP. Here are a few highlights from Eric Kretz’s STP catalog.
“Down” from No. 4
Like John Bonham, Eric Kretz loves big, meaty grooves, and the drum track from “Down” proves it. The tempo is slow for this heavy song but he still manages to throw some quick bass drum doubles into his groove just like Bonham would have.
“Wicked Garden” from Core
Kretz slams some cool flam fills for the intro of “Wicked Garden” before playing a busier fill leading into the break. Cover band drummers across the country have memorized his drumming on this song.
“Trippin’ On A Hole In A Paper Heart” from Tiny Music … Songs From The Vatican Giftshop
On this song, Kretz shows he knows how to play a song as well as anyone. The drum part changes from moment to moment like a chameleon to reflect what’s going on around it.
“MC5” from No. 4
“MC5” has a very cool drum groove that sounds like it’s in an odd meter, primarily because the snare falls on 1 in every other bar. The pattern spans eight beats, so you can also think of it as being in 4/4, although it’s really more like a measure of 5/4 followed by a measure of 3/4. I’ve indicated the phrasing underneath the first two measures.