Rolling Stone‘s interview series King for a Day features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and singers who had the difficult job of fronting major rock bands after the departure of an iconic vocalist. Some of them stayed in their bands for years, while others lasted just a few months. In the end, however, they all found out that replacement singers can themselves be replaced. This edition features Dave Coutts from the Stone Temple Pilots spinoff group Talk Show.
On Sept. 2, 1997, a new alt-rock band named Talk Show released their debut album. Leadoff single “Hello Hello” briefly got some airplay on Alternative Rock radio, but the album stalled at #131 on the Billboard 200, way below recent offerings by Chicago, DC Talk, Insane Clown Posse, and even the Phil Collins-free incarnation of Genesis. Talk Show opened up for the Foo Fighters and Aerosmith later that fall, but broke up soon afterwards and are little more than an alt-rock footnote today.
This would be a pretty unremarkable story were it not for the fact that Talk Show was Stone Temple Pilots with vocalist Dave Coutts fronting the band in place of charismatic, troubled lead singer Scott Weiland. STP were one of the biggest rock bands in America at this point, and they’d scored big hits just the previous year with “Big Bang Baby” and “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart.” But Weiland was dealing with a serious heroin addiction, and his bandmates were tired of waiting around for him.
They didn’t realize that their label had virtually no interest in a Weiland-free STP project. “Atlantic Records came to the studio to hear the Talk Show record after it was mixed,” Coutts tells Rolling Stone. “This guy walked into the break room where I was sitting with [guitarist] Dean [DeLeo]. He didn’t even ask who I was. He just walked past me and said, ‘Dean, when are you getting back with Scott?’ He hadn’t even heard the record yet. I’m just thinking to myself, ‘Who the fuck is this?’”
Atlantic put very little money behind Talk Show, and just released a lone single before burying the album completely. In the aftermath, STP patched things up with Weiland and began work on their 1999 LP No. 4; he continued to front Stone Temple Pilots on and off until two years before his death in 2015. But Coutts had no such safety net, and he was forced to find work outside of the music industry to support his growing family. “When they told me Talk Show was over, I felt like I just got punched in the stomach,” he says. “That punch lasted a while. How do you rebound from something like that?”
Coutts grew up in Long Beach, California. His earliest musical memories involved listening to records by Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, Andy Williams, and Herb Alpert that his parents loved. “Then I got into Neil Diamond,” he says. “I can remember dancing around the room to [Diamond’s 1972 live album] Hot August Night.”
When he got a little older, he got into rock bands like Three Dog Night, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Led Zeppelin. “The first big show I saw was Led Zeppelin at the Forum in Inglewood when I was 14,” he says. “I was sitting way in the back and people were throwing firecrackers that were blowing up at my feet. There was pot everywhere, and the band looked so small. I just remember being really scared.”
At the end of high school, he took on odd jobs at a hospital, a bar, the Long Beach Airport, and a window tinting company. But he spent his nights practicing with his band Ten Inch Men. They initially had a tiny following on the California club scene, but were eventually able to tour the East Coast when college radio embraced their music. After nearly a decade of relentless work, Bon Jovi asked them to open up for them at a couple of shows in 1993. It was the start of a journey that eventually brought him to Stone Temple Pilots.
How did Bon Jovi find out about your band Ten Inch Men?
Around that time, we finally got a record deal. We also landed songs on a couple of movie soundtracks: Hellraiser 3 and Dr. Giggles. I don’t know how Bon Jovi found out about us, but they asked us to open for them night in San Diego. That went well, and so we played again with them in San Francisco.
Was it tough to play to that many fans that didn’t really know your music?
There’s not many people there when you’re playing. It’s about maybe a third full. But no, it’s not tough. It was super exciting. We had our songs down since we were practicing about four to five nights every week. We knew the songs in our sleep. It was fun to hear your songs on these big, badass speakers playing in front of people you’d never seen before. We had a blast.
Bon Jovi, they asked us to tour with them in Europe for the whole summer, but our record company would not let us do it. They didn’t have the money. It was maybe $23,000 to send us for about two months to play soccer stadiums with Bon Jovi. I cut my ponytail off that night and quit the band.
What was your plan at that point?
I didn’t have one. I had been in that band for 10 years. I was with a very special girl. She said, “You know what? You better get your shit together.” She was kidding, but she was kind of half-serious. And I went to work for a little while. I got a job with insurance.
I was at that job for about a year. The phone rang one day when I was in the back doing some graphic art stuff on a computer. One of my buddies at the office said, “Hey, Dave, the manager for STP is on the phone. He wants to talk to you.” I said, “Fuck you.” That’s because this guy was a bullshitter. He goes, “No, I’m serious.”
So I went over the phone and it was [STP manager] Steve Stewart. He said, “They’re looking for a front guy because Scott’s having a little trouble. Would you would you like to meet up with [STP bassist] Robert [DeLeo]?”
Did you know him at that point?
Yeah. I had already met Robert before — they opened up for 10 Inch Men. This was before Dean and [drummer] Eric [Kretz] were in the band. They were called Swing back then, and they opened up for us at a place in Huntington Beach. I guess Robert remembered me.
What did they sound like in the Swing days?
They were playing a more funk-type style music. Robert is such a good bass player. He could do anything you wanted. I don’t remember exactly how Scott was singing, but they had a slapping bass going on. It was funky rock, maybe a little Chili Peppers-like.
Do you remember hearing STP on the radio when they first broke out?
Yes. I remember. I was driving to practice one night going to L.A. and I heard “Plush” on the radio. I just went, “Oh shit. That’s good. That’s really good. I can’t believe it. That’s my boys.” They weren’t really my boys, but I knew them. They didn’t sound anything like that when we played with them.
They had a distinct sound, but so many critics just dismissed them as a Pearl Jam knockoff.
I heard all that stuff, but I knew those guys had something.
The critics were really wrong. His voice did sound like Eddie Vedder on a few Core songs, but they had a whole different vibe.
You listen to a Pearl Jam record…and not to put Pearl Jam down, but there are maybe three songs I’ll like on a Pearl Jam record. I’ll like all the songs on an STP record. That’s my opinion.
You must have been pretty flummoxed when you got the call. At that time, they were one of the biggest bands in the country.
Yes. And I was a big, big fan. I loved their stuff. When I got the call, the second record [Purple] was already out. You had “Vaseline” on the radio and “Interstate Love Song.” I was going, “Holy shit. These guys have blossomed and they’re killing it.” I was not only excited about the call and kind of freaking out about it, I was also a very big fan.
When you met with the guys, what did they tell you about what was happening?
I met Robert first. He came to my apartment. He didn’t really talk much about it, but he said he was having trouble with Scott, and that it was drug problems. We listened to the whole Ten Inch Men record while we were sitting there. He was listening to the songs and listening to my vocal range and stuff like that.
I told him I didn’t sound anything like Scott. And he said, “Well, we don’t want you to.” I said, “OK.” But then I did say, “Lightning doesn’t strike twice, dude. This is going to be a tough time here.”
Was there any point where there was talk of just making you the new lead singer of STP, or was this always envisioned as a separate project?
It was separate. The reason they wanted to call it a different name was because I think they always wanted to make sure they had STP in their back pocket if Scott ever got his shit together. I heard Dean on interviews saying, “Nope, this is not a side project. This is what we’re going to do. This is what we’re doing.” I would just take that with a grain of salt and be like, “Yeah, whatever.”
This was a pretty unusual thing. It would be like if Velvet Revolver had started just a couple years after Guns N’ Roses formed, and they tried to coexist somehow.
Yeah. It was kind of awkward, right? A little awkward.
Was there an audition process after that meeting with Robert?
Yeah. I went to Robert’s house. He had this big house in San Pedro. Dean and Eric showed up. This was the first time I’d met them. They said, “Well, let’s see you sing.” And I said, “Right here?” They said, “Yeah.”
So we’re in this big front room. It had a big stairway, and it was a nice, echoey room. I walked up the stairs, and I just started singing a song by the Grass Roots. I don’t remember the song, but I felt stupid doing it. Dean said, “Let’s do some demos. Let’s see how it sounds on tape.” A couple of weeks later, we moved down to San Diego and did a demo. That demo was the song “Hide,” which is on the Talk Show record.
Did they confirm to you at this point that you did indeed have the job?
It was never like, “You got the job.” It was always like, “Well, we have to finish the Tiny Music [… Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop] record.” This was before that record was done. And then I think they were gonna start rehearsing to tour on Tiny Music, and that’s when Scott just fell off the frickin’ truck.
They called me to show up at rehearsal one night, out of the blue. I was sitting at home barbecuing and they were like, “Hey, can you come to to L.A. right now?”
They were in this giant rehearsal studio. I showed up and we tried to put together some stuff while we were there. But we had not rehearsed together or written together at all. So we just kind of played what we could and saw how we worked together.
You’re credited on almost every song on the Talk Show record. You clearly were very involved in the songwriting.
Yeah. They said that they had all these songs ready to go. But no, they didn’t. I wrote all the music of “Wash Me Down.” I showed Dean all the chords, and he played it exactly the way I showed it to him on the record. I didn’t write that solo, which is a nice slide guitar solo, but I wrote that whole song.
I wrote the music and words to “Morning Girl.” I wrote half the music to “End of the World.” And I wrote about 30 percent of the lyrics on the record or more.
Tell me about “Hello Hello.”
Eric started that one. I did a demo with Eric in San Francisco at his home studio on that. We let Dean and Robert hear it, and Dean threw his magic on it. It’s just a fun rocker.
How about “Everybody Loves My Car?”
We did not have a chorus line for that song, and those words popped out for me. And I’m thinking, “You guys, this is what I got for it, even though it doesn’t really make sense with the rest of the song.” And they said, “We like it.” So it stayed that way.
Did you feel a lot of pressure on your shoulders when you were doing this? Out of nowhere, you were just thrown into the big time.
The whole time. It was hard to write exactly what you want to write. You’re writing for guys that had just sold about 18 million records. So yeah, there’s a little bit of pressure there.
You’re also standing in the spot of a very famous singer, and you have a pretty different voice. I imagine it was challenging to use your own voice, but still find a way to mesh with them.
Yeah. I sang a little harder than I normally would. I’d give it a little growl in some spots, just to kind of try to mesh in and make this thing work and flow from one record to the next.
How long did it take to make the record after the songs were written?
About two months.
It didn’t come out for about a year. What happened there?
Well, they wanted to go on tour with Scott again. After doing the demos, I waited about eight months. Then they were like, “Let’s do some pre-production and rehearsing. Let’s start writing.” And then there was another pause. Then we did the record, and then there was another pause, and then the record was finally going to be released. It was about four and a half years of starting and stopping.
They did a whole STP tour with Scott after you finished the Talk Show record. During that time, did you think they were going to shelve the entire thing and just stick with Scott?
Probably. I was thinking all kinds of stuff.
A real shift happened in the industry during that gap between the recording of the album in 1996 and its release in the fall of 1997. You suddenly have Hanson and the Spice Girls and MTV is playing a lot less rock.
Yeah. There’s also Radiohead and electronica.
Do you think those changes hurt the record?
I don’t think it was that. I think the record company just didn’t want to push it. There were so many good songs on that record. They could have put out “Peeling an Orange” as the next single. That would have done really well. I think that “End of the World” was a cool song. “John” is another great song. They could have put another single out. They could have put another video out. They just didn’t want to push it. They wanted Scott to come back, and that’s exactly what happened.
The album reached 131 on the charts the week it came out. Do you remember hearing that number or any reaction to it?
I wasn’t paying attention to where the album was. I did pay attention to how well “Hello Hello” did though. It went all the way to Number 6 on the Billboard Rock Charts. It didn’t say there that long, but that’s pretty damn good, right?
Was the band bummed out that the label wasn’t putting more money behind it?
No. I think they wanted to run back to playing big arenas again.
Let’s talk about the tour. Did you go out and play any club shows before doing all those support gigs?
We never played any club shows. We played places bigger than clubs, but not arenas. They were right in the middle. Foo Fighters was the first one. It was fun, but it was crazy for me. I asked the guys, “Why don’t we do a couple club gigs before we go step right out onto a big stage in front of a giant crowd that has no idea who the fuck I am?” They were like, “No, no, no. We’re going to jump on the road with Dave [Grohl].” I was like, “Okaaaay.”
It was kind of hard to be yourself when they didn’t want you to be yourself. They didn’t want you to be Scott, but they didn’t want you to be Dave either.
Also, the whole tour was sober, which is crazy for me because I’d like to have a shot of tequila and a couple of beers when I’m playing in front of people that don’t know who I am and want to hear and see someone else. But it was sober. That was like, “Oh my god. You guys kidding me? Let me get a little loose here.”
The Aerosmith tour we did was sober too. I started to get used to being sober up there, but it was just not as fun. When you have a shot of tequila in you, you feel like showing off a little bit more. And I didn’t really feel like showing off when I was up there. I was just getting through the songs and making sure I hit the notes. But it wasn’t fun. It was just kind of like going to work.
What was it like hanging out with the Foo Fighters?
They were great guys. You cold have a beer with them and really talk about shit. I really miss Taylor [Hawkins]. I actually spent more time with Dave and Taylor than I did with the guys in my band. I felt a connection that just wasn’t there with me and the Talk Show guys.
How was the Aerosmith tour? Those are even bigger venues, and you’re playing to older fans that are probably even less interested in a new band.
Oh god, yes. It was fun, but there were some tough shows. You’re again playing to a third of the place. One time I told the crowd, “There’s nobody sitting here in the front, come on down.” All these people started jumping up. I got in trouble for that.
I was trying to have fun, but it just wasn’t that fun. Steven Tyler and Joe Perry and all the guys in the band were super nice to me. We did vocal rehearsals together, and I sat backstage with them in their dressing room.
I said goodbye to them when the tour was over, and I knew it was over for me too. Steven said, “You’re great.” And I said, “No, you’re great.” And that was it, last time I ever really saw them.
Before the tour was made, did you guys make the decision that you wouldn’t do any STP songs?
Yes. Pretty much. But we did throw half of “Trippin’ on a Hole in a Paper Heart” in at the end of one of our songs. I think it was “John.” And we did bring a guy up onstage to sing “Vaseline” one time. That’s when we were with the Foos. And my god, the Foos sounded good that night. But the guy sang “Vaseline,” and Dean is screaming at me, “Go grab the mic back from him!”
Dean spoke to the L.A. Times near the end of the Talk Show tour. He said, “I have a real hard time being an opening act. I’m disillusioned by it. Let’s face it — everyone comes out to see Aerosmith, not Talk Show or three-fourths of the members of STP. It’s weird getting back to this situation after [releasing] three pretty successful records. I don’t honestly know if I was fully ready for this.”
Yeah. [Super sarcastic] Again, it was all my fault, right?
Obviously not. I’m sure you felt blamed for it though.
Well, I heard a little bit of spatter. There were a little bit of rumors going around like, “Well, Dave didn’t have any stage presence.” Well, Dave didn’t have any stage presence because he was fuckin’ sober. And nobody knew him, right? OK, now they’re going to say it was my fault since I don’t fuckin’ dance?
But I know exactly what it was. It was a lot of forces. The record company wanted Scott back, drug addict or not. Dean was used to being a headliner. And so, dude, don’t call me to do a record and expect to be a headliner. They weren’t headliners the first six months when they were putting out their first record.
You were in a situation where you couldn’t win. It was like they tied 20-pound weights to you and told you to swim.
You’re explaining it better than I could. You really are. You know what’s funny? I was in Ten Inch Men for 10 years, and I worked in a bar. I would try to get all the people from the bar to come see us at the Troubadour, and they would. And then I quit.
A year later, I’m telling these guys, “Hey, STP called me.” “No way.” “Yeah. They want me to do a record.” I’m kind of excited about it. I’m not bragging, but I want to tell my friends because I don’t want them to think I’m a complete loser. “Hey, it’s happening! It might happen for me!” And then it didn’t, again. It was like, “Ugh…”
They talked to the press at the time about making a second Talk Show record. Did they talk to you about that?
Yeah, I’m sure they did. I mean, I heard them talking about that shit when they were with Richard Patrick [in Army of Anyone], too. “Yeah, I love him. He’s great! We love him!” And then with Chester [Bennington] it was, “He’s great. We love him.” I’d heard all that before.
Did they tell you it was over after the last Talk Show concert in 1997?
No. They invited me to Robert’s house. I knew it was over. I brought some pants that Dean let me wear, and some of his other clothes because we had the same fit. I walked into Robert’s house and said, “Here you go, Dean.” They were like, “Come on into the video room.”
I walked into the video room and they were showing me videos of them with Scott from before they were famous and when they were playing little clubs. I’m going, “What are we doing? Why are we watching this?” I guess they were trying to show me that Scott had some really good stage presence.
They didn’t say, “You’re kicked out.” They said, “We’re not going to continue with Talk Show anymore.” I said, “OK guys, later. Nice knowing you.” I just walked out and drove home.
Did you pay any attention to the next STP album, or did you just tune it out?
I paid attention to some interviews. I’ve heard some of the songs. I haven’t listened to any of their records since then in totality. I just haven’t.
How did you feel about Army of Anyone, the other band Dean and Robert started a few years later?
Didn’t listen to that whole record either. I heard a couple of songs. I thought they were OK. Ray Luzier is a great drummer, but I thought he kind of over-played on the record a little bit. Of course, anything Dean and Robert do musically is top-notch. But it wasn’t an STP record.
When is the last time you spoke to those guys?
I talked to Robert on the phone probably five years ago around Christmas. We were texting back pictures of when we were kids. He was showing me pictures of his boys, and I showed him pictures of my kids.
Sounds like things are civil.
They’re not civil anymore.
[Laughs.] Because I did a stupid interview with this guy. He put out all the negative things I said about those guys and no justification and no context. That interview went out, and Robert sent me a one-question-mark text. That’s the last I heard from him.
Did you apologize?
No. What I said wan’t a lie. It’s just things you say in interviews come out way worse than you intend. When I read them I was like, “I look so bad. I look so bitter. I’m not bitter.”
It can’t be easy for them on the road right now without Scott.
I mean, kudos to [current STP singer] Jeff Gutt. He’s got a great-sounding voice, but you’ve got a tough gig, brother.
You can relate to his struggle more than anybody.
He’s got it a little easier since Scott’s not there anymore. He knows they’re not going to get back with Scott.
Right. They had just toured with Scott when you were there, and everyone was just waiting for him to come back.
They threw grass and pennies and nickels at me onstage.
Yeah. Roseland Ballroom, when we opened for Foo Fighters. They threw whatever shit they had in their pockets at me.
What did you do career-wise after Talk Show ended? I know you weren’t in music for a long time.
No. I had three kids in three years. First we had a daughter and then we had boy/girl twins. I had to work and pay for the kids and feed them. I did a little bit of recording, but I was so busy. One of our daughters had spina bifida. I was a soccer coach. I was a flag football coach. I taught my kid how to surf. I was pretty involved. I read books to my daughters.
That’s great. If you had wound up in some huge rock band, you would have been gone 10 months a year and your kids might have hated you.
And my wife would have hated me too. You know what? These guys that have kids and go on the road, and they screw up and have an affair and get a divorce, what does your kid think about you then? I don’t want that. I want my kids to love me.
I’ve spoken to many rock stars that have tens of millions of dollars, but they have multiple ex-wives and their kids don’t like them. They’re full of regrets. All the money in the world doesn’t fix that.
No, it doesn’t. And a lot of these guys are so insecure. Oh my god. Why are you this way? You are a fucking amazing guitar player. You are world renowned. And you are in such a bad mood.
What sort of work did you take up?
I was working in the highway construction industry.
Whatever I could. Working out in the field doing lane closures, making signs, purchasing equipment for stores that needed stuff, doing sales. It’s all kinds of stuff for the same company.
How did you get back to making music in the past few years?
Well, it started at a funeral. Jimmy [Schumacher], the keyboard player in Ten Inch Men, died about five years ago. I went to his funeral. I saw some friends there. Kevin Bartley was there. I play with him now in a cover band. He asked me if I was playing music. I said, “No.” He goes, “Why not?” He had this look on his face like, “Really?”
That look on his face just stayed with me for a couple of days. He said, “Come see my band. We’re playing in Long Beach. Come and see us.” I hadn’t been out on a Saturday night in so long. My wife Tracy and I went. We had a good time. They were a good Eighties band. They played a lot of cool stuff like Elvis Costello.
I met another guy there I hadn’t seen in years. His name is Mickey Meckes. He’s in a band too. He goes, “Dude, you gotta go sing a song with us next time we play.” A little while later, I sang a couple of songs with him. And from there it was like, “Let’s start a band.”
At the same time, I met Marty Beal. He has a recording studio in Santa Ana. We started recording with him. It’s been really special working with him. He puts his whole heart into everything he does. He plays guitar on tracks, and keyboards if we need them. It’s been great.
What are your plans in terms of putting music out?
I’ve been working with Golden Robot Records. They’re a distributor that works out of Australia. They put out three songs for me. Those are doing all right, I guess. As far as the future, I wouldn’t mind putting everything together on one record, but I don’t know if anyone buys albums anymore. I’m just going to keep recording until the money runs out. When the money runs out, then I don’t know. I’ll chill and have fun. I’ll play music if I want to, or not.
How often do you perform?
We had a month when we played every weekend. In June we played we played June 18, June 24, and then we played July 4. It depends on where we’re playing and who can make the gig and all that good stuff. We’re not playing again until September 17.
You’re doing mainly covers?
Yes. We play “End of the World” every once in a while by Talk Show, which is a cover, I guess. We play a couple of my songs from Ten Inch Men. But mostly it’s covers, anywhere from fuckin’ Neil Young to the Cult.
Sounds like more fun than opening for the Foo Fighters and being pelted with beer caps.
Yeah. It’s fun.
There’s also way less pressure.
You know what? We can have a shot of tequila if we want to before we play, and maybe a beer. It’s like, “You know what? I’m going to show off a little bit.” I play guitar in this band, and I sing, so I don’t have to stand there holding the mic stand. That’s another thing I wasn’t used to in Talk Show. Anyway, it’s a lot more fun. It’s a lot more real.
You’ve also kept your day job, so you’re not relying on it to support your family.
Oh yeah. This shit doesn’t pay. It’s just fun. It’s $500, free dinner, and drinks.
What are your goals over the next few years?
I want to keep recording. But nobody’s making money selling records, unless you’re Taylor Swift or a very huge country act, so it’s kind of like throwing money in the river. I can’t keep telling my wife, “Hey, I’m gonna do another one,” because she’s like, “Can we go on a vacation?”
And we do that too, but I don’t want to keep throwing money into the river. I would like to see something pop with one of these songs. There’s so many friggin’ shows on Netflix that need music. I would love to see somebody say, “Hey, Dave, can we use this song?” And that’ll pay a little bit, right?
If you happened to bump into one of the STP guys at some point, what would you say to them?
“Hey, how are you?” What else would I say? I don’t know. “How’s things going?” I’d probably give them a hug. I know they’re going to keep things going with what they got. I know Robert is going to do a solo record pretty soon. He’s going to have a bunch of different singers on it. And I know he’s not going to call me, and I don’t care.