The resulting album, Tiny Music…Songs from the Vatican Gift Shop, marked a new phase for the band, one less indebted to the grunge godfathers they were so often compared to and more enamored with sounds like psychedelia, jangle pop, and shoegaze. In his review, AllMusic’s Stephen Thomas Erlewine singled out the album’s layered guitar tracks and overall ambition as exciting new additions, while the band remained accessible and grounded thanks to its keen pop sensibility.
25 years after the album’s release, a new deluxe edition of Tiny Music (out July 23 on Rhino) explores the era more thoroughly, with a new remaster, working versions of songs, and a live set from 1997. We spoke with Dean DeLeo about the challenges of recording in a remote location, what late frontman Scott Weiland brought to the table, and the deep cuts he’s excited to play live someday. Come for the STP inside info, stay to find out what unexpected song DeLeo’s eight-year-old daughter sang at her school’s talent show.
AllMusic: Did the band set any goals as you started putting together ‘Tiny Music’?
Dean DeLeo: We made this record in a house, and I think that really dictated the sound of the record, it wasn’t by any means in a studio with acoustics in mind, it was a house, we made a makeshift control room and set up in the living room and just played. I think the natural sound of each room we happened to move amps into or drums into, we just utilized a lot of the natural room sounds. I think where we made the record really dictated a lot of how it sounded.
AllMusic: Was that more the case with this one than any of the other albums?
DeLeo: We did Shangri-La Dee Da in a house as well, those were the two we did in houses. That one probably has a little more fidelity on it. Tiny Music is an interesting-sounding record, when you listen to it back to back with other records, I can’t say it’s real hi-fi. I think it was just because of where we were, we brought in some gear and ran cables and said “Let’s go.”
AllMusic: Maybe that’s part of why some people have especially latched onto this one.
DeLeo: I find that so interesting, a lot of people really hold this record in high regard. I hear it from time to time about that record, and because I dug into this and heard things I hadn’t heard in a long time, digging back in is a bit of a double-edged sword, I can hear some things that are because of the studio, like voices and talking, and I can objectively listen to it and be like a listener now, and so far removed from it that instead of picking it apart, I can just listen. I rather enjoy it.
AllMusic: After two hugely successful albums in a row, were you feeling a lot of pressure?
DeLeo: No, we never approached anything like “we need this” or “we need that.” The one thing we really did try to carve out was to say what we could in three minutes or so, we just wanted to record songs, we didn’t want to have big, lengthy opuses or anything like that, we were about crafting…call it what you want, pop songs. I think the record got really experimental for us, and I don’t love that word, but it was just what we wrote, and it was because of what we experienced between the previous record and the one we were making next. It’s the experiences that inspire you, make you happy, make you sad.
AllMusic: And the label wasn’t all over you for “Interstate Love Song 2”?
DeLeo: They were amazing, being in bed with Atlantic Records was wonderful, they were never breathing down our necks. They didn’t even come to the studio when they were recording stuff, and this goes by to Core. The only one who came by was our dear, dear friend who signed us, an A&R cat for them back in the day named Tom Carolan, and he’s the only one who came by, but he just wanted to hear what we were doing. But no, Atlantic was an amazing place to be, they understood what we were doing and they got it. They all worked hard behind it.
AllMusic: Were Scott’s vocal melodies part of the original demos that you’d come up with, or would he add those later?
DeLeo: With us, the music always came first, the song would be written and Robert or I would sit down with Scott, but I can’t say enough about him, he was extraordinary. When he put his stamp on one of your songs, it was pretty darn fulfilling.
AllMusic: Were you ever surprised by what he delivered as a final product?
DeLeo: Yeah, just the way he approached “Tripping on a Hole” is pretty cool. Even if we go back to Purple, “Vasoline” is a very simplistic riff, it’s two notes: F-G-F-G-F-G. But he approached it with such a pop sensibility, and he was brilliant at it. He really knew how to carve out a melody, and his lyrics, I thought he was one of the greatest.
AllMusic: Would you ever ask what they were about?
DeLeo: No, but we kind of knew, we’d talk about it a little and we knew what we were all going through and what he was going through. We were with each other more than anyone else in our lives, we were shoulder to shoulder on the road, and Scott and I lived together in the early days, so we all kind of knew what was happening.
AllMusic: Are there any ‘Tiny Music’ deep cuts that never got their due?
DeLeo: We never did “Adhesive” with Scott, but we did it with Chester, and that was really nice, pulling that one out. There’s one that’s never been played live, and I’ve been moaning and groaning about it for years now, I really want to pull out “Ride the Cliche.”
AllMusic: That’s one of the three songs you’re credited on for this album, which is fewer than usual. Does that make you any less attached to this one?
DeLeo: It never really crossed my mind. What you described sounds like ego, and I just wanted the best record possible. If Robert writes it or I write it, I don’t care. When I record it, I’m going to put my stamp on it, and that’s the beauty of how Robert and I write, being brothers, there’s a real bond there, a real kinship. I think it goes without saying that we each feel one another and what we’re writing.
AllMusic: Is that the same rapport you’ve always had? Has it changed over time?
DeLeo: It’s pretty much our blueprint. We start with the music, we come in with a bunch of songs and lay them out. You have to have thick skin going into a writing session, you’ve written this song and you think it’s wonderful, but you wrote it. So when you go in and one of the guys goes, “I don’t know if I’m feeling that,” you have to pick it up, put it in your back pocket, and say, “OK, what’s next?” Sometimes that’s hard, but that’s where it goes. You have to have everybody on the same page for it to really work, for it to be a song that makes the record, everyone has to understand it and feel it.
AllMusic: Was there anything painful about putting together the album?
DeLeo: None of the records were painful, but what was great about this one was being in the house together, it was very communal. The four of us were probably more on the idealistic side as opposed to the realistic side, so it’s this idealistic, communal, really lovely time in our lives, we had some of our closest crew guys there, and it was really wonderful. It was this house out on 100 acres, so you couldn’t see another home from this property, it was a really great experience. I sound very spoiled, but there was nothing painful about it, it was one of the greatest times of my life.
AllMusic: Whose idea was it to record in a house?
DeLeo: I don’t remember who actually came up with the idea, but [producer] Brendan [O’Brien] didn’t like the idea. He was living in Atlanta, and he agreed to do the record, to come out to California five days a week. So he was away from his family, and he didn’t want the distraction of us being in a home, he really wanted us in a studio so he knew where we were and it wouldn’t be like herding cats. Our manager at the time was this lovely gent named Steve Stewart, and I convinced Brendan to fly into L.A. and then to get on a little four-seater plane out of Van Nuys and let Steve fly us out there. Only a few miles away was a little airport, so we could be right at the house instead of taking a two-hour drive, we could be there in 20 minutes, but he was like, “I don’t want Steve flying me, I want a guy with a little cap and a tie!” But I convinced him, and so we did it, and years later Brendan went and got his license, so he’s a pilot as well now.
AllMusic: Do you get a kick out of other bands’ alternate takes and demos?
DeLeo: Not really, I don’t know that I have my ears so close to the ground on that stuff. My son is 18 now and I love what he lays on me, I love what he’s listening to, which right now is this band called black midi, which is really, really cool, very ingenuitive, very creative. There’s a couple of bands he’s turned me onto, and when I hear something new and it really resonates with me, like this band out of Canada called Men I Trust. My son will turn me on to a band and I just go in it for like a week and that’s all I’ll listen to, and I’ve just finished doing that with the Drunk record by Thundercat, and I’ve been so into it, but last week it was the Men I Trust record. My kids turn me onto it, and that’s my current state of music.
Another record I really dug into, my daughter was eight at the time and she laid on me the Be the Cowboy record by Mitski, and she’s genius, man. So we got really into that record, she really loved “Washing Machine Heart,” and for her third grade talent show, other kids were up there singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” and my daughter gets up there and sings “Washing Machine Heart.” Have you looked at the lyrics to that? I was like, “She’s a gutsy thing,” and it’s not an easy song to sing, and she crushed it. The lyric is like, “Toss your dirty shoes in my washing machine heart, baby, bang it up inside.” [laughs] She was feeling it so we said, “If you want to do it, go for it.” The other kids were like, “What?” So it’s all stuff my kids are laying on me, and I love it.
AllMusic: After 25 years, where does ‘Tiny Music’ sit with you, what are the feelings it brings up?
DeLeo: It was a really incredible time in life for us, and we had the great fortune of being able to go make the record in the way we did. We were all very grateful for that, and there’s a big side of me that misses Mr. Weiland deeply, there isn’t a week or a day that goes by, I think about that cat all the time, and I miss him a lot. I’m reminded of that record because there’s some songs that when we play live, it feels eclectic, and “Tripping on a Hole in a Paper Heart” is one of them, and always was, it was one of those songs that when we played it live, you feel it go right up through your spine and out the top of your head. So I’m reminded of it often because we always have that song in the setlist.