But as heard throughout ten-track album, it turns out the wait was certainly worth it, as De Leo penned an album’s worth of tunes that changes gears from STP’s trademark hard rock, and touches upon more of an unmistakable folk/country/roots rock vibe.
And shortly before the album’s release, De Leo found the time to chat about Lessons Learned, songwriting, and future plans.
AllMusic: What made you decide to do a solo album now?
De Leo: “I wanted to do one for a long, long time. And it just never happened. I think I just wanted to grow a little wiser, of my grip on life. I don’t know if I achieved that, but life definitely got more interesting than when I first decided to make a record. And I think the thing that really initiated it for me was all this time that we were all allowed during the past couple of years.”
“A lot of things happened to me over the past few years, and it really wasn’t that I wanted to – this time I needed to. I needed to get into this. And that’s the curse and gift of being a musician, I guess – you get to write about the interesting things in life that you’re going through. I feel extremely blessed to be able to do that. But I think it was the right time now to do this.”
AllMusic: How do you approach songwriting for a solo album as opposed to a STP album?
De Leo: “I think for this one I really wanted to get the real beauty of each song. And to me, what really speaks loudly is acoustic instruments – I really wanted to keep this in an acoustic area, and sonically keep this in a gentle place. It was important for me. It was important for my spirit and my soul to keep I there. I’m blessed with having great friends who are great singers, and having them speak back to me what I was feeling was really an amazing feeling.”
AllMusic: Who are the vocalists on the album, and how did you select each for specific tracks?
De Leo: “People have asked me why I didn’t sing all the songs on this record. And…I’m not that good of a singer. [Laughs] I didn’t want to be in a position where I was listening to this record at the end and judging it – or grimacing over it – because I sang it. I wanted to hear people singing these songs back to me and enjoy it as a listener.”
“Pete Shoulder sings ‘Big Sky Woman,’ and when I gave that to Pete, I had a melody. And Pete just took that somewhere else. Especially when it hits that bridge – he just took that to a place that I didn’t even think could be possible. What an amazing singer. Pete is one of my favorite singers and one of my favorite people.”
“‘She Brings the Rain’ is Tim Bluhm from the Mother Hips. I’ve always admired Tim’s quality of having this really rootsy quality to his voice – this timbre to his voice. It says ‘experience’ to me. It says something that has experience and has been through it. And I really wanted to put Tim into that really gentle area, where you could really, really hear those qualities to his voice.”
“And I think through this, I really had to put the ‘producer hat’ on, too – to pick out the keys for everyone to sing in. That’s the first thing I did with putting my producer hat on – hopefully thinking these keys were the right keys or that vocal and for that quality of their voice to come out. Tim nailed that song. He really got that.”
“‘Love Is Not Made of Gold’ was a song I had to capo up. And while I was capoing the guitar, I tried a tuning out called ‘the lazy D tuning,’ which is the E-A-D-G-B-D top, and capo’d to the sixth fret. Pretty simple song. Jimmy Gnecco is on that, and I love Jimmy’s voice – it’s real airy and breathy. I basically thought of Jimmy singing that. That’s what I wanted to hear – Jimmy Gnecco singing that. He nailed that.”
“‘Anew’ is probably one of the most open songs. Very soft song. And that just instantly said ‘female voice’ to me. Kara Britz is an amazing singer. She just had that quality. Kara sings on everything. That song was recorded back in 2014, I believe. And I just had that saved in my pocket.”
“Growing up on the east coast, I kind of had this feeling of fall – and leaves falling and leaves changing. It was one of the things I mentioned to Bill Appleberry before he put the piano track on that. I said to Bill, ‘Play it like leaves are falling in autumn.’ He nailed that on the first pass. It wasn’t about what he was playing – it was about what he wasn’t playing in that space. And really the accompaniment of Kara singing that.”
“And like I said, it’s part of putting your producer hat on, and I strongly believe in – and love – arrangements. It’s special to me to have different people come in and add these parts. And Kara just sang that beautifully.”
AllMusic: Were there any specific outside influences on the album?
De Leo: “No. I just really was digging into myself – a lot of self-searching on this, and a lot of getting back into my guitar playing. And by doing that, I rediscovered some writing and some patterns that I had – some ideas that I had. There’s always those people that you reference that you want a song to ultimately be as good as.”
“They’re not on the record, but I did cover a couple Gordon Lightfoot songs. I adore Gordon – I think that he’s one of the greatest writers. I adore his music. But it was just really sitting down and digging back into my guitar playing. I wouldn’t say I was playing too much bass, but I haven’t been playing enough guitar – I guess I should put it that way.”
AllMusic: Will you tour in support of Lessons Learned?
De Leo: “It’s going to be hard to get all these people together – especially from around the world and their schedules. I’d have to see how I could pull that off. I’d have to see if there are a lot of people available. But it would be quite an experience to do that. It would be a beautiful experience.”
AllMusic: Do you think you will issue further solo albums from now on?
De Leo: “Yes. It was a great experience and a great journey to do this. It’s something I can look back on and take snapshot of, and hopefully, realize growth and realize the things that I went through to get here. Yes, I will definitely be making this journey again.”
AllMusic: What are STP’s future plans?
De Leo: “We’re going to continue. We’re back on the road right now, and it’s just been great being back on the road. We’re not completely back on the road – we’re doing one-offs, which has been fun. I don’t know when we’re going to get back into the studio, but it sure has been fun playing again. I’m thankful for that.”
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