No one sets out to be a cliché. But in the 20 years since Creed formed in Florida, frontman Scott Stapp hit just about every meaningful plot point in the Behind the Music script: wild success, drug dependency, attempted suicide, nationally televised breakdown, domestic disputes, band breakups and reunions, and most recently, sobriety and a second chance.
Now 40, Stapp insists his days of bombast are long gone, though song titles like "Jesus Was a Rockstar," from his new solo album Proof of Life (Wind-Up), may still invite skepticism. (And his voice is still in full-on ramanah mode.) Speaking on the phone from a tour stop in Kansas City, the surprisingly humble, good-natured Stapp did his best, for a second time, to defend some very strange decisions.
On your new album, you sing about putting "the freak show" of your past behind, but then you lay it all bare in the lyrics. Isn't that contradictory?
I don't really find any conflict with it. I think it's just been part of the process of growth and becoming the artist I am today. If I didn't do that, these songs would have never been born. The most important thing for me right now is to establish and re-establish myself as an artist.
Can you at least see how a song like "Jesus Was a Rockstar" will very likely give your critics something to poke fun at?
When I write music, I don't think about anything else in that moment but what's coming from inside of me. With that song in particular, I was dealing with two different issues, one being, "How can I come to grips with this conflict of coming from an abusive home with a father who not only abused me physically but spiritually, and did so in the name of God?" And one of his brainwashings was that the electric guitar and rock'n'roll was of the devil, and anyone who listened to it or performed it was going to hell. Having that branded in you as a child, it really produced a conflict which led me, once I was in the midst of rock'n'roll, to say in terms of my faith, "I can't do this. I might as well just go all the way to the other side, because I'm never gonna be good enough." So in one regard, the song resolves that conflict, because I can stand here today as a man of faith and also still be in a rock'n'roll band. The other side is: It's not about me. If you want to know who a real rock star is in terms of the global recognition and making an impact on the world and someone you should idolize and look up to, don't look up to me, look up to this man Jesus Christ.
Do you expect that message to translate to people who don't share your faith?
The key thing in this record is not to be something that's exclusive or divisive, but something that's inclusive and shows commonality in the human struggle. And one of those commonalities is when we go through trials and tough times and make mistakes, we have to, at some point, address it. In essence, to those who don't share the same faith, I'm sharing a human story about life. I don't think my faith at all should be a polarizing thing.
Fairly or not, you understand that your earnestness is really ripe for mocking, right?
Absolutely, and let the chips fall where they may. I really feel like, from a musical standpoint, I had a chance to connect with some of my Zeppelin roots in the music for ["Jesus Was a Rockstar"]. I really loved the groove. The discussion that comes post-groove, let it be what it may. If it can incite a conversation or reaction or emotion on top of that, then that's what artists wanna do. I can't sit here and try to bullcrap you and tell you, "Oh yeah, I intentionally approached this song trying to create some kind of polarizing effect," because that's not it at all. It just naturally came out of me.
Do you think fans who strayed from you during your personal lows should feel like it's safe to return?
Absolutely. One thing I believe in my heart is that my fans have also been on a journey in their lives, and they're not the same fans they were when they were 23 or 24. They're gonna connect with this record on a deep level, because ultimately, no matter what the levels are of our journey, we can all meet and realize that it's the same. And then also, with the information age and how bright and intelligent and in touch our young people are, [the music] can really connect with their intellect.
You think young people have a better bullshit detector these days?
Yeah, exactly. The thing is, my life has been lived out in the public eye — my highs, my lows, and everything in between. I have no secrets. Every secret I thought I had has been exposed. So I think with me in terms of bullshit, it would be brutally and blatantly obvious if there was any of that on this record. There's a direct timeline in this record that really tells a story that most people have observed for the last 10 years of my life.
Certainly, you can understand why baseball fans winced when you released "Marlins Will Soar," a theme song for the Florida Marlins.
The way that I look at it is simple: I have three children. When I was approached to do that song, it was with the caveat of lifetime free baseball tickets [and] the boys could be batboys. As a father, I said, "I'm all in, man. That is awesome for my family." People can make judgments, but when my son is handing a bat to Derek Jeter, I'm saying, "Thank you, Florida Marlins, for giving me an opportunity to do that song, and I have no regrets about it." If you look at it like, "Oh my God, what was he thinking as a credible artist?" and if you don't know what the deal is, I get that analysis.
Were you aware of the rise-and-fall arc of your career with Creed as it was happening? It seems like you were almost embracing the clichés of that kind of trajectory.
When you're four small-town college boys, and then all of a sudden you're in the middle of rock'n'roll super-stardom, you're caught up in a whirlwind. Then, when you tack on every song that you put out on your first three records is No. 1, and you're just having this unparalleled success, you don't think it's gonna stop. You're caught up in this machine, and then the people around you are telling you this and that and the other, and hard as you try to stay grounded, it's impossible. It's hard to have the foresight to see that failure is something that's a legitimate option and is probably coming and you need to be prepared for it. We didn't see it. I wish I could go back to high school with what I know now. I'd probably be a pretty cool kid, and I'd probably have a really beautiful girlfriend. Same with college. So hopefully there'll be a few artists out there that listen and hear me talking about it and are smarter than I was, 'cause I was a knucklehead.
Do you at least feel lucky that all your embarrassments happened pre-YouTube?
Absolutely, oh my gosh. Me and my wife joke about that all the time. I mean, with the things that did come out on me, I kind of got a taste of what this generation of rock'n'rollers have, with the video and phones and viral stuff. With the videos that came out of me and some of my public drinking too much on television and whatnot, I did get a feel for that. But there would have been a lot more during that every-day's-a-party period in my life. So I dodged a bullet with that one.
Just to be to clear: Are you on a Blues Brothers-esque mission from God?
I don't feel like I'm on some mission from God. If there's any mission that I am on, that's just to be a good husband, to be a good father, and not ever take for granted anyone or anything, and show the public at large who've given me this gift of being able to create music how grateful I am. And I wanna do it right. So any type of grandiose thinking or mission from God? No, that's not at all in my psyche.