An Honest Q&A With Scott Stapp, Rock Music's Greatest Punch Line.
For better or worse, there was a time when Creed was the biggest band going and its frontman Scott Stapp was the biggest goddamn rock star on the planet.
It's hard to remember that time in a completely unbiased manner, though. And, for his part, Stapp's own behavior throughout the past decade hasn't kept the band's image from becoming almost completely marginalized. Public brawls with members of 311, drunken television appearances, sex tapes co-starring Kid Rock, a couple failed suicide attempts, and a number of other equally unflattering public incidents? None of them did much to bolster Stapp's reputation — or to stop his band from becoming, perhaps, the biggest punch line in all of modern rock.
But after throwing himself off a hotel balcony in a drug-fueled rage in 2006 — an incident in which his life was saved by the rapper T.I., who just happened to be walking by — Stapp entered rehab, rededicated his life to Christ and began to turn his life around for good.
The trials that led to Stapp's turnaround — changes that he calls real and permanent — are laid out in his latest solo album, November's Proof of Life, which stands as the singer's most brutally honest work to date. Ahead of Stapp's performance tomorrow night at House of Blues, we caught up with the oft-maligned singer to find out what it feels like to go from being the biggest band in the world to rock music's biggest punch line.
There was a time in the late '90s and early '00s where you were maybe the biggest rock star on the planet. Then, because of various things that have happened in your personal life in the past decade, both your name and the Creed band name has become something of a punch line. Do you think, with an album like Proof of Life, people will finally start to sense a real and hopefully permanent change in your life that might help you regain some of what's been lost over the years in terms of being revered or taken seriously? Lyrically speaking, anyway, that does seem to be a pretty strong message throughout the album.
I think, to comment on that time period that you were talking about, I was basically dead — professionally, personally and emotionally — after such an amazing, meteoric rise to success. By all means, I feel like the record symbolizes that I'm still alive. And it's authentic. It could only have come at this time. I think, at this point, I'm happy for the journey that I was on, and I'm so grateful for the success. Like you said, I was the biggest rock star on the planet at one point. And I think in order to grow as a human being — and to grow as an artist and to gain perspective and clarity and for my art to be able to continue to grow with my fans — everything that happened to me needed to happen for me to still connect and to deliver the type of rock 'n' roll music I was born to make. I have a lot of pride in this record because it took years for me emotionally to come from the low that I reached back to this place to be able to now take what seemed like a mess and make it a message and deliver it through rock 'n' roll. Aside from God, it's the thing that keeps me alive. And it's become one of my conduits to my faith in God. To have all of that kind of meet and come together for this record is exciting. Essentially, what I'm hearing is that my fans and critics alike say to me in so many words that, “Now you're making the kind of record we expect from you. It's nice to see that it matches your life.' I'm really feeling a nice welcome back.
You mentioned that you think all of the messages in the new record were really coming from an authentic place. Does that mean that some of your previous albums were, maybe, less authentic?
No, not at all. I left things open to interpretation. My use of metaphor, analogy and poetic sense, the music reflected where I was as a human being. It reflected my soul and what my heart truly believed. But it wasn't definitive. The times that I was definitive, there was still a juxtaposition and doubt in my mind where I knew that was the way I should think and I know this is what I should feel, but I don't really. I left things open to interpretation and discussion. On this record, in particular, when you've done so much self-analyzation and dug deep, it requires no ambiguity and no room for question or interpretation. I went down a real life road and they're real experiences. I needed to address myself, my life and my situation with the clarity and maturity that it takes to stimulate the kind of growth that was necessary for me to come out of the darkness and move into the light.
To that end, you were more direct with the religious overtones on this record. Would you say this is the most outwardly religious album you've ever released?
Would you go as far as to call it a Christian rock record?
I think, what this is, is not a Christian rock record based on the definition of what a Christian rock record is. But I am a Christian and I make rock 'n' roll music. And I leave no question or stone unturned in proclaiming that I believe that Jesus Christ is the rock star — and without my relationship with Jesus Christ and the love that He brought into my life, I would be dead right now. In seeking to find out who Jesus Christ was, it saved my life. I'm not ashamed to say that and have that openly known in my music. It's the reality of my life. It's not religion, man. All I found in religion was guilt, shame and that I wasn't good enough. But I found all the answers in seeking to find out, “Who was this Jesus, anyway?” And I found the answers to all those questions. As a writer on this record — I'm only 40 years old, I'm still young — I've learned a lot of lessons in life. And I learned them the hard way. I don't suggest that for anyone else because I'm lucky to be alive. I'm here just to tell the story of the lessons I've learned and how I want to think as a human being and as a man about life, how I feel about the world around me and the reality and the truth of what this relationship with Christ did in my life. It's sure not religion. And it's sure not your father's brand of Christian music.
You mentioned that Jesus was a rock star, which also happens to be the title of one of your new songs. There's a good bit of evangelizing going on in that one. It seems like you're more comfortable now wearing your spirituality on your sleeve. But, at the same time, you like to distance yourself from the term “Christian rock.” Why do you think musicians are so averse to that label?
Let me pose a question to you: There are other bands out there where the singer may have a Buddhist spiritual influence. Would you call them a Buddhist rock band? I think that, when it comes to rock 'n' roll music, a belief in something has always been the centerpiece for what it's all about. There was a time when rock 'n' roll went through a belief in rebellion, a belief in confrontation, a belief in defiance and all of that is still in rock 'n' roll and will always be a part of the spirit of rock 'n' roll. For me, that goes right along with my faith in what Jesus Christ was. It was rebellion. It was the breakaway from the norm. But that's just my faith. That's just a part of who I am as a human being and as an artist and a musician. I think that, although many people can have many different beliefs, we only need to be judged on the rock 'n' roll form. I think categorizing and alienating and defining rock 'n' roll artists based on one aspect of their humanity can sometimes lead people to prejudge an artist instead of just listening to them as an artist. I challenge the rock press out there — and everyone who loves rock 'n' roll — to take those blinders off. Religion, anti-religion, God, atheism, everything that makes up a human being is what rock 'n' roll is all about. To me, it's just one genre. And I'm at a place in my life where I've made peace and I've found the answer — and it's been in multiple things in my life, not just in my faith, and I share about that on my record, too.
So much of this album is predicated on the personal struggles that you went through. But you're far from the only musician to ever have gone through anything like this. Take somebody like Justin Bieber, for instance, who is going through his own stuff right now. Do you think what musicians have to deal with these days — with the scrutiny of the media and the Internet ans all — is a lot more difficult than what you had to deal with a decade ago?
It definitely adds an accountability. With the way social media and the Internet is now, you don't get away with anything. There's no room for mistakes. It's pretty sad that, as a society, we forget that. If every single one of us lived under the scrutiny of the people we put under the public eye, how many times would all of us fail? We all go through this stuff. There's 118,000 people every day that die of a drug overdose. There are other six-figure numbers of people who get their first DUI [every day] or are getting exposed for doing something embarrassing in high school or junior high. This is the world that we live in. The very same thing that made people want to rebel against religion so many years ago — that is this unattainable goal of being perfect — has now infiltrated its way into secular pop culture. We've just got to change the way we think and start loving each other.
In terms of your personal struggles, do you think that Creed breaking up the first time was actually a positive thing in that it maybe started the early stages of this long path towards change?
With that whole scenario, at that point in time, it was just for PR purposes so that the other guys could launch their next project. That was a great platform, a great way to get the press. And the media to take notice. I don't look at it really as something that got me to this point. Overall, looking at the journey, everything happens for a reason, and I wouldn't want to change anything.
Talking about Creed for a second, Chuck Klosterman wrote an interesting article a couple of years ago where he went to a Creed concert and a Nickelback concert on the same night. He was the kind of the first big critic in recent years to be like, “Y'know, as much as everybody makes fun of these bands, they're actually not that bad.” And that's true. You guys sold over 50 million records, which doesn't quite jive out with the notion that you were the worst band ever. Where does that idea come from? How can somebody sell so many records and be considered so terrible?
Here's the deal with that, man: One person who has a platform or a media outlet can not like a band and print an article like that. With the way our Internet works today, it can go viral. The bands know the reality of the situation based on sold-out shows and numbers of records sold, so we don't really focus on that. That makes up maybe one percent of the overall reality of the situation, while 99 percent of it is No. 1 hits, 50 million records sold and sold-out shows. That doesn't jive with that headline, so we don't really focus on that. We just focus on the positive.
It's crazy that the idea that you guys are the worst even exists in the first place and that people continue to perpetuate the stereotype that you're so awful while your shows continue to sell out.
When you say “people,” you assume that's the majority. But it's really like the Tea Party in politics. It's a far right-wing minority.
How do you think Scott Stapp and/or Creed will be remembered 30 years from now? Will it be as the rock gods of the '90s or the punch line of the '00s?
I think we'll be remembered like every other rock 'n' roll band that had the success that we did before us. It's the same cycle. History just repeats itself. The same thing happened to Led Zeppelin, and you know how they're looked at now. So I wouldn't think anything would be different.
Scott Stapp performs Wednesday, March 19 at House of Blues.