Scott Stapp is a somewhat divisive figure, his falling out with his band mates in Creed and his well-documented runs alongside his actual singing as a criticism. Those who love Creed, love his voice and that’s something that will never change, that’s there for life. It’s present and correct on his new solo album Proof Of Life a stunning tour de force of everything good in the modern rock genre. Mike Newdeck caught up with him to discuss his life and the new album.
“It’s one thirty in the afternoon here in Florida.” The singer exclaims. “Mark (Tremonti) lives here too and he’s been here since he was twelve years old and we’ve known each other since high school.”
Things in the UK seem a little different from the U.S particularly with regard to Stapp’s most famous project Creed and their comparative popularity here.
“I think our popularity there is great.” He offers. “I know we didn’t go there much but I’d say the demand is definitely there. We get constant demands to play there all the time and thank goodness for Facebook and Twitter. They really get to let us know what’s going on in the rest of the world and it’s obvious that there is and has been a big demand for us to play there. That goes for me as a solo artist too and so I’m getting really excited to get over there in 2014.”
Stapp’s solo album Proof Of Life has already been released Stateside during 2013 and through the excellent Spinefarm records it will gain a UK release in January 2014. I jumped the gun slightly by naming it as one of my top five albums of 2013. Yes it’s personal but not in an off putting way and certainly it features some quite brilliant songs with lyrics written by Stapp himself whilst it was inevitable that co-writing would perhaps take some of the shine off the personal edge. Picking from a large batch of songs must also detract slightly form the thread.
“Well I only wrote fourteen songs for this album.” He explains. “So that really puts that idea to bed and it’s me who writes all the lyrics despite the co-writing that goes on; it’s how I did it with Mark really. it was great to work with other people and they were really excited about it and very receptive to the way I wanted to do things. The various people that I wrote with helped with the sonics of the songs and the structure and melody so that we could get a different feel throughout the album. The writers and musicians that I worked with really wanted to help me with my artistic vision. It really was one of the most rewarding creative experiences of my career since the first two Creed records.”
Doesn’t some of the spontaneity disappear when you’re effectively made to write with people that are perhaps forced upon you? Stapp explains.
“It’s not really a label decision to be honest, although they obviously have some say.” He notes. “It’s more governed by me and my producer Howard Benson. Some of these guys are my friends and so if I liked what we had done when we jammed together then those were the people that I wanted to write with. Other times Howard and I would sit down and we’d agree that it would be cool to work with a particular writer, and then I’d give them a call and suggest that we did something together with a view to it being on my record. It was a pretty relaxed organic set up really with people either dropping over to my house or me to theirs or perhaps they’d pop by the studio. It was really old school with two guys sitting down with an acoustic guitar and free-styling to get something right with shared ideas and creativity. That made it really spontaneous with each day being different and giving us different material depending on the feelings and experiences at that moment. The mutual respect shown by all of the writers has really made this stuff shine and that’s my honest opinion.”
Creed was often labelled as a Christian band and indeed Stapp has made no secret of his Christianity particularly in his book ‘A Sinners Creed’ where he charts his journey from rock star to junky and alcoholic with his faith attempting to break through. No free from the shackles of addiction Stapp has more time for God.
“I love Jesus Christ I really do.” He professes. “I’ve turned my life over to him as my personal savior; I’m a Christian through and through. I go to church sometimes and I read my bible every single day as well as trying to please god as I understand him from his word. On the other hand I don’t use it as a caveat for my songwriting; I don’t use it as a badge and so I don’t just talk about Jesus in my songs. A good analogy would be a professional surgeon who may just happens to be a Christian. They don’t carve the cross of Jesus on you when they’re cutting you open they just do their normal job, it’s a lifestyle choice and nothing else. It’s a belief system above all else which you vilify in your actions and how you treat other people, how you love them or respond to them. I don’t write prophetic songs that are preaching. Obviously there will be times when I express some of the things in song writing but there’s no agenda.
A good example would be ‘Jesus Was A Rockstar’ from the new album.
“I mean I’m not trying to not offend people really.” He confesses honestly. “I’m trying to be myself and be honest in everything I do which really goes outside of the Christianity too. Everything has an impact on your psyche whether it’s the drugs, alcohol or your faith they all have an impact on the way you live your life especially if they conflict and in turn this impacts on your art and with me my songwriting. ‘Jesus Was A Rockstar’ really lays out the case for Jesus Christ…nothing more nothing less.”
Being a devout Christian as well as a singer and a songwriter-a fairly famous one at that- surely means that Stapp would at some point be open to doing a full on worship album.
“I’ll be honest, it’s never really crossed my mind.” He admits. “I would have to be spiritually compelled to do that and I haven’t really had that feeling that would push me in that direction. It’s ironic though isn’t it that if someone in a rock band who’s an atheist sings about there being no god, or god is dead then that just gets labelled as being rock and roll and yet when another band sings about god they get put into the Christian category . I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I don’t use my art to prophesize and preach about my faith.”
Stapp doesn’t temper his writing as a way to garner popularity and it would seem that commercial success is not necessarily a pre-requisite.
“Well I’d never have written ‘Jesus Was A Rockstar’.” He intimates. “I can honestly say that I never write with the thought of commercial appeal, if it’s got those elements then that’s because I’ve always written like that, that’s how I do it and not because I’ve made an effort to give it those elements. It’s probably why we had such success with Creed in the early days because of the way we wrote the songs and the way people heard them with a commercial edge. I really don’t ever think; let’s make it very catchy, very offensive, and very biblical or whatever it just comes naturally.”
If the commerciality of the album is down to Stapp’s natural ability to pen hook ridden songs does he feel that producer Howard Benson has very much influence on the final product?
“You’ve got to go back really.” The singer suggests. “Creed was always commercial and it was perhaps based on the relevance to the music at the time rather than any production techniques or influence that a producer had. It’s really more down to the songs and the environment that they’re aired in.”
Stapp’s last album The Great Divide lacked the depth, personality and commercial appeal of ‘Proof Of Life’ and save for Stapp’s instantly recognizable voice could have been from a different band altogether.
“I was on coke when I wrote that album.” The vocalist admits candidly. “It wasn’t when I wrote it but when I recorded it and that’s really the main difference. Those songs were never fully developed because of my struggles and you can see huge similarities but then you notice where the songs just didn’t progress due to my battles and personal demons.”
Many rock stars purport to have written and recorded their best songs under the influence of drugs. Stapp doesn’t necessarily agree.
“I’ve never written under the influence.” He confesses. “But I’ve certainly tracked and produced the songs and I’d say that the opposite is true from my point of view. You simply can’t get it right when you’re like that, you can’t get any of the nuances, it’s all or nothing and your judgment isn’t there as to whether something sounds good or bad. It certainly doesn’t work for me.”
It’s been a long time since the release of The Great Divide and yet Proof Of Life has once again appeared on Wind Up a natural progression from the Creed deal or something new?
“It’s part of a long standing deal really.” The vocalist explains. “This album would have come earlier but I wanted a break and wanted to get Creed up and running again in 2009 when Full Circle got made and then of course we toured for four years. When I’m doing the Creed thing then its one hundred percent Creed and nothing else. After that time it felt right to move away from it and start doing other things one of which was my solo album. The label felt that it was the right time too and so that’s what got it kick started. Wind Up was relaxed about the output and it just seemed like the time was right, I did most of the pushing really. They’re great, they’ve always helped artist development and they’ve been great to me over the years. This just seemed like the right time to do it.”
Wind-up appear to have stuck with Stapp through thick and thin, unguided loyalty or good business sense?
“To a certain extent, you’d have to ask them.” Stapp offers. “But I mean from my point of view I’m a loyal person and let’s be honest we have a long standing relationship. They believe in me as an artist and a songwriter and that belief in me over the years has paid them great dividends. It makes business sense I guess.”
‘Proof Of Life’ is an album of two halves, the first a heavier modern rock affair, the second being more reflective introspective and subtle. Stapp explains that ultimately that was the intention.
“The album is supposed to tell a story of the journey.” He explains. “It’s about my life and when love, grace and recovery entered it then there was a shift in my life that’s reflected in the story and hence the album. Clarity and resolution take over as the album progresses and the story is expressed in the music. It came naturally on the album because the story wasn’t planned and that I suppose makes it easier.”
So ultimately Stapp has recorded his first concept album.
“I wouldn’t go that far.” He laughs. “But I know what you mean and it’s been mentioned before so there must be something in it. Perhaps I don’t really understand what a concept album is but I suppose if I wrote a story then that falls into the category of concept album…..i think.”
The album itself tells a story-albeit a cryptic one if you haven’t heard of Scott Stapp-and yet the lyrics remain subtle throughout the outpouring of emotions. It must be quite an effort to be subtle and not just pour everything out in some cringe-worthy confessional. Stapp disagrees with the reined in emotions theory.
“I actually thought that I had poured all my heart into this record.” The singer insists. “It’s not about discipline music for me is about how I express my emotion and feelings. The unsettling part for me was that I wanted to be totally clear on what I was saying. I wanted to just say it without hiding any of the emotions behind analogies. It had to be brutal and it had to be blunt with the intent there to express my feelings.
“Slow Suicide” opens the album whilst “Crash” comes at the end. At first the titles seems to be straightforward enough.
“That song is about confronting myself really.” Stapp recalls. “Looking at what I’d done in certain times of my life and not hiding from the harsh realities of life and what I was doing to myself. There was then a realization that I had to do something and get away from doing what I was doing to myself. I had to resolve the issue and reverse the kind of slow suicide that I was putting myself through with my vices and addictions. You can apply the song and its lyrics to life involving other toxic situations that we actually choose to put ourselves in. Anything that robs you of your life and its joy is really giving you a slow suicide. ‘Crash’ was just an honest song written sat down with an acoustic guitar it’s reflective and looks at where I’d been and how far I’d fallen. I was always a “take me higher guy” and I lived that on every level and I realised that there were these extremes that I’d chosen to live with; the way up highs and the way down lows. I needed to learn to stay in the middle because it wasn’t healthy at all. The song is about the fall from high to low and the crash that goes with it. Ultimately once I started to understand what I was doing then I could move to resolve it the song passes on the experience of the crashes that I had along the way.”
Stapp’s voice has always been an acquired taste and early in the band’s career he was labelled an Eddie Vedder sound-alike particularly by those who appreciated eighties American rock and saw anybody who represented grunge as the enemy. On ‘Proof Of Life’ it cannot be argued that Stapp has never sounded better although the signature tone still remains.
“Sobriety has played a major role in that to be honest.” Stapp admits. “That and experience is key really. I mean I’ve done a lot of singing now over the years, I should know what I’m doing by now. I now take my art seriously-mainly down to my sobriety-and that makes a hell of a difference. I take advice and have coaching on how to use my voice properly and how to sing well using the proper techniques. I get advice on how to protect my voice and how to make it stronger and that hard work has paid off on this record. My performance has been boosted my not using marijuana or using alcohol and that’s another thing that makes a lot of difference to how good you sound and how good you feel when your emotions aren’t numbed. Let’s not forget that Howard Benson has helped me not only to better myself but he’s pushed me to the limits of my capability and he did that by getting me to tap into my emotions rather than getting me to sing everything fifty times until it was perfect. Howard trusts me as a vocalist and so it was the buttons that he pushed with me emotionally that got the best out of me during the songwriting.”
Proof Of Life’ will see a UK and European release through Spinefarm. A tour is still to be finalised but will include the UK.
“It’s going to start out in the States and then we’ll eventually roll it out worldwide including Europe and the UK, I don’t know anything concrete yet but it will happen that’s for sure with maybe more than the odd date in the UK.”
And what of Creed is there any news on that front?
“Well it just seems that the band are all moving in different directions. “Stapp admits reluctantly.
“Mark’s got his thing going on and I’m quite happy doing my solo stuff, it’s seems we’re all happy doing something else and so it really doesn’t look like they’ll be anything in the near future.”
Money is clearly not an issue as Stapp explains.
“Well we were offered five million dollars to make another record.” He snaps. “We all said no because as I said we’re all happier doing our own thing. I know I can’t really speak for them but from my own perspective I’m content doing what I’m doing and there’s no need to change that.”
Stapp –if you believe the book and what he tells you-has changed, found god again and moved on. How does he see himself now?
“Well yes I have.” Stapp continues somewhat bizarrely. “But with regards to the Creed situation it wouldn’t really affect that at all because I’ve always been the same person within that situation and how I was as a friend and a loyal band mate.”
In truth the Creed thing seems to grate somewhat with Stapp and in my opinion the Creed phenomenon continuing really depends more on Tremonti than it does on Stapp. Stapp may need Creed more than he admits and yet ‘Proof Of life’ is a superb album in its own right. From an outsiders view point Stapp needs Tremonti less than he thinks.