The Scapegoat

Project 86's Andrew Schwab talks with former Creed frontman Scott Stapp

Photo by Jeremy Cowert

Scott Stapp has experienced some of the highest highs and lowest lows any human being can experience. Even if you are not a fan of his band Creed or his solo music, you have to admit that selling 50 million albums and winning a Grammy are accomplishments most human beings only dream of. Stapp is living proof, however, that such dreams can quickly become absolute nightmares, especially if your heart is in the wrong place.

As his former band ascended to the heights of pop culture, Stapp descended into a world of drug addiction and alcoholism that nearly led to his death. This plunge from grace reached its brutal climax when, in 2006, he threw himself out of a 10th story hotel window during a multi-day binge. He was found, dripping blood and lying on a balcony, by rapper T.I., who, as it turns out, was a direct messenger from above. After a lengthy recovery, Stapp found healing, renewal, sobriety and true faith. I recently caught up with Stapp to discuss his new solo album, Proof of Life, his uncensored autobiography, Sinners’ Creed, and most importantly, the lessons he learned from his mistakes.

Your new album, Proof of Life, for those who aren’t familiar, basically tells the candid story of your very public and pronounced highs and lows throughout your journey with Creed and beyond. At what point did you feel like you wanted to tell your story through a solo album?
Well, I think it happened organically. When I was telling my story through my autobiography, Sinners’ Creed (which came out last October), I think that’s when the beginning of the music was taking place. I didn’t really set out to tell my story, per se; I have always just written music from the heart, speaking honestly about my life. The thing that makes this album unique is that I have turned the corner as a human being. And I think that is really reflected in this record.

Is this album a companion piece to the book? How do the two stand apart from one another? Are there any stories, insights, or sentiments shared on the album that cannot be found in the book?
One couldn’t have happened without the other. Without the book – and the processing I did regarding the last chapter of my life – I wouldn’t have been able to put out the music and give the music a voice. The album is essentially a continuation of the book. It’s kind of like the last chapter, or a summary.

However, there are some things I address on the album I didn’t mention in the book. For example, the song “Who I Am” looks at my own ego and the hold that it had on me. I think with that song I gave my ego I a voice. That was one of the first songs I have ever written where I have approached the lyrics as a character.

And that writing style continued with the song “Only One.” On that song, I wrote a song from the perspective of the still small voice inside of me that was carrying me through the low points. I did paint a picture of that voice in the book, but I really gave it a specific face in the song. One other thing: the book is open-ended, and I feel like this album is the unwritten chapters.

Are there any moments on this record when you step back and listen, where you feel like you have made a breakthrough as a musician that you were never able to before?
I am always hypercritical. There have been moments on every record, or even entire songs I wish I had done differently. This is the first record I have ever done, after having some time and space, and listening with an ultra-critical ear, where I can say there is nothing I would change. I think that speaks to how hard I worked on this project and how much I put into it, to the point where there were moments throughout the process that I got overwhelmed and didn’t know if I was going to finish it. It took a lot out of me emotionally, mentally and physically.  I wouldn’t want to relive how I did this again, but I know I grew as an artist through the process.

You achieved great things in your career as far as record sales. You have won a Grammy. You accomplished things that other artists can only dream of. You must have felt invincible. But at some point there was a marked shift in public perception regarding your band and you personally during your career with Creed. It reached a point where things were occurring off the stage that not only distracted people from, but even overshadowed your music. What do you think was the turning point?
I think it was a series of things. The old adage “pride comes before a fall” rings so true. When you reach a point where lose your gratitude and perspective and you are surrounded by “yes” people, it all just feeds into the ego. I think even the most humble person can get swept up in it all. If you look at the history of rock and roll, you will see this happen over and over again with the artists we know and love, let alone the one-hit wonders and the ones you never hear of. And in 50 percent of those stories, the people end up dead.

It was very public for me. I went to a dark, dark place, and I didn’t know how to get out. I had accumulated wealth, had a lot of influence, and had no one speaking truth to me. That combination can literally kill anyone.

I have found when things become all about me, that’s when problems happen. I now look at music as a gift and a blessing, and an opportunity to serve and share. I want to share my failures, my mistakes and anything I can to inspire to those who have given so much to me. This industry gave me so much and I need to give back. It was so needed, what happened to me; had I not gone through these things, I wouldn’t be able to make the music I am making today.

I carried around a lot of guilt and shame for a very long time. I didn’t even want to outside. I would sit alone and drink in my house. I felt like a social outcast. To be able to come through that and have gratitude now … It’s made me so much of a better person. Now, I don’t look back with anger or resentment or regret. I try to use those memories as a source of strength because I know what I am not going to do in the future, and I know how much I have to give now as an artist.

It takes courage to face your own demons, the bad decisions you have made … You have been public about your fight with substance abuse and depression. At what point did you look around and say, “How did I get here?” In other words, what was your rock bottom?
I had more than one. You get to your rock bottom when you decide to stop digging. For me, I hit some bottoms that other people (who aren’t so hard-headed) would have considered the turning point. But I kept digging. But the one that should have taken my life was the true wake-up call. I had to lay crippled for 12 months, and for three of them I could barely speak. I had to lay alone with my thoughts and think about how I got there. I couldn’t move or walk. It gave me a lot of perspective. I reached a point that I couldn’t keep blaming others anymore, because everything came back to me and to the decisions I made. I finally came out of denial, owning and accepting the situations I was in. If you reach that point, you can actually begin to grow and heal as a human being.

One particular low for you, as you just mentioned, is the night you jumped out of a 10th-story window and miraculously lived. Describe the moments leading up to that night: your mindset, your thoughts, your decision to jump.
I was in a near absolute blackout for days on end. I was coming in and out of coherence. I was on drugs and alcohol constantly. I hadn’t slept for many nights. I was past the point of slow suicide – which is the name of my current single – and had graduated to “this is the end.” I was so caught up in the disease of alcoholism and addiction and couldn’t see that it was trying to kill me. And it was about to succeed.

You’re in a psychotic place when you have all those chemicals in your body and you’re sleep-deprived. You are a person possessed. Who you are on drugs and alcohol doesn’t reflect the person you are off of them. I think that’s a common misconception that those who haven’t crossed paths with addiction have. People who are on drugs and alcohol are in a state of mental psychosis. When you get rid of those things, the real person can come back, though they have to deal with the wake of destruction they have left behind them, and the people hurt along the way.

You have professed to be a Christian since very young. Your band was labeled as faith-based by many. But did you ever reach a point where you wanted to distance yourself from that label – a label that isn’t necessarily a positive one in the general media? Did you ever feel like – for the sake of the respect of others in and around this industry – you just wanted to prove that you were just simply rock and roll, even at the expense of your own beliefs? Did you ever go out of your way to try show people, “No I am not a Christian artist; I am just an artist. I am real?”
I was raised in “Christianity,” but it was far from true Christianity. It was emotional, physical and spiritual abuse. That’s where the conflict inside me came from. Though I was raised in the faith, I didn’t want anything to do with it. How could anyone want to associate with something where the representatives of that thing are habitually beating you in every way? That’s not Christianity! If anything, it was like Jim Jones. It was more of a cult.

We didn’t start off, in any way, to be associated with Christianity. We were just a rock and roll band caught up in a rock and roll lifestyle. Sex, drugs and music. That was all we were about. But in moments alone, I couldn’t escape what I was struggling with inside me. I was trying to deal with the harsh, abusive, overly dogmatic religion that was shoved down my throat.

When you are in abuse, you always wonder, “Why is this woman staying with this man? He beats the crap out of her.” But then she is crying to the police, “Don’t take him away!” as she bleeds from her face, because he broke her head open and knocked her teeth out. How do you figure that out? That was the same thing that was going on with me as a writer at that time. Although in my life, I wasn’t completely rebelling against Christianity, I was still that battered woman, thinking, “Well, maybe I am wrong …”

And yet within all of it, there was still something telling me that God was the answer and the way I was raised wasn’t. So that would continue to come out of me as a writer who was just pouring his heart into his music. I think that’s where the confusion came in, because I was confused. I was just trying to be in a rock band and writing from the heart. I don’t think “Christian band” was the correct label when it was given, but looking back at lyrics and internal conflicts I was having, I can see why people would assume otherwise. I was in search for “something higher,” but not the God as I understood him at the time.

How has your journey of faith evolved through the highs and lows of your career until now? Do you still consider yourself to be a Christian? If so, how do you define that term?
I am absolutely a Christian. I absolutely have a relationship with Jesus Christ and have made him my Lord and savior. I have finally been able to reconcile that with my upbringing and separate the two. The reality of Christ and the church and what the Word says is so much different than my background.
Now, that doesn’t mean I write proselytizing songs. If that comes out, it comes out of me because it’s organic. It’s not an agenda. I’m also just a secular rock and roll artist. I don’t think we need to pigeonhole and categorize every person who professes faith and makes music.

There are those who feel a calling in their lives to preach and share Christ directly. I go off inspiration as an artist, and it always reflects accurately what’s really going on in my life. On the new record, there is definitely some material that is directly about my relationship with God and where I am spiritually, but that’s just honesty without an agenda. I don’t approach every song with a preconceived idea to do that. I am just thankful to God that he is able to use me in spite of myself. I am thankful that I have been able to be inspired by my faith in God and what Christ has done in my life.

Do you have any specific advice for readers dealing with substance abuse and/or depression at this moment?
I think the first thing I can say is get help. Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Don’t be afraid to share with someone else what is really going on with you. And it’s OK. There is nothing to feel guilty or shameful about. Tell your pastor, your teacher or your best friend. It’s not a death sentence; you can get out. Don’t feel trapped, and don’t feel like there isn’t a solution, because there is. The first step is just raising your hand and saying, “I need help.” It’s as simple as that.

In some ways you can’t control how people remember you. You can’t take back the decisions you have made. In your case, you have made a lot of decisions publicly, right and wrong, that in some senses have solidified your legacy. But in other senses, the book is still being written. When people mention your name 10 years down the road, what words or images do you want to be associated with?
Outside of this industry in general, 99 percent of people think about the music when they think of my name. So I have to make sure I don’t allow the 1 percent to paint the picture of what my legacy really is. At the end of the day I just want to be remembered as someone who poured his heart and soul into his music and was honest in everything he did.

Scott Stapp was posted on November 6, 2013 for HM Magazine and authored by .