BY SCOTT YAGER – SMB.COM CONTRIBUTOR
Once one of the most popular bands in the world, Creed has since become a punch line – an example of what people hate about modern rock. It would be easy to combat anti-Creed statements by listing their accolades, mentioning how many stadiums they sold out, hit singles they wrote, or awards they won. This only fuels the fire. It reminds the Creed-hater why they have begun to hate the music industry in general – why Rock ‘n’ Roll has drifted from what it once was into something different. Ultimately, something a lot more cliché. The truth is that Rock ‘n’ Roll has always been cliché. In fact, the Creed you know and hate are only a product of what the music industry made them become in an effort to maximize their economic potential. When you take Scott Stapp’s piercing vocals, combined with elements such as his ability to craft a powerful chorus and combine it with the sheer flawlessness of Mark Tremonti’s guitar riffs — there is no doubt that the end result would be an abundant collection of top 40 hits.
I had a chance to speak to Creed front man Scott Stapp about their most recent album, Full Circle, which was released in late 2009. We talked about the evolution of Creed, who took seven years off before getting back together in 2009, as well as his upcoming solo acoustic tour.
“We put out an album called Full Circle in late 2009 and were real excited about it. I’m getting ready to get my solo record out in addition to working on my first book, which will probably be out the first quarter of next year. The solo album will hopefully be out in June of this year.” says Stapp, clearly excited about the projects he has ahead of him.
Full Circle is definitely a step in a harder direction for Creed – a band who has always been a much heavier rock act than they have been given credit for. When I ask Scott if he thinks this album is their hardest effort yet, he recalls back to Weathered, which was released in 2001. It was the band’s last album before their lengthy hiatus.
“You know I sill like to think that Weathered was one of our heaviest records – definitely one of our darkest records. Full Circle is definitely parallel with it. I think it was a great expression of where Mark and I are as songwriters, as well as where Creed is today. It definitely brought our sound into 2010 with some aggression behind it. We also explored some swamp rock and blues rock – but with a metal edge to it.”
Admittedly, the majority of the songs that Creed has become famous for (With Arms Wide Open, Higher, One) are a bit cheesy and when taken out of context, can really help one understand why they’ve been treated with such a lack of respect. Although the songs are fundamentally and structurally superb, their sappy nature contrasted greatly with the pessimistic times of this nation (I.E. 9/11). We need to dig deeper to really get an idea of what this band is made of. Songs such as What If or Weathered open the listener to a different side of the band.
The reception from hardcore heavy metal fans has been overwhelming for Full Circle. Evidently – this news is surprising considering these are the individuals who had previously determined that the work of Creed was simply “not for them.” The news couldn’t me any more thrilling and refreshing.
“I think the word should get out about that with Creed. With Arms Wide Open really opened the door into a large group of music lovers but it really didn’t represent the band in its entirety. We’re a pretty hard rock band and we have been since day one. And I mean – what an amazing guitar player Tremonti is.”
When I bring up that some of the blame should be put on the record label for not releasing many of their harder tracks as radio singles, Scott agrees but also reminds me that they have released a couple of their harder tracks as singles as well.
“We do have some songs like Bullets and Ode and some others that did have those riffs and a harder edge to them. However, those were mainly on rock radio. The music genre has changed and what gets crossed over to modern rock and even top 40 can be harder. I think the future looks bright for Creed.”
It’s ironic that their newest album is called Full Circle because a 180-degree rotation would be more accurate in describing the approach of the latest effort from Creed. Most bands tend to start off with a more raw, hardcore sound and only begin to turn it down when they see success. Creed has actually worked the other way for most of their career – the latest example being with Full Circle. Their most mellow album is, by far, My Own Prison. Weathered, their third album, was by far the most innovative and metal-driven stuff they ever put out. Full Circle, which can be considered their comeback album, is another step in that direction, with Tremonti going lower and more emphatic with his guitar riffs and Scott Stapp’s preachy vocals taking a back seat to the point that they are hard to even notice. There are moments, and a few of them, where one might blindly hear part of a song and think it was System of a Down (“Suddenly ”) or KoRn (“Bread of Shame”).
There are tons of really explosive hard rock tracks on Full Circle that would have made great singles. The band however released “Rain,” much more of a ballad, as their first major single. I ask Scott if he regrets this – looking back on how the album was ultimately received, implying that one of the heavier tracks would have represented the album better.
“I agree with you, I wanted to put out Bread of Shame as the first single and I was outvoted. I also would love to have had Suddenly be a single. It is what it is and the pros that handle this kind of stuff for the artists, I guess they are a little more dialed in than me. Coming from a pure artistic standpoint – that was my vote all along” says Stapp, who seems to have a good attitude about the way the decisions were made, laughing at the irony of being overruled in a decision making process about his own songs.
We talk about Creed’s time off as a band and how it positively impacted them as a group, as individuals, and their collective creative process.
“It was much needed. We benefited in ways that we haven’t even shared on a personal level as far as growing as human beings and working out specific kinks in each of our lives – us developing our families, which has become the center piece of all our lives. It is going to help us as musicians and help us rebuild Creed to put the band where it needs to be. Although we got back together and wrote the album in literally two and a half weeks, we had seven years of material on the back burner that we saved for each other.”
Scott is hitting the road as a solo act as well. However, this live experience will be very different from the average Creed concert. Scott is stripping down all the songs, performing them with limited instruments and acoustic guitars. He tells me what fans can expect from the intimate performances.
“I’m playing guitar. I’ve got a buddy of mine who plays guitar. I’ve got two twelve-year-old boys who are itching to play – they come out and join me sometimes. Trying to keep it all in the family, I guess. It is just a way for me to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, for me as far as the Creed material as well as my solo material. It’s a way for me to demo new material, actually write new material, and be very interactive with the fans. This really helps me as a singer/songwriter to really push the boundaries of my voice, to really just allow my subconscious to flow and not really stay along any specific guidelines – to just allow the music to come out the way its going to come out. Up to this point I am really happy with how its been going and happy with the response. Its something I want to continue to do for the rest of my career. I feel its essential to me in terms of staying true to my craft.”
Creed is one of the few bands that actually became less restrained and strayed farther from their mainstream identity with each and every album. No one knows this because before anyone thought about taking the time to get to know Creed, they had already adopted this pre-conceived notion to hate the band. Creed began to represent the negative aspects of the music industry – not because they actually were to blame for any of it, but because their hit singles were just too catchy to be able to stand.
What’s sad is that there has been so little to grab onto in the realm of rock music over the past few years. The glory days of the 90s are a long ways away. People are forced to cling onto the opinions they previously formed and the relationships they made with bands from years past. This is sad because Full Circle is one of the best hard rock albums to come out since Metallica’s Death Magnetic last year.
For a genre of music that is based on mediocrity, it’s hard for people to relate to a band that is so good at what that they do. In a way, Creed were the anti-Nirvana. Nirvana didn’t care, so much so that Kurt Cobain‘s vocals and guitar playing during certain live performances became utterly appalling. This bothered no one however because the only thing worse than not caring to the point of sucking is caring a lot. That’s what Creed do. They care. They care about their music and they care about their craft.
Please download and listen to the first four tracks from Full Circle. If your opinion of Creed has not been altered, then there is most likely nothing that these guys can do to fix that. As depressing as that truth may be – some bands are just meant to be hated forever.