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Heeding Creed

August 11, 2000

BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC

Beloved by radio and ever-growing legions of fans, Creed not only seems out of sync with much of the rock mainstream circa 2000, but also with what has traditionally been the devil's music in general. Though the four musicians do not embrace the term "Christian rock," spirituality is a key concept in the lyrics of the jangling anthems on "My Own Prison" and "Human Clay," as well as in the onstage posturing of singer Scott Stapp. (He is prone to crucifixion-like gestures.) I spoke with Stapp's songwriting partner, guitarist Mark Tremonti, about these and other issues shortly before the start of the group's current tour. Q.Orlando seems to breed two kinds of rock bands: the harshest, heaviest death metal and sounds that are a lot more sunny, whether it's Creed or the boy bands. What generates these extremes? A. A lot of it had to do with age. Back when I was in high school, I was in one of those death metal bands. I grew up on Slayer and Venom and Celtic Frost, but you grow up and you have different views on life. Q. How do you go from death metal to Creed? A. That stuff isn't the kind of stuff I write; it's just the kind of stuff I shred around on in my room. I can't write a good melody over something that's lightning-quick. While I'm playing guitar and trying to write music at home, it's never heavy metal. There might be tendencies here and there--little metal riffs. But I tend to write much more melodically. I write all the music, and I'll sit and write silly words just to fill in so I can remember melodies. Scott writes 90 percent of the lyrics. On the "My Own Prison" album, I wrote the lyrics to "Torn" and a lot of "What's This Life For," and he wrote all the rest. We try to write the lyrics so they can stand on their own. A lot of times he'll write lyrics that can be read as a story on their own. Q. On your Web site, you underscore that you don't like to be considered "a Christian rock band." But spirituality is clearly a key topic in your work. A. Personally, my parents made me go to CCD until I was in eighth grade, and then I never had to go to church again. Scott grew up in a real religious family, where his dad would make him study the Bible and ask him, "What are your thoughts on the Bible?" That was always his reference point. People think his father was a Pentecostal minister, but he was a dentist; Scott has always laughed about that. But his parents are real religious, and Scott just grew up knowing everything about the Bible and everything about religion. He grew up being told what to believe, and his songs are really just about growing up, being a man and saying, "Do I believe what I've been taught my whole life? The Bible is kind of out there; are these stories that keep moral structure in society, are they the truth, or what?" The lyrics are pretty much just him asking questions--not preaching anything, but asking, and definitely spiritual. Q. Do you feel a kinship to Christian-rock bands? A. I don't like people trying to tell people what to believe. I think that even people who believe in the same God and practice the same religion still have different images in their mind. When I pray to God, I don't have in my head the bearded Jesus with long hair on the cross. I have a merciful person that's just an image in my head, just like everybody has. I think that's pretty much everybody's last resort when nobody else will listen. A lot of bands right now are trying to be heavier and more controversial than the next. There are bands 10 years ago along our same lines--U2, definitely. Bands that really dug into thinking about real issues that everybody has to deal with. There hasn't really been too many deep bands recently because I guess it's just not cool enough. People call us uncool all the time. So be it. I can live my life and be proud of what I've done; I haven't made any kids go out and do drugs or kill themselves. I think if one person comes in the world and changes two people's lives for the better they've served their purpose, and I think we've done much more than that. Q. The biggest criticism leveled at you is the Pearl Jam influence--that you're like a third-generation copy of sounds that group perfected. A. Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and all of those big, hot bands when we were getting together. What we play is just a big melting pot of all of our different styles. I was kind of the heavy guy at first. The drummer [Scott Phillips] was kind of the rock 'n' roll guy--Living Colour was his favorite band at the time. The bass player [Brian Marshall] was just a classic rock guy, and Scott was a guy who loved Jim Morrison and Bono. He likes to do that, "Let me tell you a story, I'm gonna take you on a ride" kind of thing. The Pearl Jam thing mainly comes from two baritone voices that sound alike. After Pearl Jam came out, there were a lot of bands--like Silver Chair and Stone Temple Pilots--that got compared to them, but we've probably gotten the worst. It doesn't bug me; I think they're a great band. It's like somebody telling you you look like Brad Pitt. Q. What can you say about the feud with Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit? The two bands have been trading insults in the press for several weeks now. A. I think that was a last attempt for some publicity on a dying record by Fred Durst. I think he was [ticked off] that he wasn't selling as many tickets or records as we were. Slipknot and whoever else wants to talk trash, they're jealous of the guys who are on top. This country wants to build up the underdog, and then you're the person who's doing well and they want to tear you down, whether you're an athlete or an actor or what. The Fred Durst thing makes me laugh, to see how angry and upset he gets. Q. Where do you think Creed fits in the current pop spectrum? People think everything is going the way of Limp Bizkit and Eminem, but here are you guys packing big arena shows. A. The big thing lately has been fads: the hip-hop hard-core fad and wearing costumes. Kids will always go out and buy the cool, new, exciting thing. The thing about us is we're not that exciting except for our music. Our music's always been what's sold us. A lot of people accuse us of being an overnight success, but nothing was really overnight for us. The first week we came out and sold 2,000 records. The next week we sold 3,000; the next week we sold 4,000. The radio slowly picked up week by week, and there was just never a decline in the success of the band--it was always a slow rise. We never got thrown to the wolves, we could always take the next step, and we've been real lucky that it's never regressed. We have had to grow up a lot over the past couple of years. The success was never overnight, but the responsibilities were. Now you don't have to just worry about writing songs and jamming in your basement and having a good time with your buddies. You have to worry about your touring business, your merchandising, your publishing, your recording. You have to worry about all your crew, you have to hire all the right people that you trust, and there's just lots to overlook in this business. You have a house, your mortgage payments, health insurance, life insurance, dental. You have to really become an adult. Q. Well, an adult who gets to play guitar solos surrounded by geysers of flame. A. Oh, yeah. This tour we have three video towers and double the pyro that we had on our spring tour--concussion bombs and big fireballs that blow up behind us. One of the cues, I stand right in it--it's called a cold flame. If you ever watch "Monday Nitro," where Goldberg comes out and stands in the middle of all those flames, I have the same thing.