I'm not evil, no matter what you think of me.
~Scott Stapp in his 2013 song "Slow Suicide"
Stapp's songs remind him of both his best self and his foibles. Hearing him reflect on "Higher," we see a man who wanted the world; a man who like so many Shakespearean characters was led by ego and ambition. When he talks about "With Arms Wide Open," a song he wrote in anticipation of his first child, he now does so as a father of three. He calls the spirit of the song "naïve," but it's Stapp at his most sincere. This same brutal honesty comes through his 2013 memoir, Sinner's Creed, and in musical form on his solo album Proof of Life.
In John 8:7, Jesus warned, "Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone." Stapp has been the target of such stones for most of his career, but his story has become one of redemption.
Scott Stapp: The main differences are that I'm free from limitations on the sonic bed that I want to put my melodies and my words to. From a lyrical perspective, I only know one way to write, and that's honestly reflecting on what's going on in my head and my heart and life and the world around me. So lyrically, it's just a continuation, and anything that's different, it's just growth or a different perspective that, had I been creating with Creed, it still would have been approached that way lyrically.
But I think sonically and musically, I'm free to do whatever it is that I'm feeling and present my musical ideas and the sonic bed around those exactly how I envision them to be. In Creed, I do that. But it's limited also in respect to Mark [Tremonti] and Scott Phillips, in terms of what their opinions are and what their likes are and dislikes are. As a solo artist, I don't have to show that same respect for how those guys want to do it and I'm free to make the presentation as I see it and feel it.
Songfacts: This new album is very much a spiritual album. Do you think your music is more spiritual when it's your solo music than when it's the band's music, or do you write the same kinds of songs whether you would be writing for yourself or for the band?
Stapp: You know, I think in terms of the lyrical qualities and how that reflects spirituality, it's just another snapshot of my life today. I don't ever think too much about that: how spiritual is this or how spiritual is that? I just honestly write what's on my heart in those moments of inspiration and moments of clarity.
Had I been writing for a Creed record on this album, from a lyrical standpoint and a content standpoint, I can say that it would be exactly the same because the inspiration that I get from those guys may affect certain moods, but it's where I am as a spiritual human being. Emotionally, the content would have portrayed the same thing, only it would have had different mechanisms of getting there.
Songfacts: With the songs on this album, the mood I get is that you're very content. Would you say that you're more contented now than you have been in the past?
Stapp: Oh, most definitely. I'm the most content that I've ever been in my 40 years on this earth and the happiest and the most full of just peace and joy than I've ever been. And I think life reflects art, art reflects life. Just being able to make a record from an organic place, from a place of inspiration and a place free of any negativity or any forcing, brought out the best in me as an artist. I really feel this is the best body of work that I've ever done to date.
Songfacts: To what do you attribute that content state?
Stapp: Well, this journey I've been on emotionally and spiritually has brought resolution to a lot of areas in my life, and in growing as a human being. It began in terms of coming out of the hole with my book that I put out last year, and this album is a continuation of that. Any time we have reconciliation in life, and any time there's balance brought back into life and perspective, at the end of those things, you find peace and joy and contentment, and that's where my life is today. And therefore it reflects in the music.
Songfacts: Since this interview is for Songfacts, I'd like to chat with you about some of the bigger hits you've had with Creed. I've always loved one of your biggest hits, "Arms Wide Open." That was inspired by the birth of your child. What kind of feelings do you have when you sing that song now?
Now I'm a full-fledged father with a 14-year-old, a daughter who's going to be 7 in June and my youngest, who's 3. So those are still my feelings. And as a human being and as a father, my feelings haven't changed one bit from those that are expressed in that song. Every time I sing it, I can connect with it again and again and again because I'm no longer expressing fears in my thoughts about being a father; I'm a full-fledged living-it-every-day father. So it just rings true to me.
Songfacts: That's interesting. When you wrote it, you mentioned the fears that come with having a child. On the one hand you're excited, but it's, like, 'Wait a minute; I'm going to be a father!' You have mixed feelings because you can still remember that trepidation, but you can also look back on how you've been able to be successful.
Stapp: You're right. And some of the fears that are expressed in that song are fears or concerns or worries or statements that us as fathers have forever in terms of the bad choices we've made in our lives. None of us want our kids to be like us. You know what I mean? In terms of waking up to the reality that the idealistic white picket fence view of the world that some of us have had in our lives; to realize that that's not the reality of life. But still in our hearts we wish that for our children. Don't we always want our kids to be better than us? Don't we always want them to have a better experience in this life and this journey than we did? So I think that from my point of view I'm beginning to see why that song struck a chord with multiple generations: because it touches on a feeling and sentiments that are universal for fathers, and for parents in general.
Songfacts: Let's talk about the song "Higher." That goes back a ways, too. Do you remember the experience of writing that?
I open it up:
"When dreaming, I'm guided to another world, time and time again."
So I was basically commenting on my dream and writing my thoughts about what I was dreaming about. And it was on various levels. It was a literal dream, but it was also on my dreams as a human being at that stage in my life and where I was in my life at that time. I wanted the world, so to speak. I wanted to achieve every dream that I ever had. And also I had that idealistic view of wanting to create heaven on earth. At the time I penned that song, my view of what heaven on earth meant was very narrow, very naïve, and very wrapped up in ego and self-fulfillment. I didn't really expound on that, but I can comment on that now. And it's also, "Be careful what you wish for." because your prayers might get answered.
Songfacts: Let's circle back to the new album and talk about a few of the songs there. I think one of the ones people are going to immediately be curious about is "Jesus Was a Rockstar." When you put that song together, what gave you that idea? That's kind of an odd sort of juxtaposition, isn't it?
Stapp: Yeah, most definitely. And I think on one level, it completely coined the struggle that I was having with what I did as a human being with how I was taught how rock & roll stars were supposed to be. And they didn't mesh: You couldn't be a rock star and a Christian. Those two didn't come together. Then I woke up from that and went through the journey that I did and finally came to grips with the fact that, 'Well hey, I am a rock star and I am a Christian.' The two worlds can blend together. These two worlds do have symmetry. They don't have to mean good and evil. They can mean unity.
I can be someone that loves the Lord and loves Jesus, and be in a rock & roll band and play music that gets played on rock & roll stations. I can do that. So on one level, that's where the song was coming from. On another level, I feel like for me being a rock & roll star, I just have an over-magnified version of what anyone in any kind of position of power has to struggle with on whatever level when people look up to you.
So, to put that in perspective, it definitely puts in play how I felt. In no way was I comparing myself to Christ, but for a period in my life I was beaten down for being a Christian. I was judged harshly. Stones were thrown. My life was attacked. And so I was trying to find a connection.
I think at every level in that song I was trying to find a connection and trying to say, 'You can be a Christian and be a rock star,' and so at various levels I was trying to show some kind of parallel with that, and at the same time, share my faith, share what Christ means to me and what He did boldly. He walked on water, man. He made that water wine. He drank with people you and me would just cast aside.
So, on another hand, you can be a Christian and a rock star because look at me: I'm a rock star and a Christian, and in some regard I'm preaching through this song right now. So, on multiple levels, that song meant a lot to me. But it also brought, finally, this divided part within me that was this huge struggle that caused so many problems in my life early in the public eye. It finally brought it together. And it brought it to a place for me, within my head.
Songfacts: I'm going to give you the last word here. I've talked about some of the songs that stuck out for me. As far as the new album, do you have any personal favorites?
Stapp: Oh man, I do. I've been listening to the album quite a bit. I'm getting ready to tour and reconnecting with every nuance and whatnot so I can do the shows and reproduce it for my fans. I'm connecting a lot lately with "New Day Coming." With "Only One." With "Break Out." With "What Would Love Do."
Songfacts: It sounds like you really like this album and that you're really proud of it.
Stapp: Very much so. I'm very proud of this record and in my heart I feel this is the best album I've ever created. Put like a boxer, pound for pound it's the best album that I've ever done.
November 6, 2013. Get more at scottstapp.com.
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