Creed: Second Coming

Originally published in Guitar World, January 2010

Creed were the celebrated gods of American rock before their world came
crashing down six years ago. Mark Tremonti talks about the group’s resurrection and the making of their latest effort, Full Circle.

For Creed, the beginning of the end came on the night of December 29, 2002, at what guitarist Mark Tremonti refers to as “the infamous Chicago show.”

During the band’s headlining performance at the Allstate Arena that evening, frontman Scott Stapp was visibly intoxicated and barely able to sing the words to the band’s songs. More than once he dropped to the stage floor; on occasion he walked off entirely.

“He was just wasted,” Tremonti recalls. “We had to hold off the show for 45 minutes to try and get him sobered up, but he couldn’t pull it off. He swore up and down that he could do it, but he went out there and it was just an embarrassment.” In the aftermath, several concertgoers slapped the band with a class-action lawsuit seeking reimbursement for ticket and parking fees for the thousands in attendance that night.

Up to that point in their career, Creed had weathered their fair share of criticism. Their music had been dismissed as overblown and derivative of early Nineties grunge acts like Pearl Jam. Stapp’s lyrics led some to charge that the band members were closet Christian rockers with a serious messianic bent. But the fallout from the Allstate show marked a different kind of problem for the group: dissent was beginning to brew among Creed’s fans and within the band’s own ranks. “At that point,” Tremonti says, “I just figured, Scott’s self destructive, and I want to get away from him.”

Creed were perhaps the biggest-selling American rock act of the late Nineties and early 2000s. Their three albums—1997’s My Own Prison, 1999’s Human Clay and 2001’s Weathered—sold more than 25 million copies in the U.S. alone. But a little more than a year after Chicago, Creed were finished. Stapp embarked on a solo career, while Tremonti and drummer Scott Phillips hooked up with singer Myles Kennedy and original Creed bassist Brian Marshall and found success as Alter Bridge.

Creed, and Tremonti in particular, were publicly adamant that the group would not reunite. But as the saying goes, time heals. Stapp found his way back from a prolonged period of addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs, and earlier this year he reached out to his former bandmates. They talked, and eventually they attempted to work out their problems. “Sometime around February” of 2009, Tremonti says, “we went down to Scott’s house in Boca Raton [Florida] and tried out some of the old songs. The first one we did was ‘My Own Prison,’ which was the one that gave us our start. And right off the bat it sounded like Creed. It was like going through a time warp. It felt right.”

Today, Creed are back on solid footing. They recently completed a summer reunion tour of U.S. sheds and just released Full Circle, their first studio album in eight years. Produced by Howard Benson (Daughtry, the All-American Rejects), the album boasts the type of muscular riffs (first single “Overcome,” “Bread of Shame”) and anthemic choruses (“Rain,” “Time”) that fueled past smash hits like “Higher” and “With Arms Wide Open.” Tremonti says he’s proud of the finished album and is looking forward to more Creed activity in 2010, including another leg of the U.S. tour. And though there are plans in the works for Alter Bridge to reconvene for a new album next year, the guitarist is clearly enjoying having his old band back at the moment.

“We’ve changed so much as musicians and as people in the time we’ve been away from Creed,” Tremonti says. “But one thing that hasn’t changed is that, when we play the songs and we hear the crowd singing the words back at us, it’s incredible. The connection that people have with this music is powerful.”

GUITAR WORLD A few years back you gave an interview in which you described your time in Creed as a nightmare. You were determined not to return to the band. What changed?

MARK TREMONTI It was just the passing of time. We’d all started families, had kids, grown up a little. Scott had also begun to reach out a little bit and say nice things about us in the press. We knew he wanted to get back together—I just didn’t know if it was going to be another time that we’d do it and end up fighting. But I decided it was worth having a sit-down with him, and I noticed right away that that old mean streak he had when dealing with me or anybody else was gone. He’s very calm now and doesn’t butt heads with anybody. He’s as happy as can be and not stirring things up. It’s funny, because back in the day Scott was the guy that, if you were getting fired from this organization, you were getting fired by Scott Stapp. He was the guy to watch out for. I feel like now I’ve taken on that role. [laughs] I’m a nice person, but I work hard at what I do. If somebody does something wrong, they’re gonna hear about it. So we’ve shifted roles in a way.

GW At that first meeting, were there issues that still had to be worked out between Scott and the rest of the band?

TREMONTI We didn’t even bother with that. It would have been impossible to go back and fix things, so we just left it unsaid. We had kind of a tacit agreement that we wouldn’t bring up the past; we would just move forward. It was like, Hey I remember the bad times, but I far more remember all the good times. We had eight or nine years of good moments, and only one and a half years of real shit. So we kept that in mind.

GW You and Scott started the band together back in the mid Nineties. It must have been difficult to see the person you grew up with and built a career beside destroy what you created.

TREMONTI It was tough, because all of a sudden you have that one live-wire guy who’s capable of anything, at any time. We never knew what was going to happen. We could be going to meet some important person and, who knows, maybe Scott would get in a fistfight with him. He was that kind of guy at the time. And it’s funny, it always comes down to money with people. I always get asked the question: “How could you walk away from all that money?” It’s like, dude, you make enough money where, at some point, all you want is happiness. I made enough money to be able to go and search out what I wanted to do artistically. Creed allowed me to do that. So I was able to go off and experiment with Alter Bridge, and I’m thankful for that. And then six years went by, and a lot of things healed. Scott had a few wake-up calls and now has a newfound respect for everyone around him. He’s a changed man.

GW Why did you choose to do the reunion tour before releasing the new album?

TREMONTI Because when we first got together, it was with the intent that there was only going to be a tour. As time went on, we decided we should do a record as well. But it was too late to get it out before the tour, which was already scheduled for the summertime. But it all worked out. Since we were on a tight schedule with the tour kickoff, we had only two and a half months to write and record the album. So it was a fire drill to get the record done, but that brought a nice energy to the songs.

GW Did you start fresh when it came to composing the material for Full Circle, or were you using ideas that might have otherwise been intended for Alter Bridge?

TREMONTI What’s funny is that when we first started doing Alter Bridge a few years back, people would always say, “Ah, it’s just Creed Part II ,” and all that. So if I ever wrote something that I thought sounded too much like Creed, I’d just file it away in a folder on my laptop. When it came time to do Creed again I had all these ideas that I couldn’t use before. All of a sudden they were usable.

GW Any songs in particular?

TREMONTI Most of the music on this record, and a lot of the melody ideas as well, were already sitting there, just in pieces. The parts to “Rain” had been kicking around from a while back. And the guitar work on “Away in Silence” was actually on my instructional DVD [2009’s Mark Tremonti: The Sound & the Story]. I remember my brother used to love that guitar part, and he didn’t want me to put it on the DVD because he said, “You’ll ruin it from being a song.” But I was like, “Don’t worry, I can still use it later on!” And I did.

GW The title Full Circle is clearly referential to the band’s reunion. Is there an overarching theme to the album as a whole?

TREMONTI There is. The song “Overcome” says a lot of it. A lot of these lyrics are along the lines of “I’ve changed,” “Give me a second chance,” “I’m trying to overcome the past”—stuff like that. Scott wanted to come out and prove to the world that he’s a changed man, and that he appreciates everything he has.

GW There’s some heavy guitar work on Full Circle, and also more solos than on past Creed records. I’m sure you’re happy about that.

TREMONTI I am. I grew up on speed metal and stuff like that. So I like to play music that’s a little more progressive. The problem is that once you reach a certain level of success, there are all these people around you who are making money off you. So you can’t go be an artist and do whatever you want, because you have to have the big hit song that’s going to pay for the Mercedes-Benz. In our case, we would turn in a record and usually the label wouldn’t bother us too much. But if I threw a horse gallop in there, I’d get laughed at. I don’t want that to happen anymore.

GW You’re less concerned with what everybody else thinks.

TREMONTI Definitely. With Creed, back in the day it felt like we were fighting for survival every step of the way. We always heard, “Your next single’s going to fail,” or “Your second record’s going to bomb.” It was like that our whole career. But at the same time people were giving us their doomsday predictions, we were selling tons of records and tons of concert tickets. So it was weird. Nowadays, we don’t have all the stresses. Now we can just do it because we want to do it. We already have the legacy and the name that’s going to bring people to shows. People who are fans of Creed are going to follow Creed.

GW Over the course of your career, Creed sold more than 25 million records in the U.S. alone. Given the current state of the music industry, that seems like a statistic from a long-gone era.

TREMONTI I don’t want to be all doom and gloom, but I just don’t think that can happen anymore. I mean, Nickelback sold something like seven million albums, but I don’t know if there’s ever gonna be a new rock band that comes out fresh and does it like we did. It would have to be the next Guns N’ Roses or Oasis, a band that just catches fire worldwide. So this time around I initially said, “Let’s not do a record, because the market being how it is, you just don’t sell records like you used to. I don’t want people to see the decrease in the number of sales and start saying that this was a failure.” But then after a while I thought, Let’s just make a record that we’re satisfied with and not worry about sales and all that stuff. Give the fans some new songs to hear on the tour. And I’m glad we did.

GW And yet the state of the economy and the music industry did have an effect on your tour. There were reports of tickets going for as little as a few dollars in some markets. Did that surprise you?

TREMONTI I didn’t know what to expect, given the state of things. But I was happy with the turnout. The shows weren’t all sellouts, but every time we played, the amphitheaters looked pretty full to me. I guess sometimes promoters would give some of their favorite buyers extra tickets to fill the place up so they could get more concessions. But this was our first time back in eight years, and we had to prove ourselves. Maybe people thought we were just an old washed-up band coming out to play our old stuff. That’s why we needed to come out with the new record, to really prove we’re on top of our game.

GW Do you feel like you’re on top of your game again?

TREMONTI We turned out a record that’s the best we can do and that we’re all proud of. We’ve done our job, and the fans seem to like it. So I’ve learned not to stress about it. When people say to me, “How many records did you sell this week?” or, “How’s the single doing?,” the answer is, I don’t know. I’m just a guy who writes music and plays my guitar.

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