Creed's True Calling Band Says It's About Rock, Not Religion
By Mark Jenkins
Tuesday, September 28, 1999
At a time when a new generation of rockers glorifies hedonism and aggression, Creed is anything but Hell bound. The multi-platinum hard-rock band, which performs tonight at the Patriot Center, does not celebrate fleeting or profane pleasures. It wraps the transcendental fire of early U2 in the flannel-shirt rock of early Pearl Jam.
To the music industry, Creed is simply rock's current standard bearer. The Tallahassee, Fla., quartet's debut album, "My Own Prison," is pushing toward the 4 million mark, and won the band Billboard's 1998 Rock Artist of the Year award. For its most fervent fans, however, Creed is something more profound than a mere commercial phenomenon. The biblical imagery of singer Scott Stapp's lyrics got Creed typed as Christian rock by early listeners, and the band's denial of any religious objective has unsettled some of its more fervent fans.
"We are not a Christian band," Stapp insists on the band's popular Web site, www.creednet.com. "A Christian band has an agenda to lead others to believe in their specific religious beliefs. We have no agenda!" As to the religious affiliation of the quartet's members, Stapp writes that "the whole foundation of being a Christian is a personal relationship. I can say that all the members believe in God, but we each differ on our methods to reach Him."
The personal has a way of going public, however, when your band comes out of nowhere to sell 4 million copies of its first album. On the band's Web site, concerned followers excitedly debate both the band members' current lives and their eventual fates. Fans such as the one who signed on as "Nick Fury" are afraid that Stapp's childhood, during which his strict Pentecostalist parents barred him from listening to rock music, has so embittered the singer that he will never be redeemed.
"Deep down I know he wants to 'really know' about a relationship with Christ," Fury writes, "but unfortunately his parents went the wrong way with him, no one should be treated like that . . . and they may have stolen his eternal paradise in that--we can only hope Scott will click into the real message of Christ." Pretty fervent stuff, even if it's not unusual for young rock fans to get deeply involved with the imagined crises of their idols.
Stapp "was brought up in a very religious family, and his parents would really make him study the Bible," explains Creed guitarist Mark Tremonti. "His reference points have always been the Bible and religion. So people say he's got to be a Christian because he knows all this stuff." On "Human Clay," Stapp employs such biblical idioms as "eye for an eye," "wicked fruit of your vine" and "a coat of colors." Still, the songs apply such images to worldly concerns. When Stapp sings about a "crown of thorns," for example, he's describing the injuries of women who suffer domestic abuse.
Tremonti calls Stapp's lyrics "pretty intense," but says that the band's reputation for spirituality is something that he, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips generally ignore. "The only time we've really dealt with it is doing interviews," he claims. "When we're writing music or playing live, it really doesn't come into play at all. We're just a rock band. Scott's the real spiritual one in the band."
Tremonti admits to being "probably the least computer-literate guy in the band," so perhaps he hasn't spent much time reading the remarks of fans on the Web site, where Christianity is one of the hottest topics. Still, he recognizes that the site "has been a key factor in our success. It's been one of the highest-hit Web sites in all of music this year. It was getting 100,000 a week at its peak. A lot of people overseas got our record because of the Internet. A lot of them had heard of Creed a year before we got over there."
Creed is pleased to have developed a direct relationship with its fans, sidestepping such music biz middlemen as MTV. "We're kind of proud that our music sells just over the radio and not because of images," Tremonti notes. "It's all been based on radio play."
While some fans still claim Creed's music as Christian rock, Rolling Stone had another tag: The magazine recently dubbed the band's style "everyguy rock."
"That's pretty true," agrees Tremonti. "Compared to all the other bands out there, when we're walking down the street we look like just about anybody else. We're your average, next-door-neighbor kind of people."
Indeed, the band originally released "My Own Prison" on its own Blue Collar Records label, selling 6,000 copies before signing with Wind-Up, a new independent label (but one that's distributed by BMG, a multinational media conglomerate). "We were in a college band and we just wanted to have something to remember later in life," Tremonti recalls. "We weren't even trying to get a record contract. Of course we thought about it, but we didn't think we'd get a record deal with our first CD. We thought we'd have to record something better.
"Wind-Up was always the real go-getter," he adds. "They're the ones who wanted to get the record out. Other labels wanted to wait, but we had a momentum going, so we wanted it out."
Creed's stated influences are mostly classic rock and include the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the Doors. The band invited the latter's guitarist, Robbie Krieger, onstage at Woodstock '99 to join in versions of "Riders on the Storm" and "Roadhouse Blues," and Stapp recently honored another '60s rock icon by naming his son Jagger.
Tremonti attributes the band's success to this heritage. "I think it had been a while since there was a serious rock band in the market. When we came out, there was a big techno scene blowing up and the big pop scene was just starting, and there wasn't really a serious, stripped-down rock band at all. There will always be space for that."
The band's everyguy qualities came into play when it came time to make "Human Clay." The musicians returned to Florida and recorded again with John Kurzweg, who produced the first album. "We've kind of kept it all in the family," Tremonti says. "We were comfortable with John, and we were confident in his abilities. The record came out just as good as anything that's out there."
Tremonti estimates that the group spent about as much time recording the new disc as the first--a highly unusual occurrence among bands that have just gone multi-platinum with a first release made for a mere $60,000. "It took twice as long the first time," he estimates, "because we'd have to get off work and drive over to the studio and set up. Plus the first time we didn't have the money to record. We'd have to save up from our jobs in the kitchens and whatnot to pay the $30 an hour to record."
The new album "sounds more confident and the production values sound a lot bigger," Tremonti says. "The first sounded a little more desperate." He's not talking about profound desperation, however, just the stress "of working two jobs and going to school" while recording.
After "My Own Prison," Creed toured for about two years, taking weeks off here and there. In the process, the band went from 300-seat clubs to arenas that hold up to 12,000 people. "Last time we started playing small clubs, and we got to work our live show up," Tremonti notes, "but this time we're not going to have that luxury. This first time we play, it's got to be massive."
Such are the musicians' concerns as Creed begins its American tour: rocking the house and beating the second-album jinx, not saving their eternal souls. Still, Nick Fury and the other fans who have posted apprehensive messages on the band's Web site at least needn't worry about Stapp's relationship with his parents.
"They support him now," Tremonti says. "Back in the day, they used to say that rock-and-roll was evil and Satanic, but they've come around."
I want to be to rock 'n' roll what Jordan is to basketball. I want to be consistent, and I want people to know that every time they buy a Creed record it's gonna be a good one from the first song to the last song. Then, when it's my time to go, I want to leave when I'm on top. I never want to have to bail because I suck. I want my final album to go multi-platinum and then say, "Hey, the bands done six albums, we're done. Later." I want to be able to say that we've given everything we can to make our last record the best we can, and then go on to something else
Interesting quote coming from a young naive musician. Maybe it's time for him to do that, since not many people care about his solo career...
February 23, 1999 The little rock band that could Creed holds a musical inquisition
If you didn't know any better, you might casually categorize Creed as a solid Christian rock band.
And with lyrics such as "I cry out to God, seeking only his decision, Gabriel stands and confirms I've created my own prison" and "Step inside the light and see the fear, Oh God burn inside of me," they are a gospel band, in a roundabout kind of way -- if gospel means bashing organized religion and scrutinizing spirituality.
"When we first came out in America, some people asked us if were a Christian band," says guitarist Mark Tremonti, at home with his two dogs in Florida shortly before Creed leaves for its European tour. "Then they heard our music and realized that we weren't. But it's worked to our advantage because a lot of kids who aren't allowed to listen to Marilyn Manson can listen to us, because there's nothing wrong with what we're saying."
"The Christian rock thing is a big misconception. It's not entirely wrong -- we all have morals, but that's it," he adds.
'Searching for spirituality'
The band's gritty, ultra-heavy music sounds like a cross between the vintage brooding of Metallica and throbbing of Rush, with Pearl Jam's pensive lyrics thrown into the mix. The Tallahassee quartet combines big guitars, tense vocals and meditative verse into a churning, heavy, enigmatic sound that takes up where grunge veterans Alice in Chains and Soundgarden left off.
"A lot of our music is focused on searching for spirituality and on the man holding us down," says Tremonti. "'My Own Prison' is a good name for the album because it was about us trying to break out of it."
The ripeness and depth of the music belies the band's relative youth -- they're all in their 20s -- something that surprises audiences because "the music sounds a lot angrier than we look," according to Tremonti.
Due largely due to the grassroots support of their fan base, built from the ground up in their native Florida, their debut, "My Own Prison," went double platinum in August 1998. Billboard named Creed 1998's mainstream rock artist of the year, singling out the band's first chart entry, "My Own Prison," as the second best song of the year.
Follow-up singles "Torn" and "What's This Life For" came in ninth and fifth, respectively, in the Billboard year-end rankings, alongside similarly dusky hymns from fellow rockers Days of the New.
Creed's music is heavily soaked with religious imagery, due largely to frontman Scott Stapp's upbringing in a devoutly religious, Pentecostal household that hammered faith into his everyday life. Rock music was forbidden in his home and as punishment he often had to copy entire books from the Bible verbatim and write essays about their meanings.
"Scott was raised very religious. That's where all the religious themes come from," says Tremonti. "A lot of our symbolism is from the Bible, and it's not something most people would know. But the diehard Christian rock fans know we're not a Christian band."
At the age of 17, Stapp started listening to rock music. After high school, he hooked up with former classmate Tremonti; they started Creed with bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips in 1995. Two years later, in April 1997, they released "My Own Prison," recorded for $6,000 with local producer John Kurzweg. The album grabbed the attention of local radio, including modern rock station WXSR in the band's home market of Tallahassee, and on the strength of airplay sold some 3,000 copies in the region. Soon, the big labels started knocking, and Creed signed with Wind-up.
The album was remixed by Ron Saint-Germain (Tool, Soundgarden, 311) and re-released in August of 1997. The debut single, "My Own Prison," quickly became the first of three consecutive number-one rock radio singles, followed by "Torn" and "What's This Life For." On the strength of that album, Creed became the first band to ever have three songs in the top 20 of Billboard Monitor's Rock chart at the same time.
Creed's songs are not exactly what you'd call light-hearted or jolly. On "My Own Prison," Stapp sings about being trapped by your own mistakes. He bashes organized religion on "In America," while "What's This Life For" deals with the suicide of a former classmate. Tremonti describes Creed's music as "anthemic."
"We don't use a song unless it gives us goose bumps," says Tremonti. "Our music may start out dark but it comes out to an anthemic point."
So far, their music has hit a nerve with fans, despite virtually no coverage in the mainstream music press. On February 3, they performed on "The Late Show with David Letterman," and after their European tour ends in late March, Creed goes back into the studio to record their sophomore album, due in out August.
"We see ourselves as a real rock band," says Tremonti. "We want to bring it back."
On their new album Human Clay, Creed want to take you higher but on their own terms.
Is he or isn't he?
It's the question a few million Creed fans have been asking about Scott Stapp, the band's lead singer. The question has not a thing to do with Stapp's sexuality but with his spirituality, a matter equally as personal and private, and therefore as compelling.
That the question even has to be asked is entirely Stapp's fault. After all, those are his lyrics on the group's multi-platinum debut , My Own Prison, with their seemingly veiled references to a Christian belief system.
But as Stapp and his bandmates guitarist Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips attest in interviews and on the band's official website, Creed is not a Christian band. Stapp has been less precise however, when it comes to delineating his own personal stance on the issue, insisting that his lyrics do the speaking for him.
So far, no one has any idea where he stands. Nor are they likely to have a better idea after listening to Creed's new album Human Clay (Wind-Up).
And so it is that I find myself on a mission to the Hard Rock Cafe, in Orlando, Florida, conspicuous among sun-seeking pilgrims decked out in "Jesus Saves" T-shirts and "What Would Jesus Do?" baseball caps. It's here that Creed are making a video for "Higher" (gotta love that title), the first of what will in all likelihood be several singles from Human Clay (that one too). And it's here that I find Mark Tremonti, Creed's easy-going guitarist, killing time, waiting for the action to begin.
"I hate doin' videos," he grouses good-naturedly. "I wish they never existed and the music business was just records and live shows. You spend so much time waiting for the director, waiting for the crew. It's just waiting and more waiting."
A few hundred kids mill around the place extras who, on cue, will stomp their feet and scream and slosh in one giant wave of teenage humanity, making peace signs and devil's horns with their fingers for the camera as Creed mime to their new song. But right now the kids are walking around idly, looking bored. Two girls walk near us. "Dana said the Backstreet Boys are making a video next door," one excitedly tells the other. Tremonti either doesn't hear or pretends not to.
From over the house speakers, a voice announces that the director is ready to shoot. Tremonti excuses himself and heads backstage to join his bandmates. Onstage, a production assistant gives the kids a few last-minute instructions and a perfunctory pep talk. As he finishes, a mix of "Higher" begins playing over the house speakers. On cue, the band comes skulking out desultorily from the wings, spreading out over the stage as they take their performance positions. Despite the high-energy music and the cheers of the kids, Tremonti, Marshall and Phillips look slack and underwhelmed.
Not so Scott Stapp. Creed's solemn, young lead singer has the brooding intensity of Jim Morrison his idol and the grave comportment of Death in the Ingmar Bergman film The Seventh Seal. Dressed in dark silver leather pants and a muscle shirt that reveals a cross tattooed on his right arm, Stapp fairly ripples with disaffected authority. He seems to suck ut up from the audience. Making his way to the microphone, he grabs it just in time to lip-synch the chorus refrain:
Can you take me higher?
The crowd goes, as they say, wild. On take after take, the kids whip themselves into a frenzy, jumping, dancing and singing along with Stapp. When during the next break I ask a group of them what they think of the new song, their approval is almost unanimous, "It rocks," says one boy in a baggy Ocean Pacific shirt, and his friends nod along. "It's okay," says one lone dissenter. "I like the heavier shit better."
The song, Tremonti tells me, wasn't the band's first choice for a single. "It's not a very good reference point for Human Clay," he says. "The album is pretty dark. But 'Higher' was the hands-down decision of everybody in the radio industry and at the record label. They all said 'Oh, that's your first single,' So here we are, I guess."
I guess so too, I tell him. This is, after all, the high-rolling world of mega-stardom, in which creative decisions take place by committee. It's a far cry from Tallahassee, Florida, where the group formed in 1995 and first made its mark with an independently produced version of My Own Prison. Sold at the band's shows, the record made Creed one of the most successful bands on the indie circuit. A bidding war for the group went up among the major labels, with independent Wind-Up Records playing David to the majors' Goliath. My Own Prison was subsequently re-recorded and reissued, sold zillions of copies and by mid 1998, almost three years to the day Creed formed, was declared multi-Platinum.
Somewhere along Creed's road to fame, two things happened. First, like all wildly successful groups, the band found itself at the center of a critical backlash, accused of being a second-tier Pearl Jam. While its affect on the group's profit margin was probably null, the discord caused something of a rift between the group and the rock media. "We've had this real struggle with being underestimated," says Tremonti. "But it's good. It's kept us going, 'Okay we're gonna fuckin' show these guys.'"
Second, the group found itself pegged as the new hope of Christian rock, a leap that's easy to make for anyone even remotely familiar with Creed's songs. Consider "What's This Life For," the radio hit Stapp and Tremonti wrote for a friend who committed suicide. For those unable to decipher the song's final refrain, it declares that "we all live under the reign of one king, one king, one king..." and so on, ad infinitum.
"Scott was brought up in a real religious family that made him study the Bible and force-fed him all that stuff," explains Tremonti. "So he was really well-read on that subject, and when he wrote about spiritual issues on the first album he was able to do it in a very intelligent way. And it made people think, Wow, if he knows that, then he must be a serious Christian.
"The thing is, that album is just telling people to find their own answers to spirituality, politics everything. It's saying, 'Don't believe what other people tell you.' And at first listen, sure, you might think Scott's a Christian when he sing 'I cry out to God.'"
Or "under the reign of one king," I suggest.
"Right," says Tremonti. "People think that king must be Jesus Christ. But what's more epic to sing about in a song than spirituality? Than creation?"
Whatever the case, Creed today finds itself leading a new breed of spirituality inclined rock bands that includes, Live, Our Lady Peace and Seven Mary Three, and an entire genre of decidedly Christian acts like MxPx, Disciple, Jars of Clay and Burlap to Cashmere. Born in the late nineties post-grunge muck that spawned splashy, over-wrought hard rock acts like Matchbox 20 and Third Eye Blind, Creed has delineated itself from the species simply by having a conscience. Stapp's lyrics, which owe as much to Bono as to Morrison, reek with equal parts of a young man's desperate soul searching and his overly poetic attempts to give voice to what appears to be a legitimate and deep pain.
"What's strange is that the Christian label actually helped us." says Tremonti. "'cause everybody can claim us for their own. The Christian fans say, 'They're a Christian band but can't say it because they don't want to alienate anybody.' And the metal fans think we rock out and figure we said we're not a Christian band, so we're not."
Human Clay will probably do little to change these perceptions. The songs still rock, while the lyrics have enough cryptic references to keep the debate over Stapp's spiritual bent raging for another couple of years. "Are you ready for what's to come?" he sings on "Are You Ready," possibly evoking visions of a millennial day of reckoning. "Faceless Man," the group's favorite track of all time, Tremonti tells me is a parable in which Stapp goes out into nature to get in touch with his soul, only to find himself staring at "a face on the water, his burden is light, he reminds me to always do what's right." Another song "Never Die" suggests that "if you drink the water, your youth will never fade." Not exactly the words of John the Baptist, but whether or not the message is religious, the words and images are undoubtedly drawn from the Christian lexicon.
When I mention this to Tremonti, he reluctantly concurs. "Some of Scott's issues with religion are there on this new album, but not quite as much. The big thing for us is that we were young, immature college kids on this last record, and now we feel like we're responsible adults. In two years we feel like we got a lot of pressure placed on us. It's not just about the music anymore." By this Tremonti is referring to the several corporations the group has created to take care of each aspect of its business affairs. "A lot of the songs now are about holding onto youth. We feel like we've gotten old too quickly."
Whether or not this will be apparent to Creed's listeners is another matter entirely. As Tremonti says, and as Stapp will tell me later, people will make of the songs what they want, and if Christians want to hear a message in them, they will hear it as surely as Bible Belt believers saw the Virgin at night on an empty lighted billboard along a stretch of Interstate 80.
But what's fueled the debate over Creed's faith isn't just the lyrics; it's Stapp's teasing way of seeming to say so much about his beliefs while ultimately saying nothing. To the question on the band's website (www.creed-net.com), "Are the members of Creed Christians?", Stapp writes: "This is a very personal question because the whole foundation of being a Christian is a personal relationship." It's the sort of Nixonian non-denial denial that's got more than a few people mistrustful of the guy's motives.
Tremonti tries to reassure me, "You can't really label us anything, because we're four different people who play this music that's gotten kind of a cult following. With the lyrics Scott writes, we could start our own, uh.....our own religion." He laughs, a little embarrassed. "But basically we're just four normal guys. And this is just rock and roll."
I've read enough interviews with Stapp to know he can be darkly evasive. When on the next break I get my chance to speak with him, he's in a grim, let's-get-it-over-with humor. We meet backstage by the elevator that will take us - Creed and me - down to a suite of dressing rooms under the stage, where a masseuse - a sunny blonde named Christy - is offering up her services. Stapp, just 25 years old, has already acquire a somewhat imposing intensity, a wall that keeps outsiders at bay. Sitting down to this lunch, he suggests we start the interview, a comfortless process that takes on the tone of a police interrogation. During our 30-minute interview, he looks at me all of maybe three times.
Stapp is known to be touchy about discussing "the meaning" of his lyrics. Early into our interview he warns me, "I don't want to talk about the new songs. I'm just gonna put them out there and let people make of them what they want to." As for Human Clay, he says impassively, "I have the confidence enough to know that if our first album sold four million, then this album should do way more than that. The people who have written us off are in for a rude awakening."
I decide to start slowly.
You were in your early twenties when you wrote the songs on My Own Prison. What were you going through around that time that led you to write them?
"I was dealing with my childhood and the religious and moral ideals that were instilled in me by my parents. I had a lot of confusion and anger for feeling like I didn't have a choice, and I was trying to come to grips with believing in something I can't see or feel or touch, that isn't human. I deal with a lot of those emotions through my music, so that's where it came out."
You're an adult now and you can make your own decisions. Why has religion continued to cause such conflict for you?
"I think spirituality has become indoctrinated in my mind. It was burdened upon me as a child, and it's the only thing I know. So I can never escape those thoughts of afterlife and God and a deeper meaning of living, because it's who I am. So there will always be some soul searching in some of my songs, probably for as long as I write. But I don't think it's gonna be a prevalent as it was on the first record because I'm more at peace now."
I've heard the new record, and it seems some of those themes are still in the new music. Right or wrong?
"There's less about religion and spirituality, You know, I deal with rape on this album ['Wash Away the Years'], I deal with this whole stardom thing that's happened to us and how we're dealing with it. And there are other songs about trying to stay young in your spirit as you get old on the outside. We feel like we've grown so much in the last year. We've had so many decisions to make. We went from being four guys with about 50 bucks between us to owning three corporations and making million-dollar deals. And all of the sudden it's like, Okay, you've got to have a clear head, you've got to keep on top of everything. We've matured a lot just as people because we didn't want to get taken advantage of.
"And I think that on the last album a lot of people were confusing the meaning of the songs and thinking there was some kind of agenda, or that we were this or we were that. I think I'm just gonna let them figure it out for themselves, because I think it's very clear."
But hasn't it, in fact, been very unclear? Isn't that why you've had to repeatedly explain yourself and declare that Creed is not a Christian band?
"People are going to hear things however they want to hear them. I'll give you a good example: When I was a kid, I couldn't listen to secular music rock and roll at home. So I brought home a U2 record and told my parents they were a Christian band. And I played them a couple of songs and pointed out lines that you could manipulate to make someone who sees through Christian eyes believe they were a Christian group. And that's what some of these people do with my lyrics. You know, they hear a line and they way they view the world is through the eyes of a Christian. So everything becomes related to that. And I did the same thing so I could get some music into my home."
Spiritually based music has become wide-spread in recent years. Why do you think it has struck a nerve in fans?
"For our fans, I don't think it's about spirituality as much as that our songs deal with real human emotions real-life stuff. We all have pain, we all are happy. We all are worried, we all have fears. As human beings we walk around this earth with walls around us, and there's such a separation between each individual person. My philosophy is that we're all the same inside; let's tear down the walls and realize that, and we can get somewhere in life. I think I would hope that's why our fans have bonded with us so well, because they can hear the sincerity and they can relate to the frustrations and kinds of things that we talk about in our lyrics."
Do you feel a responsibility with your lyrics?
"Um..no...no, not really. Sometimes I feel like people know way too much about me. But maybe that's good because that's helping to convey the message that we're all the same, we all feel the the same things, we just express them in different ways. But responsibility--no. I'm not trying to change people or how they view the world or look at life. I'm just trying to make them think about things in a different way. I'm not agenda-oriented."
You say that, but you've had some hard-hitting lyrics that could make people think otherwise. On My Own Prison there's a song called "In America" that has the line, "Only in America we kill the unborn to make ends meet."
"It's just personal philosophy. That's how I feel. I don't care about being politically correct, and I don't care about what anyone else thinks about what I'm saying, that's my opinion. It just so happens that millions of people get to hear it."
But your lyrics have a ring of Christianity to them. You appear to have an anti-abortion stance, at least in that song. Yet you don't come out and say either "Yes, I'm a Christian" or "No, I'm not." Don't you think it's inevitable that some people will conclude you do have an agenda but you're just being sneaky about it?
"I think it's understandable if they do. But there's nothing I can do about it."
You could simply clear up the misconceptions: tell people what you are and where you stand.
"I think I'm pretty clear in the lyrics. And that's just where I want to leave it. I'm just throwing ideas out there about how I feel, and if you relate to it, cool. If it makes you think or feel a certain way, cool. But I'm not gonna run around on a platform preaching to people. I'm not there yet."
What do you mean "yet"?
He mulls this over. "I think about, God, and what's gonna happen, you know? I'm gonna get put on the spot and people are gonna want to know exactly what I feel about certain things. Especially if I'm gonna dance around these things all of the time you know, they're gonna want answers. But I'm still trying to figure those answers out. When I say something now, thousands of people hear it. And so until I'm 100 percent confident in something that I know for a fact is never gonna change, I can't run around telling people about it, because I'm still formulating it.
"I think a lot of those kids relate to me. I think they can understand the questions I ask. Some of them don't. Some them hear the record and get very mad because they want me to be the spokesperson for the Christian youth generation and to show everyone that Christians can be cool too. And it's just not gonna happen, because I can't do that. That's not what I am."
Now I'm genuinely confused. My next question The Question, as it were is asked wholly without intent to provoke. But when I ask it, both Stapp and I are a little stunned.
Are you saying you're not a spokesman for Christian youth? Or you're not a Christian? I can hardly believe I've asked it. Stapp, for his part, looks a little wrung out. And then his face gets dark. When he talks, the words come out slowly and deliberately.
"If I was a Christian, I would say it. If I was a Christian and I lived the life, I would have no qualms about standing up onstage and telling people, and telling them in interviews. But I don't know whether I believe. And I don't know if I can live the lifestyle. And I wouldn't want to say something and then not be able to walk it. It's like telling everyone, 'I love Jesus and I'm a Christian,' and then screwing prostitutes in hotel rooms and doing cocaine all night. I mean, I don't do those things. But I'm saying, whatever my faults are, I wouldn't want to set myself up for a fall. Unless that's really how I felt and I was convicted by that and I believed in that.
"But if that happened to me if all of a sudden there's a moment of enlightenment and everything makes sense to me and finally it sinks from my head to my heart, I'll tell everyone. Because I'll be at peace. I mean, I'm like 'God, get this crap out of my head.' I wish I didn't have to think about this stuff all the time. You know, a lot of Christian people think I won't say I'm Christian because I'm afraid of how it's gonna affect my career. And a lot of people who aren't Christians are dying to know Is he, is he not?
"Well, as of right now, I don't consider myself a Christian. I don't feel that I've reached that level of understanding. I'm not there. It may never happen. That's the bottom line. There's no agenda. I just don't know. And to be honest with you, I've set it to the side and am moving on to different things. I'm trying to not be so caught up in that where it completely controls my mind."
And that's that. We talk a little longer about the strain of success, about his son, now one year old, about how Stapp cuts loose surfing, hanging out with friends. "Just being a guy, you know?" As I leave, he's stripping off his shirt and lying down on the massage table.
In the darkly lit adjoining room, Tremonti, Marshall and Phillips are relaxing in lounge chairs, conspiring in low tones. As I leave, three young women enter, each too primped, too incongruously attired for this subterranean club room: a brunette in a mini, tottering on stacked heels; a tanned blonde in a denim shirt and short-shorts; a lustrous red-head, stuffed like a pimento into a tight green tank top and a black slip of a skirt. Autograph hounds? Video vixens?