Sunday, December 09, 2001

Creed has weathered plenty of criticism

By David Bauder
The Associated Press

        The rock band Creed has about as much right as the New York Yankees to claim underdog status as a motivating force. But hey, whatever works.

        Creed has known only success since forming in Tallahassee, Fla., in 1995, selling more than 16 million discs. The trio's third album, Weathered, is No. 1 on the charts, and is rock music's best hope for a holiday season blockbuster.

        Singer Scott Stapp, guitarist Mark Tremonti and drummer Scott Phillips have felt the love. Their fans are passionate and adoring. Yet they've noticed a backlash from critics not seduced by hard-rocking, melodic hits like “Higher” and “With Arms Wide Open.”

        “For every 100 articles that are good, the one that's bad or says something negative about the band is the one that you remember,” said Mr. Stapp, a pleasant yet guarded conversationalist: he makes sure to tape his interviews.

        Creed recalls every criticism, including predictions that they'd be a one-hit wonder and charges that their sound ripped off Pearl Jam. No matter if it's in the past. It still drives them.

        Mr. Stapp rejects a suggestion that Creed shouldn't dwell as much on people who don't like them when so many fans obviously do.

        “If some people think that Creed makes too much of press and critics that are negative, then so be it,” he said. “If we do, we do. It fuels our passion and keeps us wanting to prove people wrong. If that's what keeps us around for 20 years, we're going to let it keep happening.”

        Creed's music distills many influences, including Led Zeppelin, Metallica and Mr. Stapp's old favorites, the Doors. While many 1990s-era bands couldn't — or wouldn't — write songs to appeal to the masses, Creed stepped up.

        “It's a Kmart type of appeal, and I'm not trying to say that in a negative way,” said Bob Chiappardi, president of Concrete Marketing, an independent marketer for rock artists.

        “What makes Kmart and Wal-Mart successful is they know their audience and they give them high-quality stuff,” Mr. Chiappardi said. “Creed writes really strong songs. They recall Soundgarden or Alice in Chains. These bands don't exist anymore. Creed fills a void.”

        Mr. Stapp believes Creed's music has struck a chord with fans because of “honesty. They can relate to it because it's real. I don't think it's difficult to understand. It deals with feelings and human emotions that everyone feels.”


        Weathered was written last spring, after Creed took time off from a relentless touring schedule. Mr. Stapp and Mr. Tremonti wrote all the songs, mostly by sitting in a room with acoustic guitars.

        The new album is Creed's first as a trio. Bass player Brian Marshall, who gave Creed its name, attracted attention last year for comments that compared Pearl Jam unflatteringly to Creed. Mr. Stapp quickly disowned the comments on the band's Web site. A few months later, Mr. Marshall was gone. The band will hire bassists for road work.

        Mr. Stapp, 28, grew up in a strict religious household. Rock 'n' roll was his form of rebellion as a teen-ager. The struggles to come to terms with a Pentecostal upbringing have always been central to Mr. Stapp's songwriting — so central that five of the first eight queries in the “frequently asked questions” section of Creed's Web site deal with Christianity, including “Is Creed a Christian band?”

        The answer is no. Creed has no central religious message, and Mr. Stapp said many listeners never looked past the references to God to see his struggle. Although Weathered has the fewest religious influences of any Creed album, they're still there.

        “Spirituality and the concept of God is always important to me and is always going to be inside of me because it's who I am,” he said. “It's just a matter of figuring out where I stand and sit with it.”

        Traveling during the late 1990s, Mr. Stapp said he was struck by the anger and dissatisfaction among young people in Creed's audience. It's interesting that he had a public feud with Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst — Mr. Durst criticized Creed onstage a few years ago; Mr. Stapp proposed a charity boxing match — because no two artists better sensed that mood and responded to it.

        While Mr. Durst goads people into letting off steam, Mr. Stapp tries to lift them up. He doesn't talk about the stories behind his songs, but it's easy to read “One Last Breath” as a message of hope to someone contemplating suicide.

        Mr. Stapp said he found Creed's audience overseas had more pride in their countries than young Americans, even if they didn't have as much to be thankful for. He's anxious to see how Sept. 11 has changed things.

        “Maybe some people in the world, their eyes are a little bit more open to what we are all about now,” he said.


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