The former Creed singer has sold millions of albums and spent years battling substance abuse. Now 46 and sober, Stapp has finally found balance — and wants his new music to help those searching for it.
Scott Stapp loves coaching little league. “I’m ‘Coach Stapp’ to my son’s friends,” he says proudly. Depending on the time of year, Stapp — who played baseball in high school, and once had dreams of a professional career — coaches his 9-year-old son Daniel’s little league, football and basketball teams.
“I love to teach, to keep them fired up, to make them think they’re invincible,” Stapp tells Billboard. “I’ve got little nicknames for all of them, and they all respond to different things. Like, I’ve got this one boy, that if I remind him, ‘You’re like the Incredible Hulk, remember that!,’ then he actually thinks he’s the Hulk when he goes up to the plate. It gives him the confidence. Each player has their own little thing that you learn is their little button to push, to get the best out of them.”
Stapp lives with his wife Jacqueline (who is also his co-manager) and three children — Daniel, 12-year-old daughter Milan and baby Anthony, 22 months old — in Franklin, Tennessee, a little under half an hour from the heart of Nashville. On a typical day, Jackie makes breakfast while Scott helps pack lunches, and then he’ll drive Milan and Daniel to school, letting them chatter away in the car. He might spend some time in his home studio after dropping them off, but he also might be on daddy duty, changing Anthony’s diapers back home. After school, there’s practice with Daniel, or maybe Milan has a dance recital, or maybe they’ll all go out to eat as a family. “You know, we’re one of those families that enjoy doing everything together,” he says.
As he continues describing his current suburban reality, Stapp allows his smile to creep wider, and the pace of his speech slows down, as if he’s marveling at every mundane detail. For the 46-year-old, mundanity is the goal. He’s spent the past twenty years — first as one of the biggest rock stars on the planet, then as a cultural afterthought on the brink of personal collapse — attempting to recalibrate his life, to achieve a routine that is both fulfilling and wholly ordinary.
And so, sitting in his dressing room at New York’s Sony Hall on a mid-summer afternoon, Stapp is happy to discuss his recently released solo album, The Space Between The Shadows, but he’s thrilled to mention his family bowling nights, kids movie screenings, trips to the park. He’s at the 1,000-capacity venue to play a show and continue a tour, but his first musical project in six years is a humble attempt to extend a career that most had already assumed was over, ruined by addiction and mental illness. Stapp says that when he was planning his return to music, his primary motivation was the question: What type of legacy am I leaving for my wife and children?
“I don’t want the dark period in my life to be the end of the conversation,” he explains. “When they’re old enough to get on the Internet and read, I don’t want that to be the first page.”
A quick Google search of Scott Stapp reveals the frequently asked question: “What happened to the lead singer of Creed?” At the turn of the century, the hard-rock quartet formed by Stapp, guitarist Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips was a commercial behemoth, a singles machine birthed in the hazy aftermath of grunge. At a transitional moment in American popular rock music — the grunge heroes had either broken up or faded away, bands like Third Eye Blind and No Doubt were embracing grandiose hooks, and Green Day and Blink-182 were offering goofball pop-punk — Creed barged in with introspective lyrics that carried religious overtones, heavy guitars that curled into bludgeoning riffs, and hooks that were unrelentingly serious but an absolute blast to wail along with on a car stereo.
Creed’s debut, 1997’s My Own Prison, has sold 6.5 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen Music, and quickly turned Stapp’s low rumble of a voice, which could pirouette into a gliding howl, into an inescapable presence at rock radio. Critics hated them; it didn’t matter. Creed’s 1999 sophomore album Human Clay crossed over to pop radio and became a monster, selling over 11 million copies and guiding two singles, “Higher” and “With Arms Wide Open,” into the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart — the latter even getting all the way to No. 1. The enduring image of that era is of Stapp, sporting long hair and leather pants, floating above his screaming fans in the "Higher" music video, a golden god in a white A-shirt.
“Our first record already did really well, and we didn’t think it could get any bigger than that, but Human Clay just took it to the stratosphere, man,” Stapp says of the band’s second album, which is receiving a 20th anniversary vinyl reissue on Craft Recordings next month. “If not for those first three Creed records, no one would probably know my name today.”
Stapp grew up in Orlando, worshiping Elvis Presley and watching his mom sing in the church choir; his father left when Stapp was around five years old, and his stepfather inspired him to become an athlete. After giving up on a baseball career at the private Christian school Lee University in Tennessee and heading back to Florida State University, Stapp became close with Tremonti, a fellow FSU student who he had known in high school. Stapp had been listening to Led Zeppelin and the Doors at the time, and with his athletic dreams dashed, he decided to give rock music a shot.
Because Creed’s success proved sudden, Stapp says now that he and his band mates went from sleeping on beat-up mattresses in dingy apartments to appearing in Rolling Stone and dominating MTV what felt like overnight. The frontman had just turned 24 by when My Own Prison was released, and as Creed’s upward trajectory progressed — Human Clay was followed by 2001’s Weathered, which sold another 6.5 million copies, according to Nielsen Music, and launched two more top 10 hits on the Hot 100 — Stapp remembers not having anyone to look to for guidance, or offering advice.
“The whole experience was flying by the seat of our pants,” he says. “It was just, take this young kid and put him out there… Being in that kind of situation, I thought we handled it extremely well looking back, you know what I mean? We knew what we wanted, we knew what our dreams were, we knew what our goal was, we knew what our passion was, we were a unit. We were brothers.”
But as the band continued releasing hit singles and playing arenas around the globe (Creed has grossed over $81 million over the course of its career, according to figures reported to Billboard Boxscore), Stapp started recognizing a growing feeling of depression. Unfortunately, conversations around mental health in music — especially with regards to a band that made hulking, high-testosterone rock music — were embryonic at the time.
“I didn’t know what was wrong with me, and also, I didn’t want to let anybody down,” Stapp recalls. “So I just tried to keep it a secret, which is the biggest mistake anyone suffering from any type of mental health issue [could make]. It started with the depression for me, and then as a way to cope and try to feel better — try to literally do my job — I was self-medicating. Which then led to, you know, the addiction and the other issues.”
Stapp’s history of substance abuse has been well-documented, from the end of the Weathered tour, to the initial dissolution of Creed in 2004, the launch of his solo career, the short-lived Creed reunion and comeback album Full Circle at the end of the ‘00s, and Stapp’s dark, ill-fated 2013 solo effort, Proof of Life. The stories of erratic behavior, public meltdowns, rehab stints and relapses grew plentiful; they culminated in 2014, in a self-described “psychotic break” during which Stapp, in a haze of drugs and alcohol, became convinced that his family was involved in a terrorist plot.
Following a period of intensive therapy, Stapp and his wife Jackie, who married in 2006, began rebuilding their life together, and Stapp supplemented his sobriety with a diet and exercise regimen that he keeps to this day. Routine has become crucial; daily running, drinking plenty of water and eating unprocessed foods has helped Stapp maintain his focus and shed close to 40 pounds.
In person, he appears lean and muscular, a cross colored in across his right bulging bicep. He speaks openly about his depression, and feels encouraged by how the conversation around mental health has evolved in the music community over the past decade. He vapes, but he hasn’t smoked cigarettes in years, after taking up the habit in 2008.
“That gave me my voice back in a whole new way,” Stapp affirms. “I partied, and I smoked when I partied. I can hear it on the work that I did during that period. It’s nice to say for the first time in my life, ‘You know what? What is the proper technique of singing? What is the proper and best way to take care of my voice, to give me longevity? How can I get better at my craft?’ It took sobriety and clarity and humility to get to a place where… I finally saw my body and my voice as an instrument that I needed to put work into, and take care of.”
Stapp, who often repeats the phrase “taking nothing for granted” in conversation, didn’t consider restarting his music career until he felt completely secure in his sobriety and the state of his family. It took years for him to reach that moment: after briefly joining the band Art of Anarchy to sing on their 2017 release The Madness, he started creating The Space Between The Shadows in January 2018 with studio vets like Marti Frederiksen (Aerosmith, Motley Crue) and The Exies singer Scott Stevens (Shinedown, Halestorm).
The one rule he laid out while making the album was to be unrelentingly honest, even if the tone turns self-lacerating at times. “I think part of recovery is, you want the truth,” says Stapp. “You want people [to be] direct and honest. So I took that aspect of what I wanted in my personal life, and wanted that in my studio experience.”
As such, the album operates as a reflection on Stapp’s trip through hell and subsequent salvation, with a grungy sheen reminiscent of the production on My Own Prison. “I shut every door but the right one / I fought the devil and he won,” he snarls on “Purpose For Pain,” while on the twangy verses of “Heaven In Me,” he hopes to reconstruct “a life I’ve torn to pieces.” And “Name” addresses the abandonment he faced in his childhood, and offers a promise to his kids to never show them that type of hurt. Even if The Space Between The Shadows — Stapp points out that such space is, in fact, the light — doesn’t carry the magnetism of Creed’s most chest-beating anthems, there’s more at stake now for Stapp, whose voice sounds crisper and more purposeful than on previous solo efforts.
As he’s continued his tour in support of the album, Stapp says that his recovery has helped inform the performances of his biggest hits with Creed, as well as his newer material. “‘My Own Prison’ I reconnect with in a whole new way, because it was almost like my subconscious at the time in my youth warning me of something about myself that I was completely unaware of,” he says. “‘My Sacrifice’ was inspired by early days in my life, when I would claim periods of sobriety, but it was white-knuckling it without any help or direction, and then finding temporary clarity… and ‘One Last Breath’ reminds me of some of the darkest times of my life, and how far that I’ve come.”
Released in July through Napalm Records, The Space Between The Shadows was rolled out with traditional radio singles, an ominously lit music video for “Purpose For Pain” (1.1 million YouTube views to date) and a deluxe edition exclusive to Walmart. Stapp has been more active on social media, where he often responds to fans with flames, fists and rock-on emojis — “I finally kind of got a little bit acclimated to it,” he says with a sheepish grin. And a handful of televised performances, including an extended set on Fox & Friends. (When asked in a brief follow-up interview about the headlines he received for performing on the conservative-leaning show, Stapp says, “I haven’t experienced any [backlash] at all. It’s always been about the music, and I leave it there.")
The Space Between The Shadows is not designed as a swan song — Stapp wants to keep releasing solo albums, and knows that it will take time to slowly rebuild his reputation within the rock community. In a little less than two months since its release, the album has sold 10,000 U.S. copies, according to Nielsen Music, while “Purpose For Pain” is his highest-charting Mainstream Rock hit since 2005. Regardless of its commercial performance, Stapp says that the release has been an overwhelming experience for him and his family.
A few hours before he takes the stage at Sony Hall, a line of fans careens down the stairwell of the Times Square venue, a lot of them wearing black t-shirts with the word ‘Creed’ plastered upon them. Stapp expects a handful of them to greet him after the show and thank him for sharing his story of hard-fought sobriety, as is the case at every tour stop. “Fans come up to me and tell me, ‘Man, your music, this song, following you and watching your journey, led me to recovery,’” he says.
Stapp has led a band that has sold over 20 million albums, and if he never sets foot on another arena stage again, these recurring interactions have become more meaningful to him anyway.
“There are things in my past that I did while under the influence that I’ve absolutely made amends for,” he says, “but in terms of looking back, and then at where we are today and everything that came with it, as weird as it may sound, I wouldn’t change a thing.”