Scott Stapp's "Proof Of Life"
Driven by unbridled passions and haunted by ghosts that defy definition, the great rockers keep getting better, stronger, more determined to get it right. Proof of Life is proof that Scott Stapp is among the great rockers. It’s also proof that this time he’s gotten it right.
“I made up my mind to face myself as a man and an artist. This record is my first no-holds-barred statement of exactly who I am,” Stapp says. That statement is simultaneously simple and complex. The simple message is a straight-up confirmation of Stapp’s prowess as rock and roller of the first rank. He’s alive and kicking, singing with greater grit than ever before. The self-portrait emerging from this extraordinary suite of songs is multi-layered and nuanced, the compelling drama of a man unflinchingly reexamining his past as he fights for his spiritual sanity.
The music—hard-edged, explosive, fiercely spontaneous and emotionally super-charged—frames the story of Stapp’s remarkable journey, beginning with his long relationship with Creed.
It was 1997 when My Own Prison, the debut multi-platinum Creed album, kicked off Scott’s musical journey in spectacular style. As the lead vocalist and sole storyteller, Scott sculpted his own aesthetic. From the start, his spiritual conflicts galvanized a worldwide audience. Three other mega-selling records followed—Human Clay (1999), Weathered (2002) and Full Circle (2009), in addition to Stapp’s successful solo venture, The Great Divide (2005). Awarded a Grammy in 2001 for his number-one hit, “With Arms Wide Open,” Scott was celebrated, in the words of one Rolling Stone writer, as “a singer with an enormous emotional range and a composer of startling originality.”
With the publication in 2012 of Sinner’s Creed, his autobiography, Scott detailed his struggles with drugs, alcohol and depression. “That book was incredibly cathartic,” he says, “and enabled me to release a lifetime of pent-up feelings about my past. Sinner’s Creed paved the way for Proof of Life, which, in musical terms, is another reaffirmation of my personal history. There were years when I thought it had all been a waste. I looked around at the damage I had done and thought—man, I’ve made a mess. But now I see that I’m able turn that mess into a message. That message takes the form of songs that comprise the spine of my story.”
The story of Proof of Life starts at a chilling moment, Stapp’s realization that for much of his adult life he had been negotiating a “Slow Suicide,” the title of the album’s first single. “When I began work on Proof, I was encouraged by my producer Howard Benson—who did a great job on Full Circle—to simplify and clarify my lyrical ideas,” Scott explains. “I’ve always been heavy on metaphor and symbols, even to where I might hide behind fanciful language. Howard helped me get straight to the point. The point is that for years I was slowly killing myself. Drugs and booze want to kill you instantly, but they’re patient and will take their time. The same is true of toxic relationships. I had to start off this story by declaring the most obvious of truths: that I had been torturing and poisoning myself in an attempt to snuff out my soul.” “So many ways I choose to suffer, living a lie,” the lyrics say. “So many ways I chose to die.”
“Who I Am” is a song in which self-destruction takes on still another form. “Who I Am,” Stapp states, “is the first composition in which I embody a character. That character is pure unadulterated ego. Unchecked, ego can take you down as quickly as the deadliest drug. When stardom came my way, I tripped out on ego. I OD’d on ego. And on this record I wanted to expose ego for what it is; I wanted to give ego a voice; I wanted ego to unleash its rage and express its need to possess my soul. In no uncertain terms, ego says, `I came to destroy.’ Pernicious raw ego stands as an enemy to peace of mind and is the counterpoint to much of this record’s dramatic tension.”
The key to title song—“Proof of Life”—is the question, “Are you playing the victim when you know that you volunteered?” “Victimhood,” says Scott “did me in for years. You couldn’t tell me that I was responsible for the choices I’d made. Yet until I owned up to that responsibility, I couldn’t accept my story. My day-by-day recovery is anchored in the acceptance of my past as the necessary link to my present and future. When I sing, `You can’t deny the truth that hits you right between the eyes,’ that truth is rooted in accountability. And the most profound truth—as well as the most profound proof—is that I’m alive today because I’m accountable for my thoughts and actions as an imperfect human being.”
“New Day Coming” is one of the several songs of celebration that give Proof of Life such a positive flavor. “I’m more positive than at any time in my life,” Stapp explains. “That’s because I view my situation realistically. In the past, I viewed my situation through a fog. But sobriety of body and spirit has lifted that fog. As the songs says, `I’m standing still on the edge of a knife, just ready for a fight.’ The fight, of course, is with the forces of negation: over-bloated ego and the old temptations of mind-altering toxins. Paradoxically, because I have surrendered—I’ve given up my willingness in favor of following the will of the spirit of love—I can claim victory and see the new day coming. Without the support of my wife Jacyln and our three kids—standing by me every step of the way—this new day would never be possible.”
Just as ego was personified in “Who I Am,” Stapp gives voice to the steadying and sacred force that keeps him afloat in “Only One.” “It’s that still small voice inside,” he says, “that I call God. My heart tells me that God is always there, `even when you feel your breath fading from your lung,’ God is reaching out to accept you in ways that renew your spirit and energize your soul.
“Negative elements like overbearing ego are ongoing forces to be confronted. But in songs like ‘Break Out’ and ‘Hit Me More,’ I felt that not only was I was more prepared to take on those forces, I could turn the skirmishes into songs. Ironically, it was my son Jagger—for whom I wrote `With Arms Wide Open’—who had become a musician himself and wrote the opening lines for `Break Out’: `I’m gonna break out, I’m gonna break free.’ Inspired by my son, I got back in touch with the determination that I had first felt back in 1995 and the beginnings of Creed. This time, though, I reconnected to that drive with a far more mature perspective.”
“Hit Me More” revisits a horrific episode from Stapp’s past, the moment, as he recounts in Sinner’s Creed, when he jumped ten stories off a hotel ledge in Miami Beach and miraculously survived. With biblical overtones—“forty days of rain, forty nights it poured”—Scott now sees it a life-altering moment. “A powerful proof of life moment,” he calls it. “Rationally, I should have been dead. Yet all it did was strengthen my conviction that, as hard as I tried to control or even end my story, my story was really out of my hands.”
“Jesus Was A Rock Star” represents another critical reconciliation. “I’ve been a Christian my entire life with a long history of moving from a narrow Bible-thumping literalism to a more inclusive theology that sees that God’s healing love is for everyone. When I was first labeled a rock star, though, I couldn’t bridge that notion with Jesus’ ministry. I saw rock stars—myself included—as self-consumed hedonists and materialists. But this song helped me understand that Christ’s glory—his thunderous love, his lion-like roar and the merging of his message and lifestyle—were not incompatible with the best qualities of rock stardom.
“In the situation I set up with `What Would Love Do,’ I had to call on those qualities. Here the story moves from a consideration of the nature of God to a real-life encounter between a man and a woman. In the heat of domestic dispute, can I find the composure to stop and ask the question, `What would love do?’ If I can pause and pose the query, the heat dissipates. Merely asking the question allows me, as I wrote, `to come out of the dark and step into the light.’”
That same question about emotional vulnerability underlines the song Stapp calls “Crash.” For the second time in Proof of Life, he dramatizes that moment when his life nearly ended--`standing in the place where, I once fell over the edge.’ He remembers the time when he “got lost in the masquerade,” yet claims to be “now crossing bridges that I’ve burned.” “The bridges,” Scott explains, “are the songs I’m now singing. I’m singing to reaffirm the truth of my past condition—as painful as it was—so I can amplify the beauty of my present state. One of the sacred texts I’ve been reciting like a mantra is the Prayer of St. Francis. He wrote, `It is in dying that we awake to eternal life.’ ‘Dying to Live’ is my personalized version of that sacred text. I had to go through hell to get to heaven. I had to take that infamous fall--`forty feet I had to fall from grace’—to find clarity. It all had to happen. So I find myself dying—`dying to make up for lost time, dying to start this whole thing over, dying to see with brand new eyes, dying to love myself enough to just forgive.’”
Looking back over the monumental achievement of Proof of Life, Stapp reflects, “In nearly thirty years as a recording artist, I’ve never been so hands-on with a project. I was involved with every hit of the drumstick, every chord on the keyboard and every note of every guitar solo. My artistic life depended on it. I had to present the incontrovertible proof of my life in a candid and honest way that revealed the real me. If I’ve been able to do so, the reason is all about recovering the strength of my faith—the faith that lets us see that we are not only protected, but nurtured and preserved by a love that knows no limits.”
written by David Ritz
photo by Jeremy Cowart