Creed holds a musical inquisition
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By Donna Freydkin
(CNN) -- 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."
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