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."
CAPTION: Creed's Scott Phillips, left, Brian Marshall, Scott Stapp and Mark Tremonti balk at the "Christian rock" moniker.