By Jon Wiederhorn
When Scott Stapp sat down in 2011 and started writing down his life story, his primary goal was to gain perspective on his troubled youth and put some closure on the debased and self-destructive life he had been leading since he became a rock star. He had no intention of publishing the story as his authorized biography, Sinner's Creed (written with David Ritz), and had no clue that the exercise would fuel the powerful content of his second solo album Proof of Life.
"One day I just sat down and started writing: 'I was born on August 8, 1973,' and just went from there," Stapp told Yahoo Music. "My initial plan was to write it all out and then burn it symbolically to say I'm letting this go and it doesn't define who I am today. I'm going to take what I can learn from it and the things I've been carrying around like a big bag of rocks and I'm going to let it go. My wife, who I shared some of it with, encouraged me to turn it into a book with the mindset of sharing my story with people who could maybe learn something from my mistakes so that everything I did wouldn't have been in vain."
As he worked on the book, Stapp fought to keep his demons at bay; and with the help of friends, family, and religion, Stapp delved into Proof of Life, which was heavily influenced by revelations he experienced working on his memoir.
"Lyrically, the record was a continuation of what I did with the book and a statement of my experiences and who I am today," he said. "I'm taking some of the messes I've made in my life and spinning them into a purpose and a message and feeling good about it because it's helping to bring clarity and balance to my life."
Clean and sober for the last three years, Stapp is shocked when he looks back at some of the things he did to himself and others when he was regularly inebriated.
"Where I am in my life now, I can't even understand where I was coming from and the decisions I made," he said. "In that sense, it almost seems as if it was some kind of dream. When I really think about it, it brings tears to my eyes because it's been such a journey to get here. It's been the most difficult thing I've ever gone through in my life. To be on this side of this now is so humbling, and it's completely changed me as a human being and gotten me more acutely in tune with who I really am and what my priorities are in this world."
With a new perspective on life and a newfound desire to make positive, constructive decisions, Stapp molded Proof of Life as a personal tale of redemption and reinvention. The songs are more intimate than those on his first solo album, 2005's The Great Divide, and deeper than anything he wrote for Creed.
"I definitely approached this record with the intention to not hide behind allegory and analogy," Stapp said. "That's something I got quite good at over the years. I've always been honest because that's the only way I know how to write music, but I danced around subjects before and I really wanted to be clear on this record from a lyrical standpoint. I felt it was very critical for me to continue to gain perspective and clarity on my past so I could help prevent it from having an effect on my present and my future."
The oldest and heaviest song on Proof of Life is "Who I Am," which Stapp wrote in 2007 for another project that never surfaced because at the time he was too foggy and unfocused to be productive. Unlike the rest of the album, which is largely a mid-paced manifesto about the healing powers of love and devotion, "Who I Am" is an urgent, full-fisted track that confronts the listener with growling vocals and screaming guitars.
"I personified ego in that song, and I know ego, so it came out as authentic," Stapp said. "I know what an ego out of control is like, so I dove into that, but thankfully I pulled out and turned it into more of an allegory. It's fun to sing because I get to experience all those feelings again without living them."
The worst example of Stapp's ego spinning out of control came in 2006 when he had a near-fatal accident while on a drug binge in a Miami hotel. "I fell off the penthouse floor of the Delano Hotel in South Beach and was physically broken," he said. "[I cracked my skull, fractured a hip, and broke my nose] and I should not have survived."
Still, it took the rock star another four years to get clean and sober; and during that time he functioned on muscle memory, creating music out of obligation -- not joy -- and slogging through shows, knowing he could get wasted again when it was over. "I think my career may have been a musician's fantasy until 2004," Stapp said. "And then from 2004 to 2010 I think it became every human being's nightmare on every possible level because the music was dead. There wasn't music. And right there you can eliminate that element of fantasy because when the music was dead, I was dying and I was killing myself and torturing and holding hostage everyone around me. That's no way for anyone to live. By the grace of God, I'm here today and in this place where I can finally give love to all those I hurt during the darkest days of my life and try to bring some healing in my life and others around me and be of service in my life instead of just causing destruction and pain."
With three years of sobriety behind him, Stapp wrote most of Proof of Life in 2013 and recorded it during numerous sessions with producer Howard Benson (Halestorm, Daughtry). In retrospect, Stapp is thrilled with the how Benson helped him tap into various aspects of his musical vocabulary, keeping Proof of Life sounding as refreshing as it is invigorating. There's the sludgy, storming "Slow Suicide"; the poppy, keyboard-embellished "New Day Coming"; the spirited, U2-meets-Coldplay euphoria of "Only One"; and the experimental, heartland blues-tinged rocker "Jesus Was a Rock Star."
"This album took me to new places as a writer," Stapp said. "I'm pulling from different influences and finding new places to go. I really wanted to break down the boundaries and establish myself as someone who could do anything, and I think it set the tone and the template for the next 40 years in my artistic life."
At the same time, Stapp said working with Benson on such an intensely confessional record was the hardest thing he's ever done. "It was very painful," he admitted. "There were moments of joy and peace, but they were very short. The process was rigorous and Howard stood there and pulled things out of me that I didn't even know were inside. It was a very, very dig-deep-and-push-yourself-to-the-limits kind of process. I'd never want to do it again, but I'm so thankful to God that we did it that way."