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Men of the people

Published on 09-22-2000
Published at Orange County Register

-- by Stan Kabala

Their fans provide all the respect the guys in Creed need

What, exactly, does a band have to do to get widespread recognition these days? If you're the guys in Creed, you basically need an act of God to make it happen (no pun intended).

What does it take? A multiplatinum debut album? They've got that - "My Own Prison" sold more than 4 million copies.

A string of sold-out concerts? Check.

A sophomore release that doesn't fall into obscurity or get panned by fans? "Human Clay" has rung up sales of 6 million units as of this month.

A spiritual message that seeks to inspire hope and strength? Well, OK, that could be construed as a downside, but when you think about it, Tori Amos has been doing just that for years, and she has graced the covers of nearly every pop music magazine at one point or another.

So what does Creed have to do to get the buzz it seems to have earned over the past few years?

Ask guitarist and co-songwriter Mark Tremonti that question, and he'll tell you that's the last thing on his mind. Creed's fans are some of the most dedicated around, and the effect they have had on his life is all the recognition he needs.

"I can't stand to read what people (in the media) say anymore; it's little things like for every 10 positive things you read, one negative thing pisses you off for a week," Tremonti said, preferring to feed off the fans' reaction. "It's often said that our following is cult-like, and it has to do a lot with our lyrics. You wouldn't know it, but some of our fans have been really affected by our songs; some have come clean, been on the edge, wanting to kill themselves. Some of our fans have thanked us, which makes our live shows more of an event; it's just the best thing that has ever happened to me."

Surprisingly, not even the departure of original bassist Brian Marshall last month rated more than a passing mention in the media. Marshall cited the oft-used "personal and professional differences" as his justification, and to Tremonti's credit, he remained rather tight-lipped about his friend and former bandmate.

"We all have different visions about where we wanted to take our careers, and it's just like the ex-girlfriends you ever had; you can't really pinpoint it," he said. "(Marshall) just wanted different things."

The band's show Saturday night at Verizon Wireless Amphitheater promises to follow in the tradition of good ol' stadium rock, with recent reviews across the country reporting well-timed pyrotechnics and an elaborate lighting set to complement the band's epic and subtly religious lyrical currents. On top of that, Creed's touring schedule of no more than four shows per week gives Tremonti, drummer Scott Phillips, lead singer Scott Stapp and fill-in bassist Brett Hestla plenty of time to recharge between performances.

From fans, Creed gets the usual amount of hero worship that comes with being in a band. But because many songs on the two albums carry reflective, existential and theological messages, many fans have elevated Creed into a rock messiah of sorts, rallying behind messages that can be construed as covertly Christian. Tremonti credits this to Stapp's upbringing as the son of strict Baptist parents, who gave him religious homework as punishment.

"Scott's lyrics definitely come from a spiritual source; he had to read the Bible and tell his parents what he thought about it when he got in trouble growing up. But the last thing I thought I'd be in was a Christian band," Tremonti said.

In fact, he still doesn't. Tremonti admits to a certain level of basic spirituality in the lyrics, but he insists he doesn't believe in organized religion, citing as preposterous the idea that millions of Muslims are denied an afterlife because they don't believe in Jesus. Spirituality doesn't always translate into a specific religion, even Christianity, he said.

Religion or no, the band's quiet popularity is unmistakable. On Creed's official Web site alone, links to more than 40 fan-created sites can be found. Initiate a search in any of a dozen Internet search engines, and you will find hundreds of hits on either Creed (not just the word, but specifically for the band) or frontman Scott Stapp. To Tremonti, that has to be the biggest compliment in the world.

"You have to think - what would make you go out of your way to make a Web site about something? To do something like that, you would have to be head over heels for some chick, or be a die-hard fan of whatever the subject was," Tremonti said. "When Creed is one of the top things in someone's life, that's an incredibly big compliment."

For the next month, Tremonti and the rest of the band's plate appears to be pretty full, with a 16-date tour starting tonight at the Sacramento Valley Amphitheatre. On top of shows Saturday at Verizon Wireless and Monday at the Universal Amphitheatre (sold out), the band will release a limited-edition single of "With Arms Wide Open" on Tuesday to commemorate the launch of the similarly named charity organization created by Stapp. The single will include three versions of the song, with $3 from each single sold going to the foundation, which is designed to strengthen relationships between parents and their children.

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