The Art of Recovery, According to Scott Stapp

Jon Wiederhorn
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JANUARY 20: Recording Artist Scott Stapp performs at Webster Hall on January 20, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images)

Scott Stapp’s troubles have been well documented, particularly by the tabloids, in recent years. The on-again/off-again frontman of Creed — the post-grunge rock band that in its heyday sold a whopping 53 million albums worldwide — reentered the spotlight in 2014, when he posted several disturbing Facebook videos claiming two banks and his record company had bilked him of millions and that he was now broke and sleeping in his truck. Stapp also texted his wife, Jaclyn, bizarre and threatening messages like “Florida is not safe. Biological weapons on the way. U have to leave with kids and meet me in Atlanta” and “I’m coming to get you Satan and children. No mercy. You know how this ends. God created you and now God is ending you.” The media of course lurched into overdrive covering the Stapps’ sad scandal, as Jaclyn contemplated divorce and filed legal documents to put her husband on a 60-day psychiatric hold, claiming he’d been binging on drugs.

Related: Scott Stapp Says Scott Weiland’s Ghost Spoke to Him in the Bathroom

A year later, after a stint in rehab, Scott Stapp consented to an interview with People, in which he discussed his “psychotic break” and revealed some of the volatile, self-destructive acts he committed while under the influence. “I was driving around with… a 12-gauge shotgun in my lap and I thought people were trying to kill me,” he also told ABC News.

What many people don’t know is that after Stapp’s very public meltdown, he underwent therapy and counseling (he and Jaclyn even appeared on VH1’s Couples Therapy), reconnected with his family, and relaunched his music career. In November 2015 he released his confessional solo effort Proof of Life, and in May 2016 he joined the hard rock supergroup Art of Anarchy after their former singer — interestingly, another troubled tabloid fixture with the same first name, Scott Weiland — refused to tour with them. (Weiland was found dead from an overdose of cocaine, alcohol, and MDA about two months later in Bloomington, Minnesota, while on tour with his other band, the Wildabouts.)

Related: Tommy Black Recalls His Bond With Late Friend and Bandmate Scott Weiland

By the time of Weiland’s death, Art of Anarchy — Stapp, ex-Guns N’ Roses guitarist Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, Disturbed bassist John Moyer, guitarist Jon Votta, and drummer Vince Votta — were already hard at work on their second album The Madness, a more cohesive record and an even deeper examination into the unraveling of a substance-abused mind and the gradual path to redemption. Now, as Stapp embarks on a solo acoustic tour, enjoys his time with Art of Anarchy, and contemplates his sober future without (or possibly with) Creed, Yahoo Music catches up with him to discuss how he escaped Weiland’s tragic fate and repaired his marriage, his family, and his life.

YAHOO MUSIC: The Art of Anarchy’s previous singer, Scott Weiland, had serious substance abuse problems that eventually led to his death. You’ve had a much-publicized history with drugs and alcohol as well. Did the guys in the Art of Anarchy ever express concerns about your past?

SCOTT STAPP: Actually, the last thing that happened prior to me making my final decision to join was me expressing to them how important my recovery and sobriety was to me. I said, “Hey man, we definitely have musical chemistry, but what can we do on the road? Are you guys able to help me create an environment that’s not gonna be hard for me?” I really didn’t want to be in a situation where there was a lot of partying, drinking, or drug use going on. And John and Vince both looked at me, and they were like, “Man, that’s not what this band is about.” They expressed how supportive they were of me, and John said, “Dude, I totally respect your recovery and sobriety.” The entire band said, “Dude, we support you 100 percent.” And they’ve done nothing since then but show me that they are committed to that.

So if they want a beer, do they drink in a different area of the venue?

Man, they’ve been so respectful of me. When I was in New York during the writing sessions for [The Madness], John showed his support by attending a few 12-step meetings with me. He’d drive me there and stay with me, even though he didn’t need to be there. That really closed the deal for me. The marriage was consummated.

Do you mind being asked in interviews about your addictive past?

My journey to recovery and my struggles in life with alcohol and drugs have been very well documented, and most of my greatest relapses have been very public. And now I’m coming up on two years, three months, and 24 days being sober, you know? And I definitely talk about my journey and my struggle to overcome my problems in the lyrics… I mean, the whole thing was coming off the heels of one of my worst relapses ever. It was very public and very traumatizing, humiliating, and embarrassing to me. And I don’t need any reminders of that last one because it was really a wake-up call to my family and me — if I didn’t already have five or six that should have woken me up, you know?

That was the point when Jaclyn filed the court order against you?

Man, for a time I really thought I had lost my marriage and my family, and that made me unravel and fall apart. I full-on hit rock bottom, man, and was just shattered into a million pieces. Now I’m just trying to take it one day at a time. But the public relapse and breakdown led me on a journey, and became a great creative outlet to turn what was at the time so negative into something that I could make art out of and create songs that show a little bit of what I went through.

Congratulations on two-plus years of sobriety, by the way. That’s a huge deal.

Thank you, man. It’s been a long journey. I’d been trying to get sober for a number of years and never did make it more than six to nine months without a relapse. I kinda became a chronic relapser.

Well, you have to be completely ready to get clean in order to kick addiction. All the counseling, heartache, and near-death experiences won’t help you stay clean if you’re not mentally committed to stop using.

Absolutely. And you know, what triggered that in me was initially feeling like I had lost my wife Jaclyn, the love of my life, and my family. It’s almost like when I realized she was serious about ending our marriage, I snapped out of the cloud I was in and I had a moment of clarity. I said, “I gotta change or I’m gonna lose everything that’s truly important to me. This chaos and nonsense has got to end.” At that point, I attacked the program and went into treatment with a completely different mindset and embraced everything that was given to me. Basically, I said, “Wake up, man. Your way isn’t working, so you better do whatever these guys tell you to do and get your act together.” I finally got to the point where I was humbled and broken and realized, “I can’t keep doing this. Help me. I’ll do whatever it takes.” I had never felt like that before.

Was your self-destructive behavior a way for you to cope with fame or some other condition, or were you getting wasted for fun?

I liked drugs and alcohol, obviously, but I was also battling depression for a long time. It first hit me right around 1999 when Creed put out Human Clay, which was the biggest record of my life and everything in the world was going exactly how I dreamed it would be. You know, it doesn’t make any sense, but depression is a medical condition that doesn’t correlate with success or everything that should be making you happy. It’s chemical. Later on, after these very public incidents, [doctors] felt like I was bipolar and that it needed to be treated, and now I’m being treated for my depression and that has made a huge impact and difference.

Was having so much success with Creed overwhelming?

It wasn’t overwhelming at all! It was a completely amazing experience to be with your best friends in the world and to be having all this incredible success. I mean, I was living the rock ‘n’ roll dream, and initially, I was ecstatic. But you know, I was young and naïve. We were on a meteoric rock rise, and then my depression started and I didn’t know why, so I began to self-medicate.

In 2006, during the height of your debauchery, you had a near-fatal fall from a hotel balcony and rapper T.I. saved your life. Can you talk about that bizarre incident?

Yeah, man. I was, you know, on a binge and I was in the penthouse of a hotel in Miami and just one thing led to another. I was careless and fell off the balcony.

So you didn’t jump?

No, it was not a suicide attempt, and you know, it was very by the grace of God that I didn’t die. I landed on a ledge that was about three or four stories down. I had broken bones and couldn’t move, and the rapper T.I. happened to be checked into a room that was underneath the ledge. He walked out on this balcony and discovered me and called for help.

For some people, a life lesson like that would be an indication that it’s time to get clean…

Yeah, it should have been, but that’s when I was trying to stay sober started and failing over and over again. That’s when I became a chronic relapser. I would have six to nine months of sobriety and then take off on a two-day binge, and that became a cycle for a number of years.

Are you ever tempted to indulge now, or is that something that doesn’t even cross your mind because you know the consequences?

It’s a mixture of both. I can’t lie and pretend that there’s never a thought or temptation, but through having some time under my belt and going to meetings and staying involved and constantly reminding myself of where I’ve been and where I don’t want to go again, that helps me get through those moments. And I’m learning that the longer you stay sober, the more fleeting these spots become.

Going into the Art of Anarchy album The Madness, did writing these songs present any sort of obstacle for you, since you’re in a different place now than you’ve been in for a while?

I never really go into a record with any preconceived ideas of what I’m going to write about. I base everything off moments of inspiration and what naturally comes out of my soul. Obviously, I still have a lot inside due to the previous things that we discussed, and so as I began to write, those experiences, those fears, those struggles, and those frustrations — as well as my experiences overcoming those obstacles and struggles — came out. The entire journey from mental torture and feeling soulless and lost, all the way to the triumph of feeling loved again by my family, that’s all in this record. I went through the gamut of my experiences and really poured out my heart and bared my soul and dove into every aspect of my journey to this point in all facets – mental, physical, social, spiritual — all of it.

That sort of process can be cleansing and cathartic, or it can be painful and dredge up ghosts and skeletons.

No, it was very cleansing and cathartic, but during the process there were times when it would bring up something painful and it would remind me of a feeling or a place or a negative situation, and I would experience that feeling and have to walk through it as a sober man and feel it and then get to the other side of it. That’s a theme that runs through this record — getting to the other side of your fears and your pain, and finding what separates them from love and peace and joy and happiness.

Were there particular songs that opened up old wounds?

A lot, but they didn’t hurt. The process is amazing because once you get it all out, those memories don’t sting anymore because you realize you’re on the other side of it all now. Songs like “Echo of a Scream,” “Afterburn,” “Somber,” and “Dancing with the Devil” all deal with being caught up in mental torment, feeling broken, feeling like you’re a shell of yourself, and trying to reclaim your identity. A lot of the record is about being caught up in the insanity of addiction and alcoholism and feeling like you can’t stop. I couldn’t stop, man. I kept dancing with the devil.

What songs did you write about the road to recovery?

“Changed Man” really begins the journey of making amends and trying to get my life back and to make things right with my loved ones. And the lyrics – “Will you take me as I am?/I’m not how I used to be/Give me one more chance ‘Cause I’m a changed man” — were almost verbatim the words that I spoke to my wife in trying to convince her that it’s different this time. That’s the turning point of the record, the coming out of the madness.

Ozzy Osbourne once said that stopping drinking isn’t the hardest part about getting sober — the hardest part is learning how to view life through sober eyes and function without being inebriated.

Absolutely. Initially, when you’re in the acute phases of withdrawal, stopping whatever substance you’re addicted to is extremely difficult and, at that moment, it’s the hardest thing in the world. But once you get beyond that, you know, Ozzy’s right. You have to learn how to live without this crutch and this filter and the numbing and escaping. All the things you used to lean on to cope no longer exist, and you’re stuck with yourself. That’s hard, because you’ve kinda trained yourself into these habits of what to do when life gets tough or you feel depressed or anxious, or even when you feel happy. Anything that used to trigger you to use — good or bad — still happens. So it becomes all about seeing the world for what it is now and committing myself not to revert back to old habits, and taking it a day at a time.

Have you talked to your onetime Creed bandmates since you’ve gotten clean?

Oh yeah, oh yeah. We’ve been in communication. We text each other quite a bit.

Any chance that you’ll do some more work with them? Or are you content to be doing something new with a new band?

Right now I’m focused on Art of Anarchy and my solo work, and those guys are focused on their other projects. But who knows what the future holds, man? All I can say is that the relationships are positive right now, but we’re all involved doing other things.

You’re out on an acoustic solo tour now that runs through Sept. 1 in Montclair, New Jersey. Is there something special about playing intimate solo acoustic shows, as opposed to rocking a larger venue with a band?

I just love performing. I love playing music, wherever I am and in whatever form, and I love that connection that is created through music that makes you feel real, man. That’s really why I do what I do. And Art of Anarchy is not a side-project. It’s so exciting that at this stage in my life I’m involved in two great bands, Art of Anarchy and my solo band. And then like I said, who knows what the future holds with Creed. I have a lot to look forward to.