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Seven years ago, Creed was arguably the most popular hard rock band in the world.
Then the band spectacularly began to fall apart in public, seemingly splitting up for good in 2004, with singer Scott Stapp on a self-destructive slide and his longtime partner, guitarist Mark Tremonti, forming a new band, Alter Bridge.
Early this year, however, a sobered-up, grown-up Stapp and Tremonti began talking about getting back together for a reunion tour, a plan that almost instantly mutated into making a new album before hitting the road.
While putting the finishing touches on that CD, "Full Circle," in the afternoons and rehearsing for the tour in the evenings, Stapp and Tremonti each called in to talk about Creed, its past and its future.
Stapp, the first to call before he headed out to sing for about six hours, immediately struck his new theme.
"I'm a blessed man," he said just after saying hello. "I'm blessed to still be alive. I'm blessed to have the wife and children I have, and I'm blessed that there are second chances in life."
A few hours later, between a studio session and rehearsal, Tremonti dialed up and echoed Stapp's feelings, but spoke for the band as well.
"It's a second life for us. It's a second chance to make a first impression," he said. "One thing we've got going for us now is whether you like the band or not, people are interested in what's going to come out."
The unexpected Creed reunion came after Stapp reached out to Tremonti and the other members of the band. But that couldn't happen until Stapp got his life together.
In behavior he attributes to "doing what rock stars are supposed to do," Stapp made a sex tape with Kid Rock and some willing female participants, came close to killing himself in 2003, and battled alcohol and drugs even after he had married Jaclyn Nesheiwa, the woman he credits with helping to change his life.
Now settled down with his wife and two boys and his Christian faith, Stapp is addressing his past, with his bandmates and with fans.
"As you get older and deal with your past and the consequences of that, you grow," Stapp said. "You have to deal with that. I had to deal with it being public. I was so hard-headed, it was the best thing that could have happened to me … All those things were distractions and things that led to near death. You don't want to do that anymore. Waking with a clear conscience is where it is at."
For Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips (who were also in Alter Bridge), getting back together with Stapp required a change from what looked like the final days of Creed.
"When things ended, we all never wanted to return to the way it was," Tremonti said. "Things are different now, relationship-wise. A lot of things have changed since the time we wanted to walk away from each other. We're grown up, more mature and more appreciative of the success we've had in the past."
Interestingly enough, Tremonti said the turmoil of 2003-'04 wasn't discussed when he first met with Stapp. Instead, they just pulled out guitars and started writing together. "Since the day we got together, we've been going and going," he said. "We haven't stopped for air. We're putting everything we've got into it."
Musically, Stapp and Tremonti agree that Creed is better than ever, with each member having significantly developed as a musician since the last time they were in studio together in a failed 2003 attempt to follow up 2001's "Weathered."
"It's not like we've gone out and written our 'Joshua Tree' yet," Stapp said, referring to the landmark U2 album. "But we've definitely taken it to another level … It sounds like the album that should have come after 'Weathered' but needed to come six or seven years later."
The band planned on finishing "Full Circle" before launching its tour, which begins today outside Pittsburgh and rolls into Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Tuesday. The CD is slated to go on sale before the tour ends in October.
A pair of prospective singles are in Creed's live set and could be released to radio shortly. Most of the set, though, will focus on hits, including "Higher" and "My Own Prison."
Early ticket sales for Creed's tour have been mixed. Promoters say they believe things will pick up when the band has new music on the radio. But that is just another challenge for the band, which knows what it is up against in attempting a comeback.
"We've got a lot to prove," Stapp said. "Just coming out and doing a record and a few shows won't do it. It takes consistency, knowing every day you'll come through. There are a lot of people who were disappointed in us. They have a right to be. We understand that. Now we're getting that chance to play and win them over again.".by L. KENT WOLGAMOTT