All those celebrities who complain about the unrelenting glare of the spotlight should give Scott Stapp a call. You know Stapp--he's the lead singer of that big rock band, you know, the one with the new No. 1 album in the country?
No, no, not them. That other band--you know, Creed.
What, you mean you haven't heard of them?
"Anonymous. . . . Yeah, we hear that a lot, and it's not such a bad thing," Stapp says. "We've sold millions of records, and nobody knows what we look like."
Indeed, the Florida band remains somewhat faceless despite selling 4 million albums in the past two years, which is more than either U2, R.E.M. or the Smashing Pumpkins during the same span.
More impressive than the sheer album sales may be Creed's old-school methods--almost ignoring MTV and videos altogether, it has instead cultivated a loyal fan base with intense touring, a savvy Internet presence and a strong showing on rock radio. But resisting what Stapp calls the "glitter machine" has given Creed a low profile even among industry types.
"We've done really well with their new album, but I couldn't name a guy in the band," admits Bob Feterl, regional manager for the Tower Records retail chain in Southern California. "But more power to them if they can make it work."
Some big-selling "anonymous" bands continue chugging along--think Collective Soul--while others develop a personality, such as the Goo Goo Dolls, who started a late-career surge once singer John Rzeznik was pulled forward and presented as the group's face. Stapp says Creed has not dwelt on its anonymous appeal but has looked to Metallica and Tool as bands with integrity that have used touring to create a career.
"We aren't in it for the quick buck," Stapp says. "We're about the songs."
And what is the Creed sound? Straight rock that echoes grunge acts such as Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains, and most often finds its lyrical focus in matters of spirituality and metaphysics, reflecting songwriter Stapp's childhood as the son of a strict Pentecostal minister in Orlando. His father's strident ways and the sight of congregation members speaking in tongues left the young Stapp alienated, but he says he can't separate himself completely from that heritage.
"Organized religion--I didn't want anything to do with it, and I still don't," Stapp says. "But my father used to make me write the Psalms as punishment, and that is still there in my songwriting. . . . I still think about bigger things. Is there a God? Why am I here?"
While critics have been lukewarm on the band (they often drift into the vocabulary of faint praise, calling it "solid" and "hard-working"), the group's melodies and melodrama play well in the heartland, as does its roadwork ethic, says Sky Daniels, general manager of Radio & Records, a radio industry trade magazine.
"Their success is a testimony to the fact that there's always going to be a market for intelligent, melodic, memorable songs in the hard-rock vein," says Daniels, a former deejay.
The songs, such as "One" and the title track from the first album, "My Own Prison," may be memorable, but what about the band itself? "I couldn't name two guys in the band, no way," Daniels says.
The band's die-hard fans can, however (for the record, they are Stapp, guitarist Mark Tremonti, bassist Brian Marshall and drummer Scott Phillips).
"My Own Prison," recorded for $6,000, was the best-selling hard-rock release of 1998, and became the first debut album to spawn four No. 1 songs on the rock radio airplay charts.
The hunger for the band's sophomore effort, "Human Clay," helped it debut this week at No. 1 on the charts, beating out other new releases that enjoyed far more hype via publicity and traditional marketing, such as discs from Garth Brooks, Marc Anthony and Sting.
That's not to say that the album arrived in a vacuum.
Daniels pointed to the savvy Internet campaign set up by the band's indie label, Wind-Up Entertainment, as a model for how to spread the word about a new album and give fans samples of the music. They are also on the road, of course, and will visit the Hollywood Palladium on Nov. 10. "Touring," Stapp says, "is what we are about."
They may still be road warriors, but the growing stature of Creed is forcing the band members to give in somewhat to the glitter machine. They appear Tuesday on "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno," they've been tapped as executive producers for the soundtrack for the film "Scream 3," and, perhaps most telling, their first major video, for the song "Higher," is finally putting a face to the band on MTV.
How does the band feel about that? Stapp had a hard time disguising his disdain for the process when he was interviewed by MTV this week. "We don't like the video," he said during a snippet that will present him to new fans as a face for a faceless band. "It's not what we envisioned. . . . We're not a video band, we're a rock band."