With just a few notes, rock star and Grammy Award-winning artist Scott Stapp can take you back in time. He’s the distinctive voice behind power ballads like “Higher” and “With Arms Wide Open.”
He was the frontman for the group Creed. With them, Stapp helped shape the soundtrack of the 90s.
But along the way, his group also became a band people loved to mock.
Mimicking the multi-platinum artist’s soaring voice became a popular joke, and it was carried into the digital age. At the same time, Stapp’s reputation as difficult and moody overtook his talent.
In an interview with “Nightline” co-anchor Juju Chang, Stapp recalled isolating himself from his bandmates. He said they misinterpreted this as him believing he was better than them.
“I think that's all about lack of understanding,” he said. “Mental health disorders don't discriminate.”
Creed eventually broke up and in 2014, Stapp would hit rock bottom, suffering from a psychotic break.
Stapp made headlines after posting a video in which he said he was destitute and living at a Holiday Inn. The video was followed by a series of disturbing 911 calls in which he claimed “the core of ISIS is within my own family.” These calls later went public.
Stapp said he was abusing prescription medication, and that he was delusional and paranoid. He even threatened former President Barack Obama.
“I don't have [a] rational understanding of why I was thinking that except that the substances that I had in my body created that paranoia,” he said.
His battle with addiction almost cost him everything, including his marriage, he said.
“That's when I was, like, ‘I gotta do whatever I've gotta do to save my family, and stay with the woman that I love, and keep this family together,’” he said.
The psychotic break was the culmination of a toxic combination of substance abuse and mental health issues that lasted for years.
Stapp remembered his depression onset while the band was at the height of its fame.
“You know, you don't wanna let your friends down, your bandmates down, because it's hard to describe what you're feeling,” he said.
Stapp said he self-medicated because it’s what he thought he needed to do “to keep everything moving forward.”
“It worked for a time…trying to explain that to people around me at that point in time — it just wasn't something that you talked about, or I didn't think anyone would understand.”
“When you start mixing alcohol and substances to self-medicate, that's a toxic combination,” he added. “That can create a human being that is so far removed from who you are, because of the chemicals inside of you, that you can say and do some pretty nasty things.”
Stapp believes his troubles may stem back to childhood trauma.
“I do know that it played out in some very self-destructive behaviors that would really manifest when I would drink,” he said. “Drinking, using drugs and not living a healthy lifestyle, it's just gonna metastasize everything in your life in a negative way.”
Today, he’s clear-eyed and sober. He’s humbled with a new perspective on the man he was, and the meme he became.
He said he'll never forget the day he was driving with his nephew and oldest son, and "they're giggling and they're laughing in the back seat, and I was like, 'What are you guys laughin' about?' And they just busted out with, like, how those memes ... how people sing my voice."
"And I'm like, 'Do I sound like that? Like, for real? Like, are you kiddin' me?'" he laughed.
“Now my 12-year-old and my 8-year-old, they'll imitate me. And it's still funny, because I feel like, ‘Wait a minute, I don't do that,’” he said. “But that's how they hear it when they wanna — it's almost like a caricature… But now I do it back with them.”
He and his wife, Jaclyn, live in the posh suburbs outside of Nashville with their kids. His new album, “The Space Between the Shadows,” dives headfirst into the lessons he’s learned. It is due out July 19th.
His polished life is a far cry from the life he was living just a few years ago.
Known for his soul-baring lyrics, like in “Purpose for Pain,” his new music seems to be a reflection of where he is today and how far he’s come.
“There is a light, despite the darkness. There is a color, despite the gray. And if you want it, you can have it. And I found it, and I wanna share it,” he said of his message in the new album.
He said opening up is “just how I write music. ... It’s the only way I know. It’s what moves me.”
Stapp said his song “Gone Too Soon” is inspired, in part, by the deaths of his friends and fellow rockers Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Chester Bennington of Linkin Park.
“When Chris passed, it hit me hard. And then a year later when Chester died, again, hit me really hard,” he said. “That's when I began, I was at a place in my recovery…where not only was I feeling the pain of their loss, but I was saying, ‘Man, that very, very easily could’ve been and should’ve been me.’ And this feeling of just, ‘I can't ever go back. You know, because that will be my story.’”
He said “it really took the threat of losing the two most important things in my life for me to have that moment of clarity amidst the darkness to get in the door of a facility that could help me start the journey.”
It’s a journey to recovery that’s even following him on tour. He says he runs “a sober tour” and is joined on the road by his wife and kids.
“My greatest accomplishments in life, my Grammys, are my children and my wife. They mean more to me than anything that I could ever achieve or receive or have received in my entire career,” he said. “That's where it's at. And if I never get another accolade…moving forward, I've already achieved it all with the family that I have.”