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How Creed's Scott Stapp Is Still 'Holding on to Hope' with New Music After a 'Difficult Period' (Exclusive)

The rocker opens up to PEOPLE about his new album 'Higher Power,' a powerful meditation on his highs and lows

<p>Matt Akana</p> Scott Stapp

Matt Akana

Scott Stapp

There’s a line in Scott Stapp’s new song, the acoustic duet “If These Walls Could Talk,” where the Creed frontman sings about having to live, having to learn and having to "burn it all down."

"I had to get lost to get found," Stapp sings on the track, which features rocker Dorothy Martin.

The lyrics are hardly a stretch. Stapp — sober after a challenging road that included substance abuse issues, a very public psychotic break and a bipolar disorder diagnosis — is back with a new solo record, one that lays bare his tough journey.

“I’ve gone through a pretty difficult period in life over the last four years,” he tells PEOPLE on a recent Zoom call from his home outside of Nashville. “I’m hanging in there — just one hour at a time, one thing at a time. Taking little bites of the elephant and then just waking up again and doing it all over the next day. A lot going on, but all good stuff.”

<p>Sebastian Smith</p> Scott Stapp

Sebastian Smith

Scott Stapp

Stapp, 50, will release his new album Higher Power on Friday, just one month before he’s set to reunite with Creed for the first time in 12 years. The “Higher” band will embark on a pair of cruise festivals this summer, and its members join forces for a larger tour in the fall, a reunion Stapp likens to the comfort of finding and wearing an old baseball glove from childhood.

“I feel compelled to create. It’s who I am,” he says. “So if I’m not doing it with Creed, there’s a void. I have to do it. There’s stuff in me as an artist and as a creative that I have to get out. Music is my method of doing that.”

Over the 10 moving tracks on Higher Power, Stapp invites listeners into his private world. On songs like “Dancing in the Rain,” he muses on having made peace with his lot in life — though Stapp says the music is aspirational, and not necessarily reflective of his current headspace.

Related: Creed Singer Scott Stapp Chops Off His Signature Long Hair Celebrating 5 Years of Sobriety

“That song is really about trying to find happiness and peace and joy amidst the pain, amidst the discomfort, amidst the struggles,” he says. “That song is really about where I’m wanting to get to, not where I’m at. It’s just that holding on to hope, even if you don’t feel it, knowing that it’s out there and just reaching for it. I’m trying to get there.”

Raised in a strict religious home in Florida, Stapp has long struggled to keep his demons at bay, even as he rose to fame in the late 1990s and early 2000s as Creed's frontman over the band's four albums. He’s relied on his faith for decades, and says he first developed a relationship with God when he was 9 years old, and looked to the skies in search of a father figure.

“I didn’t have a dad, and I wanted one so bad. I was sad and just a little boy, alone with a single mom who didn’t come home until late,” he says. “And here we are today, with the highs and the lows and the journey that I’ve been on in my life. As long as I can keep centered in my faith and keep that as the center point in my life, things go right. Sometimes I kick myself and I say, ‘Man, why couldn’t I have figured this out earlier?’”

<p>Matt Akana</p> Dorothy and Scott Stapp

Matt Akana

Dorothy and Scott Stapp

His lack of a father has also influenced the way he’s approached parenthood; Stapp calls his four children his “purpose” in life. (He and wife Jaclyn, 43, are parents to daughters Milan, 17, and sons Daniel, 13, and Anthony, 6, while Stapp is also dad to son Jagger, 25, with ex-wife Hillaree Burns)

When Stapp relapsed and suffered a psychotic break in 2014, it was Jaclyn who stepped in to get him help. Though she filed for divorce after he refused to seek treatment, the pair later reconciled, and Stapp previously told PEOPLE the realization he needed help after Jaclyn texted him Christmas photos of their children. He ultimately received treatment for drug and alcohol abuse at a clinic in Malibu.

Related: Creed Frontman Scott Stapp Celebrates His Sobriety with Empowering New Song 'Survivor'

Though he’d found an answer to his problems, Stapp still feared the stigmas associated with mental illnesses like his bipolar disorder. He has since learned that being open with his struggles is a help, and not a hindrance, a topic he explores on the song “Weight of the World.”

“It’s still a challenge, because I think it goes against my nature — I was always alone as a child, and alone when I was going through things,” he says. “It seems a lot of men feel that they’ve got to be strong, they’ve got to keep it together no matter what, and they just suffer in silence."

Stapp continued, "It’s hard to pick up that phone and reach out and say, ‘Hey, I am struggling. I need somebody right now.’ That’s something that really, really hindered me when I first started trying to get sober in 2008. I would never pick up the phone. I was white-knuckling it and just for some reason, the phone was 10,000 pounds.”

<p>Courtesy of Napalm Records</p> Scot Stapp's Higher Power album cover.

Courtesy of Napalm Records

Scot Stapp's Higher Power album cover.

As Stapp continues on his recovery journey, he’s no longer afraid to reach out for help, but concedes it’s still something he needs to learn to do more. “It’s definitely something that I would encourage anybody out there who’s going through anything… You don’t have to do it alone,” he says.

He’s also confident he has the tools to stay healthy, especially as he heads out on the road with Creed. Stapp says he’s had “sober tours” for over a decade, joking that anyone who joins him knows it’s “Disney World backstage.”

Then there’s the support of his loved ones. “I never had a family like this. They’ve really demonstrated to me what a family is all about, and having each other’s back and sticking together. I’ve got to see what a real family is in action, and hopefully we’ll be able to carry that forward no matter how the story unfolds,” he says.

“Relationships teach you a lot of things, good and bad, and I’ve learned that no matter how they resolve or how they continue, that each stage in each season of the relationship is most definitely a learning experience," adds Stapp. "You have to look back at it as such, no matter what. Reframing it no matter the circumstances precipitates growth and helps you become a better human being and a better partner.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.

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