Podcast: Interview w/ Ed Kowalczyk of Live
BY SCOTT YAGER – SMB.COM CONTRIBUTOR
Lightning Crashes and Dolphins Cry are just a couple of the songs that made Live one of the most popular rock acts of the 90’s. One cannot argue that the most distinct quality displayed by Live were the heart pounding vocals of Ed Kowalczyk, whose signature look and emotional lyrics became synonymous with 90’s alternative. Still to this day, songs like All over You, Selling The Drama, and many more from the multi-platinum album, Throwing Copper, are played on terrestrial in their daily rotation. Even though the music of Live carries on each and every day, the band itself has grown apart over the past few years and front man Ed Kowalczyk is currently a full-fledged solo artist. His solo album, titled Alive, was released last year and he’s been touring ever since. The second single off of the record, titled Stand, will be released this month.
Ed tells me that his live show is a combination of his new stuff and the Live hits we know and love. “Of course it’s getting in touch with the new record Alive but I’m pulling out some of the old gems as well and some things that people aren’t expecting. It’s a cool set because people don’t know what to expect.”
Typically solo careers can be viewed in two different ways. Some solo careers are much anticipated and seen as growth for the particular artist involved, whereas other solo careers can come to negatively embody the destruction of a once beloved group of performers. Ed seems to view his musical career as two separate entities that do not need to be mutually exclusive. When he talks about his latest solo project one can tell that for a singer/songwriter who has been doing it one way for so many years, that a change of scenery and process was long overdue.
“A couple years ago I definitely came to an end of chapter moment in my life where I was just looking for new inspiration. I had been doing it the same way for so long. As soon as I started to think about it in those terms I got really excited about music again and found myself in Austin, Texas with a bunch of new musicians who eventually became my new touring band.”
Ed seems to not only be content with his current career as a solo artist but it seems he has found new ways to reinvigorate himself and the fans, starting with a little tour he created called Open Wings Broken Strings. On the tour Ed and a couple other well-known singer/songwriters strip their songs down to do entirely acoustic sets. On this upcoming leg of the tour Ed is joined by Emerson Hart of Tonic and Leigh Nash of Sixpence None The Richer.
“It’s a cool set because people don’t know what to expect. It’s also a chance for me to talk about the songs and just have a conversation. Besides all the production that we all love so much like the P.A. rockin’ with the full rock band, this is different and people are really diggin’ it.”
Kowalczyk came up with the tour himself and now he just wants to see where it goes. He is the first person to point out the other talent on the tour and really sees it as something that could continue on through upcoming years, exposing fans to their favorite lead singers both up close and personally.
“My vision for the whole thing besides being this sort of stripped down singer/song writer thing was just to continue to leave the door open to see who wants to come do it, we’re real excited to have Emerson coming out and well see who’s next.”
Leigh Nash has been a mainstay on the tour thus far and definitely brings a female touch to an otherwise all-male lineup of performers. “Leigh Nash from Sixpence None the Richer, this is another artist where people have heard her band a lot but she starts her show a capella and it’s so beautiful, it sets the tone for the entire night. Then it’s just on from there.”
Unlike some lead singers who eventually break away from the band that made them a household name, it seems like Ed has chosen to embrace his past and combine his old hits with his new ones in an effort to create the total Ed Kowalczyk experience. Some stubborn artists attempt to reinvent themselves completely, distancing themselves from the songs that lent them their initial fan base and thus, are mainly responsible for getting them to see you on the road. Ed certainly does not fall into this category.
By coming up with an all acoustic tour Ed has found a way to dive back into the old library of hits but do so in a fashion that the typical Live fan might have not been exposed to just yet. “It started out kind of humble and small, as an off the cuff idea but it’s really grown into something that people are enjoying. This tour has reconnected me back to the essence of those songs. People don’t realize that by the time they hear the record its been so produced and made into this huge awesome rock thing, that it starts out really intimately with just me in a room and a guitar, an acoustic guitar is what I write on. In some ways that guy gets lost in the shuffle over the years. “
When I ask Ed about other artists who may have chosen to put their older hits on the back burner during their solo career he seems to respect other artists’ decisions, however it seems like that approach is just not for him. “To each their own but to me it has always been clear to me that every night I want to give everyone a broad vision of who I am as an artist and that includes all my work as the songwriter in Live and up through the present. It always was something where I embraced my whole spectrum of my life as a songwriter.”
Live and Ed Kowalczyk have always been disproportionately popular in The Netherlands. When I ask Ed why he thinks his music is so huge over there he jokingly says “I wear a wig over there a la David Hasselhoff. But then seriously adds that “I always felt like The Dutch were really interested in my lyrics and really hung on each one. I felt like maybe it’s because everybody can speak English over there as a very close second language, that maybe they took apart the lyrics in a different way because of that and got more out of them and just really connected.”
Some secrets are best kept untold though however as Ed adds, “It’s been kind of a mysterious relationship because it’s something that people ask me about all the time and I say it’s one of those things that I don’t really want to know, I just want it to keep going.”
When I bring up the 90’s as a whole to Ed I get the impression that he thinks back on the era just as fondly as I do, and as most fans of alternative rock music should. “The 90s were definitely the singer era. Singular voices like Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan. You hear them and you know that they are connected to their music. You can’t even say it’s a connection, it’s a oneness.”
“One of the coolest things that people say to me about a song like Lightning Crashes is that they have been able to grow with the song, in other words, the song still matters to them. If they hear the song in 2011 its not just ‘I remember this song from back in the day’ but it still matters to them. Its still something that they have grown up with rather than out of.”
Ed looks back on some of the negative responses they got when their music first debuted over fifteen years ago and is now able to view those traits as positive attributes that gave their music legs and kept those songs relevant for so long.
“A lot of criticism of my lyrics was that they were too mature for my age, like here is this 23 year old guy singing about lightning crashes and birth and death and all these big issues…and now from the perspective of fifteen years later, the fact that those songs still matter is because they touched on a timeless element that has really aged extremely well. It’s one of those things as a songwriter that you hope for.”
To someone wondering if they should go to the Open Wings Broken Strings tour to hear classics like Lightning Crashes and Dolphins Cry, of course you should, cause not only will Ed be belting out these famous Live songs from the 90’s but he is stripping them down and performing versions of them you probably haven’t heard or seen before. Choosing to use his separation from the band as a positive artistic influence on his music Ed is performing only with himself and a guitar. Ed even stops in between songs and tells stories about how songs came to be or what they mean to him after all these years. The level of intimacy at these shows is a rare experience for a long time fan and lending yourself to such a process is not something that every singer/songwriter out there is willing to do. It displays what we call “balls” in an artist to have a confidence in their work and in themselves as a performer to get up on stage without all the distractions that typically make up a larger show.
Open Wings Broken Strings is coming to Norfolk, CT on Wednesday March 2nd. Dates and Locations for the rest of the tour are below!
3/1 State Theater – State College, PA
3/2 Infinity Hall – Norfolk, CT.
3/3 YMCA Boulton Center for Performing Arts – Bay Shore, NY
3/4 City Winery – New York, NY
3/5 Westcott Theater –Syracuse, NY
3/6 Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center – Stowe VT
Ed is also heavily involved with the World Vision Charity and is donating all the proceeds of a special single you can buy online to the cause. Check out www.EdKowalczyk.com for info on how to donate, buy merchandise and keep up with Ed and his solo career.