LIVE Still Alive

With their original line up now reunited, US 90s alt-rockers Live are about to tour Australia again, this time including the West Coast on the itinerary after missing us last year. Lead singer Ed Kowalczyk talks to ALFRED GORMAN about resolving rifts, renewed passions, the prospect of new material and the longevity of 90s music, ahead of their show at HBF Stadium next Tuesday, March 6, supported by The Tea Party.

For several years in the 90s, Live were one of the biggest touring bands in the world. Shot to fame in 1994 on the back of their sophomore album Throwing Copper that sold over eight million in the US and featured several smash hits (Lightning Crashes, I Alone, All Over You, Selling The Drama) that still get caned on the radio today – the band from rural York, Pennsylvania, gained a reputation for their energetic live shows. Their unique sound combined grunge and rock, with the pop songwriting hooks and powerhouse vocals of Kowalczyk, and the solid rock guitar work of his childhood friend Chad Taylor.

The group went on to tour the globe successfully for many years, pumping out another couple good albums before the turn of the millennium, when things started to decline for the band, with the changing sounds and styles in the musical landscape.

Eventually rifts started to form in the band, and Kowalczyk went solo, which led to his departure from the band in 2009. The rest of the band however, in something of a surprise move to their fans, and Kowalczyk, decided to recruit a new singer and continue on, even releasing a new album.

After several years doing their own thing, it was 2016 when Taylor and Kowalcyzk finally caught up and buried the hatchet, reforming the original lineup for a world tour.

It’s great to hear that you’re coming back to Australia so soon, and this time, heading west!

Yeah, we’re really excited, because last year we didn’t get the chance to play in Perth, so we’re so glad we can come back so soon and play there, it’s a wonderful chance.

Where are you currently?

I’m home man, in Connecticut, on the East Coast of the United States. Our headquarters and studio, where the band gets together is in our hometown of York, Pennsylvania. That’s where we catch up and do our thing. We’re a little bit scattered – our drummer lives in California – but the rest of us are pretty much in the same area.

We’re working on some new stuff, because we really wanna get something new out this year, and we’re gearing up to come Down Under, and tour this summer in the States. It’s like the calm before the storm.

I heard the first show you played was after reforming was a surprise New Year’s Eve gig in your hometown of York?

That’s right, that’s the first time we were back onstage together in front of fans. We had played a bunch of course before that. We sorta surprised everybody and had a great night. It was just a wonderful feeling to be back onstage, in a room called the Valencia Ballroom. We actually promoted our own concert there when we were in high school. We’ve got the old posters still – it was $5 and we promised on the posters that it was gonna be the time of your life. So we were dreaming big even then!

York is also where you and Chad got together to sort things out and get the band back together, I believe?

That’s right. We met over a couple beers, after the break had wound down, and we’d had a good year regrouping. Chad and I started texting back and forth, like “Hey, how are the kids?”, and I think it just came down to, y’know, we missed each other. I mean, we had so many good years together… It didn’t take long for all those years to swallow up the ones that weren’t so good. So we reconnected, and I think we were playing together within 48 hours after that. We were all really excited to get back together.

It may be hard for people who haven’t been in a band to understand, but what happened, after over 20 years as friends and band mates, for you guys to break up the band and go your separate ways? Was deciding to pursue the solo thing a factor?

Yeah, I think that was part of it, but y’know it was a combination of things. It was just a season of change. I mean, we met when we were 13 years old, so when that break started in 2009, we’d been together for a very long time! I think I was feeling the need to kinda spread my wings, and go out solo and try something different, and those guys too. We all wish that had gone a lot more smoothly than it did, but life is like that, you never know what you’re gonna get. It’s funny, because Chad and I say all the time that we are so excited, we’re so re-energised about the band and the music and our relationship – maybe even more than ever – and I don’t think we’d be at this place, without what happened.

If I could just take you back to that first show you did in Perth in ’97. That was a long time ago, but one thing that’s always stuck in my mind about that show, was being an angsty teenager and screaming along to the ending of your final song, White Discussion. It’s always been one of my favourite Live songs – I was just listening to it again, and “Look where all this talking’s got us baby!” has really resonated with me. To me it was always about how useless politics can be, running round in circles, arguing, partisan politics and not progressing humanity for the greater good. I was always interested to know what that song means to you, and has it changed over the years?

Yeah, it suddenly seems more relevant to me than ever! To sing that song in concert – you just nailed it, because you know, I think that as human beings we tend to get caught up in our differences, and in the things that separate us, instead of focusing on the things that unite us, which are a lot more powerful. And I think I was feeling that when I wrote that song. I was just so into that idea that, we gotta break all this down and come together, maybe at a rock concert, or wherever, and really connect beyond all the noise. So White Discussion, the name itself, it’s like, there’s so much out there, you can’t even discern it. We get fatigued. And that’s the beautiful thing about music – we can put all that aside and come to a show, and really experience that community naturally as human beings.

So you said you’ve been working on new material. How’s that coming along? Is there anything you can announce?

All I can say is it’s going really, really well. Probably better than ever these last few months. We’ve really kicked into a whole other gear. We are in the process of producing it, writing it. We’ve got probably seven or eight tracks that we feel really strongly about. We’re still considering how we’re going to release it – if we wanna do a song at a time – there’s all these different ideas that are really refreshing. I do believe that it will come out as an album at some point, but we’re also excited by the fact that we don’t want people to wait for an entire album. So stay tuned, but there’s definitely new music coming very soon.

The way the whole music industry works is so different these days – you’ve got a bit of flexibility. I don’t believe you’ve gotten yourselves into any record contracts yet, so you have total freedom to record whenever/whatever you want without any pressure.

That’s exactly it. And we’re really enjoying that, for the first time really, apart from before we were signed to a record deal when we were kids and just going for it. So maybe we’ve kinda re-kindled some of that in this new era. We’re just excited to change it up and do something we haven’t done before. We’re having a blast making this music and I really think it’s some of the best stuff that we’ve done.

Is it a real band effort, where you feel like everyone’s contributing?

With Live, it kinda goes all over the place. I mean, I could kinda call myself the principal songwriter, with lyrics and melodies and most of the music that we’ve had to this point. But we’ve always had a collaborative side, where Chad will write a riff or chord progression and I’ll write to that. So we’re pretty open minded to whatever works, whatever’s good, we’ll go with it. And that’s just part of the whole spirit of the reunion, and I think you can hear that in the tunes. They’ve got a sort of incredible renaissance of energy going on.

Will we get a chance to hear some of this new material on this tour?

Possibly, we’re still fleshing some of it out. A couple of new ones we haven’t even played in the studio yet. But we might, we’re excited to put a couple in there, we’ll see…

Well you certainly have plenty of other great songs to choose from! It must feel good singing all those classic songs from your back catalogue again with the band. When you sing songs like Lightening Crashes, which I guess is about the circle of life – do they take on new meaning after all these years, now you’re older, and you’ve had kids?

Oh man, big time! That’s one of the most exciting things, that I have the most gratitude for. The long-term career that we’ve had, this wild ride. I mean, you go back and you’re singing songs like Lightning Crashes or I Alone from 25 years ago, and the way we crafted the songs, the way the lyrics are written, they’re pretty wide open to interpretation, and I think that’s served the band well. Like you said, Lightning Crashes is about the circle of life and birth, and when I wrote that song, I didn’t have any kids, so that’s definitely deepened for me. And I share that with lots fans now, who are in their late 30s or 40s, and are starting families, and they’re like “Oh man, this song just means so much more to me now.”

There seems to be a big resurgence in music and bands from the 90s. A lot of reformations of bands that people still hold so dear. There’s still good music coming out now, but a lot of it seems more disposable perhaps. What do you think it is about the 90s that seemed to produce so much amazing, lasting music?

Yeah I think that’s just a product of the incredibly fast culture that we live in now. The interesting aspect of the 90s and Generation X or whatever, is that we straddled the analog and digital age. We remember when we put on CDs and cassettes, and didn’t have cell phones. So there was an attention span – you would sit down with an album and create this long term relationship with it. And there was a pace to it that I really think allowed it sit with people and be part of their lives. It was a special era to be a part of and put out albums in, and now to be watching the resurgence of interest in it. I’m not surprised. It was just a really incredible time for rock ‘n’ roll.

Comments are closed.