Ed Kowalczyk, as former front man of the American rock band Live, has been responsible for some of the biggest and best known rock anthems of the ’90s. Songs like I Alone, Selling the Drama, Lightning Crashes, and Lakini’s Juice brilliantly mixed hard rock, melody and a lyricism that struck a chord with a generation.
Kowalczyk and Live parted company, acrimoniously in 2009 after Kowalczyk released his debut solo album Alive, an album that seemed to be a return to the sound and energy that made 1994’s Throwing Copper such a success.
If Alive had a fault it was that it relied primarily on Kowalczyk’s re-found energy and passion as an artist, without particularly moving on from that classic Live sound. His latest release, an e.p entitled The Garden is far more adventurous, while retaining signature elements of his songwriting – the big voice and spiritual yearning of his lyrics.
Ed Kowalcyzk was kind enough to agree to the following interview (via email) with TMO
Let’s talk about the Garden EP – great songs, but equally interesting approach with radically
different remixes; is it a dillema, to choose between what you’re renowned for – classic rock
songs full of passion and emotion – or the more experimental sounds like for example the Juno
Reactor remix of the song The Garden
Thank you. I have to admit, although as you mentioned I am known for a more classic approach to my production, that I also enjoy elements of EDM and Hip Hop. I’m a bit jekyll and hyde that way. So, with The Garden, I solved the dilemma by including the more “classic” versions on the same disc as the remixes. Some fans dig it all, some only one or the other. I like to think of The Garden EP as a “super EP”, it has it all.
Can you remember the first song you wrote, and maybe more importantly can you remember how you felt having accomplished it?
The first song I wrote from top to bottom was “Pain Lies on the Riverside”. I remember thinking that I had something special and that it was groundbreaking for me. It ended up securing LIVE it’s first record deal with Radioactive Records and Gary Kurfirst, so I was right. 🙂
Grace, redemption, and salvation are all recurring themes from your days in Live and through to your solo work. Are you religious, and do you ever worry that these religious metaphors will put non-believers off the music?
Uncovering and distilling the truth from the spiritual traditions has always been a passion of mine, even outside of music. When I was just starting out as a lyricist, I immediately recognized the fact that not everyone, not even people closest to me, were as interested in it. Instead of letting that make me feel marginalized, I chose to see it as what made me different and what would make my music stand out. I never worry about the people who may be turned off by it. I focus, rather, on the people who are turned on.
How would you characterise the difference between your debut solo album, and the album you’re working on now?
It is a quantum leap in every single way. The songwriting, the production, the cohesion of it as a whole album is just remarkable in my view. I feel that it is hands down my finest work. It’s more intense and has a darker, more mysterious lyrical and production that I’m positive will appeal to old and new fans in a big way.
Is it true that Peter Buck is playing on the new album? What was it like recording with him?
Yes, Peter performs on 8 songs on my new album. It was a dream come true to work with him. I am a major fan of REM and credit their early records for being the inspiration behind wanting to be in a band and to make music. As I sat and watched and listened to Peter track his legendary guitar to my new album, I could hardly believe it, I was in rock and roll heaven.
You’ve done a cover of John Lennon’s Mind Games on the Garden EP – can you tell us a little bit about why you chose to cover that particular song? Are you a Lennon fan, and if so what is it about his music that you admire?
I am a huge John Lennon fan. His melodies are so absolutely original and his message is timeless. I chose “Mind Games” for its subservise but totally positive message of love and peace. I’m a mind guerilla too, man! 🙂
You’ve done lots of great cover versions over the years, and sung with lots of brilliant artists – who would you like to hear doing a cover of one of your songs?
I would like to hear Peter Gabriel sing Lightning Crashes with the Blind Boys of Alabama on background vocals.
Brian Eno used to have a series of cards when recording U2, with words banned from their songs because of overuse; any time Bono improvising sang one, he’d hold up the card. What lyrics would be on your banned cards?
“Water!” For sure. My producer tried the card trick…but I beat him up lol.
What’s the worst piece of musical advice you have ever received?
Not necessarily musical advice, but the worst career advice when you are starting out is always “that’s nice that you are in a band honey, but you should have a backup plan”. Does anyone who does anything worth a damn ever bother with a backup plan? You do what do, decide, and go. Backup plans are for posers.
If you could climb into the brain of anyone, living or dead for a day, whose would it be and how would you use it?
Michelangelo as he sculpted La Pieta. Just to be there and then write a song about it.
You broke through originally as an artist in the 90s, before the internet revolutionised the industry. Now you’ve started a career as a solo artist in the digital environment – so you’re in a fairly unique position to comment on the differences between the two; as an artist starting out which environment is better for the artist – that of the 90s or today?
It really depends. Artists are all so very unique and none of their stories or career trajectories are ever the same. That said, it’s hard to argue with the fact that if you managed to get up the A&R chain to a major record deal in the 90’s, and if you had great songs and were willing to tour, the business in terms of promotion and radio, was really firing on all cylinders…it was yours to lose. But in the end, it’s all about the fans, no matter what era of the business you are in. So, in 2013 I am focusing all of my effort on them as I always have. I am using social media, signing deals that allow me much more freedom to adapt internationally, and having the time of my life doing it. If you are doing what you love, you will find a way to keep moving forward, or the way will find you.
If you could sum up your artistic manifesto in just a couple of lines, what would they be?
Do what you love with power.