Q&A: Ed Kowalczyk on breaking from Live, his new band and working with Chris Daughtry
With his band Live, singer Ed Kowalczyk built an impressive resume that included eight full-length albums that sold a total of 20 million copies, an international fan base and multiple world tours. Yet when he left the band two years ago, it wasn't such a difficult decision.
"I ended up, about two years ago, coming to an end-of-a-chapter moment in my life, feeling uninspired doing the same thing over and over again," Kowalczyk told SoundSpike via telephone from his Ventura County, CA, home. "I thought I would shake it up. I started to think about a solo career. Get new partners, new band, go to Austin for the first time to make a record. I got really excited and started to write some great music. I've just really been riding that wave of excitement and new energy. I made a great record in Austin, Texas, late last year. And put out the record out [July 6]."
That record is the cheekily-titled album "Alive," which entered the Billboard Christian Album Chart at No. 6 and the Heatseekers Album Chart at No. 4. "Alive" was recorded at Wire Recording Studios with producer CJ Eiriksson (U2, Matchbox Twenty) and Kowalczyk's new band.
Kowalczyk spoke to SoundSpike and he gave us his thoughts on leaving Live, the sound of "Alive" and working with Chris Daughtry.
You left Live about two years ago. Was that a scary decision?
It was thrilling. I don't think it was scary at all. It was more of the thrill of not knowing and stepping into that great beyond, if you would, of a new era. I went down to Austin, TX, and I didn't even know who was going to play on my record. I really trusted my producer, C.J. He said he had some great friends and partners down there. Sure enough, within the first three days, I met who is now my band -- Ramy Antoun on drums, James Gabbie on lead guitar and Chris Heerlein on bass--right there. The synchronicity of it was really awesome. I didn't really need to look that far. They were amazing musicians. As soon as I hit the ground there, I realized I knew I was going to make a great record. I knew that I was on to the next phase of my life.
Why was now the right time for this project?
I don't know if it was conscious as much as just a natural sort of outgrowth of one chapter into the next chapter. It was more of a feeling of needing a change and needing to explore new possibilities as an artist. It just felt like a really natural progression.
Would you say this album is a little more experimental than what you did with Live?
I would say it's both experimental but it's also really true to form and a return to form, which is what people are telling me -- especially about the single, "Grace," and [the song] "Drink (Everlasting Love)." People are telling me, "I could have heard that come off of 'Throwing Copper' or 'The Distance to Here'" -- the mid-'90s Live stuff. Sometimes there's moments like "The Great Beyond" that are stabs into the future of what I could do next or do some more of. But I think it's a great record in that it's a sense it maintains the core of who I am and what people recognize and like about what I do, especially with the new musicians. It reaches out and sort of interprets those ideas and dynamics.
What was the songwriting process like with "Alive"? Did you write in the studio or did you have all the songs done beforehand?
I pretty much had everything written before I went down there. I spent the two years leading up to it with my acoustic guitar -- like I always do -- just come up with the best ideas, the best melodies and lyrics. I recorded them in Austin. It was a quick recording session, about two weeks is all it took to just track everything. What I did do with this band, though, is I didn't really produce this band. I said, "Hey, here's the songs. Let me hear what you think. Let me hear what you want to play. Let me hear your parts." They were so creative. Ramy Antoun on drums, he took what I was putting into it and just sent me to the moon. It was incredible. James Gabbie on lead guitar, he wrote just some beautiful guitar work on this record. I was just floored as soon as they started to play. I realized that here were these songs that could have gone either way. They could have gone either way really. I went down there and really invented a new sound for myself.
Did you have any co-songwriters with you?
I worked on one with Chris Daughtry, "Drink (Everlasting Love)," which we finished together. I pretty much had finished it. Then, we had this impromptu collaboration at my house one night after his show here in Ventura, CA. That was awesome. Then I co-wrote a couple songs with my friend Greg Wattenberg, an amazing co-producer, co-writer, visionary. We worked on the single "Grace" and the song called "Stand" together. I got to do a lot of fun collaborations on it as well. I did the lion's share of it, sitting down with a guitar and coming up with it.
What was it like to work with Chris Daughtry?
He's great. We've been friends for four or five year now, so it was great. We've played together many times. We're always jamming together. This night that we finished this song, I had the song pretty much worked out. He was playing me some of his songs, song ideas. We got the six-strings out. We were playing these little lines, he'd say, "Oh man, I love that one. Try that here, try that there." We ended up finishing it together. So it was really fun.
What was it like to play live with your new band? Was it a little awkward?
It was amazing. I didn't know what to expect. You just kind of go for it when it's all new musicians, except my brother Adam was playing guitar and singing. I played with him for years. Just getting up there was such a thrill. The first show ended up being in a new country I never played before, the Dominican Republic. We played in Santo Domingo. That was the way we kicked it off. New country. Totally amazing crowd. On a scale of one to 10, musically I felt if we would have hit there on a six I would have been really, really happy. We hit there at almost like a 10. I was really, really happy from the word go. We've done about two dozen shows so far. Every one, our chemistry as a band just getting more and more deeper and more exciting.
28 - Lieshout, Netherlands - Bavaria Open Air Festival Grounds (Bavaria Open Air)
29 - Utrecht, Netherlands - Muziekcentrum Vredenburg
30 - Hamburg, Germany - Uebel & Gefahrlich
1 - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Paradiso
2 - Antwerp, Belgium - Riverenhof
3 - Heerlen, Netherlands - Parkstad Limburg Theaters
4 - Lansingerland, Netherlands - Rottepop Festival Grounds
5 - Groningen, Netherlands - De Oosterpoort
7 - Stockholm, Sweden - Klubben
8 - Oslo, Norway - John Dee
9 - Copenhagen, Denmark - Lille Vega
16 - Philadelphia, PA - Theatre of the Living Arts
17 - Lancaster, PA - Chameleon
18 - Columbia, MD - Merriweather Post Pavilion (WHFStival with Marcy Playground)
19 - Pittsburgh, PA - The Altar Bar
21 - Cleveland, OH - Beachland Ballroom and Tavern
22 - Cincinnati, OH - 20th Century Theatre
23 - Chicago, IL - Park West
24 - Flint, MI - The Machine Shop
25 - St. Louis, MO - Old Rock House
28 - Charlotte, NC - Amos' SouthEnd
29 - Richmond, VA - Canal Club
30 - New York City, NY - Bowery Ballroom
1 - Bridgeport, CT - The Klein
2 - Boston, MA - Royale Boston
11 - Maui, HI - Grand Wailea Hotel
22 - Pittsfield, MA - The Colonial Theatre
23 - Wilmington, DE - Grand Opera House
24 - Atlanta, GA - Park Tavern ("Unplugged in the Park")
28 - Auckland, New Zealand - Powerstation
31 - Newton, Australia - Enmore Theatre
2 - Brisbane, Australia - The Hi-Fi
5 - Melbourne, Australia - Forum Theatre
6 - Adelaide, Australia - Thebarton Theatre
8 - Fremantle, Australia - Freo Arts Centre
12 - Edmonton, Alberta - Century Casino
13 - Calgary, Alberta - Century Casino
6, 7, 8, 9, 10 - Tampa, FL - Carnival Cruise Line's Inspiration ("Rock Boat")