Interview with Ed Kowalczyk: The Whole Picture

Whenever a member of a well-liked, established band branches out to put forth a solo record, a chord of fear is struck in fans of the preexisting nucleus. However, Live frontman Ed Kowalczyk squelched any trepidation that his new solo venture, a formidable record aptly titled Alive, would jeopardize the future of Live.

“I just moved into a new chapter,” divulges the Pennsylvania native. “If you listen to the record, I am really doing what I’ve always done at the core. It was just a feeling—why don’t I do this, why don’t I do that and just blow the doors off this thing? Once I started doing that, it was just so natural and so exciting that I’ve just completely moved into this new world.”

Alive is completely recognizable and as distinctive as Kowalczyk’s fingerprints, but he stresses that mingling with the different energies that he found in new collaborators just reinvigorated his creative fires.

Full of depth and bridging the rift between grunge laden thick rhythms and spiritual uplifting promises, Alive is instantly inviting, disarming and attention arresting. Just packed with the same magnetic charm as Live classics like “I Alone,” “Lightning Crashes,” and “The Dolphin’s Cry.” Kowalczyk outlined the awe-inspiring journey that he’s taking based on a soul whisper.

What I really love about Alive is that you’ve managed to blend really meaningful lyrics with really accessible music.

I think throughout my career as a songwriter, I’ve always tried to get the lyrics to where I feel something important is being said, but to also have it be part of a musical composition that can communicate clearly and get out there, and have the dynamic and the structure wherein that three to four minute window to really get you in the heart. To really carry the weight of the whole thing. So I really went for that this record probably more than ever, but like I said, it’s probably always been the way of how I thought about music ever since the beginning. I do appreciate that.

It takes you in instantly. How long did it take you to put together?

Well, like two years ago, I began to feel this impetus to sort of change it up in my life and enter a new chapter. I wasn’t sure what it was going to look like, but it was more of just a feeling of at the end of a part of my life; always doing things the same way. I guess the seven-year-itch; it was more like a 15-year. Just feeling this malaise about music, which is really kind of scary for me, because this is my life. It’s what I’ve been passionate about for so long. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’ So I started to sort of imagine new collaborators, new partners, new musicians and as soon as I did that, within a short period of time, the music was just flowing. I grabbed my acoustic guitar and I went out and did this basically world tour. It was really fun; I had never done that before as a whole concert tour.

So between that and this new creativity and this new passion, it all led into this incredible session in Austin, TX, last fall where this incredible group of musicians just found me through a good friend CJ Eiriksson, a producer. He said, ‘Come down to Austin, I have this group of musicians I want you to meet.’ So I came down and immediately I said this is that synchronicity in life where you just feel things are meant to be. Things just fell into place. Made most of the record there, tracked it all and finished some of the vocal tracks in L.A.

Then early this year, off the cuff like I wasn’t planing on it, I had the record finished and I met this really great visionary, co-producer and writer named Gregg Wattenberg. I met this man, I liked his work, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come in and see what we could come up with just for fun.’ I went in [and] within three or four hours we had the beginnings of ‘Grace.’ Which is of course the single. I said, ‘Wow.’ Here I am thinking that the record is pretty much done, and just went in to do this creative collaboration with him and it turned into this amazing song. Then we wrote this other song together called ‘Stand.’ That was pretty cool, because it was like the icing on already pretty nice cake of a record.

That was really the M.O. of the whole process for me; just opening up windows in a room that was starting to get a little musty. Just throw open the shade if you would with some new collaborations and some new partners, and I had this amazing experience. I think that energy and that joy that I was feeling through the whole process, you can really feel it on the record, and I think that’s the best part.

Absolutely, and it just confirms that where you’re standing at any particular moment is where you’re supposed to be standing.


You just also seem like the whole package. You have the political side, your charitable side, the spiritual side, and of course, the musical side. Do feel like on any given day, that one variable outweighs another, or are they all just parts of the whole?

I would say that in this moment in my life as an artist, it’s probably the most integrated and complete picture that I have ever given people of who I am as a person. Like all those things that you mentioned, those are all equally important to me and part of what I am. That’s one of those things about the Internet that’s pretty cool, my website, my Facebook fan site, they are really stacking up to give people a truer picture of who I am.

I mentioned the acoustic side of what I do, and going out there, and having that be a part of my experience as an artist that I always wanted to share. I love to rock, but at the same time, there’s this sort of deep humanity to my lyrics, when it breaks down into that acoustic environment, it’s more emotional. So it’s something really neat going on right now. The acoustic thing to the rock record, like you mentioned my interest in charities and all that, there’s really this whole picture of me coming out that is part new, part because of the technology being able to show those aspects. Also, it’s a new period in my life, the deeper picture of who I am.

‘Soul Whispers’ is really moving and powerful.

It’s one of my favorites. It’s a song that lyrically, it’s very much this intimate picture of someone going into this deep place where your soul speaks to you in the quiet. In the Bible, they call it, ‘The Lord speaks to us in a still, small voice.’ So the idea is that when we go into this quiet moment of prayer, contemplation, meditation, we become available to these really small, subtle inspiration from above.

Lots of people from different faiths have lots of ideas about what that is and different names for it, but it was a song that was really an expression for that kind of experience. I love the bridge of that song, the lyric, ‘Time to reach for that love that you have in your infant eyes.’ I have two kids, and I have the experience of that deep joy that is within children, and there’s something of that, there’s contemplation and meditation in that song. And regaining an innocence, regaining that spark that the world tends to take away, or that we lose touch with through life and how crazy the world is. Actually, that song and a lot of the record has that type of feel or that message, which is really a call to those moments in life.

Did you almost feel like you went into automatic writing? As if it was just given to you.

I think that the best music both lyrically and musically comes from a part of you that is beyond you. Kind of a strange experience. I’ve read so many writers say, ‘I’m best when I am out of the way.’ I’m out of the way of the process, or the best stuff happens when I least expect it. I am not trying, I am just in this zone, and it’s just flowing. I had a lot of that on this record. I think that’s one of the things that as an artist through a long career, you tend to come in and out of that ability to maintain that innocence that you have within you. Whether it’s something that you’ve been doing a long time, or the routine that you’re used to kind of tends to sit on that. That was what changing the circumstance in my life creatively—like I said, new partners, new musicians that really put me into the place where that flow began to just not move, but really move.

It shows, and it feels magnetic.

I feel that from the fans, when I finished the record. I knew that there was something just electric about it, that leaps up out of speakers and it’s very energetic. I was really anxious for people to hear this, because if I was feeling that, what are they going to feel. So I immediately started to stream ‘Grace’ on Facebook, and played a few songs live like eight or nine shows with the new band. Sure enough, it was what I expected, which is that people are overwhelming happy with the feel of it. They say things like, ‘This is the spark of what I fell in love with what you did in the mid-’90s.’ It feels pretty good.

Yes, it does have the spark, but you also have the song, ‘The Great Beyond’ on there, and that’s a bit of a departure for you musically. It has an alternative slant.

That’s a favorite because of what you just said. I had this song, ‘The Great Beyond,’ it was on acoustic guitar, it was done. I took it to Austin, and I tracked it, and I had a conception that was informed by how I always doing things, and, ‘Ok, this is how it was going to sound.’ Then my drummer came in, Ramy Antoun, a great rock drummer and just really, really creative. He has this ability to just envision different styles of production from the drum and rhythm side of things. He started to put this really driving, almost dance beat yet it was really driven and really rocking at the same time. This song went from to I like it, to I couldn’t live without it. It was that kind of flip and we just built the performances from there, we all got so into it James Gabbie on guitar and Chris [Heerlein] on bass. By the time I sang that one, it was on, I felt like I really broke into new ground and that’s always fun as an artist to know that you do what you do, and that’s your style, but then there are moments where you transcend all of that, and that was one of them.

Yeah, it can catch Depeche Mode fans. Chris Daughtry also sang with you on this record.

Yeah, he’s a buddy of mine. We met back when he did the American Idol show of course. We performed together, and became friends, and he’s a big fan of my music. I actually went to see one of his shows here where I live and he came to my house, he met my family and hung out. We broke out a bottle of wine and started playing guitar together, he started playing some of his new stuff and I started playing some of my new stuff. I started playing this song that was called ‘Everlasting Love’ at that time, it’s called ‘Drink (Everlasting Love)’ now. I had it pretty much fleshed out, or so I thought at the time, and he said, ‘Oh try this.’ I was like, ‘Oh, I like that.’ So it turned into this impromptu collaboration that neither one of us was really expecting, but it was really fun and the song made the record and it’s beautiful.

Do you have a video out yet?

There is, you can actually see it on my website. It’s on YouTube; it’s for ‘Grace.’ We shot it in Belgium on the last Euro tour that we did in May. It came out great.

Ed Kowalczyk performs live at Starland Ballroom on July 9.