Ed Kowalczyk – Interview 2010

To see the light through the darkness

After the probably permanent hibernation of Live in 2009, leadsinger Ed Kowalczyk chose to take some time to re-evaluate his place on the musical market. Just a year later he returns with his solo-debut album Alive, which is recognisable yet fresh of thought.

The sun shone on a pleasantly blue sky as I met up with an enthusiastic Kowalczyk for a talk about new beginnings, hope, and above all, the new album Alive. In fact, it was the very title of the album which led me to my first question, was this an allusion to his time with Live?
-Ha ha, yes, I knew I would get that question when I chose the title, but it has to a much higher degree to do with the feeling I got as I worked with the music. After Live quit, I felt really sick and tired of it all, and didn’t know if this was what I wanted to do anymore. I chose to spend some time soul-searching, to find out what it really was that I wanted. I could feel that one of the problems was that I felt stuck, just doing the same thing over and over again. I needed to challenge myself, and to work in a completely different way.
-I did the Open Wings – Broken Strings tour with Art (Alexakis – Everclear) and Leigh (Nash – Six Pence None The Richer), and suddenly I found myself inspired in a way that I hadn’t felt for a very long time. Everything just fell into place, and the music started coming to me. I felt alive again, and that’s where the title comes from.

A reoccurring theme on Alive is the duality of light and darkness, the good and the bad, and above all to have the courage to face the shadow, but to just as high a degree to dare to see a light ahead.
-I was watching TV one day and saw a broadcast from the Haiti disaster. There was so much destruction and misery all over, and yet suddenly there was this glimmer of hope in the eyes of one of the locals. It touched me deeply, that in a situation like that there are still moments of humanity and faith. This feeling inspired me to write Grace, which is all about daring to see goodness and humanity in life.
This feeling also led Kowalczyk to criticize the indifference of the larger part of the population, and matters of the heart such as helping others.
-There are so many who will only give in to all the problems of the world, but I cannot accept that. Sure there are many things wrong with the world, but it is important to remember that that is not all there is. On the other hand, I don’t want to say that you should just go around and pretend everything is swell either; you have to face up to the fact that there are problems, and you have to work through them, that is the only real way to get things solved. It is really important to help with whatever ability you’ve got, for me there is music, but there are so many other things as well.
It is easy to tell how much this means to the very sober-minded artist in front of me, and this sparks my curiosity as to whether he has tried to involve this part of the concept into the purely musical side as well. As I know he sees Peter Gabriel as a source of inspiration, I chose this as my ticket into the question.
- I really like Peter Gabriel, especially the way he can create music which is rather dark, and yet have a lighter side to it, sort of a ‘dark cloud with a silver lining’ if you will. That’s something which inspired me while writing Alive, and something which I wanted to integrate into my own music. I would really like to work with Peter Gabriel at some point, says Kowalczyk and smiles at the idea.

Composing co-conspirators

At this point, it feels close at hand to direct the conversation over to the persons which Kowalczyk did work with on the album, and to start of Chris Daughtry, known from American Idol, is mentioned, as he stands as co-composer for the song Drink (Everlasting Love).
-Chris is a long-time fan of Live, and after we played together on American Idol we became very good friends. So later on, while he was on tour and had played a gig near where I live, I invited him over. After eating we sat down with a guitar out on the porch and jammed for a while. I chose to play this new song I had been working on (Everlasting Love, which later got the added name Drink) and he really liked it, but said (and here one bald musician imitates another) –What if you put this chord here instead, and maybe do this over here...
-It came out sounding really good, Chris is great at writing melodies, and we ended up singing and playing all night.

To get the right rock-sound he was going for, Kowalczyk got in contact with another old friend, C.J. Eiriksson, a Texan producer, who, at the same time, was the very man Kowalczyk was confident could bring his vision to completion. In turn, it was Eiriksson who brought together the band which Kowalczyk got to working with, a cooperation which the newly sprung solo artist ended up being more than happy with.
But since he is a solo artist after all, and still seemed very enthusiastic about his ‘band members’, I felt compelled to ask which, if any, influence these musicians have had on the finished material, and how it was working in this way compared to what he was used to from his time in Live.
-I had almost all the material written before going to the studio, so in that aspect it’s not been such a big change compared to what I’ve done before. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel here, it is still a rock album, and since it is my voice on it, I suppose the sound is pretty similar to the other stuff.
-They are all extremely talented musicians though, and they have certainly added some extra flavour to the finished product. The way they have brought different aspects into the music really shows just how good they are.
Especially drummer Ramy Antoun gains great credit from the singer.
-The first time I heard Ramy play, I felt as though I had found my John Bonham, found someone unique, you know? Just take The Great Beyond, a song I wrote in a pretty normal fashion, but when he put his drums on it, it moved to a completely unexpected place. It was very exciting!
Kowalczyk keeps on praising his drummer for a while, after which I mention my favourite of the album, Just In Time, and ask if there is one special song which sticks out above the rest for him.
-Yeah, Just In Time is really good. There’s this piece of the lyrics which I’m very happy with; ‘...like a wedding-gown’s much prettier after it’s been worn...’
-The song I like the best is probably The Great Beyond, in part because of the dance-rock place which Ramy’s drumming took it to, but also because I feel it is a good representation of what I’ve tried to do with this new album. It’s all about me moving out of my own safety-zone into new territories, into the great beyond...
This is a theme also found in other places of the album, as in Drive, which sees Kowalczyk symbolically fall asleep at the wheel, and give his imagination free reins to steer the way. I’m curious as to whether he has planned a certain concept for the album, or if he sees it as a collection of individual songs. Kowalczyk takes his time to think about this, before giving a good, finishing answer.
-There is certainly a thread running throughout the album, especially about seeing both the good and the bad sides of life, but on a more personal plane it is also about daring to let go of your usual habits and try out new things. But it is not a concept album as such, just a rock album where some thoughts have been predominant over others.

To live or not to live

As I feel I have gotten a good grip on what Kowalczyk wants with his album, I find it fitting to turn my attention to the coming tour, which, among other places, will bring him to Denmark in the fall (read a review of the show at this site), and I ask what can be expected of the show.
-It’ll be a good rock-show with lots of energy like in the old days. I’ll probably play 6-7 of my new solo songs, and mix it up with some vintage Live material.
These words will surely feel like welcome news to the old fans, but the question is how the different songs will fit together. As the singer now has warmed up, he is quick to answer, and the pride in what he has created is easy to spot.
-I've spoken to several people who have heard it, and they feel the new and the old songs fit really well together. The new material has this whole new energy about it, an energy which was also present in the early to mid-nineties.

As a finishing touch to our conversation, I ask if there is a message which I should bring with me back the Danish fans who eagerly await the coming album and tour.
-Well, you’re all welcome to visit me at my site, edkowalczyk.com, says a smiling Ed Kowalczyk and adds with a certain amount of self-irony, -and if that’s too hard to spell, then just write Eddie K Live dot com instead!

(this article was written by me for Metalized magazine, issue 69, prior to the release of Ed Kowalczyk’s album Alive)

Text: Tobias Nilsson

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