“Oh man, we’re putting the show together now,” beamed Ed Kowalczyk, vocalist for Live, ahead of their November Australian tour. “Actually, we’ve been doing mostly festivals where we’re up there with a bunch of bands, so the Australian tour will be the first shows of our own that we’ll be able to play an extended set, so we’re pretty excited. We’re working on the show right now. We’re gonna, of course, play the songs people… I like to say we’ll play all the songs people will be super pissed off if we didn’t (laughs). We’re trying to get to every album in the catalogue and also throw a new song in there. We’re working on some new tunes and a couple of covers. We’ve got the production rocking, and every show we’ve been doing has been better than the one before, so I think by the time we get down there in November we’re gonna be firing on all cylinders.”
For a band with such a multitude of hit singles to draw from, Kowalczyk admits that it can be a little daunting coming up with suitable setlists.
“Man, it’s fun to make setlists when you have so many songs,” he concurred, “especially in Australia because the Australian fans – even the songs that weren’t on radio – they know them all! It’s a crazy fan base, so we’re gonna have a blast doing that set. There’s a new energy in the band which is saying something for a band that’s been together as long as we have and with the break that we had there is a new positivity. It’s like a new sort of ecstatic, revitalized band that the fans at the shows we’ve done have been really vocal about how great it has been. We’re feeling awesome at the moment.”
When Live first started each of the members were barely out of primary school, with Kowalczyk recalling fondly the early days of life in a rock and roll outfit.
“We started the band when we were thirteen years old,” he recalled, “and just heading to high school. The summer before we started a little cover band and played all of our favourite bands from the mid to late 1980’s from The Cult to R.E.M to U2. Those were the bands we loved and we covered them and then got our first record deal when we had all just graduated from high school, about nineteen, twenty years old. I would say some of the memories from those times that stick with me are just the humping together and getting out there in the van and going to showcase gigs where you’re playing for record companies and having everybody say no except for one who said yes (laughs). We put out the first album, and three years later we went from playing clubs to playing these huge venues, so it’s a pretty incredible story to go back and tell again.”
Before settling on the name Live, the band went through a long list of potentials, some of which were destined for failure. It was part of the initial learning curve for a ragtag bunch of teenagers and one which Kowalczyk lets out a hearty bellow when recalling.
“Oh, yeah,” he laughed. “We had a bunch. We were always the same four guys, and we had some interesting names in High School. We were First Aid, we were Band Aid, we were Public Affection, and I think for a weekend, we were the Body Odour Boys (laughs). We settled on Live and put out the first album in 1992, and we’re actually celebrating the 25th anniversary of that first album this year with a vinyl release and some really cool stuff for the fans.”
When Live’s second album Throwing Copper came out in 1994, it changed everything for the aspiring musicians. It was a huge success both commercially and financially and looking back on it, Kowalczyk says the album was released during a period of music that is unlikely ever to be replicated.
“I think a lot of it was our approach,” he mused, “lyrically and melodically. The music wasn’t exactly grunge. It had a different approach lyrically that was more spiritual and universal and went after subjects that weren’t your typical fare of lyric writing at the time – or anytime really. I think we had our own unique voice that people jumped at and it was a really exciting time for music in general. The early 1990’s was such a renaissance of rock and roll spirit with great bands like Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana and Pearl Jam and just really unique voices; really unique perspectives all over the radio. You couldn’t help but be excited to make what we thought was a great record in Throwing Copper and being able to add what we could add to that period of music. That was a really inspiring time to be in a band.”
It seems that throughout their career Live has had the Midas touch. They haven’t had many failures, with most of their albums being well received and spawning more hit singles. It is a situation that Kowalczyk feels is reward for hard work and dedication rather than putting it down to luck.
“First of all, I think that our passion and love for the music is really amazing,” he measured. “I think it’s what has gotten us back together, and of course, it is what started our interest in it, and I think it has kept us relevant to our fans because our love for it, is just so palpable. When we’re on stage we’re not up there staring at our shoes and jamming around, we’re getting right down to it and we’re really trying to embody the spirit of these songs with as much energy as we can. I think if you do that for as long as we have people just know when they come to see Live they are gonna get that experience that they are gonna take with them and it’s gonna mean something to their lives. It’s not just entertainment; it’s something a little deeper than that, and I think that’s why we’re still here.”
What started out as a decision to go on a temporary hiatus in 2009 turned into the potential end of the band when in 2011 Live announced Kowalczyk would no longer be vocalist and Chris Shenn would instead assume the role. It was a period that saw Live release another album, The Turn, but one which was also a dark time for both Kowalczyk and long term fans of the band.
“Yeah, I think it was a difficult period for all of us,” he replied sullenly. “The more that I talk to Chad (Taylor, lead guitar, backing vocals) about those years – and he has talked about it in interviews – was that it was very tough for all of us. We were all doing our own thing. I went out and did a couple of solo albums, and of course, a bunch of touring. I was in Australia a few times, and I don’t think any of us would have chosen to do that, but that’s the way it happened. The amazing this is when we got back together I think because we all went out and did what we did on our own is that individually we got even better. I got stronger as a performer and as a player too… just more confident maybe than ever just doing things on my own. I’m able to bring those strengths back now to the original band, and it is a real blessing. It’s something I didn’t expect to do but man, the band now, I really feel it is better than ever.”
Any form of reunion looked unlikely in 2012 when Kowalczyk and the rest of the band were embroiled in court action over the use of the band name. Thankfully, in the end, the longevity of the members friendship and the level of professionalism that had seen them rise to the summit of the rock and roll kingdom eventually broke through the turmoil and late last year the band found a way to put their differences aside and reunite in the name of music and friendship.
“The negative things that were keeping us apart, the legal stuff and all that, that settled down about two years ago,” Kowalczyk explained, “and I think once that settled and we were not at each other we were able to have this true break from each other that we had started with a plan to do in 2009. Once that space was there it really allowed all of the good history and good feeling and amazing foundation that we have together – not only as a band but as friends – to re-emerge in our lives, and we just started to miss each other. I started to text Chad and asked how the kids were and said let’s get together and have a beer, and that’s exactly what we did. About a year and a half ago we met up for a beer in our home town of Pensylvania, and the four of us were playing in the room that night.”
Live’s last album with Kowalczyk at the helm was 2006’s Songs from Black Mountain, and Kowalczyk has some good news for fans who were thinking they might not get to hear any new material from the band.
“Oh, absolutely, we will be making a new album,” he stressed. “We’ve got about five or six ideas that we are kicking around right now. Of course, we’re on tour and pretty busy at the moment but our plan is to wrap everything up… actually Australia will probably be the last tour we do this year in November, and then we are gonna really focus on the studio and hopefully have something new out in 2018.”
Eleven years is a long time between drinks, especially in the modern climate of music, and Kowalczyk concedes that the time has given them some fresh ideas on the new musical direction while still maintaining the essence of Live’s sound.
“What I can say about the five or six that we have is a few of them definitely sound like Live,” he revealed. “You can tell they are us and you know who it is. A couple of them we pushed in a few different directions with a couple of different styles of groove we’ve never played before, so we’re really in a more experimental phase right now, but I don’t think the record as a whole will come out like that. I think it’s gonna be a record that will appeal to the old fans but also appeal to us as artists and we’ll feel like we’ve moved forward too.”
As Kowalczyk mentioned, this year marks the 25th anniversary of Live’s debut album Mental Jewellery. He says that not only are the band extremely proud of their career, and that album in particular, but they are also looking back on the recording of that album and the period it was created to revitalise the band and their music and to see how much they have changed in the last quarter of a century.
“Well if you’re talking about the discography before the break the band has definitely gotten maybe more sophisticated as the time went on,” he said. “I think we all look back over the last couple of records and there are a lot of things we would do differently. We look back and say to each other I wish we could go back and play this differently or that differently. One of the things that has been really fun is going back to Mental Jewellery and sort of getting a re-education if you would of what we were like as nineteen, twenty year old fired up kids and it has been really beautiful to listen to that music and try to take that back into the studio and on the stage with us all these years later. Hopefully, we can recapture some of that with the new album.”