Posted November 8, 2013 by Jeff in Tunes

He Alone: Live’s Ed Kowalczyk starts a new chapter

Ed Kowalczyk
Ed Kowalczyk

When he was still in middle school, Ed Kowalczyk formed the spiritually-inspired rock act Live. The group would go to sell millions of albums in the ’90s before it came to an ugly end in 2009 and band members filed a lawsuit against Kowalczyk, alleging that he owed them royalties and needed to cease using the Live name. Kowalczyk, for his part, has moved on to recording and performing as a solo artist. His “I Alone” tour starts this week in support of his new album The Flood and the Mercy, a disc which again puts his powerful voice up front but features more textures and layers of music than past recordings. He recently phoned us from his Connecticut home.

You’ve been doing the solo thing for several years now. Talk about the process of making that transition and what it’s been like.
I’ve been doing an acoustic tour for most of this year. I got to an end of a chapter moment a couple of years ago. I was losing interest in doing things the same way. I grabbed an acoustic guitar and started to do shows. That was a huge moment. I surprised myself at how excited I was to do it, how intimate the shows were and how well I connected with the fans. It sparked a new interest in playing shows and making music. That was almost four years ago, in 2009.

But you plug in for the albums. Talk about making the albums as a solo artist and what that’s been like.
Being the principal writer and singer in Live, my craft and the approach hasn’t changed that much. The biggest change is the musicians I play with and my new producer, Jamie Candiloro, who worked on this record. On record, I’m still inspired to make the songs with big guitars and big production to capture the dynamic of what I’m doing. The Flood and the Mercy is mostly a rock record. I’m touring with an acoustic guitar behind it. The intensity of the lyrics and melody might come out a bit stronger in listening room environments . . . I might end up with an acoustic record. I still do full band as well.

Talk about working with producer Jamie Candiloro on the album.
This album was unique for me. Typically, the way I would make records is to have the song and have guys tracking with you. This record, we didn’t do that. I would lay the song down and then take my guitar out and go into each song and we would allow ourselves to find new patterns and rhythms and approaches to what I was doing. Jamie is an incredible musician. We play everything on the record. As a couple of mad scientists, we dig in to see what we can do. Peter Buck plays on nine songs. It’s amazing because I’m a huge fan of his. Rachel Yamagata sings on three songs. We have some high caliber guests and it was an amazing record to make.

How did you end up working with Peter Buck?
I’ve known the guys in R.E.M. off and on for years. I sang with them in the mid-’90s at Hershey Stadium. I’m a huge fan from when I was a kid. I hadn’t seen him in four or five years. Jamie worked on two or three R.E.M. records. He was at a wedding that Peter was attending and told Peter about it my album. He said Peter wanted to play on my record. We went to Portland to record with him. It was great.

I like to make albums that tell that emotional story and have that arc and not just putting a bunch of songs together. I take time with the sequence.

I love how you come out heavy and hard on the new album’s opening track “The One.” Talk a bit about the inspiration for that song.
I like to make albums that tell that emotional story and have that arc and not just putting a bunch of songs together. I take time with the sequence. On that song, I’m just going for it. I’ve been through whatever I’ve been through. I’m taking a leap with this solo career and it’s going great, but I’m not finished yet. That’s the spirit of the first song. Then, the album touches a lot of different places emotionally and includes a lot of different textures. It could be my finest yet in that respect.

“Parasite” also has a good nasty edge to it. Did you have someone in particular in mind when you wrote that song?
That’s my Wall Street song. I had a guy come up to me not that long ago and he said, “I don’t know what the song is about but you took the words I wanted to say to my boss the other day right out of my mouth.” It’s really that song about how everyone has that person who is just living you and living off your energy and sapping you. It’s about knocking the barnacles off your boat once in a while and how that’s inevitable in life.

What inspired “Cornerstone”?
That’s a Bob Marley song. I had heard it watching the Bob Marley movie, which was great. There’s a moment where he describes growing up and his father was white and aristocratic and he was mixed race and he felt ostracized by the family. He felt like the cornerstone that had been refused. He wanted to make a statement. It made me think in ways about how we perceive things or perceive value in the world is off kilter with how everything develops. I work with World Vision and we do a lot of work in Africa. Every time I see pictures of those kids suffering and struggling to get to school, I think if that kid had an opportunity, he might be the next president of that country. We have no idea. We don’t see his soul or destiny. We can’t perceive that. There’s a faith element to it that says everyone has some kind of greatness that needs to be tapped. Marley said that in such a beautiful way.

Some songs have spiritual overtones. Talk about your beliefs and how they work their way into the songs on this album.
I’ve always had this element in my music and in my life of valuing all the spiritual traditions, even  beyond music. When I first heard U2 when I was 16 or 17 and saw them on the Joshua Tree tour, it blew me away. Here’s this full package of uncompromising spiritual message done in a way that’s so cool and unique and powerful. They really inspired me simply because of that unique blend. I try to keep my music inspired by my faith but also keep it open to anyone, whether it’s just a feeling of freedom or whether they want to dig deeper. That’s what I get from U2.

That’s how the world is going to get together—when we decide the most important thing is respecting the other traditions because they all have something to offer and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t get along.

How do you define your faith?
I’m a Christian and definitely came back full circle through my life of many paths. I was born and raised in the faith and embraced it as an adult. I say that but I also have respect and still feel free to take wisdom from all the tradition and keep an open mind. That’s how the world is going to get together—when we decide the most important thing is respecting the other traditions because they all have something to offer and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t get along.

You still playing the Live songs in your sets?
I play all the hits from my work from “Selling the Drama” to “I Alone” and “Lightning Crashes.” I play a smattering of solo stuff and a few covers. The show has been gradually getting a little longer. I start taking requests and once I do that, who knows how long it will go.

Have you put the past behind you?
Absolutely. At the end of the day, the whole thing was about growing as an artist and person. It was a tumultuous transition. At the same time, it’s the most excited I’ve felt about music. There’s this balance. I continue to feel really blessed and grateful for all my experiences in the original group and now. It’s beautiful.

Upcoming 2013 Tour Dates

























The Center for Arts in Natick – Natick, MA

Imperial de Quebec – Quebec City Canada

Club Soda – Montreal Canada

Joe’s Pub **SOLD OUT** – New York NY

Joe’s Pub **SOLD OUT** – New York NY

The Pullo Center – York PA

WV University Creative Arts Center – Morgantown WV

Eddie’s Attic – Decatur GA

Lyric Theatre & Cultural Art Center           – Lexington KY

Franklin Theatre – Franklin TN

The Kent Stage – Kent OH

Blueberry Hill – Duck Room St. Louis MO

SPACE – Evanston IL

Dosey Doe – The Woodlands TX

One World Theatre – Austin TX

The Kessler – Dallas TX

RIO Theatre – Vancouver CA

The Triple Door – Seattle, WA

The Seasons Performance Hall – Yakima, WA

Aladdin Theater – Portland, OR

Assembly – Sacramento, CA

Cafe Du Nord – San Francisco, CA

The Grammy Museum – Los Angeles, CA

Belly Up – Solana Beach, CA


Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected].