If Live frontman Ed Kowalczyk is nervous about the release of his band's new record, The Distance to Here, he certainly doesn't show it. Most artists in Kowalczyk's position would. After all, Live are releasing their first new set of songs in nearly three years, and their last batch, which composed the album Secret Samadhi, didn't wow too many fans or critics. But Kowalczyk is too balanced and level-headed to allow little things like chart positions and sales figures to kill his buzz. Maybe it has something to do with his regular meditation regimen or his warm, gentle and easygoing personality. More likely, however, Kowalczyk is so content under pressure because he knows he and his bandmates have delivered a record as engaging as their second disc Throwing Copper without sacrificing the emotional growth they achieved with Secret Samadhi. Shortly before a fan club gig in Miami, the city where The Distance to Here was mixed, Kowalczyk took some time to talk about experimentation, classic rock, and the power of positive thinking.
Guitar.com: Your new album, The Distance to Here, is more poppy and straightforward than your last disc Secret Samadhi. It's more like the first two records of your career.
Ed Kowalczyk: Yeah, Samadhi was really us trying all kinds of new things and indulging ourselves. I remember telling people, "This is us experimenting. This is us using the freedom of being a 'big' rock band to grow."
Guitar.com: Were you frustrated by the negative feedback you received from Secret Samadhi?
Kowalczyk: I never really think about anything in terms of success or failure commercially or critically. I believed in Secret Samadhi for different reasons than what people in the world were looking for from Live. I believed in that record as a transition. I look at it as the reason this record is so good -- because of all the things we did and the stuff we experimented with in the studio. It was good, too, because sometimes you have to be reminded of what you don't want to do anymore, or what you thought was attractive at a period of time, but isn't what we want to be known for. In was a learning experience, and it was totally positive in that regard, and I think when people hear this record they'll hear the treasure that we brought from that process coupled with better songs, more energy.
Guitar.com: How did you approach the creation of The Distance to Here?
Kowalczyk: Ed Kowalczyk has always been a guy that sits down and tries to write the best songs possible. On this record in particular, I grabbed an acoustic guitar and tried to make every single song stand up and convince myself and whoever was around me by just using that instrument. That was very challenging because being in a band can sometimes alleviate the intensity of the songwriting process by having four people working on everything. But the songs that I contributed to this record were all done alone sitting down with my acoustic, and a lot of them were done really quickly and simply. The first single, "The Dolphins Cry" -- as many times as it took me to play it five times, it was written.
Guitar.com: That's an important process. A lot of bands miss the boat by covering everything up in a sheen of distortion and effects and production tricks, but they don't have that strong foundation underneath so it becomes all style, no substance.
Kowalczyk: I really went back in my influence landscape for this album. I delved absolutely into the late '60s, and listened to very stripped down recordings -- the Doors, The Beatles -- the stripped down production that was absolutely about the song. Not only that, but the inherent power of that era was very inspiring. Every time we'd write a song, I'd go back and think to myself, "There's something very rootsy about what we're doing on this record." It's elemental in the sense that I've got back to my elements as a songwriter, but also, as a band we've kind of gone back to a rawer performance edge than I think we've ever had. I think on this studio record we came as close as we've ever gotten to capturing the sound of just the four of us playing. There aren't very many overdubs, but yet there is production. But it's all very well placed.
Guitar.com: How much material did you have going into the record?
Kowalczyk: We wrote about 50 songs. We didn't record that many, but [lead guitarist] Chad [Taylor] and I wrote the most songs ever, and the ones that made the record were obviously the best stuff we had.
Guitar.com: Was the paring down process difficult?
Kowalczyk: It was very difficult. I still think that sequencing a record is sometimes the hardest part because it's such a subtle thing. People have their favorite songs, but you want the best record, and trying to gauge what should be on it can be extremely difficult.
Guitar.com: The riff on "Sparkle" is pretty monstrous, and has a cool Nirvana-style feel to it.
Kowalczyk: Yeah, people shouldn't get the idea that we've made some kind of adult/ contemporary blunder. This record is very out there sonically. "Sparkle," and even "The Dolphins Cry" have big guitars and powerful drumming, but then the lyrics are very yin and yang.
Guitar.com: Is it that yin and yang quality that allows the music to retain its energy and power?
Kowalczyk: Absolutely. I think of this new Live music as sort of being like modern gospel in a way. There's a song called "Feel the Quiet River Edge" that just had to go there. It had to be this big happy song in the end but also have all the intensity. The end of it starts to sound like "White Discussion" from Throwing Copper, but it's much more positive. It's much more about this finding or discovering something which has now informed the music, rather than feeling like we're not there yet and we're really upset about it. The personal path that we've been on has become a happier one, but in some ways the music has got even more energy than ever.
Guitar.com: Where did this change in tone come from? Was it due to your personal change in spirituality?
Kowalczyk: I've kind of made the decision that the specifics about my spiritual practices are a personal matter. And more importantly, I want the fans to know that when you're listening to the four of us you're listening to my lyrics and my singing and playing and Chad's guitar. You're hearing our hearts. You're hearing the four of us, and it's very important to me that people realize that they're getting it directly from the deepest place that we know how to bring it forward from.
Guitar.com: How do you stay grounded?
Kowalczyk: I've thought about this a lot. It's been a process. I think what has gotten me through all the phases of popularity has just been my love of the art form of music. I probably play more guitar and write more songs now than I ever have in my life. It's just such a grounding experience. Playing in this band is very grounding. It's very earthy and it's very centering and it focuses my life to what it absolutely is about, which is giving people the best songs and the most heartfelt experience possible. So we've become a stronger band because of it. We've somehow come full circle. We titled the record The Distance to Here because of all that's happened, but also because it's here, it's now. Here feels really new now, it doesn't feel like a band that's been around half my life -- 14 years. It feels brand new.
Guitar.com: Has being a band for so long strengthened your chemistry?
Kowalczyk: Absolutely. We have a relationship between the four of us that is very organic. We all grew pubic hair together. You can't get any closer than that.