Pennsylvania’s Live are, at once, one of the most enduring and criminally underrated bands of the Grunge era. The classic lineup consisting of frontman Ed Kowalczyk, guitarist Chad Taylor, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer, and drummer Chad Gracey sold went 20 times platinum over the course of eight studio albums. Recent years have been mired with band drama and legal turmoil in a dispute over the Live name between Ed and the rest of the band; during this time, Chris Shinn picked up vocal duties.
However, bygones are bygones and the original lineup decided to get back together in 2016. They are preparing to reintroduce the world to Live’s brand of hard rock music on a summer festival circuit, after which they will debut a new album that Ed and Chad described to me as being experimental, yet undeniably “Live”. You can read my full interview with the two below. They recant some of their favorite memories growing up as a young band in the years of Beavis and Butthead and Bill Clinton while laying the groundwork for a newly invigorated Live for the late 2010’s.
How did this reunion start?
Ed Kowalczyk: It started basically with a beer between Chad and Myself in our hometown of York, Pennsylvania, a little over a year now. Time’s flying. We took a long break. Time had gone by where things settled out to the point, where all the good things that we built together and great times we had as a band leading up to my hiatus outweighed, in such a huge way, anything negative that had happened. Time went by and that reemerged really naturally. We started to miss each other and what we did together. So yeah, it all started like that: Chad and I texted and got together for a beer. Within a week were playing some songs together up in the rehearsal place and started to write new music right away as well.
So it was a really seamless transition back into the studio for you guys?
Ed: Really quick, yeah. Everybody was just chomping at the idea of getting back together and to play. It all gelled together: the performing side, the creative side. We were getting offers to play at some of these really great festivals and lineups. It all came together really magically, really.
Can you give us any idea of what new material would sound like? Is it comparable to any other Live record?
Chad Taylor: It’s interesting because I think the excitement, and I guess I’d use the term “reverence”, for music we created in the past certainly has fueled an expectation even among ourselves, to push ourselves artistically. So while there’s the common four of Chad, Patrick, Ed & I, and we’ll always sound like Live, there’s room for experimentation. I think that there’s a couple songs that when you instantly hit play, you’d think, “That’s Live!” There’s others that might make you think, “Hmm… I’m wondering what band this is. It sounds somewhat familiar.” The classic elements of the band, sonically, are there, but I think we’ve pushed ourselves in new areas. We’ve been listening to a lot of music over the past eight years. There’s been a ton of influence upon us since we made our last record together. So all that influence… you can hear that in the music too. I think our fans in particular will be thrilled with the direction that we are going in.
Ed: I agree, and I think, like Chad mentioned, all the music that we’ve been exposed to in the break of the last eight years… I think there’s almost a mission to rock, to be a rock band, to go out in 2017 and rock out. Make songs as amazing as we can. There’s definitely a sense of us being categorized as a 90’s band, but we go out and play shows like Lollapalooza, we certainly have the sense of longevity of being on a bill like that, but to be surrounded by a lot of new music and new artists… to be able to say we’re gonna jump
up there and do our thing, I think there’s a sense of unique excitement to reintroduce modern audiences to what this band does. To see us throw down up there on stage, the way Live does it… I think that’s why our fans love what we do. We’re passionate about getting it out there again.
Chad: Like Ed mentioned, Lollapalooza… that’s an audience of people that are the opposite of preaching to the choir! There are lots of fans out there who have never heard Live. We’ve been around this many years as a band, and you still have the chance to gain new fans, new exposure. It’s not just all tried and true. And of course there’s the fans who are dying to see the original lineup together.
Do you guys have any favorite memories playing festivals back from your original run? You put on great sets at Woodstock 94 and Pinkpop 2000.
Ed: Oh sure, not just back in the 90’s, but festivals in general. Some of my fondest memories overall come from standing with Chad on the side of the stage… we were standing there at some festival in Australia watching Nine Inch Nails with Lou Reed! Watching Robert Plant from that side of the stage. If you go back, a lot of memories that still shine through are from the festivals. This is just design by us this year, to play these sorts of shows. They are so inspiring and generate memories, such an incredible experience. Let’s take all this excitement of playing with guys like Tom Petty, Soundgarden…
Chad: Foo Fighters!
Ed: Yup, Foo Fighters! We take that excitement into the studio with us. That’s not something you can get on tour with yourself. You get a different set of experiences, and the festival is unique in that sense. Woodstock… going all the way back to ’94, it’s such a huge part of what we do and we love it.
Chad: Doug, did you know that Live’s first quote on quote “festival billing” was MTV’s 120 minutes tour? It was Johnny Rotten, Mick Jones from The Clash, Audio Dynamite,
the guys from Blind Melon. You talk about creating memories, I look back on it, they were pretty iconic guys to be hanging out with. I think it was before we were even 21 years old.
Wow, that’s crazy.
Chad: Yeah, we were so blessed and lucky. We toured with The Ramones. There I just named the quintessential Punk trifecta, and if you throw in Jerry Harrison from The Modern Lovers/Talking Heads, and it was a pretty crazy early existence for the band.
Ed: And that was before we even put our album out!
You were living the dream and you weren’t even 25 yet. Amazing.
Ed: Yup! Like Chad said, there’s such a sense of excitement and gratitude as we’ve gotten to this point, not only with our age, but being a band for so long. You can just look at that stuff and go, “wow, what an amazing history we have”, and what’s on our plate to make even more with some of these shows that we are doing. Pretty freaking exciting.
Chad: Doug, I think it was the early 90’s, ’91 or ’92, we were on tour and had a date in San Francisco. We were staying in a shoddy motel, that was the level the band was at. The guys from Nirvana were staying in the same motel. MTV was debuting Operation Spirit. We shoved all the guys from Nirvana and Live in the motel lobby because that was the only television in the motel that had cable. [everyone laughs] We were telling those guys, “listen, you guys are gonna be huge! Like, so huge!”
Chad: They were telling us that we were going great, but we told them, “You guys are going to be the biggest band in the world.” We knew so little. Really, honestly. Especially Nirvana. You couldn’t imagine how iconic they would become. It’s memories like those that really stand out. I’m trying to explain that to my kids and they can’t even really relate!
While we’re still lingering on the topic of the 90’s, do you have any thoughts on Pearl Jam’s induction into the Rock Hall of Fame?
Ed: Oh, they’re awesome. Going back to festivals and great memories, we played with Pearl Jam in Pinkpop back in 2000, give or take a year. It was such a beautiful night. The sun was going down over this huge field in Holland. Just standing there, watching Pearl Jam from the side of the stage… I’d never seen the band. I’d seen Eddie [Vedder] a few times solo, but I’ve never seen the band. We were just mesmerized and thought they were just incredible. Pinkpop has this massive sea of people, singing the songs. We were so busy touring that if we hadn’t been playing a festival together, I probably wouldn’t have been able to see them.
Chad: I think the coolest thing that they’re doing is taking all of the band’s drummers with them. Dave Krusen had just recorded at my recording studio a couple of months ago, and I’m good friends with him. So it’s just such an incredible thing. I know he is so honored that he is going in with the band and getting inducted. It’s such a great feeling for the band to take a look at their whole history and all of the various people they toured with and say, “Everybody’s gotta come.” Pretty special for those guys.
Getting back into the here and now, will you be performing any material recorded with Chris Shinn on upcoming tour dates, with Ed on vocals? How did Chris take this sudden reunion?
Chad: We have not had those discussions. With the festival shows, you have limited set you. Having a twenty two year history, are you not going to play “Lightning Crashes” or “I Alone”? At this point I think fans will be excited to hear new songs from the original lineup.
Ed: Yeah, at this point the original lineup being back and being focused on this incredible history we have, like Chad said. To say we’re focused on that is natural. Focusing on what we created together.
Chad: We were so lucky. Chris’s spirit was literally… well, let’s say he actually came to me and said, “We gotta get Ed back!” There was always that inclusive factor there. How we even met Chris was on a festival oriented stage with The Counting Crows and his band.
One of the things we’ve learned after this whole time period ist hat we are blessed to be surrounded by all these helpful friends, family members, musicians, people that encourage us to take a deeper luck at each other, our friendships, our brotherhood. The music we created. The whole time period with Chris was sort of us relearning, “Do we even want to make Live music?” I think Ed had to discover it, myself and everyone else had to discover it as well. The songs will not go away. I can tell you, as one of the four lucky guys in the room the first time we ever strapped on our instruments and played together, it was magic. It was better than what I ever remembered. I think that sort of enthusiasm we are excited to share with Live fans and music fans across the globe.
Do you guys have any plans to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Secret Samadhi?
Ed: Every couple of years there is a new birthday to celebrate from the 90’s! I prefer the 25 year anniversary, in this case Mental Jewelry. We plan on rereleasing that on vinyl. Considering the semantics of that, I’m sure Secret Samadhi will be no different! You know, when we play, we’ve always tried to structure our set to cover every album in the band’s history. In the sense of these anniversaries, it just brings a little more focus to that album. Again with Mental Jewelry 25, we’re gonna be doing the singles from that pretty much all the time as an ode to that album. I’m sure at some point Secret Samadhi will get that focus. Not sure if we’d have a whole album tour. Probably not, because we play a lot of those songs anyway. We may get a little more focused on these albums and bury out a few deeper cuts, sure. People still care about remembering that 25 years later, and we owe it to everyone to celebrate when we can.