When the four members of Live first began performing together in middle school during the summer of 1985, they gave little, if any, thought to the possibility that they would still be together 22 years later. Lead singer/frontman/guitarist Ed Kowalczyk, lead guitarist Chad Taylor, bassist Patrick Dahlheimer and drummer Chad Gracey (all of whom were in their early teens at the time) were simply four friends from working-class York, Pennsylvania who wanted to express themselves by writing and performing music. But Live has, in fact, endured—and along the way, they have built an impressive résumé that includes eight full-length albums, total CD sales exceeding 20 million, a huge international fan base and extensive touring all over the world. Live has been one of the most successful and enduring alternative rock bands of the 1990s and 2000s, and despite their long list of achievements, Live are finding themselves busier than ever with a lot of songwriting, recording and big summer and fall tours.
Reflecting on the band’s past and present, Kowalczyk attributes Live’s longevity to a variety of things, including their strong rapport with fans and the chemistry that Live’s members have enjoyed with one another. “When bands become successful, the fact that all of the members have different agendas can come out,” Kowalczyk explains. “But that didn’t happen to Live because all of us were so young when we started playing together in 1985. It would be a lie to say that there weren’t moments when we didn’t get along, but the fact that we grew up together and developed our personalities in the band at such a young age helped us to stay together.”
Another thing that has enabled Live to maintain a devoted fan base, Kowalczyk theorizes, is the substantial and durable nature of their lyrics, which have often reflected Kowalczyk’s personal and spiritual concerns. “My approach as a songwriter is to write songs that are not finite and will resonate with listeners for a really long time,” Kowalczyk asserts. “Sixteen years after our first album, Mental Jewelry, I am still able to get something out of songs Live recorded in the early 1990s--and I think that one of the reasons why we have had so many fans for so long is that our fans are also continuing to find nuances in our songs.”
Live wasn’t always called Live; in the mid-to-late 1980s, the band went through several name changes before settling on Public Affection. After acquiring an enthusiastic local following, Public Affection made their recording debut in 1989 (the year Kowalczyk graduated from high school) with a cassette titled The Death of a Dictionary (which was released on their own label, Action Front Records). After hearing the band (which was renamed Live in the early 1990s) performing at the famous CBGB’s in New York City, Radioactive Records President Gary Kurfirst wasted no time offering them a contract--and their first full-length album, Mental Jewelry (which was produced by Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads fame) was released in 1991. One heard a variety of influences on Mental Jewelry, ranging from U2 to REM to Peter Gabriel to the Beatles. But it was clear that Kowalczyk and his colleagues had fashioned a distinctive, recognizable sound of their own.
“I always think of Mental Jewelry as the first real chapter in Live’s recording history,” Kowalczyk stresses. “When we changed the name of the band to Live, I had made a clear choice what kind of lyrics there were going to be and how I was going to express them. Mental Jewelry was the first real expression of Live’s vision. When I listen to that album now, I can’t believe how serious-minded and philosophical we were at such a young age.”
Mental Jewelry [which included the major hits “Pain Lies by the Riverside” and “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition)”] sold more than one million units in the United States. The disc that truly put Live over the top commercially was their sophomore album, Throwing Copper (a 1994 release), which was the only album in Billboard history to stay on the charts for 52 weeks, then reach No. 1. Selling more than 12 million copies worldwide, Throwing Copper went down in history as one of the most definitive alternative rock recordings of that decade and boasted the MTV smashes “All Over You,” “Selling the Drama,” “Lightning Crashes” and “I Alone.” The double-platinum 1997 release Secret Samadhi (which contained the hits “Lakini’s Juice” and “Turn My Head”) became Live’s second successive No. 1 album and was followed by the Radioactive releases The Distance to Here (a million-seller) in 1999, V in 2001 (which yielded the hit song “Overcome”) and Birds of Pray in 2003 (that featured the cross-over radio smash, “Heaven”). Songs from Black Mountain, Live’s most recent full-length album, was released byEpic Records in 2006. Live has appeared on NBC’s popular, long-running “Saturday Night Live” as well as David Letterman and Jay Leno’s shows, The Ellen Degeneres Show, Conan O’Brien and, most notably, the 2006 “American Idol” season finale.
Technologically, Live’s members have witnessed many changes over the years.“In terms of technology,” Kowalczyk observes, “it’s a totally different world from when Live started. One of the things that is great about the Internet is the way it enables you to connect directly with fans.”
A major marketing tool for the band, Live´s website, FriendsOfLive.com, enables them to sell the titles in their catalog and merchandise online, offer sneak previews of new recordings along with other exclusive content through their fanclub, Friends of Live (FOL), and keep followers up to date on touring activity. Live’s current tourmarks the first time since 1990 that a Live tour isn’t directly aligned to promote a new album; Live’s career-spanning sets are celebrating their great history, by featuring greatest moments from all their releases along with some special surprises.
“I think Live is at a really interesting point right now,” Kowalczyk reflects. “We’ve been doing this for so long and have worked really hard to get to this point where we can play for two hours and have such a huge repertoire of songs to choose from. People love the fact that we are doing these long sets, and we are really enjoying it. But we are still in our early thirties, and I feel like we still have a lot of room to grow and experiment. Creatively, Live is still wide open.”