Spirituality has always been part of Ed Kowalczyk’s lyrics. On “Alive,” the solo album he put out independently last year after leaving hugely popular alt-rock band Live, that quality is definitely more prevalent.
“I took a page out of the U2 book,” said the singer/guitarist, in a phone interview from his home in Ojai, Calif.
“They’ve always had a universal approach. Nobody doubts they’re Christian, but there’s an open door to everybody in any walk of faith, to consume the music at any level they feel. I wanted to make sure that was the case with this record.”
Kowalczyk spent nearly 20 years in York, Pa. outfit Live, who racked up several big rock radio hits (“I Alone,” “Lightning Crashes,” “All Over You,” “Lakini’s Juice,” “The Dolphin’s Cry,” “Turn My Head”) and saw all four 1990s CDs go platinum or beyond. Following their 2006 effort “Songs from Black Mountain” and his subsequent exit, the vocalist drifted into a creative malaise.
“I had to stare into the void of inspiration I was having and unpack it. I was bored and tired doing things the same way. As a songwriter and performer, the routine of it all was sitting on the process. Shaking that up was absolutely what the doctor ordered.”
So Kowalczyk started doing acoustic gigs for the first time three years ago.
“I decided to give it a whirl and fell in love with it,” he said. Not only did the change serve as a “reconnection with my craft,” but the “bare bones nature of the shows led to an intimacy I was able to create with the fans in that environment. The connection to the [old Live] lyrics was reinvigorating for them and me.”
Although recent tours to support “Alive” have been in stripped down solo and full electric band modes, the current jaunt will find Kowalczyk utilizing a “power acoustic trio” with bass, guitar and drums. That decision came about only recently.
“Actually, it’s going to rock a little bit more than I had anticipated, which I’m sure none of my fans will have any problem with…I’m excited, because one of the fun things about this new chapter in my life is being a lot more spontaneous.”
The recording process for “Alive” was also done in an off-the-cuff manner. Kowalczyk traveled to Austin, where producer C.J. Eiriksson (Live, Incubus, Jack’s Mannequin) owned a studio and recruited local musicians.
“I went down there on a wing and a prayer,” admitted the singer, “and didn’t really know anyone. If I had any reservations, within 48 hours, they were completely gone. Drummer Ramy Antoun totally rocked my songs and made me think about ‘em in different ways.”
While the album’s sound isn’t far removed from the soft/loud dynamic of Live, Kowalczyk pointed out distinct differences.
“It was like night and day,” he said. “They weren’t coming in with any conditions or approaches. Everything was completely fresh. That lent itself to a real open experience in the studio with everybody trying things. There was a real spark.”
Among the standout tracks are the quietly moody “Soul Whispers,” intensely dark “Zion” (a gospel-tinged nod to late 1920s slide guitarist Blind Willie Johnson) and “The Great Beyond,” driven by cascading The Edge-styled guitars. Antoun’s propulsive beats gave the latter “this amazing rock/dance feel that I’d never done before,” Kowalczyk said. The song will be featured on the soundtrack to Irish comedy film “Killing Bono,” opening in the U.K. next month.
The dramatic and inspirational “Grace,” originally inspired by the catastrophic Haitian earthquake, takes on added depth in light of last week’s more devastating one in Japan.
Kowalczyk’s knack for intriguing lyrical metaphors continues on rock ballad “Drink (Everlasting Love),” which could refer to a spouse of higher power. Here, he sings: “I drink you like water/drink you like freedom/drink you like the nectar that falls from Eden.”
The tune was close to being finished before Kowalczyk attended a Chris Daughtry concert in Ventura. The pair – who met and performed together on “American Idol” and later became friends - returned to Kowalczyk’s house afterward. “We played each other some new ideas. Next thing you know, we were co-writing the rest of this really special song together.”
Last fall, the singer did a USO tour and got involved with a World Vision relief organization project to provide wells for safe drinking water in Zambian villages. Fans can donate money at his shows and website; even Kowalczyk’s daughter got involved. “We’re $600 closer to our goal, because of her third grade class World Vision bake sale.”
The venture is “so fulfilling and rewarding and touches so many lives - way beyond what you can imagine in terms of impact.”
Photo courtesy of Fresh Clean Media