He couldn’t have been more eager to talk about Live’s fifth album, V, which comes out September 18. Every time frontman Ed Kowalczyk started to explain the creative process for the disc, though, a Chihuahua circled his feet and yapped noisily.
“Will you just shut up?” the singer snapped at the dog, momentarily breaking his Zen-like disposition.
“She’s a girl and we fixed her,” he continued. “They say sometimes after you fix them they get all barky.”
The animal is one of three dogs that circulate through Kowalczyk’s Los Angeles house, where he lives with his wife, Erin, when he’s not on tour – which until last year was rarely. Live spent 14 months straight on the road to promote their 1999 album, The Distance to Here, playing on five continents. And since he’s not exactly the party-till-dawn, sleep-till-noon kind of guy, Kowalczyk found time to write lots of new material on the road.
“I wrote this record in some really strange places,” he said. “There were so many times I wound up writing on balconies, in bathrooms or even high school locker rooms. We’d play these colleges and we’d be in the smelly locker room that had just emptied out. That was often the only place I could find that was quiet enough to write in.”
When Live returned from the road in October 2000, they went straight into their friend Alain Johannes’ studio in Los Angeles to work on Kowalczyk’s 20-plus new songs. Johannes, one half of the Los Angeles rock band Eleven, co-produced the album. In the studio, the singer’s creativity kept on flowing. Before heading to a recording session one morning, he banged out the upbeat rocker “Flow.” The next day, lightning struck again, and the Beatles-esque ballad “Call Me a Fool” was born.
“The way you hear ‘Call Me a Fool’ on the record is the way it sounded at 8 p.m. the very day it was written,” Kowalczyk said. “I remember reading stories about Jimi Hendrix walking in, showing the band the song and within two or three takes, that would be the record. This was kind of like us heading in that direction, which was really cool.”
The ever-changing atmospheres in which V was written and the speed with which it was recorded have resulted in some of Live’s heaviest material to date. The first single, “Simple Creed,” buzzes with the bluesy charge of Led Zeppelin and the positive power of Creed. “People Like You” combines surging guitar riffs, pummeling drums and agitated vocals. “OK” percolates to a funk-rock rhythm, rapid wah-wah guitar strums and screaming sirens.
“This is really a street record,” Kowalczyk said proudly after a moment of deliberation. “It has a feel to it which I totally attribute to taking the energy from the fans every night and pouring it into the music. The basic message for Live since the very beginning has been to not be afraid of taking on these big themes and make universal music. This time, I wanted to do that in a way that was aggressive to show people that our music doesn’t have to be just beautiful ballads.”
In addition to being fueled by the road, the singer was energized by his frustration with mainstream radio. Sure, Live staples like “I Alone,” “Lightning Crashes” and “Lakini’s Juice” don’t sound too far removed from Train or Lifehouse, but the aggregation of teen pop and mainstream rock has motivated Live to take some chances. As a result, tracks such as “Intro,” “Deep Enough” and “Like a Soldier” are flavored with evocative drum loops, eerie samples and impressive musical diversity.
“I wanted to record these songs as fast as Live could play them. And then we listened back to it all to see what we could add without taking away from Chad Gracey’s drums,” Kowalczyk said. “So we found ways to add these cool drum’n’bass parts. We would pull the drums and guitars away [while we were recording the techno parts], and just listen to the grooves we were creating. There was this weird alchemy going on, which was amazing.”
A number of guest stars contribute to the eclectic V, including trip-hop pioneer Tricky, who raps in the breakdown of “Simple Creed,” and Counting Crows singer Adam Duritz. Kowalczyk, a longtime Tricky fan, hooked up with him after their two management companies merged, but the meeting of the minds wasn’t premeditated.
“I was on the phone with a friend of mine, who’s an engineer, and out of the blue he said, ‘Hey, somebody wants to talk to you,’ ” Kowalczyk said. “It was Tricky. He asked me to come over and check out this track ‘Evolution Revolution Love.’ So I came over and sang the melody on it, and then we hung out and he came into our studio and returned the favor. It was all just a mutual affirmation of how much we loved each other’s music.”
A video for “Simple Creed” was shot early last month in Burbank, California, by Marc Webb. The footage is mostly live, but the clip also contains narrative threads that vibe with Kowalczyk’s positive lyrics.
“The verses are kind of aggressive and they’re partially about gratuitous over-the-top violence in lyrics,” he said. “So Marc has this pit bull in a shot and everyone’s giving it hell. Then the chorus is this universal message about needing each other and loving each other, so everybody in the video is hanging out and getting along. I really like it because it reminds me of the Clash’s video for ‘Rock the Casbah.’ “