The recently reunited, original line-up of Live: Ed Kowalczyk (vocals, guitar), Chad Taylor (guitar, backing vocals), Patrick Dahlheimer (bass) and Chad Gracey (drums, percussion) have recently announced they'll mark the 25th anniversary of their 1991 debut album, Mental Jewelry, with a deluxe reissue digitally and physically on Friday, August 11.
The newly remastered package includes an unreleased studio track (“Born Branded”) from the original album sessions along with two songs from the band’s 1991 Four Songs EP as well as a previously unreleased, 1992 concert from The Roxy in Los Angeles.
I recently spoke with Kowalczyk and Taylor about the album package, their reunion and more in this exclusive new interview.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 25 years since Mental Jewelry was released. When you look back on that album now with so much perspective, what thoughts come to mind?
Kowalczyk: What's been most exciting about the experience is not only listening to the original album but also the second CD, which is a live performance from The Roxy that we did back in 1992. Just to listen to that and realize that we were not fucking around. We were nineteen and swinging for the fences from the minute we stepped out with that album and tour.
What was the songwriting process like for the band back then?
Kowalczyk: We usually did a mixture of riffs and ideas to jam out and others where I might bring something in that was more fully-formed that we would tear down and rip apart. It's always been that hybrid and I think that’s even the way we're approaching our writing now.
Taylor: Because we were so young when we were writing, there were obviously no rules. It was a process of self-discovery. I can remember having conversations with Ed with my perception of how difficult it must be to write lyrics, and then he would tell me he was having problems putting together chord parts. But we always pushed each other.
Kowalczyk: One of the other things that strikes me is how much that energy at its core has never left the band. It's been a constant, intense and visceral approach to performing. We throw down hard every time we're on that stage.
Let’s discuss a few tracks from Mental Jewelry. What can you tell me about “Operation Spirit (The Tyranny of Tradition)”?
Kowalczyk: I remember sitting in the practice loft of Chad Gracey’s garage and Chad Taylor was there playing this rhythmic groove. I was following his rhythm and started doing a chant over that. There are only two or three more chords but there was enough to get an emotion across. Then you add Gracey’s drumming and how energetic the song is. We wanted a song that would grab people's attention right out of the box. It definitely did that.
Taylor: At the time, I had no idea I was even writing a song. I remember Ed telling me to keep playing and then he started singing overtop of it. That’s actually my first memory of a collaboration with Ed. The other funny story about that song is because it was one of the first songs we had written, I remember telling our manager that I didn't think it should be on the album. I have to laugh at that now because it came out of the box and was the signature thing that started to build the band. But again, we were young and blissfully unaware of the business and were just trying to put our best foot forward.
How about the track “Pain Lies on The Riverside”?
Kowalczyk: That was the first time I had a fully formed a song on acoustic guitar and walked in and said, “Hey, what do you guys think?” Chad playing that cool shaker part and that groove was something I never would have imagined. But that was the brilliance of the band. Our songs were never one train of thought. They were an amalgam of jamming free flow versus here's a full formed song. Let’s learn how we can make it fit.
How did the band come back together?
Kowalczyk: Chad and I met up for a beer in York about a year and a half ago, and the rest is the history of the reunion. It was a magical beer [laughs].
Taylor: When you turn into adults it’s easy to go your own way. But the truth is, it’s the magic in the music that pulled us back together along with the sheer volume and magnitude of our friendship.
Ed, what was the biggest thing you’ve learned since reuniting with Chad?
Kowalczyk: Having known Chad since grade school and being in a band since I was thirteen, I like to say that when we got back together it felt like riding an old bike that was brand new. We have this great foundation and chemistry and muscle memory that just kicked right in. But I also noticed that we were stronger. After everything we had gone through we came back sounding better than ever.
What can fans expect from Live’s current reunion tour?
Kowalczyk: We're having a great time performing on the festival circuit but there hasn’t been much time for us to flesh out anything new. We're looking to do a release of new music next year and more of our own shows.
How would you describe the new music the band’s been working on?
Kowalczyk: It's a bit of a mix so far. We have a few songs with a sound that no one will mistake for being anything but LIVE, but we also have some unique grooves that we've never played before. I love the fact that we've decided to push ourselves further artistically but at the same time stay anchored to what we do.
What excites you the most about the reunion and this next phase of Live?
Kowalczyk: It's gets more exciting every day. The shows are getting better and we have an incredible studio in PA that we have access to 24/7 and so many amazing sources of inspiration and support. It feels like we're in a magical spot and the fans are feeding off it too. Everyone is thrilled that we're back together and I’m excited to put out some new music next year and flesh out a full show. Every aspect of it has just been awesome.
Taylor: I think a lot of it has to do with how aligned this band is at the moment. The good side of the push and pull and the dynamic of what makes a great rock and roll band is happening now. But we've been around long enough to know that’s not always the case. So, we're all doing our best to keep the golden chalice intact and ride that wave.
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.