by Liza Mitchell
The end of one story is often the beginning of another. One of the most recognizable voices in music is rewriting his own history with a bold, new concert series. Ed Kowalczyk, the former lead singer of Live, will translate the songs that helped define a generation into the “I Alone Acoustic” Tour. Kowalczyk and bassist Chris Heerlein will perform Friday, Feb. 1 at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall (www.pvconcerthall.org).
“It’s kind of “I Alone Acoustic” plus one,” Kowalczyk laughed during a recent interview. “He sings background really beautifully and the acoustic bass has a melodic element to it that turns the whole thing into this really exceptional rock duo – I Alone, the duo.”
After two decades of fronting one of the most successful bands of the 90’s, Kowalczyk said he experienced an inner shift that left him feeling empty and unable to find the spark that music once held. “I definitely came to this sort of end of chapter moment in my life where I had been doing things the same way for almost 20 years and I kind of lost my mojo,” he said. “I lost my passion in a way for music and, as an artist that is a scary and painful thing. And so I looked at that as something telling me it’s time for a change.”
Willing to embrace an organic career evolution, Kowalczyk said he did what felt the most natural. He picked up his guitar and began to play. With such a deep well of material at his fingertips, Kowalczyk pared down selections in his vast archive of hits to the bare bones. He had performed acoustic radio spots and promos but had never played an entire concert that way. The impact, he said, was liberating.
“I was really surprised at how much fun it was. It was so great to reconnect with my fans on such an intimate level,” he said. “The delivery in the acoustic performance really kind of cuts to the bone and gets back to the raw emotion that is in those songs. It’s really emotionally uplifting and impactful and that really sent me on a path of just a huge renaissance creatively as a performer.”
Kowalczyk performs the most beloved songs released with Live as well as tracsk from his first solo album, “Alive,” issued in 2010 and selections from the recently released the EP “The Garden”. He has a new full-length album coming out this summer but for now, he is enjoying a rebirth of the music that led him to this newfound space and he is grateful to the fans that have stayed beside him along the way.
“I’ve always tried to write lyrics that go after big meaning, big questions in my own way and those questions are always relevant. Those questions that we approach are always timeless in a sense because we are always asking, we are always on a path, we are always searching,” he said. “So I think people as they’ve grown with songs from “Throwing Copper” and “Mental Jewelry,” those subjects still matter to them. This acoustic aspect of this is fundamental to my starting a new chapter as a performer and a songwriter.”
In the years since Kowalczyk was king, the music industry has undergone its own transformation. Artists and trends have changed. The digital revolution rendered the compact disc obsolete. Kowalczyk has released most of his new material in digital format before putting them out in hard copy. He regards CDs as almost an afterthought when releasing new material but he makes sure they are available for the “old schoolers who want a physical copy.” As the architect of his new concert series, Kowalczyk paid attention to every detail, seeking out unique spaces with acoustics that would compliment his music and create an intimate event for each audience.
“The music business changes and there are ups and downs but the constant has always been the joy in music and that has somehow continued to adapt and expand and that’s been the most amazing thing over the last few years and more importantly the last few months since I started this “I Alone Acoustic” tour,” he said. “We found these sort of perfect rooms that are really designed to have an amazing listening experience. Once we sort of honed in on where each show should take place, people have responded in a huge way. Not only with sold out shows but with huge emotion as well.”
Years ago when he was writing the anthems like “Lightning Crashes” and “I Alone,” Kowalczyk never imagined that these songs would still be engaging audiences this far down the line. But he was always keenly aware of the power that a song can have as a separate, living entity with a discernible pulse and the ability to be different things to different people.
“I try to allow the melody and the lyrics to emerge from a non-conceptual space. I may start humming a melody and I’ll hear a word or a phrase. And then the life that I’ve lived up to that point starts to kind of control the process and it becomes what I think the song could be about, whether it’s a specific spiritual ideal or concept,” he said. “I really try to let it emerge and that’s why I think this type of process works. It tends to touch a place that isn’t really definable and it allows a song to grow and allows me to adapt to it as well as I get older and more mature as an artist and still enjoy playing songs from the early 90’s that still mean so much to me.”
Moving ahead, Kowalczyk is proud of the totems that will remain as part of his legacy with Live as well as the ones he has yet to create as a solo artist. “When you are passionate about what you are doing, there is that crazy artist part of you that thinks the world needs to hear your perspective and I think you have to be just crazy enough to believe that. That being said, the humility comes into play and, of course, no one ever dreams of the success that I’ve had as an artist. You could never believe it but you have to believe it,” he said. “At the end of the day, singing and writing for me is such a part of who I am. Like anything in life, there is an ebb and flow and right now I’m in a place where I can try and rediscover exactly what brought to music in the first place. It’s just coming around again.”
ED KOWALCZYK interview
by Liza Mitchell