Gratitude is a powerful feeling, capable of healing emotional wounds and opening new opportunities. Ed Kowalczyk, the lead vocalist of +LIVE+, is living the power of gratitude nightly on the 25 Years and Counting tour with Counting Crows. After a nasty split in 2009, +LIVE+ reunited in 2016, and to hear it from Kowalczyk, it feels so good. I caught up with Kowalczyk on the phone to discuss the tour ahead of their September 1st show at Riverbend.
It’s great to talk to you. I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: when I was fourteen, I had a +LIVE+ bumper sticker on my first guitar.
I like it. (laughs) That’s awesome.
Tell me a little bit about how the tour is going – it’s, what, fifty dates?
Yeah, it’s close to it. It is going incredibly well. We get along great with Counting Crows – this is our third tour with those guys, and they’re just beautiful people on stage and off stage. Adam and I are good buddies, so there’s lots of camaraderie there, and the fans really appreciate this package. You know, you put these two bands together and we play a 70-minute set. We get to all of our old records, we play our new songs; it’s a pretty comprehensive set. Then, of course, the Crows could play hit songs all night if they wanted to. I mean, it’s pretty incredible when you put these two bands together how many songs you know, and how much the music still means to people. I mean, it’s a real celebration out here.
I don’t really want to talk about the split, that’s been talked about, and the reunion story, that’s been published. But tell me about, now that your back with the guys, got the vibe going again: how’s that feel?
It feels incredible. I mean, you mentioned the things that, of course, happened in our past, and I don’t think anybody three years ago or even more recent than that expected that we would get back together – including us. And I think that there’s this level of gratitude and there’s an extra sense of appreciation between the four of us for not only our friendship but our chemistry on stage and all that. And I think, you know, those smiles you see on our Instagram – those are real. You know, we’re having a blast out here. We also, I think, sound better than ever. We have an expanded lineup with a drummer/percussionist Robin Diaz playing with us, as well as my guitar player when I was solo, a guy named Zak Loy, who is our second guitarist. So we’ve expanded the lineup, we’re having a blast with those guys, and just going at these songs with that much more musical firepower has really been exciting.
When was the last time you guys were in Cincinnati?
With +LIVE+, it’s been a while. As a solo artist I was there a few times. As I said, it’s our third tour with Counting Crows and our first one was in 2001, so that was probably the last time we were in that venue.
What’s been a highlight of the tour so far?
Oh, gosh. Well, I’d have to say the first thing that comes to my mind is the level of heat and humidity all over this country. I mean, if you want to get a taste of this national heat wave, jump on my bus for a couple weeks. I mean, I have been wringing my shirt out every night. I was disgusting. I mean, it’s an absolute endurance test. I feel like I’m on kind of a triathlon that’s going to last two months. And it’s funny, because Adam and I are both bitching about it back stage, just, “You know, what a great tour. Oh my God, it’s hot.” (laughs) That’s what everybody’s saying. So, shit, I would say, fun memories so far – gosh, every night has been just musically, I think, a revelation for everybody in our band, and just the way that we’re performing together and the level that we’re hitting. You know, you can get, in a tour, you can easily get into a routine where you’re playing virtually the same set or the same songs every night and it starts to get routine. It really hasn’t for us, and a lot of that’s our extra guys in the lineup bringing an extra color and texture to theses songs that’s obviously played a million times. I would have to say every night has been, like I said, a real revelation of where this band is and where it could go.
I know it’s like picking your favorite child, but do you have a favorite song to perform?
You know, as cliché as that question is, I’m going to give you the equally pretty formulaic answer, which is actually true, which is “Lightning Crashes” for me. The backstory of that song, of course, it’s become our most popular song over the years, but I remember writing that song and really loving how unique it was and the unique feeling I felt like it transmitted to me and to the fans. I remember calling the record company and saying, “Hey, man, the record sounds amazing, and I really hope we get to release this ‘Lightning Crashes’ song someday,” and I was told by at least two or three people there was no way that’ll ever be a single. It’s five and a half minutes long, it takes too long to get to the chorus. Of course, history has been very kind to my premonition about it. So, I get a tickle when I play that song. It never gets old, just because I’m always reminding myself of how that story went, that people told me it would never be heard, and that I was barking up the wrong tree. So that’s just this extra level of, you know, like a tickle I get playing it. And also, just the amount of – just the relationship that my fans have had with that song for so many years, how much it means to them. Every day I get story about how this song in particular helped people through really depressing times in their lives – suicidal times, really depressing times – and how they really took refuge in, not just “Lightning Crashes” but in +LIVE+’s music in general, so as an artist it doesn’t get any better than that, to know that this little song you wrote in your bedroom twenty five years ago is still helping people.
So what do you want to say to the Cincinnati fans?
Come on out and see +LIVE+ at a whole new level. I think that the response to this has been incredible. Watch out for our new EP which is coming out. We have a new song called “Love Lounge” which is out right now, and a new EP which will come out as soon as the tour is over, probably early October. So just stay tuned.