Live: Whatever Happened To The Band?
Whatever happened to the 90’s rockers Live? Hailing from York, Pennsylvania, the band would release one of the biggest records of the 90’s with 1994’s ‘Throwing Copper.’ Check out Rock N’ Roll True Stories below.
I was watching Rick Beato’s video about how nu-metal killed 90’s alternative rock and one of the band’s he highlighted was Live. He also discussed third eye blind who I’ve already done a video on. The link is down below. After watching Rick’s video and looking at my video request form which people can submit ideas on, Live kept coming up again and again. So, it’s time that I answer the question. Whatever happened to 90’s alternative rockers Live?. Stay tuned for the full story.
Made up of singer and guitarist Ed Kowalczyk, guitarist Chad taylor, bassist Patrick Dahlheimmer and drummer Chad Gracey. The roots of the band dated back to 1984 in York Pennsylvania, where all four members grew up and met. Their musical beginnings started in the 8th grade when Gracey, Taylor and Dahlheimer played in an instrumental band called First Aid. Ed Kowalczyk was the last member to join after being encouraged by a junior high school teacher to form a band for an eight grade talent show. Kowalczyk originally wanted to join the band as just a guitarist, but they already had someone who played lead. The band knew he could sing and talked him into becoming the singer and rhythm guitar player. His audition would consist of him belting out a Duran Duran cover tune. Taking the stage name Public Affection, they developed into a competent live cover band those early shows saw band play sets consisting of songs by Psychadelic Furs, Violent Femmes, REM, U2, & Bryan Adams. Kowalczyk would tell the LA Times “We all learned a lot from a book about U2,”, referring to the book “Unforgettable Fire” while guitarist Chad
Taylor would add “We related to U2 so much,. “Reading the biography was in many ways like reading a story about ourselves, except with different names.” By 1987 the band started writing their own material and Rockstar fantasies weren’t far from the members minds with Chad Taylor telling the LA Times Ed and I would sit in the back of our classrooms, and instead of working on, like, calculus, we’d think about the kind of tour bus we’d have.”
While school may have afforded the members a place to daydream, it was also instrumental to their success. The members would credit several music teachers with helping them learn song arrangements, orchestration and music theory that they would rely on to craft their songs.
Another piece of the puzzle was their hometown of York, Pennsylvania. A working class town where Harley Davidson and caterpillar factories employed a lot of the town’s faithful, it served as an inspiration for their music., One of the first gigs the band had was at the inaugural dance at the temple beth israel in York. The band followed it up with another gig at the temple selling tickets at $4 a piece. Before they knew it, 400 people paid the ticket price to see the band play and some people had to be turned away at the door. That’s when they knew when they were onto something. The band was soon booking gigs at local venues and landed them a manager in David Sestak who initially refused calls to work with the band. It wasn’t until Chad Taylor’s father phone Sestak and according to Spin Magazine told him ’ either you’re going to listen to the band or you’re going make the biggest mistake of your life.” Sestak liked what he heard, but he told the band they needed an album so they could go to record labels and try to get a contract.
The band proved to be business savvy. They raised $5000 in cash from junk bands who they sold to family and friends who bought shares in their debut record at $100 a piece. . That seed money would help the band release their record 1988’s “The Death of a Dictionary. Under the monicker Public Affection. It would be released on their own label and sold at shows and local record shops. It’s estimated they put out about 2,000 copies of their debut record. If you can get your hand on one, they are probably worth a lot of money. In 1989, during their senior year the band was at a crossroads, do they continue to pursue music or go to college. The band would given themselves two years to make a career in music or go back to schoo.
Their first release according to the washington post would peek interest of a local journalist who would predicted the band would and i quote have “the potential to usurp the progressive-rock territory staked out by U2 and R.E.M.” Soon enough the band’s manager started booking the band to play shows at New York CBGB’s and 9:30 club in washington D.C. It was these gigs that got the band the attention of an outfit named Giant Records, which helped them produce their first demo with producer Jay Healy who worked with John Mellencamp and their rock heroes R.E.M. While the demo left the label disappointed, they allowed the group to take the tape and shop it around to other labels. That would lead them to signing with radioactive records. Soon after they changed their name to Live after drawing it out of a hat.
The label would enlist Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads fame to produce the group’s first album 1991’s “Mental Jewelry.” The album would prove to be a modest success selling around 500,000 copies. The album was helped by college radio and MTV who heavily promoted the single “Operation Spirit” which originally made the network’s buzz bin program. The song would go on to peak at number 9 on the modern rock charts. Mental Jewelry would be heavily inspired by an Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti.
For a band that was in their early 20’s, it was surprising to see the group singing with such philosophical depth. Kowalczyk would tell Spin Magazine how he discovered philosopher revealing “I picked up Krishnamurti’s you are the world in some kind of new age bookstore when I was 18 when i was surrounded by all this baby talk philosophy and i read it and thought damn this is so unique. So what did the philospher Krishnamurti believe? Well he was was against idolizing people and arguing that real revolution in one’s mind couldn’t be brought about by external factors in one’s life, but rather one’s self.
Kowalczyk would tell Loudersound how he approached lyrics on the album revealing It was just a straightforward questioning of everything – the traditions you grew up in, automatic things that you just take for granted,. “There were a lot of light-bulb moments, one after the other.”
But critics were lukewarm to Mental Jewelry album labeling the group as young and naive and the LA times stating in 1992 review “Mental Jewelry,” Live eventually wears out its welcome with constant earnest wheedling about great existential and spiritual questions.” To support the record, Live would hit the road with public image ltd and blind melon to support the album.
As the band turned their attention to their follow up record they looked to their hometown for inspiration. Kowalczyk would tell Spin magazine “ we decided to go back and take a look at where we came from, our town, our friends our roots…We wanted to slow down, take a break and not be so theoretical in the new songs and talk about what we’ve experienced in our lives.” The band’s roots even show up on the back cover of the album as the picnic area was an old stomping group for the band. The picnic area is Located just off route 25 in airville, pennsylvania
Unlike hopelessness or nihilsm which were popular lyrical themes during the early 90’s, Live focused on the themes of love, religion and life. Rolling Stone Magazine would perfectly summarize the band’s approach to music saying “Kowalczyk is not only willing to believe there’s beauty and meaning in this alienated age, he’s also bold – or foolish – enough to try to figure out what it is, pointing the way for an audience that welcomes the possibility of transcendence.”
A perfect example of this was the song Lightning Crashes which finds beauty even in tragedy by celebrating the transcendence of life in the music video which dealt with the death of a women and birth of a child. After the song was written, Live would dedicate the track to a schoolmate named Barbara Lewis who was killed by a drunk driver in 1993.
Kowalczyk would write the song in his parent’s house just before he moved out.he would tell Loudersound “One thing was that we wanted to make things more dynamic. We were really into that chinky-chinky rhythmic guitar thing, but I was thinking about how we could sell things even more emotionally. And you need big guitars for that. So we plugged in” he’d say.
Despite the success of Mental Jewelry, Live’s label allotted only several weeks for their follow up to be recorded. The band would reconvene at Pacyhyderm studio the same space where Nirvana record in-utero in Minnesota. The group would credit producer Jerry Harrison who returned the second time around for helping them take their song writing to the next level and providing lyircal inspiration as Kowalczyk would tell Loudersound Me and him would have these really deep conversations about spirituality and philosophy. He was really into the lyrics I was writing. He really inspired me in a lot of ways” he’d say.
Released several weeks after Kurt Cobain’s death, Throwing Copper catapulted Live to a new level of stardom getting them gigs on “MTV’s Unplugged,” David Lettermen and they appeared on the cover of magazines. Not to mention the hours of attention on mtv and rock radio.The band would tour with PJ Harvey and Veruca Salt. By the way I’ve done a whole video on Veruca Salt’s career. Link is down below!
Even though mental jewelry was well received by MTV the band’s label was a little weary of getting too much exposure on the network as a label spokeperson would tell billboard magazine the band had a credibility problem after Mental Jewelry. The reason Mental Jewellry had a credibility problem was because MTV first embraced the band back in 1991 but a lot of radio programmers according to billboard magazine weren’t fans of the band and felt pressured to play operation spirit on rock raido. To combat this they released Selling the Drama as their first single because the label didn’t have much crossover appeal and heavily worked college and modern rock radio rather than pushing MTV early on. The song ended up topping the modern rock charts and the label was wrong as the single did have crossover appeal peaking. Despite the early success, Throwing Copper took almost a year to top the billboard charts, peaking at number 1 for the week of May 5, 1995. But what was the moment that pushed the band over the edge? The band released four singles from the record all of which faired pretty well
The band played the 25th anniversary of woodstock in september of 1994. Then tragedy struck in April of 1995, the oklahoma city bombings that killed over 100 people. Following the tragedy a local radio station DJ mixed the song lightning crashes with speeches from president clinton, newscaster tom brokaw as well as ambulence and fire truck sirens and it soon caught wildire.. You can hear that remix on youtube. At that time America was mourning and as the band’s drummer Chad Gracey would tell pennlive “It sort of became the de facto song [for the bombing],” Gracey said. “It was definitely very bittersweet and surreal and strange to see this impactful event in our country and then have a song that we wrote be associated with it.” The tragic events pushed Throwing Copper to the top of the charts. And lightning crashes stay on the pop charts for 26 weeks peaking at number 6.
It would be ironic that label executives hated Lightning Crashes and reportedly told the band the song would never become a single. Live’s label thought the song was too long and too different from what modern rock radio stations were playing and almost refused to release it.
As the touring cycle ended for Throwing Copper the band suffered from two major problems, overexposure and some critics still din’t give them their due. Loudersound pointed out one review in 1995 that popular rock journalist Robert Christgau journalist wrote “On stage, this intently mediocre young band is U2 without a guitar sound,” w “On record, it’s R.E.M. without songs.”
Regarding the overexposure,, their manager would tell LA Times in 1995 We make decisions based on the long term, I’m not interested in Live being the biggest thing in 1995. I’m interested in Live being around for 20 years.” Following a gruelling 18 month tour the band took some time off before reassembling for their follow up album.
According to the washington post Groupies supposedly scouring south central Pennsylvania including the group’s hometown of. , York– in search of Ed and his bandmates. Fans even located Ed’s Mom’ even though she has a different last name now. and they would leave letters for her in her mailbox. Not only that but record labels started to scout the area too with some people thinking pennsylvania would become the new pacific northwest.
The band wanted to emulate REM by not repeating their past sound and the quartet retreated to Jamaica renting a mansion for several weeks to work on their next album. Kowalczyk would tell MTV news in 1997 I thought we were going to go down there and really mellow out, and write really mellow songs, and we ended up going down there and rocking,”.
“It was like this totally unexpected surge of energy, but those songs in particular have a sexier sort of feel. You just can’t help it when you’re in the sun and you’re baking under it, and you’re just there in the whole island thing” he’d say.
Released in early 1997, Secret Samadhi topped the billboard charts and went double platinum, but it only sold only a quarter of the copies of its predecessor. The album saw a band coming to terms with their new found fame with Guitarist Chad Taylor telling guitar world in1997 “Secret Samadhi is less a record about who we were in the past than about who we’ve become. Throwing Copper was sort of about small town life in York, Pennsylvania, and about how we escaped that and were looking back on it.
Now, it’s hard for us to relate to the people who wrote Throwing Copper. We’re immensely different now, leading different lifestyles. I don’t think this record comes from a place like York; it comes from playing in front of 30,000 people and traveling around the world” he’d say.
The band followed up Secret Samadhi with 1999’s The Distance to Here which produced the radio friendly hits The Dolphins Cry and Run To The Water which peaked at number 3 and 14 on the modern rock charts. If Secret Samadhi represented the great upheaval in the member’s career following their monumental success in the mid 90’s,, The Distance to Here was an album that showed a band a little more comfortable with where they were at. Kowalczyk who would now be married had a different perspective on life and would disappear into the desert for several weeks with his guitar to write material for the distance to here. Gone were the up-tempo tracks were replaced with Kowalczyk mid-tempo songs.
In 2001 the band would release their their fifth album appropriately titled five, but the band’s chart success seemed to fade with the record only peaking at number 22 and not even going gold. Radioactive Records was now gone and the band was now dealing with MCA and their relationship with the label quickly went south. There were disagreements over album artwork, whether to release a single and music videos al of which lead to the album almost getting delayed by a year. Released a week after 9/11 1 the song Overcome received a lot of airplay following the tragedy and according to Kowalczyk the band gave the song away for free on their website and soon enough it was picked up by rock radio. According to guitarist Chad Taylor the material on Five was never supposed to be released revealing “The goal was to prepare songs for the next studio session. MCA got a hold of the material and pushed us to call it an album.” Taylor would also reveal in the same post that their label was having a lot of success with No Doubt and they pushed Live to change their image.
The band would release two more albums 2003 Birds of Prey and 2006 Songs From Black Mountain before the group took a hiatus in 2009. But one year later 2010 it was announced that Kowalczyk had left the band.
Kowalczyk embakred on a solo career and an ugly legal battle ensued between him and his ex-bandmates . His ex-bandmates would sue him for breach of contract relating to their publishing agreement and touring using the name Live and he in turn counter sue. Kowalczyk contends it was done maliciously because his bandmates were jealous he was going to pursue a solo career. In 2014 his ex-bandmates would talk to Louder Sound with Chad Taylor revealing “Yeah, on the past three records, we were basically just Ed’s backing musicians, trying to hang on in there. Kowalczyk’s former band members would claim that the singer would want more of the publishing royalties and a lead singer bonus since he wrote most of the melodies and lyrics. The remaining members of Live meanwhile would enlist a new singer in Chris Shinn and release one album with its new lineup. But thankfuly in 2016 the. band would reunite with Kowalczyk telling Louder Sound “Basically, we missed each other, the uniqueness of what we do together, combined with the incredible history we have with each other.” And in 2018 the band put out their latest release, an EP titled Local 717 and the following year in 2019 they teamed up with Bush and our lady peace to go on to celebrate the 25th anniversaries of Throwing Copper, Sixteen Stone and Naveed. That does it for today’s video guys thanks for watching. Be sure to hit the like button and subscribe and we’ll see you again on rock n’ roll true stories.Take care.