Some things are universally loved; some universally hated. It’s rare, however, to find something that manages to run in both realms simultaneously. Live are one such thing – a rock band with humble beginnings in south-central Pennsylvania that have managed to find as many obsessive fans as they have infuriated despisers.
On one hand, the band have sold 22 million albums worldwide and counting; scoring top-charting alternative rock singles and critical praise. One writer from New York magazine even once described the band as “deeply mystical.” On the other hand, the band’s biggest hit, Lightning Crashes, was once voted as having the single worst lyric in musical history; taking out the dishonourable top spot for the line “her placenta falls to the floor.”
Wherever you stand, the band’s persistence is something to be admired and respected. After parting ways with Ed Kowalczyk some six years ago; the band took some time away and considered ending entirely. It wasn’t before long, however, that the band bounced back with a new lead singer in the form of Chris Shinn; as well as a new studio album, last year’s The Turn.
Fresh from the announcement the new-look Live will be coming back again (like a roll of thunder chasing the wind), Music Feeds got on the line with new-guy Shinn to talk respecting the past, converting haters and lead singer bonuses.
Watch: Live – Lightning Crashes
Music Feeds: It’s been a few years of you being at the head of Live, but there are still a lot of fans being introduced to you. Can you talk us through how you met the rest of the guys originally?
Chris Shinn: I didn’t grow up with the guys, but I remember getting to play with them at a show with my old band, Unified Theory. It consisted of two members of Blind Melon and the original drummer of Pearl Jam. The band started in Seattle; and the Blind Melon guys had known Live since the beginning of both of their careers.
We toured together in 2000 alongside Counting Crows, around the time that Live had put out The Distance to Here. I kept in touch with all of the guys over the years, so when they announced they were going on hiatus in 2009 I kind of already knew what the problem was.
It wasn’t long after that when I got a call from the guys. It wasn’t even so much a call asking me to be in the band, but more about them just wanting to make some music and having me in mind. It wasn’t really a tryout process, but it kind of started from there.
MF: Whereto from that point? At what stage did you realise this was going to be a permanent fixture?
CS: When the guys called me originally, it was because the licensing and the rights of the songs had finally come back to the band. What that means is that bands are able to re-record their songs and license them. When there was that tequila ad awhile back with the Jane’s Addiction song in it, that was a re-recording just done by Perry Farrell.
That comes up after a grace period of maybe 15 to 20 years removed from being on a label. That came up for Live, and they called because they thought I could sing the hell out of the songs they were considering re-recording to sell to commercials.
When we got in a room together and started playing a couple of Live songs, the rest of them put their instruments down and it seemed pretty clear what was going to come next. It was a lot of fun. They wanted to do a press release in Rolling Stone telling everyone that I’d joined the band; and I had to put my foot down and tell them not to do it. It would have painted a target on our backs. I knew that we had work to do before any of that – we had to make sure that this was right.
Watch: Live – The Way Around Is Through
MF: How have you found the response from fans since stepping in to replace Ed? Was there any sour grapes when you first started out?
CS: You’d be amazed. The percentage of people who have embraced it as opposed to the people who were naysayers… the latter is miniscule in comparison. My deal when we got out on the road was just to do my thing. In my eyes, I wanted to bring back the Live that I loved from the first four records. We don’t do anything after The Distance to Here except from the record that we made.
The records that came after Distance are really cheesy to me – the band sounds like they’re asleep at the wheel; which they were, admittedly. I wanted to bring back the mysticism and the edge; and we channelled that into how we were playing.
Here’s a story for you… it’s from the second night I ever played with Live. We were in Austin, Texas. This woman came up to me after the show, and she looked me dead in the eye and said to me “I came here tonight for one reason – and that reason was to hate you.” [Laughs] I was just like, “Okay!” She continued: “…but after the show I saw tonight, I wanted to let you know that I was wrong and I feel completely terrible about it. I’m on board.” I thought it was really sweet! She had every right to feel that way, y’know… “Who the hell is this guy,” y’know.
But people have to see us now. They have to hear it. Once they do, they’ll see the old Live. The band is playing like they mean it, and we’re going out every night and knocking your teeth in. [Laughs]
MF: When it comes to playing those old songs, have you ever felt compelled to perform them in your own style? Does it ever feel like karaoke, for lack of a better term, when you’re singing one of those big hits?
CS: Look, sometimes I might try and do bits here and there; but when I was starting out I was doing my best to adhere to the script. I have a bit of a higher range than Ed does, so I can add certain aspects that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.
For the most part, though, I’ve got no ego in this. That’s especially the case when it comes to songs like Lightning Crashes – y’know, songs like that really do belong to the crowd. It’s their moment. They take a life of their own. It’d just be silly to pose as if it was your own. All we’re doing is representing it. You’ll see when we get down there.
Watch: Live – Heaven
MF: Live are indeed coming back to Australia this coming November. A lot of people have certainly been confused by the double bill of yourselves and Def Leppard, but it’s not even the weirdest Australian tour that Live has ever done. You might not be aware of this, but Live toured Australia in 2000 – probably not long after that Counting Crows tour – and their co-headliner was Sugar Ray…
CS: [Laughs] No kidding! Y’know what, I don’t give two damns about the whole Def Leppard thing. I was a huge fan growing up, so it’s a real treat for me. We’ve been talking about getting down there for three years now – from what I’ve heard, that’s where a lot of really special and really dedicated Live fans are. It’ll be my first time down with the band, and I’m open to any criticism anyone has. All I ask is that anyone who’s sceptical just come down and check it out.
MF: One last thing: One of the funniest stories about Live is that Ed Kowalcyzk once demanded $100,000 on top of the band’s appearance fee as a “lead singer bonus” for a festival show. If you could charge a “lead singer bonus” of any amount, how much would you be after?
CS: [Laughs] Oh, man… first off, I have to tell you that what you’ve read is entirely true. It’s absolutely absurd. It’s just sad – what you should take from that story is the state of where the band was. For anyone to try and pull a stunt like that is desperate and shitty. I mean, we have our own little in-jokes in the band or whatever, but I’d never dare ask for a lead singer bonus! What horseshit! [Laughs]
MF: Even if you could get away with it? Say they never found out…
CS: Man, I’d just be happy with a few extra beers backstage!
Live will be in Australia supporting Def Leppard in November. Grab the deets below!
Watch: Live – Dolphin’s Cry
Def Leppard and Live Australian tour
Tickets on sale June 11
Tuesday, November 17
Qantas Credit Union Arena, Sydney
Wednesday, November 18
Rod Laver Arena, Melbourne
Saturday, November 21
Red Hill Amphitheatre, Perth