Lifehouse - Interview

02 June 2015

An Interview with Lifehouse

An Interview with Lifehouse

Lifehouse released their seventh studio album, 'Out of the Wasteland' on 22nd June 2015. Following their departure from Interscope Geffen A&M Records in 2013, the album allowed an opportunity for the band to look back at what had made them great in the first place, and work on a piece of work combining all of their past sounds from their storied career. Lifehouse's Jason Wade took some time to talk to Contact Music about what to expect from the album.

Hi Jason, how are you today? 
I'm good, thank you. I'm just around promoting the record, it's quite a busy time at the moment!

Your latest album ('Out of the Wasteland') has just been released - how long has it been in the works for?
Oh man, almost two years. It's the longest amount of time we've ever put into a record. We locked ourselves in a studio trying to make something fresh and something inspired. A lot of the songs are very reminiscent of some of our earlier records, which was really inspiring to us, to return to our roots a little bit. A couple of times, we thought we were finished but we scrapped the whole record and started all over again. We really held ourselves accountable to a high level to really make sure that we made something not only we were proud of, but we thought that the fans would enjoy as well. 

The album is a culmination of all the different musical styles from Lifehouse's history - does this play into a particular story in the album?
Not really a story lyrically, but sonically though, this record really is a collage. I wrote close to 65 or 70 songs, and when I showed the band the demos, it was a really wide spectrum of different styles, leaning towards a lot for different types of music that we've recorded throughout the years. We decided that instead of just picking one theme musically, we'd just take the best songs and it really became a confluence of so many different sounds coming together. If you highlight any particular song, you can place it on different Lifehouse records over the last fifteen years, so it's really nice to have a record that doesn't have just one dimension. It has a lot of layers to it. 

Was there any particular sound that you revisited that has now evolved with more recent experiences?
Yeah, a lot of songs; the song 'Flight' and our current single, 'Hurricane', kind of had the essence of where we came from back in the early 2000s, then there's also  a cinematic side to the record. There's a song called 'Hourglass' where we got to collaborate with James Newton-Howard who is one of my all-time favourite composers who we got to work with for a couple of days. I've always had an affinity for film music, so to be able to work with one of my heroes and infuse a beautiful string section into a lyrical ballad was a really special moment for me.

When you look back, if there were any of your previous songs or albums that you could re-do, would you?
That's a tricky question - I can't really listen to our older stuff. When I was 21 or 22 I didn't know what I was doing so some of the vocals could be better; I'm kind of a perfectionist so when I go back and listen - even to our first record which was really successful - there are so many things I would do differently, but then I start to think that it's because things were so raw and fresh that that's why people connected to it and sometimes the imperfections can make a song, actually.

You've talked before about hanging out and having a beer before shows - is this a case of not taking yourselves too seriously, or are you just very comfortable and confident from years of playing together?
I think it's a bit of both. We've been doing it for so long now that I do feel that we're very comfortable, but I think that we really enjoy just hanging out with each other, too. I feel like we're one of the few bands that - even after we get offstage -  if we have a day off then we end up at the same restaurant just hanging out. But we try not to take ourselves too seriously; I think a lot of bands take it a little bit too far and this is just about playing music and having a really good time and connecting to people.

You've also talked about trying to get in touch with the excitement you had as 17-year-olds playing music in the garage - how much have you guys changed since then?
I think a lot has changed; when we first started, there were no expectations, we were just in a studio with a producer with no fan-base and no expectations and didn't really expect anything really and it was all just completely about the music. When your first record comes out, you start to learn about the music business and all the stuff that can really damage the music and the creativity. When you start to create music you start to kind of wonder 'who's gonna like it?' or 'where is it going to go?' or 'how many records are gonna sell?' and so we've had to unlearn that way of thinking over the last 3 or 4 years and we've had to go back to the simplicity of a good song. I think if you just concentrate on that, then everything else is just white noise, if you just ignore it then it balances out. 

Would you say a good song is the key to making a good album?
I would, absolutely! I think that it has to be about the song first. Obviously the production is important and you might want to make a song perfect and slick for the radio but if you're miss a really strong lyric or melody then I feel you're kinda missing the boat. 

Has your recent independence given you more of a change to branch out and try other things?
Yeah, especially when it comes to the record-making process. When you're on a major label, you're at the mercy of whether they think you've got your 3 or 4 singles, so you end up going back into the studio a lot feeling helpless and trying to give them what they want. Having full creative control was something we never had. Not having that big financial juggernaut behind us means there's a lot more work for us to do. It's very hands on because we're involved in every single decision but I think the liberty is worth it.

You guys have got a tour lined up for the US and then the UK and Europe - is there anywhere you are particularly looking forward to performing at?
Yeah, Nickelback's tour starts June 19th in the States and then we're going to Europe in September. The UK has always been one of our favourite places; we've had some of our best shows at Shepherd's Bush Empire, so we're really excited to go and play two nights there again, and getting to play Paris for the first time - we've never played there, so that should be fun. 

So do you prefer performing live, or being in a studio environment? 
You know, I used to prefer the studio over live. In the early days, I would get really bad stage fright and had a really hard time opening my eyes and actually connecting with the crowd and performing, and I think that's because when I was a kid I never really saw myself wanting to be a rock star. I was just writing songs and these doors started opening up to me and I had to learn how to play live. I think that over the last 6 or 7 years I've really grown and tapped into that energy which is kinda magical. By calming myself into a better place on stage I actually enjoy the process, so now I feel like it's 50/50.

You mentioned drunk fans at your performances - do you have any funny stories from performing over the years?
There's been a couple of shows - this is back in 2005 - if you're playing at a club, obviously everybody's drinking, but there will always be that one drunk guy that tries to get on the stage and security has to kick him out. That's always fun to watch; when you have to stop the song because there's a fight breaking out.

Actually one of the craziest thing I've seen didn't actually happen to us. We were at a show in Italy back in 2001. I think Stereophonics was playing at the time and there was 70,000 people just getting wasted. They started throwing these big bags of water on the stage, it was so surreal because you would just see huge amounts of water just splashing all over the place. As the day progressed, they started taking a p*ss in these bags and launching these things on stage. There were bags of p*ss just exploding onstage and it was the most surreal and gross thing I've ever seen in my life, but that was one for the books. 

That didn't happen while you guys were onstage?
No, luckily we were on really early and only played three songs. We had stuff thrown at us, too; there was a guy called Vasco Rossi who's like the Italian Bruce Springsteen, and he was the only reason these 70,000 people showed up. But Alanis Morissette was on the bill along with a bunch of other people, but all they wanted was Vasco Rossi, so we played our three songs and got out of there before the mayhem!

You've supported and been supported by a huge number of great acts - who was the best fun to share a stage with?
We got to open for the Rolling Stones a while ago, and to this day that was probably the highlight of our career. We played three shows in the States with them, and they were so gracious. They came by our dressing room; Charlie found a drum-head for our drummer and we got to hang out with Keith and Mick for a little bit. It doesn't get much better than that. Opening for Paul McCartney or U2 would be the only thing that could top that.

After a long day at the studio, how do you usually unwind?
Usually we'll go out to dinner and have a couple of beers or a glass of wine and unwind. We'll just try to find the best food option possible because our drummer is a total foodie, so whenever we're in a town that actually has good restaurants, when we finish the gig we'll try to go and find some good food. That kinda keeps you sane on the road.

You mentioned that you had to rewrite your current album a couple of times - was that the sort of thing that happened on previous albums, or did the fact you had more control over this one play into it?
No, this is the first time that that happened. I think in the past, we had a strong direction of what we were trying to accomplish for each record. I think with this one, stylistically the spectrum was really big, so when we tried to make to make the record all one style, it just didn't feel right. It wasn't until we decided just to take the best songs and make it a collage that it all started to fall into place.

Lifehouse went on hiatus for a little while, during which time you were working on a solo project.
Yeah, I think the solo project turned into the Lifehouse project when I wrote 'Flight' and 'Hurricane', which were the songs that really made me think 'wow, maybe it's time to get the band back together'. I just had an epiphany half-way through where I realised that I really didn't have any desire to be a solo artist, I preferred the familial quality of being in that team atmosphere. But it took me going through a solo record to come up with some of the sounds and textures that really helped out on this record.

You mentioned that you worked with James Newton-Howard, what was that like?
Oh man, it was amazing! He's got this compound in Santa Monica where he's got all his gear and it's where he does the groundwork for all of his films. I walked into his studio and he was right in the middle of the latest 'Hunger Games' soundtrack, so I got to watch him do a little bit of that and then he shifted his focus to our song 'Hourglass'. He got his charts out and started writing this beautiful string arrangement. I'd been buying his soundtracks for over a decade, so getting to watch him in real life was so surreal! These composers are just on a different level - they're geniuses - it's hard to wrap your mind around how they do what they do,  but it was amazing to watch. Any chance we get to collaborate with him again - on any level - would be something we were really interested in.

Would you, yourself, be interested in doing something like film scores or soundtracks?
Oh yeah, that would be a dream come true - I'm just waiting for the right opportunity. I've always had a strong desire to score something. Maybe not on a level like those guys, but something a little more acoustic. I just love the connection that happens when you put the right chords with the right scene & actors and something really amazing that happens.

So what are your favourite film scores?
Well, anything James has done - all the stuff he did with M. Night Shyamalan is fantastic. Thomas Newman is one of my favourites too - the 'Cinderella Man' soundtrack, 'Road to Perdition', 'American Beauty' - anything Thomas Newman does, I can't get enough of.

Is there a particular artist who really sticks out in your mind, aside from a film composer?
Right now, Bon Iver or Sigur Rós. Those are some of my favourites. I love how they layer their records and it creates an atmosphere through the human voice verses the keyboards.

I'm sure a lot of people would love to know a little bit about your own musical tastes - what's your favourite album of all time?
I'd have to go with Elliot Smith's 'XO'. That record really impacted me at a young age, when I was 17, and when I was really getting into song writing. It's my favourite record. The last album I bought was, I think, was the 'Saving Mr. Banks' soundtrack by Thomas Newman.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us, Jason! What's planned for Lifehouse in the near future?
We're gonna do the Nickelback tour, we're gonna go overseas, and after that we're gonna come back and do a headlining run in the States. I think the plan is just to stay out on the road for the next year!

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