Honest Rock

Former Live frontman and vocal powerhouse Ed Kowalczyk visits the House of Blues Cambridge Room this month for a stripped-down acoustic show.

Unplugged but still uncompromised, Ed Kowalczyk has returned to his roots. For more than a decade Kowalczyk fronted Live, arguably one of the most successful alternative rock bands of the '90s. The group's sophomore effort Throwing Copper generated the chart-topping hits "Selling the Drama," "Lightning Crashes" and "I Alone," and the band went on to release nine discs and sell more than 20 million albums highlighted by Kowalcyzk's intense vocals and poetic lyrics. But in 2009, Kowalczyk tired of the rock star lifestyle and started a solo career, allowing him to return to writing raw, emotional songs. His latest solo effort, an EP titled The Garden, features five new songs and five remixes, including a version of John Lennon's "Mind Games." He brings his I Alone acoustic tour to the House of Blues Cambridge Room Feb. 16.

CM: Your acoustic talents are featured on the new tour. How big of a change is this from performing with Live?

EK: I've always written songs on acoustic guitar and on this tour I'm performing songs from every era of my career as a songwriter and performer. I kind of go everywhere. The overwhelming comment I have been getting is that the songs are really intense in ways people never thought about before. People are walking away surprised that these stripped-down rock songs don't lose anything. They're used to me being visceral, and I still do that with the acoustic versions.

CM: In the past you've played to huge crowds. How have you adapted to headlining smaller clubs?

EK: The first thing I ever did when I went solo was an acoustic performance, and I immediately fell in love with it. I reconnected with the songs and the fans and now when I perform I get a lot of emotional feedback. I'm playing where fans really want to hear me, and there are a lot of sweet listening rooms that have a certain intrigue and charm. I couldn't have scripted it this way. ... It has become the love of my life now.

CM: How was it to team up with [producer] Jamie Candiloro, who has worked with R.E.M., Willie Nelson and the Eagles?

EK: I love him. We're like two mad scientists in the studio. Jamie has both a technical side and a creative side, which is rare.

CM: Will there ever be a Live reunion?

EK: There is a lot of tugging and pulling that go on when a band becomes successful. For me, it was time to unplug from the old way and plug in to a new way. It was time to open the shades and open the windows. My door is always open to get together with the original band.

CM: What is the essence of a great song?

EK: It's still a mystery to me. It definitely has something to do with a lyric that connects to a place where people are more the same than they are different — songs that go to a deeper place. I go there with a certain amount of earnestness and honesty.
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