"I'll admit, after the first four Live albums, I kind of stopped listening," says Chris Shinn, a 40-year-old singer/songwriter who grew up a big fan of Pennsylvania post-grunge giants Live. Nothing particularly outrageous about that statement on the face of it. Except Chris Shinn is the new lead singer of... Live. "Well, to be honest," replies the band's guitarist and founder member Chad Taylor, "We stopped listening too."
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That admission forms part of a sobering tale for any aspiring rock band, of how you can succeed beyond your wildest dreams but then become creatively trapped and disillusioned by that success and see lifelong friendships disintegrate along with it.
Thankfully for Live, the story now looks set to be one of despair followed by redemption, as the 2009 split with singer and chief songwriter Ed Kowalczyk — which they expected to spell the end of the band — now just appears to be the end of the beginning. Former Unified Theory frontman Chris Shinn joined the reformed Live in 2011 and made new album The Turn with them – 11 songs full of the kind of powerful, hook-laden stadium rock noir that hark back to the glory days of the early 1990s, when albums like Throwing Copper and Secret Samadhi clocked up over 10 million album sales.
Sipping bottled beers in a West London hotel bar, Live certainly seem to be in a way happier place than they were five years ago, when a planned two-year hiatus soon turned out to be a deeper rift, with Taylor pointing to questionable lead-singer behaviour: demands for a $100,000 'lead singer bonus' to play a European festival, and changing the band's publishing deal to make him sole signatory.
After making an album as the 70s-rock-oriented Gracious Few with Candlebox's Kevin Martin, the pair decided to make reports of Live’s death premature, and when they considered potential singers for ‘Live 2.0’, there was no great debate as to who they should hand the mike to.
“We knew we weren’t going to be a ‘power trio’,” explains bassist Pat Dahlheimer. “And we weren’t going to play our own version of Jazz Odyssey.”
“There was no audition process,” explains Taylor. “We just all agreed we wanted to work with Chris.” To put that into context, Shinn was a long-time friend of the band who had guested on stage with them at several shows in the past. And he was pretty well acquainted with their back catalogue.
“I knew how to play their songs better than they did,” he grins.
“We had never played a Live song without Ed, so we were pretty apprehensive,” admits Taylor. “And when we got together to rehearse, we hadn’t played those songs in years. But it clicked immediately. The roof didn’t fall in, and we all thought ‘this opportunity is pretty magical.’”
Playing with Chris also reminded the band of a time when, well, they really were a band.
“Yeah, on the past three records, we were basically just Ed’s backing musicians, trying to hang on in there. Chris came back and said, 'look, this is what I remember and love about Live.’ And it really felt like something special again.”
“It felt like the badass version of Live,” says Shinn. “I mean, I remember the first time I heard Lakini’s Juice, and shivers went down my spine. That’s what I want to get back to.”
Part of the same process involved Taylor, Dahlheimer and drummer Chad Gracey going back to their roots.
“We knew we had to hit a certain mark,” says Taylor. “but what is that mark we set? So for the first time, we listened to the first four albums back to back.”
Live with original singer Ed Kowalczyk (second from right)