Collective Soul Shine Sonically on New Live Album

Photo: Joseph Guay

As many of us eagle-ears know all too well, certain live albums aren’t always all that “live,” per se. Artists obsessed with perfection — or rather, the appearance of imperfection — will go into the studio and post-op their live recordings to the point where they basically turn them into studio-level albums with just enough applause, cheers, and whistles thrown in so it seems like the music therein has been performed in front of an actual live audience. I won’t name any names here, but I bet most of you could rattle of at least four or five albums/artists who fit the above “repurposed live” criteria.

That said, the five men in the fine Atlanta-bred alt-rock collective known as Collective Soul had another idea altogether for Collective Soul – Live, which is being released by Suretone Records this Friday, December 8. “There are no overdubs here,” confirms Collective Soul frontman, vocalist/guitarist Ed Roland. “We wanted people to know that it was live, and I didn’t want to lose the honesty and the sincerity of it being a live performance by all five of us.”

To further delve into the sheer liveness of Live, Roland (the man in the middle of the above photo), 54, and I got on the line to discuss the balance of dynamics in the band’s live mixes, why their biggest hit “Shine” comes across so well in a live setting, and which classic live albums they referred to as inspirations. Give me a word, give me a sign. . .

Mike Mettler: I’m really pleased how dynamic Collective Soul – Live comes across whenever I listen to it. I have to imagine you guys also must be pleased at how it’s turned out.

Ed Roland: We are! I think we did about 150, 160 shows for about 2 years after we released our See What You Started by Continuing record [in October 2015], and we started recording all of the shows. We had done a live record with a youth orchestra about 12 or so years ago. . .

Mettler: Yeah, right — that was the Home album. [Released in February 2006, Home, subtitled A Live Concert Recording With the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, was recorded over the course of two full performances with the ASYO at the Woodruff Arts Center in Atlanta in 2005.]

Roland: Yes! This time, we wanted to showcase what it sounded like with the five guys onstage, and this was time to do it. And there were no overdubs — it is what it is.

Mettler: I’m glad that’s the approach you went with here. There’s a very consistent energy level throughout the entire record, for one thing. I really did feel like I was at your show while listening to it — and maybe, at some point, we can get a surround sound mix of it too.

Roland: That’d be awesome! It’s a great idea! I hadn’t even thought about that.

Mettler: Looks like I’ve just given you one more thing to do! (both laugh) I don’t know how much tape you had to wade through to get to the optimal performances here, though. How did you know, for example, that the version of “Shine” you use here, which is an all-out 7-minute barnburner, was the right one?

Roland: We didn’t listen to each and every one of the live shows ourselves, but we would talk with our engineer/mixer, Shawn Grove, after each show. You know as a live band when you’ve been able to catch a groove. When you get up there and you’re playing, after about the second or third week, you really start to feel that groove and the energy, and how they kind of flow together. So, after a couple of weeks, we said to Shawn, “Just go through those yourself,” because everybody was really happy with what we were doing out there.

Mettler: I call it “flexing that live muscle.” And once you get that muscle back, that’s when I personally like to see a band play a few shows in a row, just to see how the dynamics of the set lists will change — or not — and how you attack the songs.

Roland: Right — and that was one of the things we did when we first started out, where we had been doing over-2-hour shows. Nowadays, sometimes you might only be doing an hour, or if you’re on a co-bill, you might do an hour-fifteen, so you try to figure out which ones work better each night. Actually, it’s a good problem to have — to be around that long and have songs people really want to hear. Once you find that groove, you also find what works in that kind of set.

Mettler: Sometimes you guys have to work with both acoustic and electric dynamics within the same song, so I imagine the balance at front of house must be important to you as the performer, in terms of getting those sonic details across to the audience. Do you and your mixer Shawn discuss what you’re looking for from the stage?

Roland: Yeah, we do. We talk about different things — even stuff like the background vocals and how we want them to appear in the background, because sometimes they’re louder on the actual studio recording, and sometimes I feel they need to be softer there live. It’s about the dynamics, just like you said.

This is something Dean [Roland, rhythm guitarist and Ed’s younger brother] and I will talk about. I play acoustic sometimes and he plays electric all the time, and I’ll say, “Why don’t both you and I drop out here, just to bring a different dynamic to it live?” We discuss it as a band, and we discuss it with the engineer.

Mettler: “Shine” is the obvious example of how you use a number of different dynamics within the same song. Such as, you let the audience sing the verses at the beginning, and then you have to decide how far up in the mix that has to be, as well as how loud their “Yeah!” response should come across after you guys play that signature riff when it comes around before each chorus.

Roland: Yeah, yeah, and as I’ve discussed it with our mixer, I want to hear it exactly as loud as I hear it onstage! (laughs) And if they’re singing along with me, then I want them to be heard. That’s part of the live feel.

Mettler: In the videoclip for that song, we see when you put the mike out to the audience to get that. I’d also say your physical demeanor throughout “Shine” must be a part of your “testifying” DNA, which is something you must have gotten from your dad, right? [Ed and Dean’s father was a Southern Baptist minister.]

Roland: Oh yeah! (chuckles) That’s how we all grew up, to be honest with you. I saw my dad preach, and Dean obviously did too. So did Will [Turpin, bassist], and Jesse [Triplett, lead guitarist] kind of grew up in the church too, so we kind of fit in that mold. We know how to do that part of the show. I enjoy that part. For example, when I see U2, I feel like Bono is holding a revival.

Mettler: That’s true, and I think that’s a good thing, because you want to get the audience to be invested in you to that degree. The last thing you want is somebody out there to get up and leave while you’re in the middle of it. Me, I like seeing bands mix the old and the new together in their sets, like you did.

Roland: We did that a little bit on this past tour. At the start of the show, we did a song they’re familiar with, and then the next two songs were brand new songs! (laughs heartily) We shift their attention kinda quick.

Mettler: I like that, because I always felt See What You Started was a record that had some legs to it, and I wanted to see how those songs progressed over the course of a long tour.

Roland: Yes, and once again, it takes a couple of shows to find out where that connectivity is that you can have with the audience, and let them be a part of your show too. You let them know we’re all friends and family, and we’re all there to have a good time. And I think we got it there after a week or two.

Mettler: I think you did too. To grab a song title from near the end of the set, the vibe of the whole record feels “Contagious.” And speaking of the “whole record” concept, we’re getting double-vinyl here, right?

Roland: Yes we are!

Mettler: That’s great to hear, especially in the vinyl revival era — but I suppose I should clarify that the love of vinyl never left me here in the digital age.

Roland: Right — and it never left me. I have over 3,000 LPs, and I’m glad to have grown up in that era. It’s not even about the artwork — which is great — but sonically, it sounds better. And, I’m sorry — I don’t care what people say, because there are different harmonics when you do analog, and that low end feels tight.

It does my heart good to see my 19-year-old kid go buy vinyl. When my son and I go to the record store together, he pulls out the new album by Phoenix or other new bands he’s listening to, and I’ll get Joe Walsh and go, “All right — then you listen to this.” It’s a good, fun day.

Mettler: It’s nice that you two can share that experience together. And it’s also nice to hear you have over 3,000 records, because I can totally relate. (both laugh) Do you have any favorite records that are still talismans for you from the early days of your record buying, the ones you still go back to?

Roland: I do. I literally go back to [Elton John’s] Madman Across the Water (1971). I’ll also go back to ELO, A New World Record (1976), and that’s because that’s where I started my listening — that, and Elton John’s Greatest Hits (1974).

Mettler: Yeah, for ELO, I started with Discovery (1978), and then I also had [Styx’s] Pieces of Eight (1978) and [Supertramp’s] Breakfast in America (1979) in heavy rotation back in the day.

Roland: Pieces of Eight was definitely in there for me too; that’s right.

Mettler: I’m telling you, Ed, I think you’d do a good job of covering “Renegade.” I’d love to see the “Ed preaching spin” on that one, for sure. You’ve got the range to sing that Tommy Shaw lead, and the band’s got the harmony chops to do the “oh mama” part too.

Roland: You’ve inspired me, so I may now have to give it a shot! (laughs heartily)

Mettler: OK, I’m gonna hold you to it! To wrap things up, were there any live album benchmarks for you — anything you wanted to live up to, or albums you guys used as examples when you were mixing?

Roland: Yeah, we listened a lot to Frampton Comes Alive! (1976), of course, and also Elton John’s Here and There (1976). I wanted to go back and listen to what attracted me while I was growing up — but at the same time, I wanted it to be our gig. We wanted people to know that it was live. While we were playing those instruments, we were running around and trying to catch our breath, and we’re dancing all over the stage too. I just didn’t want to lose the honesty and the sincerity of it being a live performance by all five of us.