"Hanging By A Moment" was the most-played song on American radio in 2001, the year its author, Lifehouse lead singer Jason Wade, turned 21.
When he was 12, Wade started writing poetry and melodies to deal with his parents' divorce. He got so good at it that when he was 16, the producer Ron Aniello took him under his wing, leading to a record deal with DreamWorks two years later.
At first, Lifehouse was Wade and two of his friends, augmented by studio musicians when needed. By 2004, they had their steady lineup of Wade, drummer Rick Woolstenhulme, and bass player Bryce Soderberg. In July, they released their first Greatest Hits album and set out on a North American tour with Switchfoot.
The band has always been a Songfacts favorite, generating lots of debate about the meaning behind their songs, which Wade likes to leave open to interpretation, a strategy that keeps Lifehouse from being pigeonholed as a Christian band. At a press event, we lobbed a few questions at him and Soderberg to get their thoughts on the music, including what it means to be hanging by a moment.
Carl Wiser (Songfacts): Lifehouse songs have gotten fans through a lot of really tough times. Which Lifehouse songs are the most therapeutic for you guys personally?
Jason Wade: For me, personally, it would be songs like "From Where You Are," and a song called "Broken" which I wrote for a friend of mine who needed a kidney transplant. That song I feel has gotten a lot of people through some hard times.
I try when I'm writing a song not to make anything too specific, even though that song was a little bit more specific. But the lyrics, I feel like you can take them and interpret them with whatever emotion is going on in your own life. Yeah, those are my favorites: "From Where You Are" and "Broken."
Bryce Soderberg: We have a lot of fans that come up to us and they really relate to the song "Everything," which is a very interpretive lyric - people that are striving for the best versions of themselves, people that are striving for a great relationship. And we have people that have gone to war, soldiers and troops who are overseas, that are listening to our music that are interpreting the lyrics and it's helping them in their lives. They're coming to us and they're sharing their experiences.
It's really empowering when you're a part of a band that creates music that people can put in their lives on a positive level. That really makes everything worthwhile for us and makes us feel that we're serving our purpose.
Songfacts: The big debate with many Lifehouse songs among your fans is whether they're about God or whether they're about a specific person. But there are also some really astute comments from people who say that perhaps loving another person could be an expression of loving God. I'd like to get your thoughts on that.
Jason: Yeah, absolutely. I've always written songs that can be interpreted different ways. You know, it could be about God, it could be about a girl, it could be about a guy. Just universal love songs.
I've always gravitated towards that because in music it's a pet peeve of mine when I know exactly what the singer is telling me to think about the song. I like when you can interpret the lyrics in your own type of way, and music is very powerful like that. But, we don't discourage anybody from interpreting one way or the other.
And for me, personally, I come from that world, so a lot of the earlier Lifehouse songs were spiritual in nature, but at the same time, we never wanted to be put in a box where it's like this is the only thing that we sing about. We like people to take the lyrics and make them their own.
Songfacts: What does it mean to be "Hanging By A Moment"?
Bryce: That's a really good question - no one's ever asked that. To me, it's presence. I think that's one of the key things to us as individuals and being a part of the family, being a part of this whole journey. It's about being present and not missing a moment, you know, "hanging by a moment." That's what it means to me: It's being present and presence.
Jason: Yeah, for me too when I wrote that song. I just feel like my whole life has been a series of moments where you're just trying to hold on and not get swept away. I grew up all over the place - I lived in Hong Kong for a couple of years. I didn't grow up with any roots really, so in my teenage years when I started to write songs to try to interpret the earlier half of my life, it seemed we were just constantly in turbulence and moving and changing and shifting. And from that point on, when I wrote that song, it took us on this crazy, wild adventure.
But, yeah, I would say it is about just trying to stay in the moment, stay present, and enjoy the moments as they're happening around you.
Here are some other bits and bobs from the event.
Craziest experience they've had as a band:
Jason: We played this one show in Italy when we were like 21, 22 years old, opening for this artist named Vasco Rossi, who's like the Bruce Springsteen of Italy. The fans have this tradition of throwing food at the opening artist, as basically they just want to see Vasco Rossi. Alanis Morissette was on the gig, and this band called Stereophonics. We were singing three songs. We were just getting started and as we go on stage it's just a sea of stuff being thrown at us, like bags of water and loaves of bread. I think a can of tuna. So, for our whole set we're just dodging food being thrown at us. That's something you never forget.
Their musical style:
Jason: I feel like music is just kind of interpretive. Anyone who gets inspired to pick up a guitar or sit down at a piano is usually coming from a place of hearing a piece of music that really inspired you. I lived in Seattle for a while but I didn't even start listening to bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam until I moved to LA when I was about 15, 16 years old, and that music really meant a lot to me at that time and it was right at the time where I was learning how to write songs.
So, that was my interpretation of music at the time. I was writing songs but it was heavily influenced by bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and all the Seattle bands. It wasn't really intentional, it's just whatever you're inspired by, there's going to be shades of that music in your own music.
Choosing songs for the Greatest Hits album:
Bryce: It wasn't anything that was really premeditated for us. As things progressed we figured there would be a right time to release the greatest hits when we had a good collection of songs. We have seven albums that we've released and we have this tour that's coming up with Switchfoot that came together at the right moment, and we just felt it would be good to put out a compilation of our greatest hits in conjunction with this tour.
So, it just lined up as it was. And we've been creative as a band up until 2015, a couple of years ago, when we released Out of the Wasteland, so we weren't ready to put out that compilation yet. This is just timing aligning as it's supposed to.
Chester Bennington's suicide:
Jason: What a loss. He will be extremely missed.
It can hit anybody. It doesn't matter how much money you have or fame or success - it's just an epidemic. It's good to just reach out, if you can, or if you have a friend that is depressed, just try to make that connection because I feel like suicide is something where you feel so lost and so hopeless that there's no turning back. So, I think that people that are in your own inner circle, if you notice somebody that is dealing with depression, anxiety, the best thing to do is to try to reach out and make that connection, because I think a connection can bring someone back from that.
Bryce: Our hearts go out to Linkin Park, to the family and everyone around Chester. It hits the music industry as a whole.
Touring with Switchfoot:
Jason: We're really excited to hit the road with Switchfoot. I've been a fan of them since I was 16, 17 years old when their first record, Legend of Chin, came out. So, I've been following their career pretty much since I was a kid.
We played a show with Switchfoot, I want to say 10 or 11 years ago at a college. Our paths have crossed maybe two or three times. I ran into Jon [Foreman] once at a screening for a film where we were writing a song for a specific film. They're the nicest guys. They're an amazing live rock band and we're really looking forward to heading out and playing with them this summer.
Bryce: Our live show is such an important aspect of what we are as a band. We put out our records and put our heart and soul into them, but an equal aspect of making music in Lifehouse is putting on our show, and that interaction with our fans is such a key component for us expressing ourselves as musicians and the audience expressing themselves through our music. It's such a gift.
We hope that people will come to a show and spend an hour and a half, forget about the things that are going on with their lives and leave a little bit better than they came. We put a lot into our shows in preparing for it and we know what our fans want to hear. We do our best to deliver with 100 percent of ourselves into the shows as we can.
And this particular tour is definitely a coming home for us because there are a lot of things that have changed in our camp. We've seen the ups and downs, we have the collection of songs that we have, and we're just going to get out there and interact with our fans and have a blast this summer. We're looking forward to it.
Jason: For me it always goes back to The Beatles. I feel like they were just the masters of songwriting. Elliott Smith is still a huge influence on me. I love his albums XO and Figure 8. I'm always looking for new bands and then also anything that Paul Simon writes or James Taylor. I love singer-songwriters from that era.
Bryce: Music for me has always been about soaking up as much as you can from what other people are doing and have the humility to pull in influences all across the board. Lately, I've been listening to a lot of Prince and Bowie. I know they passed recently but I got to look at their catalogue a little more in depth since then.
And as individuals in your instruments, as well, you have your influences, like James Jamerson. There are all sorts of inspirations that come across the board: there's lyricists, there's producers, and you're always learning and growing as much as you can.
Bryce: We actually have been recently talking about that. We've just focused on what's in front of us for the time being. This tour has taken a lot of preparation and we've just gotten back together after a little bit of a hiatus, so we're going to go out there, we're going to focus on the tour and do what we can with that. And then I'm sure along the way we'll probably have some songs that will get written.
We'll probably talk about the future when it's nearing the end. We've played around with the idea of doing a Christmas album at some point, maybe doing a live album, or maybe just doing a regular album. We're going to keep creating, though. I don't see in the foreseeable future us taking any long-term breaks. We're still having fun with what we're doing after 17 years and we still like each other. So, all good stuff.
Bryce: You know, it changes from time to time. Obviously, we play a lot of the same songs over and over. A lot of people ask us if we get tired of playing our hits. We really don't because we can see the reactions with people that have been wanting to hear certain songs throughout our show and we get that feel from the audience when we play them.
I personally really enjoy the song "Broken" and the song "Flight." Both of those songs have a deeper meaning to them that for me really translates. I feel certain emotions, and trials and tribulations that I've been going through in my life when we perform these songs.
The upbeat songs are always really fun. Songs like "Spin" and "Hanging By A Moment." We always look forward to playing those as well.
Wade was 20 years old when he proposed to his girlfriend, Braeden, winning her heart with an early version of "You And Me" he recorded to cassette. Five years later, the song was released on the third Lifehouse album and became their biggest hit since "Hanging By A Moment," reaching #5 in the US.
Jason: For me, it's playing the song "You And Me" every night for years. We always have to play that song. That's still a special song for me because that's the song that I proposed to my girlfriend who's now my wife of 16 years. Every time I play that I try to really focus on the lyrics and it kind of brings me back to that place when I was 19 years old proposing to her.
Job if you weren't a musician:
Jason: I had no Plan B when it came to music. I barely made it through high school and I didn't go to college, so with my skill set, I'd probably be working at Subway or Starbucks. I don't know about Bryce - he went to college.
Bryce: Yeah, I did, but I left after two years. I'm in the same boat: no Plan B. That's kind of the way it is as a musician. You go in, there's a lot of risks, you put your heart and soul into it, and you just kind of roll the life dice and see what happens. And we got a good roll.
Yeah, I don't really know what else I'd do. I really like interacting with people, so I was thinking maybe a therapist or something like that, but I'd probably be at Starbucks for quite a while being a barista or something.
Secret to success:
Jason: Probably just staying together. When you're on the road, you are on stage for 10 percent of the time, and 90 percent of the time you are actually interacting with each other and hanging out with your brothers - it becomes a very familial thing. So, the music is important, but so is keeping that bond and the communication lines open and just learning how to live with each other and not go crazy. That's what breaks most bands up: They just get to the point where they hate each other and they can't be in the same room.
We're closing in on 20 years and we've had pretty much the same lineup, the same nucleus, for most of our career and we're still enjoying it. We still have that childlike-ness about the music and still it feels fresh and new every time we step on stage. I think that's our biggest accomplishment.
It's not just having radio hits and selling records, it's about still having a good quality of life. I feel like the fans know when you're phoning it in and you're not having fun anymore. We can still get excited to come through a town and play a show and give 100 perecent and enjoy ourselves. It still feels alive.
Desirable tour stops:
Jason: Probably the Greek Theatre. I know Bryce would agree. That's kind of a legendary spot in Los Angeles and we've only opened up for bands there before, so to co-headline such an epic, amazing venue in our hometown is going to be really, really cool.
August 8, 2017.
Get the Greatest Hits album and tour dates at lifehousemusic.com.