Ed Roland of Collective Soul

by Greg Prato

Despite issuing studio albums on a regular basis since 1993, it's hard to believe that it was not until 2017 that Collective Soul got around to releasing their first-ever live album that focused solely on their five-member lineup, simply titled Live (their 2006 album, Home: A Live Concert Recording with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra, saw the band joined by added instruments).

Originally formed in 1992 and hailing from Stockbridge, Georgia, Collective Soul has been led all along by singer/guitarist/songwriter Ed Roland. Their radio-ready/post-grunge sound led to a spate of hits over a 10-year span (1994-2004), including "Shine," "Gel," "December," "The World I Know," and "Precious Declaration."

Songfacts caught up with Roland shortly after the release of Live to discuss what led to the band issuing a live recording at this juncture of their career, as well as songwriting, and the stories behind several Collective Soul classics.
Greg Prato (Songfacts): This is the second Collective Soul live recording, correct?

Ed Roland: Correct. The first was with the Atlanta Youth Orchestra, and we recorded that in 2005. We had about 100 kids with us on stage, ages 14-17, playing. Truly, it was a magnificent night for us. It raised about $150,000 for music in Atlanta.

We recorded it and did a video. It was nice, big, and grand. But we decided now, it was time to show 'em what we're really made of - just the five guys.

Songfacts: What made the band decide to do a proper live album now?

Ed: Me, Dean [Roland], and Will [Turpin] are the original members, and Johnny [Rabb] and Jesse [Triplett] came in about five or six years ago. After we made See What You Started by Continuing [2015], we went on a two-year tour, and we decided to just record the shows - really for us to have and to listen to the quality of what we were performing on stage. And then it started sounding really good, and we were like, "We'd like for people to hear this."

So, it was a good opportunity for people who have never heard Collective Soul to understand, "This is what you're going to get. Five guys. There are no overdubs - just us being a rock and roll band." I think we became comfortable as a unit - those five guys - getting in there and playing for a little bit, and learning about each other, going out, and doing it.

Songfacts: By and large, how do you write your best songs?

Ed: I have no regimen. A lot of the early stuff was written in the back of a bus, because we were on tour so much. So, I presented it to the guys whenever it came, and we'd go to soundcheck and work on it. We'd usually play it that night just to see if the audience liked it or if we could work on it and make it a little better. But I don't get up in the morning, get a cup of coffee, sit down and start writing. I'm just happy when it happens.

Most of the time, I start with a melody. The music usually comes first. I think only two songs I've ever written the lyrics first, and then put the music to it. So, for me, it's easier to do it that way - music and melody ideas.

Sometimes, I'll get a little theme going pretty quick, but the music comes real easy. Then, you've got to start putting the pieces together with the lyrics.

Songfacts: What are some songs that were written in the back of the bus?

Ed: Oh God... all of them! Literally, the second [Collective Soul, 1995] and a lot of the third record [Disciplined Breakdown, 1997], a lot of the fourth [Dosage, 1999].

Sometimes, when we get into the studio, we have a batch of songs, but I never limit it to those songs. I wrote "December" in the studio when we thought the record was done. "Heavy" was written when we thought the record was done. You know, you just keep the vibe flowing - the creative juices. Whatever happens, let it happen.

Songfacts: Was the song "This Little Light of Mine" an influence on the lyric for "Shine"?

Ed: Not initially. I mean, it could have been, but it wasn't like I sat down and thought of it. I've never heard of that before, but that's kind of cool though. Good question! I'm sure I sang it a million times as a child, so it might have had something to do with it.

Songfacts: What do you recall about coming up with the chord progression for "Shine"?

Ed: I had riffs - this was the late '80s and I was writing a lot of songs. I called it "drone," where you either drone the A or the E, and play a melody under it. So, I had a bunch of them that the band I was in at the time were playing. But I always had the "Shine" riff, and I thought, "That's a cool riff."

Then I came home and spent the night with my parents and Dean, who is 10 years younger than me - I didn't even know he played guitar. So he was playing guitar, and I joined in. I just showed him the riff, and I was like, "I need to finish this." So, I literally just wrote it right there, with Dean, sitting in my parents' living room. I didn't think anything about it. I probably wrote it in 1989, and it wasn't out until 1994.

Although some rock bands spend years perfecting their material and/or bonding together before signing a recording contract, this proved not to be the case concerning Collective Soul. Roland recorded a demo of original songs, submitted it to Georgia State University's WRAS, who in turn put "Shine" into rotation. The song was soon picked up by WJRR in Orlando, Florida, which led to a recording contact with Atlantic Records, the first Collective Soul lineup being assembled, and Roland's demo being issued as the group's debut full-length, Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid.
Songfacts: What was the lyrical inspiration behind the song "December"?

Ed: We were going through a tough time with our first manager, and I just felt like at the time, a lot of stuff happened really quickly. You've got to remember, we had a hit song before we had a label or even a true band. So, that relationship started to deteriorate. And while we were in the studio, it came pretty natural. I just wanted to talk about how I felt I was being used and whatever I did was not good enough ever.

I wanted to have a story that had an end. I didn't want to call it "The End" or "Finale," so I thought, "What's the last month of the year where it ends, and the calendar year starts over?" It's December, of course. So I used that, but I didn't put the title in the lyrics.

That's the only song the band did not like. When I presented it to them, they hated it, to be honest with you. I talked them into it, we recorded it, and they did want the title in there somewhere, so I came up with the bridge, just to put "December" in there. [Laughs] But it was basically a relationship breakup.

Songfacts: "The World I Know."

Ed: I wrote that when we had a day off in New York City. This was 25 years ago, when we were in Times Square, which is not what Times Square is now, which is like Disneyland. There was still some grit and dirt to New York City - especially around Times Square and Union Square back then. I literally walked out of the room, took a two-hour walk around New York, and just absorbed and observed from the highs and lows of what society was offering in the greatest city in the world.

Back then, there were still homeless people living in cardboard boxes. Then, somebody pulled up in a nice limousine, with fur coats on, and walked right by.

Just to be in that big city, I was looking at what the good was, what the bad was, but also, you don't know what good feels like until you feel bad. You don't know what bad feels like until you feel good. So, I was trying to use that whole imagery and using it with New York City as I walked around.

Songfacts: "Heavy."

Ed: Once again, I wanted to write a song that didn't have a title in the lyrics. So, once again, I was being a little bitch I guess - I felt like I was being taken advantage of, so the whole thing is, "All your weight it falls on me."

I was looking for a word that would fit what I was describing, like "All your weight it falls on me, it brings me down." The riff I felt was a heavy riff, so, "Heavy" just came up. And I wanted a song down to three minutes - I wanted it to move quick. That was written after we thought the record was done, and the guys were like, "No, we need to get this one in there." And I agreed wholeheartedly.

Songfacts: "Precious Declaration."

Ed: That's after we did go through a breakup with the manager with "December." So, that was basically about going through a lawsuit. "Precious Declaration" is when they signed the release that we could continue being a band and continue on with our career. He got what he thought was his, and I got what I thought was mine. Hence, "Precious Declaration" means yours is yours, and mine you leave alone now. [Laughs]

Songfacts: What is the best Collective Soul music video?

Ed: Actually, the DVD that we did with the youth orchestra. You can pick any of those songs. Because it was live and it was with these kids who were very inspiring to us that day. So, without a doubt, I think that would be the one.

Videos to me never were a big part of what we wanted as a band. You did them because MTV still played videos then, and the record label wanted them. But they were something we didn't find necessary. We wanted them, but we were not making half-a-million-dollar videos like a lot of bands were at that time. Whatever we could get through, we did. But I am very proud of the youth orchestra - the home video.

December 20, 2017
For more Collective Soul, visit collectivesoul.com
Get the album Live here

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