By his own admission, Collective Soul frontman E (formerly Ed) Roland is an old soul. A hippie at heart.
“I just think that’s the way to go about life,” the singer/guitarist said during a recent phone interview. “There’s nothing wrong with not agreeing with every ideology or idea, but communicate in a loving manner. You can listen, you can learn and you can love. It’s really the three ‘L’s’ that I like to live by.”
If one were to add a fourth “L” to describe Roland’s mutual mindset with Collective Soul, it would be “longevity.” The Atlanta-based alternative rock band celebrated its 25th anniversary with the June 21 release of new album, “Blood.” Roland is nothing if not a prolific songwriter — he and the band recorded a double album’s worth of new material leading up to the anniversary. Cooler heads, and management, however, pumped the brakes on that idea, with the band instead opting to split the material up into two releases, with the second record coming out next year.
Collective Soul is currently on the road, bringing “Blood” and myriad catalog hits to the masses on the “Now’s the Time Tour,” along with co-headliner Gin Blossoms. The tour makes its Utah appearance on Tuesday at Sandy Amphitheater.
Roland called to chat recently from the back of the band’s tour bus a couple hours before a show in Roseburg, Oregon, and our wide-ranging interview touched on many topics, including “Blood,” his songwriting process, the band’s extreme dedication to new music, Collective Soul’s “family first” approach, his love of the double album and how he came up with the unique way the band ends its concerts.
Oh, and by the way, whatever happened to that song Roland spontaneously wrote live onstage at Sandy Amphitheater during a 2014 show? Read on to find out that and more.
DOUG FOX: Not sure if you’ll remember this show specifically, but the first time I saw you, you performed an outdoor show in Park City at the Sundance Film Festival back in 2005.
E ROLAND: (Laughs) Oh, I remember! It was freezing. We had the heaters. The guitars were out of tune. Oh, I remember! Thanks for bringing that up, Doug! You’re awesome. (laughs)
FOX: But that was a fantastic introduction for me to the band. I loved that show, and from that time on I’ve been following you guys closely. So that was a great start even though you remember it differently than I do.
ROLAND: (Laughs) Well, thank you for remembering it kindly.
FOX: One thing that I wanted to bring up, it was at that show where you gave a great introduction to an album track that was on the “Youth” album, which was the current one at the time, and your intro and explanation to the song really touched me, and I had gone through some similar things to the point where that song really hit home for me. That song is “Satellite.” Every time I play that CD and hear that song, I have to just play it multiple times, and live through it again. I have always wondered, how things turned out between you and your son. Because when you wrote it, I remember you saying he was young at the time and it was kind of your way of looking over him even though you weren’t always around. So I’m just wondering how that all turned out?
ROLAND: Everything’s great. He’s actually coming out here next week to hang out with daddy and the boys for a week. He’s turning 21. You know, it was a point in my life, I’d went through a divorce — me and my ex, we get along great. I’ve remarried, she’s about to get remarried again, and you know what, we just realized that it was all about our son. That’s what it’s about, you know? In life, you can agree to disagree, but you can do it in a very comforting way, is a good way to put it, I think. And my relationship with my boys is awesome, I’d like to think. I really do. For him to come out and get to hang out with dad for a week on the bus with the boys, is awesome, and to celebrate his 21st birthday.
FOX: It’s so weird to think of him being 21 because in my mind ...
ROLAND: Oh, you think it’s weird, it’s real damn weird! (laughs)
FOX: That’s awesome. As you’re obviously aware, music is such powerful and potentially uniting force — I mean it can also be divisive, but I think, as you’ve touched on and as I think a lot of the themes on your new album are too, it’s a uniting force. It must be incredibly cool to create a song from the beginning, and eventually end up with something that totally impacts other people’s lives in such profound ways. Are you in any way aware of that as you’re crafting a song and bringing it along, or does it just kind of go with the territory at this point?
ROLAND: I think I’m aware of it, but I think I’m aware of myself, if that makes sense. I never want to be judgmental because I’m not the end all to end all. I just want us to think about what we’re saying, what we’re doing and in the end love will win. It just does. I’m an old soul, a hippie. I just think that’s the way to go about life. There’s nothing wrong with not agreeing with every ideology or idea, but communicate in a loving manner. You can listen, you can learn and you can love. It’s really the three “L’s” that I like to live by.
FOX: One thing I really respect Collective Soul for is your belief and dedication to your new songs live. It kind of takes me back to my youth — where bands would live by that album-tour-album-tour cycle. And maybe that cycle could be daunting and wear bands down, but no matter how big a band was or how deep its back catalog, you could always count on them playing several songs from their new album and really promoting it. But today, and I understand why this happens, especially with the summer touring packages, etc., and you have a limited time onstage and you’re playing in front of fans from other bands as well, but it seems like a group may play one new song and the next time they come around that’s abandoned, too. When I’ve seen you guys over the years, and not just as headliners, but also as a support act and no matter how much time you end up having on stage, you always play your new material with a vengeance, and I love that. Where does that attitude come from — and how have you avoided falling into that trap of just doing mostly hits?
ROLAND: Well, we always say this: “We were formed in the ‘90s, but we’re not a ‘90s band.” We’re still making music. I’m still writing. I’m still creating. And that’s what’s the driving force in this band. If I had to go out and rely on just “Shine” or “World I Know,” to me that’s giving up. I still haven’t written the best song I can write, I feel like, so that’s what I search for every day when I wake up is that song. And I don’t know if I’ll ever get it, but I just feel like that’s the driving force. And the guys are so sweet and follow that path. I believe in that. And I would never not play the songs that presented us to the public, but at the same time I want to present what I’m going through now, and the band, to the public.
FOX: Right, I love that attitude and I think it spills over into your songwriting and production, because it seems like you are consistently turning out great albums, and new material. “Blood” is kind of a perfect example of that. I mean, you essentially recorded a double album and if what I’ve heard is right, you had to be convinced by the record company to not release them both at the same time. That’s incredible.
ROLAND: Yeah, in this day and age, they were like, “Are you a moron?” No. You know streaming is so popular. You know when I grew up in the era and the time, double albums were some of my favorite records of all time, the “White” album, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Frampton Comes Alive,” those meant a lot to me. So when you get time, in the back of your head, you go, “I’m going to make a lot of music and I’m going to make a double album.” It’s an ego thing in a sense. But at the same time, we were on fire. The band was on fire. We toured for three years, I came in and had songs that they really liked, and we knocked it out in like a month. With that being said, you have to be sensible about it. You have to be practical about all this. ... So the second part of the record will come out next year. But it still comes out. Once again it goes back to, we like create new music. That’s why we got into this.
FOX: Well, you just name checked a couple of my all-time favorite albums. “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” my first concert was seeing Elton John at Dodger Stadium, so that was my introduction to live music.
ROLAND: You had a great introduction then. He’s my hero.
FOX: Yeah, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” is just a fantastic album. Of course, “Frampton Comes Alive” as well. Do you think listeners today are kind of missing out on that experience of the double album?
ROLAND: I think they’re missing out on the album in general. It’s funny, I was having this conversation with Tommy Shaw of Styx two nights ago and we were talking about growing up, like you put the needle on ... and I have a record player in the back of the bus, I listen to vinyl. I want to put the needle on the record and experience what that artist was experiencing. I don’t want to experience a commercial — you know, 60 seconds and then move on to something. It’s a body of work not a body of 60 seconds to me. And I’m that generation, I’ll admit. But I just totally enjoy, and getting back to your question, yes, they are missing out because I cannot imagine my life without listening to a fourth side of a record, much less a double album. You know, to me, it’s a beautiful experience.
FOX: So, you guys just played with Styx at Sturgis a couple nights ago, right?
FOX: You didn’t happen to do “Porch Swing” live did you?
ROLAND: No, I actually kind of teased Tommy about that. Because you know he sang and played for us on “Porch Swing” (on the album)?
ROLAND: We’re going to do it at some point, I promise you that. That’ll happen, but it wasn’t the right time. They had a long drive, we had a long drive, it was like, “Uh, let’s just get through the show.” (Laughs)
FOX: I know Tommy did that, and I asked him about it right after I got the advance link to your album, and he mentioned how the song sounded finished already the first time he heard it, but he eventually found some space to invade on there. It was a great touch. What made you think to check in with him to guest on that song specifically?
ROLAND: Well, when I was growing up, I was a big Tommy Shaw fan. I always said this, I was a Styx fan, but I was more of a Tommy Shaw fan. One of the reasons being, I’m from Atlanta, Georgia, and Tommy grew up in Mobile, Alabama, so when I would go see Styx and he came on stage, it would give me the encouragement that someone from the South could be on that big stage one day. It really, it was not only a songwriting voice, it was that you could do that from a small town in the South. And from there, I just kind of reached out, hoping that ... (I) threw the bait in the water, to see if I could catch it.
FOX: And you had guested on one of his solo albums.
ROLAND: I had. That was like 20 years ago, and I’ll never forget when he called, I was like, “Well, Tommy, you’re one of the greatest rock singers of all time and I’m just this dude.” (Laughs) And he was very kind and supportive, and so I waited 20 years to pull my card out and go, “Hey, Tommy, remember back in 1999 when I sang on your record? Can you sing on ours?” (Laughs) But once again, I wanted to do something that wasn’t necessarily ... as I was telling him before, “Tom, we’re not trying to be Styx, this is Collective Soul and just kind of a good way to end, what we feel the record is. Once again, I go back to listening to albums in full. And I thought it was a good closing song and the band agreed, and so I thought, “What better person to call?”
FOX: Well it’s a fantastic song and really sums up the vibe of the album, I think, especially as the last song.
ROLAND: Well, thank you. That’s very kind. Thank you.
FOX: So let’s talk about “Blood,” I’ve been wearing this album out ever since I got the listening link to it. This is a fantastic album. I’m wondering if you can comment on the title, and how it might relate to themes running through the album?
ROLAND: Well, “Blood,” to me, references a lot of things. My father being a minister, blood is very much a part of the biblical story, and having a band with my brother in it is a big deal and growing up with these cats, it just felt like family. To me it just means family. And you don’t necessarily have to have the same blood type, or mom or dad, to be family. You come together, break bread, enjoy music and love life. To me that’s what we were going for with the title.
FOX: It’s a very kind of in-the-moment album, and it’s tackling some important themes — I mean, you need look no further than the opening line of “Good Place to Start” to see just how unfortunately current some things are lyrically.
FOX: And that song just has an immediately recognizable Tom Petty influence — which I know is exactly what you were going for — but also a lot of ingredients that make it a great Collective Soul song. How far along in the process did you write “Good Place to Start,” in relation to other things on the album?
ROLAND: That happened actually two days after the Las Vegas shootings and Tom Petty’s passing. And I just, as we all were, was sending out prayers, thoughts and energy to all the victims and the Tom Petty family. I just wanted to do something that felt right at that moment for me. It was therapeutic. And the whole point of doing it in a style like Tom, “Here Comes My Girl” is one of my favorite songs of all time. So the speaking part, and the first line we talked about was a guy with a gun, I didn’t want it to be about the shooting, it was more about this crazy cat in North Korea. But then I kind of thought about the tourist in Las Vegas thing in the second verse, I just wanted to write about that one moment, literally two days after all that happened, you know? It doesn’t take me long to write a song, no more than 30 minutes, 45 minutes at the most. It’s just me absorbing my emotions and putting it to ... I use pencil and paper, and you know, the iPhone.
FOX: So I’m kind of stunned when you say it takes you no more than 30 minutes to write a song.
ROLAND: Yeah, and that’s pushin’ it. I get bored after that point.
FOX: OK, so where does this all come from — is it your muse, or have you just always been that way?
ROLAND: You know, I don’t know. Honestly I don’t know. I try to read as much as possible, watch a lot of sports, and I’ll have the record player going on all at the same time. My wife will come down and go, “What are you doing?” And I’m like, “I’m absorbing anything and everything.” And I’ll always use the analogy, if you’re playing golf, and you’ve got to hit through a tree — a big part of that tree is air, but when you hit something hard, you hit something hard. So to me I’m just sitting there circling, my mind’s absorbing it all. Honestly, that’s about the best analogy I can give you. Other than that, I’m just, thank God something works! (laughs)
FOX: You mentioned that you write most songs on paper, do you keep your original lyric writings of each song?
ROLAND: I do. Every year, all the books I read, all my writing, my schedule, which is done with a calendar, I put in a box or a container and I mark the year, just so my boys can see it and stuff. “Hey, Dad was kind of busy that year.”
FOX: Well, that’s cool. “Right as Rain” is another great one on the album. In the verses, you mention a succession of seemingly good things, followed by the conclusion of, “But I don’t know if it makes me whole.” I’d like to kind of flip that around, and ask, what things these days do make you feel whole?
ROLAND: Oh, my children, 100 percent. My family, and my band and my crew. Once again I go back to family. Family first — that’s our motto on this bus. Any time and every time, always family first. That’s where my energy comes from, I will say that. That is, you know, God to me, for lack of a better term, I’m not being disrespectful to a higher energy, but that’s why he put, he allowed this to happen. That’s the energy. The only way I can get energy is from my family and my friends.
FOX: After listening to “Blood” for as much as I have, now I’m wondering what the rest of it sounds like.
ROLAND: It’s awesome! (laughs)
FOX: Are there similar themes running through it, or did the songs that will appear on that, did they naturally kind of separate themselves from the ones that make up “Blood”?
ROLAND: You know, I think they’re very similar in a sense, social concepts without being judgmental. That’s why when we picked them out, if I had to pick what they would be, this would be Side II and Side IV. So the next one that comes out will be Side I and Side III, if that makes sense.
FOX: It does. I can kind of understand that now. So when you come to Utah, you’ll be back at Sandy Amphitheater, and you played there several years ago and I thought there was this amazing moment, where you literally wrote the basics of a song right on the spot, on the stage that night.
ROLAND: Yeah, “Utah Moon.”
ROLAND: That’s on a solo record that I’ve never released.
FOX: I was just going to ask if you ever did anything with that song, if it’s still hanging around, what the deal was?
ROLAND: It’s done. I put it on my solo record, which I may just release as vinyl. I did 10 songs, the whole record, and “Utah Moon” is part of it.
FOX: And that has not been released yet?
ROLAND: It has not.
FOX: Do you know when that might happen?
ROLAND: I don’t, to be honest with you.
FOX: I know people that were there that night have been wondering, “Hey, whatever happened to that song?”
ROLAND: Oh, it did happen!
FOX: Your acoustic guitar playing is such an integral part of the band’s sound — both live and on record — and a lot of rock bands, even if they record some things acoustically on the record, they don’t necessarily play them that way live. I think that’s something you guys do exceptionally well. As a songwriter, do most things start out acoustically for you or where do things have their genesis?
ROLAND: It depends where I am. If I’m home, I’m usually sitting on the piano, and if I’m in the back of the bus, then of course it’s acoustic. But if I’m in my basement, my man cave, I turn up the guitar a little bit. So it depends. It’s really just where I am to be honest with you.
FOX: When you’ve seen as many concerts as I have over the years, I recognize a lot of different things bands do live — both the similarities and differences — but one thing I’ve seen you guys do which I think is totally unique, and I’ve never really seen anybody do anything like it before, is how you end your shows with “Run.” You gradually leave the stage one at a time. And then when you leave the stage you’re still playing acoustic even backstage as the audience sings along. And I just find that it’s just kind of a communal experience with the audience. I’m just wondering how you guys first came up with that ending?
ROLAND: Well I came up with it because I was tired of doing encores, ‘cause I found that to be the most egotistical thing on the planet. Because we’re walking off stage, and people are clapping, and we know we’re going to go back out. To me, I just want to play as long as I can. And then walking off stage playing, and then the crowd singing with me, to me means we’re together forever. Like, just because we’re gone doesn’t mean we’re forgotten. The audience isn’t forgotten. That’s the way we wanted to present it.
FOX: Are you ever tempted to ever string things out even longer some nights when you finish “Run” backstage? I’m sure you have kind of a set way that you end it, but are there some nights you just say, “Screw it, I’m going to play this several more times?”
ROLAND: Oh yeah, I feel that when we get back (there) because we all crowd around together. We’re still in it together. People can’t see us backstage, but we’re huddled around each other and we’re singing together, and Johnny’s playing the tambourine, Jesse’s dancing — it’s our celebration moment. It really is. Once again, I go back to, we want people to know that we love you, we haven’t forgotten about you and hopefully the same thing in turn ... you love us, you won’t forget us.
FOX: It’s just very cool. When I saw you guys last year, you actually told fans from the stage, “Hey, if you ever run into me in public, come up and say hi.” Does that ever happen?
ROLAND: All the time. I love it. That’s a beautiful moment for me, it really is. I love people. I love meeting people and I love learning from them.