Ed Kowalczyk

Ed Kowalczyk

As the lead singer of Live, Ed Kowalczyk fronted one of the most successful American post-grunge bands of the ‘90s, coming to prominence with their 1994 sophomore album, Throwing Copper. With his bald head and intense eyes, Kowalczyk cut a distinctive figure, but what separated him from other '90s alt-rockers was his utter earnestness: he adopted U2's open-hearted stance as his own, preferring sincerity to irony. Live released seven albums between 1991 and 2006 before splitting, with Kowalczyk launching a solo career in 2010 with Alive.

Alive was Ed Kowalczyk’s first major activity outside of Live in his professional career. A native of York, Pennsylvania, he met the rest of the band while in middle school and the group played in a variety of incarnations before high school graduation. After completing high school, the group worked steadily, eventually signing with Radioactive Records in 1991, settling on the name Live. Their debut album, Mental Jewelry, arrived later that year but the big breakthrough came with Throwing Copper in 1994. Secret Samadhi followed in 1997 with The Distance to Here appearing in 2000, around the time when Kowalczyk started stepping outside the group, briefly appearing in David Fincher’s 1999 cult classic Fight Club and singing on Tricky’s single "Evolution Revolution Love" in 2001.

Two other albums followed early in the new millennium — V in 2001 and Birds of Pray in 2003 — with the group's last, Songs from Black Mountain, appearing in 2006. Live supported the album with a tour that lasted until 2009, when the band announced a hiatus following a show at the Palazzo in Las Vegas. Soon it became apparent that the split was permanent due to a rift between Kowalczyk and the rest of the band; the rift led to the rest of the group filing a lawsuit against the singer in May 2010 alleging they were due publishing royalties. Kowalczyk was the first member to launch a solo career, releasing Alive in the summer of 2010. The record debuted at 166 on the Billboard charts but six on the magazine’s Christian chart.

Kowalczyk released the EP The Garden in November of 2012 but he made his real re-entry into modern music nearly a year later with The Flood and the Mercy. Released on Harbour Records in October 2013, this second full-length album featured several contributions by R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck, as well as appearances by singer/songwriter Rachel Yamagata.

In his own words:

"Almost my whole life I've been searching for peace and truth outside myself. In books, in paintings, in other people. Now I've found peace and truth in places I never expected to find them. Indeed, like enjoying a sunset. What has made a big difference is that I've moved with my family from the big city to the countryside. Now I live in the middle of nature. The trees and animals around me give me the feeling that I've returned to earth. And then my fatherhood was added as well. The birth of our child was such an overwhelming experience for me that I can now easily put things into perspective, even those I used to get tensed up with.

I have chosen, with a spiritual practice, to deepen my understanding of my relationship to everything that is arising, and not just to go with the flow. And that is the essence of the music of Live, really, this sort of dissatisfaction with the way things are, with the limitation that just “going with the flow” represents.

What I've been feeling about reincarnation lately is that life itself is evidence of no beginning and no end. If it's really over when it's over, then what are we doing here? I remember as a very young child hearing about the Big Bang and thinking it was bullshit. How could anything come from nothing?

The Western idea of spirituality has always been that you have to be absolutely disassociated from the vital areas of life—give all your material possessions away, find the guru, and live happily ever after in a monastery. Or maybe do yoga once a week to feel better bodily. That's our notion of "spirituality" and it's pretty fucked. It's really just not the case. Our lives are fully integrated. We're incarnated in these physical bodies, and spirituality is essentially about allowing the forces of the divine to descend fully into the body, rather than us ascending out of the body with the intention to go somewhere else. So every moment is an opportunity to confront and transcend our limitations. Being onstage is an intensification of that, with all this incredible energy being created by the band and the audience flying around like bullets from an AK-47. There's so much energy that you have to conduct it somehow. And that in turn benefits the music."

-Ed Kowalczyk

Posts by Ed Kowalczyk


The Meaning of the Avant Garde

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Ken Wilber, Ed Kowalczyk, and Stuart Davis met at the Ken Wilber’s house in Boulder for a special meeting focusing on Integral Art and Transformative Practice. What followed was an afternoon of vibrant discussion and electrifying performances, centered on the themes: What is the relation of art and transformation? How can art be part of an integral transformative practice?