“I think I’ve gotten a little more obvious, lyrically. Doing it for so long and growing up just wanting to be a songwriter – I’m the lead singer by default – I think the comfort level that comes with success, and also surrounding yourself with the best bandmates you could ever want, builds confidence to kinda go in these different directions of writing.”
Collective Soul singer and main songwriter Ed Roland and bandmates, brother Dean Roland, Will Turpin, Jesse Triplett and Johnny Rabb, are set to celebrate their 25th anniversary with the release of their tenth studio album, Blood, available June 21. In addition, the Stockbridge, Georgia-bred band is taking the celebration to a city near you on their just-launched Now’s The Time Tour with Gin Blossoms, running through June 16 in Rockton, Illinois.
I recently spoke with Roland about the upcoming album, its first single, “Right As Rain,” the evolution of his songwriting and the de-evolution of discourse and civility in society. Finally, Ed and I reminisced about the band’s many appearances on the now-defunct national radio program Rockline which I produced from 1992-1997. Let’s just say good times were always had by all and some tales will never be told.
We’ve got another great, great record to talk about here. Let me begin by letting you know – if you don’t already. I spoke with Robin (Wilson) of the Gin Blossoms recently about the 25th anniversary tour. So, this conversation is going to focus on the great songs on the new album Blood.
Thank you, buddy.
It begins with that really guitar-heavy (song) “Now’s the Time.” There’s a line in there that says, “Now’s the time for pushing, now’s the time to shove.” What are you pushing and shoving against?
I think society’s just been angry at society lately. It ends with “now’s the time for pushing” and I put a girl’s voice in there, going, “No! It’s not the time for pushing. Is it time to shove? No. Now’s the time to change that, now’s the time for love.” I just think that in today’s climate right now there’s too much anger. Everybody chill out.
On “Over Me,” again the guitars are turned up to 11 and the tempo on this one is certainly pedal to the metal. Man, you guys are giving AC/DC a run for their money on this one (laughs)…
Thank you. (Laughs). We’ll take that any day!
Absolutely, yeah. So, there’s a recurring line that states, “Something’s going on.” Tell me a little bit about this one, “Over Me.”
It’s based on my sister-in-law, my wife’s sister, who was not only her sister but her best friend. (She) had breast cancer. It was a five-year battle that she succumbed to last year. When I was writing this, and at the same time her father has Alzheimer’s. So, the whole basis is, (lyric) “Sister says she’s feeling sick/gather up a crucifix, something’s going on.” Just watching my wife go through hell, basically. And then selfishly me going, wait a minute I’m trying to keep everything together here myself (laughs), so “who’s watching over me?” Or who’s over me? So, that’s again where, you know, (lyric) “Daddy says he’s feeling great watching local news at eight.” There’s no local news at eight. Because he can’t remember anything. He’s just confused all the time. You know, and I shared these lyrics with my wife. She was cool with everything, because to me, writing is my therapy. She’s had to deal with her own way of dealing with mourning. There’s no mourning 101. Everybody’s gotta find their own way to keep it moving, man.
Well, we haven’t spoken in quite some time, but since (the last time) we have, sadly I lost my dad to Alzheimer’s eventually.
Oh, god, that is the worst (expletive) disease! There’s no good disease, let me start off with that, but this…just watching the deterioration it becomes exhausting. And you almost lose feelings for that human being, that soul, because it’s just exhausting. And it’s not their fault. Dean and I lost our dad, but it was in the blink of an eye. Dean and I always talked about that. Every loss we’ve ever had has been quick. If that make sense. There’s been no deterioration. And this is my first experience with it and it just absolutely sucks. But I’m so sorry for your loss, man.
You know exactly what it’s like.
Let’s move to happier things. Call me crazy, man, but I think the first single “Right As Rain,” sonically, would make a perfect segue into Zeppelin’s “Misty Mountain Hop.”
Oh, that’s cool. Once again, we’ll take that compliment (laughs)!
To me, the intro on there – the intros, I should say, to both those songs are pretty similar, I think.
Well, to be honest with you I was listening to Tom Petty. (1987 album) Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), which a lot of people need to go back and listen to. And it’s first single “Jammin’ Me.” It kinda came from just loving that song and getting his vibe. And then we listened to a Wilco record – I can’t remember which one – and just love the guitar tone. So, we all sat around. And (guitarist) Peter Stroud was in town. He plays with Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, played with Don Henley, and he’s a dear friend of ours. He called, and I said, “Dude, we’re about to record, get over here.” So, he played the slide solo for us on that. Once again, the recordings of these – I say these records because we made a double record, which we’re releasing that other one next year – was just so much fun. I think the energy; you can hear it. To me, I know because it reminds me of where we were when we were recording it. It was just fun. It felt great.
It sounds like you guys were having a blast doing this. So, correct me if I’m wrong again but I get the sense that you’re asking a lot of rhetorical questions on this album…
…is that true?
That’s true. That’s a fair assumption. You know, you live life and you become successful and you have everything you ever dream of as a child, if not more, and you go, what does it really (expletive) matter? At the end of the day, you know, you just want tomorrow (laughs). However that comes you just want tomorrow.
Amen, brother, for sure. One that I was thinking about, on “Them Blues” you’re asking – actually I think you’re screaming, “What in the world is going on in the world?”
That’s a good example of one of those (rhetorical questions). And, to kind of flip the switch here, man, do we need a song like “Good Place to Start” in these tumultuous times that we’re talking about here.
What sparked the writing of this one?
Once again, I go back to Tom Petty. When He passed it was just a hit in the gut. I’ve probably seen him ten times over my life, and you know, I just think maybe I took him for granted because he’s always just so consistent. Great songwriting and the band was great and their playing. It just – still to this day – blows me away that we won’t get to hear another Tom Petty song. It’s such a part of my life. And growing up, musically. And the band. So, I was like, alright I’m gonna write a song like (Petty’s) “Here Comes My Girl.” I’m gonna speak the verse, but I wanted it to be uplifting in the chorus. We all make mistakes. Those without sin cast the first stone. But, learn from them and become a better person. That was the thesis for the lyrics. But talking about today’s world, you know, like, “We got weed we can’t smoke, but the prescriptions are afloat.” The opioid crisis is real. I watched the mayor, Mayor Pete, last night and they were talking in New Hampshire and New Hampshire is the fourth deadliest state with the opioid crisis. I mean it’s for real. And we’re gonna sit around and dick around about weed? Come on (laughs). I just think you gotta put priorities in order. Now, I’m not gonna sit here and get political and say I’m for or against legalizing pot. I don’t see the problem, where I do see a problem with the opioid crisis. If that makes sense.
Of course. And we could add guns to that conversation, and I think more recently, intruding on women’s bodies and their rights.
Right. Once again, where are we going (laughs)? I don’t know. You’d have thought we’ve moved father as a society in free thinking, but I guess that’s above my paygrade.
Yeah, I guess you’ve enhanced my point of us needing this song “Good Place to Start” today. You’ve definitely made it very difficult to pick a favorite song off of Blood, but…
It’s a funny story. So, when we were getting ready to release the single, I went to the guys and said, alright everybody write down what you think the single should be, and then, you know, democracy. All five of us wrote down a different song (laughs)! Okay, we’ll send it to management. We’ll send it over there. They’ll figure it out. I like hearing that, thank you man. I’m just so proud. As you can tell, it was hard for us to pick one, too.
Yeah, I was gonna say that’s a hell of a, in air quotes…
That’s a hell of a problem to have, isn’t it?
Right! Exactly! But, if gun-to-the-head, if I had to choose one right now, I’m leaning towards “Observation of Thoughts.”
Ooh look at you! I love that! That was the one I picked!
Because I wanted to go out kinda with a message. You know when I wrote it I was in the basement and a friend of mine was there and I played it for him. I said I really want to present this song, but I think the subject matter may be too strong. And he was like, record that right now and send it over to them. And I did, and they immediately called back, and they said, we wanna do this song. Because, once again, they understood the struggle I was going through at home. Hence the title Blood. We’re like brothers. I know my brother is in the band. So, they understood and that’s what made this recording even, (it) got me out of that mindset. But at the same time, I was getting my therapy out. And they could feel it, and they played it that way.
That’s the one that I kept hitting repeat on more often, I guess.
Thank you. Hey, I’m learning!
I like that.
Thirty-two years now in the business…
Two great minds thinking alike. I like it!
I love it! Track eight on the album, “Changed,” I could hear that performed by an orchestra with a huge choir, and I can hear a high school drumline enhancing (the song) “Big Sky.”
What, if anything, has changed about your songwriting, if technique is the word, or process over the years?
I think I’ve gotten a little more obvious, lyrically. Doing it for so long and growing up just wanting to be a songwriter – I’m the lead singer by default – I think the comfort level that comes with success, and also surrounding yourself with the best bandmates you could ever want, builds confidence to kinda go in these different directions of writing. From “Observation of Thoughts, I would have never written those lyrics five years ago. But, with the confidence that the band has given me and the confidence that people still want to hear us play, I’m gonna go for it a little bit more, lyrically. I think I’ve always been pretty melodic in writing and riff based. That’s where I’ve seen the change.
I’m gonna ask you this kind of an overall question and site a line in the song “Porch Swing,” where you sing, “I am made of simple thread/a common man wanting peace for one and all.” If I’ve got that right…
…then I have a simple question for you. Who is E Roland, outside of the songwriter?
Who am I? I’m a simple man that wears simple threads (laughs) when he’s not on stage. I’m a homebody when I’m home. I’m a father first and foremost. And then a husband and then a bandmate. It’s really that simple. “Porch Swing” was written in Bluffton, Georgia at a place called Palmetto Bluff, and we were on a porch swing. And my dog was out there porching. My boys were there, and we went to go fishing and that’s truly, to me, that’s living. I mean it’s not bad to get paid to be on stage, too, so that’s fun, too. And I’ll never stop doing that. I mean the band is just part of our existence, but if you asked us, we’d love to be sitting down having a beer watching SCC football on the porch. That’s just us. And that’s just not me, that’s everyone of us. It kinda fits all of us. Johnny and Jesse would rather be fishing than doing anything. You know it’s just the simple thing – people call them simple – but they’re beautiful things in life.
One quick tour question: will you guys be adding more shows?
Yes. We’ve been told that. I think in September and October.
Final question for you man, and it’s what I call the proverbial Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment question. Did you Have one of those? Did you hear a song or an album or go to a show…
It’s when I put the needle on Elton John’s Greatest Hits. That was it. I was like, I wanna be a songwriter. I just started focusing on that. That was it. It was that simple.
Are you looking forward to the Elton John movie?
I am. Dean and I have flown out a couple of times to see him this year already. He’s sounding great, looks healthy, sounds healthy, so yeah I’m very excited about it.
Cool. Well, it’s obviously great to talk to you again…
You, too hot rod! Keep it going, baby! Keep it going!
Are you kidding me (laughs)? I mean as long as I get to talk to people who I love and listen to music that I love…
I tell people all the time, maybe we’ll back it back and not do 100 shows a year or whatever, but I always tell them, I don’t play the lottery, I already won it. I get to do what I love.
Great way to end it. Thank you, man.
Thank you, brother. Alright buddy. Good talking to you.
Alright. Tell everybody I said hi as well.
I will, buddy.