The members of Live claim their forthcoming CD, Songs from Black Mountain, represents a new era for the band. In one sense, that's obvious enough: It's their first under a new contract with Epic Records, following a career-long, seven-CD run with Radioactive/MCA Records.
But to the band's singer and chief songwriter Ed Kowalczyk, milestones associated with the June 13 release go beyond business, to musical and fundamental levels.
"I think it's just the energy of the record," Kowalczyk says. "There is a new sort of depth to the band, definitely to the music, that I sense. It's sort of 100 percent uplifting now, but it's an authentic kind of uplifting. ... It does have songs like "Show' and "Where Do We Go from Here?,' which are much more sort of that existential sort of angst that people [read] into Live. It's just with these songs, like "The River' and "Mystery' ... I think they signal a kind of change in the atmosphere of the band."
"The River" opens the album on a particularly warm note. Lyrically, the song evokes a romantic feeling in its images of a man and woman in an embrace, and its idea of letting love ease one's pain.
The music matches the emotional tone of the lyrics. Instead of the bracing guitar riffs and urgent rhythms that Live is known for, "The River" sounds more textured, a bit lighter and more melodic. Kowalczyk says the musical shift is a result of the disc's production and instrumentation.
"We went for a cleaner, sort of more classic guitar sound big guitars, but not necessarily the sort of compressed, crunched [sound] we were sort of typecasted into," he says. "I would say the melodic strengths of the songwriting really pushed the production into a place that supported it maybe even better."
Lyrically, Kowalczyk says Songs from Black Mountain continues a shift toward a more direct, more emotion-driven style of writing that surfaced on recent CDs, such as V and Birds Of Pray. Live's earlier songs were often considered brainy, even abstract. On the new disc, Kowalczyk uses romantic imagery to create metaphors for spirituality.
"[Songwriting] was mostly a mental [process] early on, and it has become more of a spiritual, heart [-driven] one, maybe these last four or five years," Kowalczyk says.
Songs from Black Mountain represents a welcome evolution for Live, a band that has endured a somewhat startling drop in popularity in recent years.
Nearly 10 years after forming, the band exploded onto the charts in 1994 with Throwing Copper. Featuring the hit singles "Selling the Drama," "Lightning Crashes" and "I Alone," the CD sold more than 12 million copies worldwide.
It's been downhill ever since, as sales have declined with each subsequent release, bottoming out in 2003 with Birds Of Pray, which sold 275,000 copies.
Kowalczyk seems rather unconcerned with Live's fortunes, brushing aside a question about the reasons for the downward trend in popularity.
"I guess it's just the ups and downs of the music business, the ins and outs," he says. "Everybody's experience is going to be unique, and ours is what it is."
Live with Michael Shapiro
Paramount Theatre, 1621 Glenarm Place, Denver
Friday, May 19, 8 p.m.
Tickets: $30-$35; visit ticketmaster.com or call 520-9090.