Rolling Stone‘s interview series King for a Day features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and singers who had the difficult job of fronting major rock bands after the departure of an iconic vocalist. Some of them stayed in their bands for years, while others lasted just a few months. In the end, however, they all found out that replacement singers can themselves be replaced. This edition features former Live singer Chris Shinn.
When Live reunited with original lead vocalist Ed Kowalczyk in 2017 after a bitter eight-year split, guitarist Chad Taylor spoke to Rolling Stone about how it had felt to carry on with replacement vocalist Chris Shinn. “It was like I was in the Twilight Zone,” Taylor said. “[During one show] we were in the breakdown portion of ‘Lightning Crashes,’ where the crowd will typically take over the song and sing. And I looked over to the center of the stage and literally thought to myself, ‘Who the fuck is that guy standing there?’”
Shinn fronted Live from 2012 to 2016. They toured all across the globe in that time, and cut the 2014 LP The Turn. Shinn felt he had a genuine friendship with the three founding members of the group, so Taylor’s interview was a devastating gut punch. “Reading that interview just completely destroyed me,” he tells Rolling Stone via Zoom from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It was like he went out of his way not to mention me. Being in Live was something I was so proud of, but now I’m just embarrassed by the whole thing.”
The story took a wild twist earlier this year, when Kowalczyk parted ways with the other members of the group — effectively firing the guys who had fired Shinn five years ago — and hit the road with an entirely new iteration of Live. “I can’t believe it,” says Shinn. “I’m a firm believer in karma, but I would never wish that kind of pain on anyone.”
Shinn is the son of former Charlotte Hornets owner George Shinn. Music wasn’t a big part of his childhood until he was ten years old, when his parents took him to see Bruce Springsteen at the Charlotte Coliseum on the Born in the USA tour. “I’ll never forget the lights going out and the place going fuckin’ crazy,” he says. “I was standing on the arms of the seats between my mom and my dad. I heard, ‘Are you ready to rock?’ Then they kicked into ‘Born in the USA.’ I was just completely locked into it.”
But he didn’t decide to devote himself to music until he saw Jane’s Addiction perform on the inaugural Lollapalooza tour in 1991. “I’d never seen anything like that in my life,” he says. “The curtains opened up and the stage had all these statues and lights and candles. There were these religious undertones and I felt like I was at a church. It felt bigger than just a few guys jamming. If said to myself, ‘If this can be done like this, then this is what I want to do.’”
He taught himself guitar and decided to skip college in favor of moving to Los Angeles, where he quickly landed a publishing deal with Chrysalis. “I’d never worked a day in my life,” he says. “And I suddenly had this massive check. That’s how everything started.”
He eventually met up with former members of Blind Melon and formed the band Unified Theory with them alongside original Pearl Jam drummer Dave Krusen. The project didn’t lead to much success, but it did ultimately introduce him to the world of Live.
Your dad was an extremely prominent figure in Charlotte when you were a kid. I’m sure that brings a lot of good things with it, but some bad things too.
Well, let’s start with the bad…. You have to understand that my father came from nothing, zero money. His family was dirt poor. To turn out the way that he did was fantastic, but he was understandably paranoid. He always thought people were going to take things from him. He was scared. And so when I was growing up, I was never allowed to hang out with my other friends that would get dropped off at the mall or the waterpark. I never got to do any of those kind of things.
But we lived in this big, beautiful house with a lot of space. I could have all my friends over whenever I wanted. We had skateboard ramps in the front yard. We had this big attic that became my band room. I had this huge piece of property I could just decorate and turn into this amazing space. Back then, I would come home from school and my dad would say, “Do you want to go to the Hornets game tonight?” I’d say, “Yeah.” He’d go, “Well, it’s in Boston. We have to leave in 10 minutes.” I would fly up to Boston to see Larry Bird at Boston Garden. We’d have a late-night dinner of lobster and fly home. I would be in bed at 3 a.m. and have to go to school the next day. That was regular for us.
Most people in your position would have taken the path of least resistance and just worked for their dad after school. Why didn’t you do that?
I’ve never had any interest. My little brother did. He ended up working for the team for years. I had a calling and there was just no way I was doing that. I always felt like I had a behind-the-scenes role with my dad. My dad and I have a good relationship, and he would trust my opinion because it came from more of a gut feeling.
My dad can get a little heated, and his anger can get the best of him. He’d call me sometimes and go, “I was on the phone with Shaq, and he’s trying to tell me this, blah blah blah.” I’d go, “Dad, calm down. What the hell’s wrong with you? He’s just a man, just a person.”
It was very interesting to watch the NBA from that side of the fence. I knew all about the inner workings. I knew about trades way before things were happening. It was a really interesting place to be. Bobby Phills was one of our players. He died in a tragic car accident [in 2000]. When that happened, I became very connected to what was happening with the team. It became something different. I was endeared to the whole thing, and followed it much closer than I ever had.
I’m sure lots of people were ready to dismiss you before getting to know you. “Oh, he’s just some spoiled, rich kid.”
All the time. It happened all the time, but I don’t blame them for that. In my experience, everyone else I’ve met on this side of the fence in the basketball world, they’re nothing like me. We’re very different. I have a whole different take on it. I think a lot of that may have to do with the fact that it’s new money for my family. I was raised to be very appreciative and very, very humble about these things since they never had that. It was a different thing.
Money is a very bizarre thing for me in my life. It’s destroyed a lot of great relationships. The posturing that goes along with it… I’ve never understood that.
Your first band in Los Angeles was Celia Green. Why didn’t that work out?
The story of my life back then was whenever I put a band together and started doing showcases, the band would just get cherry-picked by other people. Suddenly the guitar player is playing for Julio Iglesias. Suddenly my drummer is with Everlast and they’re playing Woodstock. I was like, “What the fuck?” Every time I would want to highlight something, that would happen.
When I googled Celia Green, the main thing I saw was news articles about a fire at Dean Torrence’s house when you were living there.
Yeah. I lost all the gear there. We had just spent weeks at A&M Studios. All the two-inch tapes were destroyed. One of my cats died. I lost about 12 guitars. The band had been rehearsing there, so everything went. That was pretty massive.
How did you meet the Blind Melon guys?
Christopher Thorn is the guitar player for Blind Melon. He was living in Seattle when Shannon [Hoon] died. After a couple years, he was ready to start looking for a new something. He wasn’t looking for a singer to replace Shannon or be the new Blind Melon. He didn’t know what he was looking for, but he knew he’d find it in Los Angeles.
He rented a tiny little apartment in L.A. and would spend weeks there at a time. He’d see as many bands as he could and was trying to network and meet all these people. My Celia Green CD landed in his lap, and he loved it. We met and instantly hit it off. Right off the bat, we were talking about how we might work together.
He went, “Why don’t we do this? Come up to Seattle. Meet Brad.” That was Brad Smith, the bass player for Blind Melon. The two of them both lived in Seattle. “Let’s see how it goes and just hang out.” I said, “Sure.”
I went up for what was supposed to be a couple of days. I wound up staying two weeks. We wrote two songs and recorded them with Dave Krusen from Pearl Jam. It was such a beautiful, beautiful couple of weeks. It was effortless. All of us shared the same excitement. We were like, “OK, this is it. We need to drop everything else we’re doing and focus on this.”
It must have been really tough for those guys. Blind Melon was just getting started when Shannon died. They were still young guys.
Yeah. That’s why our experience was really wonderful. It’s such a tragic story. I hate that I never got to know Shannon. I know his mother now. I know his daughter. I know the whole family. The Blind Melon community is really fuckin’ great. I love all the fans there. Everyone was seared together when that happened. It became something different.
I was fully embraced. It was never, “Oh, you’re filling in, taking someone’s place.” It was never like that. Everyone was really on board since you could feel and sense the happiness that Christopher and Brad and all of us had.
On the tour, were you doing any Blind Melon songs?
No. Just Unified Theory.
The album hits in the summer of 2000. It’s the peak of teen pop, and Napster is just taking off. Was this a bad time to be launching a new rock band?
Absolutely. At the time, it was hard not to be a little bitter and pissed. Interscope bought everyone out, and they put this big black tarp over the A&M Studio sign. Geffen was there literally kicking people out of their offices. It was the craziest time for music.
Three or four months before that, Unified Theory flew down to Seattle to meet with attorneys. We knew we had something great, and we knew we’d get a lot of press because of all the big names involved. We were so excited. And then all this shit started to happen. All the guys we knew who were A&R guys for Capitol, for Virgin, you name it, were all of a sudden having to work with 98 Degrees or other boy bands, or they were fired. We’re looking at huge, platinum-selling bands getting dropped from record labels. How are we supposed to compete with that?
On top of that, our record is coming out. Everyone is afraid to buy anything digitally. It’s just crazy. I’m actually reading Chuck Klosterman’s book The Nineties now. The section on that is so well-written — if anyone wants to really wrap their head around it, read that book.
Unified Theory toured with both Live and Counting Crows.
That was amazing. I had just started working with the guys in Seattle. We had barely been together longer than a handful of months. And then Christopher came to me and said, “Man, the guys in Live want me to do a short tour with them, record with them on their new record.” But he said to me, and I’ll never forget it, “But if me doing this means that you’ll leave, I will not do it. You tell me right now, and it’s your call.”
I was so touched and flattered. I said, “Are you kidding me? You got to go. Go! We got time. What’s the big deal? All that’s gonna do is help us down the road.” Christopher Thorn is still one of my best friends. I’ll sometimes be like, “You and I were both in Live. How weird is that?” [Laughs.]
The tours we did back then with Live and Counting Crows were great. It was like a “Friends of Live” tour. They split it up into quarters and had other bands they liked come out and open. We did a run with them. We played the Gorge and some really awesome places. Those were the first experiences I had on stages that big. I’d go out and sing with Live every show, which is kind of funny. There’s pictures of me singing with Ed on his knees holding my hand like he’s praising me, which is really funny to see now. [Laughs.]
Did you hang out with all four guys in Live a lot?
Oh yeah. All the time. That was the Red Bull/vodka time. We had an insane amount of energy. We were all just living it up and having so much damn fun. We would get these big 15-passenger vans after big shows and it would be all the Counting Crows guys, all the Live guys, all of us, and we’d just go hit the town together. It was a blast.
Why did Unified Theory break up not long afterwards?
To back up, we signed with the label 333, which was an imprint on Universal. It was Tom Shadyac’s label. He’s the film director that directed Liar Liar, Patch Adams, Dragonfly, and a whole bunch of other movies. He had grossed a ridiculous amount of money for Universal, so they were like, “Whatever you want to do, you can do.”
He’s always dreamed of having a record label, hence 333. He absolutely loved us. He loved me. He loved the band. He signed us and would have done anything for us. But the people he hired to work in the office were his friends. They didn’t really know what they were doing. They were cutting their teeth. We were their experiment. We’d be doing shows with Live, and we’d have no merch. “Who dropped the ball? What’s going on?”
I remember being on the road and hearing other members of the band fight with management, but I was just in the back having the time of my life. I wasn’t worried about any of it.
We dropped the label. We made a second record on our own. We did a whole list of big showcases. We were doing the Mercury Lounge in New York, line around the block. We did the Viper Room, line around the block. The who’s who of everyone was there. But nothing came of it. We weren’t offered any solid deals.
I was exhausted. We had worked so much putting this record together. I said, “I’m taking two weeks off and going back to Seattle.” We had moved to Los Angeles by this point. I missed all my Seattle friends. During that trip, something happened. I don’t know what. I feel like there was some miscommunication or they thought that maybe… To this day, it still is a bit of a mystery. I kind of know what it might have been, but I don’t really know how to put it.
But it happened. Dave Krusen and I stuck together. We played together for a long time after that. The two of us didn’t really know what happened. There never was a clear-cut understanding. “Why were we abandoned? Why aren’t we playing? What’s going on?” Slowly over time, we just never played again. It was so strange.
Were you a big fan of Live in the Nineties?
Absolutely. I guess I would have been in high school. Those guys are about five years older than me. When I was in high school, I just loved Mental Jewelry. I think I liked that more than Throwing Copper.
How did you hear they were looking for a new singer?
They weren’t looking for a new singer. What happened was that I was living in Nashville. And I get a call from Chad Taylor. He put the whole band on speakerphone. They were just curious to hear what I’d been up to. And in a nutshell, Live had been on a hiatus, broken up. The three guys retained the name since it’s a majority rules deal.
They wanted to do re-records of all the big hits to use as licensing for commercials so they could make some money. They knew I could sing it. They called me and said, “Are you interested? We could put some money in your pocket, and it could be a nice little thing.” I said, “Yeah. I can definitely do that. Plus, I haven’t seen you guys in years. It’ll be fun to hang out.”
We got together. That’s kind of how it started. And it was a trip. They re-recorded “Lighting Crashes,” “I Alone,” and all those tunes. They had meticulous notes from when they recorded them originally. They had all the original amps, all the original pedals. Their tech had saved all the settings on the pedals. It was amazing. It was a re-recording that sounded exactly like the original records, but with me singing and doing my best Ed version. It was like acting. I was trying to nail his voice.
How did that morph into doing more work with them?
I went up to York, Pennsylvania to hang out with them, and we played together. I remember it was a very weird moment. We were in their jam room and about to try playing “I Alone.” There was this calm, quiet before. They were like, “We’ve never played this song in a room without Ed before, so it’s kind of weird.” I said, “We don’t have to play it. It’s no big deal, no sweat off my back.”
They were like, “Fuck it, let’s just rip it.” And I sang the shit out of it. It’s a fun song and I’m very comfortable in that range. They were so excited, and then we started playing other tunes. That’s sort of how it happened. It just naturally progressed. There was no cattle call of, “We’re looking for a new singer.” It was never like that.
At a certain point did they sit you down and say that they were going to re-launch Live with you as the lead singer?
We all kind of came up with the idea together. We all had to rationalize it back and forth. “Is this a stupid thing to do? Should we just do a new band with you singing?” It was like, “Wait a minute, if Live is your property, and this is what you want to do, why not? Give it a go.”
I always had a pretty healthy perspective on it. I was never like, “I won the lottery.” It was never like that. I was like, “I’m helping you guys out, and this is a lot of fun.” We were having a blast at that time. It reminded me of being almost in my old high school band. It was just giddy. I think the guys had been in a bad space, and they were finally finding that energy that they used to feel. It just felt great. We planned a couple of shows, and that was it.
The first show was March 12, 2012 in York. Tell me about that night.
Oh, it was great. It was a huge night. My dad flew into town. I had friends drive in from all over. The whole town was so excited. Everyone was pulling for us. They are hometown heroes. Everyone knows them, and they’ve known it since they were little boys. There was this feeling that they wanted us to succeed. You could feel it. There was never any doubt in anyone’s mind that we that this was the right thing to be doing. It was so much fun. It was great.
You weren’t afraid that the fans would reject you since you weren’t Ed?
That doesn’t enter my mind. People are going to make up their own their own minds. People are going to have opinions no matter what the fuck I do. I could sing it perfectly, and people will hate me, so it just doesn’t matter. And that doesn’t affect me at all. It doesn’t change my energy. It doesn’t change anything I’m doing.
I’ve lived my life all the way up to this point. And they don’t understand how I got to where I’m at, and that’s OK. But what I’m doing now is trying to celebrate Live with the room. It was like, “We all love these songs. I love them as much as you do. We’re just having fun.” I wasn’t up there pretending like I fuckin’ wrote them because I didn’t. I’m not acting. I’m actually just having fun, and I think that translated.
Lines like “her placenta falls to the floor” aren’t easy to deliver, but you really sell it.
[Laughs.] That’s my least favorite. A song like “Lighting Crashes” is just impossible. It’s Ed. That is all Ed. The good part part of it is that I rarely had to sing it. Honestly, I’d sing “the angels closes her eyes” thing. I could whup that line. That was fun. When it came to, “Oh, I can feel it…” the whole room would just sing it. I’d just back off the mic and let everyone sing it. That was fun.
I’m pretty sure it’s the only great rock song in history that worked in the word “placenta.”
It’s hilarious. When people heard I was singing for Live, a lot of them said, “My God, you’ve got to sing that placenta line.” [Laughs.]
During this time, Ed is suing the band and singing the songs on his own tours. Was it weird for you to be stuck in the middle of that war that really had nothing to do with you?
Well, it was weird mainly because Ed and I were better friends than I was with the rest of the band. When Ed and I both lived in L.A., I remember his wife was pregnant with one of their kids, and he was allowed to go out one night a week. We’d go out every week. We’d always split the bill. One week he’d pay, and the next week I’d pay. We had a blast.
For me, it was kind of odd once I joined Live. I always thought, “I hope Ed doesn’t hate my guts.”
You didn’t call him up before taking the job to make sure he was cool with it?
No. I know he wasn’t cool with it. I also know, “This is just how the cards were dealt. I’m not going to turn down this opportunity.” I looked at it like this: If these guys were better at dealing with personal problems and relationships, I never would have been in this band. But these guys are like little fuckin’ brothers. They had been through such an extraordinary climb and had such an extraordinary career.
And what I’ve noticed is that when people become famous at young ages, they’re developmentally arrested. They seem to be stuck in that age where everything fell in their laps. They were in their early twenties and suddenly they’re on MTV and they have millions of dollars in the bank. All these things were happening. You get used to that.
How was the Summerland Nineties nostalgia tour you did in 2013 with Everclear, Filter, and Sponge?
It was a blast. I became super close with Art [Alexakis], and I just made so many great friends. I don’t know how many damn shows we did, but it was a lot. Sometimes we did four in a row, which is a lot. But we were only having to do 45-minute sets. And it was easy, since our set was literally just big hit after big hit after big hit. The audience had no chance to relax. You knew every song. That made it super fun.
How did the bands travel?
Live actually had two busses, which is something else we’ll get into. How these guys figured out to get money to do things…this is why they’re in trouble now. I never questioned it at the time.
Did you also grow close to the guys in Filter and Sponge? I imagine just a big summer-camp vibe.
Absolutely. I had actually kind of known [Filter frontman] Richard Patrick before in L.A. through some very odd connections, but it’s different when you’re with these guys every damn day. It was fun, but it was a very long tour. I’d never done anything quite like it. It was intense, but it was a great experience.
Not long after it ended, you guys decided to go into the studio and cut a new record.
That was pretty quick. We knew right off the bat that we needed to start writing, so we got to it. Those were the fun days when we were jamming and just enjoying being a band. We’d come up with these songs. We wrote all the stuff together. Then they brought Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads in to produce. He’d actually produced Throwing Copper.
What’s weird is that Chad Gracey, the drummer, lives out in California. He would have to come in. They wound up doing basic tracking without me there. And then I went in and spent a month or two alone with Jerry. It was just the two of us and an engineer. We put all the final touches on the record.
That was such a wonderful time. Those are the memories I cherish the most. It’s my friendship with Jerry Harrison, and the photographer, and my best friend, Lucia De Giovanni. I love her dearly. We became super, super close. And Jerry and I spent so much time together. I learned so much from him. To this day, I consider him a father figure. He’s a wonderful, wonderful man.
You have writing credit on every single song on the record
Yeah. A lot of the music on that record is mine. I haven’t listened to it in years.
Let’s talk about some of these songs, stating with “Siren’s Call.”
The riff was an old one that Chad Taylor had pulled out of the vault. It came from the time period when he wrote “Lakini’s Juice.” We wrote around that riff. We were like, “That’s great. It needs a chorus. Where is it going to go?” And so we had all that done. I struggled with the lyrical part. I’ve always struggled with the lyrical part. It either comes to me, or it doesn’t. It was very precious to me. I wanted it to be right. Jerry helped me a lot with the lyrics. His concept was the Siren’s Call. That was his idea. We went with that idea.
How about “The Way Around Is Through?”
That was my idea completely. Those are my lyrics. That was something I learned in treatment many years earlier. The idea was that you have to get through it, not around it. The only way around is through was the saying, and I always loved that. We used it since that’s what we were experiencing as a band. How do we do this band without Ed, and with me? The only way around was to go right through it. That was kind of the idea.
Tell me about “6310 Rodgerton Dr.”
That was my house that burned down. That whole song is about that. That’s pretty much the song from top to bottom.
It’s pretty amazing that you’re in the studio, you’re fronting this big band, and you’re working side-by-side with a member of the friggin’ Talking Heads.
Yeah. It was amazing. This highlights some of my strengths. By that, I mean I didn’t grow up with music, so I never knew Talking Heads. I didn’t have an older brother or an uncle with a record collection. Nobody ever turned me on to any of this stuff. I grew up thinking music was something you had to listen to like you had to wear acid-washed jeans, because everyone else did. I thought you had to like Violent Femmes since everyone is singing it on the bus going to school. That’s what I had to learn to fit in. I had nobody to say, “This is out there and really cool.”
I’ll never forget one time we were picked up at the Baltimore airport, and we had a car drive us to York. The driver was just freaking out on Jerry. “Man, I saw you at 1976 at the so-and-so.” Jerry was like, “Ah, I remember that.” He had all sorts of little anecdotes about what happened that night. This driver was like, “You must be trippin’ out that Jerry Harrison is here.” I was like, “I don’t really know.”
I said to Jerry, “I Googled you and read one thing, but then I realized I didn’t need to do that right now. I need our relationship to be what it is. When we’re done, I’ll Google you and learn all about it. I don’t need to be nervous around you.”
What were your expectations for the record? They hadn’t been selling many records even with Ed at this point.
I had much bigger expectations, for sure. I presumed it would come out and do much, much better than it did. I didn’t think it would be a chart-topper or anything. It wasn’t like we were reinventing the wheel. I also looked at this as a long game. I thought this was the beginning of something.
Was it tough for the four of you when it didn’t do well?
No. The record was really more of a tool to use for…maybe propaganda is the best word…to keep pushing forward with this new band.
You were doing a pretty tough thing. Most people don’t know the names of Chad, Chad, and Patrick. They knew Ed. They may have just known “that bald guy I used to see on MTV.” When they did the concert album, he was in color on the front, and the others were in black and white behind him. Carrying on as Live minus him was just going to be hard.
Before we did any music, Chad said, “Well, I’m going to have to phone up Rolling Stone and make an announcement.” I’m like, “The fuck you are. You don’t need to announce anything. Don’t put my name out there right now. What are you doing? That is not the point of this. We need to earn this. Don’t do that.”
So he didn’t. I was like, “You’d automatically be putting me in the firing range. Why would you do that? I’m not in this for that attention. I don’t need that attention. The greater good is making Live something new and different.”
When we started, that was the original concept. “Let’s take the bones of this band that has covered so much territory and ground, and has a built-in audience, and let’s slowly merge it into something unique. We could even take it in a different musical direction.”
That was the exciting time. That’s what I was sold on. But I came to find out it was all about making money for them. That’s really what was going on.
Did you ever go on YouTube and read the fan comments on the videos of you playing with them, or did you try and avoid all that stuff?
I don’t read comments, really. But with my time with Live, the comments would be usually 95 percent glowing reviews and comments from fans. They were so excited. I think that had a lot to do with me making myself available. I went out of my way to get to know the people. I’d stand in the audience with the crowd before and after the shows. I blurred that line. I welcomed them in and was like, “We’re all celebrating this together.” People were driving and flying long distances to come and see these shows. I’ve always honored that. I think it’s a big deal. I don’t take that lightly.
You did a lot of shows in 2014 and 2015 after The Turn came out. Did they feel different than the early shows around the time of Summerland?
Oh yeah. We were a great band at that point. We did a short run in Europe. I got sick during the first couple of shows, but we absolutely crushed it. We were such a great band at that point. It was a loud, big rock show. It was on. It just felt great.
Your last tour was in Australia with Def Leppard.
That was a trip. I could already sense there was bad vibes. It was very hard to ignore.
Bad vibes of what variety?
Do we want to get into that now? I will.
There were never, ever problems until… I can pinpoint the instance. We would always have a schedule. They’d tell me, “Look, if anything comes up that you have to do, you have to put it in the books so we can plan around it. We’ll make sure we don’t book a show on that day.”
I was always available. I made myself available 24/7. I practically lived at the studio in York whenever we needed to work. I wasn’t paid for that time. It was my obligation to them. I was completely loyal to it. And I had put on the books that I had a family reunion in Vegas that my dad had planned since we were going to be playing in Vegas, and after that we were supposed to have off. All these family members were coming to see us. I put it on the books months in advance, and everyone said that was fine.
Right before the trip, we got an offer to do another show in Arizona somewhere. It wasn’t even for that much money, to be honest. I said, “I can’t do it, I told you.”
That’s when it changed. Suddenly, now that I had asserted myself, they went, “What? You’re not going to make us money? How dare you?” I put my foot down and said, “No. This is what’s happening.”
The vibe changed. It was unbelievable how cowardly it got from their end: “Because you cancelled this show, we’re going to lose this much money.” I said, “So? I told you months ago. We have a family reunion. I don’t know what you want me to do about that.” [Laughs.]
Then we went to Australia. I’d never gone anywhere that far in my life. I’d never done anything quite like it. I was nervous. I just wanted to talk to my bros, and I wasn’t getting calls back. They weren’t even responding to me. We were about to go on this huge tour, and it was so strange. I started to internalize all these feelings. That’s what the trauma started.
Also, they’d never do things on tour. They’d never go out. Even if we were on tour with a band like Blues Traveler, and they were right next to us backstage, a band they’ve toured with since they were kids, they wouldn’t even go say “hello.” It was so weird. These were red flags. When I look back, these are things that I start to pick apart. It’s just very strange.
But Australia was beautiful. I loved it. Sydney is probably my favorite city I’ve ever been to. The shows were an absolute trip. Hell, I had Def Leppard on vinyl when I was a little kid. I remember that. It was sort of surreal in that part. What am I doing in Australia opening for fuckin’ Def Leppard? It was strange, but very cool. And those would be the last shows.
After the Vegas incident, were you feeling more tension between you and Chad and the other guys?
No one ever talked about it. No one ever said anything. No one ever clarified. When it was all said and done with, Jerry Harrison was the one that found out they had been meeting with Ed behind my back. They had him at the studio. All these things were going on. When Jerry found out, he was livid with the guys. He was like, “What are you doing? You need to call Chris right now. This is absurd.”
During your whole time in the group, did you worry in the back of your head that they’d eventually make peace with Ed at some point and you’d be out?
I told them that on a regular basis. I knew that to be a fact. They would always shut me down and say, “No, no, no.” Chad would always say, “This is your band.” I said, “Don’t say that. It’s ridiculous.” He’d say, “No. This is your band. You’re our man. Period. We’ll never get back with Ed.” I’d say, “That’s some shit some 17-year-old kid would say. This is someone that you love dearly. Eventually you will get your heads out of your asses and he’ll come back.”
I just knew that to be. I never thought that Live would go on forever with me. I knew it would end. I knew that this was going to be one chapter, and that I’d parlay this into whatever I was going to do next. I always kind of had my mind on the next thing.
Towards the end, I was really gaslit. I had started to share with them these ideas of me doing this side project with these guys I’d met from A Perfect Circle. Man, it was shut down immediately. It was, “Hey, man. We’re your band! You don’t need those guys. You’ve got us. We’ll be your solo project band for whatever you need to do.” I just took it. I cannot believe I just took it, looking back.
That’s what has taken me years to come to terms with. I had to play all that out and realize I had this trauma-bonding kind of thing where I was afraid to let them down. I had this loyalty. What was that about? I had every right in the world to do what I wanted to do. And I felt like I had this great band that could be my backing band. I would shelve ideas. From that, you can imagine when they cut me loose, I was just hung out to dry after all this time I wasted where I could have been doing other things.
Are there other times you felt like, for them, it was only about the money?
That show I told you about was a big one. I think working on new material, they had no interest in that. Being honest, Live was about the most un-musical band I’d ever been in. I don’t mean that they sucked. I mean that in the very beginning we made these songs, but it was very haphazard. They wanted that record done immediately. They pushed and pushed and pushed. “We need to get this done.” They were on my ass: “Finish the lyrics, finish this, finish that.” They needed the money.
I always thought that we’d eventually level out and have time to get into the nuts and bolts, and do something really special. Because we were a good band. I was like, “Why don’t we just set up a camera and film one of our rehearsals? Let’s film us playing a song in a room together, because we can knock it out.” That to me was so impressive. I wanted people to see that, but they had no interest in that. None. Not any.
For a band like Live, it’s largely about booking as many concerts as you can and jamming out the hits.
To be fair, and in their defense, each member of that band, including Ed, has three children. They’re at the age where they’re going into college. They don’t have the money they had in 1996, but they don’t want anyone to know that. That was another red flag. It was very important that everyone seemed to think that we were bigger than we were. I always thought that was fuckin’ ridiculous.
How did they do that?
They would loosely almost compare themselves to U2 all the time. I would just roll my eyes and be like, “What the fuck are you talking about? Were you at that county fair we just played? What are you fuckin’ talking about?”
One thing they’d always have me do is write the setlist. That’s because they’d be like, “Hey, let’s do track 12 on that weird record.” I’d be like, “Fuck that! No. I don’t even know that song. Nobody fuckin’ knows that song. No one wants to hear that. We’re playing ‘I Alone.’ People paid to see Live. They don’t pay to hear you play the weird tunes. I’m sorry.”
At one point, they were all over MTV and playing pretty big venues. It must not have been easy to go from that to playing county fairs.
Right. We had an agent that they’d had since they were kids. I don’t think he was on my side until he came and saw us play some big room in New York, and we just brought the roof down. We tore it up. He was beside himself, and almost apologetic after the show. He insisted we have a quick meeting of the whole band since he was so excited. “We’re going to do this and that!”
But that same guy got offered a lot more money for shows if Ed was involved. That wheel starts to squeak a lot. I can’t argue with that. I just wish they had been men about it. I wish they had been honest. “It’s a business. We love Chris, but this is where we need to go at this point.” They would never allow anyone to know that to be a fact.
How did you learn about Ed’s return?
Chad Taylor called me. We were on great terms at that point. The last conversation we had was about getting together to write. Everything was on. It’s like that Adam Sandler movie where he’s apologizing. “I’m ugly. You’re good-looking.” It was one of those apology type of things. It was one of those 30-minute-long, “You’re the best singer I’ve ever known. You’re better than we are. We don’t deserve you. We all know that you’re a better musician than we are.”
I was like, “What the fuck is this? Am I being fired because I’m better than you? I don’t understand what’s going on.” I didn’t really say anything, to be honest. I let him talk until I said, “OK, enough. Talk to you later.” That was pretty much it.
What happened after that?
It took a while for me to get the wind back in me. I spent about a month composing a post that was my way of acknowledging to my family, friends, and fans what happened with the most humility and gratitude that I could for the experience, and I was very proud of it. I had friends proofread it. I did a lot of work on this post.
I never heard from them. They never publicly thanked me. They never did anything of the sort. A few weeks went by, and I text the other band members and went, “Really? You’re not even going to call me or anything?” I get a text from [Chad] Gracey that just went, “Thanks for all the laughs.” I just thought, “I’d rather you not respond to me than respond with that.” It was so mean. I feel it right now. What a kick in the gut.
I’ve done a lot of work. It was a rough couple of years. I don’t give a fuck about being in Live. I really don’t. I had a wonderful realization on a bike ride, which is where I have all my best thoughts. It hit me like a ton of bricks. “Those guys have to be in Live for the rest of their lives.” [Laughs.] That just hit me, and I just grinned like, “Wow, that’s it! I get to do whatever I want to do without any sort of connection to that.”
Us talking now is so crazy. If you had wanted to talk a year ago, I don’t think I’d be this comfortable being so open about it. Because now the story has literally turned into the most awful shit show.
I told one of my friends recently that Ed had fired the entire band. He laughs and immediately went, “Dude, it’s like a rock & roll episode of Tales From the Crypt.” I just lost it. That is exactly what it is.
I told one of my friends recently that Ed had literally fired the entire band. He laughs and immediately went, “Dude, it’s like a rock & roll episode of Tales From the Crypt.” I just lost it. That is exactly what it is.
When you said you were embarrassed to have been in the band earlier, was that a fleeting thought, or do you still feel that way?
I’m proud of what I did. I know what I did for that band was massive. I brought that band back to life. Those guys didn’t even talk to each other. Two of the guys lived 30 minutes from each other, and they never saw each other, didn’t hang out. I brought them together and gave them what they wanted. I had the goods. I was able to rally them together and make the band feel how they felt 20 years before.
Every time I would sing an old song, and hit these notes that Ed can’t even do today… No offense to him, we just have different voices and I can do the things he did when he was a kid… it tickled them. They loved it.
I remember vividly when we had this big event with the record release at the studio. Chad give this big, gushing speech about me and he thanked me over and over for giving him his band back. It was all waterworks and love. To just completely be… no apology, no anything from them. Not ever. Never. I don’t understand that. My makeup is so different. I could never, ever do that. I can’t conceive how someone would murder someone, either. [Laughs.]
They took The Turn off steaming services.
To me, that’s such a dumb thing. It makes them look stupid. For how much they pushed that record and believed in it and loved it, to take it off speaks volumes. Who’s really in charge here? What’s going on?
This isn’t for me. I made the record. I know what’s important about it. If I wanted to use those songs, I could. But I certainly won’t. I’m watching from a distance, and I’m embarrassed for them. I’m like, “You guys are doing this wrong. You could have handled this in a way that said, ‘Look, Chris was our guy. We love him. It’s just time to switch over and go back to this. We want to thank Chris for his time and we wish him well. Maybe we can even have him out with us so he can play shows with whatever he’s doing.’”
It could have been a beautiful thing. They could have brought the new fans along and it would have been great. Instead, they completely divided the fans. It was so ugly.
From your perspective, Ed firing the whole band must have been the quickest and most brutal form of karma you could imagine.
Yeah. I know what they’re feeling though. And let me say this too. I love [bassist] Patrick Dahlheimer. Patrick is my one guy. He actually reached out to me about a year ago, maybe a bit longer. He wrote me the most heartfelt message that I know took a lot of guts. He apologized profusely, and in such an elegant way. I could tell it took him a long time. We haven’t spoken since, but I responded.
I always felt for him. When it all happened, he was the one that wrote back when I texted the guys and was like, “Really? No response?” He wrote back and said, “I don’t have much faith in anything right now, especially the band I’m in. I’m completely emotionally locked up and don’t know what to say.” In other words, he was like, “I was not on board with this.” He was not on board. It just hurts.
Oh, and I found out about Ed firing the whole band from Christopher Thorn. Just a few weeks ago, I was in New Orleans. We want to see Afghan Whigs. Greg Dulli is an old friend of mine, and Christopher is now the guitarist in Afghan Whigs. Christopher had just done a Blind Melon show at this private event. Ed was playing it solo. He hadn’t seen Ed in years. Ed beelined to him and told him all the stuff. Christopher couldn’t wait to tell me when he saw me.
Do you know what happened? How was he able to legally retain the name Live and fire all of them?
That’s an interesting thing. I have theories about that. Ed has no idea how much money he may wind up owing in a lawsuit after the shit hits the fan. I think that Chad Taylor, being the businessman that he is, saved his own ass and got out. Ed thinks that he won, but I still think we’re going to see some ugly shit from that side.
If people really want to know the story, go to the York Dispatch online and look up articles on what has happened with their companies. I’d often be like, “Where did you get this $200,000 Mercedes? And we can’t get a bus go to on tour?” I didn’t understand what was going on, but I didn’t have anything to do with any of it. I was like, “I’m in the band to play. This isn’t my deal.”
Tell me how you got back on your feet after you left Live, and how you started making music again?
It took me a little while. I booked a couple of tours. I opened up for Blind Melon. Those are old friends. I love those guys. I know that’s a safe place for me, within the fans and all that.
When the pandemic hit, my marriage failed. I was at an all-time low. I completely dove into my music. After Live, I built a studio here in my house. I’m sitting in it right now. I focused on learning all the inner workings of the machines and software I’d seen my whole life and worked with. I have more or less mastered it now. I spent years making about 100 or so songs. I put together a record. Over the past two years, I have shaped, conceptualized, and poured my heart and soul into it. It’s a very cathartic thing. This record is something I had to do.
As we’re talking, my record is being mastered in Nashville. When I sent it off, I cried. I could not believe I was finally letting this thing go, and it was happening. I’m going off to Rome soon with five of my best friends. I’ve never been there. All these wonderful things are happening.
Then you contacted me, which means I’m finally able to speak my truth. And I couldn’t have done it prior to Ed firing the whole band. It would have sounded like conjecture if I had said things were completely nuts. I would have come across as bitter. But no, things are completely crazy. There’s no sense in it.
It’s insane to think the version of Live on tour now doesn’t have a single person from your lineup of Live, which was out just a few years ago.
Yeah. It really is.
It seems like you’re in a better place in your life than those guys.
Oh man. I decided that what I needed to do was focus on being as healthy as I could. I got into riding my bike. Since I was in Live, I’ve ridden my bike about 12,000 miles. This is unbelievable coming from someone who, 15 years ago, had anxiety to the point where I couldn’t jog down the block before I got scared and had to go back. I battled with massive anxiety issues.
To come into this now and be standing in my power, and to feel like I’m back to the guy that was in Celia Green back in 1996… I’m going to pick up where that guy left off. I felt like what happened in the pandemic, and all this pain, the artist in me said, “Let me drive. Let me take over. Let’s put your heart and soul back into what you do.”
My new songs are so raw and revealing. It’s taken a lot of guts for me to let it go. But I don’t give a fuck what happens to it. It was important that I make it. And I already have two other records ready for release. I’m planning on releasing them both by the end of next year.
Are you going to tour the country solo?
I need to put a band together. I think I found one of the guys, but I’m not sure how I want to do it. When I figured that out, I will cherry-pick cities that I think would make sense to play, because unless it makes sense, and unless it’s fun, I don’t need to go out there and tour like I did when I was in my twenties. If I had a great opportunity to open for someone that was like-minded and appreciated what I was going, then absolutely. That’s what it’s about. I love playing live.
Do you think you’ll play any Live songs at your solo shows?
No fuckin’ way. No, no, no no…
If you’re driving around now and flipping through the radio stations and you land on “Lightning Crashes,” do you change the station?
[No hesitation.] Absolutely. I no longer even put on Lithium when I listen to Sirius. I took it off my favorites. I don’t listen to them. It’s not like a trigger, and I don’t listen unless I’m in a restaurant and it comes on in the background. I’m finally in a place now where I can hear it after years of blocking it out. It was the most painful thing. It’s the trauma of having all these awesome memories that are now just scars. They bring up massive amounts of pain. It’s the weirdest thing.
On some level, do you feel bad for Chad Taylor and Chad Gracey?
Absolutely. I would never wish that kind of thing on anybody. What I really worry about is their families. They have the best kids. I love all their kids. Some of them even toured with us. It’s a great family. My mom still communicates with Patrick’s mother. All the mothers are very close. You can’t have a band like that and not be all connected.
I hate it for them, especially Patrick. I’m not the kind of person… I’m not an “I told you so” kind of guy. I’m just not. I do play the long game. Something my father gave me is an innate sense of faith and trust. Keep your lane clear. Keep your eyes on your side of the road and keep doing the work. That is all I can do, and all that I have done.