Collective Soul

Georgia's other rock band

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By Gary Graff  

When Collective Soul's "Shine" hit the charts in 1993, it seemed like the overnight arrival of a hot new band. But that was hardly the case. The Stockbridge, Ga., band's big break actually came after it had broken up, when frontman Ed Roland and his younger brother Dean decided to give up after having no success pursuing a record deal.

Then a college radio station began airing a demo of "Shine." The song hit it big, brought the long-awaited record labels calling, and sent Roland scrambling to put a band together.

The debut album, Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, went platinum and started a string of hit singles -- "World I Know," "December," "Where the River Flows," "Run" -- that made Collective Soul one of rock radio's most potent acts of the 1990s.

When the commercial tide ebbed, however, Collective Soul made a daring move, darting from the major label world and starting its own El Music Group, which released Youth in 2004, the EP From the Ground Up in 2005 and a DVD, Home: A Live Concert Recording with the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra in 2006.

Q: Collective Soul kind of stopped functioning for a while, didn't it?

Ed Roland: For a minute. After we toured to promote Blender, we looked at each other and realized we truly needed a break. It was deserved but also very needed. We did six albums in seven years and really hadn't taken any time off.

Q: Were you worried at all that the band wouldn't come back together?

Roland: No. I think it crossed our minds a couple of times, but it wasn't like we'd sat down at a band meeting and said, "Guys, this isn't working out." I think the rest of the guys would say the same thing. We stopped out of pure exhaustion. I'm sure there were days we all woke up and looked back at what we did and said, "Y'know what? that was good enough." You have those weak moments. But when we get around each other we tend to fire each other up and really push each other to another level.

Q: When you came back, you decided to form your own label and go your own way.

Roland: We knew Blender was going to be our last record with Atlantic. I think both parties had worn out their welcome with each other, for reasons I can't even remember. We still have a lot of good friends there. There were no screaming matches or anything like that. We just looked at each other and said, "We don't feel this is working for what this band wants," and they were like, "Cool, give us a greatest hits with two new songs and that'll be it."

Q: Did you think about signing with another record label?

Roland: Well, during that time period, the record industry became what it is now, which is confusion. When we got back together and started recording, we had this crazy idea -- "You know what? Maybe we can do this ourselves." Being in the corporate music world, we realized that basically they outsource everything. So what could a major record company offer us that we couldn't do ourselves? The main thing was to give you money to front the records, but we could do that. And the other thing was that with cuts and slashes in the record industry, there were a lot of talented people needing work who had built relationships over the last twenty-five years. We were fortunate enough to be able to go in and hand-pick the people we wanted to work with.

Q: The fact that you had a track record with hits had to make it easier, too.

Roland: Absolutely. We'd been out there for ten years, had a good core fan base and were willing to work, willing to play our material live, and this model really works for a band that wants to go play live, first and foremost. If you're a new band, it's another story. Then, in some ways, you need the things a major label can do that you might not be able to do on your own, or with a smaller label. We're not going "Major labels are evil." We're just saying they're not necessary for certain artists.

Q: Is there anything you can't really do now on your own, or that's much harder to do?

Roland: You can't use MTV, although I don't think we've ever been a staple of MTV, anyway. But I've always said that a band knows its weaknesses and strengths better than anybody at a label. When it's your own project, your own control, you can attack your weaknesses and go from there. I would rather put money into getting out there and touring than into making a $200,000 video. That money is better placed over here, supporting the live act rather than on a video that may or may not get played on any video channel. I'm not saying it's not important, and we'd love to get there. But you prioritize, and video isn't one of our priorities now. What you have to concentrate on is what gets us to the most people. After that, everything falls into place. And I've had more fun doing this than I've had in years. I have not lost one night of sleep, it's been so much fun.

Q: What are the other pluses of running everything yourself?

Roland: I'll tell ya, the only pressure truly that was there was the financial end of it. That's always been there, really. Even if you're with a major, it's still your money. They're just going to recoup it. This way the decisions are ours. We can work at our own pace. The final product is more genuine and true to what the artist wants. And also we get to own our music. Corporate America doesn't own our music anymore.

Q: How did you decide to do the Home DVD with the Atlanta Youth Symphony?

Roland: We'd used orchestrations in our songs before, of course -- "World Unknown," "December," "Run." We'd worked with the Atlanta Symphony, older ladies and gentlemen. Our new guitarist, Joel Kosche, his sister was originally in the Atlanta Youth Symphony Orchestra, and since our last CD was called Youth we thought it would be cool to get the kids to play with us. We always wanted to play with a symphony, and doing it with the kids seemed obvious. From there it kept growing to "Hey, let's do a couple shows with them," then "Let's film it! Let's record it!" The idea kept growing and growing and growing into this big production. And how inspiring those kids were. They just love music and dove right into what we were doing. It was just a great thing for us.

Gary Graff writes extensively about music. His work has appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Detroit Free Press, and Billboard.