Back at the turn of the century, the music industry was in an almost unrecognizable place compared to today. Bands like the then fresh-faced Lifehouse were hot commodities, while guitar-driven rock was huge and commonly crossed over into multiple formats, as “Hanging by a Moment” did in 2001 on its way to being Billboard 100’s Song of the Year.
Skip ahead 17 years and everything has changed. Hip-hop has replaced rock as the driving force in pop culture and hardly anybody sells albums anymore. Once great pillars like Lifehouse are no longer the same draws they were, but those that endured have found ways of maintaining fan bases nevertheless. “Being on a major label for so long, keeping the music in a really honest and pure state, unfiltered and untainted. I feel like that is what’s kept us around,” frontman Jason Wade recently told Behind the Setlist.
“The fans can tell when you’re phoning it in, if you’re actually inspired or if you’re just writing songs to have a commercial hit. That’s when your fans bail on you. But when they feel like you’re still trying to connect with them and write good music and good art, that makes for sustainability.”
Going through Greatest Hits, which was put out over the summer, you can see why Lifehouse continues to resonate and has sold over 15 million albums worldwide. They’ve written two modern classics (“Hanging by a Moment” and wedding staple “You and Me”) amid a string of other strong singles, from the upbeat “Spin” and “Halfway Gone,” to the emotional ballads “Everything” and “Broken,” to recent fare “Between the Raindrops” and “Hurricane.” To mark the occasion, the band is currently in the middle of their first U.S. tour in six years with follow longtime California rockers Switchfoot.
Below, Wade and bassist Bryce Soderberg look back at Lifehouse’s two-decade long career, the importance of mixing things up while not trying to chase the musical dragon, what it’s like being an independent artist now, solo music, and the band’s future plans. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This is the first tour you’ve done in quite a while, right?
Bryce Soderberg: Yeah, it’s been about six years since touring the United States. We did a tour in Europe a couple years back, but we’re getting our sea legs back for the touring scene here. It’s great to be back on the road.
Since you’ve been around so long, is that something you can get back in the swing of things at the drop of a hat, or does it take time to get readjusted?
Jason Wade: It’s kind of like riding a bike, to be honest. I think it’s imperative to take some time off after a good 14, 15-year run. When you get back at it, all of the songs feel like you’re singing them for the first time. It feels really fresh. You can actually feel the music again, instead of running on autopilot playing nine months out of every year on the road.
It’s exciting again. We just put this Greatest Hits record out, and we tailor-made the set around that. It’s a celebration of the music we’ve made over almost two decades, which is crazy.
You’re touring with one of my all-time favorite bands, Switchfoot, who you’ve never toured with but I feel share so much in common. Have your paths been able to cross at all over the years? Had you known them before this?
Soderberg: Yeah, we did a show at a college with them about 10 years back. It was a great chemistry back then. I remember it being a phenomenal show and them being really nice dudes. This tour is really linked up in a positive manner. Our fan bases mesh together really well and musically we’re on the same page.
Jon has actually been performing with us, and Jason vice versa. Jason will go up and sing on “Dare You to Move,” and Jon will come and sing on the song “Flight.” It’s been a really good lineup for us and we’re having a really good time.
What does it feel like to have a Greatest Hits compilation out now?
Soderberg: It’s wonderful. To be a band for 17 years and get to a certain point where you’re putting together a collection of songs that you’ve been releasing as singles over the last couple decades, it’s phenomenal for us. I personally was raised listening to tons of Greatest Hits collaborations, from Neil Young to Tom Petty, all these major artists. To handpick your favorites in one place is a really attractive thing.
For us, it’s an honor to reach that point in our career. We didn’t think it would go this way. We’re grateful to still be playing music after all this time and to have a collection like this.
When you were putting that together, looking back at all the songs and singles that you’ve done, was there anything that stood out the most?
Wade: Yeah, there’s been so many different snapshots and vignettes through the years. Some highlights for me were getting to open up for the Rolling Stones back in 2003. That was an insane experience. That was amazing. Getting to open for Coldplay a couple years ago was pretty awesome. And then just the record-making process. Taking every record as its own entity has been really important to us, to not just reduplicate the same record over and over and over.
A lot of bands do that, but we always try to push the envelope a little bit and get outside of our box just enough to where we feel like we’re continuing to grow and explore. That makes it fun for us, because after doing music for a long time, you start to get, not jaded, but comfortable with your own tricks in the studio. It’s easy to make the same thing over and over. It’s important to get outside your box and try to create something new.
With seven albums out now and over 100 songs, do you feel like there’s been a song or an album that has been overlooked, maybe you wished had gotten a better response or noticed more?
Wade: Probably Out of the Wasteland. It was weird how that record came about. It started as this solo thing I was doing, and then it turned into a band project. It took three years to complete. There’s some songs on that record, like “Hourglass” and “Yesterday’s Son,” that never really got the light of day.
We were supposed to go on tour with Nickelback and then the tour got canceled, and then the record was over in two weeks. So that was a frustrating thing. But I’m still proud of that record and think there’s some really good songs on that one.
With that record and over these most recent years, you’ve shifted into being an independent artist. What’s that transition been like?
Soderberg: The transition we knew was going to be inevitable at some point and I think was a smooth operation for us. We’ve been in the music industry long enough to see the drastic changes that have happened. When we started, records were selling more prominently. Now with social media, we’re getting that direct-to-fan marketing thing down. We took the bull by the horns and stepped into it as gracefully as possible.
We’re not trying to fight things or be ungrateful for not being on a major label. There was so much to be learned, so much growth that happened through it. We put Out of the Wasteland out independently and it went No. 1 on the indie charts. And we’re still growing, we’re still learning from it. We’re still trying to figure out how to maximize our potential at running our operation.
It’s been great. The fans have really embraced us. We have that connection with them, but we’re grateful for the time that we’ve had on major labels. They obviously pushed and helped get the songs that we have to radio. We’re happy to be where we’re at in the present moment.
One thing I’ve found really cool this year is, Jason, you releasing those solo tracks online. I think you have 16 songs out at this point. What has the response been like from that and how did that get started?
Wade: Most of these songs are kind of like orphaned Lifehouse songs, I guess you could say. They’re songs that have been lying around for years that never found a home on the Lifehouse records. They were sitting in my Dropbox and I felt like I wanted an outlet for them to be heard. So without any promotion or fanfare, I put them up online.
It’s been getting a good response from the fans. I don’t think a lot of people have heard them, but it’s nice to know they’re out there available for people to hear and not just sitting in some Dropbox.
How many more do you have left in your back pocket?
Wade: I think I got five or six. I’m going to slow up after this next little EP. There’s some more, but I’m not sure they’re finished yet. So I’ll probably pump the brakes after song 20 or 21.
Are you going to collect them into a record and push that or will they stay as singles?
Wade: I think I’m going to break them up. The first one I did is Paper Cuts. That’s going to be like an album, a collection of solo songs. And then the others I’m going to break into EPs.
The first good chunk was singer-songwriter stuff, a little more contemplative and downbeat than a typical Lifehouse song. But the last couple you’ve done, like “My Universe” and “Survive,” have more of a Lifehouse vibe, and were originally written for films. How do you like bouncing between these different styles?
Wade: It makes it fun for me. I like to mix it up and not stay in the same genre, just because it makes it interesting for me. It probably confuses some of the fans when we’re bouncing around different genres or styles, but the nucleus always stays pretty much the same as far as the songs go.
The ones you wrote for films. How different of a process is that?
Wade: I love it. Even writing for film for Lifehouse, we did a song for The Wild. We did a song for Shrek back in the day. It’s a different process because you’re given the storyline. It’s actually a lot of fun as a songwriter because you’re not drawing inspiration from your own dramas or your own life story. You can play a different role, so to speak. You can become an actor and make up a story within the guidelines of the film. It’s a really nice creative outlet.
How do you feel like you’ve grown as a songwriter and as a band over this time?
Wade: The Greatest Hits is in chronological order and it’s funny because you can hear how the technology has changed. There’s no ability to tune vocals on the first couple of records, and then you can hear everything get a little bit more processed. What remains the same is the lyrical content, and the stories and the vulnerability. What I always strive for as a songwriter is to be as honest as possible and give as much of yourself away to make that connection.
How does getting married, living life, being on the road and a band for this long change your perspective on how you approach songwriting and the material you write now versus when you were starting out?
Wade: Yeah, it’s interesting. Being married for 16 years, obviously a lot of the songs are about my wife. Back in the day, she was my girlfriend at the time. When I’m writing a love song, I draw on that for inspiration. It’s almost like I have to become a sponge sometimes when there’s not anything interesting going on in my own life. I have to absorb other people’s pain [laughs], so the speak, around me. You don’t want to write all happy love songs. There has to be that contrast.
I really like that story you told Billboard recently about “You and Me.” That was originally written as the song you proposed to your wife with, years before it came out. Are there any other interesting tidbits like that surrounding other songs?
Wade: The song “Broken” was written for a friend of mine in Nashville. I was out there visiting a friend. He was in really bad shape and needed a new kidney. He was doing dialysis every week. He was a little bit older than me but taught me a lot about music. He actually taught me some of my first chords.
I was on my fourth record then. I don’t know. I went back to my hotel room, picked up a guitar and had this out of body experience where the song “Broken” came into the room. It was very much like “Hanging by a Moment.” The whole song was finished in 15 minutes.
You’ve done some press looking back at “Hanging by a Moment” this year and about how that song felt like it was lightning in a bottle, which is kind of what you’re saying with “Broken” there. Has that spark happened a lot over your career?
Wade: It happens maybe once every two to three years. It’s probably happened four or five times. It’s really rare, but it’s beautiful when it does happen. I’m always looking for those moments where something inspiring is happening.
When was the last time you remember feeling that way?
Wade: Probably “Flight.” The song “Flight” was written like that.
You’ve had quite a few lineup changes throughout the years. What’s that been like to deal with? Has it been a challenge in keeping things consistent, or nice to have fresh blood continually coming in?
Soderberg: The most recent change is Steve Stout, who is our new guitar player. There’s been a lot of transitions in this band. Obviously, I wasn’t a founding member. I joined in 2004, but the nucleus of the band has always revolved around what Jason created in the late ‘90s.
Right now, it’s a beautiful collective. We have a good chemistry at this point in 2017. It’s a new version of the band. We’re embracing certain changes and rolling with certain punches. Over the years, there have been some peaks and valleys. We’ve always kept our heads focused. We’re really happy with the current lineup and state the band is in right now.
When you look back over your career, what have been the important things that have allowed for this sustainability? Are there things you can recognize that have helped you stick around for this long?
Wade: I think it’s always been about the music. Especially being on a major label for so long, keeping the music in a really honest and pure state, unfiltered and untainted. I feel like that is what’s kept us around. The fans can tell when you’re phoning it in, if you’re actually inspired or if you’re just writing songs to have a commercial hit. That’s when your fans bail on you. But when they feel like you’re still trying to connect with them and write good music and good art, that makes for sustainability.
Music is in a very different place than it was 20 years ago. A song like “Hanging by a Moment,” if it was released now, probably wouldn’t have nearly the same amount of impact and be able to crossover into the different formats it did at the time. What have you noticed from an industry and stylistic perspective that you’ve seen come and go?
Soderberg: With each year, the music industry is in a different place. Pop radio is at a different spot. Back in 2010, there were some great alternative bands that came up, but there was also a lot of dubstep out doing a lot of things. Some bands were jumping on that bandwagon, some weren’t. We’ve always been aware of what was going on in the industry, what’s going on music-wise and what’s going on business-wise, but not trying to divulge too much into one place or the other.
We’ve explored different avenues with pop, and pushed the envelope on how far we go at one end of the spectrum or the other. We’ve always tried to maintain integrity and not try to get too wrapped up in what everyone else is doing, or trying to chase the dragon, so to speak, musically.
Has this tour and Greatest Hits record inspired you to write new music? What is the future of Lifehouse looking like?
Wade: Yeah, I’ve definitely been inspired over the last couple weeks, thinking about making some new music and potentially making a new album next year. I think as soon as the tour is over, I’m really going to get back in that headspace. I haven’t thought about it much over the last couple years, but I’m starting to get inspired again. I definitely think there is a new album on the horizon for Lifehouse.