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The King’s Court
As the warm California sun dipped behind the San Jacinto Mountains, Ed Roland found himself in a strange, unreal setting – Elvis Presley’s former Palm Springs estate. Surrounded by the King’s relics, from the pink-tiled bathroom to the shag-carpeted living room, Roland and his Collective Soul bandmates were about to embark on a recording odyssey like no other. An aura of rock ‘n’ roll royalty permeated the air, transporting them back to a bygone era of untamed creativity and unbridled excess.

“I just sat in Elvis’s playroom, playing records from Elvis to Elton, all my heroes – Queen, Tom Petty, you name it,” Roland recounts with a mischievous grin. “It was very inspiring, to say the least.” The walls seemed to whisper tales of Presley’s wild soirees and late-night jam sessions, fueling Roland’s own muse.

 

Inspiration struck hard, resulting in not one, but two albums’ worth of new Collective Soul material for their 12th studio effort, the aptly titled “Here to Eternity.” The double-disc marks the 30th anniversary of the Atlanta-bred rockers, who’ve carved out a three-decade legacy of soaring melodies and gritty Southern swagger. A milestone achievement for a band that has weathered the shifting tides of the music industry with steadfast determination and an unwavering commitment to their craft.

“We never set out to do a double album,” Roland admits. “I came in with ten or twelve songs, and the guys recorded them in four days, old-school style. Then I told ‘em, ‘Why don’t y’all take a long weekend? I’ll see if I can write more songs.’” Little did they know, the ghostly muse of the King himself was about to possess their frontman.

The Ghosts of Graceland
With his bandmates on a brief hiatus, Roland immersed himself in the King’s aura, sleeping in Presley’s bedroom and soaking up the estate’s vintage vibes. “I’m the only other man that’s ever slept in Elvis’ bedroom,” he boasts with a laugh.

As he drifted off each night, visions of Presley’s life danced in his mind’s eye – the meteoric rise to fame, the adoring crowds, the epic Vegas residencies. It was a legacy that had firmly cemented the Memphis native as an immortal icon.

The ghostly presence seemed to possess Roland’s songwriting. “Knowing it was going to be our 30th year, I was kind of looking back on what we had done. It was a fun moment in life,” he reflects. Nostalgia crept in, mingling with newfound inspiration to create a deeply personal, yet universally resonant collection of tunes.

Inspired by the spirit of The King, Roland let his lyrics roam to new territories. “I was listening to ‘Some Girls’ by the Stones, and there’s that line about ‘Puerto Rican girls coming over to see you, they’re making a case of wine.’ I thought, ‘Man, he’s partying – they’re not bringing a bottle, they’re bringing a case!’ It opened my mind to be a little freer with the lyrics.” Presley’s spirit of rebellion and provocative flair seeped into Roland’s words.

Keeping It Collective
Of course, Collective Soul’s signature sound still shines through on standouts like the lead single “Mother’s Love.” When Roland first unveiled the riff to co-producer Shawn Grove, the response was immediate: “Yes, that’s good.”

A gritty, foot-stomping riff anchors the track, its muscular groove underpinned by Roland’s raspy, soulful vocals. “The riff comes first, and sometimes the lyrics come with it,” Roland explains of his writing process. “With ‘Mother’s Love,’ I had that line ‘I find my strength above, Mother’s Love.’ I was like, ‘I love that – my mother is my strength.’” In the grand tradition of rock anthems, it’s a fist-pumping ode to maternal devotion.

To further imbue “Here to Eternity” with rock royalty, Roland tapped a few famous friends as guest collaborators. Alongside Brian Ray, Paul McCartney’s longtime guitarist who lives nearby, the album features backing vocals from Mickey Thomas of Jefferson Starship fame and Peter Stroud, Sheryl Crow’s bandleader.
“I put Mickey’s ass to work – he did about five background vocals,” Roland says with a cackle. “I’m gettin’ pretty sneaky in my old age.” Thomas’ iconic pipes add an extra layer of classic rock credibility to the proceedings.

Reflecting on Thomas’ iconic vocals, Roland gushes, “I remember him pulling around and falling live. I got the opportunity to tell him that, like, it meant. I remember listening to it on the AM radio, just going, ‘Who is that guy? What is that song?’ Like? It just still brings chills as I’m speaking about it now.” For a lifelong rock disciple like Roland, collaborating with his heroes was a dream actualized.

The Endless Tour
With a sprawling 20-song set to pull from, how will Collective Soul decide which new tracks to take on the road? According to Roland, it’s all about keeping things fluid.

“We know we wanna play the songs people came there to see,” he says, “but it’s still fun. We’re gettin’ up there, doin’ our thing.” After three decades, the band has amassed an impressive catalog of hits to draw from, each one a cherished singalong for their diehard fans. Yet they remain committed to injecting fresh material into their setlists, breathing new life into their live performances.

Indeed, the band seems to relish the live experience as much as ever, joining Hootie & the Blowfish and Edwin McCain on a summer shed tour hitting 44 cities across the U.S. and Canada. For Roland and company, the prospect of sharing a stage with fellow road warriors and old friends is the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll fantasy camp.

“We love being on stage – we’re a strange rock and roll band, we actually like each other!” Roland says with a hearty chuckle. “To be out with Hootie and Edward McCain, who we’ve known since before success happened, it’s just a blessing.” The camaraderie and mutual respect is etched in the band’s entire being, a bond forged in the trenches of the music industry’s ever-shifting landscape.

Even after 30 years, the thrill hasn’t faded an inch. “We still jump up and down, hug each other, fist bump – we just love what we do,” Roland beams. “We feel blessed that we get to do what we love. It’s not a job, I call it retirement.”

Few artists can claim such unbridled passion and joy for their craft after maintaining a decades-long career. For Collective Soul, it’s clearly more than just a paycheck – it’s a way of life.

An Everlasting Soul
So how does Roland hope Collective Soul’s legacy will be remembered? His response is fittingly modest: “An honest rock and roll band.”

It’s that very authenticity and lack of pretense that has sustained Collective Soul for three decades and counting. Emerging from the small town of Stockbridge, Georgia in the early 90s, the band quickly made their mark with a string of smash hits like “Shine,” “December,” and “The World I Know” from their triple-platinum debut Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid. Their gritty yet melodic sound, anchored by Ed Roland’s raspy vocals and Will Turpin’s muscular basslines, struck a chord with audiences yearning for something genuine amid the grunge era’s angst.

From those humble beginnings to the eccentric opulence of Elvis’ Palm Springs compound where they recorded their new double album, Collective Soul has remained a resolute, relatable voice in an increasingly fractured rock landscape. While trends have come and gone, their unwavering commitment to raw, heartfelt songcraft has kept them firmly planted in the hearts of millions of diehard fans worldwide. Iconic singles like “Heavy,” “Precious Declaration,” and “Run” have become anthemic singalongs, soundtracking countless lives with their uplifting messages of hope and perseverance.

“Well, it’s an honor and a privilege,” Roland says of the band’s 30-year run. “You start out, of course you want longevity, and then when it happens, you’re like, ‘Wow, how did that happen?’ We’re blessed. A bunch of cats, man. We just love what we do. And blessed that people still want to hear us.”

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The humility and gratitude is evident, a refreshing counterpoint to the ego that often plagues successful rock stars.
Looking back, Roland cites the release of each new album as a career highlight. “To me, it’s every time we release a new recording that just shows that we’re still kicking and breathing and making rock and roll.”

In an industry obsessed with the latest and greatest, Collective Soul’s steadfast dedication to their craft is an anomaly to be celebrated.
He’s learned plenty of lessons along the way too. “You grow through it. You get excited and you get better. You get angry, and then you kind of go, ‘Wait a second. We won the lottery. We’re cool, man. Let’s just keep doing what we do.’” The ability to maintain perspective and appreciate their good fortune is undoubtedly a key to their longevity.

At its core, Roland believes the live experience remains the bedrock of the music industry. “The one solid one, cornerstone foundation of the whole, to me, music industry is playing live. We love playing live.” In an era where album sales have plummeted and streaming reigns supreme, Collective Soul’s commitment to delivering an electrifying concert experience is a testament to their old-school ethos.

As for how he knows if a new song will connect with audiences? “That’s a loaded question. If I knew that answer, I would. I would have been successful at 18, not 30. I don’t know…it’s basically up to the five guys in the band.” For all his years of experience, Roland remains refreshingly humble about his creative process, deferring to the collective intuition of the group.

When it comes to crafting those signature melodies, Roland credits his musical upbringing and influences. “I had parents that were great, that were musical…I think I picked the right heroes for, like, a better term. I go back to Elton first. Elton and Bernie first. And then, you know, from, you know, Jeff Lin, Ell, Tom Petty. I mean, just the base, the masters.” His reverence for the songwriting giants that shaped his sound is admirable, a through-line connecting him to the very roots of rock ‘n’ roll.
As the sun sets at the King of Rock and Roll’s home studio in California, Collective Soul’s story is only just beginning its next verse. Here’s to eternity, and beyond – an everlasting soul fueled by passion, integrity, and an unwavering love for the music they create.

As seen in the May 2024 issue:

519 Issue 69 May 2024 web cover

 

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