Ricky Woolstenhulme Jr. of Lifehouse
On March 2nd Lifehouse (Jason Wade on lead vocals/guitar, Ricky Woolstenhulme Jr. on drums, Bryce Soderberg on bass and newly added guitarist Ben Carey) are set to release their fifth studio album aptly titled Smoke & Mirrors. The title, also a song on the album, represents the melding of songs that capture the essence of the band’s live performance combined with the catchy studio tracks that we’ve come to expect from the band.
Taking their time with the album the band collaborated with musicians like Chris Daughtry and Kevin Rudolf who lent their writing styles and vocals to the mix. With a focus on a well-rounded album the band took their time to explore and incorporate different styles of music into each song. The first single, “Halfway Gone” is already a radio favorite but it’s just a small taste of what Smoke & Mirrors has to offer.
The band recently announced that they’ll be hitting the road in support of the new album in late March with Daughtry and Cavo.
Drummer Ricky Woolstenhulme Jr. recently took some time to talk to us about the new album, the band’s love for the road and their upcoming stint on the VH1 Best Cruise Ever.
Interviewed by Mary Ouellette | January 2010
You went into writing and recording this new album with the goal of really capturing your live performance side. At the end of recording the album do you feel like you had that same goal and that you completed it or did things evolve along the way?
Most of the time when we get off of a cycle of two to three years of touring, part of the goal is to keep that energy and that camaraderie from the stage and bring that right into the studio without having much down time. With this record we jumped right in and started cutting a whole bunch of live tracks. I’d say that the record almost has two different sides to it. We’re definitely a band that takes a lot of pride in songs that do get on the radio while maintaining our integrity and not writing any throwaway tracks. On this record I think we explored with a live element with the recording process. There are songs where we’re all just sitting in a room and just trying to capture a big live moment with all of us playing at the same time. Then there’s other tracks where we’ve recorded in the live essence but are able to take a step back and explore some different sonics, some things we’ve never done on earlier records. We set the bar really high on this record. We worked on it for a little over a year. I guess the answer to your question would be that this record has both sides of a pop element and also a live organic element – all wrapped in one.
Sound wise you experimented a little bit with some new styles on this album (Americana, classic rock, pop) , did those elements make it into the final songs?
Oh geez yeah! The very first track that we recorded for the album is the track called Smoke & Mirrors which ended up being the name of the album. That song is very Americana and almost Petty-esque in a way. For that song we literally came from the road and headed right into the studio and that was the first song that was brought to the table. It was cut in two or three takes. Most of the live stuff was either full hit or full miss because you’re trying to capture an essence of everybody playing live and luckily most of them made the record. There are some B-sides and exclusives that will come out later but for the most part they all made the record. Smoke & Mirrors, Nerve Damage is another one that is totally organic – it has different time signatures which bands nowadays don’t tend to explore that open of a canvas but we were able to.
Chris Daughtry makes a guest appearance on one of the tracks that he co-wrote, can you tell us a bit about the song and how his participation came to fruition?
Yes, Chris is a great guy and a friend of ours. We meet a lot of bands on the road and a lot of them are very humble and very nice and he would be at the top of that list. He’s got great energy and good stuff comes out of that collaboration. He worked with Jason and out came a track called “Had Enough”. We cut that with a live band in the studio and Chris came down and sang some harmonies with Jason and it’s so cool to hear the textures of his voice with Jason’s voice.
Since I’ve only heard Halfway Gone so far, I was wondering if you could maybe walk me through a few of your favorite songs on the album musically and lyrically and tell us about how they developed and came to shape?
Let’s start with my favorite which is a track called Nerve Damage. It started off with a guitar riff that I don’t want to compare to Zeppelin or anything but the time signature turns around in it. We ended up working off of that riff and we cut it all live in a room with no click track. It’s very progressive rock and what I mean by that is that it actually goes into some sections that wouldn’t sound like normal Lifehouse but luckily some tracks just fall out like that and that one did. The lyrics and the track I think are some of Jason’s best and the rhythmic style of his vocals on it are really amazing. In our tight circle of the band and our friends who have been living with this album a lot of us gravitate towards this song as a favorite. It’s got a rock element to it that I think we’re proud to have captured.
And another track that you’re close to?
There’s a song called “It Is What It Is” and it’s a very emotional, heartfelt, balladesque kind of song. When Jason brought it to the table we were experimenting with making organic style loops to give it more of a modern sound. I ended up investing in this machine called an MPC 3000 which was used a lot by old school hip hop artists. So it’s kind of a trip because up until the bridge of the song it’s I don’t want to say hip hop but it has a more modern sound and feel to it and then when the bridge comes in the sun comes out and it really just opens up.
So the MPC 3000, what effect does that have on the music? What does it actually do?
It’s more of a sonic thing, everything is still hand played but you’re using sounds that were used in the early Dr. Dre records (for example). I think they started making the machine in the late 80s and it just has a very specific tone.
This is your fifth studio album which means you’ve had a lot of practice at this! Comparing the writing and recording process to your past albums, what do you feel was different this time around for the band, if anything?
Compared to the last four records, normally we come to the table with 30 songs and start recording. Generally we finish records in three to five months. This time I think we came in, we were confident and very oiled up from the road so we thought we were happy with what we were doing. We took some time away from the music and went back and just realized that the temperature and climate of music is set so much higher than a few years ago. We really planned to make a record that has twelve great songs with no filler. We don’t want anyone to skip over tracks so the bar was set high. We spent a year working on the record and this time around there’s an energy. We recently popped into the studio to start practicing the new material for our upcoming tour and right away there’s an excitement about bringing the new songs to the stage.
We already talked about the collaboration with Chris Daughtry, and there are a few more co-written songs on the album including contributions from Kevin Rudolf and producer Jude Cole, how did allowing someone else into the writing mix work for the band and what did you take away from that?
The collaborations on this album opened so many different doors for us. For one, you bring someone in that could be coming from a different place musically than us. So the collaborations between Jude and Jason just lead to paths and tunnels where musically the song can travel, and specifically with the production. We’ve tried not to do the same thing we’ve done on previous records. We tried to step outside of the box a bit without losing the sound of the band, keeping the integrity of the band but opening some doors and finding new inspiration and creativity. Jude Cole was an amazing producer to work with and Kevin Rudolf comes from a hip hop/Top 40 type scene so that was amazing because it’s like two different worlds coming into the same room and both having great ideas and both respecting each other’s ideas and out came “Halfway Gone” with that collaboration.
I read that the title of the album “Smoke & Mirrors” is a play on the combination of making fans feel like they are at a live show and capturing the essence of the band combined with catchy studio tracks. Is that a fair take on it?
I would definitely say that. It’s ironic because when Smoke & Mirrors was written that was generally just a song but then when we finished we had planned on calling the album Smoke & Mirrors but in hindsight we didn’t know what was happening and it ended up working out because that is the gist of what it does mean. There’s the big essence of the live show and then there’s keeping to our roots and what we know. When we have pop songs that make it on the radio, people connect with that so that combined with the live aspect is really what Smoke & Mirrors is about.
What do you think it is about Lifehouse that has allowed you and your music to thrive for so long in an industry that’s not always the easiest to survive and have longevity in? You guys are still all very young and going strong, what do you attribute that to?
That’s a tough question. To be honest I think because we’ve been so honest in our music and there’s no ego in the band, we’re all in it for the same reasons. We didn’t want to be a flash in the pan and we all hold ourselves to a high bar. I think the camaraderie among the band really matters and that’s part of the reason that we’re still going strong. You have to be honest. We’re still a band that gets on stage with four guys and four instruments and make that sound happen on a big PA. Nowadays people want to see that. We’ve been sticklers about that over the years, about always being able to show up and play, even if it’s not a big electric show. Even if it’s ten people at an acoustic setting you have to be able to make it happen on all levels and connect with your listener.
In April you are performing as part of VH1s Best Cruise Ever which sounds like a win win for a band, how did you get involved in that and what’s the general concept for people who may be on the fence?
I don’t know what the general concept is exactly but I do know that it’s going to be a great bill. Three Doors Down is playing, Theory of A Deadman, and a bunch of great acts (Shinedown, Safetysuit, Carolina Liar, Parachute & more). We’re going to all be trapped on one big ship and it’s going to be like a rotating concert series. I don’t know the full details but I believe we’re playing 2-3 times over the 3 day cruise. VH1 has been so amazing to us over the years so this is a big one to kick off the album.
For more info on VH1’s Best Cruise Ever visit the official website
Catch Lifehouse live out on tour with Daughtry, dates here
Watch the video for Lifehouse’s single “Halfway Gone: