Discover more from Bands To Fans
Dean Roland of Collective Soul | Transcript
I interviewed Dean Roland of Collective Soul. We discussed:
Their album "Vibrating"
Recording in Elvis Presley's house in Palm Springs, CA
The influence of Joe Walsh on both his and Jesse's guitar playing
The difference between passion and ego
Growing as a rhythm guitarist
The challenges of playing "Cut The Cord"
Collective Soul website: collectivesoul.com
You can also watch the video of the interview.
(This transcript has been slightly edited for clarity. Photos from band’s social media and website.)
“Cut The Cord”
Cris Cohen: First off, talking about this new album, “Vibrating.” I had to make sure with the publicist I was talking about the right album, because apparently you guys have like two or three others already lined up. You are massively prolific.
Dean Roland: Yes. I get confused myself to be honest.
Cris Cohen: I love this album. I went out and bought the vinyl. And I encourage everyone to either buy the vinyl or the disc, because you get so much more out of these songs that way.
What struck me right off the bat is… I've seen other interviews you’ve done. You come across as very mellow, affable people. And yet, you have songs like the opening track, “Cut the Cord,” which have this raw, edgy feel. And particularly your rhythm guitar has this fabulous, buzzsaw kind of effect. I'm wondering, what aspect of you are you digging into to bring forth that raw, visceral response?
Dean Roland: You know, that's a great question. I think, as a musician or artist or songwriter, all of those things, it's multifaceted, right? The music that we are inspired by is all over the place too. I could be just as enthralled listening to some classical music or “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” by Elton John. Or I can listen to Metallica or AC/DC, who is a huge influence on us. You just kind of tap into it and see where it goes. I couldn't envision doing that all the time though. You know what I mean? <Laugh>
Those little things come here and there and in the appropriate time, especially as you get a little older, get along in your career. Because you do have to play those things live <laugh>. I don’t know if I could do two hours of that every night, but I love it. I love when those songs do come though. It's a lot of fun. And on the past tour we were kicking the set off with “Cut The Cord” too. It's a fun (song) to get (the show) in motion, get it going.
Cris Cohen: Yes. I saw you when you guys came through Cary, North Carolina at the end of last year. That was a lot of fun. And again, the energy is there. What I love is that these new songs mesh so well with all the previous material. How much of that is conscious and how much of that is, “This is just our DNA”?
Dean Roland: Well, it's definitely our DNA. But I think, over the years, we allowed ourselves the creative freedom and luxury to go some different directions. Next year will be our 30th year. You kind of get bored of your own self at some point, right? So we've tried to challenge ourselves, whether it's different instrumentation or just trying different approaches. It's almost inevitable when you find yourself in some sort of creative box. But you have to consciously push outside of it. And I think we did that for a little while. I would say over the past couple of records -- I don't know if it was conscious or if it just was familiar and comfortable and we felt more confident in it -- we were recording kind of the way we used to, where we get in a room and hash through it and get as much recorded live as we can, as we feel comfortable with.
And really challenge ourselves. Be vulnerable in that, without having to go through and track the drums, track the bass, and just stack it. Which is fine too. I enjoy that as well. But there's some sort of thing, that improvisational thing or the real time moment, when you're playing with the dudes in one room. That's fun. So we've gone back to that. Because we've been playing a lot over the past few years and feel like our chemistry is locked in. The goal is to kind of translate that onto tape. So that's been reinvigorating for us. It's been inspiring to get back and take it from that perspective.
Cris Cohen: Yeah. One of the bands I work with is The Fabulous Thunderbirds. And Kim Wilson said that people sometimes get after bands for recording in the home now, but that's the perfect place to record. Because it doesn't have that studio vibe. It's very relaxed. And he even went back to those old Modern Records recordings of all these great blues artists that they did in like a YMCA in Memphis. It's just got that great feel because they're all in the room playing together.
Recording in Elvis Presley’s Other House
Dean Roland: Yes. We've had the good fortune over the years to record in some of the best commercial studios in the world. And we recorded our third album in a cabin basically outside of Atlanta. We've kind of been all over the place. This last record, in January we spent a little over a month in Palm Springs. We recorded at Elvis’s (Presley) house. He owned two houses. He owned Graceland and he owned a house in Palm Springs (California). That was like his getaway. And a few years ago, we became friends with (a person) who bought that house years back. And it's pretty much the way it was when Elvis was there. And we asked him, does anybody ever work or record here? And he's like, no, Elvis was the only one that ever recorded there.
We just finished up the recording in that house, which was a treat.
Cris Cohen: So I have to ask, how did that infiltrate your conscience or subconscious about, “Wow, we're following in the footsteps of the king,” so to speak?
Dean Roland: On the front end, you're in awe. He was a huge influence on us. Growing up, Elvis was a big deal and still is. So that was a little intimidating and awe-inspiring. And then I think, after you kind of get settled in, we're in the zone. But then every once in a while… we're recording in his living room, which is actually where he recorded one of his gospel albums. And he had put in this soundproof tile on the roof. That was still there. So you catch yourself in moments where you're like, “Whoa. What is going on?” As you walk in the door, to the left is a fireplace and huge windows. And you see his pool and the Palm Springs mountains. And you pinch yourself. But once you're in the musical zone, all those things just kind of dissipate. And we're just rocking, recording, doing our thing.
Going Down a Path
Cris Cohen: One thing I love about your albums is that it all sounds like you, but you cannot predict what the next song is going to be like. You know? And there's always a great surprise for me. I mean, I really do legitimately love this whole album, but for me, one of the really great surprises is the last track, “Where do I go?”, which has such a different feel with the choruses and the Mellotron and all these different inputs. But creating this great sonic pastiche… There's that break in the middle where suddenly you just hear this congestion of car horns and traffic sounds. I'm wondering, when does that occur to you guys? “Oh, this would be a great transitional element.” And how did you put that in there?
Dean Roland: I think some of that stuff is like… it can be trial and error. It can be a happy accident. We're going down a path. There will be some sort of… I don't want to say mistake, because I don't really believe in that. But there's something that triggers a different thought. And you're like, “Whoa. What if we go down that road?” And we usually try to challenge ourselves. So if there's an idea and no one is demonstratively saying, “I can't support that,” we will take the idea until it either has a runway and takes off or we're just at a dead end and it's like, “That's not working.” And we kind of do that with songs in general.
You were talking about the different styles of songs (on an album). We take it song by song. And hopefully there's some thread of cohesiveness that ties them all together. But we've always been song servers. Serve the songs and see what that is. And a lot of times that's where those things come from. We can start the record with a “Cut The Cord” and finish with the song you're speaking of. We really do try to serve the song without letting our individual egos get in the way.
Rhythm Guitar – Part 1
Cris Cohen: And speaking of serving the song, rhythm guitar, with your type of music, is the foundation, along with the drums and the bass. It's what everything is built upon. When you are writing a rhythm part, how much of it is inspiration and how much of it is perspiration?
Dean Roland: Well, coming up with a part that fits… I'm listening to what Johnny's doing on drums or what Ed's melody may be or what Jesse's playing or Will's playing. You want to find your spot. And so that's the inspiration part. Now playing it, <laugh> it's more of this perspiration. It might take a few times to get it where you're locked in. You hear one thing in your head. And then it's like, ok, let's do some trial and error here to see if we can flesh that out. So it's definitely a mixture. And where the fun comes into play really. When it comes fast and easy, I get a little suspect. But a lot of times, those are the best ideas.
Cris Cohen: Besides the obvious -- one plays lead, one plays rhythm -- how are you and Jesse maybe different in your approach to guitar?
Dean Roland: Well, Jesse is a legitimate guitar player. And I'm not being self-deprecating. He's an amazing lead guitar player. He could play my parts. I couldn't play his parts. I'm not that type of player. I've never really aspired to be. but I love and respect it. He was a drummer first, as a teenager. So his rhythm is fantastic. And he's able to work that rhythm and phrasing into his solos, which I think are amazing. His favorite guitar player is Joe Walsh. And Joe's one of my favorites as well. Joe is like a perfect blend of lead guitar, but with rhythm, just super groove. So we share that in common. But I respect Jesse's playing immensely. He's great.
A Family Business
Cris Cohen: What I thought was interesting… I love delving into liner notes. Your nephew sings backing vocals on one of the tracks.
Dean Roland: Yes.
Cris Cohen: What did that stir up as far as thoughts – I know she's young – of your own daughter and musical talent and what has become the family business?
Dean Roland: You're right. My daughter, she's young, but she loves music. Like… it's in there somewhere. But you can't tell if it's nature or nurture. I don't know. Our father was a voice major in college and went on to be a preacher. And music was always around our house. Our mother played piano and our dad sang. So we were just surrounded by it. So it was almost like, I never really had a chance <laugh>. It was just there. But if that's the direction that she chooses to go, I would love nothing more. I would try to give her some advice on getting into the music business though.
Cris Cohen: <Laugh>
Dean Roland: Because it can get a little tricky. I love it, man. I'm a huge advocate for music, obviously, and musicianship. And even if it's not something you do professionally… some of my great friends, they don't do it professionally, but they love it just as an escape, to either put on a vinyl and listen to it or they know how to strum or play guitar. It's helpful. I encourage it.
Cris Cohen: Yeah. There are so many benefits. I, myself, am a completely awful drummer, but A) it's fun and B) I feel like it made me a better listener. You notice a little bit more. You appreciate what's going on.
Dean Roland: That's an excellent point.
Cris Cohen: And kind of along a mix of those ideas, this band has had changing personnel over the years. And for some bands that is really problematic and can mean a downfall. You guys have not only survived but thrived changing the personnel. And I was a fan of Johnny Rabb before he joined you guys. So I thought that was a magnificent addition. But what I'm wondering is, what is the secret to that success? What is the key to bringing in new members and having it work well?
Dean Roland: A lot of it comes down to just luck, you know? Because there's a ton of hyper-talented musicians out there. But at the end of the day, you have to realize, you're going to be spending a lot of time together that has nothing to do with music <laugh>. You know what I mean? So that chemistry has to be there outside of the music. It has to become some sort of brotherhood or family. And Ed and I and Will have always had that, because we kind of grew up together. Ed and I are obviously blood brothers, but I've known Will as long as I've known anything. Our families were very close. He grew up a couple of blocks away. So we've always treated it as family.
If you have that element first and then the musicianship is there, it can last. But even then, it's still tough. I mean, like you said, we've gone through a couple of different configurations. And Ed and I talk about it often. We feel like the past 10 years have been some of the best, as far as the cohesiveness of the band, the respect musically. You have to have that respect, that allowance for other ideas to come in. Egos have to be checked. I mean, obviously we have them. You're getting on stage in front of thousands of people and performing what you love. And that vulnerability, that ego, is a kick in the ass to get you motivated to get out there and celebrate it. But I think it does just come down to really just a friendship and a mutual respect.
Cris Cohen: I hear what you're saying. I would say, in a lot of cases, people use the word “ego,” but sometimes I think it's just a passion to get up on that stage. There's a definite difference between a passion and a drive to do this, to express yourself. And it can be done without ego. I think in the same respect there are people that get into… even fans get into heated discussions about music. It's not about ego. It's about caring and a passion for it.
Dean Roland: Yeah. I agree with you. It’s not the ego. It's not the arrogant side of ego. It's like the passion side of it. I can get with that.
Brothers and Bandmates
Cris Cohen: And then, kind of an extension of all this, the history of rock and roll is littered, unfortunately, with siblings who started bands and then ended up hating each other. You know, Oasis, The Kinks, Heart… it goes on and on. I'm very glad that has not happened with this band. And thus, again, I'm wondering what your advice is for making that work.
Dean Roland: Yeah, we're very fortunate in that light. And not to say that we haven't had issues. I mean, we've been together for 30 years. And Ed and I both have pretty strong opinions about things. A lot of it is the same destination, just different approaches and different paths to get there. So we've had to get to a place where… back to that mutual respect thing. It’s like: I'm hearing you. I'm listening to you. And then you should listen too. You have to come to some degree of compromise at some point. And at some point, you know, he just finally gives up and has to listen to me. He knows I'm right.
Cris Cohen: <Laugh>
Dean Roland: I think it's like that. Really it's almost like America. You have to find that middle ground. And we've been through some of those tough times where it's like, “I don't know if this is worth it,” you know? And you take a little time, you get some perspective, and you go, “Oh yeah. Actually, I love that dude. We're cool.” I might not have liked him for a little bit or vice versa, but it's more fun. Because all of us, individually, can go do our own music and produce it and write it. But I enjoy doing it with him and the other dudes. I think fundamentally it just kind of boils down to that. Not to oversimplify it, but we have a good time. We laugh. We're good buds.
Rhythm Guitar – Part 2
Cris Cohen: I think there is a definite art to rhythm guitar that doesn't get acknowledged. It's often the soloist, the lead, that gets a lot of ink, let's say. And the cheers and all that kind of stuff. For some of them legitimately. I am in awe of many of those players. But there's something to the art of rhythm guitar. There are elements, to me, of Tom Petty's playing on this album, in the way he sets things up. What, for you, has been the most challenging part about growing as a rhythm guitarist?
Dean Roland: Malcolm Young (of AC/DC) is probably my favorite rhythm guitar player. Malcolm or Keith (Richards of the Rolling Stones). I mean, Keith plays solos and stuff, but if you ask him, he considers himself a rhythm guitar player. A lot of it is just… your job is to stay out of the way. You're the glue in between the bass, drums, and lead. You're just kind of fitting in and getting out of the way, knowing maybe that's it. Knowing when to get out of the way, when to shut your proverbial mouth – the guitar. It's a little cliche to say it, but some of the best notes are the ones that are never played. If I have to hold it down, I will hold it down for however long it is. Just be back to serving the song, be appropriate for the song.
Cris Cohen: And from your perspective, what was the most challenging song to do on this album?
Dean Roland: Funnily enough, it may have been “Cut The Cord,” because it was so damn up tempo. Rock songs are just a little harder to find, to write, for us anyway. The mid-tempo ones, they seem like they come a little more often.
But maybe “Cut The Cord” for real. Because it's like a downstroke kind of punk thing. And my right hand rhythm needs to get worked up for that <laugh>. When we're playing live or about to go on stage, I rarely have to warm up because I'm not doing the…
Cris Cohen: Running the front board.
Dean Roland: Right. So, I'm just like, “Maybe I need to do a little warm up on this one.”
Cris Cohen: I'm assuming Johnny… I haven't seen, but I'm assuming he's got a practice pad constantly going.
Dean Roland: Oh, yeah. Ed does his warmups. That's kind of what we'll do. He just sits around and strums and sings and everybody's maybe singing along or Jesse's playing along. So it's just like getting that vibe going. Pre-show stuff.
And then the other thing as far as that goes is just making sure we don't take ourselves too seriously. We have to have a couple of jokes. Somebody's busting somebody's balls for something. Just take it down and don't take this thing too serious. Let's just go have fun and enjoy ourselves.
The Night Lisa Marie Presley Passed
Dean Roland: This house (in Palm Springs) was the one that Elvis actually owned. He and Priscilla bought it. And that was (where) he would spend his holidays and his birthday. He spent his last birthday in that house. In fact, it was strange. We were there. We had the control room set up in Lisa Marie's room. The next room over was Priscilla's. The back room was Elvis's. And we were actually in the night that Lisa Marie passed. That night the ceiling collapsed in that room.
Cris Cohen: Oh my God.
Dean Roland: It was rough (weather). Bad rains that night. And we were able to save the equipment and all that stuff, but it was just kind of uncanny that it happened to be on the same day.
Cris Cohen: Right. It's interesting. That's a little eerie.
It does make me wonder though… I think we're about the same age. And I know you guys are into music and its history. But it would be surprising for, I think, a lot of people to find out how into Elvis you are, that you were interested in going to his house and recording there.
Dean Roland: Our dad was a Southern Baptist preacher. That was kind of his main career. But music was his thing when he was a young boy. And Elvis was his idol. And that kind of came through to us. Like we were <laugh> we were allowed to listen to no rock and roll on Sunday. Because that was the Lord’s Day. Except for Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis…
Cris Cohen: <Laugh>
Dean Roland: Jerry Lee… I don’t know how righteous he was.
Cris Cohen: <Laugh>
Dean Roland: But Elvis was a big deal in our childhood.
Cris Cohen: So almost like this seeped into your senses through osmosis.
Dean Roland: It did. Ed's biggest influence was Elton (John). And Elvis would be in there. But we always describe our music as the two mainstays are Elton John and AC/DC. It's kind of like this melodic blend.
Cris Cohen: <Laugh>
Dean Roland: Riffy kind of stuff with a melody, a nice little melody on top.
Bands To Fans: I manage online projects (social media, newsletters, venue communications) for bands and solo artists. Read more.