For the duration of Los Angeles-based Lifehouse’s ten-year career they’ve been delicately balancing two identities: radio-ready song craftsmen and raucous live rock and roll band. On their forthcoming fifth studio album, Smoke & Mirrors, the band finally unites these two personalities. “We toured for over a year before we started making this record,” says singer and guitarist Jason Wade. “With the new album we really wanted to capture what we were doing on the road but halfway through recording, it was apparent we hadn’t focused enough on the equally important radio side. It finally dawned on us to just do both.”
Still in their twenties, the guys in Lifehouse have an impressive resume. Founding members Jason Wade and drummer Ricky Woolstenhulme Jr. met in Los Angeles and formed the band in the late 90s. Lifehouse released its smash debut No Name Face in 2000, which launched them to global stardom. Their breakout single “Hanging by a Moment” was the single most played radio track of 2001. Over the next few years – joined first by a replacement, bassist Bryce Soderberg and more recently by new member, guitarist Ben Carey – Lifehouse built upon that initial success. Combined album sales are over 5 million and Lifehouse singles have sold over 3 million copies online including number one hits “Hanging By a Moment” and “You and Me.” Later Lifehouse singles “First Time,” “Whatever It Takes,” and “Broken” have also achieved major chart and sales success. From very early on, Lifehouse fans demonstrated a resilient loyalty to the band, so much so that several of the band’s hits still maintain chart positions on iTunes, years after their initial release. The band also has a formidable online presence – their video streams are at 70 million and counting.
Lifehouse has always done well on radio, TV, and online, but just as impressive is their take-no-prisoners approach to touring. “We stayed out on the road for the last ten years,” Jason says. “Even through the hard times we played four to six shows a week. We refused to disappear (laughs)!” When Lifehouse’s fourth album Who We Are came out in the spring of 2007 it set the band on a near-relentless tour that should have pushed them to the brink of insanity. Instead, they hung out on days off and made the road a way of life. “We really love being on the road,” Ricky says. “We enjoy playing live, feeling that energy. And when we have time off we have a good time doing whatever. We go to basketball and love to eat! I’m like the camp counselor – I track everything down and make all the plans. Even if they don’t want to go, they have to. I’m that guy.”
In the fall of 2008, when the band finally came off the road from supporting Who We Are, they were on a post-tour high and urgently wanted to bring that visceral live energy to the next album. So they got together with Jude Cole, the producer of Who We Are, and began working on new material both at Cole’s Ironworks Studio and at Jason’s recently built home studio, Castle View. But instead of putting themselves on their usual strict schedule, the band decided to take their time with this record. As a result, it was a real creative journey. “We knew we were in a good place where we could afford to stay off the road and keep the crew employed and happy, and basically just develop the band a little bit – go in a few different directions,” Bryce explains. “We experimented with Americana, classic rock, pop – we tried a bunch of different styles, really growing even further as a band.”
Lifehouse ended up spending a year recording upwards of thirty-five tracks before settling on the twelve songs that make up Smoke & Mirrors (many of the rest will be included on a deluxe edition). The record is loosely split between rock tracks meant to capture the feel of seeing Lifehouse live, and extremely catchy, sing-along pop songs. “That’s where the title of the album comes in,” Jason explains. “It’s about the record being half live and half studio.” The first single, “Halfway Gone,” a collaboration with acclaimed rapper/songwriter Kevin Rudolf is most definitely in the latter camp. It’s an irresistible pop rock song featuring explosive, driving guitars and a chorus that feels instantly familiar. “Kevin brings another side – a hint of the hip hop world but in context with what we’re doing,” Jason says. “We were fans of his and he was a fan of ours and it just clicked. What resulted was a nice blend of older Lifehouse with a new fresh sound -– we can’t make the same record over and over.” Lifehouse fans approve of the evolution; “Halfway Gone” is already the fastest growing single in the band’s history, reaching the top twenty within three weeks of its release. Rudolf also worked on “Falling In,” another potential pop hit.
Rudolf was not the only high profile collaboration on Smoke & Mirrors. The band also worked with American Idol alum Chris Daughtry, whom Jason met and became friends with on the road. “I haven’t done much co-writing in the past and I’m a bit leery of it,” the singer admits. “You can end up with a song that is not good and just wish you had that day of your life back (laughs) however, I went over to Chris’s place in LA and within an hour we had ‘Had Enough.’” The song, to which Daughtry contributes vocals and Richard Marx also co-wrote, is a blistering, anthemic example of the kind of music that made Lifehouse fans fall in love with the band in the first place.
Rudolf was not the only high profile collaboration on Smoke & Mirrors. The band also worked with American Idol alum Chris Daughtry, whom Jason met and became friends with on the road. “I haven’t done much co-writing in the past and I’m a bit leery of it,” the singer admits. “You can end up with a song that is not good and just wish you had that day of your life back (laughs) however, I went over to Chris’s place in LA and within an hour we had ‘Had Enough.’” The song, to which Daughtry contributes vocals, is a blistering, anthemic example of the kind of music that made Lifehouse fans fall in love with the band in the first place. It belongs alongside the more traditional rock tracks on Smoke & Mirrors like “Nerve Damage” and “Wrecking Ball” (bassist Soderberg’s first lead vocal with the band), songs that capture the unparalleled feel of a Lifehouse show.
The band will deliver an actual, real live take on these songs very soon – they hit the road in support of Smoke & Mirrors early next year. According to Lifehouse, it feels like they’re doing this all again for the first time – they are inspired and excited about getting out there and playing these songs live. “It’s our fifth album but I feel like we’re just starting as a band,” explains Bryce. “As far as our chemistry goes, we just really know each other now. We know what pisses each other off and how to avoid it. We keep each other level headed, we vent to each other. We leave our egos at the bus door. We’re good to go.”