Thursday , September 23 2021
CS 2019 (credit - Lee Clower)

Music Interview: Dean Roland of Collective Soul Reflects on Career and Upcoming Tour with Tonic & Better Than Ezra

For nearly 30 years, Atlanta, Georgia rock quintet Collective Soul has built up a rich discography that as of 2019 includes 10 studio albums, which is no small feat. Formed in 1992, the band rocketed to stardom with hard rock hit “Shine” and its accompanying 1994 major label debut, Hints, Allegations & Things Left Unsaid. Their 3x platinum self-titled LP followed in 1995, featuring hits “December,” “The World I Know,” and “Gel.” By then, CS had opened for Aerosmith and Van Halen, and appeared at Woodstock 1994 (and later on, Woodstock ’99).

Mainstream fame would naturally decrease over time in an always-changing musical landscape, but CS still churned out some popular albums like 1997’s Disciplined Breakdown, 1999’s Dosage (“Run” and “Heavy”) and 2000 LP Blender (“Why, Pt. 2” and Elton John on “Perfect Day”). The 2019 Blood LP and 2020 Half & Half EP are their latest releases, and as you will read below, Collective Soul is not even close to slowing down.

On Wednesday, August 11, I had the honor of speaking by phone with Collective Soul rhythm guitarist and co-founder Dean Roland, younger brother of singer/main songwriter Ed Roland, about his career with CS and their upcoming late summer/fall tour with Better Than Ezra and Tonic. It ran about half an hour, so it’s edited down a bit. But longtime fans may appreciate Dean’s very honest and heartfelt thoughts about everything and everyone from Tommy Shaw (Styx) and Eddie Van Halen to unreleased Collective Soul albums and songs both new and old. Hope you enjoy reading this interview as much I loved doing it.

How are you doing? Are you all rested and ready to go out for another tour?

I think so. We’ve been doing pretty good. Plenty of time off (laughs).

You recently got off the road with Styx, didn’t you?

Yeah, we did a two-week run with those guys [in June], which was great.

Collective Soul has been fans of Styx for a long time, so it must have been [thrilling] to finally get on the road with them, especially with [Styx singer/guitarist] Tommy Shaw on Blood.

Always have been big fans of the band like you said, especially Tommy. My brother Ed [Roland] worked with him … in the late ‘90s on Tommy’s solo record. Then Tommy returned the favor on this one [via “Porch Swing”]. And it was just great to be able to share the stage with him.

“Porch Swing” is actually one of my favorite songs on Blood.

Oh that’s cool.

Tommy took an already great song to the next level with the dobro and when his background vocals come in. It was rare to hear that on a Collective Soul record.

We were all not laughing about it but when somebody comes in as a guest to your place or theirs, the choices you make and his choice of the notes that he sang were so cool and were absolutely not what we would’ve done on our own. And it’s just a clever thing. It was a treat to have him here and do his thing.

And Tommy did “December” with you guys during that two-week run. How did that come about?

We’d ask him if he’d be willing to come up and jam with us on one of the songs, and every night he got up there and played and played. It was amazing. That was always a highlight for us to have him up there doing that

CS 2019 (credit - Lee Clower)

Collective Soul is going back out on the road in about nine days, on August 20, with Tonic and Better Than Ezra. Have you been friends with those bands for a long time too?

We have, yeah. Good buddies with all of them, to be honest with you. It’s nice that we live in different places, like some of the guys in Ezra are in New Orleans and some are in Nashville. The Tonic guys are in Nashville. I live in California and our guys live in Atlanta. And we don’t see each other that often, so it’s fun for us to get on the road and play some shows together and have that camaraderie.   

You guys have done some big tours in the past, including opening for Van Halen. With the passing of Eddie, I just wanted to ask you what your remembrances were of him during that run with Van Halen.

Eddie was amazing. He had just come from a stint of [being] completely sober. He was so kind and played his ass off. It was such a treat for us – a career booster and confidence booster in so many ways to be able to open up for those guys. That’s a lifelong memory I’ll tell my grandchildren if I ever have them one day. Lots of pride there.

You can tell me if setlist.fm/YouTube is accurate but there’s two new songs CS has been playing live: One is called “Who Loves” and the other one is “Bring on the Day.” Do I have those titles right?

Yeah, you do. I think “Bring on the Day” is a new, piano-based song. I’m kind of losing track of it now (laughs), because we’ve got two albums recorded and ready to go. At the end of last year at the tail end of the first round of the pandemic, we got together and recorded a whole new record. So we’ve got that in the can. That’s where I get confused ‘cause there’s a lot of songs going on in our world. (laughs) “Who Loves” is what we open our set with. I don’t know how long it’s going to stay that way but it’s a lot of fun to play.

An even more recent release than Blood is the Half & Half EP. I really like the catchy final song “Smile” and the Brian May-ish harmony guitar lines for the short solo.

Oh yeah, yeah. That’s fun, right?

Yeah. You don’t hear that too often in a Collective Soul song, so is that all Jesse [Triplett, lead guitarist]?

That’s all Jesse, stacking it up and doing his thing. I can’t take credit for that one. I have a two-year-old daughter, and Ed wrote that one [“Smile”] for her.

That’s sweet and really good to know. You also played it [last year] for the YouTube online concert series called “Live at the Print Shop.” How did Collective Soul get involved in that series?

So the guy who started it, his name is Adam Blank [of Blank Records]. He and Ed became friends and I forget exactly how those dudes met but Ed had done some other stuff over there. Then Adam had asked us if we wanted to go and do a session. We did it and it was a lot of fun.

Two other songs from Half & Half I wanted to mention were the Neil Young and R.E.M. covers. How did you choose between the five of you “Opera Star” from Young’s lesser-known Trans album and R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”?

Growing up, R.E.M. was one of our heroes. We’re from Atlanta and they’re from Athens, GA. And we were on tour [in 2019] with Gin Blossoms and wanted to do some sort of thing with their singer, Robin [Wilson]. So every night he’d come up and sing “The One I Love” with us. When we decided to do Half & Half, we knew that we wanted to have two of our original songs and do two covers. And I said, “We’re in the zone with ‘The One I Love,’ so let’s do that.” We would end up doing a different arrangement live in our studio.

Ed had found that really rare Neil Young album you mentioned, and we would just listen to it on the bus on that tour. The vocal range [of “Opera Star”] was right in Ed’s wheelhouse and was kind of upbeat, kind of funky and whatever. Neil’s probably top three or four of my favorite artists of all time, and it was fun to just dig into it and let it rip. …. So that’s kind of it.

There’s one other cover I wanted to ask about that I’m not sure you guys ever played live or would do live, and it’s Morphine’s “You Speak My Language” on the Blender album.

Oh gosh. To be honest, we never played that live – we might’ve played it a couple times – and to be honest with you, I don’t know why we didn’t ‘cause I was so proud [of it]. I love Morphine too but it was produced well and I really do enjoy it. … I appreciate you asking about that ‘cause that might be something to figure out and throw back into the mix.

Absolutely!

It’s a cool jam.

There’s a couple of other older [live] songs, “Thick,” and “Balloon,” I wanted to ask about. Are there studio versions of those in the Collective Soul vault?

On “Balloon,” there’s multiple times we’ve recorded it, yet for whatever reason, it just wasn’t coming to a place where we all felt great about it. And thinking back on it, I’m not even sure why. We always loved it. … On “Thick,” somewhere in the archives there’s a studio version. Ed probably has it somewhere. We used to play that one quite often those first few years. So the short answer is yes, they were never released, but they were put to tape. It just wasn’t coming to a place where we felt good enough about releasing them.

When Hints… came out, you guys really wanted to re-record the whole album because it was essentially a [promo] demo of Ed’s songs. Is there a re-recording in the vault somewhere or did you never get around to it?

There’s not and it’s a little bit of a shame. … We’d released that thing on our own initially just to get attention. Ed was wanting to do it as a demo to get us a publishing deal or work as a songwriter. There were band songs on there but they were not the current band that was playing where we were. When “Shine” took off, it happened so fast. I’m talking from March 1994, nothing was going on, and we were playing in clubs to 10 people or whatever, to June, we were opening for Aerosmith. And then we played Woodstock ’94 [in August]. …

That would be an interesting take to go back and revisit [Hints…] and see what we would do, basically covering ourselves … 30 years later (laughs), re-recording our first record the way we’d want to do it right now. That would be an interesting angle.

Final question. What keeps Collective Soul going after 27, now 28 years?

That’s a great question. I think it’s the common thought – and I can speak freely for the other guys as well – that the passion has always been about music. Even when I was a little boy … it moved my energy, and I know it did for Ed, Will [Turpin, bassist], Jesse, and Johnny [Rabb, drummer]. We just share that common element.

The fact that Will, Ed, and I are rooted in deep history: growing up together; high school; living so very close; friendship; families know each other. And then you combine the passion with the rooted part, and you can kind of stick together. It doesn’t mean it’s always gonna be fun. We’ve had a lot of fights and disagreements but the passion, respect, and kindness towards one another outweighs all those negative factors a lot of bands can’t get through. I hope that makes sense.

It makes total sense.

We had an off-day on that Styx tour in Nashville. And Billy Gibbons [of ZZ Top] came in. He’s a buddy of ours. I sat with him, and this is before Dusty [Hill, ZZ Top bassist] passed. ‘Cause I’ve always just been like, “Wow.” I mean, for us, 27 years is a long time, and I look at those guys and I’m like, “Oh my goodness.” They’ve however many years held it together, stayed together, loved one another. And that’s what I asked Billy. “What’s your take on Dusty”? And he’s like, “Great. Amazing. I love him. We’re cool.” And I’m like, “Ok. Yeah. Alright.”

(Laughs)

Kind of like you’re asking me these questions and he just kind of like, sums it up real quick and you know it’s authentic and he’s not a bullshitter at all. It’s kind of just that simple. You just respect and love and keep moving.

__

Collective Soul will be touring from August 20 (Airway Heights, WA), to November 13 (Jacksonville, FL), including a stop at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom in NH on August 29, with support from fellow ‘90s peers Tonic and Better Than Ezra. Catch the full list of the “Just Looking Around Tour” dates and ticket info here.

Photo credit: Lee Clower

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About Charlie Doherty

Senior Music Editor and Culture & Society (Sports) Editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Prior writing/freelancing ventures: copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. Keep up with me on twitter.com/chucko33

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