"And we turn it inside out/To take it back/To the start." - "Who We Are"
With Who We Are, their fourth Geffen album in seven years, Lifehouse, all still in their mid-20s, are really starting to enjoy the fruits of their success and have some fun. Their multi-platinum 2000 debut, No Name Face, produced "Hanging by a Moment," a No. 1 alternative hit which crossed over to become Top 40's Most Played Song, while 2005's self-titled platinum effort yielded "You and Me," a giant hit ballad that set a record by spending more than 60 weeks on Billboard's Hot 100 chart, Lifehouse are not just the sum of their considerable accomplishments.
On Who We Are, singer-songwriter Jason Wade - along with drummer Rick Woolstenhulme and bassist Bryce Soderberg - gets back to the basics of what made him first form the band while still a teenager in suburban California.
Says Jason: "We just love making music and feel really lucky to be able to continue doing it."
Producing themselves for the first time with Jude Cole, who also co-wrote several of the new songs, that joy comes across unfettered on the rocking twang of the lead single, "First Time," already climbing the Hot A/C and Top 40 charts, a fond look back at the butterflies and excitement of the initial rush of romance.
"It just felt urgent, like a first kiss, a first love," says Jason. "Like the first time you realize there's more to that relationship than you thought. I had to dig a little for that one, but I find myself at a place where I can write stuff that's a little deeper than your average love song in terms of emotion."
The approach was also pretty fresh. The band didn't record demos before entering the recording studio. Wade brought in a skeleton of a song and the group worked on it as a unit. "Nobody really knew what they would be playing," explains Woolstenhulme, the musical purist of the group. "We just cut it, listened to it and realized it was pretty electric ... the kind of song where you just turn up the radio."
Known for his brooding lyrics of teenage angst resulting from his parents' divorce and his own poor relationship with his father, Wade explores more diverse songwriting topics this time around, putting himself into other characters in songs like "The Joke," with its syncopated world beat, inspired by a newspaper article detailing the story of a British boy who hung himself after being bullied by schoolmates. Jason puts himself into the subject's shoes, with lyrics that could be right out of a suicide note: "When you find me in the morning/Hanging on a warning."
The wrenching ballad "Broken," with a chorus that recalls the Police's "Every Breath You Take," came out of a trip Wade took to Nashville to visit a dear friend waiting on a kidney transplant, as once again he identifies in first person: "I'm falling apart/I'm barely breathing/With a broken heart/That's still beating/In my pain/There is healing/In your name/I find meaning/So I'm holding on/Barely holding on to you."
Lifehouse's love of British rock comes across in the avant-Europop of "Make Me Over" with its ethereal opening and falsetto vocals (Wade: "Sometimes you'll do anything to be in love, even becoming someone else"), while the stark, Plastic Ono Band strains of "Learn You Inside Out" is one of the rare songs Wade penned on piano.
"I wrote it really quick," he recalls. "We decided just to freestyle. It was one of those moments when we really grew as a band, being able to reach each other and know where we're going."
"This record came very naturally," agrees Bryce, the newest member of Lifehouse, who cut his teeth on tour before entering the studio with his bandmates. "On the road, we'd throw a song out during sound check and it just flowed together. There was a great deal of spontaneity involved. We were into similar influences. It felt like we were on the same page musically."
"We're closer as a band than ever," nods Rick.
The raw energy of "Disarray" deals with Wade growing up in a strictly religious family, where questioning wasn't allowed. "Angels, demons," he says. "We all fight them both, and anyone who pretends they don't is not someone I want to hang out with."
In fact, the group was liberated by being left alone to create without outside interference or pressure.
"This time around it was about not having any preconceived notions," confesses Jason. "It was about letting the tape machine roll and getting the music down spontaneously. I'm at a place where it doesn't matter to me what other people think. I'm comfortable being myself. I'm writing from an honest place, not thinking about who's going to hear it, what they're going to think or how they're going to interpret it. The lyrics can't be contrived. They have to hit you right in the heart."
One song that does just that is the album finale, "Storm," which Wade wrote at 16 "when I was going through hard times," and was included on the band's first indie record, 1,000 copies of which were pressed back when they were called Bliss. The original version has been circulated over the Internet by the group's fans and was even licensed by the television show So You Think You Can Dance. Wade decided to re-record the song when he realized how much it meant to people.
"That was fun to record because of its starkness," says Jason. "We love the idea of the title, surrounded by negative space, like the a cappella beginning. Because when you're lost in confusion, no matter how much is going on around you, you're still alone."
With all their radio airplay, multi-platinum sales and awards, Lifehouse are still intent on raising the bar, which makes Who We Are a revelation both musically and lyrically.
"It's stripped down, very raw, the way we are live," says Bryce. "We discovered along the way that less is more."
"Since Bryce joined, this really has grown into a unit with its own personality and style," concludes Jason. "We established camaraderie on the road and gelled as a unit. This record defines 'Who We Are,' which is why that's the title. The sound fits where we're at right now."
With Who We Are, Lifehouse are free to be exactly who they are…a rock band with a gift for melodies and lyrics that touch people.