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One-Time Garage Band Making a Name for Itself in Rock Scene

By Robert K. Hayes, The Express Times, April 30, 1992

What's in a name? Ask Live, the fast rising alternative rock group playing tonight at Moravian College in Bethlehem. For awhile last year, the York, PA. band had no name, preferring that to its original name of Public Affection. This is not a good idea if you're on a record label which wants to promote you.

"Public Affection was a name that popped out when we were 15--we didn't give it a lot of thought," says drummer Chad Gracey, whose group formed back in the eighth grade. "For about a month we were nameless. It was like being in a state of limbo because we'd been known as this band for so long," he says. "We knew we didn't want to be Public Affection, but we didn't know what to replace it with." The band finally settled on Live (rhymes with arrive), because it wa a neutral name, one they could grow into, Gracey explains.

Whatever the name, a lot of people have heard about the one time garage rock band in the past year, some critics comparing it to early Replacements, U2 and REM. The band, which is co-managed by Dave Sestak of Media 5 in Easton, has connected with college audiences in particular. Its raw, intense, emotionally honest approach to music is characterized by heavy lyrics that range from the pedantic to the profound. Racism, religion, rebellion, war and self-doubt are matters addressed in its music.

It took the band years to become an overnight sensation. MCA's alternative label, Radioactive Records, hit the ignition switch in February 1991 by signing the foursome of Gracey, vocalist and main lyricist Ed Kowalczyk, bass player Patrick Dahlheimer, and guitarist Chad Taylor to contract. Within a month, the group was in the recording studio with producer Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads fame. They quickly came out with an EP, Four Songs, which impressed reviewers and generated the video, "Operation Spirit", which made it onto MTV's Buzz Bin rotation. The group capped the year with the December 31 release of the album Mental Jewelry, also produced by Harrison. The album climbed to Number 73 on the Billboard Top 200. About 200,000 copies have been sold, Gracey says.

Live's workload has picked up with its heavy promotion schedule. It recently completed an MTV "120 Minutes" tour with two other bands, hitting 29 cities in five weeks. "It's pretty grueling," says Gracey, speaking by phone from New York, where the band had been playing at the Ritz. After playing at Moravian, the band will head to England to tour briefly with Public Image Limited, return stateside for a week, then turn around and go to Europe for stops in Holland, Germany, Spain, France, Italy and Finland.

It may be tiring, but the band is taking it a day at a time, says Gracey, who had been spending the day doing phone interviews with reporters on four continents. "Every day we get a fax with thousands of interviews to do," he says.

Live writes its own music, with all four members sharing in the credits. "The idea or tune can come from any one of us," says Gracey, one of its three 20-year olds (Taylor is 21). "Sometimes Ed will write a complete song with lyrics and bring it to practice, but it doesn't always happen that way. A song becomes a song when the four of us have finished with it."

It's not easy to categorize their music, Gracey admits. "When people ask me what type of music we play, I'm always at a loss. You really have to listen to it yourself. I would classify it as mainstream alternative."

Their songs are meant to engage listeners intellectually, he says. "For a lot of bands, the lyrics are a joke in the band. We don't want to just be a rock 'n' roll band. We want to involve people, not just to entertain them, but to raise their awareness."

"If there's a message in the songs, it's that everybody should question what they've learned and what's been heaped upon school. It's about life not being based on blind faith, but investigating for yourself what life is about. It's about finding out things for yourself. Are you really a Christian, or are you really an agnostic? Are you really an American or are you just a human being trying to survive on this planet?"

Live doesn't plan to record again until next year, Gracey says, because there's little time to write on the road.

Gracey says he's noticed a big difference in how audiences respond to Live in different cities. "Last night the crowd had a show-me attitude--prove to me what you can do, which is what I hear New York audiences are like. When there's an obstacle in our way, it makes us dig in harder."

Success hasn't changed the way the band feels, which surprises him, Gracey says. "We've always done the music and the music has always been most important to us. All the other stuff has just been peripheral to us--the record business, the touring, meeting recording company people and the media."

Not surprisingly, Gracey doesn't mind comparisons with U2. "If you want to compare us to them, that's fine, but we're not trying to be U2," he says. "I think the things we have in common are energy and honesty."