The 100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers limited series podcast gives music fans a front-row seat for conversations with songwriters behind some of the biggest hits of yesterday and today. You’ll learn the stories behind the songs from the people who wrote them. Each episode will focus on one writer: sometimes, they’ll just talk about one song, other times, they’ll talk about a number of hits.
New episodes will be released each Monday through November of 2020.
100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers special podcast series is produced in partnership with Beasley Media Group, XPERI (HD Radio), and BMI in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the first commercial radio broadcast.
Ed Roland was one of the most ubiquitous songwriters on rock radio in the ’90s; but unlike some of his peers, he’s able to go to the supermarket without being recognized. And that’s the way he likes it. “If somebody’s singing my song, I’m standing there. and they don’t know who I am, I won,” as he says in this interview. And he’s been winning for a long time.
Let’s start with the Collective Soul song that probably most of us heard first: “Shine.” Talk about writing that, and the success of that song.
“Shine” was written… probably the riff was written in 1988. I was mucking around with a lot of songs at that time with that droning sound, putting melodies underneath them. And then it wasn’t till about ’92… my brother was at my parent’s house. I came home to say “Hey” to everybody. He was playing guitar and I didn’t even know he played guitar. So we’re kind of reconnecting. My brother Dean, who’s in bands, he’s 10 years younger than me. So I sit there, I just kind of showing off and all of a sudden the chorus came to me and I was like, “Okay, that sounds cool.” Recorded it and, you know, just made a demo in the basement. And that’s what you hear. That’s me on the drum machine. And that was our intro to the world of music. I was truly just trying to get a publishing deal. The whole  Hints, Allegations [and Things Left Unsaid] record was just me in a basement doing different types of stylistic songs and just trying to showcase me as a songwriter, not necessarily going, “Hey, check this band out.” So that’s where it all started.
That’s something that people do more commonly in country music: become a songwriter, get a publishing deal, maybe get well-known in town, in Nashville. And then, you know, if they get some traction, they start making records. That’s a lot more unusual in rock. Am I right about that?
Very much so. Once again, I was 30 years old when we got signed, and that’s long in the tooth for rock and roll. So I’d already just kinda given up… I didn’t give up. I knew I wanted to write songs. I was still just trying to be in music in any way I could. And, you know, two weeks before we got signed, I had already signed up play on a cruise ship, play guitar. God knows what I was going to play. I was going down to rehearse and all of a sudden this everything just went “Kaboom!” And here we are.
I didn’t realize that you’d written it so many years before the song became so ubiquitous. You could not go anywhere in ’94 without hearing “Shine.” That was an era where rock music was less produced than the rock music of the ’80s, like Bon Jovi and Def Leppard. Bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and even Jane’s Addiction or the Red Hot Chili Peppers were different. It seemed like that was an era where Collective Soul could thrive maybe more than the ’80s would have been.
Well, once again, I was just trying anything. You know, it wasn’t that I wasn’t trying in the ’80s. Trust me, I was giving it my best. I don’t know what clicked with that song. Like I said, the Hints record, there are songs on there that are a little folky and on some of them showcased production as well as the songs. That song just clicked. And, you know, we didn’t even know that song would click. When we started getting traction on radio, we really didn’t know what the band was supposed to sound like. And then when “Shine” hit, we were like, “OK, I guess we’ll be a rock band” and we enjoyed that part of it. You know, we never considered ourselves “grunge.” We never consider ourselves anything other than just being a rock and roll band. We just knew we love melodies and we like loud guitars. And we had eight months on that first tour [before] we kind of found our place, and felt good as a band. Every day off we were in the studio making the next record, “The Blue Record,” [1995’s] Collective Soul.
I’m guessing that the first time you heard yourself on the radio, it was “Shine.”
Well, Album 88, which is where “Shine” got played, that’s a college station at Georgia State is one hundred thousand watts and that’s where you could hear, the Cure and R.E.M. before all those bands broke big and they had a “locals only” [show]. But it was the first time I ever heard me on a major commercial radio station was “Shine” for sure.
What went through your head the first time you heard it?
You know, just shock, to be honest with you because everything was moving so fast, you know? When Album 88 started playing it, you know, I’d been playing in bands 12 years prior to that. Nobody would show up to the shows. Maybe whoever we were dating at the time. And I took it to Album 88 and it got the most requests and they asked us to do a Christmas show in.’93. And it was sold out. It’s like a thousand people. We were like, “What is going on?” I mean, we only knew like six songs, really. So we just played “Shine” two or three times and people just loved it. And so it was very confusing and exciting times because we didn’t know if we had gotten ourselves into. We really didn’t have people nurturing us or guiding us… the song just was bigger than the band. It didn’t matter what the band name was. People just love this song.
I remember seeing you play the following year, at Woodstock ’94, to a huge audience and it was a big moment.
I think that night, we only played two songs from Hints.I was writing songs in the back of the bus and at soundchecks. We were doing [new] songs, and I didn’t have lyrics to half the songs. I remember they taped that show that night and we played “Gel.” And that’s where I kind of came up with the lyrics, live on stage; we were kind of doing preproduction [for he album] in front of thousands of people every night, just trying to figure out the next record. We were playing catch up big time.
Right; “Gel” is the next song I want to talk about and one it’s one of the only ones that I want to talk about that that wasn’t a number one song on rock radio. “Gel” was a number two. Didn’t it debut on the Jerky Boys soundtrack?
It did. So we thought we were gonna get dropped [from the record label, Atlantic Records]. So we went and immediately started recording. We were on tour in ’94 and they said, “Do you have a song that you like?” They called it a “bridge track.” And I didn’t really I didn’t know what that meant. I was like, “Well, we just recorded this so you can have this.” And I’ll never forget, our A&R guy was like, “Well, if this is a throwaway song, I can’t wait to hear the rest of the record!” And I was like, “Well, it’s coming, just give me a second. We’re going as fast as we can.”
And it’s funny, I’m so proud of that because growing up in Atlanta, I could still remember the civil rights movement and everything like that. And, you know, my whole vibe on that was just, “Let’s all come together, be human beings.” Which wouldn’t hurt in today’s world too I think it’s universal and I think it’s timeless lyrically.
And then it’s so funny that it comes out on the Jerky Boys soundtrack [laughs]!
Instead of “Everybody get together,” it’s kind of like “We hate everybody and we’re going to call you guys on the phone and punk you!”
That’s a great soundtrack but I remember thinking that that song felt a bit out of place. But back then you couldn’t just drop a new track the way you could now, it had to be on something (like a soundtrack or compilation), otherwise, how would it get into the world?
How is it gonna be supported? Correct. Probably besides “Shine” that was the most important song we did because it did “bridge.” I mean, we had no expectations for it. We just thought it was gonna be on the soundtrack. And we were excited to be on the soundtrack. We just had no clue [how popular it would be]. And then we were like, “Oh, boy, we’d better make sure the rest of this records good. So, so far, so good!”
The “Blue Album” had a lot of big songs. Hints just had “Shine.” And so it’s like, “Are these guys real?” And when we heard “Gel,” I was like, “All right, these guys have got staying power.”
We were afraid we were going to get dropped because everybody thought we were a one-hit-wonder. And I can see where people thought that. I mean, once again, the song was bigger than the band. You know, and a lot of times that’s been our whole career. Our songs have been bigger than the band. I mean, you know, we’ll do shows and there’s bands, contemporaries of ours, that come and go, “Oh, my God, I didn’t know you did that song.” They just loved the songs. It was cool, but at the same time, it has its frustrating moments, if that makes sense.
I get it. I’ve been doing interviews for about 25 years, and there are some guys, or women, who walk into the room or walk into you wherever you might be. And everybody knows, “That’s Rod Stewart!” “That’s Beyonce!” or whoever. But I think there’s probably something nice about, “Yeah. I’ve done a lot of songs that you guys know, and I can go to the supermarket and maybe one person recognizes me.”
You know what? I love it. I mean, I hear my songs all the time. Back in the early days, it never bothered us. It never bothered me. You know, we’d be. I’ll never forget one of my favorite stories, I was in a store, buying some jeans or something, and some guy is just singing on top of his lungs, “The World I Know.” And I’m just standing there waiting for him to calm down to check me out so I can pay for my jeans.
But I write for people to like the songs, not to like me. I think I’m a likable person, but I didn’t do it to be in the spotlight and I don’t think anybody in the band is. I mean, we’re the most unnoticed, unnoticed band, I think ever, in rock and roll. People just don’t know. And that’s fine. My wife tells me all the time she goes shops at Home Depot or Trader Joe’s, and my songs are playing there all the time. I love that. Like, it’s a part of culture.
From the classic rock era, you know, a guy like Rod Stewart, or Elton John, although they don’t want to be bothered, they want everyone to know it’s them. Whereas Paul Rogers from Bad Company and Free or Steve Winwood, those guys don’t really care if you noticed them and would probably prefer that you don’t. And I think it’s easier to have a life like that.
I’ve been around some of those artists you mentioned, and I’ve seen what it’s like with them. To me, if somebody’s singing my song, I’m standing there. and they don’t know who I am, I won. Because I wrote the song for people to enjoy. Not to recognize me. And if they do recognize me, it’s flattering. And course, the ego, you know, gets pumped up a little bit. But that’s not why I do it or why the band does it. So we won the game when people are singing our songs and don’t even know it’s us when we’re right there [standing next to them].
I’ve been interviewing a lot of country songwriters who don’t make their own records or if they do, it’s in a small indie label. And ditto for hip-hop, a lot of the songwriters are not famous. They’re trying to be famous, but they haven’t gotten there yet. But in rock, most of these guys are pretty well known. But I do think you probably a better quality of life if you could take your kid to their baseball game and not everyone there asking for a selfie or an autograph.
Yeah. I get to be a daddy. That’s only happened a couple of times and I’ve had to go talk to some people and say, “Look, I am my son’s father. I am dad. I’m not what you read or see or hear.”
“December” always reminded me of later era Cars song. I know you have a new project that’s inspired by the Cars.
“December” was the last song I wrote on the second album, the self-titled record. And it’s the only song that we as a band ever disagreed upon because I wrote it early in the morning. I always get to the studio early, make sure everything’s set up for the guys because I produce and I want to make sure we don’t waste any time get things done. But I wrote that song when they got in there. I played it for months, the four chords over and over. That was kind of the concept. But then to bring in different melodies. So by the end of the song, there were four different melodies going on and sitting down and playing that over and over for four minutes for the guys. They were like, “This is the most boring s— I’ve ever heard in my life. We’re not doing this!”
I said, “You have to trust me on this. Just trust me. Like there’s gonna be a bass melody that’s gonna overlap with the vocal melody of background melody and then a guitar and then orchestration.” And they are like, “Whatever.” And thank God I talked them into it.
But the Cars, I love the Cars. And, you know, we’re in the coronavirus. I got stuck because we had two weeks before we were gonna rehearse and start a tour this year. And that was the first two weeks of the whole coronavirus where everybody was told to kind of quarantine. But I’d already gone down to Florida. And so I was sitting there with our engineer/producer Shawn Grove, and Cheney [Brannon], who used to be our drummer, but he was kind of assisting on this new recording gear that we had bought. And we’re going to learn to use. And, you know, the first week we sat there and I was like, “All right, we learned this program. Now what do we do?” And we just decided to start a band called The Living Room. And the reason was, we knew we couldn’t do anything as Collective Soul, we know were gonna be here a couple weeks and we were in a living room. It’s a very small home. And I said, the only band I ever joined the fan club, was the Cars. And they were like, “Oh, well, let’s do that.” And I was like, “Let’s do that. Let’s have fun.”
So the Cars have always been a big influence. I mean, Elliott Easton’s, you know, top two, three, favorite guitarists for me. I love solos that are melodic. He does that. And of course, I love Ben [Orr]’s vocals. I love Greg Hawkes’ keyboard playing I think I get a lot of my riffs on guitar, just from listening to what he does on keyboards, to be honest with you. So: a very big influence on me and the rest of the guys in the band.
I was too young to see them in concert, but I got to see them when they reunited a couple of years ago in New York City.
I didn’t see that tour, but I got to see them like three times back in the day. I mean, I would sneak backstage and meet them and, you know, they don’t remember any of that. But, you know, that was they were that big of an influence to me.
Your influences always seemed to be diverse.
I grew up with FM Radio. My favorite artist is Elton John. I mean, that’s the reason I want to be a songwriter. I got his greatest hits, put the needle on the record and decided, “Wow, I want to be a songwriter like Elton, and [Elton’s lyricist/songwriter partner] Bernie Taupin.” Not necessarily a singer or someone at the front of a band or anything. I just want to write songs and and I just loved the pop melodies that they created. And, you know, I go back to Jeff Lynne and Electric Light Orchestra, of course the Beatles. I was a late bloomer in music because my father was a minister. Such grew up mostly in gospel hymnal music, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Little Richard. Things like that. Their generation of music, which I love. But then when I found my own, which would have been Elton and then, the Beatles and ELO. And from there it took off, you know, with The Clash and Sex Pistols and things like that, the Cure.
I remember hearing that you wrote “The World I Know” while thinking about Times Square.
This was 1994. We had a day off In New York. And I met this girl, and I flew her out, playing Mr. Rock Star or whatever. And I wanted to impress her. And so I had the music [for the song]. And I told her, I said, I want to walk around for about an hour. And literally I just walked around in Times Square, which in 1994 is not like Times Square was two years ago. Times Square’s even different now. But you know what I mean. It was still dirty. For lack of a better term, not nasty, but just dirty. You know, you saw the yin and yang of society. I mean, there’d be somebody living in cardboard box and then someone pulls up in a stretch limo, and gets out with their fur coats. I literally just walked for an hour in Times Square. And then when I came back, I was like “This is the world. I know. You know, you have good, bad. And, you know, we’ll we’re gonna get through this.”
“Precious Declaration” was another number one.
We were in a lawsuit and we had just settled. We had gotten an involvement with a manager in a production company when Atlantic was involved with us. So we settled and that was just my way of saying, “What’s yours is yours, what’s mine is mine.” So it was just that precious declaration when I had my freedom back and my right to make my own music and to own my own music.
I can’t forget to ask about “Where The River Flows.”
It was funny, we were on tour. Our first tour was with Aerosmith. And Joe Perry had this tunable guitar, you would press a button and it would immediately tune the guitar, whether it’s open or drop D or crazy tunings all over. So he hooked me up and I bought one and I got it and I just pressed a button on it. And I don’t even know what tuning it went to. And I remember I was in Houston, Texas, in the hotel room, and I just wrote “Where the River Flows.” And I don’t know why. That was just luck of the draw. Just pick the guitar up and let it flow.
Was it surprising to you that you were knocking out number one after number one after number one during that era?
I guess it was. But we were so busy. And then when we weren’t busy, once again, we were kind of muddled in a lawsuit. And then, you know, we went home. We had no money. I had to borrow money from my parents. And I lived in a cabin, on a cow farm where I made “Precious Declaration,” the whole record in a kitchen, in a 10 by 10 room.
And I thought I was just demoing the songs just to get them to the guys. But when everything was over, I just felt like it was honest and pure. And I just wanted it to be, you know, real. It’s as if we tried to re-record those songs, it just wouldn’t have the same vibe to me. So that’s kind of where all that came from. Then everything got better. But we were going 90 miles an hour. We really, really were. From going on tour with Van Halen, making a record. You know, I didn’t own a TV. I didn’t even own an apartment. I didn’t have a car.
We were gone all the time, so we really didn’t know, to be honest with you, until years later, really what we had accomplished We knew we were doing well.
I don’t want to say we were flippant about it, but we were finding our groove and we just wanted to keep proving ourselves. We’re like, “OK, that did good. Now let’s go make another record and let’s show ’em what we got this time.”
I’ve heard some stories like that from bands who start to get really big, and there’s a perception, maybe it’s a reasonable perception: they’re gonna have some money now. And it’s like, “Actually, it’s all tied up in lawsuits.”
Yeah. Oh, yeah. I think that’s pretty much the norm for every rock band back in the day anyway. But everything works out fine. And once again, we got what we wanted. He got what he wanted. And here we are. [00:27:36][4.1]
Even Springsteen went through that at one point.
Yeah, he did.
He was barely paying his guys. They’re all living in one house together and the label’s screaming at him to put out a record. And he’s like in the middle of this lawsuit. And it’s like it’s hard to imagine Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band being like, “We’ve got to get some instant soup for dinner!”
It was that way [for us]: I was chopping wood because we had a wood-burning stove. That was our heat. And we cooked on that for five or six months. So I get up in the morning, go cut wood for the day, go record that night, fire the wood up, stay warm, cook food and start over the next day.
Tell me about “Listen.” That’s another number one.
I think that’s more of just, you know, to me. I feel like I’m an old soul hippie guy and I just, you know, listen, we can all get to be get along. It’s more in line with, like, gel lyrically to me or the meaning of it. You know. If you listen, you realize love is everywhere, you know, you just you don’t fight it, it’s there.
That’s another one that works well right now.
Twenty-five years later, here we are again.
So, “Heavy”: when I first heard it, I don’t know if he’s an influence, but it reminded me of Peter Murphy’s “Cuts You Up.”
I love Peter Murphy [sings] “Cuts you up, cuts you down.” I actually wrote that riff and I wanted to write a song that did not have the title in the lyrics, which I did on “December.” But the guys fought me. They were like, “You gotta put ‘December’ in there somewhere.” And I was like, “Well, ‘Trampled Under Foot’ is not in the lyrics of the Led Zeppelin song!” And they were like, “Just do it!” So I gave in on that one.
This one I didn’t want to [do that] This one, the lyrics were, “All your weight falls on me, it brings me down.” So what does that mean? It’s something heavy. I wasn’t talking about the riff. I just was talking about life was heavy at that moment.
And to me, that riff came the lyrics came pretty quick. And that was the beginning [of the end] of the first entity of Collective Soul. Everybody was fighting me, labels were fighting me and I was just like “God!” I gave it to the label and they’re like, “Eh, it sounds dated.”
I was just going, “Well, f— you it’s going out.” And they wouldn’t even do a video. It was number one for like fifteen, sixteen weeks on radio. They would not make a video for us, and this was when videos were still very important in the marketing of bands. We’re talking 1999 and they did not make a video on it. They told me they’d wait and see what it did on radio. So it went to number one, I said, “OK, it’s number one, go make a video.”
They said, “Eh, let’s see how much staying power it has.” So, the third week I call and I said “Can we make a video?” They say, “Eh,I think it’s run its course.”
So the fifth week I call again, “Can we make a video?” And they’re like, “No, it’s long past [time] now.” So either it was like the last week [at number one], it was the 15th, 16th week [at number one], I call, and I said, “I guess we’re not making a f—ing video on a song has been number one for almost four months!” They basically hung the phone up on me. So that was kind of their attitude about us in general.
Surely they must have been happy that you kept cranking out huge albums that…
I don’t think they were ever happy with us, to be honest with you. It wasn’t like they ever came and saw us play. Actually, none of them did, outside of New York. At the time, I met more presidents from other labels who were out supporting the groups that were supporting us. We were just naive. And we didn’t have somebody in there [at the label] pushing for us, like most major artists do. You know, we were just naive and just loved what we were doing and didn’t stop. You know, we should have corrected some things along the way, but… Well, you know, we didn’t. And here we are.
It seems to have worked out for you. Do the things that bothered you back then still bother you now?
I guess that comes with age.
It comes also with… owning it and being in charge yourself. They were kind of in charge. Whether you think they are or not: they are. And with that, you know, they spent years of networking to get certain people to help you. So you understand that, too. But there did come a point where I was like, “Enough of this.” I would always have this conversation with them: “Ya’ll are not out on the road with us. We see our fans, we see our people. We of all people know where we need to focus and where we need to not focus.” Because we’re out there flying the airplane, for lack of a better term. And they just never would [listen to us]. They just went about their own method: “rock band 101” marketing plans, or just not even giving us any marketing. Just throwing it out there.
That’s really interesting because if you listened to rock radio during that time, you were ubiquitous. And the rest of the stuff probably doesn’t matter if you’re getting played on the radio.
But I think that’s part of the whole marketing thing then. Then there are other ways to market it to so you sell more CDs. It is a business.
I want to ask about one more song that was not a number one, it was an album track. “In A Moment,” from the first album, reminded me of Bowie. I don’t know if he was one of your influences.
Bowie’s a big influence and [late Bowie guitarist] Mick Ronson is one of my biggest guitar heroes of all time. But yeah, that 12-string [guitar] strumming. Just laying it down. But yes, that’s that’s a good pick up on that one, good job there. Any time we’re in the studio, even now, like we recorded the new record last week, two weeks ago, I look at Dean, my brother, who’s in the band. He’s the modern day Mick Ronson. And I’ll just go, “Hey, dude, give me some ‘Mick’ over there.” You know, those big sustaining notes. So but the whole acoustic thing was basically Bowie. I mean, he did a lot of that stuff, that 12-string thing.
So you were mentioning just now you finished the record, you know, is there anything you want to say about when do you think it’ll come out?
We did an EP for Record Store Day [Half And Half], we covered R.E.M. “The One I Love” and Neil Young’s “Opera Star.” And then two originals [“Let Her Out” and “Back Again”] and then our studio album was supposed to come out in June. It’s called Vibrating. So we’re waiting on to, you know, coordinate that with a tour. So we got together about two weeks ago and made another record because we missed each other. And like I said, it’s funny to be in a rock and roll band. We really like each other, we like hanging out with each other and like making music. So we have two and a half records basically in the can now.
So we’ll see what happens. And then I had to have The Living Room.
Back in the day that could have been a problem, but today, does it matter if you release it as two albums in close proximity or ten EPs in close proximity?
I don’t know. You know, because originally Vibrating was supposed to… [2019’s] Blood was supposed to be a double album. So we split it up into two records. So Blood was the side two and four, I believe this one side one and three. But, you know,”Ythey were like, “You don’t do double albums anymore. You’re kind of lost in the decades, here, buddy.” And I was like, “I get it.”
But, you know, at the same time, you know, we’re flowing as a band and it’s so easy for me to write songs and present them to them. I hate to use the word, but we’re gelling together as a band right now, better than we ever have. And I love that. It’s just enjoyable. We record as a band in the room together. Johnny [RAbb] sets his drums up. We horseshoe around him. And one, two, three, four. Here we go.
So I’m a huge Neil fan, but I have to confess. I had to look up what album “Opera Star” was on , I figured, Trans or Re*act*or.
Re*act*or. At that time I think I was just started playing guitar and that album came out. And if you listen to Re*act*or… or to me, it’s if you want to consider “grunge,” or whatever that is, this is the first “grunge” record. I think it’s one of the best records. He just didn’t give a s—. He was just playing some crazy, great guitar work, you know, and just being Neil. I just love that record. And “Opera Star” was pretty easy for us to learn. When I showed it to the guys, they didn’t know about it. And they were like, “Holy s—, where’s this song been?” It’s just a great riff.
R.E.M.’s “The One I Love” was the song that introduced a lot of people to them, it was a bit more guitar-heavy.
And, you know, being Georgia boys and them being Georgia boys, we felt we want to give a little nod to them too because they meant a lot to us growing up. They’re hometown heroes. And the beautiful thing about that song is, there are only two lines in the lyric. So if I ever forget those, the guys in the band are gonna put me in a home somewhere.
And so what’s gonna happen with The Living Room?
We got accepted for Record Store Day the day after Thanksgiving. Sure. So I don’t know. You know, with the coronavirus it’s just so weird right now. But I wouldn’t mind playing out with it. It’s just a fun record. I’m so proud of it.
Given that you’re a Neil Young fan, you’ve surely seen Neil shows where he goes out, plays what he wants. He does not care what anybody in the audience is expecting. You know, if people go to see Ed Roland, they probably want to hear some Collective Soul songs. Would you take it out and say, “I’m not doing that this time? This is a different thing?”
No, I’d have no problem with that. I’d incorporate [Collective Souls songs] in that vein. No, I’d make it new wave like he did. Like Neil did Trans, he re-recorded [the Buffalo Springfield classic] “Mr. Soul.” When he did that I was like, “That’s kind of cool.” He just gave it a different twist. I mean, if you don’t like it, go back [and listen] to the original.
And if you don’t like it, Collective Soul will be back next year.
Oh, yeah. You’ll see us soon enough!