100.7 Star, Drusky Entertainment & Kirschner Concerts Presents
"O Starry Night" featuring Backstreet Boys & more
Avril Lavigne, The Fray, Gavin DeGraw, Five For Fighting, Plain White T's
3719 Terrace Street
Pittsburgh, PA, 15261
Doors 6:00 PM / Show 7:00 PM
This event is all ages
For more than 16 years, Backstreet Boys have delivered the very finest pop music has to offer – tightly crafted songs, floor-shaking rhythms, and unmistakable harmonies. The new "THIS IS US" showcases their preeminent pop mastery with a collection of indelible tracks that surely rank among their biggest and best hits. After mastering an organic, more adult contemporary flavor on 2005's "NEVER GONE" and 2007's "UNBREAKABLE," the new album sees Nick Carter, Howie Dorough, Brian Littrell, and AJ McLean revisiting the groundbreaking dance-pop sound that first made them international superstars. Songs like "PDA" "Bye Bye Love," and the RedOne-produced first single, "Straight Through My Heart" are classic BSB, bursting with big hooks, unforgettable melodies, and high-energy rhythms that both highlights the group's classic sound and vision while also placing it squarely in the here and now.
"This record here," says Howie Dorough, "we reached back into what made us who we are – that's great pop melodies, great harmonies – and made it current and relevant."
"We made a conscious effort to go back to being ourselves," notes Brian Littrell. "It's important for the fans to remember what was, but it's also important for them to know where we're headed."
One of the most successful groups in music history, with countless #1s, record-setting tours, and worldwide sales in excess of 100 million, Backstreet Boys are also among pop's most influential. Turn on the radio and you're certain to hear massive melodies melded with Eurodance grooves, a modern pop style inextricably rooted in the group's innovative approach.
"When we first started," says AJ McLean, "the Euro sound wasn't really happening yet, but it led to Britney and 'N Sync and all those other people that came after us. Now music is going back in that same direction, with great pop songs that are just as rhythmic as they are melodic. That's what and who we are."
The "THIS IS US" sessions kicked off in April 2008, while the group – a quartet since 2006, when founding member Kevin Richardson left to start a family – was still in the midst of the "UNBREAKABLE" world tour. Backstreet Boys took a short pause in the itinerary and teamed with producer Ryan Tedder (of OneRepublic fame) in a Manchester, England studio to record what would become the album's closing track, "Undone." The Boys were fighting fit from having been on the road and as a result, the song crackles with the same electricity the group puts out on stage every night.
"This was the very first time we were recording while we were touring another record," Littrell says. "We've always taken a year or so off to really get out of touring mode, but this time we wanted to try and get that energy from our live show onto the record."
Almost immediately upon the tour's conclusion, Backstreet Boys resumed recording at L.A.'s Conway Studios – "one of the most chill places to record," according to McLean. To truly put their own creative stamp on the album, the group personally reached out to some of their very favorite producers and songwriters, just about all of whom were thrilled for the chance to work with the Boys.
"We took it into our own hands to call and develop personal relationships with all the producers and writers," explains Nick Carter. "And for the most part, they were just as excited to work with us as we were to work with them."
One producer with whom the Boys already had a rapport is the legendary Max Martin. The Swedish studio superstar – who was behind the boards for such BSB classics as "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," "I Want It That Way" "Larger Than Life," and "Show Me The Meaning Of Being Lonely" – dined with the group when the "UNBREAKABLE" world tour hit Stockholm and right away, sensed that their passion for making music was in fact greater than ever before.
"He really saw the fire in our eyes," Littrell says, "like we were young kids again. If there was one producer I had to pick to join the Backstreet Boys, I'd pick Max. He understands us inside and out."
Perhaps it's something in the water, but Sweden's current hottest hitmaker, RedOne, also had a faultless grasp of the Backstreet Boys signature sound. One of the most in-demand collaborators in the world, thanks to his work with Akon, Lady Gaga, and Enrique Iglesias, to name but a few, the producer was initially too busy to work on "THIS IS US." But just as Backstreet Boys were wrapping up the recording, word arrived that RedOne had indeed crafted a couple of tracks, one of which marked the album's definitive musical moment.
"We had almost closed the door on the record before it happened," Dorough says. "I'm so glad we didn't, because RedOne was able to capture the sound we were looking for, especially on 'Straight Through My Heart.' It's this great mixture of Eurodance-meets-our pop/R&B sound, which is kind of like where we started."
"It was exactly what we were looking for," McLean says of the single, "the exact all-around sound that was perfect for everything we needed. It's a great song, especially for the fans who want to hear us being us again."
At the same time, Backstreet Boys also opted to stray from their comfort zone by collaborating with a number of producer/songwriters better known for their work in other genres. The one and only T-Pain put his trademark sound on the sizzling slow jam, "She's A Dream," while Claude Kelly – famed for writing such hits as Britney Spears' "Circus" and Kelly Clarkson's #1 "My Life Would Suck Without You" – paired up with the team of Soulshock & Karlin (JoJo, Fantasia, Nelly) to produce two of the album's hottest tracks, "Bye Bye Love" and "If I Knew Then."
"We really wanted to push the envelope with this record," Dorough says. "We wanted to reach out to some writers that people wouldn't have expected us to reach out to."
"Working with Jim Jonsin or somebody else that people wouldn't necessarily see us working with," Carter says, "that's just our creative side coming out."
The collaboration with Jim Jonsin proved one of the album's most productive partnerships, yielding three songs including the explosive title track. Best known for helming hip-hop hits by T.I., Soulja Boy Tell Em, and Flo Rida, the Grammy Award-winning producer astounded BSB by confessing his lifelong affinity for the group's music.
"It was like, 'Hold on a second, you're a fan?,'" Carter laughs. "'You're one of the baddest beatmakers right now!'"
Among the Florida-based Jonsin's key contributions to "THIS IS US" is bringing the group back to its own homestate roots with the Miami Trance-flavored "Helpless." Hailed by Carter as "the Don of hip-hop" for his countless connections, the producer nailed the track by reaching into his little black book to procure a razor-sharp verse from yet another Miami-based star.
"We came into the studio and Jim said, 'I've got a surprise for you,'" Nick recalls. "We were like, 'What do you mean? No one surprises the Backstreet Boys.' But he had sent the track to Miami and had Pitbull put a verse on it. We're all huge fans of Pitbull's, so it was just awesome!"
Despite the smorgasbord of producers and songwriters, "THIS IS US" is ultimately made a cohesive work by the Boys themselves. "We're a vocal group first," avows Carter, and the album makes plain how BSB's purest artistic stamp comes via the magic of four distinctive singers performing in tightly knit harmony. Their unified voices reveal Backstreet Boys as still in thrall to making the most vital music imaginable, constantly striving to create influential, unforgettable pop.
"We always want to top our past albums," says Carter. "That's always our objective, to create an album where every song could be a single."
"Our goal is always to push ourselves as much as possible," adds Dorough. "We're always working to become better musicians, songwriters, singers. "
"We want to continue to move forward," promises Littrell. "We want Backstreet Boys to keep setting the template and raising the bar."
With "THIS IS US," that bar has just been raised a little higher…
Hang on tight. AVRIL LAVIGNE has arrived, and her debut CD Let Go is gonna make you scream your head off. Don't worry, you'll be in good company. Basically everyone who's heard Let Go--from fast-made fans who pushed the album Platinum within five weeks of it's release to discriminating critics nationwide--has hailed AVRIL LAVIGNE in best-new-artist terms.
Need a crash course on AVRIL LAVIGNE? Here ya go: She's one of those rare creatures who started wowing people with her voice and character at around age 2. A small-town kid who couldn't sit still in class but had the confidence and determination to take off, virtually on her own, to hone her songwriting skills in New York City and Los Angeles. A startlingly up-front and outrageous 17-year-old with everything it takes to reach stardom--completely on her own terms. "I'm just coming out and I'm going to clearly be myself--I write what I feel, I never worry what others think," Avril avows. "I'm gonna dress what's me, I'm gonna act what's me and I'm gonna sing what's me."
Avril does exactly that on Let Go, flaunting sassy vocals and a crystal clear voice with real-girl lyrical style. Guitar-driven "Complicated," a simple song that kicks pretenders to the curb, managed the not-so-simple feat of nabbing the #1 spot on Billboard's singles chart while topping MTV's "TRL" countdown . "Complicated" set the all-time BDS spin record for one week at Mainstream Top 40 with 9,205 spins, (breaking Nickelback's prior record of 9,050 (for "How You Remind Me")). "Complicated" went on to surpass it's own BDS record stateside with 9,389 spins and in Canada, Avril eclipsed the BDS record held by Madonna. Lavigne, a 2002 MTV Video Music Award nominee for "Best New Artist In A Video" for "Complicated," is destined for International success.
The second single, "Sk8er Boi"--a punky paean to individuality--is "a straight-ahead rock'n'roll romp, joyous in its head-banging demeanor," says Billboard. The string-inflected "I'm With You" reaches out for connection to reflect Avril's more mellow side, but tracks like "Losing Grip" and "Unwanted" courageously confront rejection and betrayal with all the heaviness such subjects demand. Then there's "My World" and the metaphoric "Mobile," which perfectly articulate the Avril experience. "I am all over the place, flying here and there, going through different stuff everyday," she explains. "This is my lifestyle, but I wouldn't want a normal life or I'd get bored."
Apparently, Avril was born for such insanity. A middle child who "always wanted to be the center of attention," she was bound to bust out of Napanee, Ontario, population 5,000. "I always knew this was what I had to do," she says. "I remember when I was really young standing on my bed like it was a stage, singing at the top of my lungs and visualizing thousands of people surrounding me." She segued from her bedroom to singing, well, whenever and wherever she could--starting in church singing gospel music, and on to festivals, then singing country music at fairs and talent contests--until she was discovered by Arista Records.
On a writing trip to NYC, Avril caught the attention of Antonio "LA" Reid, who snapped her up and signed her to Arista. At 16, she moved to Manhattan and began work on her debut CD. Avril plunged into the creative process. "I love writing," she explains. "When I get upset and really need to get it out of me I go to my guitar. Sometimes I feel like my guitar is my therapist."
Avril virtually lived in the studio during that New York stint; then, to sharpen her chops further, she dove into another kind of culture shock by flipping coasts. It was in Los Angeles that she met producer/songwriter Cliff Magness, who became her ultimate collaborator. "We totally clicked--he just really understood me," she says. The songs for Let Go began pouring out, with Magness at the helm as well as up-and-coming production team the Matrix. Soon after Avril hooked up with Nettwerk Management who's steered the careers of Sarah McLachlan, Dido, Coldplay, Barenaked Ladies and Sum 41.
Avril couldn't be happier with the way the album turned out. "In this past year I've really grown as a writer. 'Complicated' wasn't written about anyone in particular. It is basically about life, people being fake and relationships." As to one of her favorite tracks, "Losing Grip," she says, "That is definitely one of my ex-boys--he didn't give me what I needed emotionally." Avril laughs, "It doesn't matter now and plus I got a good song out of it."
The tune's just one of 13 top-notch tracks making journalists rave. Rolling Stone calls her voice, "equal parts baby girl and husky siren, capable of setting off car alarms several city blocks away." People trumpeted that she "displays an emotional grace beyond her years," while USA Today touted "driving pop hooks…feisty, fetching…instantly infectious."
Avril's been too busy playing out these days to spend too much time with her nose in the newspaper. She jokes, in fact, that touring with her own band of rocker boys isn't all that different from her childhood. "I was always a tomboy and I guess I still am. I played hockey during the winter and baseball in the summer. I loved playing with the boys."
But Avril's music is capable of reaching the girls and the guys, and plenty of adventurous adults too. That's pretty obvious, since Let Go debuted at #8 on the Billboard Top 200 Album's chart and continues to blow other records outta the water surpassing an all-time Soundscan record as Let Go becomes the first debut album by an artist in recent memory (i.e. not a soundtrack or 'hits' compilation) to post 6 consecutive weeks of increased sales since its in-store date. Amazing? Yup. Unreal? Nope. Nothing about Avril Lavigne is unreal. "When I wrote this album I was just being true to myself--it came from my heart. I want people to know that my music is real and honest," she says. And when she says people, she means everybody: "I want to rock the world!"
She means it. So put on those crash helmets, kids…then just Let Go.
Isaac Slade had to laugh. Here he was, finishing up a piano part for the last song to be recorded for the Fray's debut album, How to Save a Life. And co- producer Aaron Johnson is asking him how the second record is coming?
"I laughed at him. He wasn't laughing," Slade says. "I said, 'You've gotta be kidding, right?' He said, 'No, you've got to start writing for it.'"
Slade and his cohorts - guitarist and vocalist Joe King, drummer Ben Wysocki and guitarist Dave Welsh - got the hint.
"One of the first songs came six months after that," Slade says. "So it's been on our mind for a long time."
And what a time it's been for the Fray: The Denver-based group played to sold-out crowds around the world in support of 2005's How to Save a Life (Epic/Sony), which went on to sell more than 3 million copies in the U.S. Melodically charged hits "Cable Car (Over My Head)" and the title track worked their way onto the radio and into the hearts of fans - not to mention onto the soundtrack of TV phenom "Grey's Anatomy." Throw in a trio of Grammy nominations, and you've got the kind of out-of-the-gate explosion that any young artist would envy.
It's also the kind of success that can play some mind games, and all four musicians acknowledge experiencing moments of the unhealthy headiness of celebrity.
"It's a battle to go through any kind of fame or success - it's not good for a person," King says. "But we have people around us who really ground us. Most of them, at some point or another in the last couple of years, would say, 'Dude, you're nothing special.'"
"We've tried really hard to get back to who we are and what we do," Wysocki says. "And that's pretty much friends making music."
With perspective regained, the friends didn't take themselves too seriously - but took their art very seriously - when beginning work in earnest on the new record in the summer of 2007.
"A lot of people know us for two songs, and those are both extremes - way up and way down," says Slade, the Fray's lead singer and piano player. He and King are the group's primary songwriters, and count those two hits among their compositions.
"This album has a lot more depth. To write those songs in the first place, we had to have a soberness or gravity to what we were writing," Slade says. "We wanted to make the songs count. I'm happy with this record because the songs feel like they count. They really connect to us."
Like the Fray's organic beginning in 2002, when onetime high school friends Slade and King bumped into each other at a guitar shop, the new album's "You Found Me" begins quietly. Slade is at his piano, contemplating a soul lost and found. And like the band's rise in recent years, the song evolves from something intimate into something huge, a haunting guitar-and-drum opus, with Slade's anguished singing making for an unshakeable experience. And that's just one track.
On "Absolute," Slade pushes his voice into new territory, exploring the upper register of his range. The pretty "Never Say Never" boasts a chugging momentum that suggests it'll have a welcome home on the stage, where the group honed its chops over the past three years. The Fray even brought untested songs to the hometown stage early in 2008 at Denver's Bluebird Theater, taking note of audience reaction before returning to studio work.
"With our first experience in the studio, recording 'How to Save a Life,' maybe we could hear something in our heads, but we didn't know how to translate it onto the physical record," Welsh says. "Now, we're better musicians, and all of us are beginning to
think outside the box. This time, I branched out a little past guitar, whether it was synthesizer or other keyboard parts. I love to explore musically."
Reunited with producers Mike Flynn and Aaron Johnson, the bandmates began their explorations for the second album at a storied facility in Sausalito, Calif., The Plant. But it was at a nondescript studio back home in the suburbs of Denver where they felt most comfortable, putting in workmanlike hours six days a week to write and record the follow-up to their hugely successful debut.
There was no shortage of real-life experience to influence the storytelling, with the band amassing about 30 songs to choose from for the record.
"With success, you have a lot more drama," King says. "For me, it was extreme highs in career and extreme lows in a relationship. There were really obvious things to write about."
"Three of us got married within the last three years," notes Welsh; King's marriage predates the band. "Trying to have these two things coexist - traveling in a band for nine or 10 months out of the year, and having a wife at home who's trying to go about this other life she has - is fascinatingly difficult. If you could put your finger on one thing that's been hard or a challenge, that would be it."
With its reference to "a sailor in a new port every night,"Absolute" could very well be inspired by the risk of long distance relationships and life on the road. " Never Say Never" is even more direct, a love song between two people who are "pulling apart and coming together again and again."
"A lot of really big realizations about ourselves are on this record," King says. "We're singing about real things that we've experienced. I'm not really comfortable talking about it, but I'm a lot more comfortable singing about it. It's a different side of me. The lyrics didn't come until the very end on a lot of the songs."
"The biggest goal we have is to be honest, at every point, with the music," Welsh says.
"There's a lot more questions than answers," Slade says. "But there are points of light throughout the record. I'm really proud of how we managed to capture extreme perspectives. A lot of the lyrics are super intimate, about the interior of a relationship. And a lot are from the perspective of human struggle."
King says every track on the album was given long, thoughtful attention - one reason the album's creation took about a year.
"We've spent a lot of time on each song, and I hope that shows in the record, that it's all very balanced," he says. "The intimate songs are special - and the same with the big, loud songs. If I'm a fan of a band, when I listen to a second record I look for the things that I immediately want to connect to - things I liked in their music on the first album. Then I look for, have they changed in a good or bad way? Hopefully the fans will see that we've grown, that we've changed artistically a little bit. And I would hope they would listen to it and say, 'They haven't become different guys.'"
Beloved by fans for his blue-eyed soul vocals, freewheeling melodies, and earthy charm, singer, songwriter, and musician Gavin DeGraw has enjoyed success since breaking through in 2003 with his debut album, Chariot, which sold over a million copies, earned platinum certification, and yielded three hit singles: "I Don't Want To Be," "Follow Through," and the title-track, "Chariot." He followed that up with his self-titled second album, which debuted at No. 1 on the digital sales chart and at No. 7 on Billboard's Top 200 album chart in 2008 (earning Gavin his first Top 10 album and spawning the hit singles "In Love With A Girl" and the gold-certified "We Belong Together." After releasing 2009's Free, a gift to die-hard fans clamoring for recorded versions of his live favorites, Gavin decided it was time to shake things up. "Not only do I love a challenge, but I also wanted something new to sing," Gavin explains. "I've listened to my favorite songs 5,000 times, and I love them, but sometimes it's hard to go home and put on that album and listen to it for the five thousand and first time. I needed to write something I found interesting both melodically and rhythmically and that meant stepping outside my wheelhouse."
On Gavin's new album SWEETER, the New York native experimented with new sounds, thanks, in part, to collaborating with a host of top-notch producers he'd wanted to work with for a while, including fellow groove-minded piano player OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder (Beyoncé, Adele), Butch Walker (Weezer, Avril Lavigne), Eric Rosse (Sara Bareilles, Tori Amos), and Ron Aniello (Barenaked Ladies, Matt Nathanson). "The creation of every song began with an interview to select the right producer," Gavin says. "It was like speed-dating. I'd play them the songs I was working on and ask which ones they liked the best, and then ask them to produce those they were most passionate about."
Gavin took another departure from his usual way of working, enlisting co-writers for the first time, such as Tedder, who co-wrote and produced the album's vigorous first single "Not Over You" (about the struggle to let go of an old flame) and its title track "Sweeter," as well as Andrew Frampton, who has worked with The Script and Natasha Bedingfield. "Co-writing with other people changed everything for me," Gavin says. "Not only did it open my mind to new ideas, but it changed the way I wrote on my own. Playing all these different styles with other musicians led me to think about things differently when I was working by myself. I was able to tap into things I do live, dabbling with some of that late '60s, early '70s R&B stuff, and record all the styles of music that I like and put them on one album. It was great to take the leash off and experiment. Although it doesn't stray too far from what I've done, I think SWEETER is the first album I've made that has caught my true sound, and that was the result of taking risks."
Recorded in several locations, including Tedder's studio in Denver, Blackbird Studio in Nashville, Walker's space in Venice, CA (where Bob Dylan recorded some tracks in the '70s), and the legendary Henson Recording Studios in Hollywood, SWEETER finds Gavin in a provocative mood, which infuses several songs with a potent, swaggering strut on sexually charged songs like "Sweeter" (on which he sings about wanting to hook up with another guy's girl) and one of his favorite tracks, "Radiation" (about knowing a lover is bad for you, but every now and then, you can't resist making that late-night call). "Those songs are designed to be fun while also being truthful. I think a lot of people can relate to the lyric, 'If you get an invitation, I'm probably drunk,'" Gavin says with a laugh.
"This is the first album I've made where I felt ready to explore the more sexual side of my nature in my music," he continues. "It's not only about my feelings of being in love, although I do tap into those elements on this album on songs like 'Soldier' and 'You Know Where I'm At.' This is the funkiest, sultriest record I've ever made. It satisfied a lot of things for me that I wanted to have satisfied musically."
SWEETER's racier moments are balanced out by more emotionally transparent moments, like "Run Every Time," which addresses a reluctance to commit to a relationship, as well as romantic, uplifting songs like "Soldier" and "You Know Where I'm At," which convey a vulnerability while still managing to feel distinctly masculine. "The question for me became, 'How do you expose your vulnerability without seeming like somebody who gets kicked around, and, at the same time, describe your ability to get past something without sounding cocky," Gavin says. "That's always tricky, because you know you're being judged on the lyrics and they're all very personal." That willingness to explore what's meaningful to him and express it in a universal way is what has made Gavin a compelling artist, one who connects with listeners not only through his recordings, but also through his live appearances. Gavin has toured the globe, performing sold-out headlining shows as well as festivals with a variety of artists. This summer he will hit the road with TRAIN and Maroon 5 for an extensive North American tour in support of SWEETER, and is looking forward to playing the new songs. "I want to take people from the beginning to the end of their emotions, for however long they're with me," he says. "I want to woo people. I do. I want both women and men to love it, because I feel this album satisfies in a masculine way while still having a feminine touch."
Five For Fighting
Singer/songwriter John Ondrasik (On drah sick) has spent the past decade writing deeply personal songs that include social messages, invoke the human spirit and make an emotional connection. This can be heard on the past four albums by Five For Fighting, the band name under which he records and performs.
Ondrasik's debut album, the critically acclaimed, Message for Albert, was released in 1997. Five For Fighting's breakthrough came in 2001 with the Grammy-nominated song "Superman" from the Platinum certified "America Town" (Aware/Columbia) CD. Already climbing the charts prior to 9/11, "Superman" went on to have a life of his own, becoming a song of healing for the nation. John joined superstar musicians for the now legendary post 9/11 fundraiser The Concert For New York, which paid tribute to all the firefighters, police officers and paramedics affected by the events of September 11th.
In 2004, John recorded the Platinum-certified album, The Battle For Everything, which yielded the retrospective hit, "100 Years," a song that has become a part of classic American songbook. With the 2006 release of Two Lights, featuring "World," the hit song "The Riddle," and "Freedom Never Cries," John continued to craft songs with material drawn from his personal experience in regards to love, war, culture, family, humanity and mortality.
In the fall of 2007, Ondrasik released the first live Five For Fighting CD titled "Live", and the DVD, "Back Country Live" . The CD captures the band live in concert and the DVD features live concert footage, Five For Fighting Music videos, interviews and bonus features.
In addition to his musical accomplishments John has a made a personal commitment towards causes that are important to him. In February of 2007, Ondrasik launched a unique charity-driven web site, whatkindofworlddoyouwant.com that raises money for various charities when users view video clips provided by visitors to the site. Current views are over three million with approximately three hundred thousand dollars donated.
The success of the site led to late 2007 collaboration between Ondrasik and The History Channel, with the launching a user-generated video contest. Fans created a video on Eyespot.com describing what kind of world they want by making a video using archival footage of important historical events and the Five For Fighting song "World" as the music bed. One winning video was chosen to air on The History Channel.
John has also been a dedicated supporter of US troops. In March 2007, he performed at Guantanamo Bay for service members on his first USO/Armed Forces Entertainment tour. Since then John has performed for US forces on USO tours in Hawaii, Guam and Japan.
Ondrasik has also conceived and produced "For the Troops," a CD compilation series of superstar recording artists that is available for free to every active service person in the US Armed Forces. Volume 1, released on Thanksgiving 2007, included Billy Joel, Brooks & Dunn, Josh Groban, The Fray, Melissa Etheridge, Los Lonely Boys as well as Five For Fighting's "100 Years." Over 200,000 CDs were distributed in Iraq, Afghanistan, military hospitals, USO centers and to various troops support groups. Over three hundred and fifty thousand songs were downloaded from the Army/Air Force exchange online store aafes.com. "For the Troops 2", released on Thanksgiving 2008, includes Maroon 5, Keith Urban, Daughtry, 3 Doors Down, Five For Fighting, Roy Orbison and others.
Five for Fighting
If every album provides snapshots of where an artist's mind at heart is at the moment, Slice, the latest offering from John Ondrasik (aka Five for Fighting), is a collection of digital jpegs and faded Polaroids. The album takes stories of friends, family and even American servicemen, and sets them to music shot through with the spirit of the great songs of his youth. It's a diary, or a blog, in which Ondrasik speaks his mind about current issues, experiences and sentiments, while setting those thoughts to piano, bass and drums.
The title track, featuring Ondrasik's soaring falsetto, comes from a daydream that we've all had at some point in our lives—that moment when we long for a simpler time when life seemed better and the songs were bigger. It's a sly play on one of those grand songs, Don McClean's "American Pie": "There was a time a long, long time ago/Chevies and levies played on the radio/No cell phones just 20,000 lights, swaying on a Saturday night."
Academy Award-winning composer Steven Schwartz (who penned the songs for acclaimed musicals such as Wicked, Godspell andPippin), helped Ondrasik bring the idea to fruition, co-writing "Slice" (as well as the song "Above the Timberline"). "We sat down at a coffee shop to talk about writing together," says Ondrasik, " I told him about my idea for 'Slice," and 'American Pie' actually came on the radio. It was surreal. Stephen immediately wrote the first two lines on a napkin, and we were off and running.
"I've been a fan of Five for Fighting since I first heard 'Superman'," says Schwartz, "and then was blown away by '100 Years.' I got the full CDs and was really impressed by John Ondrasik's writing—great tunes and smart and surprising lyrics. So naturally I didn't hesitate a moment when John asked me to co-write a couple of songs with him. It was, as I expected, great collaborating with him—experiencing first-hand his musicality and gift for melody, his incisive way with words, and the passion and care he puts into each of his songs."
The release of Slice is being led with first single "Chances," a sweeping, grand pop song with a simple message: "Until you crash what have you done/Is there a better bet than love." Says Ondrasik, "It's all about taking the swing—there's beauty in the scars."
The celebrated, Southern California-born singer/songwriter's fifth album under the Five for Fighting banner, Slice finds Ondrasik spreading his creative wings, ever so gently incorporating his love for classic R&B on songs like "Love Can't Change the Weather" and even firing up a Marshall stack on "Transfer." Lyrically, he honors his family ("Story of Your Life" was written for his wife of 12 years), friends and personal heroes, from fitness pioneer Augie Nieto to American servicemen serving around the world. If it's a tribute to a bygone era, Slice, the follow-up to 2006's Two Lights, is also an accurate and well-rounded snapshot of who Ondrasik is at the moment, as an artist. Produced by Ondrasik and Gregg Wattenberg, and partially tracked at his Southern California home, the album features sweeping statement songs like the title track, but quiets on sparse ballads like "This Dance" and the ageless "Hope," before ramping up again on tracks like "Note to the Unknown Soldier".
It was of course his tender playing and touching vocal on the Grammy-nominated "Superman"—from the Five for Fighting albumAmerica Town (2000) —which thrust Ondrasik into the national spotlight eight years ago. While written and released well before 9/11, "Superman" has endeared Ondrasik to the survivors and families of those lost in that tragedy, as well as to servicemen serving around the world.
The events of 9/11 are at the core of the Slice song "Tuesday," on which Ondrasik sings: "The thing about memories/They're sure and bound to fade/Except for the stolen souls/Left upon her blade". Ondrasik explains: "That song isn't 'Superman Part 2,' there's none of that in there. It's much more of a plea for us to not forget the lessons we learned that day."
Ondrasik's relationship with those survivors and families has led to life-changing experiences and celebrated philanthropic work for the singer, who has since found performed USO concerts around the world. His audiences have included General David Petraeus and the National Guardsmen at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Ondrasik also conceived and produced For the Troops, a series of compilations featuring superstar recording artists that are available for free to every active service member in the U.S. Armed Forces (the forthcoming collection, For The Troops III, will feature comedians exclusively). Ondrasik's charity work doesn't stop there. His site whatkindofworlddoyouwant.com collects money for various charities.
The singer's ongoing support of servicemen and women, and his dedication to his own wife and children, even led to him receiving a special fatherhood award from the National Fatherhood Initiative's 2009 Military Fatherhood Award Ceremony. Married with a daughter and son, Ondrasik says it was actually his devotion to all three and his desire to stay home that is to blame for the new album taking a little longer than previous albums. That, and of course the fact that he fills his life with myriad projects, from writing a column for Sports Illustrated to co-writing with the likes of Brooks & Dunn, Josh Groban, and scoring music for such films as August Rush andChicken Little.
It's all a culmination of a life literally spent playing music. Born in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley and raised in a musical family, Ondrasik was just two when he started playing piano, later adding guitar. Yet it wasn't for almost three decades (and four years after the release of the debut Five for Fighting album, Message for Albert), before he became a mainstream star via "Superman" from the critically laudedAmerica Town album, which Ondrasik and company followed up in 2004 with The Battle for Everything, a springboard for the classic "100 Years." Ondrasik's songs "Superman," "100 Years," "World," and "Freedom Never Cries" continue to endure in America's songbook proving Ondrasik's ability to stand the musical test of time.
"Every round I try to write the best songs I can, and perhaps step out of the box a bit. To me, records are about offering my worldview while providing sentiments to which people may attach themselves or escape into. Slice is where I've come from, where I am, and a few scraps I've picked up in between. All in a slice of time."
Plain White T's
Over the course of the band's last three major label release, the Plain
White T's have sold over 9.1 million songs starting with Every Second
Counts which spawned three hits: the platinum plus "Our Time Now," the
gold selling "Hate (I Really Don't Like You)" and "Hey There Delilah,"
the mega-hit single which rocketed to No. 1 in 13 countries. Delilah was
the fourth song in history to sell over 3 million digital downloads which
earned the Chicago quintet two Grammy nominations as well as an MTV
Video Music Award nomination (Monster Single of The Year), an American
Music Award nomination (Favorite Breakthrough Artist) , a Teen Choice
nomination (Song of the Summer) and a People's Choice Award nomination
(Favorite Rock Song).
The band followed up with Big Bad World -- a return-to-form effort
featuring the band's usual mix of spunky energy and pop/rock craft. The
band again found platinum success with yet another love song, "1,2,3,4,"
which is approaching double platinum status.
In 2010, the band released Wonders of The Younger which featured a
laid-back acoustic sound in the platinum plus hit "Rhythm of Love."
"Rhythm of Love" marks the first time the band released a single with Tim
Lopez taking the lead singer spot. Plain White T's are currently in the
studio recording their sixth studio album due out this year.