It may be catchy guitar riffs that have fueled Collective Soul's ride up the charts with such hits as the current single, "No More, No Less."
But the inspiration behind those riffs is not quite what you'd expect. The sound, instead of drawing from the usual guitar-hero suspects, harks back to the days when synths ruled the airwaves, according to the Stockbridge, Ga., band's frontman, Ed Roland.
"I'm sure I draw some inspiration from Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith, but it's mostly the Cars," Roland said recently from a New York hotel room.
Like the Cars, the prototypical new-wave band that charted numerous times during the '70s and '80s with such memorable pop confections as "My Best Friend's Girl" (1978) and "You Might Think" (1984), Collective Soul have had a remarkably consistent stream of rock-radio hits.
"No More, No Less" (RealAudio excerpt), a flowingly melodic, midtempo track with a beat that seems to draw from hip-hop, is currently at #7 on trade publication Radio & Records' mainstream rock chart. It's followed closely at #12 by "Heavy" (RealAudio excerpt), the hard-rocking previous single from the band's latest album, Dosage.
Dosage, released in January, was certified gold in March, signifying more than 500,000 copies shipped. It currently stands at #120 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
Collective Soul's consistent rock-radio success, which began with their career-making smash, "Shine," in 1994, is rivaled in the '90s only by such bands as Metallica and Stone Temple Pilots, according to Cyndee Maxwell, rock editor at Radio & Records.
Roland has produced all four Collective Soul albums himself, but said one of few outside producers he would consider working with is former Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, who's produced such bands as Weezer, Nada Surf and Guided by Voices since the Cars broke up in the late '80s.
"The Cars had great keyboard riffs. ... It wasn't guitar riffs, but it was the same thing," he added, explaining that he had always admired how the band's synthesizer motifs complemented its songs' vocal melodies. Roland cited the 1979 album Candy-O, which included the hit title song (RealAudio excerpt), as a particular favorite.
Roland said he and his bandmates his brother, Dean Roland (rhythm guitar), Ross Childress (lead guitar), Will Turpin (bass) and Shane Evans (drums) framed their approach to their music around fans' instant embrace of "Shine," which began getting radio play in his native Georgia after he leaked a solo demo of the song to a few stations.
Although Roland had just dissolved an earlier version of Collective Soul to record such demos on his own, he quickly brought the band's current lineup together after "Shine" sparked interest from major labels. Together they signed to Atlantic Records, which released an album, Hints, Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, consisting largely of Roland's demos. Among them was the unaltered version of "Shine," which became a nationwide hit exactly as it was recorded in Roland's basement.
"We took off from that and said, 'This band's gonna be about songs,' " instead of a particular image or style, Roland explained. Accordingly, the band's subsequent albums, Collective Soul (1995) and Disciplined Breakdown (1997), spun off multiple hits.
One unwanted side effect of the success of "Shine" was the development of what Roland said was a widespread misconception about the band. The lyrics of the song's chorus "Heaven let your light shine down" as well as the fact that Roland's father is a minister, led some to label Collective Soul a Christian band in the vein of such proselytizing rockers as Jars of Clay.
"Everyone assumed the heaven [in the song] was a Christian heaven," Roland said, still peeved five years after the song's success. "Led Zeppelin sang 'Stairway to Heaven' and nobody accused them of being a Christian band."
Regardless of the band's spiritual orientation, Collective Soul's consistent radio success can be at least partly attributed to their traditionalist, carefully molded guitar-rock sound, Maxwell said.
"They're a pretty safe band for radio to embrace. Their sound bridges the gap between old product and new," she said. "A programmer can put a Collective Soul song between tracks by Tom Petty and Stone Temple Pilots, and it will fit."