Five For Fighting

Five For Fighting’s John Ondrasik recently launched his first tour in nearly two years.

“After a year and a half in the studio, you’re ready to go on the road and see faces again, so it’s been fun,” Ondrasik told Pollstar from a tour stop in Washington, D.C.

“It’s usually about two years between records for me, and then a year or a year and a half out there playing,” he said. “It works out well. By the time you’ve been on the road for two years, you’re ready to go home; by the time you’ve been in the studio for two years, you’re ready to get out.”

Of course, when Ondrasik says “in the studio,” he doesn’t mean strictly recording – the Los Angeles-based musician typically spends at least half his time on songwriting.

“I probably write about 100 songs to whittle down” for each album, he said.

Five For Fighting’s latest full-length, Two Lights, features a number of expansive arrangements that are being brought to life on tour by a backing band comprising guitarist Michael Chaves, bassist Solomon Snyder and drummer Randy Cooke.

“They’re great players,” Ondrasik said, “and with this new record it was important to bring out high-level musicians. I’ve been very fortunate to find that.”

But don’t expect the singer/songwriter to hide behind his collaborators.

“A song is a song, you know? If it takes a 30-piece orchestra to realize a song, the song’s probably not very good to begin with,” he said. “I’ve always been one of those who believes that if it doesn’t play on acoustic guitar and a vocal, or piano/vocal, then maybe you need to go back to the drawing board.

“It’s important as a songwriter to play your songs in front of people,” he continued. “I always talk about that when I’m talking to young kids coming up, and it’s true. A lot of my inspiration comes from playing these shows and seeing the faces and talking to the fans.

“After you’ve been doing this for a little while, your priorities change and your reasons why you do it change. I’ve been blessed that, financially, I’m OK now and one of the main purposes of continuing to do this is the fans and their expectations of me. I feel a certain obligation to go out and play these songs for them, whether it’s 50 people or 5,000 people a night.

“For me as a musician, again, it’s important to my growth to continue playing live. And beyond that, it’s exciting. It’s fun, you know? In the beginning, I got into this for a reason and that was it. I think sometimes, with the grind of promotion and all that comes with the commercial side of the business, you can forget why you got into it.”

Five For Fighting

Manager Jim Grant has worked with Ondrasik since hearing a demo of his second album, America Town, which spawned the Grammy-nominated post-9/11 anthem “Superman (It’s Not Easy).”

“Touring is very important to the identity of John and Five For Fighting,” Grant said. “With all the airplay that he’s received over the years, the touring is vital in terms of connecting the dots between what people are hearing on the radio and the performer.

“John’s songs are of a very personal nature, and we do our best to try to have him on tour and able to present this music to the fans that feel a very strong personal connection with him.”

Ondrasik’s latest collection of songs follows in the spirit of “Superman” and “100 Years” (the latter from 2004’s The Battle For Everything), taking its cues from real events and people he has met. The title track of Two Lights was inspired by a dinner conversation with a Vietnam veteran and his son who was preparing to ship off to Iraq.

“I forget until I get on the road how inspirational some of the stories are,” the performer said. “Some of the people you meet, you really see how your music makes a difference firsthand.

“I remember when I went to see Billy Joel when I was 14 for my first concert, and how that kind of changed my life. And by no means am I at that level, but on the other hand, you see some faces out there where you might be making a little difference in their life as well. It’s humbling and exciting, and what more can you ask for?”

Larry Webman of Little Big Man Booking has represented Five For Fighting since 2000, when he sent the group out with David Gray for several weeks. To this day, Ondrasik said, the markets they visited with Gray remain their strongest.

The current trek will cover major cities through November 9th, and Ondrasik hopes to do a solo tour of secondary markets early next year. Another round of full-band dates is also in the works, along with “a very exciting idea that we can’t reveal that involves John playing in all 50 states in an entertainment / educational / public service context,” according to Grant.

Fans across the Pond might have to wait, however, if Ondrasik catches the songwriting itch again.

“When you go overseas, it’s all good, but it takes up a lot of time and energy, and I still have to write songs and have another record to make,” he said. “That’s the beauty and curse of going over to Europe or Australia – it’s great on the commercial side but, on the other hand, it takes a lot of time and energy when maybe I should be sitting at the piano.”