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Lifehouse, No Longer a 'No Name Face'

Pop Music * Success has come quickly for Jason Wade, 20, and the band whose debut album has shipped a million copies.

April 12, 2001|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Rock fans would recognize the scene: Young local band steps excitedly onstage in support of a big-name headliner, happy enough to play in front of a sparse house, as fans trickle in or make another beer run. Except this time it's Lifehouse, whose debut album "No Name Face," on DreamWorks Records, is one of the fastest-selling albums in the country.

Just a week before, the album was certified platinum, meaning a million copies shipped to retailers, on its way to No. 11 on the national sales chart. But the mood onstage at the Universal Amphitheatre is humble and relaxed as 20-year-old Jason Wade leads the quartet through 20 minutes of emotional mainstream rock, with lyrics drawing equally on romantic and spiritual issues.

"We're very appreciative that you came down here to check out our set," Wade tells the crowd, while thanking headliners Matchbox Twenty and Everclear. The venue is nearly full in time for Lifehouse's big radio hit, the potent, hook-filled "Hanging by a Moment."

Success has come swiftly for Lifehouse. Since the October release of "No Name Face," Wade and his band have become an unavoidable presence on pop radio and MTV. They've chatted up Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show," and just the other day Matchbox singer Rob Thomas took Wade and his new wife to dinner. None of which is apparent now as Wade quietly relaxes with a Snapple on the band's tour bus, a comforting acoustic guitar across his knee.

The massive sales have been a surprise. "You never know if people are going to respond to it or not, so I feel like it came out of nowhere," says Wade. "It was never about selling records. To sell a million records, I can't even fathom it."

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Wade still seems somehow unfazed by these events, even if he appears younger up close, with his tousled blond hair and simple brown T-shirt. He's soft-spoken and relaxed, seemingly unguarded as he sits in the rear compartment of the bus after the group's show.

He laughs when the door slides open and drummer Rick Woolstenhulme silently peers inside and quickly disappears. Somewhere outside is bassist Sergio Andrade, who first began playing music with Wade five years ago.

That music has connected with young rock fans largely through lyrics that document Wade's internal struggles. He began writing deeply personal lyrics and poetry at age 15, partly in response to the divorce of his parents. Though intentionally left open to interpretation, the lines erupt with emotional conflict and themes of abandonment, loneliness and faith.

"There is a depth and a sensitivity to the songwriting that wasn't happening in the marketplace from kids that age," says Michael Ostin, a top executive at DreamWorks who signed Lifehouse to the label two years ago. "It evolved pretty naturally, based on Jason's own musical instincts, drawing on his own life experiences."

A fan of melodic rock and pop from the Beatles to Nirvana, Wade applies his big, earnest growl to such lyrics as, "Does it scare you that I can be something different than you?" The modern-pop anthem "Everything" could be addressing romantic need or a declaration of faith: "You hold me in your hands/You won't let me fall/You still my heart/You are all I need."

"My earlier music was more therapeutic for me because of my parents splitting up," Wade says. "Everything that I was going through at the time, I was getting it out on paper. That's what a lot of this record deals with. That's what gave me the outlet for expressing what I was feeling at the time. It was a real pure entry into music. It wasn't, 'I want to be a rock star.' "

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Wade spent his earliest years in Camarillo. When he was 6, his family left for Hong Kong, where his parents did Christian missionary work and family counseling. They landed in a small, isolated village, where Wade and his older sister lived in a communal setting, eating their breakfasts in a kitchen amid burning incense and altars devoted to ancestors.

The family stayed for more than three years before moving to Oregon, where his parents split. His mother took the children to live first in Washington state, then Los Angeles.

Like Creed, Wade discourages the Christian-rock label for his band, though he has been a fan of various Christian musicians.

"Growing up, we listened to a lot of Christian music. But when I started writing lyrics I noticed a separation from the Christian music I was listening to," he says.

"I'm being honest with what I'm trying to say, and I don't want an industry or a rule book about how to write, what to write about, what words you can use, what words you can't use. My music needs to get out there to as many people as possible, and to as many people who want to hear it. There are so many more people to reach."

The compartment door slides open again. Jude Cole, the band's manager and a longtime recording artist himself, stands holding a framed platinum album award. "You like that?" he asks.

Wade smiles. "Yeah, I love that."

Cole has enjoyed his own successes, including the 1990 hit "Baby, It's Tonight," but he saw his career fortunes diminish with the passing years. He turned to artist management after meeting Wade, who auditioned on acoustic guitar in Cole's Calabasas driveway. Cole began representing the band and approached Ostin, who had been an executive at Warner Bros. during Cole's seven years as an artist there.

"It got me real excited on a level that I hadn't felt for a while," says Cole. "It was like one of those garage bands with something real special about it. It wasn't just noise, but there was something beautiful within the noise."

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