IF YOU GO
What: Five For Fighting, with special guest Marie Miller
Where: The Colonial Theatre, 227 Bridge St., Phoenixville, PA 19460.
When: Concert is at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 11.
Coveting a music career that was nearly derailed from the outset, John Ondrasik, who performs and records under the name Five For Fighting, remembers the challenges he faced as an unknown artist.
“I really struggled,” recalls Ondrasik, from his home in California. “I was passed up by every record label. I was one of those fifteen-year overnight success stories. When I finally made my first record in the late ‘90s, the record company came to me and said, ‘You know John you need to come up with a band name.’ I was a bit insulted and perturbed,” recalls Ondrasik. “I had just come from an L.A. Kings hockey game. I’m a big L.A. Kings fan, when they asked me about a band name. I sarcastically said, ‘How about Five For Fighting?’ referring to a penalty in hockey, expecting that they’d hate it, and they said, ‘we love it!’”
“It has created a lot of confusion in respect to the music,” adds Ondrasik. “As a sports fan it seems that Five For Fighting has allowed me to play some incredible sporting events perhaps that I would never have played. So it certainly has aligned with the name Five For Fighting.”
“It has been awesome,” says Ondrasik. “I’ve played at Dodger Stadium, Monday Night Football, Daytona 500, NHL 50th anniversary for the L.A. Kings. For me, it has actually been a blessing in that, you know it has really been about the music and not about the guy. I’ve gotten such wonderful experiences. If I had to do it all over again maybe I would do it again.”
Releasing his debut album, “Message For Albert” (1997), it was his follow-up album “American Town” (2000) that catapulted Ondrasik and Five For Fighting into the spotlight. Yielding the hit single “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” the album went platinum. The song, which Ondrasik performed at The Concert For New York City following the 9/11 terrorists attacks, became an anthem for this tragic event. Ondrasik earned his second platinum honors with the album release “The Battle For Everything” (2004) and another hit single “100 Years.” Ondrasik earned his first Top 10 album “Two Lights” (2006) yielding the single “The Riddle.”
“I think it’s hard to write a song like “100 Years,” says Ondrasik. “There is a depth that you can relate to. It has a sentiment that is kind of universal. It’s a song that you can grow up with. Your whole life, you can find some words to relate to in that song. I’m certainly proud of 100 Years. Superman was my baby. Without it, we’re not having this conversation. Songs like “Two Lights” which was never on the radio, but it’s a song that kind of pays tribute to the families of our troops that has become a very important song in the military community and during my shows. These songs have a special place with my fans and in my heart, too.”
“I fancy myself as one that kind of mentored under the golden age of songwriting,” adds Ondrasik. “The ‘70s to me were the great songwriters and I think there’s a reason we still hear those songs today. You can talk about “American Pie” and “Cats in the Cradle” and certainly growing up on Elton John and Billy Joel were great inspirations to me. If I can only pick one singer or songwriter I’d certainly pick the songwriter side, but it’s nice to have a voice that is kind of unique. The most important thing is that you know that person after one or two lines. My favorite singers are Freddy Mercury, Steve Perry, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell, and James Taylor. They are stylists and you know who they are. Hopefully I have a little bit of that as well.”
Beyond his talents as a critically acclaimed and commercially successful songwriter, vocalist, musician and producer, Ondrasik, who also dabbles in both TV and Broadway, is humanitarian in every sense of the word supporting our soldiers, human trafficking and the medical community.
In 2009 Ondrasik received a special fatherhood award from the National Fatherhood Initiative and the ISPA’s Humanitarian Award in 2016. Teaming up with the USO in 2007 he performed for military forces in Guantanamo Bay and other bases in Cuba, Japan, Guam and Hawaii. Contributing music to the award winning military documentary “Brothers At War,” Ondrasik’s music also appeared in the films “August Rush,” “We Were Soldiers,” “Chicken Little” and “Everyone’s Hero.”
“The nice thing about music, not just my music but all music is that we listen and we kind of take what we need from it,” says Ondrasik. “This was made clear to me during the first Iraq war when Superman was kind of resonating with our troops. I would get emails from them and they would say, ‘I listened to Superman before I go on mission or when I come back to calm me down, or to escape from my situation and there were so many different uses for the same song.”
Ondrasik, now in his early 50s, routinely pursues new and interesting creative outlets adding a classical component to his life’s work.
“I’m finding ways to continue to be motivated and to create,” says Ondrasik. “For me that’s what it’s all about. Being inspired and writing a new song and that kind of joy that comes with that. As far as the touring thing goes, we’ve been doing a lot of these string quartet shows. I started doing some symphony shows 5 or 6 years ago and they were so well received and inspirational to me that we wanted to take that format, break it down and do some smaller venues. We’ve done about 40 or 50 quartet shows and that’s what we’re bringing to you guys in a few weeks.”
“It has been great because it provides a new dimension to the songs people know, the popular songs,” adds Ondrasik.” It allows me to pull songs from my catalog that I would never do with the rock band. It really allows me to share these arrangements, to give them back stories on a lot of the songs and provide a different experience.”
“What I’ve been able to do is a shock, but I think it’s more of a shock to my parents,” says Ondrasik. “I don’t think anybody expected this to happen.”