April 28, 2020
“Hanging By a Moment,” the breakout hit and signature smash for ’00s West Coast pop-rockers Lifehouse, ended 2001 as the No. 1 song on Billboard‘s year-end Hot 100. Nearly two decades later, it’s also topped a very different sort of Billboard listing: Our staff’s picks for the 50 best songs from the turn-of-the-century guitar-pop genre we call Minivan Rock.
The explosive single was helmed by Lifehouse frontman/guitarist Jason Wade, who moved from Washington to Los Angeles in the mid-’90s. There, he formed the band (originally named Blyss) with bassist Sergio Andrade and drummer John “Diff” Palmer, and in 1998, the band hooked up with producer Ron Aniello, which led to the trio landing a deal with DreamWorks Records.
Soon after, Wade’s VH1 dreams were realized by the rapidly snowballing success of “Moment,” a massive single rooted in alt-rock dynamics and instrumentation, but with an incandescent pop sheen, a CCM-adjacent lyrical fervor, and a brilliant swing-for-the-fences chorus. The song crossed over to nearly every FM format imaginable, ultimately becoming the year’s most-played song, and an omnipresent jam in six-seater car radios nationwide — though its pop success would prove a millstone for the stuck-between-formats trio in their early career.
Lifehouse would ultimately build an impressive catalog of radio hits for the rest of the decade, notching nine total entries on the Billboard Hot 100, including the No. 5-peaking 2005 ballad “You & Me.” This summer, they were set to head out on tour with fellow Minivan Rock alums the Goo Goo Dolls, but as with all major events originally planned for the second half of 2020, those plans are very much in flux at the moment. (“We haven’t heard anything,” Wade tells Billboard over the phone, with a chuckle. “So we’re just waiting to see what happens.”)
Below, Wade digs into his “Moment” memories while going deep on some of the elements that made the song so special — and, of course, rendering his verdict on “Minivan Rock” as a genre name.
What’s your reflexive reaction to “Minivan Rock”?
I actually kinda love it! Because the first time that I ever heard [“Hanging By a Moment”] on the radio, I was in a minivan, going to a show — I think we were in Jacksonville at the time, like, 2000-2001. It was one of those big alternative festivals. And we were driving to soundcheck or whatever, and it was the first time that any of us had heard the song on the radio. And it was like — you know that movie That Thing You Do!? It was totally like that moment, when you hear the song for the first time, and you’re kind of freaking out.
We got to the gig, and there were like 17,000 people there. We’d never played to that many people before. We were just kids, and it all happened so fast. But it went from being like That Thing You Do! to Almost Famous, because we were getting flashed by girls on stage for the first time. [Laughs.] I remember Sergio, our bass player, kind of just stopped playing halfway through the song. It shocked him pretty good. But it was a surreal time for sure.
What do you think of the top 10 of our Minivan Rock list? Does that all make sense to you as a grouping?
Those are all really great songs! Love all of those. It’s so funny too, because we toured with the Goo Goo Dolls in 2007, but when we were making our first record, I listened to [their 1998 album] Dizzy Up the Girl all the time. John [Rzeznik, Goos frontman] is one of my favorite songwriters. Same with Matchbox and that first big tour. So I’ve got so many different fond memories [of these artists] — like, I was hanging out with the Nine Days guys for a little bit, Michelle Branch opened for us on our first tour… so I have some sort of connection to pretty much all of those artists!
Did it ever feel like a scene or a moment in real time? Or is it only now looking back on it that you sort of think of you and all these artists as one big cultural thing?
I’m not sure. I just have memories of being 15, 16 years old… and my mom, my sister and I lived in this basement. And I just remember watching VH1 just constantly, just for hours. Matchbox Twenty was just breaking, Third Eye Blind, Jewel… the glory days of VH1, basically. I just remember sitting there, dreaming about maybe being able to do that someday. So it’s crazy that from the age of 16 to 19, it all happened so quickly — and then suddenly, we’re opening for Matchbox Twenty about four years later.
How would you have classified Lifehouse at the time? You guys were kinda alternative, but you were kinda pop, and you maybe had some roots in CCM…
I think in the beginning, we definitely started alternative… I was just obsessed with Nirvana and Pearl Jam, like every other kid, you know? So I wanted to make a rock record [with 2000 debut album No Name Face]. And I think what happened when the song became so [huge on alternative radio], and then it crossed over to pop and Hot AC — and then it just kind of blew up on all these different formats — I think it happened so quickly that people didn’t really know what category to put us in. But it became such a big pop song that I think that people were like, “Oh, maybe they’re more just like a pop-rock band than an alt band.”
But honestly, we were still trying to figure it out at the time, too. We didn’t really know what we were. We just wanted to make good music. And by the time our second record rolled around, we tried to make more of a rock record. And I think it was kind of like, cat’s out of the bag at that point. The song was too big on pop radio.
Did that inspire any kind of resentment in you guys? We were still coming out of that ‘90s anti-pop mentality in rock music — were you OK with being a pop band at that point?
Yeah. I think that we were just excited that people knew our music. And like I said, we were still trying to figure it out, too. And I love pop music. So I didn’t really think of it as a bad thing.
I think it was kind of hard after our second record [2002’s Stanley Climbfall] wasn’t really met with that much attention or success. And it was during that time where we lost our record deal, DreamWorks [Records] kinda folded… so that was kind of a tough time. I think that we were still just trying to figure it out, you know? It was exactly that thing where you have your whole life to write your first record, and then six months later, you have to follow it up really quickly.
In our headspace, we were like, “We want to make an alt record, a rock record.” But the song was so big at pop. So we were kinda without a home for a bit. But then as we kept progressing and making music, I think we kinda found our sound and our zone, years later.
I noticed listening to “Hanging By a Moment” more recently that the verses are really very short — in the blurb for our list, my co-writer Jason Lipshutz mentions that that the second chorus comes in at the one-minute mark, which is really early for a second chorus. Was there a sense while you were writing it of just “get through the verses, and clear out for the massive chorus”?
Yeah, a little bit… when Ron [Aniello] was producing the song, I think that once we got to that second chorus, it was just like, “Now that we’re in, it’s just gotta be on 10 for the rest of the song.” Until it goes back to that third verse, which does the thing where it’s the first one, but with that tom beat. But our whole thing was like, once this chorus hits, the energy’s already up at that point.
The part in the chorus that always stands out to me is the one bass note underneath the “Letting go of all I’ve held onto” phrase — it doesn’t resolve the way you’d expect it to. Do you have any idea what I’m talking about with this?
Oh yeah! That was totally a Ron thing. He always likes going to the third on the bass — so if I was hitting the Drop D [on guitar], he would tell Sergio to play the third on the bass, and that kinda gives it that tension, and that weight. But Ron was always finding a way to make very simple chords kinda interesting, just with how he would arrange a bass part versus a guitar part, and not everyone’s playing the same thing… especially when you hear it on the radio, when that third comes in, it really, really sticks out.
When people talk to you about “Hanging By a Moment,” what do they most often say to you?
A lot of wedding song references. But I think that now, when people are a little older, it’s a lot of people reflecting on their childhood. Which is really weird, because we have a pretty good following of fans that are our age. So we basically all kind of grew up together, right? So they all have kids, and they’re in their late 30s now. So it’s interesting that they’ve been listening and living with this music now for like 20 years, just like us.
I was looking at Spotify and “You & Me” has nearly three times the plays that “Hanging By a Moment” does. Obviously “You & Me” was huge too, but I would’ve thought “Hanging” was the bigger hit of the two. Do you have any ideas why it has such a more pronounced streaming presence?
I think that “Hanging By a Moment” became a really big song very quickly. And it stayed around for a while — but “You & Me,” we were doing these promo tours for months and months and months. It took like 10 months of solid promotion just to get it in the top 10. And that was really the heyday of Hot AC radio, and the whole thing was that when a song goes No. 1 on Hot AC radio, it never goes away. So by the time it actually did make it to No. 1, it just stayed there for a long time. And then that became this huge wedding song.
And at the time we were doing a lot of syncs, you know? We were like the house band in that show Smallville; Grey’s Anatomy was still a big deal. So we were getting spots with “You & Me,” I think that probably had something to do with it too.
How big a relief was it when “You & Me” started blowing up, to know that you’ve got that second big hit under your belt and you can’t be written off as a one-off anymore?
[Laughs.] It was a relief for me. In my mind, there were a couple dark months where I was like, “Whoa, we’re like the full, quintessential one-hit wonder.” You just have a lot of time to think about it. I think that our song was on the MuchMusic one-hit wonder countdown for a little bit. And when “You & Me” finally broke, they had to take it off! So that kinda felt nice.
But yeah, I think by the time “You & Me” came out, I was like, “I can’t believe that I’m actually still able to do this for a living.” Because I kinda thought it was over, for a second.
Based on your recent setlists, it still seems like you guys still close with “Hanging By a Moment” most of the time. Is the song that gets the biggest fan response?
Yeah, you can’t really get away with [not doing] it. And a lot of people ask me if I get upset that we still have to play it, and I’m just like, “Absolutely not. That song changed our whole [career]. We wouldn’t be here without it.”
For fans who only really know you from the handful of big hits, is there a song or album would you direct them towards for maybe learning a little more about Lifehouse?
It would probably have to be a song called “Flight” that was on our last record [2015’s Out of the Wasteland] that I’m really proud of. Or a song that did get some radio play but wasn’t a huge hit, was a song called “Broken” [from 2007’s Who We Are] — that’s probably my favorite Lifehouse song. That kind of had a different online life of its own, but wasn’t a huge radio hit.
So we’re being pretty loose with the definition of “Minivan Rock” for our list, in terms of what songs qualify and what don’t, but one thing we are being strict about is that we’re only including songs from 1997 to 2004. Does that make sense to you as the start and end points for that moment in time?
Yeah, for sure. It’s so interesting now, going into 2020 — this is our 20th year as a band, and we were going to do a kind of relaunch of the No Name Face record, which came out 20 years ago in October. Though we’re not sure if what’s gonna happen now [with everything going on in the world].
But I look back on it now with full nostalgia. It was such a special time. I feel honored to be included in this list; I was a fan of all of that music. So to get to meet Rob Thomas, who is the nicest guy in the world — spending time with him on that tour was really, really special. And yeah, so many great artists on that list. Michelle, it was so awesome to watch her blow up on the tour that we were on, in that same era. We got a chance to hang with John Mayer a couple times, too, he’s super-talented.
Have you ever talked to a couple of these other Minivan Rock artists about doing a big tour sometime? Get three or four of you together, maybe play some amphitheaters or arenas?
I mean, we haven’t heard anything yet, but I would be completely open to it. That Goos tour that I think we did I think in 2007 was one of my favorite tours I’ve ever been on. Just to get to see some of my favorite songs played sidestage was really cool. I’d love to play shows with Matchbox soon — we opened for them again like three or four years ago in Mexico, just for three shows. And that was kinda cool, to see everybody.
I get fully nostalgic when talking about the Goos or Matchbox Twenty. It was such a powerful rush of music, when people were still selling 12 million records. That was a different time.