"At this point in my career, every album could be my last album," says John Ondrasik. "We wanted to at least give it the full 100 percent, and that's probably why we made such a good record"
Sounding "modern" was John Ondrasik's goal for "Bookmarks," Five For Fighting's sixth studio album and first in four years. But he wasn't thinking Justin or Miley or even Imagine Dragons.
"It didn't mean chasing fads or auto-tuning my voice," Ondrasik tells Billboard. "(2009's) 'Slice' was certainly kind of a throwback record for me, a 70s throwback. This was the first record in 10 years I was able to make with (producer) Gregg Wattenberg. He did (2000's) 'America Town' with me, and his attitude was, 'Look, I wanna win. We're not doing this for indulgence's sake. I want to really have a swing at it. Let's make sure we have the right songs and produce them in a way that can compete, and at the same time try to make the best record you have in year.' He likes to say that on a typical Five For Fighting record there's two songs that try to be hits and eight 'Ondrasik indulgences.' On this record we tried to merge that a little bit more and have songs on there the fans would be excited about and I'm excited about but still reach a little...broader, let's say."
Ondrasik, who also worked with Derek Fuhrmann on the set, is quick to note that wasn't easy.
"That's why it took three years," he explains. "It's hard; you don't want to chase, but you also want to be relevant and sound contemporary enough to be like what everyone else is doing. At this point in my career, every album could be my last album. We wanted to at least give it the full 100 percent, and that's probably why we made such a good record."
Ondrasik says he demoed nearly 60 songs for "Bookmarks," with multiple versions of the same song -- a half-dozen for the track "You'll Never Change," for instance. But he says that process also helped he and Wattenberg achieve what they wanted for the album.
"We experimented with a lot of different styles, different drum beats, different concepts," Ondrasik recalls. "Most of the time they went off the deep end and sounding like John trying too hard, trying to chase. But I think we had to do that because part of that process was coming up with 'What If,'a song that does sound like it fits what I do but at the same time it's different enough it can maybe do some damage at radio."
Next up, Ondrasik will perform two shows during the Live In The Vineyard festival Nov. 2-3 in Napa Valley and is currently booking other dates, including symphonic shows that he started performing next year.
"I love doing those," says Ondrasik, who wrote the "Bookmarks" track "Symphony Lane" "specifically for those shows. I really want to do more of those. If you're a fan of mine there's no better thing to see than a Five For Fighting symphony show with the band, the orchestra, a really full rock experience. It would be great to get to do a whole tour like that, so here's hopin'..."