Lifehouse's Jason Wade on How 'Hanging By A Moment' Came Together: 'It Was Like Lightning in a Bottle'
When Jason Wade was 99 percent of the way through writing the first album for his band Lifehouse, 2000's No Name Face, he knew they needed one more up-tempo song to close the record. But rather than going into another songwriting session, the idea for that missing tune came to Wade while he was recording another track.
"This melody just kind of popped into my head, so it was conflicting melodies with what I was singing and what I was hearing," Wade tells Billboard. "It was a really surreal, strange thing."
Fifteen minutes later, that random melody resulted in a little song called "Hanging By A Moment," which made it to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 2001 and is still Lifehouse's biggest song to date. And now, almost 16 years later, the song earned the No. 58 spot on Billboard's Best Choruses of the 21st Century list.
In light of the most recent accolade for "Hanging By A Moment," the Lifehouse frontman chatted about that fateful idea and how the melody of the song's chorus is "almost nursery rhyme-ish."
You’ve said that you wrote "Hanging By A Moment" without thinking about what would happen to it.
I was doing a vocal at [producer] Ron Aniello’s house, and I heard this… it must have been the chorus, I guess? I knew that something was happening. I was feeling this something inside of me that needed to come out. So I took a break, I went into the other room, and an acoustic guitar -- which just happened to be in this dropped D tuning -- led to me playing this guitar riff that ended up being “Hanging By a Moment.” I just started singing, and it was really channeling this song from another place. It was finished in like 10 minutes -- the bridge, the lyrics, the melody, everything. From there, everything just kind of clicked. It ended up being the first single, and as soon as it got released, it just took off really fast.
That almost sounds like it was fate, since it was the song that kicked off everything for you.
You don’t really know the biggest moments of your life while they’re happening to you. But I think that’s a really common thing -- the songs that have the most impact happen when you least expect it, and that inspiration just comes out of nowhere. It's inherent in humans to overthink things -- I’ve done that so many times with a song that I think is going to be amazing and then I end up ruining it because I just obsess over it. Sometimes when it happens quicker than your mind can get involved, it can be a really special moment. So I’m always really sensitive to those moments when I feel like something magical could happen. That’s happened to me maybe three or four times since then, but they’re really few and far in between.
This song has often been interpreted to be about God. Is there a religious element to it?
I didn't really think about it when I was writing it. I knew at the end of it that it was a love song, and I kind of come from that world, so it can be interpreted as a spiritual song or a love song. I feel like people have just been taking it for whatever they want it to be through the years -- which I'm totally fine with, because I think that music should be interpreted how the listener wants to interpret it.
When it was finished, did you think it had the potential to be as successful as it was?
To be honest, I wasn’t really in that headspace. I didn’t really come from the school of writing a hit song and making it popular -- I was just trying to write good songs. Our drummer, Ricky [Woolstenhulme], said that he knew the first time he heard it he knew it was going to be a big hit. I had no idea even what that meant. I knew there was something about it because it just kind of came out of nowhere, but I didn’t know it was going to be a big hit.
When we put this album out, we were playing side stage for Pearl Jam and we had no live experience -- but luckily we were only playing for like 30 people every night where they would get their beer, go to the bathroom and go back to their seats [Laughs]. But halfway through the tour, “Hanging By A Moment” blew up, they took us off that tour and we ended up on the Matchbox Twenty tour in their heyday. That was an arena tour in front of like 25,000 people every night, and we were only 20 years old, so it was so overwhelming. I just remember being terrified because I didn’t know what to do.
What do you think makes the song stand out?
Probably that really simple melody, it's almost nursery rhyme-ish. There’s also some textures on there that are really interesting that people always ask about -- they don’t know what the instrument was. There’s an upright bass that’s being bowed in the beginning that was probably influenced by a Nirvana record, or something. But it was a really interesting sound from the top of the song, where you can’t tell if it’s a cello. And then after the bridge going into the last chorus, there’s this really crazy pick slide that we doubled and panned left to right. That’s what I like about that record -- you can’t really tell what is what.
Why did you decide to make the first chorus a lower octave than the others?
I think we weren’t thinking about it, because if we really analyzed it and tried to make it tailor-made for radio, we probably wouldn’t have done that -- we would’ve thought it was too risky to wait until the second chorus. That’s kind of how I wrote it on acoustic, so we just followed that format. It was like lightning in a bottle. If we would’ve gone back to try to make it perfect, we probably would’ve screwed it up.
What’s your favorite chorus of the 21st century?
I have to go with "Mr. Brightside." I love The Killers. You know what? I'm torn though -- Jimmy Eat World "The Middle" was so good too. That's full nostalgic for me -- that was one of my favorite songs when it came out.