John Ondrasik: The Little Things Are The Big Things
John Ondrasik has experienced all sorts of ups and downs along his journey as a 20+ year overnight success.
He’s the singer and songwriter known as Five For Fighting who has written hit songs like “Superman” and “100 Years”.
He often felt like he was one album away from having to get a real job. When his record label of 10 years dropped him, he asked himself: Is this it? Have I already had my time?
Throughout it all, he’s found that sometimes the big things are actually little things and the little things are actually the big things.
In this episode, John Ondrasik and I discuss:
- Why he’s still afraid to play a new song for his wife
- The role the desperation of a young artist has played in his life
- How hard it to accept the realization that you’ve had your time already
- His children and the role they’ve played in his songwriting over their lifetimes
- His family business that manufactures the shopping carts you’ve probably used at the store
- How the family business has grounded him during the height of his musical career
- Why he ran a marathon after getting dropped from his record label
- What he believes his legacy will be
Transcript with John Ondrasik
Today I’m joined by John Ondrasik. He’s a father, son, husband, singer and songwriter known as Five For Fighting. He’s written and performed hit songs such as Superman, 100 Years, Easy Tonight. That was one of my favorites back in the day. You’ve described yourself I’ve heard as a 20 year overnight success, which I love.
Because when when America Town came out in 2000, which I think we could agree is like what kind of put you on the map, especially because it was all about the radio back then. You’ve been you’ve been at it for a long time. And it really, to me, I don’t know what your opinion is about nowadays.
But at least back then it was all about what do you have on the radio? What do you have on the charts? It’s about the hits. Were you ever throughout your career? I mean, which now is decades and decades? Were you ever afraid of like, I only have one shot, I got to get that one hit, because it may never come again, I might be a one hit wonder?
John Ondrasik 1:53
Of course, and I was very close to being a one hit wonder. And on the other hand, you know, a one hit wonder is much better than a no hit wonder. And, you know, if you would ask me after 15 years of hitting the wall of the music business, you know, if you could have one hit and go into the twilight, I would have taken that any day. But yeah, I mean, I think the reality is, if you want to do it on a certain level, you have to have some popular success, you know, not everybody needs to hit song on the radio.
You know, bands like Dave Matthews have proven that. But for most of us, you need that. You need that hook, you need that audience, and especially in the 90s and early 2000s, before the internet before YouTube. That was how people found you. I mean, people forget, you know, back then it was sacrilege to have your song in an ad, you know, until the till the Rolling Stones did it. So the only way people really heard you was on the radio.
Luckily for me, it was kind of before the consolidation of radio, and there were still some kind of independent stations or small radio groups that had programmers that would take a chance on an unknown artist. And I had three or four kind of believers and the stars aligned. But yeah, I mean, I just, I just wanted to be able to make a living doing music on any level.
And as you said it I was 20 year overnight success, I started doing this as a well, probably more than that I my mom was a music teacher, a piano teacher, so I just started playing piano at three years old and all throughout my high school and college years while I was you know, having to plan B to get a real job when this thing fell apart. I was writing songs and recording and, and I had success very late, you know, easy tonight for single was in 1999.
You know, so I was in my 30s you know, and it’s almost unheard of to have a pop singer have their first success in their 30s I mean, that’s, that’s ancient. And, and then, and then, you know, Superman came from that and hundred years. But I was a fluke, I was very fortunate and but on the other hand, you know, there was a certain perseverance that was, you know, you face the rejection time after time after time. And you’ve heard all the stories.
I know you’ve interviewed musicians on your on your podcast before and, you know, record companies closed door slamming your face. You’re a good songwriter, not you know, good singer, you’re a good singer, not a good songwriter, blah, blah, blah. But, you know, I’m one of the lucky ones that’s been able to make a living at it.
I agree rejection, I think is part of any creators journey. But I think even those of us who have been rejected over and over I’m I’m really curious, does it still get to you eventually. Like I think as humans, it’s just hard. I mean, I think about you were on Columbia for what three or four records and then eventually, they said We have to always Yeah, I mean, like that must have felt like, because I imagined, I guess, start the process over again. Yeah, you’ll find another label because that’s the distribution method like did that just break you?
John Ondrasik 5:13
Ah, it always hurts, you know. And I was funny, I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, who’s a very successful script writer and has multiple shows on televisions had incredible success. And, and he sent me a script to read and, and I didn’t respond immediately. And he’s like, Oh, you hate it, you hate it, you know, he was freaking out.
And I’m the same way. I mean, I think the consequences aren’t quite as much. And the, once you’ve had some success, you get a little more comfortable with, with the fact that if somebody doesn’t like your song your careers over, but I always believe that I’m one record away from getting a real job. And because I was kind of a product of radio, I didn’t have a huge touring base, and the insecurities always there, my wife was a music publisher, she kind of was my partner through this whole thing. She’s very successful, she knew hit songs.
Even to this day, I hesitate playing her new song, because I’m afraid her reaction may be not what I want. And maybe I’ll just throw it in the trash. But hopefully, as you mature, you get a little perspective. But yeah, you’re artists, you know, you’re creative, it’s scary, much less, you know, given a song to, to a friend or, you know, family member, much less the world.
And there will, you know, and you do have to learn that part of having some commercial success is, is having people who criticize your work, and it took me a while, but you know, if nobody’s criticizing you, you’re probably not doing much of anything. So, and it’s a subjective medium, you know, it’s not, it’s not a medium like sports, where if you’re Michael Jordan, everybody recognizes that you’re gonna play, you know, Leonard Cohen for maybe I’ve never got a record deal. You know, I tell this joke all the time about, you know, what is success?
What is commercial success, you know, Justin Bieber sold millions more records, then Johnny Cash. So we could spend an hour just talking about what success is and how that affects you. But I do think the bottom line is, you have to build a certain armor, you have to believe you have to be willing to just plow through it. You know, when Superman came out, nobody wanted to play it. have, you know, you’ve heard this before every record company passed on it, the piano wasn’t on the radio.
But that’s probably one reason why it had some success, because it was different than everything that was out there. And if you get lucky, and you can have one of those songs that’s kind of set apart from kind of the mass media, then you can have, you know, kind of a timeless song, but we’re always insecure. That never goes away. And if it does, you’re probably not going to be doing much good of anything. Anyways, if you kind of lose that angst.
I’ve heard similar themes before, like, if you’re not getting a no, if someone’s not saying no, maybe you’re not pushing hard enough, or you’re not trying something on big enough.
John Ondrasik 8:06
Yeah, I mean, I think I think frankly, a lot of it is not very romantic, it just comes down to kind of basic work ethic. And, you know, if I, if I just wrote 10 songs for a record, and those were the 10, at least for me, it would not be a very good record.
Because I’m, you know, I’m not prolific, I’m not a prodigy, and I’ll write 100 songs, to get the 10. And it’s just a matter of odds. And you have to keep throwing that Dart. And some people don’t do that. And I think, at the end of the day, some of this key to success has really nothing to do with music. It’s just like, you know, perseverance, work ethic, humility, and the fact that, you know, at 3am, you always think you wrote, let it be, and then you wake up the next day, and you’re like, Well, you know, you know, let it go back to the drawing board, you know.
I think I think that’s part of the key to especially in the arts, because it’s this weird dynamic of you need an ego, you need a certain narcissistic attitude to go sing in front of hundreds of people or millions of people on television. So you have to be somewhat of a narcissist to do it. Well. On the other hand, if you start believing the hype, then you do what we talked about, you don’t put the work in and you don’t have kind of the editor hat as well as the writer hat. So you know, you can see why musicians are all stressed out and freaked out and it’s the same at 55 as it was as you know, 15.
What do you see when you look back at I mean, thinking back to like America town. I mean, I remember where I was in my life at that time, and it feels like forever ago, but as the creator I imagine for you that just might feel like another lifetime ago.
John Ondrasik 9:48
Yes, and no. You know, I still pinch myself when I hear my song on the radio and, and I you know, it’s very interesting how you know, 10 years ago, I do concerts and there be, you know, people in their 20s saying, Oh, yeah, you know, I loved your song in high school, and then it goes, Well, I loved your song and middle school and, you know, your parents, my parents used to listen to your song, you know, when I was in kindergarten, and you know, now, you know, the songs are older than the kids, but, but it is odd, I, I am so truly blessed to been able to do this, that it still feels like I’m the same guy. When I sing the song. I mean, I hopefully sound the same.
And certainly my life situations changed. I don’t kind of have the desperation of a young artist that I did. But that’s the nice thing about the songs, you know, search, especially certain songs, like hundred years, you can grow through the song. So you know, when I wrote it, I was in the second verse, Now I’m in the bridge, and, and you can kind of live through the songs. You know, Superman’s a little different, because I probably couldn’t write that song today. Kind of just where I am in my life, and kind of some of the things I’ve learned since I wrote Superman. But yeah, it’s forever and yesterday.
Why don’t you have the desperation of young artists anymore? Is that just age and time? I mean, as time passes, you’re no longer desperate anymore?
John Ondrasik 11:15
You know, you, I think about this a lot, because, you know, you think about a lot of great songwriters. And most of them kind of, you know, hit the wall at some point. And I’m not gonna mention any names, but some of them are piano players. And, you know, it’s from the 70s. And they’ve written prolific, timeless songs, and then one day, it kind of goes off the edge and the songs aren’t there. And is it because you don’t have that?
You know, kind of do or die dilemma of, if this isn’t great, I may be done? Or is it just because as we get older, you know, maybe people start chasing the current sounds, and that’s not their thing. But I think there’s a there’s a lot of reasons why it’s hard to sustain. I think few people do it, you know, the people that are really identified, and they have their they have their thing.
You know, I Dylan’s a good example, I don’t know if you’ve heard his latest record. It’s amazing, you know, I’m not who’s doing guy but you know, almost 80 years old, you know, his lyrics are still first rate. And he is just who he is. And so whether you’re 80, or whether you’re 20, you know, Neil Young, I could put in there too.
But, you know, for a lot of us subjects of radio, you know, I have a lot of friends, you know, who in the 2000s had a lot of hits, and all of a sudden in 2012, those songs that might have been a hit in 2001, they’re not hits anymore. And so to adapt, and morph and change and or just realize that you’ve had your time, that can be hard to accept. But, but, you know, I don’t know if I answered your question, but it’s, I think about that a lot.
Realizing you had your time, I think would be so hard to accept. I feel like as a creator, it’s something you want to continue to create and continue to affect people and this idea that maybe you already had your time to affect people and now it’s someone else’s turn at least to the magnitude that do you feel like that? I mean, that feels like it would be something as a creator you would almost never want to accept.
John Ondrasik 13:22
Yeah, and I think I think certainly emotionally hard I had this moment. You know, I’d been on Columbia Records 10 years I they dropped me I’d gone to another record label work with my friend, Greg Wattenberg made another record, wrote a song called What if that the radio liked and probably in 2005 would have been big song. And, you know, part of this job is doing a lot of promotion and going to a lot of radio stations and kissing a lot of rings.
And all of a sudden, there was, you know, I was late 40s. And I was driving to a small radio station in Tyler, Texas by myself. There are no entourages anymore. There were no record company promo guys with me, I was driving there. So they play my record four times. And I had the sense that at least the way I’ve been doing it for it’s over, you know, just because of the nature of radio, the nature of the internet, the nature of kind of, you know, everybody’s gone through it, you know, Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about it, he was so angry.
U2 went through it, it happens to all of us. And, of course, you know, I was having this kind of epiphany moment and of course, hundred years comes on the radio. Yeah, I just pulled over started crying. And then, you know, I was depressed for a year, stop making music ran a marathon. That didn’t help. But I kind of had this thought and I thought about before is, I think that situation, doesn’t mean you stop creating. It just means that you got to change the field of play. You know, you know, athletes deal with this all the time, you know?
For them, their bodies tell them it’s over. But for for someone who is a product of radio, you know, they’re not going to play a 50 year old john ondrasik, no matter you know, it’s it’s just is what it is and, and so I kind of had had all these ideas and dreams and fantasies of creative things, you know, for the last 20 years, whether it was doing some work in television or Broadway, keynotes, Symphony shows, things outside of music, and all of a sudden, I had this time to do that.
And that’s what I did. I’m like, Alright, let’s be honest. You know, kiss FM is not gonna play my songs. But how about I create a television show, and I, it’s a music show where it needs original songs. Or I write a Broadway musical, or I take this thing I do with music and kind of talking and creativity. And I did a TED talk once and someone just asked me out of hand, and it went very well. I’m like, you know, I enjoy this.
It’s intellectually stimulating, I meet different people I learned about businesses. And as I said, there’s a bunch of stuff out of music that I have certain obligations to. So it took a while, but I think once I’m like, okay, I can still do this, there’s a reason to do this, not just for my own kind of ego, it was a better place. But yeah, I mean, once you have that kind of success, and it’s your childhood dream, and it’s very, it’s, you know, you know, it sounds kind of kind of snobby and shallow, but you miss it, you know, if you miss it, and you you love the idea that you are impacting millions of people and, and to have that stage and platform, your account, you know, I’m not gonna, you know, just rip off your brand, but we are only human, and we react emotionally.
And there’s a reason very few, you know, successful music artists are dread, I say the word happy. You know, because there’s always this expectation, and you’re always judging yourself against some, some buddy or some position. But after the year or so, when when Columbia dropped me, and you have some time, you’re able to sit back and go, Oh, my God, how lucky am I, I mean, how I how blessed am I, I was able to have my songs heard. And as a young songwriter, that’s all I ever wanted, just Just let me be heard.
If you judge me that you’re not into it, or I don’t move you that’s fine. You know, that’s all I can ask it to be heard. And I was heard and, you know, for a decade had had a lot of songs on the radio and was able to make five records. And to do this kind of later in life, considering the odds. It’s truly, you know, catching a falling star. And so once you get over the initial, like, wow, somebody rejected me or dropped me and you understand, it’s really just a pragmatic economic decision has nothing to do with you, then you’re like, wow, it’s amazing.
And, and that’s how I feel now, you know, I feel so blessed to have done it, to still do it. The fact that I do a show, someone still buys a ticket, the fact that people, you know, still listen to songs, and the fact that I’m still creating projects. You know, I found, you know, I found through this pandemic, that, you know, music also is incredibly cathartic for me and banging my piano at two in the morning, can help me get through some of the other challenges I’m facing in life, just like they did when I was 17. So that’s been a welcome. Refrain as well.
Yeah, I feel like music for me has always been, I always, it’s kind of cliche, I suppose. But I always call it the universal language, because I feel like no matter what spoken language you speak, or whether you can see or hear, it’s just, you know, there’s this ability for music to we can all feel the same thing or our own interpretation of that. So, as I mentioned, you know, I’m probably one of the folks you know, you mentioned high school and all that I was probably just starting high school when that album came out.
So a lot of my memories of your music is definitely in that time in my life, which is, which is awesome. What So, you know, it’s kind of interesting. Now, you know, you have I know you have two children, and they were, you know, young probably back then and they’re much older now has it been like, I have two children, they’re they’re younger, they’re just turned 10 and can be six. But even in the past decade, it’s completely changed my perspective on really everything.
And I can’t imagine like you said, you went through you know, so many years of working out the music and and kind of what you said later life got the success. I don’t remember exactly when your children were born, but I imagine now like watching them grow up and being a part of it. Just got me out. Almost like a whole new chapter of life has that kind of altered your perspective, I don’t know.
John Ondrasik 20:05
Well, you can hear it, you know, you can hear it my son Johnny was, was born. Christmas Eve 1999 my daughter was born two years later, we kind of had this incredible moment of my daughter being born, the week Superman went, number one was, you know, kind of, like, getting better this and, but you can kind of see, I actually had a record before America town called message for Albert. And you can kind of see the evolution of my songwriting. As I have children as they get older, you know, Superman.
You know, the hook is, it’s not easy to be me. So it was more about me. And before you have kids, and, you know, you tend to be a lot more selfish, not in a bad way. It’s just all you know, sure. But once once you have kids, it’s not about you, it’s about them, and the world they’re going to grow up in and you can particularly see, you know, on the on the, on the two lights record, where they were, like five and six.
That whole record was about my kids. And, and the world, you know, all of a sudden, instead of writing is not easy to be me, it’s like, what kind of world do you want, you know, the future that you’re gonna grow into? And, and I just love you, you know, song about my daughter? And so yeah, I mean, I’ve always been someone that just kind of writes where I am in life, for better or worse. And so the music really became about them and, you know, stepping back and, and, you know, as parents, you know, it’s not about just me and Carla, it’s, it’s the kids and, and so, so, yes, and my daughter being a songwriter, too, and, you know, now that she’s in school, studying the arts, you kind of vicariously live through through them.
And, and, but, but yeah, it’s, it’s certainly a different place. You know, having minor now 19 and my son will be 21 this year, which is big. Wow. But But, you know, every stage is great. I mean, you know, you love them, when they’re little that you’re loving when they’re, you know, your kids tend to six you love them when they’re going through puberty. And, you know, you’re loving when they’re becoming adults and are adults and, and all that goes with it. And they certainly creep into my songs. But again, it’s, it’s a blessing. And to see one of them go in the arts is scary. And so hopefully, I can help her navigate that.
I have to imagine that if you weren’t the sole influence, you were a major influence on her go into the arts. Do you think that’s the case? Or has she told you that?
John Ondrasik 22:51
I don’t know. I think I think, I hope not. Um, I think for that, I think you either have the passion or you don’t, you know, my mom was very smart. You know, my mom was a piano major from USC, more of a classical piano major, she saw I had kind of a knack for the piano, gave me the basics. And by the time I was 13, wanted to ride my skateboard or go play basketball with my friends, and wanted to quit, she’s like, yeah, quit, you know, cuz either you want to do it or you don’t by now.
And by then I’d kind of had the basics of piano and picked up guitar a little bit. And I started writing songs as my passion, not because my mom wanted me to, or it was going to be a career because nobody goes into the arts for a career. I mean, the odds are astronomical and you know, the career life if you get one a short and, and there’s all the rejection, but you know, my daughter, you know, by the time she was eight, she seemed wicked 17 times.
That’s not dad taking her she wants to go. And I do think they’re seeing kind of me and being backstage probably give them a little excitement and in a lower, but also, I think adds a pressure that maybe not be you know, helpful, and especially like young singing Oh, yeah, Hey, I just got to do this. And then I’ll be out, you know, on The Tonight Show, you know, and so, but again, now as we’ve talked about before, either you have the passion, you have the spine, you have the perseverance to power through it, or you don’t but I love that she has this passion for anything.
Because you need something to get out the eggs, whether it’s a punching bag, a piano, a pair attached shoes, a script, whatever it is, and so she has this and it’ll be with her the rest of her life. And you know whether she makes $1 at it, you know, who knows, but to be passionate about something at this age. I think it’s fantastic.
Yeah, that is fantastic. Wicked is such a I don’t know if you’re a fan, so I haven’t seen it 17 times but I’ve seen it quite a few myself and it’s one of the best.
John Ondrasik 25:00
Yeah, it’s it’s I’ve been I’ve been, you know, one of the one of the perks about doing this is, is you meet some of your idols and Stephen Schwartz who wrote wicked, also wrote Godspell and Pippin. But as a child Godspell was on my piano, you know, on my piano, and I played it thousand times. And turns out, you know, I ran into Stephen Schwartz, like Superman, and we ended up writing songs together worked on some musical collaborations.
And that, you know, that’s one of just the beautiful things of kind of having a song that people know is you kind of get to meet your heroes and have experiences and get to learn from the greats. And no, I love wicked and you know, talking about we’re talking about work ethic, you know, even someone like Steven, who’s, you know, one of the greatest musical writers in history, probably, I think he’s had more shows aired than anybody ever performances. But we were talking about that song, I’m Not That Girl from Wicked.
He rewrote that song seven times, you know, he said, not good enough to win the trash. nocturna throw in the trash. And that’s the shorts. And that was a good lesson to me of, you know, certain humility of, of artistry of, yeah, Eve, I don’t care what I’ve written before. This song isn’t good enough. So let’s go back to the drawing board. But, but no wicked. Wicked is fantastic. And, you know, working with Steven was one of the highlights of my career.
Oh, that’s amazing. Speaking of your family, I did not know that. You’re you had a family business. I was reading somewhere that shopping or you make like a wire, is it and it’s used in shopping carts. So if you’ve gone to Costco, we might have used the shopping carts.
John Ondrasik 26:44
Well, this is a timely time. You know, this is good time to ask me that question. Yes, precision wire products is a family business started in the 40s by my grandfather, Slovakia, back in the turn of the century, where wire artisans and were Slovakian and his father came over and had two brothers, they started a business called wire products that didn’t work. So my grandfather started precision wire products.
And he ran it 30 years very small business, maybe 30 employees down in South Central Los Angeles. My dad’s an interesting guy. He was an astrophysicist worked at JPL. And NASA, NASA in the 70s, kind of the Golden Age of space exploration worked on all the kind of Mariner Viking spacecrafts. And so he was kind of doing that. And then my grandfather passed away very quickly, in the 70s, and my dad kind of went from navigating unmanned spacecraft around the solar system to this down and dirty welding business in South Central and took it over and uses engineering skills to kind of not only redesign products, but the machines to make them and one of the products was shopping carts.
And, and it’s, I’ve worked there throughout my whole kind of whole career as a young kid work there a lot throughout my career, you know, kind of less, but always kind of fly on the wall to help. And this year has been a challenging year, because my dad is 82, he’s quarantined at home, and someone need to run the business. And so I’ve spent 24, seven, the last eight months precision wire, dealing with challenges I could never have imagined. And that’s, that’s, you know, that’s one reason coming home and banging the channel is kind of kept me, you know, alive.
But, you know, we have 300 employees and the economy and COVID and California. And it’s, it’s 300 people that depend on us. And so that’s been a challenge. I’ve I’ve never had my, my challenge has been the four musicians that depend on me and my band. And that was great. And but but this is different. But yes, if you do shop at Costco, you use the precision wire card that is by far the best shopping cart in the world.
I had no idea that you were you were helping this year, I mean, more than usual running it. That makes total sense. So if your dad’s kind of in the the folks that are more susceptible, has, I can’t imagine when you like kind of walked in there like, Alright, I need to sort of run this for the next couple of months. Where do you even begin? Because like you said, your your traditional kind of career and where you were more involved was totally different.
John Ondrasik 29:32
Yeah, you know, I’ve been working there again, you know, as he’s gotten older, he’s in amazing shape. But the last three years, I’ve been spending more time there, because we have to think about the transition. And it’s so hard to run any business in California, just with the nature of the climate here.
And my brother in law has been helping out my son Johnny, you know, the 20 year olds been working there and which has been fun, and so I’ve been spending some time, but certainly, you know, COVID is a whole Challenge, you know, as I said, we’re in East LA, which has been hit really hard by COVID, we have a lot of cases, some people very sick and trying to keep everybody healthy and trying to keep the business afloat. And, again, you know, some of these people I’ve worked with for 3040 years, you know, they’re kind of family members, and, you know, we’re gonna be fine.
But these folks, you know, you worry about their, you know, their financial future and security, and you want to make sure they have a job to come to. And so it’s been a certain pressure that’s, I’ve never felt for, you know, my dad still working at home, and I’m not doing this by myself. But I’ve also seen, you know, through the pandemic, you know, the silver linings of people standing up and showing character you never could have imagined, and you see, heroes pop up, and, you know, you see, you really see the good, bad, ugly of life.
And one thing I always loved about precision wire is, even when I was on top and had these hit songs and selling millions of records, I’d still go whenever I was home, and, and you walk in there, and it grounds you, it’s like, Okay, this is the real world, you know, people are making things, you know, people are working for 14 bucks an hour, it’s hot and sweaty, you know, businesses, you know, you got to, you got to do everything you can to survive.
And so it’s always been a really great grounding tool for me. So, and it’s also I feel, in a weird way, grateful that, you know, my parents, when I was a young man in my 20s, trying to survive in the music business or make it, they provided me this job and precision wire where I could make a living, pay my rent, and still go do every auditions every session, to try to have this dream come true. So, you know, at this point in my life to kind of, you know, return the favor to my dad, you know, for his legacy.
I feel kind of grateful for that. And, you know, I’m for all the people that I grew up working there, many of them, you know, that I worked with when I was 18 years old. So, it’s, it’s, you know, again, it’s, it’s, it’s kind of a melancholy thing, but it’s certainly different from, you know, sitting in a tour bus and go around the country and singing Superman every night.
That is so sweet, though, how it’s been like this kind of thread throughout your life. Sort of, like 100 years. I mean, it’s just been Yeah, yeah, verse. You know, that’s interesting. You mentioned your dad’s legacy. I’m always curious, I it’s not something I think about a lot. But I’m always curious what others think about, like, Do you ever think about like, what your legacy is? Or, you know what that might mean to you? It doesn’t have to necessarily mean like, around the world. But do you ever think about legacy?
John Ondrasik 32:47
You know, it’s a little different with me, I think, you know, it’s funny, a lot of people know my songs, but very few people know me, because of the fight for fighting brand. And, you know, I do this little thing in my keynotes. And I say, you know, how many people have heard Superman hundred years, a lot of people raise their hand and said, how many people you know, Spider Man five for fighting, much fewer raise their hand.
And then I say how many people know there’s no band five for fighting this this guy, john. And like, two people raise their hand and they’re usually family members. So there’s always been this disconnect between the music and me, which I think probably been healthy, just for my life. So I love the fact that my songs are still in the culture, and that there’s still graduations and people are playing hundred years or, you know, I still hear Superman.
You know, throughout the pandemic, I’ve been getting all these charity calls, you know, can you play, play Superman for our charity, or sing it out to the frontline workers at our hospital, and I love the fact that the song is, in a way, saluting the heroes of this crisis, just like it did in 911. So I’m grateful for that. I, you know, I just hope you know, that, you know, it’d be nice, you know, 20 years from now people still knew my songs or listen to my songs. I don’t obsess on it, or, you know, think that much about it.
But, you know, I’ve always admired the Songwriters whose songs stand the test of time, you know, the Beatles, James Taylor, elton john zeplin, the who go down the list. And I’ve always kind of look to them as my role models and the fact that you know, 20 years later, few people still hear my songs and some kids even though that’s, that’s, that’s, that’s something I’m grateful for.
Yeah, that’s, that’s got to be such a beautiful feeling that you have this tangible I wanna say asset, that’s a weird word, but this thing that’s out there that will just always be out there. I mean, long after we’re all gone like those songs will still be around in some form, and People will discover them and it’ll be a part of their chapter. And that’s, I don’t know, that just makes you smile. It’s gonna be very interesting.
John Ondrasik 35:08
That makes me smile too.
You mentioned before that you ran a marathon after a Columbia thing, and it didn’t help. But that doesn’t seem like an easy feat to just run a marathon. Were you a runner prior to that?
John Ondrasik 35:21
Oh, I was running some. You know, I, yeah, I’ve been a runner for a while. You know, a lot of running is to run away your pain. You know, we we look for escape. We look for escapes, you know, music as many people’s escape. Well, it wasn’t going to be for me, because that was bringing me my pain and sorrow were reminders of my, my poor state at the time.
So yeah, you kind of run away your pain, you exhaust yourself. And, you know, it was better than, you know, hitting the bottle. I figured, you know, so try, you know. So, yeah, but, again, I think it’s really just more you just know, when things happen and things and even if you know, in your heart, it’s actually better for you, or the best view, not that this for me, you know, any change is hard. And so yeah, you find a versions and, and, you know, try to process it as best you can. But, you know, a lot of that was just just run the pain away and get so tired that you don’t think about it when you go to sleep.
Have you done any marathon since that? Or was that a one time deal?
John Ondrasik 36:32
Hell no. I’m a half marathon guy that I’ve started swimming a lot, actually. Because swimming is supposedly the singers exercise. And as I have gotten older, and with a lot of the stresses and in precision wire and music, I’ve been swimming and maybe it’s just being underwater that you’re in another different world that can kind of Zen out your brain. But yeah, you know, it’s it’s some things get easier as you get older, and some things don’t. And, you know, we’re all kind of struggling wherever we are.
I try and swim. I’m a biker, but in the winter, yeah, swim. And I’ve always enjoyed swimming. Like you said it, there’s something about one, I think it’s very easy on the body. So it’s a great exercise no matter what. But I do think there’s something to like, when I go back and forth, I just you just zone out. Like it’s just, there’s no music or anything I just did to my head to zoning out into thinking about who knows what,
John Ondrasik 37:31
No, I’m with you, you know. And you don’t you know, for me, you know, running, I always listen to music and because I don’t really want to run two hours and not listen to music or anything but swimming and being underwater too. And it’s been very Zen for me and I kind of it’s the one time during the day, or I’m not thinking about decision wire stuff, or my music projects or you know, whatever, you know, whatever song I got to write and you need that you have to rest your brain.
You know, Superman is it’s funny, I I talked about Superman, a lesson I learned at the end of my keynotes. And it’s a funny story, because of the when Superman came out the record company, Columbia came to me and said, you know, something very odd is happening with your record that we’ve really never seen before. And they say, you know, adults, you know, you know, old people are buying your record. And I’m like, you know what, old people are buying my record or like yet people in their 30s are buying your record.
And I was like 37 at the time and and what they really meant is, you know, kids buy records, teenager buy records, and they’re like, why are all these old people 30s and 40s buying your record? And it took me a while to figure out and you know, over the last 20 years. You know, I’ve talked about people? I think I know why that it connected with adults.
Because Superman, in my Superman song doesn’t want to be Superman. What’s the first line you know, I can’t stand to fly. And who wouldn’t want to fly? I’d love to fly. But you know, in my song, Superman doesn’t want to be Superman. He doesn’t want to be everything for everybody. He doesn’t want to be the rock. And I think that’s because, you know, deep down, you know, we know that if, if we’re everything for everybody else, there may not be enough for ourselves.
And sometimes that’s hard to acknowledge when you’re either kind of the creative force or the economic force or the spiritual force, to admit that humanity and weakness and I think that innate humanity of Superman at the end of the day, we’re all human. It’s why Superman connected. I would always say that. But this year has really made me believe it because I’ve had to take some steps for my own personal well being considering these new challenges. Because if I crack and I end up in the hospital for two months, there’s really nobody else to kind of carry this load.
So you know, some of these things I’ve been preaching and these lessons that Superman have taught me about our innate humanity and the fact that we got to take care of ourselves first and then we can help other folks. I’m finally putting into practice so you know maybe that’s a silver lining or not, but but I’m even at this age 20 years later, you know, some of these things that that Superman has kind of meant to other people are coming home to roost for me.
That’s amazing. I found some silver linings to in this pandemic as odd as that sounds, but one of the things for me, is like just cliches it sounds like like focusing on the present. I think so often, we are just constantly pushing forward. Or sometimes I know it’s a weakness of mine, or at least they view it that way is like focusing also on like the past, like what I could have done or what I should have changed. So like, both ends of that, but never really thinking about like right now.
And this pandemic, at least for me, is kind of in some ways, just stopped us like, just stop right now. Do you ever? Have you ever felt like throughout your career that because imagine as you’re working and working and working? I mean, you’re just thinking about how do I get that next thing? How do I get on the right, you know, right, and all that? Did you ever feel like you weren’t quite in the present?
When you’re only got 100 years to live, right? Yeah, uh, you know, I would not have written hundred years without two little kids sitting on my lap. You know, there’s a few things that can ground you and focus you in the moment, but having little babies, that’ll do it, and I’m with you. I think a lot of us, you know, especially if you’re ambitious and trying to build something just like you are, you know, with your podcast. We’re either future tripping, or we’re dwelling on the past. What should have I done? What could have I done better? What?
Oh, we’re moving the goalposts. I made it here. But more I really need to get here. Yeah. So yeah, and I remember when when Olivia was born sitting there one day going, dude. You know, can you at least recognize what’s happening and appreciate it. Don’t just be, you know, so focused and obsessed with parlaying it to the next one, that you don’t you know, that you can’t be grateful for what’s happened here.
And a lot of these songs are posted notes to myself, because I don’t do this very well. And, and living in the moment appreciating the moment even when it’s bad, you know, even when things are bad. And we’ve seen a lot of bad the last, you know, eight months. But I agree with you, I think what the pandemic has done is it’s probably shifted our priorities, and reminded us what matters. I mean, who would have thought that we’d be incredibly excited and grateful and joyful to go have dinner with our family at our favorite restaurant, you know, little things that that a year ago, were so trivial, you know, I haven’t been able to hug my mom in eight months. Right?
You know, she’s 82. You know, when the pandemic hit, my daughter came home from school for, you know, supposedly two weeks, and she was home for five months, when we sat around the table and had conversations I thought we’d never have again, you know, so among the tragedy, and I’ve had friends who’ve died from covid struggle, a lot of position wire with folks, the economic just catastrophe. And, you know, certainly there’s so many folks struggling in ways we can never imagine. I do think it has reminded us that some of the big things are little things and some of the little things are the big things.
Oh, I share that so much. John, thank you so much for taking the time today in chatting and this has been fantastic. And just thank you.
My pleasure, Tim, I love what you’re doing. I’ve listened to some of your podcasts and they always make me smile and tear up a little bit. And I think in this day and age, it’s more important than ever to remember that you know that we are home human. We’re not perfect. We don’t know everything. We’re just trying to learn from ourselves and and get a little better every day and do the best we can.