Singer-songwriter John Ondrasik is best known for piano-driven pop hits like “100 Years” and “Superman (It’s Not Easy),” in which he insisted that “even heroes have the right to bleed.”
It’s only fitting that he named Five for Fighting after the hockey penalty box, making him the perfect guy to weigh in on whether the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin can break Wayne Gretzky’s all-time NHL goals record.
“If you would have asked anybody three or four years ago, they would have said, ‘No way,’ but I think he’s going to do it,” Ondrasik told WTOP. “The dude is just strong, he doesn’t get hurt, he’s ageless, you can just put him on the power play and he’s going to score you 30 goals just sitting on the corner wing. … I’m excited for him and Caps fans. I was so excited to see him get a ring and be passed out in a fountain drinking out of the [Stanley] Cup.”
Next week, Five for Fighting cross-checks The Anthem at The Wharf in D.C. on Wednesday, July 5.
“We’re opening for the Barenaked Ladies, so it’s going to be more of a party show,” Ondrasik said. “Of course, being in D.C. the day after the Fourth of July, we’ll certainly play a song that recognizes our troops and our military families, so it should be a lot of fun. We’ll play ‘Superman,’ we’ll play ‘100 Years,’ there’s something for everybody. The guys are really excited. It’s always special to be in the capital of our country, and we’re raring to go.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1965, Ondrasik grew up playing the piano at a young age.
“Mom was a piano teacher, so she started me very young, 2 years old on the piano,” Ondrasik said. “My dad was actually an astrophysicist at NASA, so I had these two parts of my brain going on as a child. … I always found myself as this lover of pop music — the Billy Joels, Elton Johns, Joni Mitchells — but I loved classic rock — Led Zeppelin, The Who, AC/DC — and the great singers, of course — Steve Perry from Journey, Freddie Mercury from Queen.”
Soon, he found Steve Perry’s vocal teacher to train him operatically, then experimented with glam metal and arena rock before his debut album “Message for Albert” (1997). In 1995, he signed with EMI Records, who asked him to pick a catchy band name. He chose the phrase “Five for Fighting,” a hockey term for a trip to the penalty box.
“They came to me and said, ‘We want a band name … the singer-songwriter is dead,'” Ondrasik said. “I had just come from a hockey game. Caps fans will remember Marty McSorley, Wayne Gretzky’s bodyguard, he got in a fight that day. I spit out, ‘Five for Fighting,’ expecting them to hate it. They said, ‘We love it!’ I said, ‘You’re nuts! It sounds like we’re opening for Metallica.’ … I just want a band called Two for Hooking, so they can open up for us.”
Sporting a new name, Ondrasik recorded his hit second album, “America Town” (2000), featuring the Grammy-nominated hit “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” with the melancholic lyric, “I’m more than a bird, I’m more than a plane.”
“When I first wrote it, I frankly didn’t think it was for me,” Ondrasik said. “You take an iconic symbol and twist it. I think so many people try to be the rock for everybody, to be the hero in every aspect of their lives and sometimes they forget about taking care of themselves. That’s why ‘Superman’ resonated. … It speaks to our basic humanity. At the end of the day, we’re just human. We’d love to be Superman, we’d love to fly but we do the best we can.”
His third album, “The Battle for Everything” (2004), went platinum thanks to the Grammy-nominated hit “100 Years,” beautifully taking listeners on a journey through a life cycle with the lyrics, “Fifteen there’s still time for you.”
“It was actually really hard to follow up ‘Superman,'” Ondrasik said. “How do you follow that song? It had become like a song for 9/11. A lot of young songwriters try to regurgitate their hit, they write the same song again, and I was struggling finding the concept and a song that could follow ‘Superman’ but stand on its own. It took me a few years, but it came from the cliché: ‘appreciate the moment.’ That’s what ‘100 Years’ is really about.”
No matter how many albums he records — from “Two Lights” (2006) to “Slice” (2009) to “Bookmarks” (2013) — Ondrasik remains in awe of the art of songwriting and the quest to capture a creative spark when it arrives.
“I wish I was Elton John or Paul McCartney and every day I could write a standard, but most of us can’t,” Ondrasik said. “These bursts come when you’re least expecting it. You have to recognize them and take the time to write it down. … A lot of songs of mine that weren’t hit songs are more important to me. That’s just the nature of songwriting. Some folks, all they know about Five for Fighting is the song ‘Chances’ from “The Blind Side.'”