Melanie Mae Williamson

Can One Man Change the World: An Interview with Five For Fighting

Melanie Mae Williamson
Jun 27, 2024
7 min read

John Ondrasik, better known by his stage name Five For Fighting, has been around for over two decades. John is a Grammy-nominated, platinum-selling singer-songwriter, as well as a philanthropist, husband, and father. I recently had the opportunity to chat with John about his influences, inspirations, projects, upcoming tours, and more!

MSM: Who were your influences when you were first learning to play the piano?

John: Wow. Well, I'm going to sound very old right now, but the memories I have are ACH songbook, which I loved, and certainly the Beatles songbook. And, as I got a little older, David Gates from Bread and then, of course, Billy Joel and Elton John being the piano player. And also, I was really into Broadway. I played Steven Schwartz's Godspell all the time, which was pretty cool because 30 years after that I got to write some songs with him, so that was a treat as well.

MSM: Yeah. So, what has kept you creatively motivated and inspired for the last two decades?

John: That's a good question. It's changed a little bit. You can kind of see through my albums when I had children, the Two Lights record was all about kids. "100 Years" was really starting that, going from a single guy to a married man. And then my kids grew up and my songs tended to be more about the world in general instead of about me. So, I think you really see that through the progression of my career. And then more lately, songs that relate to what's going on in the world. "Blood on my Hands" about Afghanistan, "Can One Man Save the World" about the Ukraine. And then, of course, the recent song about Israel. So, I'm kind of in a place in my life and career where I don't sit down and try to write a song to have a hit on the radio. I've been blessed to do that, but it's a different time. So, it's really about what do I see that makes me want to sit down and say something or say something to speak for some folks who are not heard, like our Afghan veterans and now, for so many Jewish people.

MSM: So, speaking of your hit, so it's been 24 years since "Superman" was released and, with how music has evolved over the years, if you were to sit down and rewrite the song or rerecord it, what changes would you make today?

John: To be honest with you, I couldn't write that song today, the whole "it's not easy to be me" thing. Certainly, when I wrote the song and I was a frustrated young songwriter wanting to be heard but hitting the wall in the music business, you understand why someone could write that song. But since then, I've met people who face real challenges. I mean, I work with Gold Star families in our military. I was talking to hostage families in Israel a couple months ago. I work with ALS patients. So, when you meet people going through those challenges, you realize that for most people, it's pretty easy to be most of us. So, I don't think I could write that song today, though. It's still very special every night when I play it. Obviously, though, with the concert for New York and what "Superman" meant after 9/11, it still resonates in many ways, even more now than it did 24 years ago, which is surreal, to say the least.

MSM: Yeah. So, you are involved in multiple charity efforts, and you have a website called What Kind of World Do You Want. What can you tell me about the website?

John: Yeah, I had a song called "World" with the hook, "what kind of world do you want?" to the song. And we would fund charities that were important to me, like military charities, an ALS charity, and autism charities. And we've continued doing that whether through the What Kind of World Do You Want website, or we just wrapped up the Music Matters challenge for music in the schools to a song called "Let Music Build My World". So, it's just a way to kind of use these songs to pay it forward and people love creating their own covers and let people be artistic and support some great causes along the way.

MSM: Yeah, that's a great project.

John: Thank you.

MSM: So, you have a few tours coming up. You have one with an all-star roster of musicians and one with a string quartet. What would you say you're most excited about?

John: Who's your favorite child? *laughs* The great thing is doing this rotation of string quartet, very intimate, storytelling shows with these world-class Broadway players able to play songs of mine that I wouldn't play with the rock band because of these amazing string arrangements that composers have written for me to do that. And then, to go out on the summer rock tour and play for big audiences outside again with these elite rockstar players, it keeps everything fresh. It's so much fun. And when you're done with one, you're excited for the next. And also, all the musicians I play with, the music's great. It's great to go out and play, but they're also my second family, and we have so much fun. The days have changed on the rock and roll buses where instead of beer and pizza, it's health shakes and Tylenol, but it's all good and we just have a blast.

MSM: *laughs* So, what musicians do you admire most, and why?

John: Oh boy. Well, I'm a huge fan of the great singers. I kind of grew up singing classically and the Freddie Mercurys of the world, the Steve Perrys of the world. I'm always in awe of the great vocalists, but I'm also a child of the seventies. So, the great singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, I could go down the list. Bob Dylan, the poet. So, I tend to be somebody who goes back to that golden age and tries to find inspiration. And I think for most of us, the music that we loved as teenagers and young adults is what sticks with us the rest of our lives, and that's the same with me.

MSM: Yeah. How would you define success? And do you think you've reached that?

John: That's a very long answer. I think if you would've told me 25 years ago that I would be able to still go tour and sell a ticket and have people sing my songs back to me, I certainly would've defined that as success. Also, seeing these latest songs that have had no spins on the radio have a global impact. I'm humbled by that but, as an artist and a competitive person, you're always hoping that your best work is still ahead of you. So certainly I've lived my childhood dream, my childhood passion. I'm very grateful for that. But I certainly think I have more to offer.

MSM: Yeah, definitely. What is your motto or some good advice that you live by?

John: Well, there is a bumper sticker on my piano that says, am I alone in this? Not sure what that means, but that is on my piano. But I also try to be grateful for what I have- not just in music, but in life. And I think the happy people I know are grateful for what they have. And some of them don't have a lot of means. And happiness, I think is an attitude and be grateful for what you do have. I do these KeyNote speeches and I talk about what kind of world you want and mottos like that. And perhaps, perhaps for me, it's like a song title to be grateful for what you have is what is most important. So, I keep trying to tell myself that and live by that motto.

MSM: Yeah, absolutely. So, what are you currently listening to these days?

John: Well, let's see, I have kids so I'm listening to my daughter Olivia, who is a young 24-year-old singer-songwriter who just graduated from school. She's kind of living what I lived 30-40 years ago. That's exciting as a proud daddy, but I'm a classic rock guy. When I go running, it's Zeppelin, it's Queen, it's AC/DC, it's REO Speedwagon. It's all of that stuff that I listened to when I was 19. So, it's Tommy, The Who?, The Beatles, The Stones, and all of those greats.

MSM: Yeah. That is about all I have for you, but is there anything else that you'd like to share with your fans?

John: No, just that I look forward to seeing everybody. It's a family show. We always do a song that recognizes our troops and our military families. So, there's something for everybody, and it's going to be a lot of fun. And Melanie, if you ever happen to be near a show, we'd love to have you as our guest.



Thursday, July 11 Hot Summer Nights Concert Series @ Municipal Lawn in Sherman, TX (Free Show)

Saturday, July 27 @ Mystic Lake Casino, Mystic Amphitheater in Prior Lake, MN (Free Show)

Tuesday, August 6 @ Ardmore Music Hall in Ardmore.PA

Thursday, August 8 @ Electric City in Buffalo, NY

Friday, August 9, 2024 @ House of Blues, Cambridge Room in Cleveland, OH

Saturday, August 10, 2024 @ St. Andrew's Hall in Detroit, MI

Sunday, August 11, 2024 @ Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, MI

Tuesday, August 13, 2024 @ Lincoln Theatre in Washington, DC

Wednesday, August 14, 2024 @ Oceanfront Concerts Series, 24th Street Park in Virginia Beach, VA

Friday, August 16, 2024 @ Cabot Theater in Beverly, MA

Saturday, August 17, 2024 @ The Wolf Den At Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT (Free Show)

Sunday, August 18, 2024 @ Tarrytown Music Hall in Tarrytown, NY

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