Gilbert High School graduate Ricky Woolstenhulme Jr. could be his hometown’s biggest fan.
The drummer for the multiplatinum band Lifehouse spent years away from the East Valley, living in California, until recently when he returned to Gilbert after 20 years in Los Angeles.
“It’s super-awesome,” Woolstenhulme says during an interview at Coffee Rush in Gilbert. “I’m a fan. I literally live a mile from my high school.”
Woolstenhulme and his bandmates – singer/guitarist Jason Wade and bassist/vocalist Bryce Soderberg – are coming to the Valley on Friday, September 20, at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino in Maricopa.
The tour supports 2017’s “Lifehouse: Greatest Hits.” The 18-track album includes a variety of hits, “You and Me,” “First Time,” “Halfway Gone,” “Hurricane” and “Hanging by a Moment,” which was the most-played radio track of 2001. Since 2000, Lifehouse has released seven albums that have, together, sold 15 million units around the world.
Lifehouse’s musicians are doing one-off dates so they may focus on their side projects. Woolstenhulme is working with John Alagia, who produced John Mayor’s “Room for Squares.” Wade releases singles frequently, in lieu of an album.
When Woolstenhulme returned to Gilbert, he built a studio in his basement so he can record his own tunes.
“I record my own stuff all the time at home, but a lot of the time, I get an idea or two and I can never finish them. It’s frustrating,” he says. “I’m a drummer by trade, so I have some amazing drum tracks and then a couple ideas on my Fender Rhodes. If I can’t finish it, I can’t finish it. Then it’s just a weird snippet of an idea. Maybe I should write video game music so I can just record a four-bar phrase.”
Still, he can’t believe Lifehouse is still going strong.
“I never imagined I’d be here, with the same guys for 20 years and we actually don’t hate each other. We all still get along,” he says.
“Jason and I have been together in the band 20 years almost, and we still love each other.”
Regifting of sorts
Growing up, Woolstenhulme played baseball, football and participated in theater.
“My parents bought my brother a drum kit,” he says with a laugh about a time when he was 8. “I just started playing it even before my brother did. That was pretty much it.”
After graduating Gilbert High in the late 1990s, Woolstenhulme moved west for the Los Angeles Music Academy. That’s where he met Wade and Sergio Andrade, the original bass player. Soon, they were on the road with Pearl Jam.
“We all grew up loving Pearl Jam, but I think we sounded terrible live at that point,” he says with a laugh. “We were so young. ‘Hanging by a Moment’ was just then on the radio.
“We’ve been making records and touring the world since. And we’re still able to do it currently.”
Woolstenhulme admitted he’s amazed at his band’s success. He loves to hear stories from fans about how Lifehouse’s songs have moved them, or that “You and Me” was their wedding song.
“The goal is to be able to make music that somehow connects with people,” he says. “Luckily, we have a handful of songs that make that thing happen. We’re very, very fortunate and happy that we do this for a living. It’s definitely a blast and we’re having a great time doing it.”
Woolstenhulme has thought about life beyond Lifehouse, however. His wife, Jen Hagio, is a musician who cowrote songs on Michelle Branch’s “The Spirit Room” album. A former Sedona resident, Branch introduced the two at The Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood before the two acts toured together.
“She (Michelle Branch) opened for us on our first headlining club tour,” he says. “My wife was out on the road with us for three or four months.
“She and my wife were best friends since they were little. There was a time when my wife was more successful than I was in the beginning. She’s always been supportive.”
She’s also into his plans to open a cocktail bar with a small menu in Gilbert.
“Gilbert is my favorite,” he adds. “I was so surprised when I moved back. When I left, it was all farmland. When I moved back, I was like, ‘Wow.’ Downtown Gilbert has transformed, and so many cool things are going on.”
When he’s not on tour, he’s honing his F&B chops with James Johnston at Fire & Brimstone at Barnone.
“I figured if I was going to open a spot, I should learn from the best,” he says. “Just being a cook at home is one thing, but doing it on a grand scale is definitely different. It’s an amazing experience. James is great for letting this rock drummer come in and cut stuff.”
Woolstenhulme says a new Lifehouse album may be on the horizon.
“It’s like gold mining,” he says. “You could write 50 songs and record 50 songs and still not have what you think what you have is great.”
Woolstenhulme sees the Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino show as a homecoming.
“I’ve reconnected with a whole bunch of people from high school,” he says. “So, I’m sure a lot of people will end up in my house after that. That’s fun, though.”
Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino, 15406 N. Maricopa Road, Maricopa, caesars.com/harrahs/ak-chin, 8 p.m. Friday, September 20, tickets start at $34.50.