A lot has happened with Ross Golan in the decade or so since he wrote “Stay Positive,” the first song in what would become his passion project-turned-concept album/musical, “The Wrong Man.” The big stuff:
■ Once a struggling indie-rocker, Golan has become a songwriter for A-listers such as (and the list could be longer) Justin Bieber, Maroon 5, Nicki Minaj, Lady Antebellum, Michael Bublé, Selena Gomez, Keith Urban, Ariana Grande, One Direction, Nelly, Demi Lovato, Jason Derulo, Meghan Trainor, Snoop Dogg and Andy Grammer — tunes that have added up to millions in sales.
■ And he’s an activist who was integral in last year’s passage of the Music Modernization Act, legislation that was a big first step in updating copyright laws protecting songwriters.
As for Duran — the protagonist in “The Wrong Man” — he’s still on death row, wrongly convicted for shooting a man in Reno.
Duran’s heartrending tale will be told in the 16-track concept album “The Wrong Man,” produced by Ricky Reed and out July 26 via Interscope. And come October, the story will blossom into a full-cast musical debuting at New York’s MCC Theater. It’s directed by Tommy Kail and gets musical direction by Alex Lacamoire, both of whom won Tony Awards for “Hamilton.” (There is also an hour-long animated film adaptation in the works.)
The evolution of “The Wrong Man” is as remarkable as the story itself. Golan, who hails from the Chicago suburbs and graduated from USC, released an overlooked album as Ross Golan & Molehead in 2004. He struggled in the years that followed, but by 2008 he was fronting the promising band Glacier Hiking, who released one EP before disbanding in 2011.
After the demise of the band, Golan expanded the concept of an ill-fated man on death row into a song cycle, walking listeners through how Duran’s harmless night at a bar turned into a one-night stand, then into a grisly revenge murder and a frame job. Golan workshopped the songs at living room shows, adding one or two at a time, until the thread of an album existed. In 2014, a small-scale theatrical production of “The Wrong Man” was staged at Los Feliz’s Skylight Theatre and won local awards.
The common denominator throughout the project’s evolution is Golan’s songwriting: He has a folk singer’s feel for song space, a rapper’s sense of often-dazzling wordplay and pop star’s penchant for delivering big, shiny choruses. In short, he is not an in-demand songwriter for nothing. Oh, and he still sings like an emo kid.
Today brought the arrival of the album’s first single, “Stay Positive.” In the context of Duran’s story, it’s easily relatable, but it works as a rallying cry for anyone in oppressive circumstances. It’s not hard to imagine Golan, back in the day, struggling to pay bills and with his condo in foreclosure, writing this one for himself.
||| Stream: “Stay Positive”