INTERVIEW: Sister Hazel

Answered by Ken Block

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

We’ve been great! The Hazel train keeps rollin’ along and still having a blast.

Can you tell us more about the story behind “We got it all tonight”?

Everyone liked the song a lot – even just as a rough demo. But we all got really excited about it once we got into full band rehearsals and started working it up to play live. It just came alive and felt like a Sister Hazel song from the first time we played it.  We had written and brought in over 70 songs for this new record.  After sifting through a ton of songs “We Got It All Tonight” really brought a straightforward, fun, sing-along, vibe that we were all drawn to.  We also liked how lyrically it’s a pretty simple story that focuses on just needing each other and the simpler things to have a good time – not just shiny objects. money, or the club scene..  Mindless fun.. It really rounded out the CD.

The single comes off your album Lighter In The Dark – why taking so long on releasing this material?

Year in and year out we have all been super focused on writing, touring, and keeping our fan events and experiences growing and thriving. Recording took a little more time to get to than we thought it would – in fact, I think it took us longer than we realized – but in the end, I think we crafted and picked the songs we wanted and made the record we were hoping for to make.  We’re PUMPED about getting this new music out!

 After being an Alternative Rock band for so long – what drew you to make a country album.

Well, I think for us people have used the term “Alternative” Rock band because we’ve never been a straight-up rock band  – and certainly never a heavy rock band. We’ve always had elements of rock, country, southern rock, southern pop, and even folk music on every record we’ve ever made. We grew up in Gainesville Florida about an hour south of the Georgia border so I like to call what we play “Florida Music” because it brings together all of those influences. I think country music fans today have a great appreciation for that..  Big harmonies, storytelling, slide guitar, and big hooks.  I think the Rock world has gotten somewhat narrower over the years and the country world had appreciated casting a wider net. I feel like we made a Sister Hazel Record and today what that means is a country album more than any other genre.

 What other genres did you have in mind or was country the first choice? 

We just set out to make a great SIster Hazel record.  One that we all liked, that we were all proud of, and one that we were excited to bring to the fans.  We didn’t really concern ourselves with labeling it so specifically.  But once it was finished and as it was coming together everyone from inside and outside the band agreed that country was the most natural home for it.  That’s fun for us because we have so much respect for the people and the artists in Nashville that we’ve gotten to know and work with over the last 10 years while writing and recording our last 5 CDs that the energy around the project has exploded.  It’s also exciting because as we’ve been playing to new audiences – our lifelong mission of “Fans First” is really embraced at every level of the country world.  This is already a blast!

 What’s the story behind the title?

It’s a line from a song on the CD called called “Something To Believe In” that goes “Just a kid from Gainesville watching Petty with my – Lighter In The Dark”….  That was us!  Kids growing up in Gainesville Florida who got to dream from the audience watching our hometown hero Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers on stage – and then go on to become the SECOND biggest band from Gainesville. It’s a distant second, but cool nonetheless.

How was the recording and writing Process?

The writing was awesome.  Everyone contributed and we had a ton of songs to pick from.  We wrote together.  We wrote alone.  We wrote a bunch of co-writes with some of our favorite writers in Nashville. We’ve been so fortunate to work with some amazing writers over the last decade in Nashville and I think it’s help us grow and evolve.  Nashville is the ivy league of songwriters and we feel blessed to have gotten close with so many over the years.

The recording was a great experience as well.. We let our buddy and producer/engineer Chip Matthews steer the ship and he did a great job on every level.  Something about this record that is different than previous ones is that typically I sing lead vocals on all but maybe one track – and Drew will sing that one.  But on this one Drew sings – a few which turned out great.. But even cooler is that our bass player Jett Beres and our lead guitar player Ryan Newell each sing lead on one track each for the first time in our 20-plus years.  They all did a killer job and people are gonna love it. It adds some cool new textures to the record.

What was it like to work with Chip Matthews and how did that relationship develop?

We met chip when he engineered a track we were recording that Richard Marx was producing called “Meet Me In The Memory” on our “Absolutely” CD in 2005.  It was out at Dark Horse Studios in Franklin, TN and Chip have worked on everything we’ve ever put out since then.  That tells you how great it is to work with him.  He’s our guy!!

 How Much did he influence the record?    

He Influenced it a ton!  We actually have co-produced with him in the past. But this time we said, “you’re the Captain of the ship”.  We really let him have control (as much as we are capable of doing that) and let him guide us, and push us to come up with new parts and even new harmony lines.  The guys is really talented. We know what we get when we do what we’ve always done but we wanted Chip to push us and to have his own new unique vision for what this record could be and to shape the sound in a fresh way to help us continue to grow and evolve as a band.  I cannot say enough good things about Chip Matthews!

So this is a personal record? Are all the songs based on your struggles and experiences as a band?

Our songs always are snapshots of our lives and stories that we craft from our experiences.  They have to be honest or worthless…

Any plans to hit the road?

We are always on the road! And with the new record out we’ll be coming to a town near you real soon!

 What else is happening next in Sister Hazel’s world? 

We’ve all got great families and great kids and doing that right is a top priority for all of us..   So between all the touring and all of our family responsibilities we manage to still have a LOT going on..

16 years ago we co-founded and started hosting “THE ROCK BOAT” as a thank you to the fans who took us from a van and Trailer to our first platinum record.  This January we head out with 25 other bands on The Rock Boat XVI for another sold-out festival at sea!

Then in June, we host our other fan center event in South Carolina, the “HAZELNUT HANG #11” where we have 3 days on the beach with the Hazelnuts and we take over one of our favorite clubs venues in the south – The Windjammer…

We’re also making plans for Camp Hazelnut II next fall.  This past fall we launched the first annual Camp Hazelnut where we hosted a weekend at a summer camp with a mix of fans (Hazelnuts) and kids & families from the Children’s Cancer Center for a weekend of music, water sports, games, art, campfires, s’mores, ropes course, archery, songwriting workshops and so much more – a true summer camp experience hosted by the Hazel boys!  It grew from our Lyrics for life Children’s cancer charity and was a huge hit this year…

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