Hootie & the Blowfish: Yet Another Worship Temple

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Soni Gives You The Drum
Paul Cashmere

Who would have thought that a band that called themselves The Blowfish could have ever envisgaed their name at the top of an album chart.

Jim Sonefeld says thats exactly right. They were ahppy playing for some extra weekend cash.

But that all changed when their debut album Cracked Rear View went on to sell 15 million albums in the USA.

It's now America's 16th biggest seller of all time.

Regardless, the Hootie guys remain average guys.

We get the drum of Jim Sonefeld.

PC: Tell me about the movie and the first time you saw that famous line "are you Hootie"?

JS: Somebody of course tipped me off before hand so it wasn't very spontaneous. It was one of things where you hear the line and you pinch yourself. You think, wow, we are not so much a great album selling band. This is like a cultural or some sort of phenonomal thing here where you are set in culture as well as just selling CD's. There have been instances like Jerry McGuire or TV shows, cartoons or comic strips where your name is there but wow, there is something really weird happening here. But that's OK, it's a good thing. We are part of a whole culture.

PC: There are various benchmarks to fame and I imagine being mentioned in a Tom Cruise movie would be one of them.

JS: That's one of them and being in a elevator and hearing yourself on muzak is another one of my indications that we reached a very high goal and achievement. It's like, we are on muzak, we have done something spectacular. It's all the rage. You can guarantee you will hears Guns N Roses on music as well, and go, this is a bad version.

PC: When did Hootie actually become aware of your success?

JS: We started messing around in '89. Our debut internationally didn't come until 1994. It was late '94 where things started steam-rolling. We knew then it was getting big and was really steam-rolling. '94, 95, 96 we started going international and around that time we started to realise this was something really big. Let's ride the wave and try and control it as much as we can. It was that era when knew we could take it past the millennium and be a band that was known for more than a few good albums.

PC: I would imagine that any group of guys who get together and call themselves The Blowfish could never have foreseen this type of success.

JS: There's a lot of insight you have there for thinking if they named the band Hootie and the Blowfish, they must not be very serious. It's true. Really, back when you are playing the college bars and the fraternity bars, you are just thinking wow, this is really good extra cash for the weekends. Although we dreamed of having something past that, you never thought it was going to happen to you.

PC: Let's get backed to the Cracked album here. 15 million it ticks over, what did that do to the bands egos individually?

JS: It makes you think that this is a huge thing but also in the same sense, it makes you realise that it doesn't happen because you've done something spectacular necessarily. There are concerns and forces outside of your pure talent that is causing this. Any band that hopefully goes through this will realise that timing is a large part of the equation and good timing. Yeah, I think we had good songs and talented voices, blah blah blah but there are things you can't control. The fact that when it became a huge hit keeps us in control a little bit. And we keep each other in check. We didn't have one person going off on a binge thinking oh my god, we are the greatest. We wouldn't let that happen to each other. We are close friends and we have travelled through the lowest times of all. Just cause times get very good, that's the last thing that's going to bring us down.

PC: Did that huge success take the heat off the next two recording sessions. You must have known that topping 15 million could never happen again, so I guess you could just go in and be yourselves.

JS: You could get caught up convincing yourself that "my god, we can do that again" or sell ten more million. We had enough friends in the business telling us that that's unbelievable, but don't set your hopes too high, just enjoy doing what you are doing. Now that you've got a basis, a format to make 10 more albums people are going to listen because of what we did with "Cracked Rear View". We've used that to write further songs for us and keep doing something for us and we realise it's going to level off at sometime and have it's ups and downs. It's our third album and we don't love "Cracked Rear View" any more than this album that we've just written because they each have their time and their time in time. We are here now and writing songs and albums that make us happy. That's all you can do at this point. The critics are going to say what they say. They are going to say "oh they sold this many and now they are nothing". You can't listen to that. That didn't get us to the top and it's not going to bring us down.

PC: You've got something in common with Michael Jackson from that point of you. When his follow-up to Thriller only sold 10 million, critics called it a failure.

JS: Yeah, you will never be able to convince us that 3 million sales of "Fairweather Johnson" was a failure. That stamp will be on there for a long time. People think if you've done something up here and now you are down here, then all of a sudden it's a failure. We are not going to base our success on some numeral.

PC: Why did the success of Hootie happen. It happened at the peak of the grunge movement and you don't exactly look like Spice Girls?

JS: I've tried some hair dyes but they didn't work out. I was known as Mahogany Spice for a little while. Timing is a large part of anyone's success. Yeah, it was at a time when grunge was flourishing and the sort of depressing heavy feeling was in a lot of pop music. At that time we bought something very different to the table. In the same way Grunge became popular for what it is, we became popular because we were something different than Grunge. Hopefully, that flavour will last through a long period and we won't just be the flavour of the day. What we are trying to do know is make sure it wasn't some fluke.

PC: Let's get onto the movies. Only Lonely is in one movie (Message In A Bottle) but it was written for another one.

JS: We had our eyes just so set on this big movie called "You've Got Mail" with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. We had written the song mainly based on the script. It didn't work out. They decided they wanted some more traditional songs on the soundtrack and we were pretty bummed out about it. But as it turns out, there's another movie around the corner that we feel is also a great movie with Kevin Costner. I think the theme of writing a song about love and loneliness can transcend many different movies. So we were lucky enough to have a similar script (with Message In A Bottle) that we could plug it into. I think it worked out. It fits the movie. I don't feel like we have sold out in the least bit. It just turned up on a different soundtrack and no-one knew the difference.

PC: How dare Tom Hanks dump Hootie and the Blowfish for Jimmy Durante.

JS: I don't know. Jimmy's not a bad guy to be dumped for.

PC: Musical Chairs. Explain the significance of the title?

JS: We were messing around with a lot of extra songs for the sessions. Mark had what we call a ditty, that's any song less than two minutes long and it had a bunch of starts and stops. It didn't really have lyrics. It sounded something you would play musical chairs too, the old kids game. Nothing was really considered much for the album title but when we were getting ready to name the album at the last minute, we had no other ideas. They called me at home in South Carolina and they said what do you think of this idea "Musical Chairs" and we all said "That's nice". It kind of fits. Even though we didn't plan it we can make it fit.

PC: Don Gehman, your producer is almost like one of the band now.

JS: He actually adds enough to it. I call him the fifth Hootie. Don adds spectacular experience. He knows how to make a hit record and a hit single. He sorts out what is four different songwriters trying to get together in one studio and create one little work of art. He does a really good job of juggling the personalities and the music. We are all working just trying to make a hit single in the end. We hope to have him around for a long time.

PC: Musical Chairs has a lot of diversity. Everything from rock to country.

JS: We decided in pre-production that all the styles that we've dabbled in, we wanted to make them shine. Country was one of them, a little R&B, Bluegrass. Styles that influenced us in the past but in the past we were afraid to go out and let it show. We said, when Darius sings, they know it's Hootie and the Blowfish. With him singing, they know it's Hootie.

PC: The shows are becoming legendary - three hour shows!. How do you fill a set like that?

JS: You never plan it going out. You are at the two hour mark and you feel like you are just starting to get rolling. Sometimes the audience is a little late coming on and really after all these years of playing covers and having three albums, the material we have to draw on is pretty big. Two and a half hour shows is not out of the question. For us, it doesn't seem difficult to achieve. I think people look at it and go woo, but at the show, it just flys by.

PC: You have some very unusual covers. Tell us about this Stone Temple Pilots fixation?

JS: We were a cover band once and we didn't forget anything. We enjoy doing songs we love and maybe the audience will get off on to. Sometimes, in certain markets, some songs work and in other places they look at you like "what the hell is this". We've played STP before in parts of Europe where they look at us like "what the hell are they on". But it works here.

PC: You once said after you take songs out of the studio and start performing them live, you start to notice things you should have done in the studio. Give me an example of that?

JS: I think "I Will Wait" is a current example of that. We've found ourselves really rocking it up on this tour. We listen back to the CD and it feels like we were on Valium or something, like why did we record it so slow. It feels so much more energetic when we speed it up a bit. A song like that only after less than a year out of the box, we feel like we wish we played it a lot faster. But you never regret doing something, but you always look at something differently when you discover something new about a song.

PC: And what do Hootie and Monica Lewinsky have in common? You have both been Bill FUND raisers.

JS: We both blow. We're both supporters of the Democratic process in the States. We've tried to do it less on a political ground and rather than on just supporting a way of thinking. We had a few offers to do some fund raisers and we've done them over the course of four years, starting back in '94. It's always fun. You get a photo op with the President and no we didn't see Monica at the last one but she's been on TV every minute since, so we see her everyday.

PC: So Bill's a fan?

JS: Yeah, he is. He's a fan. We've never got to jam with him. I thought he'd bring out the sax sometime but it's just been him watching and hanging out. It's one of those things that you get a good picture and you can tell your grandkids. Here's a picture of me and the guy who almost got impeached.

PC: And you are also one of Dave Letterman's favourite bands.

JS: We've had big support from David. He had one of our breaking moments when we could actually sell the record sales increase from that day that we played that show. It was probably about three months after "Cracked Rear View" came out but he has supported us every single since then. It's about 8 or 10 times we've been on there.

Hootie's latest album "Musical Chairs" is out now through Warners.

Hootie & the Blowfish: Yet Another Worship Temple
Maintained by: Jonathan R. Sammy