Fairweather Days For Hootie Music
Okay, I know every last one of you holding this Music Monitor has heard Hootie and the Blowfish. If not, you're either a serious contender as a Unabomber suspect or way too hip for your own good. Hootie, a little bar band from South Carolina, passed from rock band to cultural phenomenon about 18 months and 10 million albums ago. Love them or hate them, you cannot escape them. When we put them on the cover of The Music Monitor two years ago, they were thrilled. Now that they're the most recognizable band in the land, they're returning the favor. That's the kind of guys they are.
They may not be pushing any musical boundaries, but then they don't claim to. When Darius Rucker and Dean Felber spoke to me from New York in March, I found two nice, humble guys, well aware of their good fortune. It may be easy for people who want to be challenged by their music to dismiss Hootie. But they are the ultimate fix for lovers of good-time pop. Anyone who can admire a band for being themselves and being nice guys at the same time, owes Hootie some credit. Their new album is Fairweather Johnson and fans of Cracked Rear View will surely love it. As for the Hootie bashers, their minds probably won't be changed by the music, but they should respect Hootie for doing their own thing, honestly, without pretension.
What's going on in New York?
Darius: Just a lot of press. Getting ready to go back home.
You guys are still in Columbia full time, right?
Darius: Yeah, that's where we live.
But you haven't even been off the road for Cracked Rear View very long, have you?
Darius: Not really. We came off the road and straight into the studio.
Before we get into that, tell me about Breaking Records.
Darius: Breaking Records is just a record label Atlantic Records was nice enough to help us start. It's basically an outlet to let us sign bands that we really like, that might never get signed. We can sign a lot of friends and that's something I'm looking forward to, definitely.
Are there any signees yet?
Darius: No, but there are a few we're talking to. I think the label will mostly be to help our friends and people we think deserve to be signed.
Obviously, being able to get a label of your own will help, and I know you've taken smaller bands like Dillon Fence and Cowboy Mouth out on big tours, but do you think, at this point, Hootie itself can hang on to that grassroots vibe that got you going?
Darius: We still do the best we can. Still live in Columbia and go to the bars and malls. We could have picked up and moved to L.A. or anywhere we wanted to, but we decided to stay in the South because we love it so much.
I'm sure some of the changes in your lives over the last year are completely unimaginable to anyone else. With everything happening so fast, have you been able to ask yourselves, 'Why us?' Do you have any theories on what made Cracked Rear View so huge?
Darius: No idea. We really haven't had time to sit back and think about what has happened to us in the past year. Now, trying to get the new record out and doing all this stuff, I think is good, though. There's no time to get scared about what the next record's gonna do, 'cause it's already out.
On that note, since at this point no one's heard Fairweather Johnson, tell me what it means to you guys.
Dean: Musically, we're just better players and better songwriters.
Darius: I think that the main thing is that we just really learned how to write songs over this time. It's cool to feel that way, to be able to listen to your record and honestly like it a lot.
Is that just from playing together so much on the road or did you actually write together on tour?
Darius: We wrote separately on the road and we put it all together in Bermuda. Writing separately on the road is no problem because they're just individual ideas you're going to take to the band later, but writing as a band is next to impossible. People are there all the time and soundchecks just get more annoying and shorter. It's hard to get motivated when you've been on tour for six months.
Do any songs on Fairweather Johnson come from Cracked Rear View or before, as far as when they were written?
Darius: Yeah. Old Man and Me was on Kootchypop, which was written a while ago, is also older than Cracked Rear View. A lot of the ideas are older but we didn't start putting the rest together until Bermuda. That was in September.
Has everything on Kootchypop been put on another record?
Darius: Yeah, as of this new record's release.
People are desperate for a copy of Kootchypop. I'm sure you've heard that people are handing over wads of money to get one.
Darius: I saw a guy selling one for $600 the other day.
I guess the fans around here are a little luckier, because so many copies of Kootchypop were around here that they're slightly less rare.
Darius: It's wild. I couldn't get mad at the guy. If you can get $600 for that piece of crap, you are the man!!
I recently saw the first promo edition of the first Buddy Holly for $750.
Dean: I'll trade you a Kootchypop for a Buddy Holly any day.
You call it a piece of crap - what's the difference between that and Cracked Rear View?
Dean: It's the difference in us producing and Don Gehman producing.
Now for the ugly topic: the press. You guys have been the biggest thing and...
Yeah, destroyed. Is that just so to you?
Darius: It's gotta be. It's bash Hootie year. We've made some people really mad with what we've done. And I don't know what we've done to make them so mad.
Dean: I think every critic has their reasons. It happens. No matter who you are, if you gain mass appeal, it's going to piss someone off.
I was reading the Village Voice Pazz and Jopp issue and it didn't matter who anyone's favorite band was, they all made reference to Hootie. That's a real achievement, even if it is a little dubious.
Dean: I think we won more best and worst categories for the year: reader's favorite band/reader's least favorite band.
When you get so much press that everyone has something to say, is there a possibility of still hearing people with a valid criticism or do they get lost in the rest? Is there any criticism you feel is completely justified?
Darius: Yes. Anyone who didn't like the record and why. I think they all had valid points. But the people who just randomly bash, which has been most of the press lately, the band's personality... What does that mean? You're a music critic, not a lifestyle critic. Let's talk about the music. People who get petty, or mention us in articles about other bands, just to mention Hootie and the Blowfish, why would you waste your time? Why mention us in an article on the Red Hot Chili Peppers? It's stupidity. It makes no sense.
Is there anything you didn't like about the last record that you changed on Fairweather Johnson and feel you really got right?
Both In Unison: Songwriting!
Dean: The writing of this album just seemed like one thought process, instead of happening over years and years. We brought it together over a much shorter period of time so it feels more cohesive.
How about the big "pressure" question? Was the first day in the studio hard? Like, 'Oh, God, I hope this works!'?
Darius: No, not at all. It was just, 'Let's make the record.' I honestly think because we came right off the road and into the studio, there was never any pressure, that I felt, to make the record. We were just doing it. Just like the last one, but we had to write the songs as we went along, instead of having them written for years already.
Yeah, you had years to get the first one together.
Dean: Yeah, years, but it doesn't take that long to come up with ideas. We definitely weren't in a hurry to write songs at that point in our lives. We'd sit around Columbia three days a week, and one or two days we'd sit on someone's porch and work on songs for a few hours, then go drink. So it's pretty low pressure, whereas this album was more intense writing.
Is Don Gehman a producer you're going to stick with or do you want to try it yourselves?
Darius: No, I don't think we'll ever do it ourselves.
Dean: If we did it ourselves, then which one of us would do it? It's hard to drive a ship with four captains. I don't think we'd get anywhere.
What's your coolest, most vivid memory of the last year and a half?
Dean: There's about fifty of them!
It's not even surprising to see you guys standing with the President now. I mean, that's weird.
Darius: Well, obviously my daughter being born was the best thing to happen to me. But being on stage with Al Green, talking with Stevie Wonder, those are things I will always remember. Having a chat with Patti Labelle, and they all want to talk to us as much as we want to talk to them is just, 'Wow!'
Dean: The Bridge School Benefit was really cool. We got off the stage and were hanging out in the dressing room, and Bruce Springsteen walks in and talks for half an hour, then Steven Tyler.
Darius: Neil Young was talking to me at the end of the show.
Was there one level or event where you realized you were definitely not just a big regional act or a kinda big band? That you had "made" it?
Dean: Getting signed!
Darius: When the record went Gold was probably the happiest moment of the record for all of us.
Dean: That took like six months.
Darius: I think someone mentioned the other day that it's now certified at 13,000,000 records.
And straight back to the road?
Darius: Oh, yes. We'll go to Europe the day the record comes out for six weeks or so, then Mark's getting married, then back out in the States in July.
Dean: At least a year and a half or two, anyway.
Then right back to the studio again?
Both In Unison: Noooo!
Darius: I think that'll be rest time. Take six months or a year off. Three or four years work, one year off.
OK, one last plug for Fairweather Johnson. Favorite songs?
Darius: Probably Be The One for me. It's one of those songs that just come all in a flash. It's one of those songs that every time I hear it, I feel proud.
Dean: Either Be The One or Honeyscrew. I think what gets us into a song is when we realize how much fun it's going to be to play. And both of those are definitely going to be fun to play.