Hootie & the Blowfish Hope For Fair Weather
Bassist Dean Felber of the phenomenally successful band Hootie and the Blowfish walked into a New York hotel room carrying a bottle of juice. As he poured his drink over ice, a radio station began to play the band's latest hit, Time. Felber almost knocked over his glass in his haste to switch it off. It's a telling gesture about how ready the band is to move past its multiplatinum debut, Cracked Rear View, and that's why their second album, Fairweather Johnson, is coming out so closely on the heels of the first.
During a break in their exhausting, two-year tour supporting Cracked Rear View, they rested in Bermuda and wrote 30 songs, 14 of which made it on the new album. Hootie's debut is firmly ensconced in the Top 20 of Billboard's album charts, and Time is all over radio and MTV. With Fairweather just released, the band, which won the best new artist Grammy this year, could find itself in competition with itself. But booming singer Darius Rucker is not worried.
"We just wanted to put another record out because we had music," he said. "We just didn't really feel the need to wait." The new album is a darker affair; it begins with the mournful Be the One, which Rucker has dubbed his favorite. Songs such as Fool and the lovely cello- and mandolin-laced Tootie reinforce the quiet, introspective vibe. Sad Caper, which pairs an upbeat melody with downbeat lyrics, remembers a failed relationship.
"I said before this record I was going to write a song about a relationship that worked and I guess I'm never in one, so I couldn't do it," Rucker said with a chuckle. When I'm Lonely may be self-explanatory, but Rucker says it's not necessarily accurate. "I guess I like being lonely," he said. "I've discovered being alone really helps me be creative. I love my alone time - I think I like it even more now because I don't get much of it."
There is one silly part amidst the seriousness; the title track is a hilarious, minute rant at fair-weather sports fans that comes courtesy of guitarist Mark Bryan and drummer Jim (Soni) Sonefeld. Rucker calls Fairweather a rock record as opposed to the definite pop feel of Cracked Rear View, partly because of the strong influence REM has had on the band - especially on the tune Silly Little Pop Song. The album, Rucker says, is less radio friendly than its predecessor, so he's realistic about its chances.
"This record's not going to do nearly as well as Cracked Rear View," he said. "That's a phenomenon that people are still asking, 'Why?' We're still asking why. We've made the best record we could have made and I really don't care what happens after. I'm going to go out and play a lot of shows this summer and have fun."
Felber used a sports metaphor (the guys are sports junkies) to discount the "sophomore slump" theory. "If you hit 55 home runs your rookie year, you're going to have a sophomore slump," he said with a laugh. "We're not worried about it. Slumping for us is going to have to be in our eyes - we've already made our album, so we've already succeeded."
These guys are fearless. When it's pointed out that winning the best new artist Grammy is more often than not the kiss of death, Rucker said: "It wasn't the award that did whatever happened to them - they did it to themselves or had it done to them. That Grammy didn't make them not have a career or whatever happened to them; it's what they did after that." And they take on their critics, who've made Hootie and the Blowfish the band they love to hate.
"We didn't ask for what happened to Cracked Rear View to happen," Rucker said. "It's so funny how personally some critics take us. How could this four-piece band from South Carolina who play pop tunes ... make you that angry? I don't understand that, because we're so harmless."
But sometimes the criticism hits a nerve. "Writing songs is kind of like having a baby," Rucker said. "You created that thing (and) it's like when people say your baby's ugly. It hurts.