A Hootie Hibernation: The Blowfish Keep A Low Profile
Michael Miller, Staff Writer
Stories have circulated, questions have been asked. Friends and fans have worried and wondered -- what's happened to Hootie and the Blowfish?
"Oh man, the rumors are rampant that we broke up,'' said guitarist Mark Bryan. ''Twenty people have asked me in the past two months, 'Did you guys break up?' I tell them, 'No, we didn't break up, just taking some time off again.' ''
Some time off for Hootie couldn't have come at a better time. The rock 'n' roll landscape has changed dramatically since 1995 when the Blowfish ruled the charts with hits such as ''Let Her Cry,'' ''Hold My Hand'' and ''Only Wanna Be With You,'' and their Atlantic Records debut album, ''Cracked Rear View,'' was selling by the truckload. In fact, things have changed dramatically since the band released its third album, ''Musical Chairs,'' in September 1998.
So who's to say when Hootie's brand of rootsy, feel-good pop will be back in fashion? It most certainly will someday, but with current tastes almost constantly changing, radio programmers following confusing formats and a record business that's obsessed with the bottom line, the band's retreat right now is as much tactical as it is personal. This doesn't mean, however, that there will never be another new Hootie album, but fans may have to wait awhile.
''I don't think there's any rush for us to come back and release another album, especially with the way radio is right now,'' Bryan said. ''I'd love to have a new Hootie album out by next fall, but I just don't think that's going to help or hurt the situation.''
''It can wait two years and it's not going to be the end of the world,'' added drummer Jim Sonefeld.
The Blowfish -- Bryan, Sonefeld, Darius Rucker and Dean Felber -- can afford to take an extended break for many reasons. Obviously, when a band has sold somewhere between 15 and 20 million albums (depending on whose tabulations you accept as true), paying the bills is not a pressing matter. Not as obvious is the fact that Hootie stays incredibly busy, even when not touring or recording an album. They've made television appearances, attended charity events, even taped an episode of Sesame Street (Hootie's ''Hold My Hand'' is apparently a great way to teach kids the proper way to cross a busy street).
When their tour in support of ''Musical Chairs'' was completed a couple of months ago, the band members turned their attention to solo projects. Bryan's debut disc, ''30 on the Rail,'' will be released by Atlantic Records in March; Rucker is recording an R&B record that is scheduled for a summer release; and Sonefeld is recording demos that could turn into his first solo album.
Tonight, the band will perform in Orlando, Fla., for Disney World's New Year's Eve celebration. Hootie has a gig scheduled in Puerto Rico in early January and a couple of shows in Lake Tahoe several weeks later, and that will be it for a while. But there is a lot of Blowfish business to talk about, and that's just what Sonefeld and Bryan were anxious to do.
A couple of weeks ago they were driving north on I-77, headed for Reflection Studio in Charlotte where they would meet Rucker and Felber to record one of Bryan's songs, ''City by the River,'' for the soundtrack to an upcoming television special. Taking turns with the car phone, this is what they had to say.
How was the tour?
Sonefeld: ''It was a weird tour compared to the big amphitheater tours of the past. We played a few more state fairs, a few more parking lots. There were some interesting gigs intermingled amongst the amphitheaters this time.
''But it was a good, positive tour. I think everybody was pumped afterwards. We felt like we had left it all on the stage.''
Many people thought that ''Musical Chairs'' was the band's best album, but it didn't sell as well as your previous albums. How disappointed were you about that?
Sonefeld: ''We still do everything for the same reason, and that's because we like making music together. Sales are generally an afterthought. Would I like to have sold three or four million? Yeah. Do I sit up at night and worry about it? No.''
Radio was reluctant to play the new songs, too. Why was that?
Sonefeld: ''We've learned a lot about radio over the years. You're either on their good side and life is great, or you're not on their priority list and it can be very difficult and frustrating. It's very easy to blame radio or the record label or whatever, but radio is fickle, we know that. But, hey, our fans were either going to call up and request the new songs or not, and apparently they didn't compared to how much they requested the older songs.''
Bryan: ''Radio is another reason we're in no hurry to put out a new Hootie album. Why try to force what we do on today's formats? It's not necessarily going to work.''
So tell me about these solo projects. Who's doing what?
Sonefeld: ''I heard a couple rough cuts from Darius' new record. It's soul, it's urban. I think they'll be some rapping on it. Not heavy gangsta rap stuff, but there'll be a fusion of styles on there. He's working with a producer and some other songwriters.
''I'm kind of doing what Mark did two years ago. I wanted to purge myself of all the songs I've written over the years that never made Hootie albums and record some new stuff, too. I want to get a CD together of that. We're making demos now.''
Bryan: ''My record ('30 on the Rail') was finished two years ago, so all I had to do was the artwork and the set-up stuff. The street date is March 14. I wish it was already out, but Atlantic has a number of albums a year they put out, and they're somewhat strategic about the way they release their records.''
What if you have a hit single? Would you put together your own band and go own tour?
Bryan: ''I don't think I'd put a band together or anything. I'd probably support the single by doing a few of the right things, maybe a cool TV show or a radio show in a market where the single took off. So I'd support it without taking a lot of time out of my life, because I'm really, really enjoying being home with my kids right now. (Bryan is the proud papa of a 2-year old daughter and a 3-month old son.) There'd be no type of touring.
''But I'll be honest with you, if you listen to my album and you listen to the radio today, I really don't see much chance of a hot single. I just don't think the music on my album is in line with what's being played on the radio today at all. I'd love for one of the song's to become a buzz song somewhere, but I don't expect it to happen.''
What's Dean been up to? We can't forget about him.
Sonefeld: Dean's been doing some fishing; he's taken a different route. (Background laughter can be heard over the phone.) But I'll guarantee, Dean's home fiddling around with a 12-string electric guitar tuned to some alternate tuning and recording weird noises on his four-track.
Backstage before a show in Kansas four years ago, I asked all of you what you hoped you'd be doing in 10 years, and each of you said, ''Playing music with these guys.'' Do you still feel that way?
Sonefeld: ''Definitely, no doubt. I think our gears have shifted a little bit. Four or five years ago, we could have made an album every six months, that's how pumped and excited and adrenalized we were. But as you go through your career and watch other people's careers, you sort of get a better perspective and realize everything doesn't have to happen today.''
Bryan: ''Everything becomes less urgent. We've learned over the years that if you want to grow together as a band, you have to stay in touch with what everyone needs to grow as individuals. That's part of what this whole taking a break is all about. ''After everybody goes off and finds themselves a little bit, when we get back together, we have all these different directions and ideas that we pull together. That's why I think it's such a good thing for us to take this time off, find out what direction each of us is going in, come back together and throw it all into the mix again. It's going to keep it fresh and interesting if we do that.''
Sonefeld: ''Despite taking a break to do our own projects, I think all of us can't wait to get back in the studio and do a Hootie album again. The thing is, if anyone's solo project takes off, that could sort of determine what our next move is (as a band). If radio responds and someone is lucky enough to get a hit, then we're sort of at the beck and call of that project. Which is kind of scary, but, hey, everybody is supportive of everybody's project, so we're willing to take whatever comes.''
Bryan: ''But Soni (Sonefeld) and I have already talked about getting together at my house maybe once a month next year. He's got all his old songs and I've got all my old songs ... we've got these projects rolling on our own, but it would be nice to keep throwing stuff off each other. We could make some demos, give them to Darius later and say here's what we've been doing while you were doing your project, some stuff for future Hootie reference.''
So what's the timetable for the next Hootie album?
Bryan: ''I couldn't say a time. I'd like for it to be sooner, but if it takes two years, great. I think back to The Beatles. They did two albums a year. If the four of us were focused on making music together three to five days a week all year-round, I think we could do that, too. But if you look at 'Musical Chairs' and how things have gone lately, I don't think there's any rush for us to release another album right away. So we're all in agreement that however long it takes till we're ready to do it again is fine.''