Seven years ago, late-night TV host David Letterman heard a song called "Hold My Hand" on the radio during his drive into New York City. When he arrived at the office, he immediately instructed his staff to find a band called Hootie and the Blowfish and book it for his show.
They came, played their song to a national television audience, and the lives of Darius Rucker, Dean Felber, Mark Bryan and Jim Sonefeld were changed forever.
Like a snowball rolling down a mountain, the career of Hootie and the Blowfish grew into a worldwide phenomenon and became one of the biggest pop music stories of the 1990s. The band's upbeat, immediately accessible music was embraced by millions and ridiculed by almost as many.
Fans have remained loyal, however, and after almost two years of taking it easy, Hootie is now hard at work writing material for a new record. Since the release a year ago of a cover-song collection called "Scattered, Smothered & Covered," the band has played the occasional gig, played a few celebrity golf tournaments and welcomed several additions to the Hootie family. (One family left, however, when longtime manager Rusty Harmon and the band parted ways.)
Rucker has recorded a yet-to-be-released R&B solo album, gotten married and had a daughter (his second). Felber is married and the proud father of a new daughter, and Sonefeld's daughter celebrated her first birthday in July.
During a phone call last week with Bryan, his 3-year-old daughter Marli took the phone to talk about her musical exploits.
"I play 'Do Re Mi' on the piano," she said. "I'm a big girl. Bye, bye."
Life goes on for Hootie, but it certainly has changed. Here's what Bryan, who also has a son named Kenny, had to say about the band and its future:
What's Hootie been up to this past year?
"Well, you know, a lot of fatherhood. All four members have become fathers, that's pretty significant. And we decided that we wanted to start working on a new record, so around the end of July, we got pretty serious about writing songs together."
How are the new songs shaping up?
"We're only about halfway through writing them. We aren't even worried about recording them yet. The chemistry (among the band members) is really good right now."
Is the band's music taking any new directions?
"Yeah, having heard Darius' (solo) record, it's easier for us to do our thing on an R&B type track. Before, I would have been sort of clueless.
"We haven't tried them yet because we haven't been in the studio, but we've got some cool loop ideas. Not just drums necessarily, mostly instrumental loops, along the lines of what Pete Townshend did with 'Won't Get Fooled Again' rather than a hip-hop drum beat. I can't wait to get in the studio and build some of those, because I've never done it before."
Radio playlists are awful tight these days. Do you ever worry about not breaking through to radio like you did in the mid-'90s?
"I think about it because I want the next record to be productive. But do I worry about it? No, because I don't want it to interfere with our approach to making music. I don't want us to be thinking about it while we're writing songs. We're going to make music the way we make music. I hope that, like with our first record, the timing of our music will once again be in sync with what's going on in the marketplace. That's all you can really hope for. But you have to draw the line. You have to separate the music from the business while you're making a record."
What do you see in the future for Hootie and the Blowfish?
"Another record, another tour. Hopefully getting back to touring on the level of '96 and '97 and being able to do a world tour again. That would be awesome. What I see in the future is all that coming back around, tapping back into that audience we have who still want to hear what we do.
"I also don't see us taking a long break again for awhile. I'm glad we did, I think it was good for everybody. But now that we've had some babies and had some time to reflect about where we want to go musically, it's time to get busy and be more prolific like we were early on. I see us doing one album a year after this next one for at least five years or something like that.
"Either way, I'm going to be working. The last year or so, I've been spreading myself out and getting into other musical things. I love it all, but my first love is the band. I'd rather be working with Hootie and the Blowfish than anything else."
Any idea when the new album will be released?
"It depends on what happens with Darius' record, which is coming out at the beginning of next year some time. It depends how long he decides to work that record. That's undecided at this point."
Bottom line, you're still excited about being in Hootie and the Blowfish?
"Oh, absolutely. I still feel the same way I've always felt. We're all still best friends. We're searching for a new manager and a new producer, and that feels good to me. It feels like we're starting over. It actually feels fresh again."