INTERVIEW: Sister Hazel: One hit, but what a hit it was

It’s just a regular Friday afternoon at the office, when I hear someone say “Sister Hazel’s PR person is on the phone. Where’s the kid who’s doing the interview?”

My ears perk up and I stop typing. I remember Sister Hazel as the rock band whose 1997 album …Somewhere More Familiar played endlessly in my boombox. I remember rocking out to singles like “All for You” smiling as the infectiously catchy lyrics escaped my lips, “It’s hard to see what it is I see in you, wonder if I’ll always be with you.”

After a 10-second trip down memory lane, I come to a realization: some idiot just bailed on an amazing interview. So I generously offer my services.

“I’ll do it,” I say, as I begin a Google search on Sister Hazel.
About 15 minutes later, after scrounging around for some background information and putting together a few decent questions, I find out the group’s playing in D.C.

In fact, lead guitarist Ryan Newell is talking to me only a few hours before the group is set to take the stage in support of its forthcoming Chasing Daylight, which hits stores Feb. 4.

As I begin to speak with Newell, I catch his slight southern accent. He’s a Fairfax, Va. native, happy to be back in the area. Later that night, I’d meet up with Ryan as he stood with band mates Ken Block (lead singer), Jeff Beres (bass), Andrew Copeland (rhythm guitar) and Mark Trojanowski (drums). In person, as on the phone, Ryan was kind and warm in tone, your average nice guy turned rock and roller.

Hatchet: How do you classify your music?

Ryan Newell: We’re pretty simple.

We’re a rock band. We’ve heard people call us modern classic rock, and then there’s a term I wish we’d made up. Someone was calling us “y’all-ternative.” Like kind of a southern alternative.

(The group got together while at the University of Florida, and you can hear a slight twang in all five members’ voices).

H: What’s the most recent CD that you bought?

RN: John Mayer. It’s refreshing to see that kind of talent and originality and he wasn’t put together by some manager down in Orlando. He didn’t win a TV show. He’s real.

H: What do you think of pop bands like ‘NSYNC?

RN: If it’s a good song, it’s a good song. If it’s got something that I like to hear then I’m probably going to end up singing it no matter how it’s packaged. I don’t own any ‘NSYNC records or Backstreet records or anything like that. I’m a guitar player.

H: How did your band get together?

RN: We were all in separate bands and admirers of each other from afar (at the University of Florida). And we would always see each other and be like ‘Hey man, I’d love to get together, and one day let’s get a band together.’ Ten years later we’re still putting up with each other.

H: Is it sometimes tough on the road?

RN: We used to fight over whether we should eat at Taco Bell or McDonald’s, and someone would get a black eye. And now it’s like we don’t sweat the small stuff. We have this theory that if it’s not going to bother you in six months, then don’t let it bother you now.

H: Why did you decide to become independent from Universal?

RN: At the rate we were going we were putting out one record every three years. And as artists it was killing us because we have this catalogue of music.

H: Was it a contract with (Universal) that you had to put something out every three years ?

RN: No, but in order to operate on that level, it takes time to set things up. They’re waiting for a big hit. And we’re just like ‘these songs are good. They might not be the flavor of the week but our fans like it. We want them to hear it.’

H: What can fans expect from your new album? How is it different from your other albums?

RN: We probably wrote close to 70 songs for this record and we had to narrow it down to 12. And we tried to get 12 separate, individual-sounding songs together.

H: How did you get interested in guitar playing?

RN: My babysitter at the time was a drummer in a rock band and he lived across the street. He would sneak me to his house where his band would practice in his basement, this wide-eyed seven-year-old. I was hooked from then on.

H: Where would you like to see the music industry go in the future?

RN: I like artists. I don’t like music packaged to make money. I like someone who just has a passion for music that’s so strong that they dedicate their lives to it. And what you’re hearing is real, and it’s not a McDonald’s cheeseburger.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.