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Hootie And The Blowfish – Interview
His name's not "Hootie", it's Darius Rucker, and the Blowfish are not his backing band. These four friends began playing together while at the University Of South Carolina and their third EP caught the attention of Atlantic Records who liked them, signed them and watched their first album 'Cracked Rear View' become the best-selling debut in the company's history. So no doubt Dean Felber, the band's bass player, is being fed chilled and peeled grapes by the Atlantic staff at their headquarters where I caught him for a quick phone chat on the eve of their two-date SA tour, beginning on Sunday 13 December in Johannesburg.
"We've been trying to get to South Africa for almost four years now, we were told we had to go there and are now really looking forward to it". "To what specifically?" I ask, expecting the usual "blah blah, meet Mandela, blah blah". "Well, after our concert in Cape Town, we're heading off to George to play golf with Ernie Els on his own course; we're all decent golfers and it's a tournament of sorts…can't wait!"
Golf?!. Now that's typical of a band who were once described as "The revenge of the normal" when their first two albums, 1994's 'Cracked Rear View and 1996's 'Fairweather Johnson" proved to be the very popular antidote to the overdose of grunge, alternative, metal, rap and techno in the US CD stores. Their latest album 'Musical Chairs' could just be their best yet with its seamless flow of styles and quality songs. I suggested this to Dean who didn't disagree, and elaborated: "With 'Musical Chairs' we knew what we had to do, and feel we accomplished just that. It's the first album where the diversity of styles we all bring into the band were correctly exposed. Don Gehman produced our first two albums but we felt we should use someone else for this one, to get a different sound. But Don was into our ideas for the album so we stuck with the same combination."
Gehman produced REM's 'Life's Rich Pageant' and there are times on 'Musical Chairs' when the vocals and guitar have a very similar sound. I asked Dean who else helped out on the album, besides '60s folkie Susan Cowsill, dB's founder Peter Holsapple and two members of the Dave Matthews Band?
"We needed a big string section for 'Only Lonely', so we brought in the veteran arranger David Campbell who also happens to be Beck's father." Well! "groot" Beck (sorry, couldn't resist) did a good enough job to get this emotional song onto the soundtrack for the just-completed Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn and Paul Newman movie, 'Message In A Bottle'. "It's the first single to be released off the soundtrack so we've just finished shooting the video for the song." The video was filmed in Wilmington, South Carolina to ensure that the look matched that of the film.
Dean and Mark Bryan had their own band in high school,called Missing In Action. They broke up the band and headed off to college. I asked Dean how he felt now, ten years later, after three mega-selling albums, a few world tours and some Grammys? "It's still mindboggling! Mark and I had agreed it was over. We weren't even going to go to the same college. But we did and Mark met Darius when they stayed in the same hall and Mark heard him singing in the shower. I was living upstairs and we decided to give the band a try". Jim 'Soni' Sonefeld completed the line-up on drums in 1988 and six years later they were an overnight success.
'Musical Chairs' has a broader canvas than its predecessors. The band seemed determined to shake off that 'normal' tag and each of these 13 songs reflects a different facet of their collective experience and talent, but all with Darius Rucker's unmistakable deep, plummy vocal. 'I Will Wait', 'Wishing', Only Lonely' and 'Home Again' will hook into your heart if you give them the slightest opportunity and their big rock sound is sure to fill the cavernous Belville Velodrome. Dean tells me about some of their more unusual concerts: "We've played for President Clinton a few times (Note: I wonder if they had to change the band's name for the occasion heh heh) and also did a tour of some US military bases in Bosnia, Bahrain and Dubai. We'd been out of the country for six weeks and were keen to get home but we met some soldiers who hadn't been home for a year so we felt good giving them a small piece of America"
The band are well-known for their social concerns and their ability to put their music where their mouths are. "We learned to play music at high school and were shocked to hear that most high schools simply don't have a budget for music education, it's tragic!" The band played a few special concerts to promote 'Musical Chairs' and donated a portion of the proceeds to the VH1 Save The Music Foundation which is a NPO dedicated to restoring these music programs in US schools nation wide. "Yeah, I've heard all that stuff", answers Dean when I ask him about that "normal" tag, "but some articles accurately focus on the whole Hootie and the Blowfish package. The music we write and play, the variety of concerts and locations we perform, the people we get involved with and the charity work we do. We're still the same four friends, playing in a band together and hanging out. When Mark wanted me to join the band, I told them I'd do it as long as we didn't take it seriously….."
Hootie and the Blowfish are coming to town and I suggest you take them seriously enough to not miss their solid and melodic rock show.
Stephen "Sugar" Segerman
(Printed in the Cape Times 10 December 1998)
Lots of SA CDs to buy online at One World.
There's also the Two Oceans Trading online shopping mall where you can purchase Springbok rugby merchandising, SA books, jewellery and CD-ROMs, amongst many other items.
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