Hootie & the Blowfish are having a bit of a moment.
They’re back on the road after a decade-long hiatus, having recently recorded their first album since “Looking for Lucky” stalled at No. 47 in 2005.
And it’s all going down on the 25th anniversary of “Cracked Rear View,” their multiplatinum calling card that even now remains the 10th best-selling U.S. album of all time.
What makes it especially sweet, though, is that this time no one’s gunning for them.
Few albums have been as divisive as “Cracked Rear View,” an unassuming triumph of earnest American rock and roll that arrived just in time to be seen as the pendulum swinging back from everything Nirvana promised – as though Hootie & the Blowfish were somehow to blame for the fact that alternative rock, for the most part, had failed to live up to the revolution hype.
Reassessing Hootie’s legacy
A recent story in the New York Times calling for a full-scale Hootie reassessment was headlined “Hootie & the Blowfish, Great American Rock Band (Yes, Really).”
You may wonder if the band views that reassessment as some sort of vindication decades later – which is why we asked Jim “Soni” Sonefeld, the drummer who years ago told his bandmates he needed a break from all that touring, if it felt that way to him.
“I’ve never asked to be vindicated,” he says, with a laugh.
“I never felt like we would need Hootie apologists. But – Capital B, capital U, capital T – it does feel kinda nice. It does feel nice that someone with a pen and a far-reaching audience would say, ‘You know what? We were mean to these guys. And it was stupid that we were mean to these guys. It was unnecessary to have a backlash against a bunch of guys who were, you know, if nothing else, 100 percent authentic.’ We weren’t pissing anybody off by saying ridiculous things or drawing unnecessary attention to ourselves. We just put out music that we wanted to put out. I never understood why that would be something that was so punishable.”
It’s clear that the backlash has taken its toll on Sonefeld. And yet, he made it through.
“We had strong friendships,” he says. “We had plaques on our walls that read 5 million, 10 million. When you look at that, you just know it’s OK. You’re making music. A lot of people are loving it. And if there’s some people don’t? Well, so what? We still get to go tour. We still get to make records. And none of those critics or whatever the opposite of a fan is could change that. No story that you write about, ‘Oh, I think they suck’ is really gonna do anything to what happens between us and the fans at a concert.”
It should be noted that he doesn’t sound the least bit angry when he says these things. In fact, if anything, he tends to punctuate those thoughts with a contagious laugh.
‘It becomes something new’
He’s clearly thrilled to be back on the road with his friends.
“I had no problem with our dormant period, away from the fans and away from making new music,” he says. “But sometimes when you wait it out a little bit, it becomes fresh. It becomes something new and maybe better. And I think that waiting period led to something more powerful than where we ended in 2008.”
He’s especially excited about the album they’ve recorded, due to be released with the tour.
“We have worked really hard to try and make something really strong and diverse and memorable,” he says. “We wanted something from our heart, something that felt genuine and fresh. So we worked for about a year to try and make that happen.”
Asked if he believes they got there, Sonefeld responds, “I do. I think we even more than got there. I think we have more songs than we could even put out on one album. That’s a good problem to have when you’re hoping that the cream will rise to the top.”
The album doesn’t have a name yet.
“Got any suggestions?,” he asks with a laugh. “We have mainly a long list of stupid ideas. And I will put mine at the top. ‘Cracked Rear Two.’ Isn’t that bad?”
It really is.
As to whether the album sounds like what a person might expect from Hootie & the Blowfish, Sonefeld says he’d prefer to “stay out of the game of wondering what people expect.”
Then he laughs and says, “I hope it’s what they hoped for. It’s a different world than the one we lived in with recording and radio and the digital format. It’s just so different than it was when we put out our last album. And because of that, it’s harder to try to sit there and try to predict or estimate anything because where we left off was the dark ages, really, comparatively.”
‘I thought it was authentic’
He’s really proud, he says, of the music on “Looking for Lucky,” the album that was feeling like their final effort prior to this recent re-commitment to the Hootie narrative.
“And I’m probably a little disappointed that it didn’t get better support – not from the fans necessarily but better support from radio,” he says. “I thought there were a bunch of good songs on there. I thought it was authentic. I thought it was quality. But you know, if the timing ain’t right, the timing ain’t right. What are you gonna do, bitch and moan and cry and point the finger? We just sort of took it in stride and said, ‘Well, I guess that’s what radio thinks about Hootie & the Blowfish in 2005.’ “
Does it feel as though the timing may be better today than it was in 2005?
“Ooh, that’s heavy,” he says. “Do I feel the timing is right? I have to stay out of the territory of predicting. I think the timing is right for a lot of Hootie fans to be motivated to hear something new and fresh. That doesn’t mean that radio’s necessarily going to embrace a new song. Maybe.”
If he had expectations, he says he would hang them on hoping the crowds at the shows would be big.
“I did hope that,” he says. “I did not put any expectations in thinking millions of people are going to buy a new Hootie record or expecting that radio is going to embrace a new song. That’s just not where I could afford to put my expectations, in case you wanted to know the psychological disturbing facts of my mind.”
And then, of course, he laughs.
Among the many things about 2019 that are different than they were the last time Hootie & the Blowfish put a record out is that Darius Rucker has become a country star since then, having launched a career in 2008 with the platinum “Learn to Live,” which sent three singles to the top of Billboard’s country chart.
Capitol Nashville, the label that steered him through that unexpected reinvention, is also releasing the forthcoming album from Hootie & the Blowfish.
Sonefeld loves Rucker’s country work.
“When I first heard it, I was blown away by just the high quality of his songwriting and his vocals,” he says. “I thought it was actually a perfect place for him to land. But like a lot of people, I wasn’t sure if he would be received in that format. I heard the record and thought, ‘Dude you have made a phenomenal record and I hope it blows up.’ But something in me was saying, ‘Gosh, I hope he’s not disappointed if it doesn’t fly.’ And man, did it fly. We loved it. My family, we go out to see him. We have all the records. We take great joy being here watching him on the awards shows as a family.”
The Group Therapy Tour
The bandmates decided to call the reunion tour the Group Therapy Tour, he says, “because we had a short list of horrible names and that one seemed to actually fit what this tour could be to us and the fans.”
Why do it now?
As Sonefeld explains, “I think it was probably a couple things. Seeing the magic number 25 off in the horizon, it seemed like a magical number. When you reach your 50s, you want to kind of start getting things done that you hoped for. And a reunion is something we all thought should happen.”
It didn’t hurt that the reunion coincided with the anniversary of their biggest album, a 21-times-platinum smash that spawned four major singles, “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry,” “Only Wanna Be With You” and “Time.”
Asked if he has any thoughts on what it was about that album and those hits that resonated with so many people, Sonefeld laughs.
“Dude, if I knew that, I’d be a billionaire instead of just happy,” he says. “That’s the secret that nobody knows. It’s mainly timing. It’s a healthy dose of luck. It’s catching that pendulum when it’s in that beautiful upswing, when you feel just like you’re not even in gravity, where you feel like you’re in flight, I guess.”
Still, he’s happy to have some years between the album that continues to define them and the album he’s excited to release.
“Sometimes just needing to have some time between you and your biggest album is important,” he says. “So maybe 20 or 25 years just needed to get between ‘Cracked Rear View’ and us, so we could figure out how to be reborn.”
‘I love the new record’
He’s pretty sure they got there on this latest album.
“I love the new record,” he says. “I shouldn’t even talk about it, saying I’m so happy about a piece of work that you’re not gonna be able to hear for a few months. But I am. There’s a few times in our career where I felt like we didn’t work hard enough to make new music that raised the bar, and I feel like we did work real hard this time.”
And they did it all while being true to who they are – or “authentic,” as Sonefeld likes to say.
“We could sound however we wanted in 2019,” he says, “We could go the way of, for example, what is that band I like still with Adam Levine in it? Maroon 5. The transition from rock to pop in their sound. We could’ve done that. It just didn’t feel authentic. We could’ve, I suppose, gone for a more contemporary sound, away from electric guitars into whatever music is made of these days. But we just felt like we’re still at the core four guys in the garage and we’re making up lyrics. We have our instruments and we’re playing them. We just felt like we’ve gotta stick to our roots. I’m sure that will disappoint a few critics. ‘Why do they sound like Hootie and the Blowfish still? Why aren’t they more developed? Why aren’t they keeping up with the times?’ “
And then he laughs again, because he knows it doesn’t ultimately matter.
“Do people review albums anymore?” Sonefeld says. “Maybe that’s a little bit of a thing of the past, which I don’t know if that necessarily is a bad thing for bands like us, that have been panned by the critics more than supported. Maybe it’s our lucky day.”
Hootie & the Blowfish
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 19.
Where: Ak-Chin Pavilion, 2121 N. 83rd Ave., Phoenix.
Admission: $29.50 and up.
Details: 602-254-7200, livenation.com.
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