Interview: Sister Hazel

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Platinum-selling folk rock band Sister Hazel have embraced the twang with their latest releases,  2016’s Lighter In The Dark and Unplugged From Daryl’s House Club, which blew up the country charts. Really though, that’s nothing new for the upbeat and iconic Southern rock outfit which began blazing their own unique trail in Gainesville, Florida in the early 1990s. “If you listen to our white record, some of those songs were already tingeing on that Americana sound; it’s who we always were, about the song craft and the lyrics. There wasn’t a lot of crazy heavy rock stuff—it was during that same time period when Hootie & The Blowfish, Edwin McCain, and Dave Matthews were popular, that acoustic-driven folk/pop/rock stuff. That’s the same kind of music we’ve been making for 20 years,” says drummer Mark Trojanowski. The landscape has changed—terrestrial rock radio is pretty much gone, and if you aren’t super rhythmic pop, then you get classified as country,” he laughs. “Howver, country has gotten super pop, and now mainstream country even has rap in it. We’re kind of doing what country was doing in the early 90s, with banjo, dobro, and slide guitar. There’s no real home for it anywhere.”

“It was difficult for us in the beginning because people didn’t know how to classify us—as a pop band or a rock band, or whatever we were,” he adds. “It’s only a classification though, all you can do is write songs and connect with people, and at the end of the day, we don’t care what it’s called, we just go make a Sister Hazel record.”

And make records they have—Sister Hazel has made over a dozen, and torn up the highways for over 20 years supporting each one. With Unplugged From Daryl’s House Club, fans get a glimpse into the band’s live show and the spark that is ignited by the energy between the band and their live audience. “We’d put out a couple of live electric records in the past, and one acoustic record before, but Unplugged was a unique situation,” recalls Trojanowski. “We got to play at Daryl Hall’s Club up in New York. The video piece of it, as well as the acoustic recording, really captured who we are and what we do. We can break it down acoustically and focus on the songs and the lyrics or we can get up there, plug in, and play hard and loud and connect with people that way too.”

Their undeniable chemistry, the kind born from a bond forged while cramped in a van for thousands of miles over the span of decades, comes through loud and clear on the recording; you can tell they have fun together. “We’re so lucky to have two amazing vocalists and frontmen for the band; Ken and Drew are great singers and entertainers, they have a unique way of connecting with each other and with the audience. Their humor and the rapport between them and with the crowd that really comes through,” says Trojanowski. “We’ve had the same lineup since 1996. We’re like five brothers; once we got over the growing pains of having our first album go platinum and the pressure of following it up, we all realized we were going to be fine. We’re a big-time democracy of five different guys with five different opinions and five different musical backgrounds. We learned to navigate it and realized that at the end of the day, who makes the set lists or what songs are going to be on the record doesn’t really matter. You have to let the little stuff go, and we put faith and trust in what everyone brought to the table individually,” he explains. “We’ve learned to respect and appreciate each other.”

In a few days, the perennial showmen will host their annual event, The Rock Boat, for the seventeenth time, and will perform for old fans and fans-in-the-making. “We’re excited to reach new folks and show them that Sister Hazel puts on a fun show,”  Trojanowski continues. “We love writing good songs and playing good music.”

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