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Hootie & the Blowfish
With the rich, bluesy vocals of Darius Rucker and gleeful harmonies of guitarist Mark Bryan, bassist Dean Felber and drummer Jim “Soni” Sonefeld, Hootie & the Blowfish sold over 25 million records worldwide after their infectious melodies hit the airwaves in 1994 with hits such as “Hold My Hand”, “Let Her Cry” and “Only Wanna Be With You.”
One of the biggest misconceptions to most people is that Hootie & The Blowfish became an overnight success in 1994 when their debut album Cracked Rear View, moved over 16 million copies (and counting) in the U. S. alone. What most people don’t know was that the album’s triumph came after a decade of hard work.
The quartet met while attending the University of South Carolina in Columbia in the late 1980s. New freshman Mark Bryan heard Darius Rucker singing in the showers of the dorm they shared and was impressed by his vocal ability. Bryan and Rucker began playing cover tunes as The Wolf Brothers and eventually hooked up with Dean Felber, a former high school bandmate of Bryan’s, and Brantley Smith as Hootie & The Blowfish. (The unlikely moniker was borrowed from the nicknames of two college friends.) When Smith’s true passion called him home to Greenville, SC in 1989, Bryan reached out to classmate Jim (Soni) Sonefeld to join the band and the immediate chemistry was undeniable!
By the time they graduated, endless gigs at frat parties and local bars had built a major local buzz. “We’d started adding original material to our repertoire,” Bryan recalled. “Our songs went over well, so we decided to see if we could make a career out of it. Even if we hadn’t had a hit, I know we’d still be making music today, because it’s exactly what we want to be doing.”
The band’s secret weapon, and the force that pulls all of its diverse influences together, is the voice of Darius Rucker, an expressive instrument brimming with gritty soul and subtle wit. When he sings, the songs are imbued with a buoyant good humor and an openhearted joy that connects on an almost spiritual level with audiences all over the world. “Having Darius in the band is a wonderful luxury,” Mark Bryan explained. “We can try something funky, or bluegrassy or a ballad; we can run the gamut stylistically, but never stray too far from our sound because once Darius starts singing, it’s Hootie and the Blowfish.
In the next five years, Hootie & The Blowfish worked their way up the food chain from local draw to gigs all over the Carolinas and finally, the entire East Coast. Their blend of pop, folk, blues, soul and rock made them hard to pigeonhole, but easily accessible to anyone who loved good music. Atlantic Records, impressed by the tens of thousands of Kootchypop copies already sold without the help of a label, signed them and released Cracked Rear View in 1994. The album had been out for six months before the band played on the Late Show with David Letterman. Letterman told his audience “If you don’t have this album, there’s something wrong with you.” The day after the show aired, sales went from four or five thousand a week to 17,000 a week, and eventually Number One on the Billboard charts the following spring. It remains a strong seller today. “It became dream-like,” Rucker recalled. “I’d wished for it, but I’m not sure I believed it, even as it was happening. We were on tour constantly; the whole thing is still kind of a blur.”
At the end of the year, Cracked Rear View and the band won two Grammy’s – Best New Artist and Song of the Year by duo or group for “Let Her Cry.” They also took home an MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist for “Hold My Hand,” a Billboard Music Award for album of the year, a People’s Choice Award for Album of the Year and a People’s Choice Award for Best Selling Artist, a feat they duplicated in 1996.
Cracked Rear View went on to earn the band Billboard’s Band of the Year Award in 1996 and the RIAA’s Diamond Award for sales of 10 million units. Cracked Rear View remains the 9th best selling album in music business history, and all albums combined, have moved over 25 million worldwide.
The band kept touring, remaining a top draw nationwide and released five more albums for Atlantic: Fairweather Johnson, Musical Chairs, Scattered, Smothered & Covered, Hootie & The Blowfish and The Best of Hootie & The Blowfish. The band left Atlantic by mutual agreement in 2004; Looking For Lucky released in 2005 was their first album on their own Sneaky Long Records, manufactured and distributed by Vanguard. LIVE in Charleston, The Homegrown Concert Event DVD and CD was released in August of 2006.
Hootie & the Blowfish wrapped a summer of touring in 2008 and members entered the studio to record solo albums. Since then, Soni has released 4 albums including a trilogy called Found (2012), In (2014) and Love (2015). Mark has released 3 albums with his most recent release, Songs of the Fortnight in Summer 2017 and Darius released his fifth country album, When Was The Last Time in Fall 2017.
The fifteenth studio album from Barenaked Ladies, Fake Nudes is finely crafted yet flowing with carefree energy, stylistically adventurous yet rooted in timeless melodies and unforgettable hooks. As Robertson explains, the close collaboration that fueled the making of the album has everything to do with the band’s deep connection on an artistic and individual level. “It’s all about trust, and knowing that you can rely on the strengths of your bandmates,” he says. “Whenever I go into the studio with new demos, I can always trust Jim and Ty and Kev’s instincts, and know that adding each of their personalities to the mix will make the songs that much better.”
In bringing their latest album to life, Barenaked Ladies found their chemistry and camaraderie stronger than ever before. With next year marking the thirtieth anniversary of the Toronto-based band—which has now sold over 14 million albums worldwide and earned multiple JUNO Awards and Grammy nominations—Fake Nudes emerges as their most dynamic album to date.
Reuniting with award-winning producer Gavin Brown (who also helmed 2017’s Ladies And Gentlemen: Barenaked Ladies And The Persuasions, 2015’s Silverball, and 2013’s Grinning Streak), Barenaked Ladies recorded Fake Nudes at their long-beloved Noble Street Studios in Toronto. With the tracklist pared down from dozens of song sketches brought in by Robertson, Hearn and Creeggan, the album builds off the band’s harmony-rich hybrid of folk and pop/rock and pushes into more eclectic sonic terrain. Whether they’re weaving in elements of electronic music or classic country, Barenaked Ladies’ anything-goes approach instills Fake Nudes with a powerful vitality that makes each track all the more infectious.
“The diversity that’s always been a hallmark of this band is really liberating when we’re making records, because we never feel restricted to a certain sound,” Robertson notes. “It’s way more malleable than that: whatever sound we all create together, that’s Barenaked Ladies.”
Like much of Barenaked Ladies’ back catalog, many of the tracks on Fake Nudes blend honest emotion with a playfully clever wit. And when it came time to choose a title for the album, the band again tapped into that sly sense of humor. “Anytime we’ve ever been on the radio or a TV show, the intro is always some variation of ‘They’re not naked, and they’re not ladies!’, but we’ve generally avoided making the joke about the name,” says Robertson. “Then while we were working on the album, the title Fake Nudes came to me as a play on the current president’s obsession with deriding the media. It just seemed so perfect—we are fake nudes.”
The present political climate also sparked the inspiration for “Lookin’ Up,” one of the songs from Fake Nudes. Co-penned by Robertson, Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin, and esteemed songwriter Sam Hollander, the indelibly joyful anthem delivers triumphant melodies along with fiery horn work from Los Lobos saxophonist Steve Berlin and longtime Sun Ra trumpeter Michael Ray. “‘Lookin’ Up is a reaction to what I think is a false narrative of constant peril and imminent doom,” Robertson says. “It’s so easy to get bogged down and fixate on all the terrible things that happen, but, there are actually a lot of good things going on in the world. It’s still possible to be optimistic.”
Kaleidoscopic in both mood and sound, Fake Nudes kicks off with the wistful folk of “Canada Dry”: a harmony-laced valentine to the band’s homeland, featuring guest vocals by Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy and former Great Big Sea’s Alan Doyle. Later on the album, Barenaked Ladies seamlessly shift from the heavy-hearted but hopeful soulfulness of “Sunshine” (a song about “learning to distinguish what you want from what you need,” says Robertson) to the atmospheric grandeur and dreamy intensity of “Navigate” (sample lyric: “We can’t get lost/’Cause I can navigate by stars”) to the giddy experimentalism of “Bag of Bones” (a fantastically leftfield number that merges sun-drenched psychedelia with stream-of-consciousness lyrical styling).
One of the most inventive moments on Fake Nudes, “Nobody Better” matches its heart-on-sleeve lyrics with urgent rhythms and intricate guitar work. “For a while we couldn’t figure out what to do with ‘Nobody Better,’” Robertson recalls. “We’d been playing it like a Lyle Lovett song, and then one day Ty came in and said, ‘What if it was more like a Sean Paul song?’ So we built a drum loop that had this very dancehall feel to it, and then added this arpeggiated guitar line on top of that. It ended up 180 degrees from where we started—we just went way outside of what we’re used to doing, and it felt really great.
Referencing Leonard Cohen and The Princess Bride with equal ease, Fake Nudes also showcases Barenaked Ladies’ graceful versatility as lyricists. On “Dusty Rooms,” Kevin Hearn infuses his life-on-the-road storytelling with flashes of surreal poetry (“A tiny tin full of tarantula skin and a house full of butterflies”), and then gives way to a bit of booming spoken word from his father. And with its delicate guitar tones and haunting effects—along with ethereal vocal work from throat singer Tanya Tagaq—“Flying Dreams” finds Hearn spinning a gorgeously poignant serenade to his daughter Havana. “Raising a child with special needs is challenging on every level”. says Hearn.”The experience is rich with both heartbreaks and extraordinary joys. One’s capacity for love and understanding is inevitably changed in unexpected and wonderful ways. This is a song about my journey with my daughter. It is, of course, for her”.
Another touchstone from Fake Nudes, “Bringing It Home” slips into all-out celebration, fusing fat beats and bright melodies with a lyrical nod to Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hour Rule. “For us, those 10,000 hours are the hours we’ve spent in Days Inn Hotels,” says Robertson, referring to the notion that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are essential for success in any field. “It’s a song recognizing how long we’ve been doing this, and how we’ve gotten to the point where we can really enjoy ourselves and be confident about where we’re at.”
Through the years, the band has endlessly proved their undeniable power as a live act, with each set propelled by their palpable chemistry. On tour in Canada for the rest of 2017, Barenaked Ladies will bring their high-spirited live show to the US and UK in the spring. “The way you get to 29 years together is by really working at it, by listening to each other and respecting each other,” says Robertson in reflecting on the longevity of the band. “When there’s a struggle, you’ve got to take a step back and say, ‘Whatever’s squeaking in the cogs of this machine, let’s work it out, because at the end of the day we get to play music every night and have all these people come out to sing along with us.’