With Looking for Lucky, their first new studio album in two years, Hootie & the Blowfish are ready to begin a brand new chapter in their already illustrious history. After spending most of the last year on the road supporting their Best of Hootie & the Blowfish: 1993 - 2003 compilation, the band was ready for some new challenges. "In the past, when we wrote a record, the usual method was to get together, throw all our ideas in a pile and pick out the best songs," explained Mark Bryan, the band's lead guitarist. "We usually start with 20 or 30 tunes, and after 20 years we pretty much work with one mind. We wondered what would happen if we brought in a few friends to do some writing and playing. We wanted to see if we could push things in a new direction."
To that end the group - Mark Bryan, guitars, mandolin, background vocals; Dean Felber, bass guitar, background vocals; Darius Rucker, lead vocals, guitar and Jim "Soni" Sonefeld, drums, percussion, background vocals - chose to record in Nashville. With the help of producer and old friend Don Gehman who also helmed Cracked Rear View, Fairweather Johnson and Musical Chairs not to mention his work with R.E.M. and John Mellencamp, they started work on their new studio set by inviting some of Nashville's A-list songwriters and session players, as well as friends from the Carolinas, New Orleans and New York, along for the ride. The collaborative songwriting that ensued moved Hootie and the Blowfish in several new directions, without diluting their signature good time sound.
Collaborators on Looking for Lucky include songwriters Matraca Berg ("Strawberry Wine," "Wild Angels"), Keith Burns (from Trick Pony), Radney Foster ("Just Call Me Lonesome"), Hank Futch (from South Carolina's roots rock band Blue Dogs), Derek George, Walter Salas Humara (from New York City's Silos), Phillip Lammonds (ex-Blue Dog and current singer/songwriter), Paul Sanchez (from Cowboy Mouth) and old recording friend Nick "the X factor" Brophy, who also added drum loops and guitar effects that helped shape the album's overall sound.
"This is the best feeling we've had in the studio since we were recording Cracked Rear View," Bryan said. "We went in and nailed all 12 tracks. [Producer] Don [Gehman] kept us on track with his fine ear and clear vision. Once he knew the road the project needed to take, he made sure that everybody's input was in that direction. We'd bring in the material and didn't have to worry about whose song got used or set aside."
The songs on Looking for Lucky are stylistically diverse, no surprise coming from a band that's made its name with an unclassifiable blend of rock, blues, soul, funk and pop. Even though it was recorded in Nashville and there are hints of country and bluegrass on some tunes, it's not a country record. Whatever country and bluegrass flavors the band has brought in have all been thoroughly Hootified.
"One Love," the first single, is a secular hymn with a Gospel feeling that tips its hat to Bob Marley's vision of a world that cherishes peace over war and love over anger and greed. Rucker's celebratory vocal and the band's soaring harmonies give the tune maximum spiritual uplift. "State Your Peace," one of the album's strongest rockers, invites the listener to stand up and make a difference in this troubled world. The lyric asks listeners to make peace within themselves and contribute to the greater peace of the world. On the less serious side, "Hey Sister Pretty" is funky and funny, and deals slyly with a tumultuous love relationship. It opens with a solid guitar riff and leads up to a chorus that you won't be able to get out of your head. "Smile" is a classic bit of pop rock with an anthemic chorus and a hint of the Rolling Stones in its pounding backbeat. "Leaving" is a tribute to New Grass Revival, a band long admired by the Blowfish. Its blend of pop and progressive bluegrass features New Grass fiddler and mandolin player Sam Bush and New Grass vocalist John Cowan, who adds his high harmony vocals to the mix. There's also moody country rock ("The Killing Stone"), smooth pop ("Can I See You" and "Free To Everyone"), a poignant country ballad ("Autumn Jones"), a waltz ("Waltz Into Me") and a song emotionally inspired by 9/11 ("Another Year's Gone By").
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 & the Blowfish.
The four band members laid down tracks for Looking For Lucky during two sessions at Nashville's Emerald Studios last winter. The band spent eight days in December and nine days in March 2005. In the past, the band took a conservative approach. If they couldn't do it on stage, they didn't record it. This time, with the help of Don Gehman's masterful production and excellent engineering from Mark Dearnley and Nick Brophy, they opened up the sound with unexpected effects and drum loops floating through the mix. "The studio stuff will give people something new to discover every time they listen to the record," Bryan said. "Now all we have to do is learn how to recreate it all live, which is another part of the challenge we've given ourselves."
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 when they were freshman at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. 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; eventually Bryan and Rucker hooked up with Felber, a former high school band mate of Bryan's, and Jim "Soni" Sonefeld as Hootie & the Blowfish. (The unlikely moniker was borrowed from the nicknames of two college friends.)
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. I played a club show with some friends of mine last night to 100 people, lugging my own gear, if that tells you anything."
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 their regional draw, 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 12th 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, (three million); Musical Chairs, (one million); Scattered, Smothered & Covered; Hootie & The Blowfish and The Best of Hootie & The Blowfish as well as a solo album by Mark Bryan 30 on the Rail. Rucker has also released a solo effort, Back To Then, on the Hidden Beach label. The band left Atlantic by mutual agreement in 2004; Looking For Lucky is their first album on their own Sneaky Long Records, manufactured and distributed in North America by Vanguard Records.
--- from the official Hootie & The Blowfish website