My biggest accomplishment this week: Interviewing Ryan Newell, lead guitarist of Sister Hazel
CJ: You guys got your start in a college town. How did that help or hinder your career?
RN: Helped ‘ especially in SE, when we were coming up as a band, there was a real community of people who wanted to hear original music, and that started out in the whole college scene. When people went out to see bands, at that point, they elected to see original bands that had their own material, buy their independent CDs, build a fan base. College students tend to listen to music that’s not all over the CD, so that really helped us out.
CJ: To date, you still play a lot of college towns. Why is that?
RN: I think we still have a connection with the college scene. Even though we’ve had radio play and videos and stuff, I still think there’s definitely an underground community of fans that still like the band. They come to multiple shows ’cause our shows are different from night to night. We tend to improvise and we don’t play the same set. We still have the indie credit we used to have. Actually we’re an indie band again, so we go where people want to hear us basically.
CJ: How are college towns different than venues in bigger cities?
RN: Fortunately we have a chance to play all over the place. I think the main difference in college towns is that obviously most of the people are younger. In the big cities, you get the whole range of people ages 20 ‘ 12- 60 coming to our shows. Usually in college towns, it’s ages between 18 and late 20s, so it tends to be a little bit more wilder.
CJ: Advantages? Disadvantages?
RN: Both are great environments to play, we just love to play in front of people ‘ whoever comes, comes. We don’t really have a preference one way or the other.
CJ: Why do you play Tuscaloosa, in particular, as frequently as you do? (This is the second time within the six months that I’ve lived here!)
RN: I think it’s a combination of both ‘ we play year round, so we play everywhere a lot. It’s not really one place in particular ‘ we are playing and playing and playing, that’s what we do for a living. That might seem like a lot if you’re sitting in Tuscaloosa, but keep in mind that we’re doing that all over the place. We certainly have a spot in our hearts for the se, ’cause that’s where the band came from, and it’s certainly fun to come back to those towns. We’ll play the SE more than the rest.
CJ: I have to ask, since y’all are from Gainesville. Are you big Gator fans?
RN: Huge Gator fans (except drummer ‘ who likes the Hurricanes.)
CJ: How have y’all progressed as a band over the years?
RN: Musically ‘ I would say anytime you’re in a band for almost ten years with the same people, you really start to tune into everybody’s gifts and what they bring to the table, and I thinkw e have definitely defined our roles in the band. Things seem to work a lot smoother in the studio. We’ve grown as musicians from playing show after show after show. We know what works as a band and what doesn’t We’re technically better on our instruments, our songwriting is better. Just like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get at it. We’re at the top of our game at this point.
CJ: How was the recording experience different, now that you’re independent again?
RN: We actually, recording our second major label record, we went out to LA, had a big budget, big producer, and we started to over-think the record. We ended up scrapping almost half the material at the beginning of that recording session just ’cause we were over-thinking things and coming up with a sound that wasn’t really true to who we were. Halfway thru the recording that record, we decided that how we sound best in the studio is setting up the instruments and playing live, trying to create the best vibe possible with all of us playing together. We applied that to our studio experience from then on, and that’s how we recorded Chasing Daylight. That’s how we sound best ‘ we go in and we try our best to get a live concert vibe going.
CJ: What is your favorite song that y’all have recorded?
RN: There’s something special in each song we’ve recorded for me ‘ sometimes you wake up wanting to hear easy listening ‘ depends on what you ate for breakfast, if you’re in a fight, if you’re in love ‘ each song brings out different emotions, different from day to day. I can generalize ‘ I’m proud of the way ‘Champagne High’ turned out, ‘Best I’ll Ever Be’ on Chasing Daylight ‘ let’s see ‘ ‘Hopeless’ on Chasing Daylight ‘ really, like I said earlier, there’s parts of each song ‘ that’s like asking you to pick your favorite child.
CJ: What’s in your CD player right now?
RN: Jeff Buckley ‘Grace’ ‘ amazing CD
CJ: What should someone who has never seen y’all before expect on Wednesday night?
RN: Um, I think they can expect a band that doesn’t just play songs from top to bottom ‘ we try to change our set up a lot, improvisation in the middle of the songs (not every single one, but y’know, we try to keep a certain portion of the night spontaneous so it’s not like we’re just repeating same show) see us take chances, see the intimacy of the singer-songwriter type songs, played by a high octane rock band. So you’ll have everything from intimate acoustic moments to electric excitement.
CJ: Will you be playing mostly new stuff, or a mix of stuff from all of your albums?
RN: We certainly play a mix of our stuff, we definitely try to cover most of our records. But the records that we just recorded, we tend to play a little bit more off of those.