Darius Rucker

“I’m going to start working on my next country record soon…But the Hootie thing, it’s definitely coming.”

Dawn’s question reverberated in my head like a badly-strummed, out-of-tune chord. Can I? It had been years since I’d written anything but descriptions of homes and song lyrics, but as a real estate agent and part-time musician, that type of writing is in my wheelhouse. Could I write an article for a magazine? It would certainly be my first. Could I conduct an interview with a well-known artist? Well, I do interrogate my kid regularly. Could I follow in the rather large footsteps of The Elucidator’s former music columnist, the illustrious Mr. Ryan Woodring? I’m certainly bald enough, though not nearly as charming or worldly. Could I hold-down the fort for current music columnist Mr. Carter Lansing, while he’s busy taking-over the world with his band, The Acoustic Kitty Project? Well, I do have a similar amount of tie-dyed t-shirts, clearly demonstrating my hippie-grunge-hard rock musician credibility.

“I can do it, but I’d really prefer a musician conduct the interview,” she said.

Seemingly, she really wanted me to do it – and therefore, was clearly desperate. I had to step-up. To be honest, she had me all along. So I lied, and the journey began.

“Sure, I can write.”

I was a college student when Cracked Rear View was released. Ironically, it was 21 years ago to the day when I had the opportunity to interview Darius Rucker. Since his years of touring with his band Hootie and the Blowfish, he’s reinvented himself as a very popular and critically-acclaimed country artist. Leading-up to his performance at Musikfest 2015 in Bethlehem (the only sold-out show, and almost universally regarded as the Fest’s best concert), I had a chance to discuss with him his new album, his change in direction from rock to country music, his beginnings in the industry, his many awards, and his pride in his home city of Charleston.

Darius Rucker, on the journey from Hootie and the Blowfish’s early days through today and the new album

“I remember those days so vividly and fondly. The eight years busting our butts trying to play clubs – the same clubs every six weeks – tying to have a good time playing 300 dates a year, and then get lucky and get the record deal, and then…the next thing you know, everything’s taking-off and we’re selling records like crazy. That was a fun time – it just doesn’t seem like 21 years ago (laughs) but it is.…Even back then, in ’89…I was telling the guys that someday I’m going to make a country record, and after touring for all those years that we did – I think we toured for 25 years, 26 years – before somebody said ‘I’m tired of touring every year’, and my time came and I could actually go make a country record, and I got lucky and got a record deal. And the rest has been pretty fun.”

On the new tour, kicked-off in May 2015

“It’s great to be a part of, and we’re doing great numbers too, so it’s one of those things where everybody’s happy and we’re having a good time.”

On the recording process for his latest album Southern Style

“We wrote 50 [songs] and demo’d them up and had them ready to go – the hard part was taking that 50 and coming-up with 14 or 15 or whatever we came-up with, and it was fun.…I was on the road so much last year.…We went into the studio – it was great because I write on the road – and having 50 songs to choose from, I hope that you can find 13 that are worthwhile. My producer and my A&R guy from my management, we just got together and – it’s a process – we talk and they all give me their reasoning why they think this song is good and that song is good, and then it’s up to me to decide on 14. It’s a fun process that I love.”

On his many awards and accolades

“I think they’re great. Winning the Best New Artist CMA – that stuff is great. It’s awesome. It shows that somebody’s recognizing what you’re doing.…Who doesn’t want to win a Grammy? Who in the country music business doesn’t want to win a CMA?”

On his various charitable contributions

“For me, the way I was raised, it’s what you do.…It’s really great to be able to help, and to see where the help is going, and to be able to help in my community, the place where I live.…I’m going to keep doing as much as I can, and keep helping as much as I can.”

On Charleston, and the tragedy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and his community’s response

“That was an awful day for everybody, but it was an awful day for Charleston. We’re such a community of good people, and to have somebody come into our community and try to pull us apart, to try to disrupt us, and to take lives – take the lives of these great people – it’s just so sad and so awful…The way Charleston came together, instead of letting it pull us apart – instead of letting his rhetoric and what he stood for pull us apart – that was great to watch, that was great to be a part of. It’s great to know that I’m a Charlestonian…To watch the people of Charleston do the great things they did, and come together, just made my heart sing, and made me so happy to be a part of this community.”

On “Drowning,” a 21 year old Hootie and the Blowfish song questioning the reasoning behind the “rebel flag hanging from the State House,” and the relevance of those lyrics today

“That was when the flag was on the top of the State House. I think that was just us speaking our mind at the time. It’s just amazing to me to see right now in South Carolina the bipartisanship for just that. I never thought I’d see that. It’s just amazing what’s going-on right now.”

On his Christmas album

“I had been asked for so many years, ‘When are you going to make a Christmas record?’. Finally this [past] year, it seemed like it was time…The first thing we all said was, we want to make an ‘old school’ record. We want to make a record that doesn’t sound like today…And getting Sheryl Crow to sing on it – it’s such a cool endeavor for me, and I had so much fun doing it, and I’m extremely proud of it – I love that record.”

On touring, playing in the Lehigh Valley, and his future

“We’ve played there [MusikFest] several times – Hootie played there several times…It’s one of those places where you keep coming because the crowds are great…I just want to keep playing. I want to play country music as long as radio decides they’ll keep playing my songs. And when they decide they don’t want to play my songs anymore, I want to just melt into the sunset and go play some golf and hang out with my kids, and my grandkids, and stuff like that. I’m sure there’s going to be a Hootie tour in the next few years, and I’m looking forward to that – that’s going to be a lot of fun. But my plan is to just keep playing music…We’ve [Hootie and the Blowfish] decided to get together and start writing some songs. We’re not even remotely going to think about putting a record out until we all feel we have 13 songs that are awesome (laughs), and we’re going to put-out a ‘big’ record. So we’re not in a rush for that. I’m sure I’m going to start working on my next country record soon…But the Hootie thing, it’s definitely coming.”

Somehow, I managed to formulate and ask seemingly relevant questions. Perhaps more importantly, I successfully recorded the entire interview. (No worries, Dawn!) It was an honor to be asked to accept this assignment, and frankly, a thrill to speak with Darius Rucker. Was the writing successful? I hope so! Will I ever be asked to write for The Elucidator again? It would be my pleasure. Sadly, I’m unsure of the answers to these questions. I am, however, certain of two things – I did hit the word count…but not quite the deadline. And for these reasons alone, I hope Ryan and Carter are proud.

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