Sister Hazel’s Andrew Copeland talks the band, and Hootie, ahead of House of Blues show

Listen to a Sister Hazel song. Chances are good that you will come away smiling.

Like driving to work with Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” pegged on your car stereo, it’s tough to remain defeated after listening to such upbeat and well-crafted Sister Hazel tunes as “That Kind of
Beautiful,” “Karaoke Song” [co-written with Darius Rucker and Barry Dean with a vocal assist by Rucker] and the stalwart, “All for You,” which hit number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1997.

Sister Hazel has been performing as a cohesive unit for more than two decades, and according to cofounding member Andrew Copeland, the band is very familiar with the Grand Strand – having played here since what he called their van-and- trailer days – at a now-defunct venue called The Sandpiper.

But House of Blues Myrtle Beach has played host to Sister Hazel for many years – and the band returns Friday, September 1.

This time around, a limited number of VIP Experience spots will also be available – which include a Sister Hazel pre-show event, limited edition merchandise and a Q&A session with the band.

Myrtle Beach Life recently spoke with Copeland by telephone from Nashville, where the band is at work on a new album.

Q: In your bio, bassist Jett Beres said you guys have always been unclassifiable. Do you share that sentiment?
A: I agree. The music that we put out through the years has been classified in different places. We have always been classified on the fringes of Southern rock, and that’s kind of been our live show thing. The
studio versions of what we do are slightly different than what the live show is all about, but I think there has always been a Southern rock category. But the funny thing is, if we put out any of our records today,
they would probably fall a lot further into the country genre than they would have early in our career.

Q: But on the whole, it seems like you guys are just you.
A: That’s what it is. To be honest, when our fans found out that we had been accepted in the country genre, they were nervous – and when we put out Lighter in the Dark, they got the record and went, “Well that just sounds like he next Sister Hazel record. It doesn’t sound like anything different.” It wasn’t so much that we made some kind of shift. It’s just that genres have shifted. The radio stations where we used to get played don’t even exist anymore, and a lot of the country stations that you listen to – they play everything from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to Sister Hazel to Clint Black. It’s just all over the place.”

Q: Give me a bit about how the band came together. Is it true that you guys were all at University of Florida?
A: Everybody except for our drummer. We were all at the University of Florida. We picked up our drummer through a mutual friend that was an excellent drummer as well, but he was in a different band. He said, “I know the guy you need to call,” and that’s how we ended up with Mark [Trojanowski].

Q: Is it true that you and Ken Block were playing as a duo first?
A: That is correct. We met at a tailgate for a Tennessee/Florida football game. We started singing an old Eagles song, and all our intoxicated friends were like, “Man – you guys are amazing – that sounds
beautiful.” We took it to heart and started playing around Gainesville as an acoustic duo. That was in 1991. It was closer to the end of 1993 when the band formed. Beres was the first person to join the band. When Beres was playing either adult softball or little league baseball, he went by Berez — because it always intimidated people. But now that he is older, he just sticks to his real name.

Q: Can you speak to the longevity of Sister Hazel and perhaps offer advice to young bands looking to keep things together for the long haul?
A: I think probably the best piece of advice would be – don’t sweat the small stuff. You have got to learn how to let things go, because sometimes it’s not going to matter to you in six months or six weeks or six
minutes – so defer to the person that you feel is the most passionate about it.

Now, to be fair – you all have to be engaged in that process because if you’re not, and one or two of you are passionate about everything that comes along – it’s not going to work. Luckily, the five of us kind of
came about that mentality at the same time. So, the key is not to sweat the small stuff. Stay focused on the big picture.

Q: Darius Rucker contributed vocals on Karaoke Song, so obviously you guys have a connection to Hootie & the Blowfish. How often do your paths cross?
A: More often than a lot of other people. A lot of times it’s at golf tournaments and things like that. We try do Monday After the Masters every year. Those guys are good friends. We have had a really friendly
rivalry with them being Gamecocks and us being Gators – it’s a lot of friendly razzing going on with that. They’re good people, man. We have known each other for a long time.

Q: In Sister Hazel, every member contributes to the songwriting in a sort of democratic way. Can you explain this process?
A: I think one of the biggest things is that we’re five equal members of this band in everything that we do, so when it comes time for songs and songwriting and bringing in what songs are going on an album, we are all fighting for the same thing. I am not looking at my batch of songs, going, “Hey – I’ve got to feed my kids so I better make sure I get at least four songs on this record.” It’s not like that. Everybody has an equal say, an equal opinion and an equal cut. We are fighting for the best song that is going to fit the record.

Q: You guys all kind of put your individual brushstrokes into the songs?
A: Yes – absolutely. When we do the process, I’m not going to dictate what the guitar parts are going to be. That’s Ryan [Newell]. Ryan’s the guy, and he knows best. I am not going to sit there and tell Mark what his drum pattern needs to be and when he needs to do a fill. We all put our signatures on the song when it’s time, and it’s always going to have that common thread of Sister Hazel.

[NOTE: Sister Hazel fans are called Hazelnuts.]
Q: Do you still do the Hazelnut Hang? What’s that like and how often does that happen?

A: Yeah. Last year went really well. It’s down at Isle of Palms, and the shows are usually at the Windjammer. It’s a fun weekend. Some guys are more involved in the creative side of the Hazelnut Hang – and when it’s going to be and what it’s going to entail – and I know there are plans for next year.

Q: The Rock Boat is touted as the World’s Greatest Floating Music Festival. How long has that been going on?
A: We have been doing The Rock Boat for 18 years, and that’s something we are really proud of. It has continued to go strong. This year, it sold out so quickly that it never actually made it on sale to the public. It sold out to alumni first.

[The upcoming Rock Boat sails from New Orleans to Progreso and Cozumel, Mexico from January 30 to February 4 on the Norwegian Pearl and features more than 20 musical acts including Sister Hazel, Barenaked Ladies, NEEDTOBREATHE and Cowboy Mouth.]

Q: After two independently-released albums, you guys got picked up by Universal Records, but soon afterwards went independent again. This must have given Sister Hazel a good level of control. Since the
gatekeepers are disappearing, isn’t this a better paradigm anyway?
A: It was a really unique situation. Monte Lipman [now president of Republic Records, formerly Universal Records] was a guy that was working in the radio section of Universal at the time, and “All For You” was one of those songs that just kind of kept hanging around. They weren’t sure what was going to happen to Universal – it was a new label at the time. And we had the first platinum [hit] from a rock band at that label – and Monte credited us for saving his job. As things kept changing, we kept seeing a situation where we did not have control over the music. There was a music director that came in and had a lot of say about what we were doing – and it wasn’t necessarily the way we wanted to do things. Monte let us go, and it was a very amicable parting of ways. I can promise you a lot of labels would not have been as kind about the parting ways as he was, and that
was a big thing for us – to be able to do that. It was a huge benefit for us to have that kind of relationship with those guys. We kind of blazed a path
for a lot of the independent bands that were coming up during that time.

Q: Can you address the state of the record business now versus when you guys started? Is it true that performing is your bread-and- butter now more than anything else?
A: I would say that the touring piece – and our events and the other things that we do to create revenue streams are of great importance. Everything else is in chaos. I have a soft spot in my heart for songwriters and producers – and people that go out and put their blood, sweat and tears into creating something special – only to have it given away for pennies. I love the fact that people can get their music heard, but it’s pretty heartbreaking to see that people are going to have to find alternate ways to make a living because the revenue streams just aren’t what they used
to be.

Q: Tell me about the VIP Experience.
A: The VIP Experience was something that Mark came up with as a way to bring a little taste of what happens on the boat and at our Hazelnut Hang events to the towns that we are touring through – and give people an opportunity to get up close to the band, ask questions and participate in a unique acoustic performance. It’s just a really cool thing that has kind of taken on a life of its own.

Q: I’ve seen you on the marquee many times at House of Blues Myrtle Beach. Would you say you have a solid base of Hazelnuts here on the Grand Strand?
A: Oh, absolutely. You know, it’s funny about that spot specifically. You get a ton of travelers, because people want to come to that venue. They don’t mind making the two and three-hour drive to get there because it’s just a cool destination. So, that House of Blues show always have a lot of energy for a lot of people that came to have a good time.

Q: Have you ever had the chance to scope out the area or play tourist here?
A: We absolutely have, because from back in the van and trailer days, Myrtle Beach was hot for us. We used to play a place called The Sandpiper way back in the day. We’ve been all over that strip – and every time that I’m there for the Monday After the Masters weekend, I’m playing golf and hitting different restaurants. It’s just a great place to be.

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