Hootie & the Blowfish could easily have made their return after a decade-long hiatus with a tour in which they simply played their hits and fan-favorite album cuts from the five albums the group made during their initial 20-year run.
Instead, the group has a new studio album to go with part of this summer’s reunion tour.
Singer Darius Rucker said the need for new music to accompany the return of Hootie & the Blowfish was obvious to the band.
“I think the main reason (for the album) was for all those people who are really, really diehard fans who just loved the music and just want something new,” Rucker said in a recent phone interview. “They don’t want us to play 15 new songs in the set, you know, but they want some new music — and for us, for ourselves, for our sanity of doing something new. We haven’t made a new record in 15 years. So I think it’s for us (too), just to play something new.”
The Hootie & the Blowfish reunion has been anticipated for some time. Even as Rucker’s country career took off, he said in multiple interviews that the band would some day tour again and make another album.
It was after the touring cycle for Rucker’s most recent country album, 2017’s “When Was The Last Time,” that things went into motion for the return of Hootie & the Blowfish. Timing played a key role in the choice of 2019 for the big reunion.
“The main reason is this is the 25th anniversary of ‘Cracked Rear View,’” Rucker said, mentioning the blockbuster 1994 Hootie & the Blowfish major label debut album. “That was reason enough to get back and go out (on tour) for a year and do the record. And we knew we wanted to do it. We just knew we wanted to do it when the time was right. When we stopped playing, we were putting 8,000 people in a 12,000 seater. And that’s cool and that’s a money maker, but that’s not selling out. So we wanted to do it when it mattered.”
If you were a music fan in the ‘90s, you know the band’s story. In 1994, Hootie & the Blowfish’s major label debut, the aforementioned “Cracked Rear View,” became as ubiquitous as any album in rock history, selling an astonishing 16 million copies as earnest and tuneful hits like “Hold My Hand,” “Let Her Cry” and “Only Wanna Be With You” were played incessantly on FM radio and became staples on college campuses nationwide.
The band’s solid follow-up album, “Fairweather Johnson,” did reasonably well, moving 2.3 million units. But by then a backlash had started to gain steam and before long Hootie & the Blowfish were getting branded as the most uncool band going. The group soldiered on, releasing three more albums, while doing decent business on tours until the 2008 hiatus.
Rucker said Hootie & the Blowfish, which includes Rucker (vocals/guitar), Mark Bryan (guitar/piano), Dean Felber (bass/piano) and Jim Sonefeld (drums), will vary their set lists on tour, generally deciding what songs — including new material — to play on the day of each show.
The new Hootie & the Blowfish album, which is being produced by Jeff Trott (songwriter/producer credits include Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks and Joe Cocker) came together quite seamlessly from the sound of things, with the band choosing from 80 songs that were in play for the album. Rucker noted that even though the group had gone a decade and a half since making new music, the four band members settled right back into their collaborative writing routine.
“It’s so funny for us,” he said. “We can go forever, and when we get in a room together, we’re back in that same dynamic we had since we were 19. So it’s the same thing for us. We write the way we write.”
The band members also wrote with outside songwriters. One notable artist who joined in the writing was Ed Sheeran, who co-wrote a pair of songs with Rucker for the new Hootie & the Blowfish album and a third song that Rucker may record on his next country album. Rucker and Sheeran met well before the latter became a household name to music fans.
“I met Ed before he got famous. He was doing something in the States before the Taylor (Swift) tour. My oldest daughter had discovered him on You Tube and said, ‘Will you take me to see this kid, Ed Sheeran?’” Rucker said.
Rucker, who will focus on his country career in 2020, hinted that this year’s Hootie & the Blowfish reunion isn’t a one-time event. But the band will have to pick its spots for tours and making more music.
“We can’t do Hootie & the Blowfish every summer. If we’re going to do this, then do it the right way,” he said. “We have to do it like other bands do it. Bands that are at our level and where we are in our career don’t go out every summer. Go out every four years, every five years. Then you do what we just did, sell out every show you play.”