For more than twenty years, Sister Hazel - Ken Block, Jett Beres, Andrew Copeland, Ryan Newell and Mark Trojanowski - has built a solid musical connection with fans via their numerous albums, hit songs and live shows. They return February 19th with their thirteenth release, Lighter In The Dark, which was recorded in Nashville’s Tin Ear Studio and produced by their longtime engineer Chip Matthews. In advance of the release, Jett Beres kindly took the time to answer some questions via email about the album, the songwriting process & more.
Not every band has the longevity in the business that Sister Hazel has had; what is the key to staying together for twenty years?
Patience, Gratitude, and Acceptance: Patience creatively, professionally, and emotionally; Gratitude for the opportunity we’ve been given to make music for a living; Acceptance for who we are both in the band, and in our lives outside of it. It’s a marriage, and just like anyone married that long will tell you…It’s WORK, but if the high’s outweigh the low’s, it’s totally worth it!
Sister Hazel often had a country and maybe, Americana, feel. Was it conscious from the beginning that this record would be country or did that happen after you had the songs completed?
There are peices of all of it that make up who we are, and what our music has come to mean to people. We are five very differently influenced musicians with a love and acceptance of a wide variety of music. We understand the industry’s need to put music in a category, but after 20 years of making records, I think you should get your own category. This one is called “Hazelfied.” We play our own blend of music inspired by our Florida roots. It is Country. It is Americana. It is Rock, and pop, and Alt. Don’t put Baby in a corner.
What if anything did you do differently with this record from the other twelve?
We wrote, and wrote, and wrote for 5 years, longer than any other record. We collaborated with some of the best songwriters in the country to learn different approaches to song crafting. We opened our minds to different approaches of recording. We let go of the reins in order to stop overthinking the process. Finally, and several senses of the word, we Listened to each other.
Do you all typically write from personal experience, the experience of others, something altogether different or a mix?
It completely depends upon the song. I think it’s typically a blend of personal and outside experience(s). A personal experience will start the ball rolling, then outside stories, either ficticious or factual will weave their way in.
There are songs on the album that are really fun, but there are also some seriously emotional songs like one of my favorites, the closer “Ten Candle Days.” What is the story behind that song?
I was vacationing in Colorado, and took my family on a tour of an abandoned Silver Mine. The tour guide was actually a miner there from before it closed, and had 2 hours worth of stories. The most standout being the one about the miners carrying 10 candles into the mine with them, each lasting an hour, to tell when their shift was up. I wrote the song on a barf bag on the plane ride home the next day. In typical Hazel collaborative fashion, Ken calls me with an idea for a twist. He says, 'hey Beres good song, but what if you made the story about a bunch of brothers…you know, like us.' Viola!
Why did you choose Lighter In The Dark for the title?
“I’m just a kid from Gainesville watchin’ Petty with my lighter in the dark…yeah.” It’s from a song on this record called “Something to Believe In” and it’s our story in a lyric. We started out young and hungry from a little town, watching one of our rock n roll heroes make it big. We dreamed of one day being on stage like him. Along the way we experienced life for all it’s bobs and weaves, and standing 8 counts. One thing was consistent…Our “Lighter in the Dark” was and is our music. Back then our hopes, today our guide.
What is the significance of the album artwork?
We thought the album art should feel iconic to live up to the title. Tube-amps seemed like a unique way to symbolize music being a visual source of illumination. We made them gigantic in scale on the horizon as if it were the source of the sun, and then put a single person walking toward it. It’s supposed to provoke an emotion….or just look really cool.
Will you be touring the US in support of the album and if so will there be any new markets that you might be visiting for the first time?
We plan on touring the entire U.S. on this next record. We’ve been lucky to have a very diverse following throughout our career. Our experience is that the “country crowd” that comes to a Sister Hazel concert are typically pickers and grinners, and we love both. True appreciators of music on both the musical and fun end of the spectrum. At the end of the day, our live show is probably a little bit of both.
After 20 years, is there anything yet that you want to do; to cross off the proverbial “bucket list?”
We want to play to our fans in Brazil, Sweden, England, Germany, and Australia. After all this time, we have never been. We get requests on a regular basis, and it’s high time we pay them a visit.
Finally, in the spirit of the year end best of lists, do you have a favorite album (any genre) from 2015, and if so which one?
Kid Rock, First Kiss. I think he nailed it with this record. I loved the early stuff, and appreciate his musical journey. I think he’s finally found his sound!
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