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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 26, 2006

Forever Hootie

Listen to samples of tracks from Hootie & The Blowfish's latest CD, "Looking For Lucky":
"One Love"
"Get Out of My Mind"
 •  My View: 'Cracked Rear View' by Hootie & The Blowfish

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Hootie & The Blowfish is composed of, from left, Jim "Soni" Sonefeld, Darius Rucker, Dean Felber and Mark Bryan. The band performs tonight at the Waikiki Shell.

Mark Tucker

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7 p.m. today

Waikiki Shell


(877) 750-4400, www.ticketmaster.com

Also: The band performs at 8:30 p.m. Sunday (doors open at 6:30) in the Hilton Waikoloa’s Grand Ballroom, Big Island. Opening act is Clubhouse Underground, at 7:30 p.m. $60 general. www.konadogrecords.com

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Hootie & The Blowfish made its entrance in the musical landscape with the 1994 debut disc "Cracked Rear View," which sold megamillions. See My View on Page 22.

Mark Tucker

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They wanted you to hold their hands. They only wanted to be with you. And, in the midst of the mid-'90s populist wave of Seattle grunge and Lilith Fair girl-power love-ins, wanted to love you the best that ... the best that they could.

In the dozen years since Hootie & The Blowfish's debut album "Cracked Rear View" sold a monumental 16 million copies worldwide, the band has never once broken up. They've never tossed their pop-tinged good-time blues-rock to the wind to hitch on to the latest fair-weather music trend. And, most important, they've continued to release new music.

Last August's "Looking For Lucky" was Hootie & The Blowfish's fifth album and the first on its own indie label Sneaky Long Records since parting ways with Atlantic — the label that initially signed and broke them — in 2003. "Lucky" didn't break any sales records on the order of Hootie's first three multimillion-selling discs from 1994 to 1998, but sold modestly. It even returned the sound of Hootie to radio with a couple of modest Top 20 hits.

Vocalist/guitarist Darius Rucker, guitarist Mark Bryan, bassist Dean Felber and drummer Jim "Soni" Sonefeld still tour constantly. Sonefeld promised the band's first Honolulu concert in nearly 10 years tonight at the Waikiki Shell will offer fans the whole of Hootie history past and present — including, he said, laughing, "the fourth album that none of 'em bought."

Good-natured and straightforward whether talking about the ups and downs of band history or that infamous Burger King commercial, with Rucker singing the praises of the tender crisp bacon cheddar ranch burger in full cowboy getup, Sonefeld caught us up with all things Hootie.

An amazing 10.1 million people in the U.S. bought "Cracked Rear View." A decade and change later, can you still listen to it?

"You know, I actually do listen to a few tracks every now and then. Mostly album tracks, because I've heard all of the hits after playing 'em every night for 12 or 15 years. ... I enjoy listening to the performance and reminiscing a little bit about where our heads were when we wrote that stuff. Because you've gotta understand, most of that stuff was written in the early '90s. ... from right after we graduated from college. And life was very different then. ... We drove around and played that stuff to anybody who'd listen to us at a bar for three, four or five years before the album."

Got some outrageous stories from the height of mid-'90s Hootie-mania?

"Having stalkers who have imaginary relationships with you. That's always fun. Finding yourself standing in the middle of Munich Stadium, in Germany, playing a festival is pretty interesting for a bunch of college graduates. (Laughs.) Finding yourself on a stage receiving a Grammy award from Tupac (Shakur). Tupac and Kiss! You talk about surreal! And musically, finding yourself on stage with your idols. Finding yourself on stage with Chet Atkins in Nashville. ... Singing for Frank Sinatra's 80th birthday and seeing him looking up and enjoying it."

Were you offended when "Cracked Rear View" came out and critics were vocal about being confounded by its success?

"We sat around from 1989 to 1994 and sent out demo CDs to every suit at the record companies. The few that actually returned (word) ... to (us) were usually negative.

"It's hard to get good reviews when you're an up-and-coming band. And if you dare sell records, then you're really (expletive) because critics don't like it when (musicians) ... sell records without their (blessing). ... Critics love the bands that don't sell records. ... Sell 150,000 and you're the next Jesus. When you start selling 5, 10 or 15 million, you really don't expect to get a lot of good reviews. And that's fine.

"I'd rather have the 15 million any day of the week, if I had to choose." (Laughs.)

The inevitable public backlash came after Hootie's third album, 1998's "Musical Chairs."

"We took the backlash with a grain of salt. We had prepared ourselves for it, I guess. ... Everybody assumes that we put out CDs, and no one was buying them. ... I think people are a little skewed in their expectations is the problem. Only 20 or 30 albums sell over a million in a year. ('Musical Chairs') sold 1.5 (million). Our second album ('Fairweather Johnson') is at 4 million. And still people call those failures. I think people's math is a little distorted."

Is Hootie stronger now on its own without a major label like Atlantic?

"It is. Atlantic did an unbelievable job at breaking Hootie & The Blowfish. I give them a lot of credit. But they're definitely not the label for Hootie & The Blowfish (in) 2006.

"Times have changed. ... We know for a fact that it doesn't cost a million dollars to record a CD. Therefore, it shouldn't cost consumers 19 bucks to buy one out of the store. ... The problem was the big record company. ... (There was) a lot of overhead. A lot of unnecessary spending. A lot of overpaid, underworked executives.

"You just don't need that anymore. Now you have access to the Internet. You have people downloading music legally. ... Pay a buck, get a song. Maybe if we're lucky, they'll buy the whole record. You sell 150,000 of those (and) you're making what you would've selling a million (CDs) with the big record label.

"We didn't choose (to leave Atlantic) ... We (had) a few more records left on the deal. But our strong management convinced them that it would be the right thing to let us go. They could've held us hostage for another couple of records, which is commonly done in this business. ... That's how ugly the business is. ... And I commend the people who were involved with the decision.

"They realized that they had already made their $100 million off of Hootie, and that it was the right thing to let us go."

Hootie & The Blowfish formed when you guys were still students at the University of South Carolina in 1989. What's kept the band together through all of the ups and downs?

"Just the ability to have fun. We still love playing music together. We still see our fans having fun. And you're only as big as your next big hit. If the timing were to be right again, and something happened, then you're back. If not, we'll have fun doing whatever we do.

"It ain't bad to be (in) Hootie. (Laughs.) ... We don't have to work, but we love to work. We love to make music. And there's still a lot of people who love coming out to see us."

Soni, the band used to make fun of you for famously going shirtless in the "Hold My Hand" video. So tell me, is your faux pas forgotten, now that Darius dressed as a singing cowboy in that Burger King commercial?

"Oh! No, but you gave me some good material there, my friend. Thanks, Derek! (Laughs.)

"You know, it's amazing. ... You can do whatever you want in the comfort of your own living room. But you just (better) watch it if they start rolling camera in front of you.

"You're right, though. You're only as bad as your most current unfortunate choice of clothing. ... To me it wasn't that weird, because I know Darius. I know that he's fun-loving. I know he likes to do fun things. So I see him in (the commercial) and I just think, 'Wow! He's having a good time. And they're paying him for it!' "

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com.