Interview: Sister Hazel Find a New, Welcoming Home in Nashville
In mid-February, country music fans may have noticed a familiar, if peculiar, name on the Billboard albums chart: Sister Hazel. Yes, that Sister Hazel.
In more recent years, the '90s alt-rockers who scored a No. 1 hit with their song "All for You" have been writing with Nashville tunesmiths and working on new music in Music City. In 2016, their Lighter in the Dark album hit No. 4 on the country charts, and in February, their Water EP landed at No. 9.
"[It has] less to do with what happened to us and more to do with the genre itself ... During these shifts [in country music's sound], it started to include us," says guitarist and vocalist Andrew Copeland. "We've been categorized in pretty much every genre you can ... not because of us and the music we're making, but because of the genre itself."
Just as some country acts have branched out to work with or take songs from traditionally pop-focused writers and producers, artists from other genres -- Sister Hazel included -- have discovered Nashville's talented songwriting community in recent years. Billy Montana and Josh Dorr are among the writers on Water, and Lighter in the Dark's songwriters include Luke Laird, Hillary Lindsey, Barry Dean, Rodney Clawson, Ashley Gorley and more. Copeland cites respected producer Frank Liddell as the man responsible for linking the band up with many of those names.
"Back around 2004, he opened the door for me ... and introduced me to a lot of writers," Copeland remembers. "He had faith in me as a songwriter; his nurturing and encouragement ... really was infections ... and Nashville became a place that we went to go write."
Copeland says Nashville's writers "just kind of get who we are," which makes songwriting there fun. Twenty-five years in, Sister Hazel are, naturally, still focused on writing solid songs -- which has gotten easier with time.
"As a band ... we play so much off of each other's strengths now," Copeland says, "and we make room for each other ... We're not struggling to figure out who we are within the band."
Sister Hazel's Water EP is the first of four planned by the band for release throughout 2018 and 2019. They've dubbed the series the Elements EPs, with the remaining three titled Earth, Air and Fire; the names were bassist Jett Beres' idea, though the rest of the band was on board when they realized how well they fit -- even if by accident.
"I'd like to take credit and say we're that clever," Copeland says with a laugh, discussing how the Water EP's opening track, "Roll on Bye," begins with the line "Come on in / The water's fine," "but it's actually a happy mistake."
The second EP will come this fall, with two more to follow next year.
"Our promise was to make more music more often," Copeland adds, "and we're on schedule to make that happen."
It's been a bit of a challenge, however, Copeland admits, to adjust to creating shorter discs. After all, the band rose to prominence in the late '90s, when CDs (read: full-length projects) were the norm.
"One of the hardest things about this project was getting us all to agree not to put 14 songs on a record," Copeland says. "We're still trying to figure out how to do that -- ways to make people still care what's going on, to make it interesting for people."
Sister Hazel are "comfortable" and "content" with how their career is going, but they know there's always work to be done. Copeland says they're humbled to still be connecting with longtime fans -- and finding new ones -- this many years later.
"We've always been very grounded and very thankful for our fans and for people that appreciate what we've done and still connect with the music," he says. "We haven't taken it for granted. It's not something we feel like anybody owes us; it's something we go out and work for every time. I take a lot of pride in the fact that we still feel that way."
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