by Adelie Salagnac
“I have never ever thought that the band would come to an end. Even at our lowest lows, all of us had passion for what we were doing. As long as people continue to come out and support us, we will keep on being a band.”
After more than 20 years of playing music and touring the world, Gainesville-based band Sister Hazel is still going strong, putting out a new record and getting back on the road. Their musicianship and talent got them to be called “one of the Top 100 Most Influential Independent Performers of the last 15 years” by Performing Songwriter Magazine. Andrew Copeland (guitar and vocals) admits: “We have had our ups and downs. We have been together with the same group of guys for the longest time, so of course we are going to have our battles, but we made it through those.”
Indeed, very few bands last for more than two decades will little to no lineup change. Take a look at those past twenty years. Some of us were still in high school. Some were not even born. “All For You”, Sister Hazel’s first huge hit, was topping the alternative charts. What do we have now, 20 years later? Craigslist, Amazon’s 1-click feature, Netflix, iPhones, Facebook… and Sister Hazel, still, about to blow your mind with their latest single, “We Got It All Tonight”.
And even after all this time, the Sister Hazel dudes are still as down-to-earth as in 1993, when they first started out as a band. “We never take for granted how blessed we are to be able to do what we are doing for a living,” says Copeland. “The people that continue to support this band, they are the reason we keep making music. Our fans genuinely support us and we genuinely appreciate it. It means a lot to us.”
Sister Hazels fans, lovingly called “Hazelnuts”, are just about as excited as the band about their 13th and new album, Lighter In The Dark, out on February 19th, more than five years after their last release. Five years of working hard and constantly writing new material, as Copeland explains. “It is a collection of 14 songs we have written over the past four or five years. It had been a while since we had done a studio record, so we probably had around 70 or 80 songs to choose from.”
Produced by Nashville engineer Chip Matthews, Lighter In The Dark has been labeled as country, making the band break through the genre. Hazelnuts can rest assured though; Copeland guarantees you are going to hear that same old Sister Hazel sound. “It is kind of the next evolution of what the band is about,” he says. A refreshing album, yet faithful to Sister Hazel’s roots, especially considering the omnipresence of country music in the band’s home area. A twenty-year long quest of ‘The Sound’ has paid off, and Copeland admits the band could not be happier about the direction they took with their music.
Bassist Jett Beres adds: “We have always been unclassifiable. We will put out a record and go, ‘What is it? Is it country music? Is it southern rock? Is it pop? Is it college acoustic, alternative?’ It does not matter! It is just us doing what we’ve always done. We are writing about who we are, where we have been and where we are going. And we have never done it as well as we have on Lighter In The Dark.”
Chatting with Copeland just a few days before the official release of the album, I could easily sense the excitement in his voice. Having just come back from their now world-renowned Rock Boat, and spent a lot of time rehearsing, the band is now ready to get back out there, promoting the new album and playing new songs.
“The live performance will be refreshing,” promises Copeland. “I am looking forward to play new music, and I am really excited about being on tour behind the new record. We never really stopped touring, but we hadn’t written new material in such a long time!”
The first stop on their tour is nowhere else than Philadelphia. Sister Hazel will play at World Café Live on February 16th. We love having Sister Hazel visit us, and guess what? They love visiting us just as much. “We have been coming through there for as long as I can remember. Being from Florida, it is amazing to me how much the people in Philly embrace our band and our music. We always have such a great show there because the audience puts so much into the show, puts so much energy there. We really enjoy coming to Philly!”
For anyone knowing Copeland and his band mates, it is no surprise to have him mention the fans as many times as possible. The band has always gone above and beyond to create a special relationship with their fans and to bond with them.
“Our fanbase has always been really involved with the band,” he says. “We have continued to maintain our relevance by reaching out to our fans, doing things for our fans and with our fans.”
Sister Hazel’s schedule is, and has always been, revolving around a wide range of fan-driven events. Whether it involves going on a cruise with the Rock Boat, spending a weekend get-away in a little beach town (Hazelnut Hang), or camping (Camp Hazelnut), the band is constantly looking for excuses to get together with their fans. “It is just a natural, organic fit for us.”
Some of these events even took a surprising and interesting turn. Let’s take Camp Hazelnut, originally designed to be another fan-driven event. “It turned into something even more special than what we originally anticipated,” Copeland remembers. One-of-a-kind summer camp experience with fans, Camp Hazelnut was a weekend filled with music and good times, mixing fans, with kids and families from the Children’s Cancer Center. “We had a Hazelnut [who works for the Children’s Cancer Center] and he ended up bringing a large group of camper kids to hang out at the camp. It was great to be able to give back a little something to these kids.”
Copeland and his band are not only great musicians, but they also are admirable individuals. “We do different shows and fundraising events to raise awareness about childhood cancer. Giving back has always been something that is very natural for this band. It is not something that is mandatory, but it seems like if we are not doing that, then we are messing up,” says Copeland.
Sister Hazel is a big supporter of Lyrics For Life, a non-profit founded by Ken Block, lead singer of the band, and focusing on working with various charities in the fight against cancer. “Lyrics For Life has always been our flagship towards helping kids with childhood cancer,” explains Copeland. You can help directly at http://campuscustoms.com/l4l/how_to_help.html.
Sister Hazel will play at World Café Live on February 16th. Tickets can be found at http://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/.