By Cameron Hosseinian and John Nagell
Sister Hazel will bring its brand of music to the Tally Ho Theatre Saturday, July 23, with a show starting at 9:30 p.m. The Loudoun Tribune sat down with band member Ryan Newell, who grew up nearby in Burke, for a short chat.
[Cameron]: I heard you grew up in Burke, how does it feel to be playing locally?
[Ryan]: I did, yes. I grew up in Burke and lived here all through high school and my brother actually still lives here. Still have a bunch of friends here that I’ve known since I was a kid. It’s always a pleasure to play in this area. I get to have a mini reunion, so to speak, with a bunch of old school friends that knew me way back when.
[John]: Awesome, awesome. And so for people who aren’t familiar with your work, how would you classify your music?
[Ryan]: We’ve been battling with that since the beginning of our career. We were on alternative radio, we’ve been on rock radio and we’ve been on country radio, so it’s hard to characterize. We write songs, have electric guitars, acoustic guitars, big harmonies and well you know we’re not really sure what to call it at the end of the day. But I would say the closest thing would be southern-based rock Americana.
[Cameron]: So if I’m correct you guys released a new album in February, called “Lighter in the Dark” and there was quite a gap between this album and the last?
[Ryan]: Yeah, five years actually. We were writing and recording the whole time but didn’t feel like the time was right to put out a record until we got to the point we had all the songs ready. Our sound is always evolving as we get better as musicians and songwriters, but when we all play together we all have a distinct sound and I think that’s been there the whole time.
[John]: So just going back a little bit, how’d you guys first meet as a band?
[Ryan]: Well, Ken and Andrew were the first two guys in the band to actually meet and play music together, and they did a duo in Gainesville, FL, where they both grew up and then Ken wanted to form a band and I guess the first member to join the official Sister Hazel band was Jeff Baress our bass player. I was playing in the local music scene down in Gainesville, and all the guys in the band kinda knew each other and then we just started playing together and I was in a couple other bands and then I officially joined Sister Hazel in ‘94. And we met Mark, our drummer, through a mutual friend. So basically we were a University of Florida college band and we decided to go for it. We decided to go for it and we bought a van and we bought a trailer and decided we were going to do this. And we’re still trying to figure this out 22 years later.
[John]: Was there a certain point when you realized, “Yeah this could be a real thing?” or did you all get that feeling right from the start when you played together?
[Ryan]: I think the reason we went for this 100 percent was because we believed in the music and we thought that there was something special there that was worth our attention. The chemistry we had as a band both musically and personally was something extremely hard to find.
[John]: What were some of your musical influences, personally and maybe collectively for the whole band?
[Ryan]: I would say personally I grew up in the ‘80s and I wasn’t into the hair metal shredder scene. My guitar players were more like Brian May, Angus Young, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan and a lot of the blues players. I got into jazz for a long time, really just been playing for such a long time that I’ve really dug into every guitar player out there. Big fan of way too many guitarists to just run down a list. I think collectively as a band we all gravitated towards songwriters like The Eagles, who are also a big influence on our harmonies, and we love Tom Petty, even bands like The Police.
[Cameron]: Any modern guitarists or modern artists?
[Ryan]: I think Joe Bonamassa is a fantastic guitar player. I’ve actually never met him but I’ve admired his playing for quite a bit. There’s actually a brand new guitar player on the scene named Marcus King and I really like his playing. One of my favorite guitar players of all time is Derek Trucks and we’re fortunate to come up in the same music scene, and I’ve actually gotten to play with him on stage, which was an honor. I think he is one of the greatest players of the instrument in history for sure.
[John]: I actually play the guitar myself and I know jazz to be a very complicated and very difficult style. Has that influenced or maybe enhanced your guitar playing abilities?
[Ryan]: Absolutely, I mean it teaches you a little bit more about harmony and how to play chords that have more than three notes in them. I think one of the biggest things jazz has taught me is how to improvise, how to really open up your ears and listen to what everyone else is doing and then trying to incorporate that into your playing. A lot of times rock’n’roll is just head down with blinders on crashing through a song. Jazz is very much different, where you have to be aware of what’s going on around you.
[Cameron]: So I guess looking back as a whole, and maybe up to the future, have you had any favorite venues or favorite songs?
[Ryan]: You know, that changes all the time. We’ve been a band for so long that certain songs become your favorite and you put them aside and another song will pop up you didn’t even realize you liked playing. There’s also those songs you’ve just never played off the record live and then all of a sudden you’re playing and realizing how much you love the song. As far as venues go I think pretty much collectively across the board our favorite venue is Red Rocks in Colorado.
[John]: That’s a beautiful place.
[Ryan]: Yeah it is beautiful. But we do a two-night stand every year at the Chicago House of Blues and that’s an amazing event for us. I personally like to play in my hometown in Virginia here. Tally Ho is a place I love to play, 9:30 club is another place I love to play, Howard Theater.
[John]: So just to wrap up, apart from touring and promoting your new album, do you have any significant plans for the future ahead?
[Ryan]: Every year we’ve been doing an event called the Rock Boat. We’ve been doing it since 2001 and we basically charter a cruise ship and take off to the Caribbean for four or five days and bring about 30 bands with us. It’s been super successful and we’ve had everyone on there from Tonic, the Barenaked Ladies and the Zac Brown Band. It’s just a really good time to spend with our fans and fellow musicians and get to jam with them. We have a charity called Lyrics for Life that we do events year round with. We have a retreat for our fans called HazelNut Hang, we do that every year in Isle of Palms. We just started doing a camping trip for kids and benefits a charity for kid’s cancer.