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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sister Hazel still a band of brothers, will play March 18 in Arlington Heights





By ERIC SCHELKOPF

More than 15 years after first forming, Gainesville, FL.-based band Sister Hazel continues to win over fans with its blend of Southern pop hooks and country rock harmonies.

Sister Hazel's 2009 album, "Release," reached #37 on the Billboard album charts, topping even the band's platinum album, "Somewhere More Familiar." The band followed up "Release" with last year's "Heartland Highway."

Sister Hazel, www.sisterhazel.com,  will perform March 18 as part of the Peggy Kinnanes Irish Festival in Arlington Heights. More information is available at www.peggykinnanes.com.

The band will be back in the area June 18 when it performs at Prairie Fest in Oswego, www.prairiefest.com.

I had the chance to talk to Sister Hazel rhythm guitarist and vocalist Drew Copeland about the band's staying power.


Q - It's good that you guys are playing at an indoor venue next week, otherwise your feet would get kind of cold. You still like going out on stage in your bare feet? It feels totally comfortable to you?

I get a vibe from the stage and it's just something that I enjoy. It also was kind of a superstition early on, just because that's how I used to perform when me and Ken were a duo for so long.

Things started going well for us, and the last thing I wanted to do was change anything.

Q - What should people expect from this show? I imagine that you will playing a lot from "Heartland Highway."

We have to mix it up. We can't really make it heavy on the latest stuff, because people that are fans of the band, they want to hear something from a lot of different records.

It feels like we have put out a billion records at this point. There's a lot of songs to sift through. We try to make it a pretty good balance of the songs that people have heard on the radio, and then some favorites from different records. But we will definitely throw in some stuff off the new record.

Q - The group released "Heartland Highway" less than a year after putting out "Release." Did you guys feel inspired after putting out "Release?"

The truth is, the five of us are writing so much that we just have a lot of material. There's no reason for us not to put a record out.

We're a band that's independent. We don't have a major label that's staring over our shoulder, telling us when we can and when we can't.

Our fans appreciate the new music. It just doesn't seem to make sense for us to sit around and not put new records out when we've got songs that we think that people will connect with.

Q - The title of the record, "Heartland Highway," seems to really sum up how it was made. It was recorded all over the country.

We go through a process of picking album titles. As we whittled down through the ideas, that title seemed to sum up what the record felt like.

It felt like something you would put in your stereo and take a road trip. It just seemed to fit the record.

Q - You met Ken at a University of Florida football tailgating party in 1991. What do you think clicked when you first met him?

Ken and I, oddly enough, both grew up in Gainesville. We went to rival high schools and didn't know each other until well after high school.

We had a lot in common being from Gainesville. And when we got together and started singing, people told us that our voices really blended well.

We kind of hit it off and both of us had common interests. We actually became very good friends, and ended up being roommates for a while.

Q - You guys have been around for a long time and have seen a lot of changes in the music business. Do you think it is harder or easier to release music these days?

Well, that's an interesting question, the way you phrased it. It is definitely easier to release music. But it's a lot harder to make a living in the music business these days.

There's a much wider divide between the haves and the have nots. There are so many places where you can go online and get music for free, that making a living at this is really tough.

For those bands that are kind of stuck in the middle, that have committed their lives to it but aren't quite on the level of the more successful bands, it can be a real struggle making a living doing this.

Q - Has the band tried to embrace new technology to get its music out there?

A funny story behind that is when we were first signed to Universal Records in the late '90s, we asked for a budget for our website. They told us that was just a fad and not something they wanted to pour money into.

And so we did it on our own. So we've always tried to stay on the cutting edge, but not the leading edge of technology.

We want to try to stay one step ahead of everybody else, but not get so far ahead that we are hurting ourselves in the process.

Q - What has kept the band together over the years?

We went through a real rough period that I think probably most bands don't make it through.

Everybody was tired, and I think that we probably indulged in the party atmosphere a little too much. People lost their way along that path.

But we held it together through that, and now we are closer than ever. We really are a bunch of brothers out there touring.

We all have similar goals. Four of the five of us are married and have children, and so everyone embraces the fact that family is the most important thing.

Sister Hazel is the vehicle that helps make everything happen, but at the same time, we all have to have the creative freedom to chase down other outlets. It's just a really healthy relationship between the five of us right now.

Q - You released a solo album in 2004. Anything new on the horizon for you? Are you looking to do other solo albums?

I really would like to make a solo record and I've got a ton of songs that I would love to put out, but the band is staying so busy right now, I really don't have time.

Everyone is very supportive of it, but like I said, the master of the whole thing, the mother ship, is Sister Hazel. We have to secure that or all the other stuff doesn't mean anything.

Q - Any dream projects for the band? Anything that you are itching to do?

Something that we've always wanted to do, and I'd love to do before the guy retires, is do a run with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

All of coming from Gainesville and us being big fans of the band, that's something we've always wanted to do.



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