Sister Hazel – The Release interview

For a band who has a number one song All For You and now is in the top 40 on billboard charts, it seemed time to find out more about Sister Hazel to see how things effect them and how they do things when making records.

Where you surprised when the album made it into the top 40 on Billboard?
Ken Block: Im not sure surprised is the word. Yeah a little bit surprised, but more than anything is just really grateful. To be able to do what we have been able to do for as long that we have been able to do it. That is really our highest charting position. Actually that is our highest position in billboard chart ever. Even with a platinum record and a gold record behind it that is the highest we have ever been. That was really gratifying and a huge testament to how passionate our fans are and how supportive they are.

When placing so high on the billboard charts what does that do for you as an artist when that happens or does that mean anything to you at all?
Ken Block: It means a lot. It increases visibility for sure. It has increased credibility for sure. I think that, for a lot of people, for a band like us, who have been around for a long time, but have not been on the cover of magazines or on top 40 radio, it allows people to go wow they are doing something and it’s continues to resonate. It can really be good in a lot of ways to earn that kind of credibility and get that visibility.

What kind of Release do you use that’s best for letting you completely go without worry? When was the last time that happened?
Ken Block: I surf when I can. I grew up a little ways from the beach. I spent all of my summers at the beach growing up. Surfing is still something I love to do. Im not quite in the best surfing shape, that I once was. Just being over there by the water is phenomenal to me. I have all ready been over there for Christmas and again in January. That has always been my safe place.

When are you touring on the west coast? It’s been way to long since the last time your band played here.
Ken Block: I agree it has been way to long. We’re talking about it. We are doing some stuff that is getting us as far as Colorado in the spring. Then we are going to look at the fall to shape something up to be out there for at least 10 days or something like that. I think that would be a really nice run. All of us like getting out there. And it is really great to be able to connect with all of the fans out there.

What have been the most changes you have seen now that your writing process has changed? What are you doing with this change in your processing now?
Ken Block: The most changes that we have seen for Release is everyone wrote songs for the record. We sat down as a band and said “how do we evolve and how do we grow?” Everyone has evolved and everyone has grown as performers and as people and as writers. So we said man lets have everyone have something on this CD. Most of us have multiple tracks on this CD. Who ever brought in the song then they were the producer of that song. It was then the job of the rest of us to see through their vision till the end. It was really great. It brought us some new textures and color and some new themes. But at the end of the day it was the five of us getting behind our instruments and it sounded like Sister Hazel. I thought it was a big success.

How did you feel letting go of the control over the writing and vocals for Release?
Ken Block: I had a great experience with that. I like where we are as a band now that it was a lot easier to do. There was a lot of trust. Everyone brought in their A game and all of us brought in strong material. I think if it wasn’t the case where people were forcing songs that didn’t fit, that weren’t good, then probably there might have been a little frustration, but it was fun. It was fun for me not having all that pressure to make everything work. That pressure coming off felt good. It was also kind of fun to work with other people’s melody lines. They also gave me the freedom to say man this is what I’m feeling here. But it’s kind of fun. Some of that stuff is like getting to see a cool cover and then getting to put your own spin on it, which was really fun.

You do such great acoustic versions of your songs live and a great recorded one for All For You your hit single. You have an acoustic live CD out. Why haven’t you had some bonus acoustic versions of your songs out on CD or just recorded a stereo acoustic record?
Ken Block: I don’t know why? That’s a great idea. I know we do have some bonus stuff out on i-Tunes something called Just A Tip and a couple of other little things especially if you buy on certain digital sites. But we should do a little bit more of that.

Is this the process of how you write songs, starting them from an acoustic version first?
Ken Block: It is for me. Almost always I’ll sit down with an acoustic guitar. And that’s where I start it there. I’ll have in my head other parts. Or I’ll have in my head sonically how it should build. I also know how we build things. It is for me. I don’t think that it is that way for everybody. I know that Ryan builds in a lot of different ways some times just like that or sometimes from a drum loop. Sometimes from a riff from an electric guitar a song will be written.. Sometimes they will come in all ready with a riff and I’ll put melody over it. There are many different ways, but personally it starts with the acoustic guitar. And I think if it’s a good song when you’re sitting down playing it alone, with an acoustic guitar, that’s a great place to start. It can be good just naked like that, then you know you’re onto something. And then it’s your job to not mess it up.

Haven’t seen many singles released from your band is there a chance that there might be a single released from this new Release?
Ken Block: Indeed. Truthfully we just don’t play the big major labels, spend money chasing radio. We try and do it wisely. We service markets where there is a real chance where it’s going to make an impact where it will have a chance for real spins. We don’t have the money luxury to throw money at things hoping for something. This is about a career. A lot of bands and a lot of record labels throw a lot of money at something and if that doesn’t work there is nothing left for the next time. For us it’s about the long haul. Risk versus reward. Take A Bow went out there for a little bit and got a nice resonation somewhere. We don’t play that big radio game in that same since in the way it used to go down.

Do you believe in singles are needed from bands/yours?
Ken Block: I think there needs to be a focus when your sending things out a little bit. But I think the definition of what a single is, is very different than what it used to be. I don’t think that it is just about a song for a career. I think it’s about a body of work. I think it’s about what your lives show. And beyond that your accessibility and the experiences that you give to your fans.

And do you feel your band needs to make a music video or is that not so important?
Ken Block: I don’t think so. I do think they love it when we do get things up there. Again, risk versus reward. It’s a lot of fun to make those things. Now people get live video clips up all over. So conceptual artsy video that’s one thing, but there is a ton of video clips of us, that people put up.. And I think that’s more real. And people want to see more of that stuff. So I don’t think a video is important. I am not saying that they are not fun. Sometimes they are not cool, but they certainly not what they used to be.

What’s your favorite song from RELEASE besides your own that you wrote or did vocals on and why do you like it so much and what does the song mean for you?
Ken Block: I am gonna have to say I like the song Release. I am sort of a southern guy at heart. I love the sort of Stones-y slinky grove. It’s got a little country feel. The melody is not necessarily something I would of written right there but it falls out really natural for me. What it’s saying I like the meaning of it. I like the idea of it. I really enjoy it. I enjoy playing that song more than any song on this last run. It really felt natural.

Surprised you haven’t had much outside help like special guest appearances on your CD’s. Have you ever asked other music artists to play and guest on your CD’s?
Ken Block: The first big one we had was Emily Saliers from the Indigo Girls. I was a huge fan of The Indigo Girls. We were working on Champagne High for the album Fortress and Drew and I are really knit picky about the harmonies and some just wasn’t quite working in there. We needed another texture and another color and I called Emily. She said she could come in tomorrow. She came in and she nailed it. And that song just sails. It was one of the best experiences I have ever had in the studio. Another buddy of our’s, Shawn Mullins came in and sang on Mandolin Moon. That was a lot of fun and he is a really great guy. And he is one heck of a singer as well. I don’t know that we have had a ton of other people come in there. But that is something that we are looking to do more of in the future.

Have you ever been asked to play or guessed on any other artist CD’s? If so which artist?
Ken Block: I get asked a lot. I have sort of procreated myself out of a lot of free time to go jump into the studio with a whole bunch of a lot of different people. The first time I did it was with Brian Kenney from Driven And Cryin. I went up and Warren Hains was producing it up in Hoboken. And I went up for a couple of days and sang on a track of his. And that was a blast. I may be doing something on the Tony Luca record coming up. And I may start doing a little bit more of that. I do get those kinds of offers a lot.

Would Sister Hazel ever let a female artist perform and sing or give backing vocals on one of your CD’s? Do you think that kind of harmony would work for a Sister Hazel song?
Ken Block: Emily Sailers did. Absolutely. I have been on tour singing this song and Asland has been on this tour with us for a few dates. She and Zack Brown wrote a song kind of like a duet and she and I did it on our run. And I had a lot of fun with that. It’s a great song that they wrote. And it was nice to sing it with her. I think this is something we need to do more of in the future.

One of the songs you wrote for Release is Walls And Cannonballs what is the song about?
Ken Block: The difficulties of communications, listening, of getting through boundaries and letting your guard down and all of that. That we are not as we seem. I like the analogy of Wall And Cannonballs make unlikely friends. Seems they are destined to keep the other out or knock the other down. All they would have to do is nothing. Maybe sleep a little late. And agree to let the other be to a twist of an unlikely state. I really like that song a lot.

See Me Beautiful is another song you wrote for Release and what is that song about?
Ken Block: The song is about how difficult it is to see the truth inside of ourselves good or bad. And sometimes we feel unlovable or were not in a good space. There are people in our lives who can shine the light on us and see things in us that we can’t even see within ourselves. And they are very important to have. And we all have dipped into that kind of space sometimes. And some of those people that are conduits of light and we are lucky to have them in our lives.

Release is such a commercial song. It’s also the CD Title. In remaking and in challenging your band you have come up with a great CD is this going to be challenging to beat when you go to make a new record?
Ken Block: I hope so. I hope that it’s challenging to beat. I hope that we step up to the plate. And I think we are going to continue this process onto the next recordings we do. It has really been inspirational to everybody to feel like they are having a chance to hear some of their stuff. It was really great to get such great feed back from people on this CD. It was nice for me to not feel quite as much pressure for the whole thing. You know were in it for the long haul. It’s not like that we won’t ever make another CD. So we don’t feel like we got to get this on this record. It’s great that everyone has got that investment. We have all felt ownership in each of our records. And this process it has allowed all of us to have even more ownership of this record. The records have now more of our own fingerprints on there and more of our positive energy behind the movement. Going forward and connecting it with the people who are listening to it. This is your friend Ken Block and I hope I have answered these question adequately. Peace.

Connection to the listeners is very important to this band. Sister Hazel with Release have given their fingerprints to be explored with their individual talents. Each band participant has made this in part to being a true ownership with this record and for the next one’s coming forth. Looking forward to the progression from this CD considering it landed at #37 when it came out in billboard magazine. It was my number one choice for that year as best CD. Thanks to Ken Block for taking time to do this interview. A digital EP, called Threeve, on June 1, 2010 will be available via all music download portals. The EP features three brand-new songs All The Love, My Heart, and Can’t Fight It. Sister Hazel also plans to release a new studio full-length in October. Looking forward to all the new material.

(Interview by Jonathan D. Wright)

Sister Hazel on Myspace

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