Hootie & The Blowfish's Darius Rucker
Photo by Scott Kowalchyk/CBS via Getty Images
Hootie & The Blowfish Talk 'Cracked Rear View''s 25th Anniversary, Being Secretly Political And "Old Town Road"
Hootie & The Blowfish are a household name, possibly for the worse. Despite being four of the most regular guys to make one of the 20 best-selling albums of all-time with 1994's Cracked Rear View, which has shipped 21 million copies worldwide, their popularity is viewed as somewhat of a fad from the era between grunge and teen pop. It's hard to account for why their success was less stable than that of peers like Counting Crows or Dave Matthews Band, but the name probably has something to do with it. At the same time, one could argue they achieved critical mass because of it, and more staggered successes like Counting Crows didn’t.
Regardless, it isn’t much of a stretch that Hootie's jangly folk-rock has transitioned from '90s frat-guy audiences to Tom Petty-loving dads and families in the 2010s as they tour to celebrate Cracked Rear View's 25th anniversary and prepare to release a new album later this year, with the likes of Ed Sheeran co-writing a song. And it doesn’t hurt that frontman Darius Rucker, 53, has enjoyed unexpected number-one success making country music solo for the last decade and change. Rucker spoke to the Recording Academy via phone about the legacy of Cracked Rear View, the political bent that's gone unnoticed in Hootie’s songs and his belated conversion to hip-hop.
You'd been playing these songs for years before Cracked Rear View was a smash. So you’re officially celebrating the 25th anniversary, but is it 30 for some of them?
Oh goodness, yeah. "Let Her Cry," "Hold My Hand," definitely 30 years.
How much time passed between writing a song like "Only Wanna Be With You" and it being completely inescapable everywhere you went?
Probably six, seven years! Before any of those songs really did anything, we were just playing clubs. We were still that little band in South Carolina that wasn’t ever gonna get a record deal, writing songs, playing out, and people kept coming to see us.
You had no idea you had several hits on your hands?
Goodness, no. All we knew is that they were good songs. At the time we were in clubs, "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was a hit. We didn’t think "Hold My Hand" was gonna do anything like what it did.
That’s incredible because "Hold My Hand" sounds like you're addressing a mass audience with those first lines. It’s hard to imagine singing those to just your bandmates in an intimate space.
We were auditioning drummers, and Soni [Jim Sonefeld] said "I want to write songs with you guys," and he played "Hold My Hand" for us. And we said, "That’s a good song, you're in the band."
That's dangerous to bring a song like that to an audition. What if you guys just took it and didn't call him back?
[Laughs.] That wouldn’t have been cool!
How much of the backlash do you attribute to just the name "Hootie & The Blowfish"? You played with Dave Matthews Band a lot; have you wondered if you guys were just the Darius Rucker Band…
I’m sure it had a lot to do with it. The backlash had to do with the name of the band and just the raw success and grunge ending and people just being like, "This little pop/rock band from South Carolina telling me to hold their f**kin’ hand." [Laughs.]
You don’t have a backlash that big unless people were affected by the music so, you know, it’s okay. Thriller is the number-one selling record in this country, and it sold what, 28 million copies? That means 322 million people didn’t like it. [Laughs.] People who don’t like it, I don’t care.
There must have been pressure on you guys to do something different with your sound.
We've talked about it, but anytime we played any kind of songs, they just sounded like us. Atlantic sucked as a label, they treated us like sh*t, but that’s a record label.
What were some of the crazier things they tried to pressure you to do?
Well first, to change the name. To be honest with you, not much. We got a lot of good stuff in the rejection letters that we got back, but once we got to Atlantic, it was just "do your own thing."
Did you ever think about changing the name?
We definitely had a conversation about it, but we were already doing so well in the Carolinas and on the East Coast, it was too late. If we changed our name we would've had to start over.
When's the last time you spoke to the college classmates you named the band after?
We were friends! But I haven't spoken to those guys in decades, it’s been 20-something years. VH1 did a whole half-hour show on those guys.
Cracked Rear View is one of the best-selling albums of all time, but you guys still feel like underdogs. What song on it have you always wished would get more attention?
There were still songs on that record that we thought would be a good single, but we stopped that record, you know? If it was up to our record label, they would've gone with another single or two. But we were ready to move on and do something else. "I'm Goin' Home" I thought would’ve made a good single.
Do you think Cracked Rear View is your best album?
Oh no, I don’t. [2003’s] Hootie and the Blowfish I liked a lot, and [2005’s] Looking for Lucky I liked a lot, too. Those are two great records. But the first record was the biggest record so people always say that, and we’re cool with that. We’re still kids from the University of South Carolina who got real lucky, people are still talking about us 25 years later, that’s pretty cool.
"Drowning" was campaigning against the confederate flag at the South Carolina statehouse 25 years ago. Did more people comment on your political lyrics in 1994 or do you find newer audiences now pay more attention to that?
No, I don’t think most people really got how political our records were. I mean, I always say “Hold My Hand” was a protest song. If you listen to the words, it just was. But no one ever got that because everybody was too fixated on… “God, this new band, I love it” or they were too fixated on hating this new band. [Laughs.] When people like you actually bring that up it shocks me because I always thought we were a very political band and nobody got it.
Did your political lyrics raise more eyebrows when you began a solo career in the country world?
Nah, not really. When I got into country, some people were like, "This guy from Hootie & The Blowfish…" but it was really like a brand-new start. When you listen, it's not like I was making that big of a jump anyway. No one ever really brought it up.
Country has a way of embracing artists from other worlds who aren't what’s necessarily considered hip, like Jimmy Buffett had kind of a big country revival, and the alt-rock band Lit, and you’ve scored some serious solo hits.
It’s really funny how Kid Rock had that big hit, and you said Buffett, "It’s 5'O'Clock Somewhere." I was really surprised because all I wanted to do was make records, I wasn’t really counting on any success to be honest with you. When it did happen, I was shocked.
Listening back, something like [Cracked Rear View’s] "Running From an Angel," could’ve fit right onto one of your solo albums.
Oh yeah, absolutely. When you listen to [Hootie] records you can feel that country influence because I was definitely listening to some country at that time.
Do you feel like the country world has gotten more welcoming for non-white artists?
Oh, absolutely. When I came in, it was the first time in 25 years an African-American hit the top 25, and then it the first time in 25 years that an African-American was in the top 10. Women and guys coming up, they're getting a chance. I don’t know if I broke down a barrier, but maybe now these singers of color, an A&R guy will give their tape a listen.
Are you a fan of "Old Town Road"?
I love that song! That song is like "Who Let the Dogs Out," who doesn’t like it? If you say you don’t like that song, you’re lying. You get a song like that, where kids everywhere are singing it… a song can get big with adults, but when you get the kids buying it and saying, "Mom, put on 'Old Town Road'," that’s a smash.
I think a swath of my generation considers Hootie to be the ultimate "dad" rock. What do your own kids think of the band? Do they have any awareness of how massive you guys truly were at one time?
Not really. They’ve never really known anything else but their dad as a musician, you try to explain that to them and they don't get it.
Ed Sheeran wrote for the upcoming Hootie album. Did your Nashville career help open Hootie up to outside songwriters?
Our last couple records we sat around and wrote with some people, that’s something we do now. Nashville, everyone’s inspired. You could write a song at any time. It might be a shitty song, but you could write one right now. [Laughs.] It’s totally different there for sure. I love it, I’m excited for people to hear this record.
Have you thought about writing songs for other people?
I’ve done sessions to write for other folks, but every time, the song was so good I ended up taking it for myself. [Laughs.]
Have you seen the Key and Peele sketch…
Love ‘em, love ‘em, love ‘em. I’ve seen ‘em all and I laugh every time. That line he had where he walked into a room of white people and said he knew exactly how Darius Rucker felt? Frickin' hilarious.
Are you a fan of any artists that would surprise people?
Musically? Barry Manilow. I don’t like him; I love him. I saw him live a couple years ago and he blew my face off. He was 72, dancing the whole time. I was sitting there in the audience going, "This is f**king incredible."
Is there any angry music that you like?
Ahhh…I don’t have any angry music! [Laughs.] I listen to the Notorious Big! [ed. note: he pronounces it “big”]
That’s fitting because you guys were two of the most influential stars of 1995, in completely different worlds.
Yeah, it’s funny you said that because I didn’t realize until recently that [Hootie] and gangsta rap happened at the same time.
Was there great music you felt you missed at the time?
Well, you were topping the charts and singing to millions. Have any hip-hop artists ever reached out to collaborate or sample you?
No, they haven’t, and that’s one of the last things on my bucket list, to sing the hook on a really big rap record. I had this fantasy that Eminem was gonna call me, I thought that would be really cool to sing on an Eminem song. But I’m not holding my breath for that one.
That would be amazing. I mean, it seems more plausible now in a post-"Old Town Road" world.
I’m surprised he didn’t call me for that record, but I thought Billy Ray was a good choice.
Maybe you should call Lil Nas X and hop on another remix?
Nah, man, he’s gotta get another hit now!
You could write it for him.
I could write it with him.