Sister Hazel, the Gainesville, Florida, rock five-piece, whom many will remember for their 1997 hit "All For You", will be releasing their new studio album, Release, come August. The album, which will be released through Rock Ridge Music, is the group’s seventh studio outing of original material. The album boasts twelve tracks that came together through a unique process for a studio album of original material by the band – where each band member wrote and brought several songs into the mix and then saw the songs completion all the way through – from writing to recording to producing. On the eve of the album’s release, Joe Matera spoke to Sister Hazel’s six string master Ryan Newell to discuss the new album, recording in hotel rooms and (trying to) throw television sets out of hotel rooms.
UG: The album is quite a diverse affair, was that largely due because each member took the reins of their own song right from the start of the writing process through to the production?
Ryan Newell: Yes. Each member of the band brought in at least two songs on the record, while Drew Copeland (guitars, vocals) and my self brought in three songs each. And we did what we always have done when songs come to the table in Sister Hazel, we just got into a room and worked them up as a band and arranged them together as such. But as far as, the production decisions went, we would always defer to the person that has brought the song in. In the past that was what the producers were for. It was so we wouldn’t argue. (laughs) But now, whoever brought the song in, will make the final decision on it in the studio.
Is it hard to be objective if you’re the songwriter, musician and also in the production seat?
Every single one of us has a clear vision from the start of what they want from the song, so the whole process really goes smoothly. There is no train wrecks or too many hurdles for each person to get over. We’ve been a band for so long now that we’re really familiar of each others strengths and of what every member brings to the table. So we really know how to work with each other and get what we need and want out of each other. And because of that, there is really no problem at all with being objective.
Once you write a song, do you always know in your mind how the song will sound once the band gets to work on it? Or does it go through a process of evolution from the initial idea?
It really depends on the song or songs. Every song for me comes about in a different way. Sometimes it’s just me messing around in my studio. Sometimes it’s just me sitting down with an acoustic guitar and a pad and pencil. And sometimes it’s through collaborating with other people. I usually just try and get through the writing of the song first and then after all of that, the song will dictate how it should be arranged and how it should be performed.
From your perspective as an artist, how do you think this album sits amongst the band’s back catalog?
"Every single one of us has a clear vision from the start of what they want from the song."
One thing is I think we’ve all grown as songwriters for sure. We certainly took some chances on this album as far as different sounds and different techniques that were used in the studio. And I think a lot of that is the approach all of us took in producing our own music. So like you mentioned earlier, it’s more of a diverse record compared to the previous ones especially in the balance of the writing amongst the band.
How did you go about approaching the recording of the record?
First up we did pre-production in Gainesville, Florida where the band originated from. Then we went back to our actual old rehearsal space, the one we used to practice in when we first started because we wanted to get back to our roots and our familiar space. So we worked the songs out in that room, worked out the arrangements and the song’s keys and tempos and all that kind of stuff. Once that was done, we went out to Nashville to record the bass and drums. And we kept a lot of the scratch tracks too, especially those of the guitars. Then we overdubbed some guitars in my basement studio then returned to Gainesville to finish the vocals which we did at a Best Western hotel as we had bought along a mobile recording rig with us and had it set up in the Presidential Suite of the hotel. And we did all the vocals in there. It was a very interesting process that we first discovered when we did a Christmas record a couple years ago, where we’d record in hotel rooms and set up mobile recording studios and record stuff that way.
Technology has certainly brought to artists, a lot more creative freedom.
Oh definitely. When we first started out in this business, our first album was recorded straight to tape. We didn’t go through a computer at all. We’ve done it for a long time now. I think the more technology there is, and the more we learn about it, and the more advances we make, I view it all as a positive. I know there are people out there that are purists, but I think the more options you have, the better music you can make. In as far as people getting into music nowadays, you can buy software and loops and all kinds of stuff for a personal studio for around a couple thousand of dollars, and with that you can make a great sounding album. And then you can market yourself on My Space or Facebook. The opportunities out there today for music is stronger than ever. The only drawback I’d say is that because everyone has access to this technology, there really aren’t any gatekeepers anymore. People now have to filter through a lot more music in order to get to the quality music. Its like everyone that you meet and shake their hand, now have their own CD, while back in the day, in order to have a CD, it would cost you something like a couple hundred thousand dollars. But now you can do it in your own home.
What sort of guitars did you use for the record?
For guitars, I used a couple Fender Telecasters. Though my main guitar is a 1961 reissue Gibson SG, I used the Telecasters a lot on this album. I also had this Stratocaster that is made by a company called K-line. It’s a guy in St Louis who builds vintage replicas of Fenders. It is fitted with Lollar pickups and it sounds really good. I also used a Gretsch Duo Jet. And there is also a cheap banjo that made it onto a couple songs as well.
What about when it came to amps and effects, what did you use?
As far as amplifiers went, I had a Bad Cat Panther, a Matchless DC-30, an original 1965 Fender Super Reverb, a 1961 original Blackface Fender Twin and a Marshall, one of those Silver Jubilee models. I tried changing it up quite a bit in order to get different tones that would work well together. For effect pedals, I used an analog man mod-ed Tube Screamer and a Boss Delay with a tap tempo. And there are a couple songs on the album where I used a Boss Slicer, which is a pedal that slices up bar chords into rhythmic patterns.
How does the studio set-up compare to the set up you use live?
Live, my main set up is a Telecaster and a Gibson SG that go through the Matchless DC-30. I also have the Tube Screamer, various Wah pedals and the Boss Digital Delay with the tap tempo because with a lot of our songs, the delay is synced up to the song. And that’s it. It is a real simple setup as I don’t like to have it too complicated in a live situation.
The band are very much so, road warriors as it still continues to perform up to 100 shows a year.
Yeah it varies though but give or take 20 or so shows here or there. Though we’re constantly on the road and tour all year round, we always make sure we get home and see our families. We don’t do the marathon tours where we’re gone for three months and then come home and have a bunch of time off. We normally go out for short bursts and then come home so we can remind our families of what we look like and then go back out. Because we don’t stay out for a long period of time, we don’t get any long time off either. But we’re on the road pretty consistently.
I seem to recall a story told to me that the band had made a pact at the time of the release of 1997’s ...Somewhere More Familiar, that if the album achieved Gold status you would all go and throw a rock star move. And so when the disc did achieve that feat, you went into a hotel room, tried grabbing a TV set so you could throw it through the hotel window into the swimming pool below, but discovered it was bolted down!
"Every song for me comes about in a different way."
That is crazy, how did you know about that? That is a story that was only ever told to our friends and family. We’ve never let that one out.
I can’t remember where I heard it now, but I did.
Well that is absolutely true. We were staying in this hotel in San Francisco and we had joked about it as we thought we would never do it, that is, if the album went Gold we’d do something crazy, the sort of thing real rock stars do. And sure enough, it went Gold and at the time our tour manager was holding us it saying, ‘you know, you’ve got to it as you said you would so you’ve got to now’. So one night at this hotel, there was a TV set that didn’t look too expensive, so we knew we could afford to pay for it afterwards, and so we went to grab it and found out that the thing was bolted to the table. Apparently a lot of bands had stayed at the hotel previously and obviously the hotel had learned their lesson.
Any plans for a DVD release in future?
Because we had a DVD of a live show and a behind the scenes on the road thing that was put out about four years ago, we don’t have any plans to do another one at this moment. But we’re constantly putting out new music. We just released some exclusive acoustic songs on i-Tunes from some of our album releases. And actually, we’re already half way through our next album. Because we over wrote for this album, we’re going to try and put out new music as soon as we can.
So do you think by the end of this year we can expect another new album by Sister Hazel?
Not by the end of this year but probably early next year.
You seem to be very prolific in your writing…
We had such a great experience recording this album and getting all five guys to write that we definitely had an abundance of songs that we just want to get back in there while we have a spurt of creativity hitting us. We want to take advantage of that. And I think too, we’re now in a time in the music industry where people aren’t content to getting an album once every two years, they really want more music so we’re going to try and get as much out there a possible.
Interview by Joe Matera
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