HAZEL HIGH: Absolutely a masterpiece from the masterminds of modern music
HAZEL HIGH: Absolutely a masterpiece from the masterminds of modern music
By Denton Ramsey
Every now and then, five musicians with five unique talents join together to form quite a unique sound of music.
And every now and then, those five individuals will stay together long enough to create a legacy.
Such is the case with the fivesome at hand, a band known simply as Sister Hazel.
Hazel’s roots began back in 1993, when the band first hit the stages of Florida with a simplistic style mixing magical melodies with heavenly harmonies.
The sounds of Hazel hit the airwaves in 1995, when ‘All For You’ was all that was playing on the radio.
To this very day, ‘All For You’ is what a fair-weather Hazel fan will tell you is the band’s best song.
But Sister Hazel is much more than ‘All For You.’
They are, all in all, the best band ever.
This fivesome has been through it all, and they share their daily struggles and insights with fans through their lyrics of life and calming chords and choruses.
No modern band comes anywhere close to the heights this band has reached.
As a lifelong Hazelnut, I thought the band had reached their pinnacle with Chasing Daylight.
When Chasing Daylight was first released, it blew me away – the music Hazel has created was nothing short of genius, as track by track, the music flowed along like the river of life.
Chasing Daylight is purely phenomenal.
Then, the band pushed me once again into a Hazel high of musical oblivion with their release of Lift.
Lift is a gift – a gift of life, a gift of love, and a gift of happiness.
The song ‘Firefly’ related ever so perfectly to my life at the time as I proposed to my future wife, Rachel, on a constant high from Lift’s lyrics.
To this day, I would have to call Lift an engagement CD for Rachel and me, especially now with our first child on the way and how Hazel ended the album, quite appropriately, with the song ‘Green (Welcome To The World).’
Around Hazel’s release of Lift, Drew Copeland ventured off in an attempt to capture country music fans with the release of his solo album, No Regrets.
A great album in its own right, No Regrets is yet another musical masterpiece from a member of America’s greatest band.
During my fiancé’s trip abroad in China shortly after our engagement, No Regrets became an everyday CD as Copeland’s words and melodies calmed my heart during my time apart from Rachel.
However, I digress…
For the last 13 years, Sister Hazel has been producing top-notch music to top-notch fans.
And on Oct. 10th, Hazel will be releasing their sixth album, Absolutely, in stores nationwide.
After listening to an advance copy of Hazel’s latest release, I have only two words: absolutely amazing.
Hazel has done it once again, capturing the hearts, minds and souls of their fans with incredible harmony and musical madness in a 13-track masterpiece.
For the most part, the album was recorded at Darkhorse Studios in Franklin, Tennessee, with additional recording taking place at Nashville’s The Vibe Studio and Thelma’s Studio, and Atlanta’s Nickel and Dime Studios.
The production crew working with Hazel on Absolutely included three well-known producers: Don McCollister, Scott Parker and Richard Marx. McCollister and Parker each produced six tracks, while Marx produced ‘Meet Me In The Memory,’ a song he co-wrote with Ken Block.
“Scott did a really great job of trying to extract what we do in our live shows in the studio,” rhythm guitarist/vocalist Drew Copeland said. “He got us back to the raw nature of where we go live on stage. And working with Don was very comfortable because we’ve known him for so long.”
For drummer Mark Trojanowski, working with Marx was “my favorite part of the whole experience. He’s an amazingly talented individual.”
‘Mandolin Moon,’ the first single from the album, features guest vocals from fellow musician and friend Shawn Mullins.
Fans can rest assured that the band’s latest release is just what we’ve always wanted – another chapter in the book of Sister Hazel.
“In the most non-egotistical way possible, I feel this is the best record we’ve ever made,” Copeland said.
In other words, it’s another masterpiece from the masterminds of modern music.
“We’re journeymen and we’ve focused on creating a cathartic experience for our fans,” bassist Jett Beres said. “We want our fans to feel what we’re feeling, so the lyrics are really important. This record captures our live show vibe well.”
According to lead vocalist/acoustic guitarist Ken Block, that has a lot to do with the band going back to their roots.
“I did a lot of writing at the house I grew up in, and we went into a warehouse in Gainesville, just a few blocks from the first club we played, and demo’ed everything,” Block said.
Due to the band’s pre-production process, Sister Hazel was able to hone their songs and brighten them to a shine before they even entered the studio.
“Sometimes you have to go all the way back around the block to where you started,” guitarist Ryan Newell said. “Breathing the same air and seeing the same sights took us back to our roots. I don’t think this was us settling back into old routines so much as it allowed us to be comfortable with ourselves while constantly still trying to push the boundaries.”
Sister Hazel recorded over 70 demos before entering the studio with their trio of producers to record the 13-track album, Absolutely.
Darkhorse Studios is where most of the recording took place, and Trojanowski likens it to Bearsville Studios in New York – it’s a farm of sorts and the band was out in the country, by themselves, which made for a highly creative scenario with minimal distractions.
For a band built on the solid foundation of the music they make, Sister Hazel’s musical melodies have spread far beyond their hometown of Gainesville, Florida.
“We love to do so many different things,” Block said. “Between writing songs we believe in, the live shows, building a community, expanding our events, and the charity, there’s this whole lifestyle that is what Sister Hazel is all about.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself, and what a lifestyle it has become.
Never a band that veers far from the road, their constant touring has only helped to expand Sister Hazel’s fan base, year in and year out. And the band’s fans, aptly called Hazelnuts, are an extremely loyal group of individuals, as many of them follow the band on the road from city to city.
“We’ve created a community of like-minded people who enjoy the music as much as we do,” Newell said. “We’re still having fun and that translates. All of us are trying to be accessible to our fans, and we really are concerned with their journey as much as ours.”
Year after year, Hazelnuts have flocked to fill The Rock Boat and The Rock Slope, special fan-centric events the band helped to create.
The Rock Boat, the world’s largest floating music festival which first sailed in 2001, was the first of its kind. And although other bands have tried to re-create a similar image to Hazel’s Rock Boat, none have been as successful.
The band went on to create The Rock Slope in 2004, a ski and snowboarding music festival held in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, where the bands involved perform at hotels, on the slopes, and on the ski decks.
Both The Rock Boat and The Rock Slope are perfect examples of how Sister Hazel reaches out to their fans, opening the lines of communication by spending time with them and providing them with the best experiences possible.
“I think my favorite thing about being part of Sister Hazel is watching our music connect with the fans and inspiring them,” Copeland said. “Our music also connects and gaps generations. We see people of all ages in our audiences.”
Trojanowski calls the group, “a band of the people. We’ve never been a guarded type of band. Ken and Andrew especially have a natural way of making everyone feel comfortable with them immediately.”
As seen through their words and actions, fan interaction is a top priority for Sister Hazel, so it’s no surprise that the band has helped to raise over half a million dollars through concerts and silent auctions of handwritten lyrics held to benefit the charity they founded, Lyrics For Life.
Funds raised for the Lyrics For Life charity go to help children and adults battling cancer and the group hosts five to six events every year, where Sister Hazel and artists such as Elton John, the Beastie Boys, Jessica Simpson, Tim McGraw, Stone Temple Pilots, Barenaked Ladies, Aerosmith, Kid Rock, R.E.M., and many more have assisted in the cause.
“We’ve been fortunate with our success,” Block said. “As a band, we’ve always put writing songs that we believe in, putting on powerful live shows, and being passionate about our craft at the top.”
Trojanowski attributes a lot of the band’s durability to a simple statement.
“When you set yourself up as a band, a democracy, it lasts longer,” Trojanowski said. “That equal partnership is key.”
For over 13 years and counting, Sister Hazel has been producing quality music while relying on their roots – growing as a lifestyle and a community due to phenomenal fan interaction, constant touring, charity work and an ever-important spiritual soundtrack to life.
Their music is a monumental masterpiece in the making, and listeners can rest assured that Hazel’s heavenly harmonies remain solid and intact – much like a best friend or family.
Sister Hazel produces a perfect product every time they enter the studio – year in and year out they give their listeners the best gift a fan can ask for, the gift of fantastic music from the best of the bests.
For Hazel, Absolutely is another amazing step along the twists and turns of life.
But in my opinion, Absolutely is more than that – its proof that Sister Hazel has passed the status of musical greatness and they venture on the brink of becoming legends.
Let’s take a look at the facts:
First, Sister Hazel has sold over 2 million albums; Somewhere More Familiar is certified platinum, while Fortress is certified gold; the band performs over 150 shows a year.
Second, the band has had six top 30 singles; ‘All For You’ topped the charts in 1997 and was also the #1 recurrent in 1998.
Third, over $500,000 has been raised towards Sister Hazel’s cancer charity Lyrics For Life; the band also founded the Rock Boat in 2001, the world’s largest floating music festival; Rock Boat VII, which sets sail in January 2007, sold-out in just one day.
Fourth, since becoming a band 13 years ago, the band has released five full-length albums, a double live CD, a DVD (A Life In The Day), and two acoustic EP’s; in addition, the band’s sixth album, Absolutely, will be in stores October 10, 2006.
In my book, Hazel already tops the list when it comes to quality music.
And Absolutely proves they belong at the top, from the first beat of ‘Shame’ to the final note of ‘Everything Else Disappears.’
Denton Ramsey can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com