HAZEL HIGH: A Newell Kind of Cool…

by dentonramsey


Sister Hazel lead guitarist Ryan Newell proving band’s longevity is due to the group’s loyal love and persistent passion for both their fans and their music…

By Denton Ramsey


Absolutely says it all.

Absolutely phenomenal, absolutely the best.

Sister Hazel’s latest release, due to hit stores on Oct. 10, is proof that this band knows all too well about the ups and downs in life.

And with Absolutely, the band returned to their roots – going back to their origins in Gainesville, Florida to record and demo their music before narrowing their song selection down to 13 tracks.

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to sit down and speak with lead guitarist Ryan Newell about the band’s progress, their latest release, and what it’s like to be a member of one of the greatest bands of all times…


DR: What is it like being the lead guitarist for the greatest band of all times?

RN: Well, I certainly don’t consider us the greatest band of all times. Getting to play music for a living is a privilege and just to get to play the music that I love with great people in the band – they are great musicians and they are my best friends and we are very fortunate.

DR: How old were you when you first decided, ‘hey, I want to be a musician…’?

RN: I began playing guitar at the age of eight and was pretty serious about is all the way up. I pretty much deiced I wanted to be a musician by the time I was 10. The first band I was in was called TNT in fourth grade… I played guitar. I first began playing the drums in the third grade and switched to guitar in fourth grade.

DR: What is your inspiration in life and in the music Sister Hazel performs?

RN: Well, you know, as far as music goes, I would say that just being true to yourself and doing what comes natural and following your heart… being who you are instead of following trends and being something you are not.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of being you and being true to yourself. As far as balancing music with everything else in life, everyone in the band has strong families and grew up in strong family grounds – and we balance the two. We make sure that our family life comes first and that Sister Hazel comes second.

DR: Who is your role model and why?

RN: I’d have to say my mom was a huge role model – she overcame lots of obstacles in life – she beat cancer three times and she is a very positive person and she works extremely hard… and she’s my hero.

DR: Tell me a little more about Lyrics for Life…

RN: Everyone in the band has been affected by cancer in some way… Ken [Block] actually lost his little brother to cancer.  All of us are actively involved and are willing to do whatever it takes to help beat cancer.

DR: Where were you guys when the five of you decided to form Sister Hazel, and what has the ride been like since that time?

RN: There was a huge music scene in the southeast back in the day – especially in the Florida area. I was in several bands in Gainesville and a lot of the bands would break off and form another band.

Basically, I had been in a band called Waterdog that Jett Beres was in before me and when he went out of the band, I ended up joining. So I’d go see Ken and Andrew because they would do a duo together in town. I heard Ken wanted to put a band together, but I was already committed to another band called Black Creek.

We [Ken, Andrew, Jett and Mark] would jam all the time and I actually did play on the first record, four songs, but I just wasn’t officially a member yet. I moved to Tallahassee and played with Black Creek for a year and played with Sister Hazel everyone once in a while.

I really enjoyed my time with the band and felt that Sister Hazel was the right thing… and at the time, they all had either day jobs or were in school. So I told them once they wanted to do it and make Sister Hazel a number one priority, I’m in… then they told me, ‘we’re going to do it.’

When we first formed the band, we locked ourselves in a room and went through a bunch of songs and created what we have today.

DR: Tell me a little more about Absolutely

RN: We’re extremely proud of it… it definitely shows the forward motion with how we’re growing as musicians and song writers. We try to accept our strengths and weaknesses and really extenuate them on this.

Over time, we’ve figure out what we’re good at and what we’re not good at, and this album helps us to not forget what we came from and what makes us sound like Sister Hazel.

Typically, for each record, we all come to the table with a bunch of songs and we co-write with each other and pile the songs up and go through them, demo them all up and figure out which ones work together and excite people and narrow them down and record them.

We usually write and record around 50 demos for each record – with this one, we wrote a bit more. It’s a difficult process – but sometimes you’ve just got to pull the trigger. We have producers and our wives – I know it might sound funny but you’ve got to get opinions from somewhere, and we start to see trends that certain songs are special and that others are less special.

DR: Outside of music, what are your favorite things to do?

RN: Music – I do make a living playing music and it’s also my recreational fun as well. I am very blessed to be able to make a living doing what I love. But I spend a lot of time in my basement writing and recording stuff just for fun.

I’m also a computer junkie and I am always on the computer – I also paint a little but. Pretty much, its music and family.

DR: Any kids?

RN: I don’t have any kids, but I do have two dogs – they are my baby training-wheels…

DR: Briefly describe the other members of your band and what makes them so unique to Sister Hazel….

RN: First of all, if I can say it in a couple words – all at the same time – I’d say talented, committed, and funny. You know, because a lot of the reasons we’re a band today is because of our sense of humor –we have a way of making each other laugh and that’s kind of how we get through the hard times.

There are ups and downs being in any relationship – the humor has carried us through. When things are down and seem to be going downhill, someone cracks a joke and we’ll all laugh and get back on focus.

DR: In your opinion, what makes the album Absolutely so unique?

RN: I think it all – every record, from every artist – it all boils down to the quality of the songs. This album has good bones, the songs are there.

Like I said earlier, the way we went about arranging and putting the songs together – we just know through the years of us playing life and getting to know each other – we didn’t impede on strengths and weakness –we tried to capture what everyone does best.

DR: Where do you see yourself and Sister Hazel in five years? 10 years?

RN: Hopefully still writing and playing good music – we really haven’t done anything else. We started out as kids doing this and none of us has had ‘real careers.’

This is it for us, and as long as people still want to hear us and as long people still come see us, we are going to continue making it.


What more can be said?

Ryan Newell just proves the band is much more than words and music – they are true to life individuals with a love and focus on their fans.

The Newell kind of cool is in, and I love it.

These guys are absolutely amazing, and I can’t wait to continue jamming out to Sister Hazel albums for years to come.


Denton Ramsey can be reached via e-mail at denton.ramsey@gmail.com