After releasing your previous album ‘Release’ did you start working on new songs?
Right. We had music left over and people were still writing, so we just built upon the ‘Release’ record. We went back into the studio in January and recorded some more songs up in Nashville, TN.
Was the writing process for your new album ‘Heartland Highway’ more collaborative?
Well, it was kinda like the ‘Release’ record. There hasn’t been a lot of — in the last two records — collaboration within the band. There has been more collaborating outside of the band though. Ryan, Jett and Ken used to collaborate a bunch, but now Ryan is writing with outside people. And, Andrew has been doing that for a couple years now. This affects the sound of the songs and the vibe just because there are outside elements being brought in. We’ve also met a lot of musicians in Nashville. We’ve had some of them sit in with us and add some different elements that maybe normally wouldn’t be in a typical Sister Hazel record, say like 6 years ago.
Did you guys record your parts in the studio together or separately?
We usually get together for a week and sort of hash out the songs. Then, everyone figures out their part and we go into the studio. We always try to play everything together and come away with at least the drums, bass and one guitar track. We want the vibe or groove to be there and everything get built upon that. We’re definitely not one of those bands where you do drums and then you do bass, etc. We always play together because we feel like there’s a vibe that comes from that which you can’t get otherwise. And, I think that’s even become more apparent since we’ve been going to Nashville because that’s how they cut almost all the records there. It definitely works with us and I think it has also fine-tuned us to be better players. We push each other to get a better performance and try to get the performance from top to bottom without having to do any punches or anything.
Was the band trying to reinvent their sound for the new record?
Well, the ‘Release’ record was done just upon our Christmas record and we didn’t really want to go in and reinvent ourselves and come out with a completely different sound. But, we did want to do something different. On ‘Release’ everyone would write their own song, produce it and and keep their vision for it. So, the ‘Heartland Highway’ record took that even one step further. Besides writing and producing it, the person who wrote the song would sit in with the mixer and helped to mix the song to their vision. The ‘Release’ record was mixed as a group. With ‘Heartland Highway,’ the songs were mixed by the person who wrote the song and the engineer.
Sister Hazel will be playing a benefit show this month with The Wilmington Symphony Orchestra, right?
Yeah. We’ve actually been playing a few shows with different orchestras for several years, probably three of them with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. We have about 18-20 of our songs completely charted out for a 60-person orchestra and 16-person choir. Recently, we’ve been looking for other symphonies around the country to do it with. This opportunity presented itself this past year and we’re really excited about it. [For more information on the upcoming Chords For A Cause benefit show, please visit www.chordsforacause.com]
Do you have a large hand in arranging the scores?
Well, two of us come from music school backgrounds — myself and Ryan. We actually attended the same school out in North Texas. So, we definitely have the background but it’s not something we do often. There’s people that we went to school with or that we have connections with; we’ll work with them and tell them what we’re looking for. We know the theory, but unless you’re doing it everyday you’re not going to be able to sit down and score something up yourself.
Have you ever thought of doing a live DVD with an orchestra?
Yeah, we’ve been talking about that, but we need to find the right orchestra. Most orchestras are union-based and you can’t actually record with a union orchestra. We did a Christmas tour three years ago where I was able to find performing art high schools around the country and we got a 16-person string section and a choir and we arranged a bunch of our songs on our Christmas concert and have these kids at these performing art high schools come out and play with us around 16 cities. It was really awesome. We’d love to do it with a huge orchestra, but also it’s a pretty intense program. If you’re gonna do 18 songs and you’re trying to record it and make a DVD about it you want it to be a great performance. It’s almost a situation too where you’d have to do two nights in a row because to get a 60-person orchestra plus 5 band members to play a perfect show is really hard to do; if one person makes a mistake then you can’t use it.
Are you guys planning a new tour?
Yeah, our tour dates are jumbled around a little right now. We usually have a bunch of shows in Chicago during December and build more shows around those.
We’re also going to be doing our annual Rock Boat show in January. It’s leaving out of Tampa this year. This will be our 11th year of doing it. It’s kind of like a floating festival at sea. The cruise used to be in the fall but we’ve moved it to January because we’ve had weather issues. So, we haven’t decided where we’re going to go until we get on the boat and get out into the Gulf of Mexico. It’s always a really good time.
Sounds like fun! Thanks for taking the time to chat with us.
Pick up Sister Hazel’s new album Heartland Highway