Sister Hazel Interview — ‘Heartland Highway’

I can’t remember where I was when I first heard Sister Hazel’s biggest hit, “All For You,” but I certainly remember singing it excessively. In fact, I’ve played . . . Somewhere More Familiar hundreds of times. So when my good friend – Rob Columbus – told me he was playing drums with the band for a few of their shows (because their regular drummer, Mark Trojanowski – had a baby), I immediately asked if he could land me an interview. He asked, and the band kindly agreed. I’ve never been more nervous. I spent the entire day immobile on the couch thinking of everything that could go wrong. Rob attempted to squash my panic by assuring me that the band members are “five of the nicest guys he’s ever met,” but nothing worked. Finally, I met the band. It became immediately clear that Rob wasn’t exaggerating. We did the interview in their dressing room at the Los Angeles House of Blues prior to their show. When we began, Ken Block (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) hilariously turned things around and started to interview me. Andrew Copeland (rhythm guitar, keys, vocals) laughed and said, “isn’t she supposed to ask the questions?” Thanks to Ken — I loosened up. It’s nice to meet a band with the perfect combination of success and humility. Enjoy!

I love that you still play the songs that made you famous. I know a lot of bands that get angry about playing their biggest hits. Is it difficult to sustain the energy playing those songs so many years later?

Ken: We’re fans of music, too. There are artists that we like to see, and we want them to play the songs that we love. People ask us if we get tired of playing “All For You.” It’s so fun to see how much it continues to resonate with people so long after that song came out. It’s more a feeling of gratitude that people still care and it can still make people sing every word no matter where we are in the world. And one of the things that’s so gratifying about our fan base is that they sing along to [our news songs, too].

Andrew: Even if they don’t know the words, they’ll just move their mouths as if they know the words. That’s even more fun to watch.

When you write a song about a tough personal experience in your life, does it reopen the wound every time you perform the song?

Andrew: There are certainly times when you fade back to something that reminds you of that time. It takes you back to what inspired the song.

Ken: There’s one song that I wrote that we had done for years, and after Andrew lost his dad he said he couldn’t do it anymore.

Andrew: He wrote it about losing his younger brother to cancer. I sang it with him forever, and I was always amazed that he could make it through without much of an issue. And when my dad passed away, I tried to sing it a couple of times and I couldn’t do it.

What song is that?

Ken: It’s called “Running Through the Fields.”

What about you Ryan? I know you wrote songs about your divorce. Is it difficult to keep singing those songs after you’ve healed?

Ryan Newell (lead and slide guitar, harmony vocals): The songs definitely helped me get through [my divorce] at the time and put my feelings into music. It’s like therapy. But I don’t go back to that place from where they came from. Once they went into the song they took on a life of their own. I don’t relive it every time we play the song. They don’t have that weight anymore.

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