"I heard 'Wagon Wheel' at my daughter’s high school talent show" Darius Rucker in conversation

The road of music history is littered with the discarded bodies of broken bands, and their lead singers who thought they were better. There are far fewer lost souls that’ve tried a totally different genre of music from where they made their name. And even fewer who have tried to turn to country music, a genre that Steven Tyler tried to break in 2016 and failed. It’s even more surprising then that former Hootie himself, frontman of Hootie and the Blowfish, Darius Rucker, has not only survived, he’s flourished. Four number one singles and four number one albums on the country charts suggest he made the right choice. We had the chance to chat with Darius when he was in the UK recently at C2C Country To Country Festival.

So you’ve got a new record lined up for this year?
Yeah, it’ll be out in the fall.

And how’s that been for you then? Have you approached it differently to your previous albums, or have you got a good set of processes that you do that make it successful?
We’ve got a different producer this time, so that just right there breeds approaching it different. Although for me it’s always about the songs. I love great songs on my record, and so it’s about the songs, but I think they are going to sound a little bit different, be a little bit different, just because we’ve got a different producer and producers see things a bit differently so it’s going to be a lot of fun. I love it. As a musician I think it’s the best record I’ve ever made and I just can’t wait to hear people who like music to hear it.

And so is that the kind of thing that keeps you going, the sort of challenge of making something better each time you do something? Or do you just love music, and whatever comes out comes out?
You want to do something that’s different every time and do something that’s great every time, but basically I just love music, I love songs. It’s about the song for me. If there’s a great song I’m going to cut it. And I’m going to cut it and I’m going to sing it. But what it all comes down to, it’s really all about the music for me.

And how do you kind of go about choosing the types of song you want on a record? Do you have an idea before you start that process, whether you want a ballad, an uptempo song or something a bit more rocky, or do you just kind of see what comes along and make your choice based on what’s available and what you end up writing?
Oh yeah, there are never any really preconceived notions for me. It’s all about seeing what comes along and seeing what I like, what I think is great, what I want to sing. And which songs…even if I wrote it or didn’t write it, some songs just make me want to sing it. And so it all comes down to the music and the words and the melodies, and what makes me want to go “Man, I want to cut that song”.

How did you come about a song like 'Wagon Wheel', that's obviously written by somebody else?
It varies. With 'Wagon Wheel', I had known that song forever. And I heard it at my daughter’s high school talent show. And there was a band of teachers, three teachers and two janitors and a vice-principal and stuff and they were playing 'Wagon Wheel'. And they were playing it in a way that I’d never heard it before, because I’d always thought it was a bluegrass song and they were playing it very country with drums and I thought “wow, that sounds new”. There are songs that I write and I love, and there are some songs that are sent over by writers. There’s always guys e-mailing me “we have a song and we thought of you” and stuff like that, and if the song jumps out at me and makes me feel a part of it, then I want to record of it.

Is there something specific about the new record that makes it kind of different from the old ones, or is it kind of just a general feel to it that is something a little bit different?
Oh, it’s real different. It’s got some really great songs. I wrote some songs, including one with Luke Bryan and Charles Kelley who really developed that and I think it's going to be a huge smash. I can’t say it’s more uptempo, more anything, there’s just something about the record that makes me say “this is better than anything I’ve ever done”.

And was that part of your choice of having a different producer for this record, wanting to do something that might come out a bit different? Or was that just a happy coincidence of working with someone different?
Well, Frank Rogers and I made four great records together… five including the Christmas record. And we did some great stuff, it just felt like it was time to try something different. To try one of the other guys, and Ross was my choice. He’s great and he’s fun and he’s awesome to work with. It’s one of those records where I can’t wait for people to hear it. It’s something I’m really proud of.

You mentioned that you’ve recorded a song with Luke Bryan and Charles Kelley. There’s a lot of collaboration that happens in and around Nashville; do you think that’s because of the town, or the industry?
I think it’s the friendly vibe of Nashville. The friendly vibe of country music. Before, you hang out with somebody and say “I’ve got this song that I love that we should get on” and you’re both like “yeah, let’s do it”. And then managers would get involved… That would never happen in country music. With Luke, Charles and I had this great idea to do this song and we were sitting around talking “Luke would sound great on this”. I called him up, he was on stage, and left a message. He called me right back. I said “I have this song I want you on”. And he said “okay”. And then he comes and does it. And then you let everybody figure out later. That’s the joy of Nashville. Everybody’s pulling for each other and is happy for each other and when we connect and hang out we love to do it.

That must be really refreshing, like you say, coming from a sort a different vibe from a more rock background, where people are more in their own silos. It must be nice to be in that family vibe and not have all that red tape and paperwork dictate everything. That it’s not the thing that decides who you work with.
Exactly. It’s such a breath of fresh air to be working with people like that. I mean, people are just friendly. If they like you and want to do it, they do it. Luke’s my boy. We’ve been friends for eight years. I knew when I called him, he’s like “dude, yeah! I’m in if you want me in”. And he came and did it, and he’s the biggest star in the business right now. It’s cool to have somebody like that show you what’s really going on in country music and the family atmosphere that exists there.

You’ve mentioned Hootie a couple of times. Does it every surprise you that you’ve so successfully managed to become a credible country musician?
Oh, absolutely. I was going to do my first record in a basement studio we have in Charleston with my buddies, because I didn’t think I could get a record deal. So when I got my deal, I wasn’t really looking for one, because I didn’t think anybody would give me one. Capitol gave me a deal and let me make the record I wanted to make, and really worked it for me. And to be here now, almost nine years later, four number one records and all the number one singles I’ve had and all that stuff, it’s just been like crazy to me. Sometimes I stop and pinch myself and go “is this really happening?” Now I’m in the UK playing with Reba McIntyre at C2C for three days. It doesn’t get any cooler than that.

It’s great as well that you still play some Hootie stuff. Because a lot of people would have tried to distance themselves from their old lives.
I’m so proud of what Hootie and the Blowfish did. It was great and it was a blast and it was super. And I think now going out when I play tunes, I play those songs for people who remember that. Who were part of that and liked it, and you play a couple of songs and they’re so happy and…so yeah, I would never distance myself from Hootie. We did a great thing.

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