When Hootie & the Blowfish began work on Looking for Lucky [Sneaky Long/Vanguard], the quartet’s first studio album in two years, they were itching to try something new. Rather than craft all the material themselves—a tactic the group used for their first three albums, including the Grammy-winning debut, Cracked Rear View, which has sold a staggering 10 million copies since its 1994 release—they decided to brave the world of collaborative songwriting.
“This was the first time we used cowriters,” explains Darius Rucker, Hootie’s charismatic lead singer and acoustic guitarist. “Most of them were based in Nashville, where we recorded the album. The intense songwriting atmosphere there helped us get new musical ideas and grow as a band. Some of the writers, like Trick Pony’s Keith Burns, we knew personally, and others, including Matraca Berg, we met through Don Gehman, our producer. The writing process took several months. We collected about 45 songs, counting our individual efforts and the collaborations. The ones that felt strongest just naturally floated to the top of our ‘take to the studio’ list. We cut the basics in about 11 days. My favorites include ‘Hey Sister Pretty,’ which we wrote with Nick Brophy, and ‘Leaving,’ which we wrote with Paul Sanchez and recorded with [vocalist] John Cowan and [mandolin wizard] Sam Bush from New Grass Revival. Those guys are absolute idols of ours, and it was awesome to watch them work their magic in the studio.”
Many of the songs came together quickly. Brophy—who earned “X factor” credit in the album liner notes for his guitar parts, drum loops, and overall sonic mojo—recalls that he and Hootie lead guitarist Mark Bryan wrote “Hey Sister Pretty” in one afternoon. “I had a chordal pattern for a verse,” Brophy elaborates, “but I was a bit hesitant to bring it out because it was more alternative rock than what I’d heard on earlier Hootie records. But as soon as Mark played a guitar melody over it, I knew it was going to work. After we hashed out the chorus chords and an arrangement, Mark went to another room and began writing stream-of-consciousness lyrics, while I started tracking a demo in Pro Tools, using drum loops, bass, two acoustic guitars, two electric guitars, and a few odds and ends. Mark laid down a vocal, I did a quick mix, and the song was done.
“The following day I got together with Darius,” continues Brophy. “I’d been toying with an idea based on the Beatles song, ‘I’ve Got a Feeling.’ I spent the morning building an arrangement based on a live drum track I’d recorded for a different song. After adding bass, acoustic guitar—caoped high and doubled—and two electric guitars, I burned a quick mix and raced over to Darius’ hotel with the track blasting in my car. I kept singing ‘Hey, get off of my cloud’ in the chorus. Too bad the Stones got there first. When I picked up Darius, I changed the line to ‘Hey, get out of my mind.’ When we arrived at my house, Darius suddenly got a vivid story and the words just fell out of his mouth. We took three passes on his lead vocal and did quick background vocals. Within 90 minutes, we’d written and demoed ‘Get Out of My Mind,’ and were heading back to his hotel.”
For Rucker, the band’s cowriting experiment was a total success. “It’s always easier with more minds,” he declares. “I might say something one way, and the collaborator might put it another way. We’d merge the ideas and go, ‘Wow, that really works.’”
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