Three years ago, Sister Hazel went from Florida-circuit heroes to big-time national hit makers almost overnight. With the insidiously catchy single "All for You" and its host album, "Somewhere More Familiar," the Gainesville five-piece was pressed through the same industry machine that's made matchbox twenty's Rob Thomas bitter and Creed's Scott Stapp, well, Jesus. Yet Sister Hazel still remain sort of the Huey Lewis happy guys of the Florida rock promise -- even if their newly released follow-up, "Fortress," is a darker, grittier affair. We caught up with head Hazel Ken Block on tour in Portland, Ore. to see if we could piss him off.
Orlando Weekly: I understand that you and your wife, Tracy, celebrated your anniversary this week. Is it still "hard to say what it is" you see in her?
Block: I'll tell you what, she's way cooler than I ever thought about being, and she keeps me in check. I'm really lucky to have somebody like that.
She doesn't have to see you all the time.
I've actually been with her for eight years, so she's seen this whole thing grow from the van-and-trailer days to now, traveling all over the place.
On your website, you have a letter that you composed as some fictitious communication from your child. What's that about?
It's such an incredibly intense experience becoming a father. ... It's a big mortality check for yourself, but there's also this incredibly deep sense of ancestry. I lost a brother when he was 18 and I was 20, and all of the sudden I see a little bit of him in my son. I've always been addicted to intensity, and this is the most intense thing I've ever gone through.
But how important is it to share that kind of stuff with fans on your website?
My whole deal as a writer and sort of a student of the human condition is therapy. I sit down and try and work through some things, and if I can share that in a way that people connect with and I can put it into words that move people, then that's really what it's all about.
How did you avoid the guttural Florida growl of Scott Stapp and Rob Thomas?
What's funny is I was in bands like that my whole life. I was in metal bands for years, I was singing all that stuff. Eventually, I ended up going back to where my roots were: the singer-songwriter stuff I grew up with as a kid.
The new record seems a little more adventurous.
"Somewhere More Familiar" was our demo, and we never got to redo it. ... After 300 shows the year that record came out, we really had a better idea of what we wanted to sound like.
You and Creed were both on the Jeff Hanson/Andy Levine machine a few years back. Would you take your shirt off for the cover of Spin magazine?
Would I? Sure.
Would you Vaseline down your chest hairs?
I don't know if I'd Vaseline down my chest hairs, but if Spin wanted me to be on the cover, I'm sure we could work something out. Maybe make it a scratch-and-sniff cover.
What's the harshest criticism you've gotten? What's hurt the most?
I try really hard to focus on all the positives that we get. I mean, our fan base, our grass-roots support, it's been huge. I have to live in that space more than I live in a critic's eye who maybe plays your record one time and moves on. The problem was, early on if they heard an acoustic guitar or harmonies, then you were automatically Dave Matthews or ... Blues Traveler.
Yeah. It's hard, because what I'm doing is writing the soundtrack of my life, and to have people hear it and say, "It's pretty good, but" -- and there's always a "but."
A couple of songs on the new record sound a little like Aerosmith.
(Laughs.) To me, it sounds a little like old Faces.
VH-1 just did a "Before They Were Rock Stars" spot on you guys. Did it feel strange being referred to as "rock stars"?
Yeah. It was playing in the van and I thought, "Oh my God, we fooled somebody here." But it was an honor and pleasure. That's one of those things I'll get to show my kid in a couple of years.
How have your expectations changed, now that you've been through it?
I think that you have to learn that you can only control what you can control. And have a good time, because if you're doing it for the money, you're doing it for the wrong reasons. All I can do at the end of the day is write a song that means something to me. If that connects with people, we've done our jobs -- whether or not we have girls in thong bikinis.