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Sister Hazel and The Power of Music – A “Lighter in The Dark” Interview

Arts & Entertainment

By Kelsi McKee-Morris

(Palm Harbor) Before the Ybor City stop on the “We Got It All Tonight Tour”, Ryan Newell from Sister Hazel took the time to answer a few questions about musical influences, the creative process, and how the band gives back to both its fans and the community.

  • “Sister Hazel refers to believing in “the power of music”; explain what this power feels like to you as musicians.”

Newell: “Music is a healing experience.  It can lift you up and give you strength in times of need. To be able to provide some music that speaks to people is why musicians do what they do. First you write it to help yourself, and then you hope other people can benefit from it as well.”

  • “The band is from Gainesville, and so was the great Tom Petty; did his music have an influence on you? How about his death?”

Newell: “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are probably our band’s biggest influence. We all have varied influences but Tom is something we all agree on. We have worked with Stan Lynch, their original drummer, so we feel a little more connected to the band. Their songs, parts and arrangements are perfect.  His passing is a huge loss for everyone.”

  • “What new music/artist has caught your ear recently?”

Newell: “I really like Joey Landreth and the Landreth Brothers. They have been around since 2013. They remind me of Lowell George and Little Feet. Great songs, great musicians.”

  • “Who are your biggest creative influences?”

Newell: “Musically, as mentioned above, Tom Petty. There are so many. A lifetime of being an intense music fan will give a long list of influences. A short list would include: Allman Brothers, Beatles, Eagles, Queen, Led Zeppelin, U2, Stevie Ray Vaughan, AC/DC, Van Halen, Zappa, James Taylor and that’s just the beginning of my “rock” list.”

  • “What is your favorite city or venue to play?”

Newell: “I love playing Red Rocks in Colorado. It’s a magical experience.”

  • “What’s the biggest change you see in the music scene from 20 years ago to now?”

Newell: “Music is free. Everyone streams or just flat out takes it. It’s almost impossible to make it as a young artist these days. People will always try to do it for the sheer love of the music but they’re not making money unless they are gigantic stars.”

  • “When writing for “Lighter in the Dark”, what finally broke the writer’s block you all were experiencing? What set the tone for this album?”

Newell: “We wrote the whole time between records. We actually had a creative burst that we didn’t want to interrupt. We are still going back to all of those songs to this day. Every song on our next release is from those writing sessions. We finally had to say “ok, enough writing, let’s put this stuff out!” We also changed management and wanted to make sure we were hitting on all cylinders before the release.”

  • “What’s your favorite song you’ve written together and why?”

Newell: “Jett, Ken and myself wrote “Mandolin Moon” in a hotel room in Gainesville, FL. I like it because it stands the test of time with our fans. It’s the one of a handful of songs that people are upset with us if we don’t play it at shows.”

  • “A lot of artists get heat for changing their sound when releasing new albums, but you all are never afraid to ‘go with your flow’. How do you think you’ve accomplished this so successfully?”

Newell: “We just play what the song asks us to play. I’m not sure if we are even capable of escaping our signature sound. When we get together to play, it’s 1 2 3 4 instant Sister Hazel. We can lean different ways but it’s always us. We let the people who have to sell it decide what to call it.”

  • “Bands fall apart all the time. How have you all stayed so close and collaborative over the course of twenty years?”

Newell: “We have learned that if you think it’s not going to bother you in a week, just let it go. We don’t fight every battle like the old days. We have also learned to trust each other. We let each person use their strengths. It gives everyone a role.”

  • “Describe “Hazelnut Hang” and what inspired this weekend long event.”

Newell: “We have a lot of events outside of our regular shows. Our five-day cruise has been going strong since 2001. We wanted an event for our fans who can’t make the boat, to experience some of that vibe. A place with music, water, and “hang time” with the band. We also do special sets that you can only see at the event. Different theme nights and cover sets. It’s a blast.”

  • “What inspired the band to get involved in charities and events for children fighting cancer?”

Newell: “All of us have family history with cancer. Ken lost his little brother when he was 18. We started with Lyrics for Life. Ken is the founder. We are humbled every time we are reminded that this ugly disease is out there inflicting it’s evil. If we can bring attention to the cause, that is the least we can do.”

  • “Describe in one word what it’s like to experience a “Lighter in the Dark” moment.”

Newell: “Liberating.”

You can purchase Sister Hazel’s newest album “Lighter in the Dark” on iTunes, or check out their influences on Spotify with their playlist, “Songs We Wish We Wrote.” You can keep up with the band and their latest news at sisterhazel.com.

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