Founded by vocalist/guitarist Ken Block in Florida in 1993, Sister Hazel is somewhat of an anomaly: A successful career band that has kept the same original members for 27 years. After nearly three decades together, Block, guitarist/vocalist Andrew Copeland, bassist/vocalist Jett Beres, guitarist/vocalist Ryan Newell, and drummer Mark Trojanowski are still making albums, playing shows, headlining their annual “Rock Boat” cruise, and more.
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With dozens of full-length albums, EPs and other recordings, Sister Hazel may be best-known for their 1997 international hit “All for You,” and has a core group of fans – “Hazelnuts” – that have followed the band since the beginning. Taking a break from writing new material, Block spoke with American Songwriter via phone about the band’s history and what keeps it ticking like a well-crafted watch.
“Everybody was a University of Florida student,” Block recalled. “I put the band together, and in the beginning I wrote the lion’s share of the songs, but eventually everybody started contributing more as songwriters. Over the years everyone in our band has become a strong songwriter. Each of us has a different feel to our work. That’s been really important to help us move forward and continue to evolve as a band. We all turn in songs for each new record, and then we painstakingly and democratically try to pick the ones we’re collectively the most excited about, and what songs fill certain lanes to make a record flow smoothly and feel cohesive.”
The band members have collaborated with outside writers as well, including such notables as Richard Marx and fellow Floridian Stan Lynch, former drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. And Block said the band members are no strangers to the Nashville songwriting scene, some of them having written with Music City writers like Tom Douglas (Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban) and Ashley Gorley (Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett). “We’ve spent a lot of time in Nashville,” he said, “and the fabric of Nashville is nothing new to us, and the same goes with us writing with outside writers there. In Nashville, you can really keep learning and explore new ways to approach things – even this far into our career. Nashville has some Ivy League songwriters!”
Sister Hazel has been called folk-rock, country-rock, Southern rock, and more, and while all those flavors exist in the band’s music, Block said their sound is nothing more than the sum of its parts.
“When we first came out people were calling us alternative,” he said, “and it’s, like, alternative to what? We were kind of on the tail end of grunge, and we certainly weren’t that. It’s acoustic guitars, it’s harmonies, it’s storytelling. I can honestly say we’ve never said we’re going to make a rock record or a country record or an Americana record. We serve the song. And however that comes out, it is what it is. When the five of us get behind our instruments and play together, when we sing together, we make a noise, we make a specific sonic thing. It’s in the way our rhythm section works together and creates this energy, and it’s certainly Ryan’s guitar playing, which is like a secret weapon.”
Block said that Sister Hazel has lasted this long because of the spirit of camaraderie and brotherhood that exists within the band.
“It comes down to having a trust with each other, and I think certain things just happen after you’re a band for a lot of years. We’ve had deaths in families, we’ve had divorce, we’ve had me going into treatment and getting clean and sober in 2002. We’ve been through a lot together, and that brotherhood just grows tighter and tighter because of it, because we realized that we’re all in this together, that we share a vision. We’ve had different ideas on how to get there, but it’s that push and pull that makes us uniquely who we are. We get along great, we laugh tremendously. I can’t tell you a day that there aren’t belly laughs on that tour bus. We mess with each other like brothers do, but we know we’ve got everybody’s best interest at heart at the end of the day. It’s really been pretty remarkable.”
“We work through decisions together, we navigate stuff together, we get our hands dirty, we answer the hard questions,” he continued. “It would be fair to say that we are a five-man democracy. We’re a working band, a hard-working American band, always have been. We play about 120 shows a year typically, we’re always writing, and we take a few gaps in there where we can go in and record. We always just try to make sure we’re moving forward. There’s just something about the mix of our personalities, our ideas about how we want to get where we want to go. It’s something pretty special.”
Get the new album from Sister Hazel, ‘Elements’ on your favorite streaming service.