Sister Hazel‘s ninth full-length album was released in 2016. Lighter in the Dark reached No. 4 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart and, on the heels of its success, the Gainesville sextet decided to challenge themselves by committing to a project that would see the release of four EPs over two years. The first, Water, debuted at No. 9 on the same chart, while the second, Wind, debuted at No. 46. Wind also debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes chart.
As they prepare to set sail for the 19th year of their The Rock Boat cruise, they also prepare to finish their Elements EP series. Guitarist Andrew Copeland chats with Nashville Noise from the band’s home base in Gainesville about this unique project and 25 years of making music with his friends.
Nashville Noise: Do most of you guys still call Gainesville home?
Andrew Copeland: Ken [Block] and I do. A couple of the other guys are in different places: [Jeff] Beres is in West Palm Beach, Ryan [Newell] lives up in D.C., Dave [LaGrande], our keyboard player
Does being spread out make things challenging for you or is it pretty easy to pick things up where you left them?
AC: At this point, it’s pretty easy. For rehearsals, they all came down here… There are a couple of venues here that let us rehearse. R
You mentioned that you were on Florida’s campus. Have you always maintained a great relationship with the University of Florida?
AC: Absolutely! Four of the five of us graduated from the University of Florida. We’re all hardcore Gators. Everybody except our drummer is a Florida graduate. We’ve remained close and we enjoy that relationship.
You guys got your start touring the SEC pretty hard. Do you have fond memories of those days?
AC: Absolutely! And you know what’s funny about going into those towns; going into Auburn or going into Athens or going into Tallahassee or any of the places that Florida has rivalries, you always kind of felt like, “They know.” [laughs] “Like, they know where we’re from.”
But it’s cool, because you also always felt like, for one night, we’d go in and we’re all just having a good time. But yeah, those were great memories. And we still hit the college cities really heavy. Those are fun times.
In 2018, you released two EPs. Why did you opt for EPs rather than release them together as an LP? Was there a strategy to that?
AC: Yeah, there was. Our bass player, Beres, he came up with an idea of… pre-organizing four EPs. The cool thing about this idea is that each of the last songs on the four EPs would connect to the last song on the other EPs. Each of them
What’s funny for us is that we’re all still pretty old school, we like putting out full-length records and giving people a chance to go on a journey. But this has been a lot of fun and it’s really required us to crank out new music fast. It’s been a good time for us to get into the studio, cranking out new music and giving our fanbase something fresh every few months. That’s been kind of nice.
The third release, Fire, is out today. What about the fourth release?
AC: Part of this rehearsal period is to discuss the final one. We’ve already recorded two songs for it. We’ll discuss the next four songs that will round that out, plus the bonus track. We’re kind of in the process of working on the final record [in the series] right now.
You’ve largely kept the same lineup for 25 years. What’s the secret to that longevity?
AC:We made it through the madness. We made it through the crazy time. On this side of our career, we’re all very thankful to still make music for a living. We all have families. We have kids. All of our priorities are in line.
One of the biggest common threads that we all have is that we all have a very sharp sense of humor. We laugh a lot. I would challenge people to find a job where they laugh more than we do. I’m talking about good belly laughs, not courtesy giggles at somebody’s joke. We spend some good time laughing.
Back in the day, it seems like every one of those SEC towns had emerging acts. There were you guys and Jump, Little Children and Hootie and the Blowfish and Better Than Ezra. All of those bands that were traveling that circuit and playing those college towns. Do you maintain a good relationship with some of your peers that are still out there playing music?
AC: Absolutely! We’ve got great friendships with a lot of those guys that you just mentioned. The Hootie guys have always been dear friends. We stay in touch with those guys: Better Than Ezra, Edwin McCain, the guys from Tonic. There’s a lot of great friendships out there.
And you know, with the event that we do every year called The Rock Boat, we’ve made new friends. It’s been a really cool journey. I look back on the influence that we had on up-and-coming artists and the influence that we had on lives through our music and it’s so gratifying. It’s hard to put into words.
You’ll obviously be releasing two EPs. What does the rest of 2019 look like for you guys? Will you be making your way back toward Nashville?
AC: Absolutely. We’re touring kind of non-stop. We jump back in the studio to record songs here and there, but for the most part, we’re out on the road. 2019 is already shaping up to be another busy, successful year for us. W
Fire is out now. Grab your own copy by clicking on the album artwork below.