The Gainesville, Florida band Sister Hazel drifts effortlessly along the edge of Southern rock and country to the delight of loyal fans known as “Hazelnuts.” The five talented musicians cemented their place in musical history with “All for You” topping the adult alternative charts in 1997. The album went platinum.
To get up close and personal, plan to attend NOCtoberfest from 8:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Oct. 26 at Nocatee Station Field near the Splash Park. Four back-to-back Billboard Top Country Albums Chart entries shift the band to a new, or maybe just expanded, audience. The most recent project is a series entitled “Elements” that was released Sept. 6. “Good for You” is the first single.
The Recorder caught up with Sister Hazel drummer, Mark Trojanowski, who answered some questions about the band.
How did you guys meet and decide to form a band?
In 1993 Ken Block was looking to put together an original music project. He was already in other bands and playing a duo gig with Drew Copeland. Ken put up a flyer looking to form a new original project. Jett Beres, our bass player, was the first to respond to the flyer and for the first year there was another drummer and guitar player in the band. I joined the band in the summer of 1995 to fill the drum slot and Ryan Newell came on in January of 1996. Since January of 1996, it has been the same five guys in the band.
“Hazelnuts” know the origin of your band name but tell the rest of our readers why you’re called Sister Hazel.
I was not around when the naming of the band happened, but I would imagine there were a multitude of names being discussed. When Ken was thinking of naming the band after Sister Hazel Williams, he did not know she was still alive. In the early 1990s she was not present in Gainesville, as she was running missions in Belize and Haiti. It wasn’t until she came back to Gainesville that she learned a band had taken her name. She reached out to Ken one early Sunday morning on the phone and they set up a meeting at a Shoney’s. Sister Hazel Williams was okay with the band using her name after sitting down and talking with Ken, who described the types of songs he had written and that the band was promoting a very positive, uplifting experience.
Can you recall your first “real” gig as a band?
One of my first shows with the band was the Floyd’s Music store in Tallahassee. I had just joined the band in the summer of 1995 and our bass player had just left for Europe. So, I had to wait about two months before playing my first show.
I have been playing drums since I was 10 years old. During my early years of instruction and through my college music experience I was put under many high-pressured musical experiences. All of that training and practicing helps to create confidence and a feeling of calmness.
Only two of you still call Gainesville, Florida home. How does that work with your schedules recording and touring?
When we need to rehearse, write songs or record we will get together either in Nashville, Gainesville or Atlanta. We still spend over 80 days a year playing shows so we are also able to use the time on the road to work on things if we need extra days.
What music did you listen to growing up and why?
I listened to a lot of jazz music growing up. From Count Basie to Miles Davis, I just listened to it all. I think the biggest way it shaped me was how well those jazz players were able to play each night. They had such an extensive vocabulary and were always listening to the music around them. They also had an amazing sense of time.
How has your music changed since “All for You”?
I actually think our current sound is very close to the Somewhere More Familiar record. We have always had piano, organ and other keyboard parts on our records since Somewhere More Familiar. We just never took out a keyboard player on the road. A while back we met Dave LaGrande and had the ability to bring him on as a side musician with the band. We enjoyed having that other instrumentation live and he has stayed out with us for seven years. I think if you compare the sound of the new “Element” records to Somewhere More Familiar you will hear a lot of the same instrumentation. There are a lot of acoustic instruments on these new records and not a lot of layering of instruments. I think the sounds on Fortress, Chasing Daylight and Absolutely are very different than the new records and Somewhere More Familiar.
Tell us about your new music on EP, Earth. Do you play any of the songs from it live currently?
We are trying to play one song from each record live. It gets hard some nights because there are so many records and certain songs we feel obligated to play for the fans.
That wraps up the “Element” series, so what’s next for you?
I think we are still trying to figure that out. We just released the final EP so we will be thinking about what is next shortly.
What can we expect at the Nocatee “NOCtoberfest” concert Oct. 26?
A fun live show where we will try to connect with the fans. We try to play a mixture of songs and sometimes will throw in a cover.
What’s the inspiration behind the philanthropic effort, Lyrics for Life?
I think we have all been affected by cancer in some way. Ken Block lost his younger brother when he was 13 to cancer. I think when our band developed the opportunity to make a difference, we wanted to do something to raise money for cancer as well as help kids and families through the rough times of the treatment. We have been doing Lyrics for Life shows since 2002 and it has been great that we started doing them in Gainesville the last three years. There has been a lot of community support and the charity has been able to raise a lot of money.