Blast From SC Past: 1994 Interview with Mark Bryan of Hootie & the Blowfish

Back in January of 1994 the world didn’t know about Hootie & the Blowfish yet, but they were a big deal in their home state of South Carolina. I hung out with guitarist Mark Bryan one afternoon around that time and we talked about a wide range of things regarding his band, their past and future–remember that at the time they had just signed with Atlantic and had not yet even begun recording what would become Cracked Rear View, one of the biggest selling debut albums ever. What follows is the published version of that conversation which originally appeared in the Columbia Free Times:

Hootie & The Blowfish

South Carolina based band Hootie and the Blowfish have been a mainstay on the regional scene for several years, and now with a firm major label deal in the works and a hot selling self-released disc already out, they are poised to break on a much wider scale. I recently had a chance to sit down and talk to Mark Bryan, guitarist for the band, and converse about a number of topics. Conversation with Mark is quite animated and involved, so rather than reproduce the entire, somewhat one-sided affair, here’s a few highlights about the past, present, and future of Hootie and the Blowfish.


“It is kind of a hard name to take seriously. We really thought that might be one of our dilemmas along the line. However, most people in positions that count have said there is something about it that they like. Once they saw the numbers we were drawing at our live shows, and the amount of discs we sold, they finally took it seriously.”


“The evolution of the band follow exactly that of the members. The more original material we wrote, th emore we realized, hey, we could do this. We’ve been focused on original music ever since, about four years now. We’ve always had the college crowd, but in the last two years, ever since we started putting tapes out, to see people singing along has been incredible. As a songwriter that is the biggest reward, to be able to relate to people.


“We still don’t know what the full story with JRS Records is. There was a band when we were with JRS called Dillinger. JRS put megabucks into them, and they didn’t sell much at all. Bands like that, that’s where the label really takes a loss. That band is probably the reason we never got off the ground with JRS, because they lost so much on them. At one point, we asked if we could get out of the deal without doing an album, and they said yeah, go ahead, we’re just slowing you up. They still had every intention of doing it. Even after we were freed, they called us back and said if we can come up with something by this date will you still use us? We said yes, but they didn’t, so we released Kootchypop right after that.


Kootchypop got released in July of 1993, and started selling pretty good right away. It was recorded at Reflection in Charlotte with Mark Williams co-producing with us. Don Dixon put in harmonies for one song.


“The weird thing about our songs being on the radio is the context that they are in, hearing them inbetween a John Hiatt tune and The Replacements. And also to hear a commercial as a Hootie song fades, never heard that before. That’s the strange part, but it’s a cool feeling, I would say cool rather than weird. Also we are lucky as hell that four commercial radio stations played the disc in regular rotation–two in Columbia, 96Wave in Charleston, and one other.


“We got a call from a guy named Tim Sommer, who is A&R from L.A. for Atlantic Records. he got in touch with us over the phone and said there was some interest. He and Rusty Harmon, our manager, had a long talk about everything, about how we ran our operation, and before ever seeing us he was impressed mostly by the fact that everything we had done on our own, just us and our manager, and a few others. Obviously, he realized we were hard workers. So he figured, hey, if I like this band live they’re going to be an easy sign because you don’t have to do much to them, or ask too much of them. Basically, you take them from where they are and bring them up to the next level–that was what he was excited about.
So he came and saw a live show at Myskyns (in Charleston) and the next night at Rockafellas, those two shows, and ended up having a few brews with us after the shows, and hanging out. When I met him, I thought we were going to meet a suit. He walked up with Rusty and he was wearing a jeans jacket with long, curly hair. After partying with us those two nights, he said, ‘this is good, I like you guys on a professional level and a personal level.’ The next week he called back with an offer.


I really like the fact that the stuff we listened to in college, that sort of new, what used to be considered ‘alternative’, is now popular. I’m holding quotes up here, because I can’t stand that label. I can’t stand any labels, to be honest with you. Stuff like Pearl Jam, The Gin Blossoms, that’s great music, I think. Sincere, heartfelt, guitar rock, which is our favorite stuff. To see that become popular, to me, is such a blessing. Whether or not that has had anything to do with our success I don’t know. It’s not like we were riding that wave–we’ve been doing this all along, and I guess a lot of other people in our generation have, too, because now it’s really kicking in and it’s so exciting to see.
My best example of this is Dave Pirner from Soul Asylum. The guy’s been writing killer rock since 1983, and finally in1993 he gets his due. To see that come around, anyone who tries to tell me he sold out, I’d like to punch them in the nose. Because there’s never been a more sincere, gutsy rock and roll songwriter. When I listen to “Black Gold,” that rocks just as hard as anything from Hang Time, or whatever. They’re a great band, and it’s just so good to see that style of music become popular and contemporary. I’ts a good feeling that music is going in a cool direction for once. And everything comes around that goes around, I’m sure that there will be a next wave, it’ll be ridiculous music, but bands like them have always been around, and always will be.


“Labels stink, don’t use them. Just listen to the music, and if you like it, cool. That’s what I hope is going to happen with Hootie. I pray that when our album comes out that enough people are going to say ‘hey, I like this band.’ That’s it, not ‘they sound like this, or they’re trying to do this.’ Screw that, no we’re not.”


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