On the heels of his new album, Darius Rucker is getting set to tour with Brad Paisley. Rucker’s album, Learn to Live, hit number one on country charts, only a step behind his first country single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.” CMG spoke with him about the sudden country fame.
Country Music Goodness: Let’s talk about your early musical inspiration. What were your influences both in general and specifically from country?
Darius Rucker: Early, early on, when I was a kid in the 70s, it was all AM radio and Hee Haw. As I got older it was Foster & Lloyd, and that was really a big moment for me. That was when I just really wanted to play country. Artists like Nanci Griffith, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam were always in my CD player. Al Green was a huge early influence for me and always will be. He was the one guy I heard probably everyday growing up.
CMG: What was it like when you started playing in South Carolina? Can you describe some of the scenes that were going on there?
DR: When we were playing back then there were many Chili Pepper-hip-hop bands, and you had everything from the really alternative bands to the jam bands. But you always had a little bit of everything back then, and the scene was so good you could play the same club every six weeks.
CMG: Were there many country bands in South Carolina?
DR: There were a few. There are always a few country bands around wherever you go. Back when we were playing they weren’t getting the attention. It was more of the alternative thing going on back then, in the mid-80s, early-90s.
CMG: How did the idea to record a straight country record come up?
DR: I’ve been talking about it for a long time. I was going to do it and it came up now because a couple years ago I wasn’t looking for a record deal, Hootie was winding down and I planned on doing this thing here. We have ProTools in the studio here, and I was going to get some buddies and do it myself. But Capitol offered me a record deal, and I’m still shocked about that. I never thought anybody would give me a deal, and that’s why I wasn’t looking for one. They offered me a deal where I could really make the record I wanted to, with real producers in Nashville and with real writers. That changed the whole outlook of everything.
CMG: There are a lot of writing credits on the album. Were you more involved in writing the words or music, or was it a more collaborative effort?
DR: It was very collaborative. Everyone sat down and worked together. I loved the process. I’ve never really—well, maybe once or twice—written with other people. With Hootie it was like everybody wrote their own songs and then brought them in. It was just so cool and different and fun to sit down and write with some of the biggest guys in Nashville. And they were taking their time to write with me. I just thought it was cool and it was great experience. I really, honestly can’t wait to go write the next record.
CMG: Will you be working with the same group?
DR: I’m sure I’ll write a song with all those guys I wrote with. It was cool, I loved those guys, and I thought we wrote good stuff. We’ll see what we can do next.
CMG: There are quite a few break-up songs on the album. Is that a personal theme or does that just go along with writing country music?
DR: I think it goes along with it. Frank Rogers and I wrote songs like, “All I Want” yet we’re two pretty happily married guys. It’s one of those things where you write a song like that because it’s a shuffle and that’s a country music theme.
CMG: Whose going to be backing you up on tour?
DR: It’s just a bunch of Nashville cats. We had auditions, I have to thank every one of those guys, I just can’t believe those guys actually auditioned. It’s cool, we get tighter and tighter every day. I really can’t wait for the Brad Paisley tour. When that tour arrives in January we’re gonna be cookin’.
CMG: Should people come expecting just the country stuff, some of your older material, maybe some Hootie stuff?
DR: There are so many songs I have to play forever. And I have no problem with that. To me, as an artist, it’s a pretty cool thing to have a song you have to play every time you perform. It’s mostly the country stuff, but you’re gonna hear “Let Her Cry.” You just have to. I have to play it. You’re gonna hear “Hold My Hand,” I have to play it.
CMG: Are you on a break from Hootie and the Blowfish?
DR: Yeah, we’re taking a break. We still have some shows; we have some charity shows we have to play and that is very important to us. But I’m going to do this for a while. I’m sure we’ll do another Hootie record and Hootie tour sometime, but as long as Capitol will have me making country records, I’m gonna be making country records.
CMG: How is it different having a number one record now as opposed to back in the 90s with Hootie and the Blowfish?
DR: Mostly just being by myself with it. Back in those days it was the four of us, everything that happened was the four of us. With this its all me, whether it’s the bad stuff or the good stuff. It’s wild because we didn’t expect this back then either. I didn’t expect the single to do what it did, or for the record to come out and do as well at it’s doing. We expected a climb…But to actually get to begin there, and now to try to keep it there, is a pretty cool thing.
CMG: Were there influences in contemporary country what made you want to do this record?
DR: I wouldn’t say influences. I love Brad Paisley right now, I love Phil Vassar, I love Carrie Underwood, I think she’s unbelievably awesome. I think the outro of “Last Name” could be a number one hit by itself. In 1999 I made this announcement to the band that I never needed to hear any more new music, I was done with new music, I could listen to all my old stuff and be happy. So I didn’t listen to any pop radio for years. Three years ago I started listening to the radio again, and I’m amazed at how great country radio is. There are tons of great songs. The song is so, so important to country radio. Like right now, “Roll With Me,” by Montgomery Gentry, has such a great chorus and is such a quality song. And that’s why I love listening to the radio.
CMG: What else are you listening to?
DR: Carrie Underwood. First of all you start with “All-American Girl,” which was awesome, and I was totally crazy about the song. I listened to it everyday. And then she comes out with “Last Name,” and I was mad, because of course I didn’t want it to be that easy. And I was thinking “I’m gonna hate this song, I’m not gonna like it.” And I listened to it and I turned our being like “This girl’s crazy, it’s so awesome.” And considering Brad Paisley, I think the song that I can’t hear enough of is “Letter to Me.” It is a wonderfully written song. Jamey Johnson’s whole record is great. Especially the single, “In Color.” What an amazing well-written song, it sounds like it was recorded in 1968. I love that guy.
CMG: So you enjoy the craftsmanship side of writing music?
DR: Oh yeah. I love it, I love the way I hear music now. Songs to me now are like, “Would I have cut it, or wouldn’t I have cut it?” That’s what I do when I hear a song on the radio. I hear a song like “In Color” and I’m mad that I didn’t get that.
CMG: Was there any discussion within Hootie and the Blowfish about having them back you up for the album?
DR: We had some meetings and we talked about it but they didn’t really show much interest. I thought is was fine though, and when I decided to do it on my own I really wanted to do it as far away from Hootie as possible. Since I knew it was going to be a fight getting accepted, I just wanted to do it as far away from Hootie as I could.
CMG: What’s a cooler job perk, playing on David Letterman, or being able to call into the Dan Patrick Show whenever you want?
DR: Wow, that’s a good one. I love Dan a lot, and being able to call in and be friends with him is amazing to me. But Letterman, we do that so few times, so when I get the chance to perform it’s just a special, special thing.
Darius Rucker – Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It