Arts & Entertainment

Press Pass: Sister Hazel

The script usually reads something like this: Talented band breaks through with record contract. Talented band records a few hit singles and, buoyed by the promotional bucks and distribution of the label, achieves success on the charts for one or two albums. Talented band then falls short of those high-water marks with ensuing albums, is dropped by the label and falls apart over a few years, usually providing fodder for VH1’s “Where Are They Now?” in the process. presspass2

The script usually reads something like this: Talented band breaks through with record contract. Talented band records a few hit singles and, buoyed by the promotional bucks and distribution of the label, achieves success on the charts for one or two albums. Talented band then falls short of those high-water marks with ensuing albums, is dropped by the label and falls apart over a few years, usually providing fodder for VH1’s “Where Are They Now?” in the process.

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Sister Hazel (Photo: Courtesy Krista Mettler, Skye Media & Design)

Sister Hazel flipped that script. And then some.

Rather than languishing over a long-past record deal with Universal, the band that broke onto the scene with the success of single “All For You” in 1997 has kept on kicking … like Bruce Lee. With the August debut of its fourth studio album since splitting from Universal, Release, Sister Hazel smashed through its previous best effort on the Billboard charts (Somewhere More Familiar, No. 47) reaching No. 37 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums and No. 3 on the Indie poll. Sales also made it No. 1 on iTunes’ Rock Chart, No. 7 overall.

“It’s deeply gratifying and, quite honestly, it makes you feel like you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing,” front man Ken Block says.

At the core of the band’s continued success is that its sound is just as strong today as in its initial heyday. The echoes of “All For You,” with its catchy chorus and ensnaring guitar hooks, are impossible to miss in the new album’s title track. “Take a Bow” removes the restraints to take the form of a head-nodding rock anthem, with crunchy guitar and soaring choral harmonies. But the band’s talent is only part of the equation.

Perhaps equally important has been its dedication to a die-hard group of fans that labels themselves (aptly and creatively) the Hazelnuts. Similar to the Dead Heads of old and Dave Matthews Band’s legion of followers, the ‘Nuts support Sister Hazel with unusual fervor … and are rewarded with unparalleled access and information for their efforts.

Every year since 2001, the band takes part in the world’s largest floating music festival, dubbed “Rock Boat” (which in the past has featured some D.C. area bands like Honor By August). According to Block, the band would like to pursue even more access-rich ventures to bring them even closer to their uber-supportive fans. In July, after embracing social media such as Twitter (over 300,000 followers), the band released a new phone number every three days, allowing fans following the Tweets or the band’s Facebook page to dial up and chat with a member of the band by phone between the hours of 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. EST. In June, the band also began live Friday evening video chats at www.stickam.com.

“We literally just like hanging out with our fans and seeing how things are with them and how we’re connecting with them, just really creating fertile ground for that community to grow,” says Block, who recalled times when the band would play acoustic songs or buy pizzas for fans waiting in line for shows during the band’s early days.

And, of course, fans have been able to follow the band during its 3,500-plus live shows as well, which will include a date at Ram’s Head Live in Baltimore at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23. Life on the road continues to take a toll — for example, Block and another band member were battling the H1N1 virus during Tuesday’s interview (conducted safely by cell phone) — however, Block knows such effort is worth their while.

“When you make a living as a traveling musician, you end up missing birthdays and holidays with your family,” Block says. “So when you end up hearing stories of fans that are personally affected and impacted by your music, and to see a connection on such a wide scale with an album charting so high, it’s really encouraging.”

Now, with their best release to date, the dividends are obvious.

• For more on Sister Hazel, visit www.sisterhazel.com.

 

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