For me, guitar playing is the way that I get my voice out. There's nothing like sitting around, you're singing along with that guitar, and those chords are making you sing a melody that you wouldn't have sung before. And it's just nothing like that. And I don't do it with anything but guitar.
I know that when life gets its most tenuous that I can always pick that up and feel this level of joy that nothing else can give me. Nothing else can give me that. It's finding a rhythm, finding a melody. I'm about to cry, talking about it.
I am from Charleston, South Carolina, a little town outside of Charleston. It's just a little suburb, and I can't say I had a musical family because no one played an instrument or anything, but everybody could sing. Everybody sang in church. My dad was in a vocal group that traveled around that was kind of popular in our area and stuff. And so, singing's always been part of what I do. Me growing up, Al Green started it all instilled in me as king. Ray Charles, and then I started getting the AM radio and you listen to everything, and you're hearing Cheap Trick, and you're hearing Buck Owens, and you're hearing all that stuff that I would never hear because it's not in our record collection, but once I got my cousin's little tape recorder and I sat in front of the, you know, and every time a song come on, you always miss the beginning, but you could put it on your little cassette tape there. But that was, musically, it was just about trying to find great songs and great singers, and that was all that really mattered.
I grew up in suburban Maryland, just was inspired by a lot of the classic rock radio that was going on in the area. Just kind of learned a bunch of great music through that, Zeppelin, the Who, the Beatles, classic rock, Jimi Hendrix. And then, Van Halen came along and kind of changed the game a little bit. I loved Eddie so much, but I was never really into trying to shred. But it's also, I loved his riff writing and Jimmy Page's riff writing, and then really more into Pete Townsend and the whole idea of building a song out into a story and all that. That was really influential on me, Pete's approach.
REM just goes with that. We've talked about that a million times. That's right on the surface. I think a band that you probably couldn't tell that was The Ramones. We weren't a punk band or anything but their sensibility of playing the song and then finishing the song.
And the energy, yeah.
Yeah. It was something that was just totally it for us. I still think they're one of the best bands of all time.
I kind of remember picking it up as a left-handed kid. The guy that was teaching, there was a class full of kids, and he's like, "Oh, man. I don't know how to teach you that way. You should probably flip it over." And so I learned a C chord right-handed, and put it down for a couple years, didn't feel right or whatever. And then somebody taught me how to play TNT by AC/DC with the little fifths. And once I realized I could play an AC/DC song, I have never stopped since. And then once I started playing guitar, found some friends around the area that I started jamming with and learning from. And the first band I was ever in was with Dean Felber from Hootie, and we were in the same high school band as well as same college band with Darius, so...
There was a lot of serendipity. We lived on the same dorm hall. We were both broadcast journalism majors and we ended up in two classes together. One, when we were hanging out, partying on the hall, we realized we knew a lot of the same songs from all these different genres. We had no idea what direction we were heading. We were just playing our favorite songs.
We had a whole set, the first night, and we decided, I got the chicken wing joint guy to let us play a show.
Even right down to... I always laugh about this if people ask about when did Darius go country? I'm like, "The first show we ever played, he sung a Hank Williams, Jr. Song," which I couldn't even believe. So that happened right away.
We made the decision, all right, are we going to go get real jobs or are we going to go do this band? And we were all all-in, like we're going to do this band. So we were already writing a bunch of songs at that point. Soni left the cover band he was in to come be in an original band with us, and the first song he brought in was Hold My Hand.
The reason I pointed out that first set of covers we played is I think that it's indicative of the direction things went, where we're like we did not limit ourselves to, it should sound like this. We were covering a bunch of genres. So as we started writing songs, we didn't limit ourselves in that way either. And then, I think from that, a sound just forms.
I played just what it feels... Ernie Ball string feels right. They're not hard to press down. Your fingers aren't killing you when you're done playing and that. I like that about it.
Mikey, my tech, is really big on gear, and so, if he's gets behind something, then I know it's good. He researches everything. And so, once he starts believing in something, I'm going to give it a try because I trust him. It's been however many years now we've been doing it, and I love them. I'm all in. So it feels right to me.
One cool thing I've noticed lately about string gauge, I never thought about gauge. I've been playing tens my whole life on electric. Recently I played a buddy's Strat and he had nines on it, and it felt, it was so easy to play, and I'm like shredding. I'm like, "Why am I so much better on this guitar?" And he's like, "Yeah, I got nines on there." I'm like, "Ah, I didn't realize it made that much of a difference."
There are no rules for songwriting. I always put that first for myself so I can write on any instrument and I can write without an instrument, like our buddy Wyatt Durrette does. He doesn't play anything. He just writes from his head. And so I like that about songwriting, the no rules aspect.
Sometimes it worked differently. Sometimes somebody would write a song and bring it in. There's times when Mark brought me music and said, "Hey, write lyrics to this." It was just all different, but we always felt like anything we brought in that was basic, the four of us made into what it was every time.
Then I think in '92 or '93, we put out Kootchypop, and it had a few of the songs that made Cracked Rear View on it, and that was a turning point. We sold a buttload of them. Grunge was king, and nobody was looking for the little rock pop band from South Carolina.
And we were selling more at our shows than we were even in the stores, so that was a bigger number even than the ones from the stores.
After you have something as big as Cracked Rear View was, what's next?
And we really did try to make a record that was the next step for us, so you would feel the growth. We didn't want to make another Cracked Rear View. I'm sure Atlantic Records would've appreciated that, but it's just not who we were at the time. And for us to keep going and doing all the shows night after night, every year, we had to have that fresh feeling of new music. And so, we went into the studio with nearly 30 songs on Fairweather Johnson, on our second record. So we put a lot of time into that and a lot of thought about how we wanted to do it and found our new direction, whatever that was. And we had already been playing a lot of the songs from Cracked Rear View for several years.
So for us to keep going and doing all the shows night after night, every year, we had to have that fresh feeling of new music. And so, we kind of did the same process on the next few records, right?
Yeah. That process doesn't really change much when it comes to records.
After that deal, we did a record on our own, which was Looking for Lucky, after our Atlantic deal, and right after that was basically when Soni was ready to go off the road. He kind of came to us and said, "Hey, man, no more touring for me." And we respected that.
It would've been hard for us to say, "All right, you're not going to tour. We're going to get a new drummer." That would've been a hard decision for us. I think we'd been doing it for so long. When you really stepped back and took a look, it was time for us to take a break. We'd been on tour every summer for 20-something years.
That was also right around the time that Darius was looking at doing a country record deal, which we maybe could have kept going, and he could have done both, but at the time, it looked like it was way better for us to just go on hiatus here. And so, there began his country career.
You know what? When I came out, there wasn't anybody that looked like me on country radio. And then you got all the people that I'm going to see that are telling me that their audience would never accept a Black country singer. I didn't expect much. I didn't even think I'd get a record deal. I was just going to do it with some buddies here in Charleston that we know that write. But when I had that first number one, everything changed.
Music has this magical ability to connect us to the spiritual world, and as soon as you feel what it can do to you, you want to feel it again and again. And then, really what happens is I'll go see him or go see one of my favorite bands or whatever or somewhere, I'll go see somebody live and just get blown away again by that. That always inspires me and makes me want to go do it again.
All I've wanted to do since I was four is play music for people. I don't need any motivation. I'm doing it because it's all I've ever wanted to do, and it's still all I ever wanted to do.