Interview: Darius Rucker – Singer and Songwriter

Posted: January 29, 2009 in interview, music
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Darius Rucker

Date of Interview: 01/29/2009

© 2009 Clayton Perry

As the lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish, Darius Rucker has spent the past 20 years realizing one of life’s most valuable lessons: you have to “live and learn,” so that you can “learn how to live.”  Consequently, his country debut, Learn to Live, is a cathartic experiment—and a musical foray that few rock stars are willing to take.

Fifteen years after the release of Cracked Rear View, Rucker’s positive reception on country radio may come as a surprise.  Even so, the evolution of Rucker’s career yields solid proof that music is an art form that has the power to transcend cultural lines.  With the chart-topping success of “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” Rucker proved that an artist can connect with any audience, so long as their music is genuine and sincere.

Upon review of Learn to Live, Darius Rucker managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on Charley Pride, Back to Then and his Nashville experience.

Clayton Perry: With the release of “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” you made history, by becoming the first African-American since Charley Pride to have a number one hit on country radio. What special significance does this feat have for you?

Darius Rucker: When I was making the record, I didn’t really think about the cultural or historical significance.  But when my record, started getting into the charts, I started hearing things and I had to pay attention.  Anytime you’re mentioned with Charley Pride—and Ray Charles, too—it’s a great feeling! To be one of the few African-American men to fare well on country radio, I can’t help but feel great about that.

Clayton Perry: At this particular point in your career, you’ve done a little bit of rock, you’ve done a little bit of R&B, and now country. What life events led you to Nashville?

Darius Rucker: I have been talking about making this record for as long as I can remember, even before I even made the R&B record. I remember I was touring and I discovered Lauryn Hill and Notorious B.I.G. at the same time and I’m sold on those records and wanted to do that. After recording Back to Then, I was happy. Then, I started telling the guys in the band, “I want to make a country record. Do you want to make a country record?” They didn’t, so when we decided we weren’t going to tour as much and we were taking a break and taking time off, I felt the time was right. I ended up getting a record deal with Capitol. And I got to be honest with you, I didn’t think anybody would give me a record deal.

Clayton Perry: Why is that?

Darius Rucker: I just didn’t think anybody would want to sign Darius Rucker. I was cool with that. I was prepared to do it on my own [laughing]. The next thing I know, Doc McGhee told me I had a deal with Capitol Records.

Clayton Perry: Were you shopping it already?

Darius Rucker: We weren’t shopping at all. Doc and I talked about it and we weren’t really going to shop. I was just going to make it on my own. But Doc ended up talking with a gentleman who was the president of Capitol.  Doc told him that I wanted to do the country thing, and the next thing you know, I had a deal.

Clayton Perry: So perfect timing, right?

Darius Rucker: Yeah… [laughing]

Clayton Perry: There are few artists that can successfully criss-cross musical genres. When you were preparing for this album, were there any major obstacles you had to overcome?

Darius Rucker: When you come from pop to country, there’s always that obstacle to overcome. It was sort of a lot of stuff. I don’t look at it as obstacles. I look at it as, “I got to go to work. I got to convince people that this is real; it isn’t bullshit.” I don’t look at it as an obstacle; I look at it as work.

Clayton Perry: Who do you think was probably the hardest audience to convince?

Darius Rucker: I think the radio programmers. I don’t blame them. I signed a deal a couple of years ago and I got pushed back with the knee and the Hootie tours and my record just happened to be released when a whole bunch of pop guys came out with records. I can’t blame them for going, “We’re going to wait and see.” Everything worked out, because “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” is a great song.  Country music is all about the song and people couldn’t deny it was a good song.

Clayton Perry: Did the positive response from country fans surprise you at all?

Darius Rucker: No. I think country fans are like any other fans. They love good music and good songs, especially songs that they can relate to. I think everybody can relate to “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” – everybody.

Clayton Perry: You credit producer Frank Rogers for taking you through “Songwriting University,” as you were recording Learn to Live. How did the two of you shape this album?

Darius Rucker: When I first started working on Learn to Live, I was supposed to meet with three or four of the “big dog” producers in country. Frank was first. He asked me what kind of record I want to make. I thought that was a great thing to ask. “All I Want” was the first song we had written and he knew exactly what I wanted to do. So I called Doc and said, “This is my guy. I don’t want to meet anybody else.” I’m a singer. I’m not a musician. I play guitar out of necessity and out of wanting to write stuff. When you get with Frank, you get with all these writers and Nashville’s great musicians. Before that, I never really co-wrote with anybody. For a couple of Hootie records, I’ve written with a couple of people but as far as writing for Hootie, we all just wrote our songs and just brought in and the band turned them into what we did. It’s great when you come up with a line and you think it’s a great line and you have a melody to it. But the person next to you picks up that melody and changes two notes on it, something you would have never done just because you don’t sing and you don’t hear music that way. He sees it a different way and you go, “Wow! That’s neat. That should do it.” I loved it.

Clayton Perry: In the liner notes of Learn to Live you stated that this recording session was one of the greatest of your life. You also go on to mention “the fun times you had with your knee.” What was that statement referencing?

Darius Rucker: I had knee surgery and got a staph infection. I was really out of it for months. I went on tour basically with my knee just strained enough so I can stand up. That was a tough time.

Clayton Perry: How did the fans respond to that? Some singers get sick and they cancel shows.

Darius Rucker: I don’t know if they saw it that way. I guess people just see it as coming to the show. We didn’t really make a big to-do out of it. We postponed some shows when I was in the hospital; that was it. We didn’t really make a big deal out of it. And, you know, I don’t want a big deal made out of it. I just want to do the shows.

Clayton Perry: That’s a testament to your character. A lot of people probably wouldn’t have seen it that way.

Darius Rucker: We don’t cancel shows. We’ve always been that way. Like Hootie and the Blowfish – in the history of that band, we had only canceled one show up to that point for my knee. That was when my mom died.

Clayton Perry: You ended up dedicating Learn to Live to your Aunt Janet, who you thanked for playing Willie Nelson.

Darius Rucker: Yeah. My aunt and my mom were real supporters of what I wanted to do. She was always a big Willie fan. When I got into her car, Willie would always be on. That was my aunt.

Clayton Perry: Looking back over the Learn to Live experience – and staking your claim in Nashville – what song do you think is really reflective of that experience?

Darius Rucker: “While I’ve Still Got the Time.” I was turning 40 when I wrote it. That song is just really country and Nashville for me.

Clayton Perry: Few people know that you released an R&B album on Hidden Beach in 2002. Although Back to Then wasn’t a commercial success, in time, I hope that people will revisit the album.  “Ten Years” is the album’s most personal track—and definitely one of my favorites.

Darius Rucker: “Ten Years.” I love that record.

Clayton Perry: Would you mean shedding a little bit of light on the inspiration behind the lyrics?

Darius Rucker: My oldest daughter, her mom and I were together ten years before we broke up. “Ten Years” was just that ultimate closure. Really, when I wrote that, I said I’m never going to write another song about that relationship. That’s the way I saw it. That was it.

Clayton Perry: The passion and emotion really pour out from the track. Keeping the lyrics in mind, what lessons have you learned from life?

Darius Rucker: I know what life is really about now. I really know what I want to do and what I’m supposed to be doing. I adore my wife. I’m sure it hasn’t been the easiest thing being married to me in the nine years we’ve been together, but my marriage is defining me more and more.

Clayton Perry: When you reflect on your current relationship, what do you consider to be the most important rule in the game of love?

Darius Rucker: Listen, man. That’s really it – listen. That’s really the most important thing. I think a lot of times people don’t listen or you’re just getting to the point where you’re talking but you’re not listening and that’s not good.

Clayton Perry: Do you consider Back to Then as a bridge to your country album in any way, or do you consider that as a separate piece of your artistry?

Darius Rucker: It can’t be a separate piece because it’s all me. My love of R&B doesn’t change because I still love R&B. I still love country music. I still love rock ‘n roll. That’s just a part of me. Just like my love for Frank Sinatra. Every now and then, I’ll do a big band show that I put together for charity. It’s just music and I just love the music. That’s what I do.

Clayton Perry: The music industry often attempts to put artists in boxes, however—depending on their style. Since you’re best known for being the lead singer of a modern rock band, what encouraged you to break the mold?

Darius Rucker: I’m going to play rock ‘n roll, I really want to do that with my guys. I always thought if I had a solo record and a solo career, it wasn’t going to be in rock ‘n roll because that’s what I do with Hootie. I’ve always felt that way. If I wanted to do something on my own, I want to do something different.

Clayton Perry: What is it you think about your particular style that has allowed you to be successful in all these different genres?

Darius Rucker: I’ve been blessed by God. It took me a long time to realize that all singers can’t just get up and sing everything. I thought they could. I really thought they could. For me, I have no problem. I love getting up and singing with Brad Paisley. I love getting up and singing a country song. I love getting up and singing Sinatra. I love singing any song. For me, I’ve just been blessed by God and I don’t know why. I just sing with the music.

Clayton Perry: Do you ever sit back and wonder why?

Darius Rucker: No. I don’t want to question Him like that.  I can only say “thank you.”

Clayton Perry: I really love the title track, “Learn to Live.” There are four lines from the chorus—in particular—that I want to focus on.  If there’s a particular experience that comes to mind, let me know.

Darius Rucker: Cool.

Clayton Perry: “You got to live and learn, you got to crash and burn.”

Darius Rucker: Mr. Campbell was a guy who lived down the street from me when I was kid. My dad was never around, so Grandpa Campbell was my dad. He did everything. He’s also my best friend. He was just great for me. The crash-and-burn line just comes from when you writing and you’re thinking about what people tell you growing up. You going to have fun and you got to fail because you don’t know what success is unless you fail. So that’s where the crash-and-burn came from.

Clayton Perry: What about this next part: “You got to take some stances and take some chances?”

Darius Rucker: That message comes straight from the civil rights movement, you know? You got to stand up for what you believe in. I was taught that lesson my whole life.

Clayton Perry: How about: “You got to laugh and love and take all life has to give?”

Darius Rucker: People take life way too seriously. Life is short. I believe in laughing as much as I can and I think that’s why my wife and I get along together so much. We love to laugh together. I believe in laughing as much as you can and being in love and living life and taking what life has to give you. I thought I had to give to everybody and not take what life had to give me. When you’re out there, just go ahead and grab it.

Clayton Perry: Last but not least, “You got to live and learn so you can learn to live.”

Darius Rucker: You got to go and experience life, so you can enjoy life. You got to go out and experience college and see all of the things that life has to offer. You got to live and learn and just be.

For more information on Darius Rucker, visit his official website: http://www.dariusrucker.com/



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