Five years ago in July, I found myself staring at a spinning blue cursor, attempting to get two tickets to see Darius Rucker at The Pennysaver Amphitheater in Farmingville, New York. By some twist of fate—and the Ticketmaster Gods—I wound up with a pair in the fifth row of the orchestra, dead-center. The next day and a few grueling hours on the Long Island Rail Road later, my friend and I found ourselves wailing to shrewdly dispersed Hootie & the Blowfish hits like “Hold My Hand” and “Only Wanna Be with You.” In this sea of tie-dye and Reagan-Bush ’88 shirts, I had a thought: I’ll never get back my ’90s tape trading collection or the slap bracelets I donned for Farm Aid, but maybe, just maybe, Hootie would reunite. This past August, I’m standing in the crowds at Madison Square Garden for a sold-out Hootie & the Blowfish concert. Dreams really do come true.
2019 marked the band’s first full-time touring year in over a decade, and they’re as good as your hazy lawn memories—and then some. Their Group Therapy Tour led up to the release of Imperfect Circle, their first album in nearly 15 years, which dropped on Nov. 1. With bouncy head-boppers like “New Year’s Day” and “Rollin'” and nineties-channeling throwbacks like “Hold On” and “Lonely on a Saturday Night,” the record catapults you forward and backward in time, sometimes pivoting faster than your Yomega Brain yo-yo of yesteryear.
“We spent a long time working real hard to put this record together,” drummer Jim “Soni” Sonefeld tells PEOPLE on a recent phone call. “We wrote and collaborated on a lot of material. And we really tried to fine-tune the best we could. And along the way, we discovered who we think are, which is easier said than done if you’ve been in the business for 30 years.”
On the road, it’s meant a lot to Soni and the band to see new and old fans alike out in full throttle. “We’ve certainly benefited from being away for a little while, out of the public eye. Sometimes that can cause people to want you even more. We certainly benefited from Darius [Rucker’s] success on the country charts and keeping that audience alive. But overall, the feeling was amazingly fulfilling just to get out and see that there were 15,000 or 20,000 people each night that were interested in having a good time with Hootie & the Blowfish,” Soni marvels.
When making the album, the group took pains to stay in line with their musical heritage, while still carving out some space for innovation. “We wanted to be authentic to our musical hearts and emotions. We don’t want to make any song that doesn’t feel or sound like us. So when we sat down and started writing we had to discover where we are as human beings, as individuals, in the year 2018 [when they started the record], and that’s hard,” Soni says with a chuckle. “Life has changed, our attitudes have changed, the way music is made has changed. We tried mostly to write songs that were authentic and that spoke to the average person out there. We ended up writing songs about love and heartbreak and desires and frustrations, just human stuff. And some of the collaborations just enthused us even further to write with some great writers and see what they could bring to the table as well.”
Now, more than ever, the time apart has reinvigorated Soni and the band.
“The chance to make music for a living is something I don’t take lightly or for granted. I appreciate that there’s a fan base of people out there not only willing to listen to songs that are older, but are also eager to hear what you have to say in the present. There’s so much to be grateful for,” says Soni. “I’m most excited for possibilities. There’s no guarantee how many people will buy the record or how many stations will play it. I’m so proud of the record. Maybe we landed halfway between Hootie & the Blowfish and Darius Rucker.”
Once you’ve heard Imperfect Circle, you’ll understand what all the hype is about. In fact, late last month, the band earned the most-added distinction at country radio with “Hold On.”
Dreams really do come true.
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