Darius Rucker then and now

22. November 2014 12:29 by Julie Merar in Music   //  Tags:   //   Comments ()


Darius Rucker has come a long way since co-founding the 1990s sensation that was Hootie & the Blowfish. The musician, now having been in the national spotlight for over two decades, has proven himself an extremely versatile musician that can cross over from rock to country. The father of three now tries to balance a lifestyle on the road with time to be a dedicated father, which is likely no easy feat considering his superstar status. Though Hootie & the Blowfish went on hiatus in 2008, Rucker has continued to shine as a solo artist, and his cover of the hit "Wagon Wheel" has made him a monumental presence in the realm of country music. Let's take a look at Darius Rucker then and now. 

Then: Hootie & The Blowfish 
It's hard to say what will ultimately come of Hootie & the Blowfish in the long term. Rucker, along with Mark Bryan, Dean Felber, and Jim Sonefeld, formed Hootie & the Blowfish in 1986 while attending the University of South Carolina. Bryan approached Rucker after hearing him singing in the dorm room showers and the two soon began playing music together. After forming Hootie & the Blowfish, the quartet self-released two cassette EPs in 1991 and 1992, and then independently circulated another EP in 1993. 

In 1994, the band released its first studio album, Cracked Rear View, under Atlantic Records. The album has ultimately been the group's most successful, going platinum 16 times in the U.S., while also gaining huge international acclaim in Canada and New Zealand. During this era of grunge rock, Hootie & the Blowfish provided a bluesy juxtaposition that was both commercially and critically embraced. Though the album itself was not considered innovative, the consistently catchy hooks and earworm singles pushed the album to the top of the U.S. Billboard 200. Singles on the album included "Hold My Hand," "Time" and "Only Wanna Be with You." 

According to Rolling Stone, "Only Wanna Be with You" used five lines verbatim from Bob Dylan's classic song "Idiot Wind." Rumor has it Hootie & the Blowfish settled with the folk icon quietly, but this incident perhaps hinted at Rucker's future musical connection to Dylan. The song "Wagon Wheel," which would ultimately help Rucker build up a head of steam in country music, was a Dylan song readapted by the band Old Crow Medicine Show

As Hootie & the Blowfish became loved within the U.S., Rucker's signature voice also became a hot commodity. Though the band's name was intended to refer to the nicknames of two college friends, news outlets started designated Rucker as Hootie, misinterpreting the meaning. In 1996, the band released its second album, Fairweather Johnson, and followed it with Musical Chairs in 1998. Neither of these albums saw the same overwhelming success as Cracked Rear View. 

After Musical Chairs, the band decided to go on a temporary hiatus. They would return to the studio in 2003 and release a self-titled album. This five-year gap potentially hints at Rucker's current run as a solo artist. 

In late 2011, Rucker explained to CBS News, "I don't think we'll ever break up totally. We're Hootie & the Blowfish ... We'll make another record and do another tour someday. I don't know when, but it will happen. There's one more in us." 

Now: 'Wagon Wheel' and beyond 
After releasing a total of five studio albums with Hootie & the Blowfish, Rucker chose to pursue a solo career in the mid-to-late 2000s. He quickly found success with Learn to Live, an album that included three singles that would reach No. 1 on the Billboard country music charts. It was the first album that marketed Rucker as a country musician and repositioned the famed vocalist to a new audience. This would be followed in 2010 by Charleston, SC 1966, which refers to Rucker's year of birth and the city in which he was raised. Rucker again saw success and had established himself in the big leagues of country music.

Rucker released a cover of "Wagon Wheel" in 2012, a song for which he has become known in the country music community. The song was originally written by Bob Dylan to accompany the 1973 film "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid." Old Crow Medicine Show rewrote the song, which was unfinished and untitled, and provided Dylan with half the royalties. Rucker's version of the song, featuring Lady Antebellum, reached No. 1 on the Country Airplay charts in the spring of 2013. 

The artist's latest album, Home for the Holidays, is Christmas-themed and released on Oct. 27, 2014. When fans will see another album from Hootie & the Blowfish is unclear. However, when he's not busy being a stand-up father, avid sports fan or palling around with friends Brad Paisley and Tiger Woods, we'll surely see a lot more from Darius Rucker.

What goes into a Skrillex show?

19. November 2014 13:23 by Julie Merar in Music   //  Tags:   //   Comments ()


At first glance, Sonny More, better known by his stage name Skrillex, may appear to be more of a hard rocker than an EDM deejaying sensation. This artist of many talents has created an international reputation based on his musical acumen, indefatigable work ethic and incomparable live shows. Moore has surpassed simply performing as an electronic musician and become an orchestrator of all aspects of unbelievable shows that utilize precise lighting, seemingly magical special effects, pyrotechnics and surreal video. The result? Skrillex has become one of the most respected and adored deejays in the world, and people flock to his performances like moths to a light bulb.  

Of course, performing these sensory and experiential shows takes a significant amount of work. A new documentary from Red Bull dives directly into this process. The film, "Let's Make A Spaceship," follows Skrillex backstage and delves into the making of one of his iconic performances on the Mothership Tour. During the show, Skrillex actually deejays in a spaceship on stage. The show premiered at Austin City Limits and was followed by a 90-minute set from the artist. 

"Skrillex is a band when it comes to performing live these days," Moore told MTV. "Whatever room or arena we are in everyone is fully in the moment. My lighting and video guys are all working in real time while I'm onstage and the best compliment I get after a set is when someone asks about how I pre-program my set or use midi to get the audio/visual experience so tight. I love what we create because at any given moment everything could change. The people I have working with me are all so musical, we just create a vibe and feed off​ it along with everyone else in the club. It feels like a band jamming together most nights, but instead of the typical instruments we have lights, decks, LED, cryogenics and fire."

A rocker at heart 
Moore grew up on rock and roll, playing guitar and experimenting with music. This influence reveals itself in both his music and his performances, which many have nostalgically compared to the heavy metal concerts and light-heavy rock shows of the past. Moore dropped out of high school to pursue music, and contacted Matt Good about playing guitar for the band From First to Last. He was offered a spot in the band, and after several record producers heard him singing, he was assigned to sing lead when he was only 15 years old. The band released its debut album, Dear Diary, My Teen Angst Has a Bodycount​, in 2004. The record saw high sales and was quickly followed by touring with bands such as Story of the Year and Bad Religion. 

In 2006, From First to Last reentered the studio to produce their sophomore album, Heroine. The band had gained mainstream notoriety in the alternative music genre, and went on the road with major acts such as Fall Out Boy and The All-American Rejects. Moore had vocal problems that ultimately resulted in the need for minor surgery. When he recovered, he was focused on new material and opted to leave the band in pursuit of becoming a solo performer.

Having adopted the name Skrillex, Moore brought his instrumental abilities and rock showmanship to the world of EDM. As the genre became more popular, Skrillex became a loved anomaly. His dubstep beats and rock influence made his work inherently different from his contemporaries. Today, his work ethic and passion have paid off, making him one of the most renowned in the business, and likely the only one who can boast owning a spaceship.

Jack Johnson: From Surfer to Songwriter

16. November 2014 11:45 by Julie Merar in Music   //  Tags:   //   Comments ()


Jack Johnson has become a musical sensation with his insouciant beach bum lullabies that bring new meaning to the word "mellow." Although, the laid-back pop guru did not always have such aspirations. Johnson demonstrated a wide range of athletic and artistic skills during his youth, and could have just as easily wound up making a career of surfing the pipeline or directing films. Johnson today may be best known for his singable, catchy hits, but there's much more to the man than his music.

The Hawaii native is the son of professional surfer Jeff Johnson, and took an early interest in the family trade. The singer started surfing at age 5 along with his dad and older brothers. Jack Johnson found surfing to be his passion, often paddling out for several hours a day. As a teenager, Johnson continued to excel at surfing while also picking up the guitar. Though Johnson found a love for music as well, in 1992 he became the youngest surfer to reach the Pipeline Masters finals in Maui. This accomplishment proved that Johnson could make a profession out of riding the waves, even though he fell short of winning the competition. Yet, a surfing accident shortly after the competition left the young athlete reconsidering his career aspirations. Johnson was hurt badly during the incident, which resulted in over 100 stitches on his forehead and a few lost teeth.

After graduating high school, Johnson opted to attend the University of California, Santa Barbara. He continued to surf, however, he shied away from competing professionally. 

Thicker Than Water 
In college, Johnson studied film and worked with friends Chris and Emmett Molloy to produce a surfing documentary titled "Thicker Than Water." Johnson co-directed the film and wrote several songs for the soundtrack. Starring surfers such as Rob Machado, Kelly Slater, and Brad Gerlach, the team traveled across the world compiling footage for the film. "Thicker Than Water" received praise among the surfing community and was voted Video of the Year by Surfer magazine. It seemed Johnson's film career was just getting underway when he started getting recognized for the songs he'd written for the production. 

Notably, G. Love & Special Sauce covered one of Johnson's songs on their Philadelphonic album, which was released in 1999. French producer J.P. Plunier showed interest in Johnson's music and worked on Johnson's first studio album, Brushfire Fairytales. It was at this point that again Johnson's career would take a turn. 

A promising music career 
Johnson's debut album was released in 2001, and quickly found commercial success outside of the reputation he had developed in the surfing community. Brushfire Fairytales quickly went platinum. Ben Harper appeared on the album - J.P Plunier had also worked significantly with Harper - and the two became friends. 

Johnson toured to help promote the album, and then returned to the studio to create On and On, which was released in 2003. Johnson's sophomore attempt showcased his social consciousness, pairing thoughtful societal commentary with the surfer melodies that brought him acclaim amongst casual listeners and tough-to-please critics. Two years later, Johnson recorded his third album, In Between Dreams, which reached the No. 2 position on American charts. By this time Johnson had proven himself to be a multi-talented artist, combining multiple music genres and poignant lyricism. 

Johnson wrote the soundtrack for the "Curious George" film and the album debuted at No.1 in early 2006. Titled Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies for the Film Curious George, it was the first animated film soundtrack to reach a peak chart position since Disney's "Pocahontas" in 1995. 

The musician has continued to see success with albums such as To the Sea and From Here to Now to You. 

The mellow environmentalist 
Johnson's success as a musician has allowed him to take on a number of passion projects, as the surfer/singer/songwriter is also an enthusiastic environmentalist. For example, Johnson recorded his entire fifth album at his home studio using solar energy, and he has rigid environmental guidelines for venues when performing on tour. Much of Johnson's music has included lyrics emphasizing the need for action in regard to the environment. However, if many listeners don't identify his cause right away, it's likely due to the mellow vibe of his music. 

Perhaps, much of Johnson's connection to the environment stems from spending a significant portion of his childhood outdoors, canoeing with family and dedicating countless hours to surfing. According to the New York Times, Johnson also finds ways to make a difference locally, such as running recycling drives and farming programs at the school of his two boys. Still an avid surfer, Johnson also continues to have a deep relationship with the water. Whether he is fulfilling the role of surfer, musician, filmmaker, father or environmentalist, Johnson clearly has made a major impact, proving himself to be one of the most intelligent, artistic and mellow pop stars today.

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