For those that crank pop country radio out of their pick-ups, Darius Rucker is the breakthrough solo singer with a silky baritone and two chart-topping albums.
For those that haven't turned on a radio in ten years, Darius Rucker is perhaps more recognizable as the leader of 90's pop-rock balladeers Hootie and the Blowfish.
However, country has unequivocally become Rucker's life. He said he doesn't even listen to rock music anymore. "I'll do that thing where I hit 'random' on the iPod and an R.E.M. song or a U2 song will play," he says, "and I'll be happy that it came on. But even if I wasn't playing it, I'd be listening to country."
I interviewed Rucker at 7:20 a.m. MST, hardly a rock 'n roll hour, in anticipation of his concert tomorrow night at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale with country newcomers Eden's Edge. He told me he just finished tracking his third album, due out sometime this fall, which he says will touch on some new songwriting ground.
"We've got a song about adoption on the record, something I've never sung about," he says. "You've always got the country themes: driving, relationships. But you try to write about a few different things."
Even though the Blowfish sold more than 10 million copies of their 90's mainstay Cracked Rear View, Rucker's country re-invention is due to trump his radio-rock past, if it hasn't already. He's sang duets with Adele, performed on nearly every single talk show and, of course, sold platinum figures of his 2008 country debut Learn to Live.
Comparing the two styles, Rucker clearly finds country songwriting to be a more challenging and personal pursuit. He says pop songwriting can consist of nonsense syllables and nonsense topics, whereas country songs have to convey a relatable narrative. "With pop music, you can have 'whang-dang-doodle' or 'Who let the dogs out?'" he laughs. "It can be about nothing. When the day ends, it's the same music, notes and words; yet even honky-tonk guitar stuff has a story."
As someone responsible for more than a dozen insanely popular radio singles, one would think he could smell a hit a mile away, but Rucker says it is still not that easy.
"There's some songs where the second you're done writing them, you go, 'That's a hit.' You know it. But some songs you write it thinking it's a hit, then you go cut it and it's awful."
He says "Come Back Song," the monster hit from his second country album, Charleston, SC 1966, did not look promising at first. "I thought it was a throw-away song," he says. "It was the last song I wrote for the record. But then we cut it and it was awesome. It goes both ways."
The science might still not be exact, even from pop-rock records to country re-emergence, but Rucker's been in the lab his entire life.
"I was an AM radio kid from the age of five, as soon as I could turn the dial," he says. My mom let me listen to whatever I wanted to, and years later that all paid off."
Darius Rucker is scheduled to perform Tuesday, July 3, at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale.
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