Sister Hazel is an American Alternative Rock band that formed in Gainesville, Florida. The group released its self-titled debut album in 1994, through its independent record label Croakin' Poets. Sister Hazel consists of five members, Ken Block, Jett Beres, Andrew Copeland, Ryan Newell, and Mark Trojanowski. Recently, I had the chance to ask a few questions to Mark Trojanowski in order to get to know the band on a more personal level.
It is clear that homelessness is something that you all are passionate about. Why specifically did Sister Hazel Williams' shelter have such a large impact on you all-large enough to name the band after?
When Ken, our lead singer, was growing up in Gainesville as a young boy he would see public service announcements on TV from Sister Hazel Williams. Her message was very similar to the songs that Ken was writing during the beginning of the band. He did not know at the time when he chose her name that she was still living, and he went on to meet her after he saw her name around town.
You all continue to make a difference by participating in the Lyrics for Life Benefit event which is a special evening event that raises funds for non-profit charities. Can you tell me more about that and Camp Hazelnut?
All of the band members have been impacted by cancer in some way. When our career began to allow us to make a difference Ken started Lyrics for Life. He had a younger brother who died from cancer and it was a way for him to help the cause as well as remember his brother. We have continued to grow the charity and Camp Hazelnut now works with local kid’s cancer organizations in Florida.
Fans call themselves the "Hazelnuts". Was that a name that you all pitched to the fans or how did that come about?
The fans actually came up with the name themselves. Around 1999 several fans spent two weeks of their summer vacation following the band all over the country. They began to use the name Hazelnuts and it has stuck ever since.
You all are always interacting with your fans by hosting the annual weekend-long "Hazel Nut Hang" and the "Rock Boat Cruise.” What is your favorite part about interacting with your fans?
The fan events allow us to have a deeper connection with our fans, more than just the music. We are a very approachable band and we have built close bonds with many of our fans. Our fans like to connect with the band in other areas than music and our events allow this to happen.
Now your first debut self-titled studio album, "Sister Hazel", was released in 1994-making it over 20 years old. How long did you know each other before then?
Ken and Drew were doing acoustic duo gigs before Sister Hazel. Ken wanted to start an original band and Jett was the first person to answer to the flyer. Ryan was playing in another band at the time when the band was originally formed. I came in the band in 1995 and Ryan entered the band in January of 1996.
Sister Hazel has their own unique sound, but you can still hear some Florida roots in the mix. Who would you say has had the biggest influence or been the biggest inspiration for your music?
I think there are many different influences in our sound. Each member grew up on very different music and that gave us a unique sound. There are influences from James Taylor, Eagles, Jackson Browne, The Police, Allman Brothers, and other southern rock bands.
Sister Hazel has topped Billboard charts with "Lighter in the Dark", "Unplugged from Daryl's House Club", and "All For You". When you first topped a Billboard chart, what was your initial thought? What kind of impact did it have with the band?
We have been making music and releasing records for a very long time. The industry has changed drastically since we released our first record. Our goal is always to go make a great record. We cannot control what people think of the music, what label they want to put on it, or whether someone wants to play one of the songs on the radio. We learned early on in our career that most of those other things are out of our control.
Sister Hazel has been named one of the Top 100 "Most Influential Independent Performers of the last 15 years" by Performing Songwriter Magazine. Your music has been featured in movies such as "The Wedding Planner," "Back to the Minors", "Clay Pigeons," "Bedazzled", and "10 Things I Hate About You." If it were me, I would have gone and watched every movie just because my music was featured. Have you seen all of the movies that your songs have been in?
Yes, we have seen all the movies. The Wedding Planner scene is one of the longest spots in the movie and it was great to hear, “We’ll Find It,” for that much time. “Your Winter,” that appears in 10 Things I Hate About You, is an obscure acoustic version
Now let’s get to the newly released EP, "Water". It debuted at #9 on Billboard Country Chart and #2 on the Independent Album chart. People are obviously loving this six-track EP, which is a collectible compilation series titled, "Elements" which includes a bonus seventh track. Out of all of the seven tracks on the EP, which is your favorite? Which track has been the fans' favorite?
It is always hard to be asked what is your favorite song. I think for me there are songs that I like to play live and there are songs that I am proud of the way we recorded it. I like to play “Stayed For The Girl,” at our live shows and it is going over well with the fans. “You Won’t See Me Again,” is a very powerful song that has connected with a lot of fans.
Over the years, what song would you say has taken the longest to write? Which one holds the most meaning to you?
I might answer this question a little different. “Champagne High,” was a song that was written after we released Somewhere More Familiar, but we were playing it on that tour. We had to wait several years before we could finally record that song and get it on a record.
Sister Hazel is currently on tour right now. Out of all of the places that you have visited or will be visiting soon which city has been your favorite or which one are you looking forward to the most?
Every year we usually play multiple nights at the House of Blues in Chicago. We have been playing at this venue since 1997 and always look forward to playing these shows.
You all will be performing at CMA Fest this year. What can fans expect to see from Sister Hazel at CMA Fest?
A mixture of the fan favorites mixed in with some of the new songs that we have released on the last several records.
Sister Hazel has done so much to ensure that their fans are their top priority and is continuing to do so. With this being said, their fan base is only getting larger. They are known to have produced many chart toppers and I expect to see more in the future. Thank you to Mark Trojanowski of Sister Hazel for taking the time and giving us the opportunity to speak with you about the band on such a personal level. If you have not already, buy their albums, go to their concerts, and join the “Hazelnuts.”