Darius Rucker Shares Stories Behind 'Cracked Rear View' Hits & Why He's Still Reveling In "A Dream Come True" | GRAMMY.com (2024)

Darius Rucker Shares Stories Behind 'Cracked Rear View' Hits & Why He's Still Reveling In "A Dream Come True" | GRAMMY.com (1)

Darius Rucker performs for the 2024 Stars For Second Harvest in Nashville, Tennessee

Photo: Jason Kempin/Getty Images


Thirty years after Hootie & the Blowfish's seminal debut — and nearly 20 since he forayed into country music — Darius Rucker looks back on some of his fondest memories that he further explores in a new memoir, 'Life's Too Short.'

Rob LeDonne

|GRAMMYs/Jul 5, 2024 - 02:06 pm

July 5, 1994 was the day Darius Rucker's life forever changed.

That was when his band, Hootie and the Blowfish, released their seminal debut, Cracked Rear View. Within a matter of months, the album went on to launch his band into the mainstream stratosphere. By mid-1995, Cracked Rear View topped the Billboard 200 — where it stayed for eight weeks — and by February 1996, the band went two-for-two at the 38th GRAMMY Awards, where they were awarded Best New Artist. Three decades on, Cracked Rear View remains one of the best-selling albums in U.S. history.

For Rucker, who has also enjoyed a successful run as a solo country act since 2008, it's all part of a triumphant journey that he recalls in his new memoir, Life's Too Short. A candid retelling of his eventful life, the book recounts the high-highs of musical dreams gloriously come true and the love of his family — including his late mother Carolyn, a frequent inspiration, particularly on his latest set, 2023's Carolyn's Boy. Rucker is also frank about his run-ins with the struggles of his massive success, including the scourge of racism he encountered along the way.

In celebration of Cracked Rear View's big anniversary and the recent release of Life's Too Short, Rucker spoke to GRAMMY.com about his band's biggest hits and career-making success, as well as the moments he knew Hootie, and his country venture, were about to be big.

How would you say Hootie's sound came about? Was it a natural evolution, or did you have a very clear sound in your head?

It was definitely natural.It all started with Mark and I in the USC dorms, realizing how much of the same music we knew and [were] jamming together —R.E.M.,the Eagles,the Beatles,,Hank Williams, Jr.andKISS.We both grew up on a huge variety of music, and all of those influences shaped our own songs once we started performing and writing together.

There wasa brief momentwhere we tried to do some heavier stuff as grunge was getting popular, but that wasn't us. Hootie was always going to sound like Hootie.

Congratulations on thethe30th anniversary of  'Cracked Rear View.'  When you think about that time in your life and the album, I'm sure the memories just come flooding right back?

Oh, so many. You know, we'd been writing songs for so long and playing them at our live shows, doing everything independently and having pretty good success with it. But making this one was different, because we had a real record deal finally, after so many "almost" deals falling apart, and we went out to a studio in L.A. to record the album. We hadDon Gehmanthereproducing, and I just remember feeling so much joy being in that room making music together.

Doesany onestory stand out?

One of my favorites, and I talk about this in the book, isDavid Crosbycoming to sing harmonies on "Hold My Hand." We were trying to figure out who would do it, and our friend Gena Rankin threw out David's name. She said it so casually, we all thought she was messing with us. There was no way a legend like him was going to come be part of this project! Sure enough, two days later he walked into the studio [to record it]. I still can't believe that happened.

Looking back, the album launched a variety of iconic singles. For example, I know "Hold My Hand" is a special one for you.

Jim "Soni" Sonefeld actually brought "Hold My Hand" to us when we were holding auditions for a drummer. He finished playing and told us he heard we were starting to write original music, so he popped a cassette in with this song on it. We obviously canceled the rest of the auditions.

What about a song like "Let Her Cry"?

I was sitting at a bar in Columbia [South Carolina] when I heard The Black Crowes sing "She Talks to Angels" for the first time. I was transfixed. I made them play it again and again until they wouldn't anymore, and then I went to every bar on the street and made them all play it.

When I finally went home, I tried to shake the song off by listening to something else great, so I put on Bonnie Raitt's Home Plate CD, and eventually decided I was going to write my own "She Talks to Angels," for Bonnie Raitt. The next morning I told Dean [Felber, the band's bassist], who I was living with at the time, that I had drunkenly recorded a song on our little four-track last night and we should listen to it because it was probably pretty funny. It wasn't funny, but it was pretty good.

"Only Wanna Be With You" was another one of the album's many hits. Where did that song come from? I'm especially wondering about one line in there: "I'm such a baby 'cause the Dolphins make me cry."

Anyone who knows my story knows that my mom, Carolyn, had a huge impact on my life and still does to this day, even though we lost her a long time ago. But she also had a specific impact on this song.

I had started writing it, with the chorus and some pretty good lyrics down, but I wanted to add more personal details and couldn't really get it right. I had taken a break from writing to watch the Dolphins game, and as they were about to lose once again after blowing a lead, my mom called. She heard me sniffling, and even though I blamed allergies, she immediately knew it was because of the game. "Unbelievable. Are those Dolphins making you cry again?!" The rest is history.

When did you realize 'Cracked Rear View' was something special?

Our fourth single "Time" really pushed us over the edge in dominating radio airwaves in a way that was hard to wrap our heads around, and really still is. I remember being in a car one time, and "Hold My Hand" was playing as soon as we turned on the radio, which was funny — but honestly, pretty expected at that point. We hit seek through the next few stations and — you can't make this up — "Only Wanna Be With You," "Let Her Cry" and, yep, "Time." Four stations, four Hootie songs. It was wild.

How did your life change?

Oh, it was a rocket ship. I always tell this story, but David Letterman heard our song on a Tuesday, put us on his show on a Friday, and by Monday, we were the biggest band in the world. It happened that quickly, and the opportunities that came from that changed our lives.

Aside from the big hits, were there any songs on the album that particularly meant something to you?

"Drowning" was an important song for me because I wrote it during the early days when we first started transitioning from covers to our own music, and I wanted to get deeply personal in what I put in songs. I put the hurt I felt from all of the racism surrounding us in that song. The lyrics literally ask, "Why is there a rebel flag hanging from the statehouse walls?"

The band supported me with that song, just like they did at shows where people casually threw the N-word at the stage. Like it has been my whole life, music was my outlet for dealing with that hurt. And I resolved that such ignorance would never stop me.

From 'Cracked Rear View' to 'Carolyn's Boy,' your songwriting as a whole has gotten much more personal. Why has that changed?

I actually think Cracked Rear View was pretty personal. The example of "Drowning" I mentioned earlier kind of shows that. But the vibe of Hootie was so happy-go-lucky that sometimes the deeper meaning of the lyrics got missed.

Country music is all about the lyrics and the storytelling, though, so I think that shows through in my newer music in a more prominent way. And with Carolyn's Boy specifically, I experienced a lot of life during the time we were writing that album. From the pandemic, to relationships, to my kids getting older and leaving the house, there was a lot of life to process and I put all of that into song.

Lightning struck twice when you branched out as a solo act and embarked into country music. When did you realize you made the correct gamble?

It was on Oct. 3, 2008. I had always wanted to make a country record, just because I love country music. When I came to Nashville, I wasn't hoping for immediate success, number one songs or platinum albums. I was just hopeful someone would give me a chance to make a record, and then maybe a chance to make another one.

But on that day in 2008, [my] debut single "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" hit the top of the charts at country radio. It was humbling, and it reaffirmed my belief in myself and my music. No matter what any of the doubters had to say about a Black man in country music, the Hootie singer in country music. The genre embraced [me], and it is still a dream come true almost 20 years later.

What was it like revisitingall of the old memories you delve into in 'Life's Too Short?'

It was therapy in a lot of ways. There are some parts, like about my dad, or my brother, that I didn't expect to talk so much about. But as you start revisiting the different chapters of your life, a lot comes to the surface that you might not have planned on, and you really start to process it, sometimes for the first time.

And then when we got into recording the audio book, reading it back added a whole other layer of emotion to the story. There were parts where I got choked up, and they kept that in the recording, which I think is really powerful — because it shows how much these stories mean to me.


Not a Phish phan? No worries. Ahead of their 26-date tour and new album, 'Evolve,' dig into this primer on the music and the subculture of the most popular jam band since the Grateful Dead.

David McPherson

|GRAMMYs/Jul 9, 2024 - 01:26 pm

Mainstream rock or pop, Phish are not. While the foursome from Vermont are definitely a jam band, that label does not capture their unique sound and varied influences. Both on record and live, Phish's extended improvisations noodle from reggae and all forms of rock, to bluegrass and funk, with healthy doses of country, blues and jazz.

Like the jam band godfathers the Grateful Dead, Phish built its devoted fanbase not through singles and airplay, but via tireless touring and word of mouth. On some nights — okay most nights — even the band has no clue where their rambling live shows will go. This spontaneity has been Phish's guiding ideology from its earliest days playing college campuses to their annual residency at Madison Square Garden; there is nothing contrived or calculated about a Phish show; instead, the band's filled with surprises and set lists that change more frequently than you change your bedsheets.

For more than 35 years now these four souls have been taking Phish-heads along on this joyous musical ride to unknown soundscapes. Concerts are fueled by passion, not perfection. Ask 10 Phish phans what their favorite live show is from the band’s history and likely each will offer a different answer and argue the reasons for their choice as if it were a thesis defense.

Read more: A Beginner’s Guide To The Grateful Dead: 5 Ways To Get Into The Legendary Jam Band

For Phish, it’s not about awards and accolades. The group has just one GRAMMY nomination and its highest charting single came and record came 30 years ago. In 1994, Billy Breathes peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard 200; its lead single "Free" hit No. 24 on the Billboard Hot Modern Rock charts and No. 11 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.

What attracts people to Phish's music and subculture is the mood, the groove and the community; that’s why the band perennially have been one of the highest grossing live acts throughout their career. The band is also part of American pop culture: They have a Ben & Jerry’s flavor (Phish food), have appeared on "The Simpsons" and been parodied on "South Park."

This spring, Phish became only the second band (after U2) to perform at the Sphere in Las Vegas. Over the weekend of April 20, the foursome played four shows with a completely different set each night. The final show on Sunday evening featured an epic second set, even by Phish standards: the band performed for nearly two hours and jammed on for 34-minutes on "Down with Disease."

Surprises like this musical meandering abound at Phish shows and it’s another reason fans shell out a hefty chunk of their pay cheques to see them live again and again and again; it’s also what makes attending one of their concerts a unique experience. The relationship between the band and these devotees is symbiotic. Both inspire and guide the other.

Phish does not take itself too seriously. This is reflected in their songs, their artistic approach and their love of a good prank. Ready to go Phishing? Not the dictionary adjective that conjures negative connotations of scams and identity theft, but rather, a new word we suggest adding to the Urban Dictionary meaning to take a deep dive into the weird and wonderful world of Phish.

In advance of the band’s 26-date tour that starts with a three-night run in Mansfield, Massachusetts to promote Evolve — its 16th studio record that arrives July 12 — GRAMMY.com offers a lowdown on these musical merrymakers. Read on for a guide to appreciating and approaching Phish's lingo, lore, and lengthy discography.

Phish 101

Before the band had a name, a following, or conferences and university courses dedicated to the study of their music, they were just a bunch of college kids jamming in their dorm. The original members of the band met while attending the University of Vermont in Burlington. Initially formed as a trio in 1983 that featured guitarists Trey Anastasio and Jeff Holdsworth, along with drummer Jon Fishman. Bassist Mike Gordon joined that fall. In 1985, keyboardist Page McConnell was added and Holdsworth left. Today, it's these four (Anastasio, Gordon, Fishman and McConnell) that comprise Phish.

Junta, the band’s self-released debut arrived on cassette in 1989, followed by Lawn Boy the next year on Absolute A Go Go Records. The industry buzz created by their live shows then led to a multi-album deal with Elektra Records, who, in 1992, released their major label debut A Picture of Nectar, along with reissues of Junta and Lawn Boy.

What’s with the name? Everyone loves a good band name origin story, and there are often several versions of Phish's. The simplest and most popular one cited is that Fishman was asked at an early gig for the band’s name and thought they were asking for his name, so replied with his college nickname, "Fish." It stuck and they just changed the spelling.

A Lesson In Lingo: 4 Phish Phrases

Next up on the Phish syllabus is a lingo lesson in lingo. Overhear a pair of Phish fanatics chatting in a coffee shop, and you’ll wonder if they are speaking a different language. These devotees have developed their own lingo to express their love for all things Phish. Here’s a quick primer to help you converse with phans as if you know what you are talking about.

First, phans label each era of the band a number and these labels describe when their love of Phish began: 1.0 refers to the band’s beginnings until its first break in 2000; 2.0 is a short period and a small cohort of fans that starts when Phish returned from its first hiatus in 2002 and ends before they officially broke up in 2004. Finally, 3.0 refers to new converts: fans who discovered the band only after they reunited for good in 2009.

As this schooling on Phish continues, here are four words to drop into a conversation with a Phish fan to make you sound educated. "Noob" is a condescending word referring to a newbie, like post-2009 phans. A "chomper" is someone who talks during songs at a Phish concert (definitely a no-no). "Spunion" is someone whose appearance, actions and speech indicate they’ve taken way too many drugs. Finally, "hose" is a free-flowing improvisational jam where the music feels like it just flows directly into the listener’s ears.

Down On The Farm: Hits & A Few Phan Favorites

From the 2000 record of the same name, "Farmhouse" is one of the few Phish songs that made a splash beyond just their fans thanks to this radio-friendly chorus: "I never ever saw the Northern lights/I never really heard of cluster flies/ I never ever saw the stars so bright/ In the farmhouse, things will be alright." Besides this earworm, the ninth record from the band also featured another one of its biggest charting radio hits: "Heavy Things," which reached No. 29 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 chart and No. 2 on the Adult Alternative Songs charts.

Some other key studio tracks to explore and listen to that show the depth and breadth of the band’s talents include: "Golgi Apparatus," "Chalkdust," "Torture," "Sample in a Jar," "Character Zero" and "Sand."

Into The Studio: A Choice Phish Records

Phish have released 20 studio albums and 53 live records. That’s a lot of music to sift through for any newbie. Three key albums to help understand and get into the band include: A Picture of Nectar (their major-label debut from 1992 that was certified gold), Hoist (1994) and The Story of the Ghost (1998), recorded at famed Bearsville Studios in in Woodstock, NY - a record Trey Anastasio described as "cow-funk." Listen carefully to this trio of records and you’ll come away from these deep dives either loving the band and ready to take the next step on this phishing trip or not.

Make sure to also check out the conceptual album Rift. This follow-up to their major-label debut is a fan favorite and also a critical darling. It’s possibly the band’s greatest studio creation, but it’s also an acquired taste. Rift follows the story of a man who dreams about the rift in his relationship with his girlfriend. The listener follows this protagonist on a dark and heavy ride as his emotional journey turns from a pleasant dream to a nightmare. The narrative is told backed by a sonic palette that showcases all of Phish’ colors and musical influences: from jazz and blues to psychedelic rock and funk.

Go See Phish Live

As Neil Young sang in "Union Man," that is often-quoted by concert lovers, "live music is better bumper stickers should be issued." Phish subscribe to this mantra and are known to plaster their cars in bumper stickers. The centerpiece of a Phish show is extended jams and the communion between Phish fans, but their concerts also feature amazing light shows, props, and pranks.

To get a sense of what attending a Phish concert is like, start with the six-disc set Hampton Comes Alive. Released Nov. 23, 1999, the collection consists of two concerts in their entirety captured at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia in 1998. The title plays on Frampton Comes Alive! — one of the best-selling live albums of all time.

In the band’s early days before the Internet came of age, bootleg tapes abounded. Trading these — just like Grateful Dead fans do — was always a part of Phish culture. LivePhish captured all of the band’s live shows. This is now an Android app where you can stream shows, past and present. Mere minutes after each Phish concert ends, the newest show is uploaded.

Before the streaming age, the band frequently released CDs up to six discs in length (most Phish concerts run more than three hours). One of these essential listening live releases is Darien Lake from Sept. 14, 2000 that includes a cover of Neil Young’s "Albuquerque."

Order Up The Baker’s Dozen

For Phish fans, the 13 concerts dubbed The Baker’s Dozen are pure bliss. The residency occurred at the Manhattan mecca from July 21 to Aug. 6, 2017. Every night featured a different set list (26 total sets as they played two each night). No song was repeated and each night had a theme.

Over the course of 13 shows, Phish played 237 songs. A highlight of The Baker’s Dozen was a 30-minute jam of "Lawn Boy" — a song that usually clocks in under four minutes.

Cover Me

Many consider the group the greatest cover band on earth, so go down the Phish YouTube rabbit hole and what matters at this moment in your life is sure to get neglected for a while.

An understanding of Phish's many collaborations and covers tis also essential to better appreciate the band. Phish has paid homage to everyone from classic rockers like Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, to Frank Zappa and the Talking Heads. Collabs include: Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and weird as it sounds, even Jay-Z, who the band invited on stage during a Brooklyn gig in 2004, to sing-along on the 24-time GRAMMY-winner’s hits: "99 Problems" and "Big Pimpin.’"

Trick Or Treat Tributes & Auld Lang Syne Shenanigans

Halloween shows always feature musical costumes where Phish plays another artist’s album from front to back. The Beatles' White Album in 1994 is especially good and the first time the band premiered this concept. Many fans claim the 1998 Halloween show where the band covered the Velvet Underground’s Loaded is one of the most underrated and was mind blowing. But the best might be from 2018 when they invented a fake Scandinavian synth-rock outfit called Kasvot Växt.

For years, Phish have celebrated another year come and gone along with their fans, often playing a string of shows leading up to New Year’s Eve. Pranks are always a part of these special occasion gigs and there's often a theme with stages being transformed to transport their phlock to other realms.

Many of Phish’ most legendary end-of-year celebratory concerts occurred in New York City at Madison Square Garden where they’ve performed to close out the year 15 times. One of the most memorable saw the band "send in the clones" on Dec. 31, 2019, to ring in another new year.

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The Warning

Photo: Danielle Ernst


The three sisters of the whiplashing Mexican rock band The Warning sat down with GRAMMY.com to talk about their biggest recorded leap to date, 'Keep Me Fed.'

Morgan Enos

|GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2024 - 07:11 pm

The Warning have been around for over a decade, with three previous albums under their belt — but they've never hit with gale force quite like their single "S!CK." Get a load of them on a recent "Kimmel" performance below; when singer/guitarist Daniela "Dany" Villarreal Vélez screams the title, her bandmates — her sisters, bassist Alejandra "Ale" Villarreal and drummer Paulina "Pau" Villarreal — respond with a groovy, steamrolling riff.

From harmonies to songwriting to sheer charisma, The Warning have reached a new pinnacle with their fourth album, Keep Me Fed, which arrived June 28. It's packed with bangers: the boiling-over "Apologize," the chugging, Spanish-language "Qué Más Quieres," and pop-laced detours that stick, like "Hell You Call a Dream."

The Monterrey, Mexico trio have opened for some of rock's titans over the past few years: Guns N' Roses, Foo Fighters, and Muse. This only incentivized them to make Keep Me Fed hit as hard as humanly possible.

This involved reaching out to rock's blue-chip writers, like Dan Lancaster and Mike Elizondo, to help the songs truly hit the jackpot. But speaking to the three on a four-way call, it's clear their success really relies on their sisterly synergy: they effortlessly bounce off each other in conversation, just like they do in the studio or on a stage.

Read on for a full interview with The Warning about the road to Keep Me Fed, songwriting in Spanish and English, and how supporting the greats spurred them to make a swing that connected.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

**Bring us from the Error era to Keep Me Fed. What transpired in The Warning's history?**

Pau: We grew so much as people, through our experiences touring with Foo Fighters, Muse and Guns N' Roses. You can't help but learn and grow from all of these experiences and shows.

We were very inspired, and I feel like Keep Me Fed was the first opportunity we had to sit down and actually process everything that we had been through, and just put it directly into the music.

Ale: We were recording and writing in between tours; we had a hectic schedule. I feel like you can definitely hear that chaotic energy, and everything we lived through this past year while writing the album.

You opened for some of the biggest rock bands on the planet. Tell me more about how that fed into the music.

Pau: Seeing these amazing musicians playing every night, you can't help but want to push yourself. What made us grow was that hunger to be better. We wanted to be a good opener for these legendary bands. We wanted the crowd to be impressed; we wanted to prove ourselves to these new crowds.

And, not only with our live performances: we knew we were going to write this album, and release new music. And if these new people were going to look for our new music, we wanted it to be this insanely huge step forward in our careers.

Musically, our biggest references are Muse and Royal Blood — and we toured with them. So, by seeing what they do live, and how their ideas are [executed], we had a really good idea of how we wanted our ideas to sound live.

Dany: Coming home from the tours to process everything that you went through, I think unconsciously you let everything out, and let everything go when you're writing music. I think that played a big part in what we came back to express in the Keep Me Fed songs.

Can you talk about working with outside writers on Keep Me Fed?

Ale: We've always only worked within the few of us, so adding someone else to the mix was very different. It's so interesting to see how other people work, and working with them, and hearing all of these different ideas. I feel like we learned so much from every person we wrote with.

Dany: We have three songs with Dan Lancaster, who is touring with Muse now; he's a great producer as well. We worked alongside our producer, Anton DeLost, for the whole record. They are such a dream team, honestly. They knew how to push us toward a direction that made us get the best out of us.

We were so surprised by the stuff we lived through — very intense, specific feelings, that they can relate to in a totally different way. We managed to connect the dots between feelings and what we wanted to express.

Pau: Also, they're not necessarily rock writers. Some of them are pop. Some of them are R&B writers. It's a really big melting pot of styles and inspirations and experiences.

You start learning little tricks and tips from each person. So now, even when we're writing alone, we channel everything that we learned from these individual writing sessions.

And I feel like we look at songwriting in a new way — especially because we are Mexican, and English is not our first language. So, we write in English with a very different mindset; we think in Spanish while we are writing in English. We see language in a more phonetic way.

So, finding new ways to look at the language that we write in, and new ways to communicate what we want to say through the words or eyes of these other writers, was a very enlightening experience.

The Warning - Qué Más Quieres (Official Video)

Keep Me Fed sounds absolutely massive. How did you craft that sound?

Dany: We were very focused on making it sound as big as possible, and as close to our live performance energy as we could. Guitar-wise, we explored a lot of different fuzz pedals, which was very new to me. I wasn't very much of a fuzz girl, but oh my god, it adds so much texture, and it added to the sound that we wanted to hear.

Also, we went a lot heavier with this album. I experimented with playing with baritone guitars, so I could be a lot lower than I usually am. I love that; it makes me feel so powerful, and I think it adds a lot to the songs.

Ale: I recorded all my bass parts with a pick, which is something I don't do; I only play with my fingers. But for the recording, it sounded clearer, and made the bass stand out, as we're only a three-piece. So, I liked exploring that.

Dany: I learned to play with a slide. I had never done that before. And I had to figure out how to play it live down the road. It really pushed us, and me, to stay sharp and do what was necessary for what we wanted to express in the music.

Vocally, I experimented with a lot of different textures. We usually just go all out and do this angry screaming that I know how to do from our 10-year career. But this time, I [explored] the dynamics more and more. I went soft, I went a little more airy, and then I screamed. It was fun to get to know myself more as a singer and guitar player.

Pau: We explored a lot of different styles. You can hear different [unexpected] influences. "Burnout" is really funky and groove-driven. "Apologize" is just a very angry song. "Sharks" is this type of new thing. It's just so varied.

We let ourselves be open to the possibility that we could literally do everything. We could try everything out, and it would still fit in this album, because it was still us.

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Tom Petty performing with the Heartbreakers in 2008

Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images


On 'Petty Country,' Nashville luminaries from Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton and Luke Combs make Tom Petty’s simple, profound, and earthy songs their own — to tremendous results.

Morgan Enos

|GRAMMYs/Jun 27, 2024 - 03:42 pm

If Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers landed in 2024, how would we define them? For fans of the beloved heartland rockers and their very missed leader, it's a compelling question.

"It's not active rock. It's not mainstream rock. It's not country. It would really fall in that Americana vein," says Scott Borchetta, the founder of Big Machine Label Group. "When you think about what his lyrics were and are about, it's really about the American condition."

To Borchetta, these extended to everything in Petty's universe — his principled public statements, his man-of-the-people crusades against the music industry. "He was an American rebel with a cause," Borchetta says. And when you fuse that attitude with big melodies, bigger choruses, and a grounded, earthy perspective — well, there's a lot for country fans to love.

That's what Coran Capshaw of Red Light Management bet on when he posited the idea of Petty Country: A Country Music Celebration of Tom Petty, a tribute album released June 21. Featuring leading lights like Dolly Parton ("Southern Accents"), Willie and Lukas Nelson ("Angel Dream (No. 2)," Luke Combs ("Runnin' Down a Dream"), Dierks Bentley ("American Girl,") Wynonna and Lainey Wilson ("Refugee"), and other country luminaries covering Tom Petty classics, Petty Country is a seamless union of musical worlds.

Which makes perfect sense: on a core level, Petty, and his band of brothers, were absolutely steeped in country — after all, they grew up in the South — Gainesville, Florida.

"Tom loved all country music. He went pretty deep into the Carter Family, and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken?" and the folk, Americana heart of it," says Petty's daughter, Adria, who helps run his estate. "Hank Williams, and even Ernest Tubb and Patsy Cline… as a songwriter, I think a lot of that real original music influenced him enormously." (The Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Byrds' Gram Parsons-hijacked country phase, were also foundational.)

A key architect of Petty Country was the man's longtime producer, George Drakoulias. "He's worked with Dad for a hundred years since [1994's] Wildflowers, and he has super exquisite taste," Adria says.

In reaching out to prospective contributors, he and fellow music supervisor Randall Poster started at the top: none other than Willie Nelson and Dolly Parton. "Having Willie and Dolly made people stand up and pay attention," Dreakoulias told Rolling Stone, and the Nashville floodgates were opened: Thomas Rhett ("Wildflowers"), Brothers Osborne ("I Won't Back Down"), Lady A ("Stop Draggin' My Heart Around"), and so many others.

Each artist gave Petty's work a distinctive, personal spin. Luke Combs jets down the highway of "Runnin' Down the Dream" like he was born to ride. Along with Yo-Yo Ma and founding Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Tench, Rhiannon Giddens scoops out the electronics and plumbs the droning, haunting essence of "Don't Come Around Here No More."

And where a lesser tribute album would have lacquered over the songs with hom*ogenous Nashville production,
Petty Country is the opposite.

"I'm not a fan of having a singular producer on records like this. I want each one of them to be their own little crown jewel," Borchetta says. "That's going to give us a better opportunity for them to make the record in their own image."

This could mean a take that hews to the original, or casts an entirely new light on it. "Dierks called up and said, 'Hey, do you think we would be all right doing a little bit more of a bluegrass feel to it?' I was like, 'Absolutely. If you hear it, go get it.'"

"It had the diversity that the Petty women like on the records," Adria says, elaborating that they wanted women and people of color on the roster. "We like to see those tributes to Tom reflect his values; he was always very pro-woman, which is why he has such outspoken women [laughs] in his wake."

Two of Petty Country's unquestionable highlights are by women. Margo Price chose "Ways to Be Wicked," a cut so deep that even the hardcore Petty faithful might not know it; the Let Me Up (I've Had Enough) outtake was buried on disc six of the 1995 boxed set Playback.

"Man, it's just one of those songs that gets in your veins," Price says. "He really knew how to twist the knife — that chorus, 'There's so many ways to be wicked, but you don't know one little thing about love.'" Founding Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell features on the dark, driving banger.

And all interviewed for this article are agog over Dolly Parton's commanding take on "Southern Accents" — the title track of the band's lumpy, complicated, vulnerable 1985 album of the same name. "It's just revelatory… it brings me to my knees," Adria says. "It's just a phenomenal version I know my dad would've absolutely loved."

"It's one of Dolly's best vocals ever, and it's hair-raising," Borchetta says. "You could tell she really felt that track, and what the song was about."

Adria is filled with profuse gratitude for the artists preserving and carrying her dad's legacy.

"I'm really touched that these musicians showed up for my dad," she says. "A lot of people don't want to show up for anything that's not making money for them, or in service to their career, and we really appreciate it… I owe great debt to all of these artists and their managers for making the time to think about our old man like that."

Indeed, in Nashville and beyond, we've all been thinking about her old man, especially since his untimely passing in 2017. We'll never forget him — and will strum and sing these simple, heartfelt, and profound songs for years to come.


Darius Rucker Shares Stories Behind 'Cracked Rear View' Hits & Why He's Still Reveling In "A Dream Come True" | GRAMMY.com (15)

From left: Imagine Dragons' Ben McKee, Dan Reynolds and Wayne Sermon

Photo: Ray Davidson


Imagine Dragons' sixth release, ‘Loom,’ is filled with melodic soundscapes featuring big choruses that conjure deep feeling. It's exactly how Dan Reynolds wanted it; the frontman details the inspirations behind the nine-track LP.

David McPherson

|GRAMMYs/Jun 27, 2024 - 01:30 pm

For a dozen years now, Imagine Dragons have delivered melodic anthems that have resonated with audiences from Idaho to Italy. Whether you call the band’s sound arena rock, power pop or formulaic does not matter. What does is the effect these soundscapes have on the masses, album after album.

The Las Vegas trio of Dan Reynolds, Ben McKee and Wayne Sermon may divide critics and peers, but there is no denying they are master craftsmen of earworms. The GRAMMY-winning group has served hit after Billboard-topping hit, racking up sales of 74 million album equivalents, 65 million digital songs and over 160 billion streams.

Frontman and chief lyricist Reynolds despises labels and says conversations about genre are "trite." And, anyway, the songwriter does not make music with fans or critics in mind. Instead, it’s about what he's feeling at any given moment and whether the melody moves him.

"I love things that are melodic," Reynolds tells GRAMMY.com. "I was a classical pianist for 10 years from six to 16 — playing Chopin, Beethoven and Bach — and their songs feature pleasing melodies and intervals. My brain was formed in that classical piano training and that’s still where I write melodies from."

On their sixth studio album, Loom, Imagine Dragons continue the upward trajectory that started with their GRAMMY-winning debut Night Visions. Loom features nine new songs marked by big choruses, pleasing melodies and lyrics that concurrently make you cringe at the clichés and sing along.

Following a period of heavy loss for Reynolds when his grief hung like an invisible cobweb clouding his thoughts — and that Mercury - Acts 1 & 2 chronicled in song— Imagine Dragons went their separate ways. A break was needed and family time called before any thoughts were given to what loomed next.

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Loom is definitely a more joyful record, but buried beneath these sanguine melodies there is still some sadness. In between recording the last album and this one, Reynolds went through a divorce — a life change that is explored in songs like "Don’t Forget Me" and "Fire in These Hills."

For Reynolds, playing live to sold-out arenas and seeing thousands of strangers singing — just like writing songs — is therapeutic. Sporting a plain white t-shirt, with a rack of guitars behind him, the singer-songwriter discussed navigating change, catharsis, the inspirations behind Loom, and why he makes music today is no different than what led him to penning his first-ever song.

"I’m in therapy every week and I have been since I was young," says Reynolds, adding that he started writing music at age 12 to handle emotional distress. "I didn’t know how to say what I was feeling and it wasn’t working by just writing it in a journal. Something about singing those words and putting it over a sonic soundscape felt cathartic. This record was no different and it felt really good."

Ahead of Loom’s release on June 28, GRAMMY.com chatted with Reynolds via Zoom about the inspirsations behind what he considers the band’s most colorful record. The 36-year-old melody maker appeared affable, admitted to currently being sober, and that he was excited to hit the road again with his bandmates for a 30-plus date North American tour that begins at the end of July.

A Sense Of Foreboding, Good And Bad

Multiple members of Imagine Dragons threw out names for their new record, Reynolds notes. "'Loom' just came to me out of nowhere during the filming of our first video. I was like, 'Guys, what do you think?' Within minutes they all loved it."

Reynolds likes the ideas and connotations that come with such a simple word: that something is coming. "The word feels ominous, but it can also be positive," he explains. "This record really dives into change as a lot of change was happening in my life when I wrote these songs."

Beyond those looming feelings, good and bad, Reynolds says he also loved "loom" as a noun. "It’s a very colorful record and a loom brings to mind the intertwining of different colors."

Mattman & Robin

After working with Rick Rubin and having several "cooks in the kitchen" on the last record, Swedish duo Mattman and Robin (Mattias Per Larsson and Robin Lennart Fredriksson) were the sole studio chefs spearheading this production. The difference is reflected in Loom's finished sound.

"This record is solely Mattman & Robin and because of that it’s our most cohesive, concise and pointed record," Reynolds says. "For our own sanity, this time we wanted to make a record that told a very specific story and that sounded like a specific color. I believe we accomplished that better than ever before because we worked with only one producer."

Starting From Square One

The creation of the Imagine Dragons’ sixth album also differed from all their previous projects when it came to the artistic approach and the song-selection process. "For every other record, I arrived at the studio with 150 or more demos that I had put down over a two-year period," Reynolds recalls, adding that the group brought in about 200 demos, selected 70, and recorded 50 during their sessions with Rick Rubin.

While Reynolds had about 150 demos this time around, Mattman and Robin suggested that they "wipe the slate clean, throw out all these demos, and start from square one." Reynolds loved the idea, "because I love to write and I’m always writing."

He wrote about 30 new songs in the studio over four to six months, and then narrowed those down. "It was all very collaborative."

Feeling Colors

Reflecting about the completed record, Reynolds admits that Loom feels like the most up-tempo, concise body of work Imagine Dragons’ has ever done; it’s also the most colorful.

"That’s the reason we chose the sunset/sunrise artwork for the cover because the image can be perceived either way," Reynolds explains. "The record feels like the beginning of things and also the death of things … It's all about change. There are definitely more bright songs than any other record we’ve done, but there are also moments of reflection and heartache."

Reynolds is not one to keep a diary or write notes on his phone. Music is his journal.

"I’ve never been a person to write down an idea and then work on that idea," the songwriter explains. "I always write the same way: I sit down at a piano, with a guitar or at a computer with no theme in mind and create a soundscape that is an honest output of whatever I’m feeling. I then write lyrics and melody to that feeling. It’s been that same way since I was 12 and started writing songs … What I’m feeling in the moment is usually what it’s going to be."

Ever since Reynolds started processing his emotions through music and penned his first song as a pre-teen, he hid behind metaphors — afraid to speak his truth. During these formative years, this truth-telling usually centered on his religious beliefs. Reynolds was raised, along with his nine siblings, as a follower of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Reynolds admits that he relied too heavily on figures of speech as a writer, especially when it came to describing his relationship with Mormonism.

Today, the artist no longer hides behind his words. "When I started writing, I was fearful of the people I love understanding what I was saying," Reynolds explains. "I was not thinking back then about the common listener; the only ones who heard my music, from the time I was 12 to 14, were my parents and I sure as hell did not want my mom to hear a song and think, ‘Are you doubting Joseph Smith!’"

Reynolds leaned into metaphor. "so my mom would not know what I was talking about" — and that trajectory continued into his writing style on the first few Imagine Dragons records.

"When I listen to Night Visions, it’s very metaphorical," Reynolds reflects. "'Radioactive' is a song about depression; yet, most people hear it and think it’s a song about the apocalypse!"

However, some of Reynolds’ favorite songwriters — Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Bob Dylan and Cat Stevens — are not overly metaphorical. Working with Rick Rubin on the previous Imagine Dragons double record really helped the songwriter reduce his reliance on imagery and be more authentic. "Rick was always telling me to peel back a little bit, become more vulnerable and stop being such a scaredy-cat," he says.

Metaphors and deeper meanings aside, Reynolds stresses that while he tries to add some lyricism to his words. What matters most, he notes, is that he sings his truth and it’s believable.


Change is a constant in life and that theme weaves throughout Loom. Like French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote in 1894, "plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose." This aphorism, loosely translated, means the more things change, the more they stay the same.

"There are some things in my life that never change and I’ve accepted that," Reynolds says. "One of them is that mental health has always been a bit of a struggle for me, but music helps a lot. At the same time, other things do change. I’m 36 now and I’m not the same person I was when we put out our first record and I was 22."

The throughline in Imagine Dragons' sound is "the human experience told from a self-reflective narrative view," Reynolds continues, adding that Loom felt cathartic.

False Empowerment

Loom’s first single, "Eyes Closed," arrived May 3. The genre-bending song fuses rap, rock and pop, to create another Imagine Dragons anthem.

"'Eyes Closed' is about something that looks perfect and idyllic and then you tap it and it falls into a million pieces," Reynolds explains. "The idea behind that song is that I could do this with my eyes closed, it’s so easy, but the reality is I was not really loving myself or feeling any of those things I was writing about."

It's a theme Reynolds revisits often. "I write a lot of songs because I’m in a bad place and I’m trying to bring about a false sense of confidence, security and empowerment," he says. "I meet people and they say, ‘I work out to this song every morning and it gets my day going,’ and I reply, ‘I’m glad because I really wasn’t going that day!’"

Their International Fanbase

Loom closes with a reprise of "Eyes Closed" featuring Colombian reggaeton maestro J. Balvin. Imagine Dragons are no strangers to collabs. In the past, the band have recorded features with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne and Wiz Khalifa, but as Reynolds explains, they are always selective in choosing these collaborations. "We don’t collaborate a lot because personally I hate it when the artists I love collaborate too much. I’m like, I want to listen to you … I was waiting for a record from you.

"'Eyes Closed' really felt like the second verse could go in a different direction," Reynolds notes. "I had been listening to something from J. Balvin and I said to the band, ‘This could be cool and interesting, why don’t we try it?’ I’m really happy with how it turned out."

Reynolds adds that Imagine Dragons has become more of an international group that's bigger outside of its home nation. Touring globally has been a boon for the band: "We’ve enjoyed seeing and experiencing different cultures and witnessing how music bypasses all cultures," Reynolds says. "We go places where English is not the first language and people still seem to understand everything we are saying because they just feel it."

Reynold's Faith

As Reynolds’s conversation with GRAMMY.com comes to a close, the songwriter is asked about the inspiration behind the sixth song on Loom: "God’s Don’t Pray."

"It wouldn’t be an Imagine Dragons record without me alluding to my faith," he says. "I’m not a religious person anymore, but as anyone who grows up in religion knows — especially when the rest of your family still follows that faith — it’s still such a prevalent part of your life that it is impossible to write a record without delving into religiosity and the lack thereof."

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