Darius Rucker Keeps Stoking His Country Style With 'True Believers'

Darius Rucker, famous for his rock music with Hootie and the Blowfish, has a third country music album out, called True Believers. He speaks with guest host Wade Goodwyn about his inspiration for the tracks on the album and the wide range of country music styles it covers.

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WADE GOODWYN, HOST:

Darius Rucker, formerly known as Hootie of the band Hootie and the Blowfish, is on his own these days making waves in the world of country music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRUE BELIEVERS")

DARIUS RUCKER: (Singing) Church bells ringing on our wedding day, climbed in that limo and I rode away. Guess you'll always hear some people say...

GOODWYN: His third album was just released last week. It's called "True Believers."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TRUE BELIEVERS")

RUCKER: (Singing) We are one heartbeat in the darkness. We are one lasting answered prayer.

GOODWYN: Darius Rucker is on tour now, and he joins us from Simpsonville, South Carolina. Darius Rucker, welcome to the show.

RUCKER: Hey, Wade. How are you doing, man?

GOODWYN: I'm doing great. "True Believers" is your third country music album - and it's also the name of the title track - is an inspiring song, I would say. You - this is your third country album. You know, how would you rate it to - compared to the other two? Are you...

RUCKER: Oh, I think it's the best record I've ever made.

GOODWYN: You're more pleased.

RUCKER: Yeah. I'm - I mean, I love the other two records, but this record, I was just - I was head over heels for. I just thought we had really hit it out the park. We had done exactly what I want to do, what I needed to do for my career, and I was just really excited about it.

GOODWYN: You know, the track that really impressed me was the next track called "Miss You," which is sung from the perspective of a husband who is in bed with his wife, and she's gone to sleep.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISS YOU")

RUCKER: (Singing) Lay down in this big 'ole bed and you turned on the TV. Fell asleep without a goodnight kiss or even an I love you.

GOODWYN: And he remembers a time when they would never go to sleep without first kissing each other and hugging each other. But those days are over, and he regrets it.

RUCKER: Oh, yeah. That song- I think everybody who's been in a relationship for a long time can relate to that song. I've had people already come up to me and go: Man, you really made me and my wife think about our relationship. And I was like, that's what I wanted to do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MISS YOU")

RUCKER: (Singing) How did we get here, when you can be right there, and I can be with you ad miss you?

GOODWYN: You know, I know this is a question everyone asks you about, which is crossing over from pop to country. And is this a return to your roots? I mean, what was the motivation behind this? Were you coming home?

RUCKER: Yeah. It was country music, you know. I've been saying I was going to make a country record since 1989, saying it for so long. And it was just time to do it. So it was - it's definitely a comeback to the South, you know, come back to where I was born and raised.

GOODWYN: Was race ever an issue?

RUCKER: I never thought about it, you know? It's something I never really thought about until I started having hits. Like, when "Don't Think I Don't Think About It" started to become a hit and people started talking about, you know, being the first African-American in 25 years to have a hit on the charts, I was shocked. It's not an issue for me. I just want to play, you know, the music I want to play.

GOODWYN: Well, this album may be country, but as I listen to it, it's kind of Darius Rucker country. I mean, you're rocking out here pretty good.

RUCKER: Yeah. You know, that's the one thing that we realized. No matter what we did, it was going to sound like Darius Rucker. I like to, you know, give people something to dance to, something they can turn up loud and listen to. And so that's what we try to do with every record. I'm glad I'm not trying to be anything but myself, you know? And so I'm playing the Darius Rucker brand of country and people are accepting it.

GOODWYN: You have a version of a song by Old Crow Medicine Show that's taking off right now. It's called "The Wagon Wheel," and it's at the top of the country Billboard charts. Let's hear a bit of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAGON WHEEL")

RUCKER: (Singing) Heading down South to the land of the pines, I'm thumbing my way into North Caroline. Staring up the road and praying to God I see headlights. I made it down the coast in 17 hours, picking me a bouquet of dogwood flowers. And I'm a-hopin' for Raleigh, I can see my baby tonight. So rock me momma like a wagon wheel, rock me momma anyway you feel. Hey momma rock me.

GOODWYN: What was it about this song that inspired you to cover it?

RUCKER: It's such a great tune. And I never even think about cutting that song until I heard it one day at my oldest daughter's high school talent show. And the faculty band got up and played it. They did such a great country version of it that just blew me away. I was like, wow, I never even thought of that song was a country song, but it's a great country song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAGON WHEEL")

RUCKER: (Singing) Running from the cold up in New England, I was born to be a fiddler in an old-time string band. My baby plays the guitar, I pick a banjo now. Oh, north country winters keep a-getting me down. Lost my money playing poker so I had to leave town. But I ain't a-turning back to living that old life no more...

So I wanted to cut it, and then I've got Lady Antebellum to sing on it, and that took it to a whole new level. And it was just - it just seemed to be the perfect thing for me to do.

GOODWYN: This album has a, you know, a range of styles within the country genre. Was that your intention to begin with, or is that simply something you ended up with at the end of the process?

RUCKER: I think, you know, the - when we're making records, the most important thing to me is always the songs. I, you know, I don't really think about the styles. I just want to have a lot of great songs that you can put out. And then we were lucky with this record that the songs that came to the - that floated to the top also had different styles to them. And so it was - once we finished, I was really proud of how many different styles of country music, and that's always a good thing to me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ME HOME")

GOODWYN: And at the beginning of one song, you have a little boogie-woogie piano, I think.

RUCKER: Oh yeah, "Take Me Home." That's really cool to have. Just - that's a one - another style of music that I love. And it was really cool to have that on my record. When I - when I heard - when we started cutting that song and I heard the big piano that Gordon Mote was playing, I was like, man, that's just - that's awesome.

GOODWYN: I wanted more.

RUCKER: Hell, me too.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAKE ME HOME")

RUCKER: (Singing) I want to hear a southern drawl and taste every word that lingers. I need a Sunday morning song by a just-got-baptized singer. I've been away too long, somebody take me home.

GOODWYN: The other song that I really like is "Radio," which is a - roll down your windows, turn the radio up loud and drive 20 miles an hour too fast and let it rip.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RADIO")

RUCKER: (Singing) Riding down the highway, who wants to be the DJ?

It is one of those big summer songs where you just turn up the, you know, turn it up, put the windows down and get your friends in the car and drive and just sing along. And I love that tune.

GOODWYN: And I thought maybe I heard an echo of Wall of Voodoo's song "Mexican Radio."

RUCKER: That's exactly what we were going for when we did that.

(Singing) And I'm on a Mexican Radio.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MEXICAN RADIO")

WALL OF VOODOO: (Singing) Radio, radio...

GOODWYN: You nailed it because the way they say radio and the way you say radio is exactly the same.

RUCKER: Oh, yeah. That's what I was going for.

GOODWYN: I hear rumors of a Hootie and the Blowfish reunion next year. You want to give us the scoop?

RUCKER: You know, we're talking about it. We're talking about doing some shows.

GOODWYN: Now, Darius, you know this is National Public Radio, so this is a good place to break news, if you'd like to.

RUCKER: Oh, I got nothing to break. We're still just talking about it, man. I mean, we haven't even, you know, I don't think the four of us have even gotten together. We've just been sending emails that, you know, we might want to do something next year. But no one's got anything written in stone.

GOODWYN: Darius Rucker, thanks so much for coming on the show. And good luck.

RUCKER: Thank you, Wade. Good talking to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEARTBREAK ROAD")

RUCKER: (Singing) You got the keys, girl, I'm just a rider. Gas it up and get us out of here.

GOODWYN: And for Saturday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Wade Goodwyn. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR smartphone app. Click on Programs and scroll down. We're back on the radio tomorrow. Until then, thanks for listening and have a good night.

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