Learn to Live Opens a New Musical Chapter for Darius Rucker

Hootie & the Blowfish Vocalist Delivers a Crossover That Feels Made for Country

Darius Rucker may be a newcomer to Nashville, but he’s hardly a rookie on the music scene. The lead singer of Hootie & the Blowfish knows how important first impressions are and did not take the move to country lightly.

“I’ve always talked about doing it … and we [Hootie & the Blowfish] were winding down,” he said. “We had been on the road a long time … so it felt like the right time.”

Eighteen months were spent creating his solo debut, Learn to Live, and it emerged as a record that covers quite a bit of ground stylistically. It features his deep, resonating vocals and also includes some memorable guest appearances. Brad Paisley lends his distinctive guitar playing to the honky-tonk “All I Want,” while Vince Gill and Alison Krauss contribute their angelic voices to the ballad, “If I Had Wings.” At the moment, the album’s first single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” is spending its second week at No. 3 on Billboard’s country singles chart and is still exhibiting strong upward momentum.

Rucker recently stopped by the CMT offices to talk about his album that was released Tuesday (Sept. 16) by Capitol Nashville. At first, he looked reserved, like he wanted to stay “business only,” but his outgoing personality was too much to hide. Soon, an easy grin appeared as he talked about the comfort level in Nashville, sounding more country than anyone expected and the value of having the right producer.

CMT: Is it different to work or record in Nashville as opposed to anywhere else?

Rucker: The first thing is that it’s just so much more laid back than New York or L.A. It’s like, I come in, hang out with my friends, and then leave. … I wrote with [Nashville songwriter] Rivers Rutherford, and it was crazy. They come up with things that you would never think of and you go, “Wow. Alright dude, I’m in!”

How would you describe Learn to Live?

I think for me, it’s traditional country the way I hear it. The way me and [Learn to Live producer] Frank Rogers hear it. And we really just tried to make country that we wanted to hear. When we took it to the label they said “Yeah, but man, that is so country.” And I’m like “Well, I told you guys I wasn’t going to make a Hootie & the Blowfish record and put fiddle on it. I’m gonna make a country record.” So it’s just traditional country — of what I hear as traditional country.

Frank Rogers has produced a lot of artists like Brad Paisley and Josh Turner. How much did he help you find your sound?

I plan on doing a lot of country records. I plan on trying to do as much in country as I can, and I want Frank to produce all of my records. I mean, he is a genius. I talked to him about what I wanted on the record. Our first meeting, within the first 30 minutes of us knowing each other, we had written “All I Want.” And when we wrote that song, I knew this guy knew exactly what I wanted to do. ’Cause we had just talked for about 5 or 10 minutes, and every time I wanted something to be different or I wanted a change, it was so easy to explain to him.

Then I went back and listened to a Brad Paisley record, a Trace Adkins record and a Josh Turner record. And I played them back to back. And if you didn’t know it, you couldn’t tell that the same guy had produced all those records. One thing a lot of producers do is take their sound and put a singer over the top of it. Frank doesn’t do that. … That’s what I loved about it. Everything seemed so effortless.

“All I Want” is the total opposite side of the coin, compared to “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.” Is that the next single?

That’s a straight honky-tonk one … like Dwight [Yoakam] could have sung that song. But there’s a lot of speculation. A guy told me once, “Women aren’t going to like this.” And I’m like, “Are you crazy?” That song is what every man wants to say and every woman wants to hear. Not in life, but when it’s time to break up, that’s what you want to say and that’s what you want to hear, but you can’t. So people are talking about “All I Want,” and “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” has been getting such a reaction at radio stations when I do radio tours. But I’m not a singles guy, and I decided when they chose “Hold My Hand” as our [Hootie’s] first single that I was never going to worry about it ever again. And I never have.

Writer/producer for CMT.com and CMT Edge. He's been to Georgia on a fast train. He wasn't born no yesterday.