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Q&A: MARK BRYAN

With four songwriters in Hootie and the Blowfish, guitarist Mark Bryan says there was always a surplus of material to consider for the band’s studio albums.

“It’s a good problem to have,” admits Bryan, “but I always found myself with stacks of songs I believe in that haven’t seen the light of day.”

Launching a solo career has turned out to be a good way for Bryan to deal with his stockpile as Hootie remains more than a decade removed from its last studio effort. Songs of the Fortnight, his latest, arrived in August via Chucktown Music Group. And when he’s not writing and recording, Bryan is active in one of several other music-related endeavors in and around Charleston, S.C.

Bryan recently checked in to talk about his varied workload, his new album and what the future holds for Hootie and the Blowfish.

Medleyville.us: You’re now three albums into your solo career. What have been the biggest lessons you have learned along the way about being a frontman in the studio and onstage?
Mark Bryan: “Ha — that I am not a great singer. For me, releasing solo albums is not about being a frontman, it’s about getting my songs out there instead of leaving them sitting around my studio.

“I love playing live as much as anything I’ve ever done, but I only do a handful of solo shows to promote the releases. I have three kids that I try to schedule my life around, and I have challenged myself to go outside my comfort zone with other musical endeavors such as producing, teaching and managing, so touring is on the back burner until the next Hootie project.”

When and how did you come to realize that friend and fellow singer-songwriter Joe Firstman didn’t record “Forgetting About Me,” your new album’s first single?
Bryan:
“Joe and I worked together on some songs prior to his [2011] album Swear It Was a Dream, and I fell in love with ‘Forgetting About Me.’ When the album came out and it wasn’t on there, I told him I wanted to record it, and he said, “Go for it.’ It turns out he did record a version that he played for me later, but I don’t think he has released it.”

Have you received any feedback from Firstman about your finished product?
Bryan:
“Joe was psyched about ‘Forgetting’ and ‘A Little Bit of Everything,’ which we also wrote together. He also helped me arrange the acoustic version of ‘Maybe Then,’ the last song on the album.”

Did turning 50 this year change your outlook or approach to your music career?
Bryan:
“Turning 50 definitely corners you into the trappings of time, but it is also very freeing. I don’t care what anyone thinks anymore because I’m already old, so now I feel younger than ever.”

You have quite a few side jobs. Talk about the challenges of carving out the time to do them, and what you personally get out of each one.
Bryan:
“I have been blessed with a passion for music that has allowed me to make a career out of it on many levels. As long as I am doing something related to my passion, it rarely feels like work. Scheduling has been a challenge, for sure, but I keep a pretty rigid calendar, and I use it to prioritize the events of my life.

“When a producing project comes along, I schedule it in advance and completely immerse myself in it when it arrives. I love the process of starting with songs in pre-production, taking them all the way through the mix and helping to create something timeless with another artist.

Live at the Charleston Music Hall is an extension of my college degree in broadcast journalism. It was a light-bulb idea of what we could do for the Charleston Music scene that would showcase its talent, the venue, and the city itself. Once South Carolina Educational Television came on board and offered to include it in their programming, I knew it would be worth the investment in time to make it happen. My partner Ashley and I are the executive producers, and I am the host, and we have a tremendous director in Tim Fennell. I’ve really enjoyed making Season 1, and featuring some up-and-coming regional and national acts, as well as catching up with old friends and industry legends like Toad the Wet Sprocket, Sam Bush, Edwin McCain, Sister Hazel and Drivin n Cryin.

“In 2009, College of Charleston’s Arts Management Department called to discuss my involvement in their burgeoning music industry program. I started off as an adjunct professor, teaching an intro class that covers all of the potential careers in the music biz, and allows students to try and discover what area they are most passionate about as they move forward in this tricky profession. In 2013, I became the artist in residence for the program, and expanded my role into helping students find internships and jobs, developing new music industry classes, hosting a monthly music industry panel called ‘In the Mix,’ and I still teach the intro class.

“Carolina Studios is a nonprofit, afterschool recording studio that I have been helping run for the past 15 years. We have a hard location in downtown Charleston and a school bus that has been converted into a mobile studio that travels around to schools and summer camps to bring our program to kids all over the Charleston area.

“There are several world-class artists from right here in Charleston. One of which is a band called Stop Light Observations — SLO for short — who I have known since they were kids. When they finished their second album, and I heard its brilliance, and realized they didn’t have management, I felt like I needed to step up and use my industry experience and contacts to help give TOOGOODOO a proper release. I helped them put together a team, and they have been steadily touring. Now they are releasing singles one at a time through a project called The Volumes.”

The most recent piece of news on the Hootie and Blowfish site was the announcement of the annual Hootie’s HomeGrown concerts, which were held in early August. Might there be more band activity before the 2018 edition?
Bryan: “We will do a handful of shows between now and 2019, when we plan to make a new album and tour. Darius [Rucker] is in the middle of releasing his fifth album out of Nashville, and he will be touring into next year.”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Mark Bryan concert dates (schedule subject to change):

• Oct. 5: Music Farm/Tin Roof — Columbia, S.C.

Photo by Jonathan Boncek

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