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Sister Hazel's country album is the band 'just being ourselves'

Sister Hazel's country album is the band 'just being ourselves'

From the Your guide to July Fourth fairs, festivals and fireworks series

For its latest effort, alt-rock band Sister Hazel didn’t just want to make the same old Sister Hazel record.

“We wanted to do something different, and I think we did,” says the band’s Ryan Newell.

They sure did. For “Lighter in the Dark,” the band’s ninth album, Sister Hazel went country. But it’s not as jarring as it sounds.

“One of the biggest compliments we’ve heard is it doesn’t sound like we’re putting on a country hat and a belt buckle and saying we’re country,” Newell says. “We’re just being ourselves.”

Changes in country music have made it easier for Sister Hazel to make inroads there.

“It’s no secret the country genre has shifted and broadened its horizons,” he says. “It encompasses sounds we’ve been doing from day one. It’s a natural progression for us in terms of where we fit. We always wanted to know where we fit. We were never a rock band. We were never a full-on country band. But the country genre turned more in our direction. It just made sense.”

Newell says “Lighter in the Dark” still sounds like a Sister Hazel record. “We didn’t consciously try to make a country record, but we are definitely aware of our Southern influences and decided to accentuate them. But we didn’t do anything we hadn’t before.”

The band says its management had been based in Nashville, Tenn., for years, and it recorded several albums there.

The new album is the first from the band since “Heartland Highway” in 2010.

“We took our time on the (new) record to write as many songs as possible,” Newell says. “I think it’s the longest we took between records. We put out two records in the span of a year right before that (including 2009’s ‘Release’), doing the back-to-back-records thing so we could take a little bit of a break from the studio thing and do more touring on ‘Heartland Highway.’”

Despite a change in management and producers, Sister Hazel kept writing. In fact, the band went into a songwriting frenzy with the sessions for “Lighter in the Dark,” writing more than 80 songs before narrowing them down.

“The window was open, and the iron was hot,” Newell says.

“The biggest challenge was going through the songs and finding ones that were cohesive — that would go together for the record. We still believe in the craft of making records. Lots of people just focus on getting singles out there. We wanted a record you can play from beginning to end — a record with a flow to it.”

Reaction to the new music has been positive, though radio has been tricky.

“We don’t really write songs for radio,” Newell says. “We got a little bit of airplay, but it’s a different ballgame. You have to definitely be on a major label with a huge budget to get into that world. But CMT had been pretty good.”

Sister Hazel has started thinking about its next album, but what that will be is to be determined.

“We’re having our first studio session to knock some songs out,” Newell says. We’re just going to get in there and get a feel for what everyone has been up to writing-wise and see what happens from there. If songs inspire us to go in a certain direction, we’ll follow it.”

The band also has a live acoustic album in release, “Live From Daryl’s House Club,” recorded last year.

“We played a show at Daryl Hall’s place, and they recorded it and did some video of it,” he says. “We had no intentions of putting it out. After the show, we went back and listened to it and thought it was really good. We thought we captured a good acoustic night for us. We put out acoustic albums before, but it has been 10 years, and we thought now was the perfect time to do it.”

What Sister Hazel at Fair St. Louis • When 6:45 p.m. Monday • Where Main stage, Art Hill in Forest Park • How much Free • More info

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