Jett Beres of Sister Hazel | Full Transcript
I interviewed bassist Jett Beres of Sister Hazel. We discussed:
The 20th anniversary of the album "Chasing Daylight"
Why this is his favorite Sister Hazel album
The song written in a hot tub
How the role of the bass in a song mirrors his role in the band
What he learned from getting a degree in Architecture that applies to his work as a musician
Recorded February 10, 2023
Watch the video of the interview
His Favorite Sister Hazel Album
Cris Cohen: First off, the focal point of this interview is the 20th anniversary of the album “Chasing Daylight.” And you had a post just a couple of days ago where you wrote, front to back this is your favorite Sister Hazel album of all time. And you guys have like 13 or 14 albums. What makes this your favorite?
Jett Beres: Oh, wow. Right off the bat, big question. <laugh> Well, obviously the collection of songs. But more than that, I think it was kind of where we were in our career, the creativity that we had as a band, the collaborations with the writing. We were really strong.
We had just come off of “Fortress,” which was our second record under Universal Records. And then we parted ways with Universal after that record. So, this was our first independent record. And there was a freedom that came along with that. It was kind of how we started Sister Hazel, where there were no rules. And then all of a sudden, with the big machine, there were (rules) and there were expectations.
The first record (with Universal), “Somewhere More Familiar,” did big things, opened a lot of doors for us. And we had been writing and playing those songs (for a while).
The second record, we had to create (the songs) and we had to follow up a platinum record. And there was a lot of pressure with that. We spent a summer out in California with all the things that a platinum band gets from the label.
We had our pick of producers. We chose the coolest producer that we could find at the time, regardless of whether he fit with us or not. Because he did Guns ‘N’ Roses and Metallica. And the label was saying, “We need a little more rock.”
So there was a lot of pressure on us with the “Fortress” record. There were some great songs on that record, but it was a difficult experience to say the least.
Now at the tail end of that, after spending a summer in Los Angeles, we moved back to Atlanta, and we had about four tracks done. We had intended to go back to LA, but we went into a studio with Don McCollister. And Atlanta at the time was kind of our hub. Three of us lived there. Management was there. So, it felt like a home away from home (being from Gainesville, FL) way more than LA did. We kind of dug in, hit our stride, and finished that record in Atlanta.
When it came time to record again, we knew there were some good vibes, good energy there. So we picked back up Don McCollister for the “Chasing Daylight” record in a place called Nickel and Dime Studios.
We were newly independent. Everyone was kind of rising as songwriters within band. I listen to the songs and I just feel the freedom and the energy we had. Every song to me… it's got a purpose. We were purposeful with that record. There was no fear. It was just creating music. And we had a fully supportive fan base. We were excited about being independent. And I think it shows. It shows in the songs. It shows in the playing and the way that we recorded that record. I'm really proud of it.
Cris Cohen: I'd like to point out this is my disc jacket from when I bought the album in the first few months of its release. I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area at the time. I remember I told a bunch of friends, “This is one of the most solid albums I have heard in a long time.” Every song could have been a single.
You mentioned that there were no rules. And I'm curious… because it's not like you went way, way different from your previous albums with this. It's still you guys. It's still your sound. In what ways did you take advantage of the lack of restrictions?
Jett Beres: When we wrote, we weren't writing with anything specific in mind. We were writing about our experiences and where we were in our lives. And there's an honesty to that. It just didn't feel forced. It felt very authentic. And to be at that stage in your career and have that feeling within the entire band and organization and support from our fans… it was kind of a unique period. We didn't feel any restrictions. Nothing felt cumbersome. It was just flowing. We had flow and an energy.
Lyrics Written In A Hot Tub
Cris Cohen: You wrote a number of lyrics or are credited with co-writing a number of lyrics and music on this album. One of the songs that I especially love is the song “Everybody,” which has one of the more unique lyrics for a love song. “Like a junkie to a rush / I’d trade my mama for your touch.” Which I thought was hilarious. Is that one of your lines? Was that one of Ken's (Ken Block – lead singer)? And do you remember how that one came about?
Jett Beres: I do. In fact, to this day, Ken says that we wrote the majority of that song in his hot tub. Now <laugh>, I don't think that’s true, but there is something about that line that I think, we might have been in the hot tub when we wrote it. That song was fun. We just had fun with it. It was something kind of different for us. We had fun with the music part. Ryan (Newell) came in with that groove. It just kind of flowed. Like I said, songs were just flowing at the time.
Cris Cohen: And there's a great part in that song – now switching over musically speaking – where it kind of breaks down. Most of the band kind of steps back. It's just bass, kick drum, hi-hat, and then maybe some guitar. I’m wondering how that came about. Because it's just this cool groove. It's got this great energy when you go into that and your bass work kind of comes to the forefront at that point in the song.
Jett Beres: For a time for the Fortress Tour the song we would walk on stage to was by the Jackson 5. And so, I was kind of immersed in that vibe and those bass lines. So, I think that was probably the influence. But to be able to do that and kind of stretch out rhythmically was kind of part of it. It just seemed very natural.
Cris Cohen: And I say this over and over again in interviews, but I encourage people to get either the disc or… you guys are releasing a limited-edition vinyl copy of this album. Because, especially to hear your work, the bass work, that really comes through on really good recordings. Whereas it gets a little lost in streaming, in the low quality of those versions.
Jett Beres: We were just watching on the bus that movie “I Love You Man.” And that scene… “slapping the bass.” He plays Rush for his fiancé. He hits it on his computer and sonically it's just so tiny.
It’s funny because a lot of times, when people are hearing songs now, somebody's playing it from their phone. So the sonic fullness that comes from sitting with headphones or playing a CD in your car… it doesn't come across. Which arguably has kind of changed music a little bit, to how people are recording stuff. But yeah, there's a lot of sonic fidelity that we hit on the mark on this record. And it will definitely come through on vinyl on a good system. So, we're excited to release that. It's a double vinyl because all those songs wouldn't fit on just one.
Playing Bass From A Team Sports Perspective
Cris Cohen: So while we're on the topic of the bass, the stereotype is… it is rare for someone to say, “I'm going to be a bass player.” For so many, it was, “I was a guitarist, but it is hard to find gigs as a guitarist. And then I took one lesson on the bass, and I was suddenly in a band.” I was curious about the path for you. Did you choose the bass? Did you come to it via the guitar?
Jett Beres: No, I started on bass. I had a background in piano. So, I had some chops and some rudimentary understanding of scales and what my left hand did and what that was in the song. There were some buddies that had a band, and it was cool to hang out with them and to watch. And they didn't like their bass player. One day he left early, and I was just hanging out. They handed me the bass and taught me, “Ain't Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” (by Van Halen). It was the first song. Because it's super easy. And it was off to the races from there.
They were like, “Hey, you should be in the band. Just learn these songs.” So I asked my dad if he would get me a bass, and he did. Didn't really know much about the instrument (that was in eighth grade), but from then on, I was always a bass player.
Cris Cohen: And what attracted you to it? Because your type of bass playing… You're not like the Victor Wooten slap solo kind of thing. Yours is very much meshing with the drums, with the music on the whole. And it falls into that category of, maybe some people won't notice it, but if it was removed, people would be like, “All right, there's something important missing here.” So, what drew you to it?
Jett Beres: Yeah. I think that's kind of my role in the band and in anything. I'm a team guy. I've always worked better on a team in sports. I've always been kind of a utility guy, a bridge. And that's what the bass is in the band. And I love that role. I love that role of accentuating the rhythms with the drums. What I would say to any bass player out there that's getting started, or even that's been doing it and likes to solo… You want be in a band? Watch the drummer's foot and tune into it and play in and around it. Then you're bridging that with the top end instruments: The guitars, the keys.
And you're exactly right. When you start noticing bass, it's probably, depending on the project you're in… in Sister Hazel and the kind of songs we write, it should just be a feel thing. When it's not there, you'll miss it. But if you're hearing it too much, you're probably overplaying. <laugh>
Cris Cohen: From the perspective of the album and looking back 20 years, how have you changed as a bass player since “Chasing Daylight” came out?
Jett Beres: That's a good question. How have I changed as a bass player? I don't think, as a bass player, I have changed a whole lot. I'm maybe a little more astute as to where my role is in certain songs. But I'm a songwriter also. I write on piano and acoustic guitar. I don't (write) on bass. So, the songs that I bring in are not necessarily bass-centric songs. I bring that in afterwards to add to it. I'm in a band where I understand what the role is. And we've got great singers with harmonies, and we've got a great lead guitarist. I'm part of the rhythm section. So, my job is to hold it down.
Cris Cohen: And then, you guys will sometimes stretch songs out in different ways when you play them live. What song from “Chasing Daylight” has evolved the most over the years?
Jett Beres: That would be “Swan Dive.” It's a part of just about every Sister Hazel show, because it connects with the fans so much. And so, we have this whole big breakdown and outro and it changes. And now we have a keyboard (player) in the band that (also) plays sax. And (the song) has this big sax thing. So that song has really taken on a whole new life over the years. That's an anchor for Sister Hazel. It's just one of those songs that has always resonated with our fans. You see it. Everybody singing every word back at every show as much as any other song that we have.
Cris Cohen: Do you have a favorite song on this album?
Jett Beres: I like the whole record a lot, but there are a couple standouts. One is… it was the first time I wrote a song that I brought into the band kind of by myself. A song called “Come Around.” I did bring it in with my singer, because he's got to deliver it. So we adjusted some things. But that's one of the songs that I feel like I took another step in my songwriting and really found what I could deliver for Sister Hazel. Because I've written songs my whole life. But specifically what works with us and identifying how the singers are going to deliver it, how the band is going to deliver it, I had a deeper understanding of that.
I kind of brought that in and it was probably 90% done. And everybody loved it, and still does to this day. We just played last night, brought it back out, kicked the rust off of it, and it felt great.
Then there's a song called “Best I'll Ever Be” that Ken and Drew wrote. And it was a very difficult time in my life. My mom had just been diagnosed with a brain disorder and passed away a couple years later. And I connected with that song at that moment in my life. And it just really resonated with me. It still does. It's a little difficult to listen to at times, but I think that’s a beautiful song.
I just listened to the whole record again. I hadn't gone back to these records in a long time. And because of this, I really dug in on it. And there are two sneaky, great songs I think on this one. One is “Killing Me Too.” And the other is “Hopeless.” Each one of those songs has this depth to it and this power to it that I had forgotten about. Because we don't play them live… or haven't in a long, long time. And man, I got emotional listening to it. I really connected with what we were doing at the time and how we were delivering music at that time. They're powerful songs.
Cris Cohen: And speaking of songwriting, you guys have some amazing chops in this area, but you also worked with some heavyweights on this album. Richard Marx is credited with co-writing one of the songs. Also Stan Lynch, the drummer for Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, a fabulous musician in his own right. I don't know if you can articulate what they brought to the table that was different or that you learned from them maybe.
Jett Beres: So Drew wrote “Hopeless” with Stan and continued to write songs with Stan through the years. They've written some great songs together, so I can't speak on that one. Ken wrote “Life Got In The Way,” which to this day is a beloved song in the Sister Hazel camp.
I have not written with Richard Marx, but I wrote “Swan Dive” with Tia Sillers, who had just written “I Hope You Dance.” She's a heavy hitter songwriter. She came to my house and we had breakfast. It was Tia and Ken and I and Ryan. We sat in my living room. My wife was within earshot, doing work. And to this day she talks about it, because she heard a song developed from nothing into a completed song that is still this big, important song in our catalog.
This was the first time that we had collaborated with other writers outside of the band. And so that was my first experience collaborating with a big, professional songwriter. Tia was amazing. Watching how she could kind of just flow with these ideas. Some stick and some don't, but you just kind of keep throwing them out there and feel the room and the energy of the write and this kind of approach that was really flowing. As opposed to how I had written stuff: Pen to paper, concentrating, digging in. There was this kind of openness to it, where you're saying words with your emotions and then going, “That's it. That feels right.” And finding melodies and how they work with the words. So it was a great learning experience writing with her.
Cris Cohen: And I think it was, uh, Lee Ann Womack who recorded “I Hope You Dance.” It just became a humongous song, and the lyrics of that one are fantastic. So I can see why she's a heavy hitter.
Influenced By Architecture
Cris Cohen: To veer a little off course, from what I read, you have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture. Was there anything about that education that you would say has come into play in your work as a musician?
Jett Beres: Yes, absolutely. There is architecture to music, just like (there is) music to architecture. I feel like the way that I approach creativity and big ideas, and when I sit in a room, either in a writing (session) or we're creating a new part to the show, I'm often kind of one of the main people that's driving that ship. And what I learned in architecture of not refining, putting a fine tip on the initial idea to get the pure creativity out, has really been a driving force for how I bring stuff to the table.
For example, in architecture we did the project where you had a Japanese brush to write the Japanese symbols…
Cris Cohen: Kanji characters.
Jett Beres: Yeah. And we did these quick sketches with this thick brush, so you couldn't articulate little details. And you had about 5 seconds for each one. Boom, boom, boom.
So you're getting into this purely creative flow. Then you have to pick your top three and create structures from that. That lesson really stuck with me, being able to capture the big idea and then start refining it. So those things that I learned in architecture, I'm still using in music.
Cris Cohen: Okay. And actually now, you know, I do see the correlation also between… you were a guy who used to write songs by just, “I'm going to sit down and put pen to paper.” Very much like the architect mentality of, “I'm going to draw the lines and measure this out and have everything squared off and perfect.” The attention to detail thing.
Jett Beres: But the time is not in the initial creative part. There's a time to refine down the road once you have this big idea in the feel and the kind of big picture understanding. I'd say also musically how we build things… There's a foundation. There's decoration. There are things that are core and central to whatever your construct is. And I think those things I probably carried with me from architecture.
“I don't like to sit still”
Cris Cohen: And of all the musicians I have interviewed, you're the first I've ever interviewed who also owns a realty company <laugh>. The impetus for that… how much of it was genuine interest, how much of it was, “I saw an opportunity,” and how much of it was, “Well, this will be a little bit more solid balance to the artistic career that is musicianship”?
Jett Beres: It happened very organically. I don't like to sit still. And we tour quite a bit still, which is 85 to 100 days on the road a year, which includes rehearsals, recording, and stuff like that. I have grown kids. So I had a lot of time I could see happening, as it was coming down the pike, with my kids needing me less. And I'm just an entrepreneur by spirit.
I talked to my wife, who is a designer, and I said, “Hey, let's start flipping (houses).”
Well, I can't get my GC (general contractors) license, because I have to work for two years for that. So I'll just get my real estate license and then we can buy the houses together and I can have some sort of understanding of that.
In that process, while I was kind of learning the business, I would come home sometimes and play in this awesome rock church band. I just admired the heck out of these musicians. And this one guitarist happened to be a broker. So I would pick his brain on things periodically and ask him for advice. One day he said, “You know, we should just work together. We should start a brokerage together.”
So the opportunity just presented itself and we work together. To this day I co-own the brokerage with him. So it just kind of happened naturally. And then when Covid hit and we had nothing to do and real estate was booming, that was really good timing to have that going.
Cris Cohen: <laugh> Yeah. You were probably seen as quite the oracle. “Wow! He really planned this out!”
Jett Beres: Yeah, I definitely got lucky.
Like Father, Like Son
Cris Cohen: And kind of along those lines, you brought up family. I read somewhere that your son has a band as well. Obviously, the music landscape has changed dramatically since you guys started. What advice have you given him in terms of a career in music that, even today, given all the changes that have gone on, still apply based on what you've learned?
Jett Beres: He's 17. So he doesn't take my advice.
Cris Cohen: Okay. <laugh>
Jett Beres: He's his own young man. And we have a great relationship, but he likes to do things kind of his own way. When he picked up the bass, he had played drums, then piano, then sax. I never put a bass in his hands. He picked it up on his own, started a band on his own.
Fast forward. They just cut a record and it's amazing. He's kind of doing it his own way. And he's the premier songwriter in the band. One of them. The record's great. It sounds like Iron Maiden and Metallica mixed with a bit of pop sensibility. It's a great record.
And I was amazed. I was kind of a fly on the wall in the back of the studio. Eventually the producer and the engineer and the dads would look to me for stuff, and I would be like, “It's their band.” <laugh>
But I respect him. He's his own guy. My dad was a professional athlete, and I never asked him for advice, which in retrospect was completely ridiculous. My son is… the apple does not fall far from the tree in that regard. But he's doing great. He's crushing it.
So I guess back to your question, my advice would be, aside from get good at your instrument, whatever it is that you're doing, get good at it. And be authentic with whatever you're delivering. Don't get sucked up into the world of, “I'm trying to get famous” or “I'm going to do this so I can get this many viewers on TikTok.” Because all that is just white noise. It's stuff to distract you from the real reason that you hopefully got into it for, which was to create art. The world needs more artists… genuine, authentic artists. I'm very hopeful that that is coming back around in a lot of ways, with seeing my son and his band do their thing.
Cris Cohen: No, that's very cool.
Well, that pretty much covers all of my material. Is there anything that we haven't discussed that you want to talk about or that you never get a chance to talk about?
Jett Beres: I will say we're about to do our “Lyrics For Life” event in Gainesville. Darius Rucker is coming in as a special guest. This event has been all over the country, but the last four or five years we've done it in our hometown of Gainesville, Florida. It's a big event. It's tied in with Shands Hospital, because our cause is pediatric cancer and Shands is a national, leading cancer research institute. So we partnered with them and we raised a lot of money. Now it's a very successful charity and it's kind of the culmination of years of work and what our focus has been from a philanthropic standpoint.
And it's really a big part of the why for us. When you have something that's having that profound of an impact, not only the community, but the reach has been really large. It's very purposeful. It gives us drive to keep doing what we're doing. So when you talk about a why, which needs to be central to what it is that you do, Lyrics For Life is a huge why and driver for Sister Hazel.
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