Making Music and Living Life in the Lowcountry
Mark Bryan picked up a guitar at 14 and developed an ear for music—how to play, write, compose and sing it.
Bryan attended the University of South Carolina (USC) in the 80s and met Darius Rucker, Dean Felber and Soni Sonefeld. The foursome became the world-renowned and multi-platinum Hootie & the Blowfish.
The Hootie and the Blowfish Foundation supports worldwide charities, including providing grants and assistance to SC children. Their fundraising events include Hootie’s Homegrown Roundup which provides Charleston County children in need school supplies and medical and dental services. Bryan serves as Chairman of the Board to Carolina Studios, a non-profit organization, with an onsite location in downtown Charleston and a mobile bus that visits area middle and high schools. The organization’s mission is to provide students with a creative and safe environment in order to develop needed skills to pursue careers in music technology and the media arts. Bryan has witnessed firsthand how students have thrived and become successful in an industry he’s passionate about.
Bryan has reaped phenomenal success through his collaborative efforts with the band and his own projects. He’s recorded three solo albums; his latest, Songs of the Fortnight, debuts this month. He manages a local band, Stoplight Observations, and his ETV television program, Live at Charleston Music Hall was nominated for a 2017 Southeast Emmy Award. He recently returned from a trip to Sweden where he, through the College of Charleston’s (COC) Center for International Education program, taught students about the music industry and song writing. He also serves as an Adjunct Lecturer at COC.
I had the pleasure of chatting with him.
Tell me about the band’s beginnings.
Dean and I went to high school together in Maryland. We both decided to go to USC, coincidentally. We didn’t plan it. I ended up on the 5th floor of the dorm where Darius was and Dean was on the 6th floor. He’d [Rucker] sing and everyone would hear him and say, “Wow, he’s got a great voice.” We started playing songs we liked and came up with some sets. Darius knew the chicken wing guy across the street, Pappy. Pappy let us play there for free beer and we were off and running. We all had side jobs. Soni and I were broadcast production majors, doing shooting and editing for TV stations. Dean and Darius bartended and Darius worked for a record store in SC. Darius would bring us all the new releases and we’d listen to them. Even back then, he was listening to a lot of Americana Country…Nanci Griffith, Doc Watson, The New Grass Revival, John Hiatt, Lyle Lovett…we’d listen to all that stuff. It was great.
How did you develop your style?
At first, we were all over the place stylistically. We’d play everything—the Commodores, Hank Williams, Jr, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, the Eagles, Dire Straits…all kinds of stuff in our first gigs. I can even remember Darius singing Billy Joel in the dorm. We eventually developed our own style.
When did you say to yourself we’ve made it?
Hearing our songs on the radio. When we were on David Letterman for the first time and he held our CD up to the camera and said, “If you don’t own this album, there’s something wrong with you.” Our sales quadrupled the next day–it was surreal.
What advice would you give young musicians?
Play as much as you can whenever you can. I don’t care if someone asks you to play in their living room at a party. Play, gig as much as you can. The more you play, the better you’ll get and the more people will see you. You have to keep getting yourself out there and when they feel from your music what you feel…that’s it. If you’re talented and passionate about it, you can make a living doing what you love. I’ve seen it happen again and again.
What artist(s) is inspiring you now?
Many! Right now, Stoplight Observations, a band I manage. They’re from Mount Pleasant and their music over the last year has inspired me as much as anyone I’m listening to now. They’re world class. They’ve been selling out the Music Farm for years and playing together since going to school together at Moultrie Middle and Wando. They’ve toured the country for about the last three years, and their most recent single, Coyote, was released just last month.
What do you like best about the area and community?
I love Mount Pleasant. I lived in the Old Village from 99 to 2006. I think it’s is one of the greatest neighborhoods in America. I live in Awendaw now, near the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge. Living here gives me the best of all worlds. We have a cultural downtown, the most pristine beaches on the East Coast…that’s hard to find and the reason why Charleston is one of the top cities in America. Being able to stay in touch with the history, the charm, the city, the people here…within a moment’s reach of God’s country, nature, taking the boat out on the water. Those things constantly rejuvenate my soul, as an artist and as a human being. There’s always great new places, restaurants here and in Charleston…I’m spoiled by it…this area is as good as or better than any place in the country.
Do you have a mantra you live by?
I do. It’s from the Bible, James 1:2-4. I’m paraphrasing but it’s about…you’re supposed to go through turmoil and trouble in life because that’s what makes you stronger. That’s what makes you better. I go back to that and it’s nice to read…it’s a reminder that when things go wrong, they’re supposed to, there’s a reason for it. I believe that.