An Interview with The Hooters' Rob Hyman

Paul Caparotta
The Hooters' Tommy Williams, David Uosikkinen, Eric Bazillian, Rob Hyman, Fran Smith Jr., and John Lilley (Photo: Marc Gilgen)
The Hooters' Tommy Williams, David Uosikkinen, Eric Bazillian, Rob Hyman, Fran Smith Jr., and John Lilley (Photo: Marc Gilgen)

On Tuesday, September 12th, Saratoga's Mountain Winery will see the 'I Want My 80's Tour' hit the hillside and bring together the band behind the '80's classic "867-5309", Tommy Tutone; '80's heartthrob musician and actor, Rick Springfield, and a band near and dear to the hearts of us here at, legendary Philly rockers, The Hooters. More than just an '80's revival show, both Rick & The Hooters are out supporting their new albums, Automatic and Rocking & Swing (respectively) and we'll assume they'll each squeeze in their hits as well for a show that you won't want to miss! Limited tickets are still available as of this writing and can be found here.

Heading out on tour this year will be The Hooters founding members Eric Bazilian (vocals/guitar/mandolin), Rob Hyman (vocals/keyboards/accordion), and David Uosikkinen (drums); long-time members John Lilley (rhythm guitar) and Fran Smith Jr. (bass guitar), along with Tommy Williams (guitar) who joined the band in 2010. Although possibly not household names, both Eric and Rob have seen much success outside The Hooters -- collaborations with Joan Osborne, in which Eric produced and arranged her debut GRAMMY-winning album Relish and wrote her hit single "One of Us"; and with Cyndi Lauper where Rob co-wrote and sang on her GRAMMY-nominated single "Time After Time." But The Hooters have been a mainstay institution in the Philadelphia metro for years and we're excited to see the band make the trek out west for their first visit to the Mountain Winery on Sept. 12th!

The tour kicked off on August 4th and Rob Hyman, graciously carved out time to speak with us from the road. Read on to hear about his memorable moments from the Bay Area, how their latest album came together, and more! And most importantly, grab tickets while they're still available! 

SFBayAreaConcerts: Rob, thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us while you're on the road! Our roots are from the Philly/Tri-State area so I wanted to start off with a question about what's been happening in the city recently! Beyond Philly’s success on the field right now, the music scene is exploding: Boyz II Men and Todd Rundgren releasing new albums and touring, along with newer bands like Weyes Blood and Hurry supporting new releases. What do you think is going on in the Delaware Valley right now?

Rob Hyman: Like with the cheesesteaks and rolls, it’s all in the water! I don’t know -- we’re veterans at this point; we go back to the 80s -- we started in 1980. So, we’ve seen a lot of bands come and go, a lot of venues.

When we first started it was a wonderful place for a band to get started. Local radio -- pre-satellite, pre-alternative; there were a ton of local clubs where we played with a lot of other bands. It was fertile -- a good scene.

I’m sure that scene still exists, but I know radio-wise things have changed; they were very supportive of local bands which made a difference.

It’s [Philadelphia], always been a great town for any style or musical genre, and I think that’s what pretty much made it our base as opposed to a bigger, typical musical city like LA or Nashville.

Everyone lives in different areas at this point, but our base is still outside Philly -- we have a studio there -- and that’s our base of operations.

SFBayAreaConcerts: Rocking & Swing is just a whole lot of fun. It’s the first studio album in years after coming through a rough pandemic. Was this material you and the band have been working on since your last studio album, or is it newer? Was it done at Elm Street?

Rob Hyman: It was done at Elm Street and also at Eric’s [Bazilian] place. He has a great studio in a little carriage house behind his home outside Philly. He spends his time between Philly and Sweden, his wife is Swedish, he’s in Stockholm about half the year.

But when he’s home, he has a great facility -- I do as well. So we really juggled -- wrote and recorded the album between our two studios; it’s homemade in that respect.

As far as the origin of the album, it was very organic. We talked about doing new stuff over the years; tried to write here and there. After the tour everyone seems to scatter and it’s hard to get together and hang like we used to all the time. So writing, especially for me and Eric, became a bit of a challenge.

But this one, honestly, we just dug into our roots. We talked about this for a while -- going back to the early days. The very first version of the band, which lasted less than two years, was deeply into the reggae, ska, two-tone world and bands -- we’ve always loved that music.

I’m a big reggae fan and I brought a lot of that to the group; and then David, our drummer, picked it up. The beats are very tricky -- the rhythms.

The first version of The Hooters -- that’s all we did all night long. So this album is kind of a return to our roots with that genre in mind.

SFBayAreaConcerts: It’s so interesting that ska music has a tendency to weave in-and-out of popular music -- in the 90s there was a big resurgence with The Scofflaws, Toasters, Bad Manners -- No Doubt where obviously influenced by that sound.

I love the video for ‘Why Won’t You Call Me Back.’ It’s so much fun, inverting the idea of being put on hold.

Rob Hyman: I have to give a shout out to Jay McQuirns who put it together. After we finished the record that was the first ‘single’-- the first really new song we wrote for the record. Some of the others are older songs we revisited, but that was the first newer song we wrote from scratch. The first thing Eric and I had written in years that we felt was ‘radio ready.’ Sometimes things aren’t up to the level, but that one felt like it had some legs.

We put it together, and with the animated, cartoon-y characters on the album cover, the artwork, we thought: Let’s do an animated video. We found Jay who (we looked all over to find some indie animator types) was a Philly guy. It was kinda nice to just shoot him an idea -- and he shot over some sketches.

It’s funny because, like the song says, 'I feel like I know you though we’ve never met.' We actually have never met Jay, but we will! He came to a show and saw us, but we didn’t get to see him. I think he did a super job.

We sent him some live footage from a festival we did in Germany last summer in 2022, and he incorporated that footage into the video. He did a super job with the editing and syncing everything up.

SFBayAreaConcerts: The best songs sometimes take on a life of their own; You seem to get this as you’ve revisited a number of your tunes over time. Do you feel that some of your writing moves in a different direction over time; that some of the songs almost want to be revisited?

Rob Hyman: I do. I think that’s a good observation and I think we’ve kinda proven that through various recorded versions. I know that with "[All You] Zombies" we’ve done at least three different recorded versions; same with "Fighting on the Same Side."

It’s not always to improve them, it’s just that maybe there’s something we’d like to try differently.

In the case of ‘Zombies,’ it got improved compared to the Nervous Night version -- we stand behind that. And for some songs, we might even go past that... Like "Hanging on a Heartbeat" we did on Amore; that’s a killer version from our first indie album in 1983 which had a ska/reggae feel. That was kinda a definitive version. On Nervous Night we tried a new arrangement which was fun, but I don’t think we beat the original.

You know, sometimes it takes years to realize what does survive; even in the live show songs come and go. On the new album, we took a few songs that were previously recorded that had fallen by the wayside in the show. For whatever reason, songs come on the setlist and then they drop off. Whether it’s based on what we’re feeling or what the audience is feeling.

We had "Engine 999" and "Brother, Don’t You Walk Away" from previous albums and gave them a new spin and a new look, and we really like how those came out. So, yeah it’s an ongoing process -- a living, breathing thing.

Especially with the live shows, we’ll try something live and it clicks and that’s the way it goes.

SFBayAreaConcerts: That version of "Engine" is fantastic.

Rob Hyman: Oh great! Yeah it’s funny because, for that one, I don’t think it’s a radical change. People hear it and when we started to play it live this summer they don’t necessarily remember the other version. It’s pretty much the same song, we just put it into a different arrangement.

For ‘Brother’ we really did a complete rebuild; it was a big rocker on the album, but there was something about it where it fell from the set for a bit during the live show. So, we reimagined it with this reggae groove and that just felt really natural and really fun.

It’s fun to revisit this stuff when we’ve been playing it for years. Some songs have been sitting dormant, waiting for their chance. We have the luxury of time to look at the whole catalog that way, especially with the live shows continuing as they do.

SFBayAreaConcerts: Speaking of live shows, I think this will be your first visit to the Mountain Winery?

Rob Hyman: I believe it will! I hear it’s very beautiful and I think I’d remember it.

SFBayAreaConcerts: You’ll love it.

Rob Hyman: I heard nice things. This whole tour is our first travel through the States in decades. Our first time in California in many years, along with Washington, Oregon. The whole leg of this tour with Rick Springfield through the West Coast -- we’re really looking forward to that.

SFBayAreaConcerts: While it’s been some time since you’ve been in California, can you give us some of your favorite Bay Area memories?

Rob Hyman: Well, I don’t know about favorite…but I can say memorably that we were out there during the big earthquake in 1989 near Oakland in Concord. We were on a Stevie Nicks national tour.

We love the West Coast. San Diego, LA, San Francisco. Especially San Francisco, that was beautiful. My wife flew out and we spent a couple of days there. During those couple of days was the big one and we felt it.

In fact, we were doing a sound check at the time and the ground rumbled. We didn’t know what it was; we never experienced anything like that. The venue in Concord, I think it was the Concord Pavilion, was undamaged because I think it was kinda earthquake-proof.

So we didn’t really know what happened except, 'Wow, this is an earthquake, that’s was cool.'

Then we went downstairs (the dressing rooms were under the stage) and turned on the TVs and saw the devastation across the Bay Area and said, 'Oh my God.'

The gig was sold out, it was around five o’clock, if I recall, and we were just about to do a sound check --Stevie Nicks was there with her whole crew. Cars were drifting in to this sold out show, which ended up being canceled, and then these aftershocks came. We realized the power and devastation of that.

That was a big memory being on the West Coast. We have a lot of good ones too, but that was probably the highlight, or the lowlight, of our travels -- to play out there and experience that.

SFBayAreaConcerts: Luckily you were unscathed.

Rob Hyman: It was really odd because we didn’t even realize... the floor was just rubber. All of a sudden, my recollection of it was that the ground that seems be solid is now liquid; watery, moving.

We realized what was going on, but we didn’t realize the devastation until turning on the TV. Because where we were, there wasn’t really visible damage since it was a big outdoor amphitheater that seemed to be built to take that kind of hit.

But, that aside, we’ve had wonderful shows out there. We loved just visiting and hanging around California, especially San Francisco that’s just gorgeous. The whole West Coast, even into British Columbia and Vancouver, that part of the country we really look forward to revisiting for sure.

SFBayAreaConcerts: San Francisco is the perfect gateway between Southern California and the Pacific Northwest. The Mountain Winery is gorgeous and the sound is very unique -- resonant.

Rob Hyman: Well we’re into that. We’re getting into a good groove on the tour with Rick Springfield and a couple of other bands. We’re on the second leg of a three-leg tour, covering the South now: Texas, Louisiana. We’re in Oklahoma City tonight, which we love. We love Southern audiences.

You know, that’s one of the things we missed touring these days overseas; Big audiences in Germany, Scandinavia. We play festivals and shows there and that’s just been the circuit for us. They took to our music when the States slowed down. Things just happened that way for whatever reason and it’s become our main market.

We’ve thought and dreamt about doing a U.S. tour for years but haven’t had the opportunity. Whether it was strategically or logistically, economically, whatever.

This tour has been a perfect, perfect chance to revisit all of those places: We’re in Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis -- the Midwest is just great. Into St. Louis and Nebraska and to the West Coast.

We toured the States back in the day, and through the Nineties I guess, and then kinda stopped. So now we’re revisiting a lot of places that we’ve been to and it’s a blast.

A lot of people saw us back then, and we’re still doing what we do. The shows have been fun. It’s been great to be honest. Just fun to feel it again.

SFBayAreaConcerts: I’m sure your audience can’t wait to have you back here. I have to ask you about Nervous Night. It’s one of those albums that feels just as fresh today as the day it was released.

Obviously a big part of that is that the songwriting is so strong. "South Ferry Road" is one of my favorites -- can you give us some background on that track?

Rob Hyman: [Laughs] It’s funny with that one. We get 45 minutes and it’s a tight 45! At our own shows we may play two and a half hours, easy, and touch on all those songs.

For this tour, with 45, we’ve gotta squeeze in what we can. "South Ferry" was kinda on the questionable b-list -- people love it!

It’s funny, Tommy Williams, our sixth member, he joined a while ago -- it’s his favorite Hooters song. It’s tricky getting everything in there.

Obviously, Nervous Night holds up for us with "Day by Day," "Zombies," "Where do the Children Go" --that album just hangs in, I agree. You know, when you play songs for 30, 40 years -- you want them to still be singable and playable; and they are!

The messages in those songs, especially "Day by Day" and "Children" -- we’re living those songs. We’re still here, playing them. "Day" is about survival and pushing on and that’s what every tour is; there are hardships and it’s not easy but we get on stage and something just lights up.

Those songs, especially on this tour, we’re finding that they really connect with fans; they haven’t heard them in a long time and they have a fresh feeling for us as well.

You know, we were just saying that the band has always been tight, and then there’s a certain looseness that happens on stage -- it needs to be a combination. We don’t want everything to be perfect, it never is. But there’s a lot of sounds and instruments and harmonies that we’ve really worked on.

You have to take all of that and have fun! Make it fun, make it loose. At least for me, we’re at that level where we’re so tight that it feels loose again. Every night it feels like: We’re happy to be here and here is our show. People have been reacting. It’s a very special band I think in that way.

SFBayAreaConcerts: The beauty of live music!

Rob Hyman: That’s what we say on every album: Support live music! It ain’t easy to get out there, but it’s what this band is about for sure. The live show is the thing.

For the record we do our best, but things inevitably change as we start playing them, and you find little nooks and crannies. You always wish you could go back and do it again but it is what it is. It’s just a photo, or a document of the moment. Once you get out there and play it a few hundred times, you finally realize how it goes.

That’s the process, it’s been an adventure.

SFBayAreaConcerts: We can’t wait to have you bring that energy to the Bay Area.

Rob Hyman: Absolutely! Thanks for chatting!

SFBayAreaConcerts: Thanks so much for making the time and we'll see you on September 12th at the Mountain Winery!

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