The first two singles off last September’s Learn to Live — ”Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” and ”It Won’t Be Like This for Long” — have both gone to No. 1 on the country charts. You’re the first African-American artist to hit the top spot since Charley Pride in 1983. How significant is that accomplishment to you?
Anytime you’re mentioned with Charley Pride, it’s a positive. But it’s not why I do what I do. For me, it’s just music. Ever since I was a kid, I was lost in AM radio. It was never about it being ”white-boy music” or ”our music.” It was just ”I like that song.”
How is writing country songs different from writing pop tunes?
I used to believe I had to be inspired to write a song. I wasn’t inspired, I was lazy. Most of the songs that made the record, we just sat down and we started talking. That’s what makes country music more relatable. There’s a lot of indie rock with great lyrics, but they’re so obscure. Country’s pretty literal.
Do your old fans hate your new music?
I think our fans realize that [Hootie] had country influences, and they’re cool with where I’m going. The people who would say they hate it are the people who are thinking we’re never gonna play again. I know we’re gonna make another record. And if [1994’s] Cracked Rear View came out today, it would have to be country. There’s no place for it on pop radio. The only place for the singer-songwriter is country. [Pauses] That sounds rude — you can’t say Kanye West is not a singer-songwriter. But if you want to stand up and play the guitar, you gotta be a country singer.
Given how massive those Hootie songs were, do people have a subconscious identification with your voice?
I think familiarity has something to do with it. But no matter who you are, where you’re from, what color you are, you can relate to ”Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It.”
Do you ever wish Hootie would just fade into the (sorry) rearview mirror?
If 10 years from now I’m playing stadiums, I’ll still be Darius Rucker from Hootie & the Blowfish. Paul McCartney’s still Paul McCartney from the Beatles. I’m cool with that. For a little while, we changed music. We changed radio. I’m proud of that, man.
How are you gonna change country radio?
I’m not. [Laughs] I’m just gonna try to fit in.