For more than 20 years, John Driskell Hopkins has crafted country music hits garnering worldwide praise and respect. Popularly known for his role as one of the founding members of the Grammy Award winning Zac Brown Band, Hopkins has many tricks up his sleeve that may come as a surprise to the occasional country listener. While on the road during their seventh tour, which stops in DC at the Nationals Park, Hopkins opened up to On Tap about his new John Driskell Hopkins Band, burdens of balancing his life, and his deep roots in performing that led to his self-proclaimed and widely accepted title of entertainer.
On Tap: Hi John! How are things with the Down the Rabbit Hole Tour?
John Driskell Hopkins: So far so good. We’ve been playing a lot of baseball stadiums, which is really exciting. Have you gotten to see many shows at a baseball stadium? It’s really neat because you get to set up back in the outfield and the whole thing seems to be built just for this scenario, but it’s not. Especially the ones with open air. It’s like an amphitheater but beautiful. I just think they’re perfect for concerts.
OT: What’s the meaning behind Down the Rabbit Hole?
JDH: Well, I think it’s really an opportunity to dip into our past and take chances. And of course it may mean different things to different people, like the Alice in Wonderland connection for some folks, but we’re trying to explore our input and our musical nature. We really want to share what’s next for us.
OT: What’s your favorite baseball stadium for performing?
JDH: I think it’s Fenway Park. No offense to any other stadiums, but that’s one of the oldest. I mean Fenway and Wrigley have this incredible history and a lot of these newer parks, like SunTrust, which might be one of the newest parks in the country, is really cool too, but it hasn’t been around long enough to have that kind of nostalgia. All these great players have been through here for so many years. Plus, Boston is a really neat town. They are really receptive to the band and it’s been a great thing to be a part of.
OT: Congrats on the new Brighter Shades Studios.
JDH: Thank you! We’re on the cover of Mix Magazine for the Class of 2018 New Studios. It’s been a really great opportunity to get some cool things recorded up there.
OT: How long have you wanted your own studio?
JDH: I’ve had my own studio for twenty years but it’s been in different spots. They’ve been in warehouses, preexisting studios, guest rooms, three car garages. But this is a great spot because I know I won’t have to move around anymore and I can let it grow, develop and vibe over the next few years. It’s something I’ve really pursued outside of playing live.
OT: Have you hosted other artists there yet?
JDH: My drummer, Mike Rizzi, just finished recording his record up there, and we did some recording for Darrell Scott, who is a big friend of the Zac Brown Band and of mine.
I’m taking on projects that are personal to me, outside of the ones that I do. So if it’s something that someone else is a part of, then it has to be something that I am connected to personally. But otherwise, it is an opportunity for me to do more. I’ve done a Christmas album up there. I’m working on my original record now and I did all the stuff for the movie that we’re featured in as well. So it really is a great spot to work and be creative and host things that are dear to me, like the John Driskell Hopkins Band.
OT: What will the John Driskell Hopkins Band reveal that we don’t get from you in the Zac Brown Band?
JDH: I think the folks that follow me personally know what to expect already, but the Zac Brown fans need to understand what’s going on. They can expect a singer/songwriter that speaks from the heart and does more Americana than country. But also, I kinda grew up in a bunch of rock bands so this may be a little more aggressive than they might expect.
OT: Did you say you’ll be on the big screen this fall?
JDH: Yes, this movie called Adolescence is a really cool independent film directed by Ashley Avis. I was able to have a small part in it, but more exciting for me was being able to write a bunch of the songs that are featured in the movie.
OT: What’s the movie about?
JDH: It’s about a coming-of-age for a kid who comes from a broken home and he gets mixed up in some bad stuff and then finds his way back out. Then a relationship forms with a girl that he’s involved with during that time.
He’s not a typical adolescent, like most kids in a stable environment, so it’s kind of an interesting twist on the word. But it’s a cool picture and I think it is very well acted, very well written and I like being a part of stuff like that.
OT: What role did you play?
JDH: I was a biker, who also happened to be the lead singer of a band [laughs], which was easy for me to jump into. He’s actually the lead singer of a fictional band named the Bloody Wolves of Venice, which we will use to put out EPs for the movie.
OT: How did you get connected with the film?
JDH: Well, I have a theater degree from Florida State, so I’ve looked to get into movies and things since I graduated. Actually, just before joining Zac Brown Band, I was in a play called Lost Highway.
I’ve always loved acting, I grew up in musical theater in high school and was really involved on stage for a long time.
OT: What were some plays you remember having a role?
JDH: We had a crazy program. We probably did 10 shows a year, and two of them were always full-scale musicals. So I was in all kinds of stuff like Godspell, Pippin, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Odd Couple; I can’t even remember them all.
OT: What was it like creating songs for Adolescence?
JDH: Well, this was my first time ever writing something based on a script. Most of the time my songs are based on my experience, and I guess I borrowed from my experiences a bit for Adolescence.
I think this project really gave me an opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone. To go write based on a script, like having to put myself in the place of the character as I write, was kind of cool.
OT: Was it a struggle writing for this character?
JDH: Well, my character is a lot more aggressive than I am. I guess some of those feelings and emotions are still present in me but from an angst driven, rock and roll youth, so I was able to revisit those feelings by putting in lyrics that had to do with his character. It was kind of a merging of the two artistic endeavors and I would love to do more of that.
OT: Will we be seeing you in more films?
JDH: Hopefully, but I rarely have the time to spare for rehearsals and shooting.
OT: How are you balancing your time with everything now?
JDH: It’s my biggest obstacle. I have a wife and three daughters at home who I need very desperately to spend time with when I’m there. So during the summer we go to the pool a lot. We try to go to the lake or beach and just to do things together. When they’re in school and kept from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m., that’s when I get my studio work done.
As far as taking on new movie roles, it has to be very specific. It’s hard because I generally never go more than four days without needing to be somewhere. It’s not very common for me to have two weeks to be a part of a shoot. So that’s the obstacle, but fortunately these opportunities occasionally materialize in many ways and hopefully other opportunities will present themselves.
You can see John Driskell Hopkins with the Zac Brown Band on Friday, July 27 at the Nationals Park. Tickets start at $43, and are available here.
Nationals Park: 1500 S Capitol St. SE, DC; 202-675-6287; www.mlb.com/nationals/ballpark