When Jim Sonefeld looks back on his days as drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish, it's very much a cracked rear view. The 1994 album of that title sold 25 million copies worldwide, making them incredibly rich young men who could have almost anything they wanted. And Sonefeld, a lapsed Catholic, wanted it all—girls, booze, drugs, just about anything you'd expect on a rock star's wish list.
Sonefeld struggled with alcoholism for about a decade, a time in which he fathered two children and, eventually, lost his first wife to divorce. But ultimately, at the urging of family and friends, he started attending 12-step meetings, gave up booze, remarried, and recommitted himself to God and family.
He recently decided to give Christian music a try; his debut project, an EP called Found, released earlier this year. We talked to Sonefeld about the new music, his wild ride with Hootie, his faith—and how his 4-year-old daughter helped him quit drinking.
You grew up in a Catholic home and went to Catholic school. Was your faith important in those years?
It was more of a cultural thing. I learned about Jesus and the church, but I was more interested in sports and other things. I wish I had been stronger, but when I went to college [at the University of South Carolina] one of the first things I left behind was my need to have a relationship with Jesus. I wanted to do good things and be a good citizen, but that was as far as it went.
While at South Carolina, you guys formed a band. Things were slow at first, but when Cracked Rear View released in 1994, you guys blew up. What was that like?
It messed with my head. My dream was to be a successful musician, so that was fine. But I didn't have a spiritual foundation, and it was only a matter of time before I got knocked off that pedestal because I was afflicted with something else—an addiction.
Were you a party animal in college?
Actually, it started in high school. I was 14 when I first started messing around with drugs and alcohol, and I had consequences pretty early.
Like getting in a wreck with one of your classmate's parents' car before you even get a driver's license—and it's involving alcohol. So I didn't need a driver's license to get my first run-in with the police and drinking and driving. But the contradiction is that I was a successful soccer player who got decent grades and went to church on Sunday.
At what point did occasional partying turn into an addiction?
Not till I got out of college, till I had something regular called a paycheck, if you can call it that. We were living in squalor before Cracked Rear View took off. It was a pretty meager lifestyle, and I couldn't afford to drink as much as I probably would have liked.
Then Cracked Rear View changed everything.
It was like winning the music lottery. Now everybody wants to buy me a drink, and frankly, and I can also afford to buy the entire bar a drink. Not a good scene for someone prone to addiction and has zero spiritual foundation.
Did you ever get out of control to the point where the band confronted you?
I was amazingly functional, even as I pushed the envelope of partying. We never had to cancel a gig. I was sometimes ill from partying the night before, but always pulled it off. I never had any consequences that amounted to a real gut check. And in the rock 'n' roll world, let's face it, there are barely any boundaries. There's nothing that's too crazy. Death is about the only thing that might make someone say, "Oh, he went too far."