(Photo: Laura Sonefeld)
As the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish, a band that has sold over 25 million records, Jim Sonefeld is a music industry icon of the 1990s. He wrote some of the band's most popular songs, including "Hold My Hand" and "Time," but after years of touring and suffering from alcohol addiction, he left the band in order to focus on raising his children. Today, Sonefeld is a contemporary Christian music artist, and he shared his story of faith, family and music with The Christian Post on Friday.
Sonefeld says he grew up in a loving Catholic family, and was the middle child in a group of five siblings. From third through eighth grade he attended St. Raphael Catholic School in Naperville, Ill., where he learned a great deal about God, but he admits he felt like he couldn't see God working in his life at that time.
"For me, I was so arrogant it was a matter of, 'Do I need this?' It seems extremely arrogant looking back – it didn't feel arrogant as a kid – I just put about every other passion or desire in front of me besides God," he said.
At age 18, Sonefeld left his home to attend the University of South Carolina, where he began looking into other forms of spirituality and religion apart from Catholicism. His 800-mile journey to college wasn't just a physical journey, he explained, but was also symbolic of the way he distanced himself from his Catholic roots.
"I think I came away from my Catholic upbringing, not by the fault of my parents, but for whatever reason I came away from that quite fearful of God – not fearful in a way that we're in awe of Him, but fearful in a way that I'd already pretty much laid my path to Hell, and that there wasn't really any fixing that, so let's just go see what else that there is out there," he said.
At the age of 21 he joined his first band, and during the mid to late 80's he played in a number of different cover bands until he joined Hootie & the Blowfish in 1989. After several years of paying their dues, the band's efforts paid off in 1994 with the release of their full-length debut album, "Cracked Rear View," which skyrocketed them to success.
Around that time Sonefeld also met his first wife, Debbie, who he married in 1996 and had two children with. The band's success brought wealth and fame to Sonefeld, who was unaware of his own addiction to alcohol and was also becoming addicted to his own popularity, "the drug of approval" as he calls it.
"And I leaned on that, unfortunately, pretty heavily. Because since I didn't have the spiritual foundation, I was looking for some other foundation. So I had a foundation of approval by society and my peers and the media," he said.
His addictions to alcohol and fame eroded the little faith he had, he says. After decades of alcohol abuse he finally realized he had a problem, admitted it and started seeking help. Several years later he also realized the damage that his addiction had on his relationship with his wife, and he and Debbie divorced in 2008.
"If you can't be truthful with yourself about who you are or what your spiritual foundation is, or if you have an addiction, then I don't care who you are or how long or how hard you hold on, it's going to fall apart," he said.
That same year, Hootie & the Blowfish stopped touring and regularly playing together. While many point to lead-singer Darius Rucker's decision to pursue a solo career in country music as the catalyst for the band's time-out, Sonefeld says he was the first member to suggest the break because he wanted to spend time with his children.
"For me it was God showing me that I need to choose what is important in my life," Sonefeld said. He believes God had his hand in the timing of the break, too, because at that time Rucker had already been producing his first country record.
"Darius wasn't fighting the idea of getting off the road because he felt the pull of country music in his heart," said Sonefeld. "And I believe that was God pulling on him too."
Sonefeld released "Snowman Melting," his first solo album, in 2008. This past summer he also released a six-song EP titled "Found," his first contemporary Christian music project, which focuses on how Christ freed him from addiction and changed his life.
As he entered the world of Christian music, artists like David Crowder, Israel Houghton, Jeremy Camp and Casting Crowns all had an influence on Sonefeld as he saw them turn their faith into song.
"That was important, for me to see people that could do that. I didn't know that that's what I wanted at the time, or that's what God would have for me. But I saw other people leading by example, how you could put music songwriting and your faith together to help spread the Word," he said.
As his faith has been renewed and his addictions have been confronted, Sonefeld says the way he feels when writing music has changed too.
"The similarity is that I still write about life experience...what I see and what I feel. I did that back then and I still do today, but what I felt back then was a lot of spiritual bankruptcy, pain of broken love and that lost, wandering feeling. That can make for a great song, but what I have today in my experience is a celebration that God has given me an amazing second chance."
Sonefeld is now remarried to Laura, who has three children of her own. Together they attend a United Methodist Church near their home in Columbia, S.C., and he is giving back, in part, by helping other men who are struggling with addiction.
"The only way for me to survive is to continually serve others and try to get out of myself," he said. "Dying to self is the most important part. So when I take time to help others and teach them and share with them my experience, then that's going to be a victory."
Though Hootie & the Blowfish isn't actively touring or recording at this point, the band plays several concerts a year for the benefit of the Hootie & the Blowfish Foundation, a non-profit organization created in 2000 to support South Carolina's children through education in addition to school music programs across the country.