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Artist Interview

How Hootie & the Blowfish's Jim Sonefeld Found God

By Hannah Goodwyn Senior Producer
Hootie & the Blowfish drummer Jim Sonefeld partied hard and didn’t stop until he went to an addictions recovery meeting back in 2004. There, he found sobriety and faith in Jesus Christ.

The founding member of the Grammy-winning ‘90s band recently spoke with about how he got sober and returned to his childhood faith and the music he’s making these days, including his new EP titled, Found.

Hannah Goodwyn: Your road to recovery started at an addictions meeting. But, when you went you didn’t really know what you were getting yourself into, right?

Jim Sonefeld: Yeah, that is absolutely true. When you reach a point in your life and you’re 40, and you have tried to quit drinking, and you’ve tried to do it on your own, basically, you start looking elsewhere for the answer. That’s where I ended up.

I had a friend who I knew had gone to the 12-Step program for the same addiction. I noticed that this guy had sort of cleaned up a little bit in a very good way, sort of had a different look on his face, had a smile more often. So, the first place I’d turn when I really got to the bottom and realized I didn’t have the ability to quit drinking was going to the 12-Step program.

I just said, “Well, I don’t have any other answers at this point.” I didn’t really have God in my life. I had turned my back that way. So I called him, and he took me to my first 12-Step meeting. That was a big question mark. What are they going to do? What are they going to tell me? What is going to happen here?

I heard exactly what I needed to within the first couple of meetings, which was, “Only you can answer the question of if you think you’re an alcoholic.” [That] was great because I was sick of the interventions; and nobody really wants to be told that they have a problem, let alone an addict. I had to decide that for myself. I walked in a 12-Step meeting; and I just listened to their stories. I’d listen to what other people’s lives had become, and that they had found a way up from a very low bottom and life was better.

That was the beginning. That started the very beginning process of really “cleaning house” spiritually.

Goodwyn: What made you want to take hold of your faith again?

Sonefeld: The main thing is that I learned just how much deception and not living in the truth that I had. I was 40 years old. I was educated. I had started a family. I had a career going. When you list these things, it’s easy to look and say, “This guy’s got it going on.” The hard thing is when you start looking at your life closely, as the 12 steps guide you through, you start looking at it like, “Oh my gosh, I am a bit full of it. The lifestyle that I’ve lived has led me through deception, lies, darkness, and I’ve got to face up to these things. I’ve got to admit them, at least to myself, to start out with.”

What the 12-Step program does is it takes you through some of the principles that are also Christian principles, the idea of being truthful with yourself, confessing the wrong-doings, making amends for them, and trying your best to live by what they call a “higher power”. For me, that higher power is Jesus Christ.

Goodwyn: How did your band mates and partying friends react when you changed?

Sonefeld: It was not a white light experience for me. I didn’t get zapped and all of a sudden was changed so they could see this overnight. I wish it was that easy. But the fact is the process of searching and giving your life over is not an overnight thing. It wasn’t for me. I was, I would say, stubborn in changing my way of thinking.

A rebirth is not just saying the words, “I give my life over to you, Jesus Christ.” A rebirth is looking at every unhealthy relationship you have, looking at who you’re hanging out with, looking in the mirror and asking, “Are you being truthful to this person?” There are layers and layers.

As I stuck around the 12-Step program, they described it in there as “that onion”. You’ve got to start peeling away the layers because there are deep layers that really go back to the first time you started drinking alcoholically. For me, it was as a teenager. So, it takes weeks and months, and sometimes years of peeling this onion back to get to the real root. That’s what I see is why my door opened up to Jesus because the 12 Steps suggest that you keep looking deeper and deeper. I looked deeper and deeper, I realized, “Oh my goodness, I think this is just God working in my life, not just the 12-Steps program. I think it’s fully God doing what I can’t do myself.”

Goodwyn: Now you’ve re-married and your wife is a strong Christian. She was one who encouraged you to write songs about your faith. Was there a different feeling or process writing these songs than when you wrote songs with Hootie & the Blowfish?

Sonefeld: Well, I had an overall feeling of victory and reassurance. I had never written that way, even though I wrote with the band. I look back at those songs, and they’re painful songs. They’re songs of loss and broken-heartedness. But what they mostly lacked was that hope.

When I started writing again with the attitude of letting my spirituality shine a little more, I realized there was a lot of celebration. I’ve been reborn, yes. I’ve been down. Yes, I’ve been in some crummy places, but here’s what can happen if you give your life over. So, the difference was I had something to celebrate, because I’d made it through the fire.

The songs aren’t, “Gee, look what I did. I did this.” It’s, “Here’s how God works in me; and here’s my victory.”

Goodwyn: You hear that on Found in the first track, “I Decree.” That is your story, basically…

Sonefeld: Well, yeah, yeah. I guess we opened up with that track because I just wanted to say, here’s what God did in my life...I’m going to shout this as loud as I can because I believe it so deeply. The evidence is me.

Sometimes in the 12-Step rooms you hear people talking about when there’s a newcomer, that’s somebody that’s really raw, and maybe still suffering an addiction. We say, “Keep coming back to experience the miracle.”

What I’ve learned in Christ is that if you keep giving yourself over to Him and the Spirit, you realize, “Oh my gosh, I am a miracle.” And especially if you’ve been down in the ditch or some bad living, you realize God has that for you. God wants you to be the miracle. It’s not for somebody else. It’s not just something we read about, other people’s victory and celebration. You really have to believe that it’s for you. So, “I Decree” was that. It’s saying, “I’m telling you, it happened to me.”

Goodwyn: “All of This” is another powerful song on your EP that talks about how God doesn’t turn away from us. He’s reaches out to us daily…

Sonefeld: Yeah, I mean, truthfully, I can’t afford as a recovering addict to look at it on anything less than a daily basis. What happened yesterday, that’s not going to do me much good if I don’t surrender today. So, I’ve got to remember everyday that He loves me, and I have to put a value on the fires that I walk through, the stuff that’s happening in my life.

I’m as close to sin right now as anybody is. That’s the fact, that we’re human. And if you don’t confidently surrender and continue to build that foundation in Him, you’re stagnant and probably more in a position of walking away from Him. So, I like to think that’s really a song of gratitude, that He’s chosen to stick with me even through those dark times. 

Goodwyn: The first single from Found is “The Shelter of Your Wings.” Tell me the story behind that one.

Sonefeld: We talked a while about gratitude in this family and in my 12-Step program. It becomes more apparent to me as I have a family and really can make use of waking up every morning with the intention of serving God. It reaffirms that’s the only place I really want to be.

I’ve lived in the darkness. I’ve walked outside of His narrow path; and it’s messy. So “The Shelter of Your Wings” is taken from a Psalm that says, “I long to dwell inside your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” It just means that here’s what I want, Lord, and I want this today specifically, please, because this shelter is so beautiful.

Goodwyn: How would you describe the songs on this EP musically?

Sonefeld: We wanted to be straightforward and sincere, so we kept the production simple. I’d like to keep energy in my music, even as I get a little older. I like to make it more of a rockin’ celebration of Christ, as opposed to more slowed-down ballads. We try to just keep it sincere.

We didn’t put any of the bells and whistles in there that you hear in a lot of modern music…

I like to think it’s a rock ‘n roll record. It’s got electric guitars, you know.

Goodwyn: You spend some of your time now mentoring men with addictions, correct?

Sonefeld: Yes. A part of my success in staying sober and clean is giving what I know and sharing what I know with other men who are in the program. Someone did it for me and continues to do that for me; and it is what will make me successful today, and what will help another addict. It’s what Jesus calls us to do.

It’s what St. Francis of Assisi wrote about when we give it away; when we forgive others, we’ll be forgiven. When we pardon others, we will be pardoned, and when we give our life over to something bigger than us, which I call Jesus Christ, that is when we will actually live.

So that principle of working with other men comes from that. It helps me remember as I get further from my last drink; it helps me remember how painful it is in those early days. It helps me to stay involved with other people, and mentoring them and ministering that way.

Goodwyn: So, a lot of people need that mentor to helping them see the way out...

Sonefeld: Absolutely, because I think beating the alcohol or the pill or whatever the actual drug is can be a great first step. But I think it can lead to a bigger enlightenment, as well. That certainly happened for me, through Jesus Christ.

Hannah GoodwynHannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for For more articles, visit Hannah's bio page.

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