Going solo ‘gift’ for Hootie drummer ‘Soni’ Sonefeld finds new direction, takes center stage with Christian-music career

Jim "Soni" Sonefeld at the Hootie & The Blowfish show at the Family Circle Cup in 2010@Photo credit:Devin Grant/FILE

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Jim Sonefeld knows all about being at the top of the pops. During the mid-1990s, he was the drummer for Hootie & the Blowfish, known by a nickname, “Soni,” and enjoyed the benefits of being a rock star: the planes, the hotels, all the comforts.

But some of the benefits were not so beneficial, particularly the endless supply of alcohol. The rock-’n’-roll lifestyle took its toll, particularly on his first marriage.

“In 2004, I got sober,” Sonefeld says from his South Carolina home. “The wheels were coming off, and I was coming down from the Hootie & the Blowfish mountain.

“It changed my life and forced me to look at what’s important to me.”

The band, which formed at the University of South Carolina, has several upcoming dates. But these days, Sonefeld also is coming out from behind the drum kit and singing a different tune.

“In 2011, I felt a call to start writing and singing about my conversion and singing the word of God,” Sonefeld says.

He was encouraged to pursue Christian music by his second wife, Laura, though it was not necessarily an easy adaptation.

After all, Sonefeld is used to being onstage behind a drum kit, supplying backing vocals while Hootie frontman Darius Rucker, who now has a successful solo country career, calls the tune.

“I started thinking, I’m going to be singing about Jesus up in front of everyone,” Sonefeld says. “I was the drummer from a 1990s rock band.”

There is plenty of precedent for a journey from behind the kit to center stage, including stars like Phil Collins and Christian rocker Peter Furler, who pounded the skins for Newsboys before he became the band’s frontman and now enjoys a solo career.

Sonefeld has worked with producer Stan Lynch, a former drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, who has produced another great drummer-turned-frontman, The Eagles’ Don Henley.

Sonefeld, whose first solo album was 2008’s “Snowman Melting,” says this about writing faith-based music: “Stan reminded me that Hootie was a rock band and not to forget that.

“I’m a sucker for a ballad and power chorus, and that works when singing about something as big as God.”

In April he released a five-song EP, “Found.” While recording and music are still part of his life, Sonefeld says he isn’t necessarily interested in pursuing full-fledged Christian rock stardom. He enjoys life at home in South Carolina with his family and church life.

“I really am interested in ministry to alcoholics because I am quite familiar with alcoholic recovery,” Sonefeld says.

Thus far, he hasn’t had anyone question his motives in pursuing faith-based music, which sometimes happens to mainstream artists who come into the Christian market.

And, no, when he plays on his own, the crowds have not been Hootie-size, but that’s OK. “There is still humility in playing in front of people who have paid a few dollars to see you,” Sonefeld says. “I always see it as a gift.”