Zac Brown Band’s Coy Bowles Talks ‘Welcome Home,’ Chris Cornell and More
Since they broke onto the music scene in 2008 with the chart-topping “Chicken Fried,” to say that the Zac Brown Band has been successful would be to put it mildly. The group has enjoyed seventeen top ten hits, with thirteen of those hitting the top spot on the singles chart (Their latest, “My Old Man,” is still climbing).
Along the way, their past four studio albums have all been certified Platinum for sales of over one million units each, and their latest, Welcome Home, opened atop the Billboard Country Albums chart. The band’s Coy Bowles says that success is something that he and his band-mates definitely don’t take for granted.
“I wake up every single day, look at my life, and pinch myself, and wonder how did this happen? We’re still working as hard as we ever have on our songwriting and our instruments, our stage show, and the whole nine yards. We’ve definitely not got flat-footed at all, by any means. We’re certainly aware of how blessed we are, and try to give it all we got.”
That approach also goes to describe their live performance, which is an aspect of their career that Bowles says they pride themselves upon.
“That’s very much our thing. If you’re a fan of the band, and you haven’t seen us live, then you don’t really get what we do. We love being in the studio, but we came up through the ranks of going into the club, and giving it all we got. We spent a lifetime on our instruments, and playing really well together as a band. We sound as good as we ever have. We have a lot of energy live.”
A highlight of those live shows have been their Southern Ground Food and Music Festival, which he says offers fans a little something different. Over the years, the line-up has also featured legends such as John Fogerty and Kenny Rogers.
“That was a lot of fun,” he told Sounds Like Nashville. “We did that in Nashville, and have done it in Charleston every year as well. The Southern Ground Food and Music Festival is one of my favorite things that we do. You get a big dose of what the band is all about with the food and everything. All the band members have their own side projects, so you get to hear all of the musicians play – not only with the Zac Brown Band, but also with their own bands. it’s a big time for us to have friends come and sit in. We’ve had Sheryl Crow and John Mayer come and be a part of it, so it has been an amazing experience.”
Food is not just a word that is used in the name of the title. The band is notorious for having culinary experts on their payroll both on the road and at their office, and Bowles admitted that it helped seal the deal in their label negotiations.
“Zac is a big foodie. There’s this funny story of the first record deal we got, Zac brought all of the record executives over, and cooked dinner for them all. I think they were skeptical in the beginning, with these husky looking guys from Georgia with beards, and Zac was wearing a beanie – definitely not Country looking. He got everyone’s belly full by the end of the night, and they said ‘We love you guys.’ I think Zac knows how to find your heart through your stomach. We definitely try to do a good job of maintaining a healthy regime of exercise along with kicking back some good vittles.”
The band is joined by Pop superstar Pharrell Williams on the lively “Start Over,” which Bowles admits has a different sound.
“It’s got a really cool vibe to it. The song kind of took a curve ball turn when we did with with Dave Cobb, who produced the album. There’s an old keyboard called a mellotron. There’s a setting on it where you can press down, and it does these drum rhythms. This one in particular was a Spanish-sounding rhythm. We started joking around and playing the song to that rhythm. It really stuck, and gave the song this unique vibe and feel. There’s some hooting and hollering from this real mariachi band that Zac recorded on his phone in Mexico. That ended up making the album as well.”
Bowles is listed as one of the writers on “Roots,” which he admits is very self-explanatory.
“That is one of my favorite songs on the album. it’s amazing to have a song that talks about our rise to success, but not forgetting where we came from. Being from the south and from Georgia, a lot of us grew up in small towns outside of Atlanta. My dad used to drill in to me ‘Don’t forget where you came from.’ So, that’s kind of the centerpiece of the song – wherever you go, you take your roots with you. We were on the bus, and some of the guys played me the song, and I said ‘It would be cool if there was this Springsteen-sing-a-along thing. It ended up working out and making the album. I’m really proud of the song. I think it’s a good reflection of who we are. The production turned out killer, and of course Zac’s voice turned out great. All the band and the parts really fit together well. I’m excited to have people hear it.”
The band has been in the news as of late for a track from their 2015 album Jekyll + Hyde, “Heavy Is The Head.” The song was a collaboration with Chris Cornell. The Soundgarden frontman passed away on May 18, and his loss definitely shook the band up – Bowles especially.
“It gives me chills just thinking about it. It hasn’t fully set in with me yet. I remember waking up, and hearing the news. From somebody who found music when I was thirteen, when the Seattle music scene broke wide open, that was my first time experiencing music in my own right when I was a kid. I wasn’t listening to my parents’ music anymore – this was my music. The stuff before this was hair-metal stuff. When Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, and all of these guys came out, they were the guys that I would close my eyes and dream of being like. When we did ‘Heavy Is The Head,’ we talked to him about being a part of the song. We ended up doing ‘Saturday Night Live’ with him, talking about what it was like to come up in those times. He was very open to sharing his experiences, which was amazing. We were getting to talk to one of our heroes. He was such a pro. He would show up at rehearsals, totally knew all the stops in the song and what to do. He was just thankful to be there, and to be a part of it. So, waking up and finding out that guy who pretty much molded your musical life had passed away tragically and suddenly was such a shame. He had his kids with him on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ He had them right next to them, and was cutting up with them. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. God bless his family, his fans, and everyone who was such a big part of his life.”
On Welcome Home, the band also tips the covers hat to John Prine on the closing cut “All The Best,” which features Kacey Musgraves. “On almost every album, we have picked a cover. Zac had two songs that he wanted to cover, and he wanted it to be acoustic versions of songs we had broken down. We played both and Dave said ‘You gotta do the John Prine song.’ Zac is so good at doing finger-picking guitar and singing, and every night during the show he plays the song by himself. I walk over to the side of the stage and watch it, and get to be a fan for a second. John Prine is one of the best songwriters that has ever lived, and it was really a pleasure to get to do that song.”
Zac Brown Band’s new album, Welcome Home, is available everywhere now.