When Zac Brown Band releases their upcoming album, Welcome Home, on May 12, two years after their rock and EDM-influenced project Jekyll+Hyde, it will indeed be a pleasing return to the country genesis found on their 2008 debut album The Foundation, which produced chart-toppers like their debut single “Chicken Fried,” “Toes,” “Highway 20 Ride” and “Free.”
Today (May 5), Zac Brown Band has taken over Pandora’s Country Pop station to give fans an inside look at the album’s tracks and the making of the project, which includes an ode to Brown’s father in “My Old Man,” and chronicles the band’s success on the road and radio in “Roots.” “2 Places at 1 Time” ruminates on the warring desires to be on the road with fans, but also at home with family, while “Family Table” urges listeners to Make some memories, ’round this 9 foot pine.
“It’s the first album that we wrote entirely for a new album, whereas every other album we’ve ever done is pretty much a collection of the best songs that we’ve had together,” says Brown, who wrote most of the tracks for Welcome Home while on the road, and during a trip to Alaska.
The eight-piece band then gathered at their Southern Ground studio in Nashville. With producer Dave Cobb (known for his work with artists such as Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, and Sturgill Simpson), Zac Brown Band completed Welcome Home in just six days, with no pre-production.
“In the past we had arranged the album for a full week or so, hammering out every little detail and all the moving pieces. With this, we got together and Dave made us all take a shot of whiskey. I’d have all the songs finished and had acoustic demos of everything, but as a band, we just locked in with Dave and had fun. He’s from Georgia so we just hit it off. All of the jokes make sense.”
Similarly, Brown says fans can expect a “clean slate” when the band returns to the road for its 40+ date Welcome Home Tour, beginning with two shows in Alpharetta, Georgia on May 12-13.
“We’re not doing the choir and the horns and everything this year. We have one additional guest to play with the band—Mr. Darrell Scott’s gonna be joining us. It’s important to us, when we come back to a place that we were the last time, that it is a different show and people get to hear some of the stuff that’s their favorite, but they get to see it in a new way and really understand the work and the love that we put in. We try to give a new artistic interpretation of what the show can be, without changing all the melodies. We’re not gonna change all the melodies in our songs, where you can’t even tell what they are anymore, though the words are the same.”
Welcome Home may be a return to Zac Brown Band’s roots, but that doesn’t mean Zac Brown is done experimenting with new instruments, musical genres, rhythms and textures.
“I’ve always struggled somewhat with people putting me in a box, of saying that I’m a country artist. I’m definitely Southern, but my influences are everywhere. I’ve earned the trust of listeners to understand kinda the journey that I would take them on. So, I definitely think there’s a lot of heart in our music and it’s definitely Southern.”
His main creative outlet outside of Zac Brown Band comes via his dance and pop-influenced side project, the three-piece band Sir Rosevelt, which Brown formed with Niko Moon and Ben Simonetti. The trio collaborated with Pharrell on their debut song, “Sunday Finest.”
“We basically do performance art, which I’ve been a huge fan of bands that have been able to pull that off over time, from Pink Floyd to Talking Heads to David Byrne type of performances, where it’s deliciously visual and audio, just very stimulating all the way around,” Brown says. “Not abandoning Zac Brown Band by any means, it actually helps me to be more purist with that, but Sir Rosevelt is a new exploration for me.”
The band’s name is tied to president Theodore Roosevelt, whom Brown sports a tattoo of on his left arm, and calls “one of my heroes and a very classic man.”
“The persona for the band is three-piece suits and very much done up, getting to be a totally different character than I am in every day life. It’s just kind of the freedom that’s expressed in it. Some of Roosevelt’s words, like his ‘The Man In The Arena’ speech, every time that some critic that had a failed band slams one of my songs, or one of my albums, I go and read ‘In The Arena,’ which is also the name of our production group. That’s one of my favorite things in the whole world.”
Brown takes a long-range view as he approaches his work with both Zac Brown Band and Sir Rosevelt.
“I like to be known to have range. I’d like to be known in history by the time that I’m dead and gone as someone like a James Taylor, an Elton John, or someone that dedicated their life to making music of all different kinds. For me, I’m super happy to have country listeners and country fans and things like that, but I’m a student of the world and I like to sound a little bit like all over it, all over the world.”
Welcome Home will release May 12 via Southern Ground/Elektra.
To see Zac Brown Band’s Pandora takeover, visit pandora.com.
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