Zane Williams is an American country music singer song-writer who has been honing his craft for over a decade in both Nashville and Texas. He has released four albums that contain well written songs that run the gamut from tearjerkers to songs that make you want to kick back and have a good time. He called in to chat with us a few days before leaving for MusicFest in Steamboat, Colorado.
You have been making music for quite some time, but your music is new to a lot of people. Can you give us a little bit of background on yourself?
Let’s see, I grew up in a lot of different places from West Virginia to California. I went to college in Texas where I started writing songs as a hobby. After I graduated college, I realized I wanted music to be more than a hobby so I moved to Nashville for nine years. For seven of those years, I made a living playing at college coffee houses all over country. My wife and I traveled to forty-six states together. I wrote original songs and played them on my guitar. Then for the next couple of years, I wanted to focus on songwriting and getting cuts, but I was never truly happy because in my heart I wanted to be an artist.
Zane nearly gave up songwriting after his time in Nashville. He was writing songs that were recognized for their craftsmanship, but he was just making a living. He decided to move on, but then he got a second unexpected boost.....from the real estate industry. He enrolled in a seminar to learn how to revitalize neighborhoods then selling the houses. He decided that helping people and providing a better life for his family was something about which he could get passionate. On the seminar's final day, the presenters spoke about work that aligned with your passion. It reminded Zane of one of his songs, which he played for them. When he was done they said to him, ‘Why are you here? If you can write and sing like that, you need to go do that!’” That conference rekindled his dream and he hasn't looked back.
You graduated college with a math degree, when did you decide to make your passion a career?
I had a lot of encouragement in college. I had enough people tell me that they liked my songs, so I made a cd. I spent three grand of own money to print up 1000 copies and I sold them around campus at $3 a piece. I figured if I could print a thousand, sell them and break even all while having fun then there would be a 1000 people who would have my music. Sure enough, after six months or so I sold them all and I made another. I sold that one for $5 to up the ante a little bit. I had sold one thousand of those by the time I graduated, mind you this was at Abilene Christian University, a campus that only has 4500 students. While I was there, I would do shows, people would come and I gained a fan base. It got to the point where it was time to make a decision to do something with the math degree or decide to follow my deepest passion which was with music.
When did you leave Nashville and move back to Texas?
About five years ago, we decided to move back to Texas. We moved to my wife's hometown and near my family. We started a family of our own and I found myself in the place I needed to be. I really did start from scratch with my career because I didn't know anyone and I never played there before. Texas has a thriving independent music scene where the people and the radio stations are supportive of both local and original music. So I put together a band, started playing local venues, started getting radio airplay and am on an independent record label. Now, we have a single on XM radio, a video on CMT and are going to try and go after the nationwide market again.
Was the turning point for your career when you moved back to Texas?
In Nashville I was able to earn a living. I had some success and won some songwriting contests. I won the John Lennon Songwriting Contest overall grand prize for the song "Hurry Home" [which was recorded by Jason Michael Carroll] and the Nashville Songwriter's Association Contest. I also was a finalist in three categories at Merlfest where no one had ever been a finalist in three categories before, so that was a very encouraging moment. All of this was part of my journey and kept me going, but at the same time, I never really had a breakthrough. In Nashville, I never really had a band, never played in real venues and never had a large fan base. It was when I moved to Texas that I started feeling like a recording artist for the first time. I have music out there which gets played on the radio, people know me, say hi to me, and listen to my music in their truck.
Would you say it is easier to make the type of music you want to make and be the type of artist you want to be in Texas?
I think my music has as much in common with mainstream country music as it does with Texas red dirt music. And I hope that my songs are just as good as what is on mainstream country radio and that people like the sonic quality of the cd. The difference is in Texas it's easier for an independent guy like myself to be heard. It is different than on a national level because in Texas there are stations that play local music. You can still do it the old fashioned way by just showing up at station with donuts and a cd, shaking hands and getting to know people. They’ll listen and if they like it they’ll play it. Plus, there is not just one station. There are so many that Texas has its own charts with basically all of the artists that are not on Top 40 chart. That’s where I'm at. I think my music at its heart is country mainstream but it's easier as an artist to take root and grow a career in Texas. It has allowed me to get the music out there, be heard and grow a fan base. Now it's up to us from here to steer the ship out to the rest of the country, but it's a matter of how do you get the music out there so people can hear it.
Your music is now getting out there on a national level as Sirius XM's The Highway is playing a song of yours called "Overnight Success." Can you tell us how they got hold of the song?
I'm so grateful and thrilled that they are playing it. Sirius is so unique in that they find a song, like it and play it; giving an artist national exposure. My independent record label is based in Nashville and really their hard work got me this opportunity. They believed in me and worked hard for me to get the song played. I know John Marks really liked the song. He just waited for a spot so they could add it and they did.
The lyrics talk about everything that happens to someone in their journey as an artist including one day making it and having someone call them an "Overnight Success." Is the song semi-autobiographical?
Not semi. I have lived every line in that song and still am. From the wrecked van, to shopping online for a new van to the drummer being a friend of a friend from church. That's all true.
You have recorded four albums with a true balance of songs that are funny to heartbreaking. Did you write them all yourself?
I wrote them all myself. I have only recorded one song that I co-wrote. Every word on the four cds I recorded is from the brain of Zane Williams, for better or for worse (laughing). It is important for me to sing what I write. I have been writing songs for so long that I have process I am comfortable with. I am certainly open to co-writing in the future, but for me as artist I think it is something that makes me different from everyone else out of there. I think I write quality songs that are different, but have the common thread that they represent my world view and I think people can appreciate that uniqueness.
Was country the genre you were always drawn to and who are your musical influences?
I didn't grow up listening to country so I don’t necessarily have those influences. I discovered country music when I was a junior in high school. I would flip through the channels and listen to the country countdown on Sundays and I was like “hey I like these songs, there is good stuff here.” It was the 90's when Garth Brooks, George Strait and Alan Jackson were on the radio a lot. That’s when I fell in love with country music. I have a pretty broad mindset when it comes to music, I listen to and love all kinds, but I love country the best. A lot of people have told me they don't necessarily like country music, but they like my music and I like to think maybe that’s because I draw from so many influences and that somehow translates to my music and the listener.
What are your plans for the new year?
To just be huge. (laughing) I want to make a new record. I always want to be releasing new material every year and a half or so. I will keep playing both solo shows and with the band every weekend, which adds up to anywhere between 150-200 shows a year. The goal really is to build a nationwide fan base and to build on the exposure from XM radio and the Troubadour TX show. I have toured with Randy Rogers Band, Stoney LaRue and Wade Bowen, all big names in Texas market. My fantasy is to tour with the Zac Brown Band, we could call it the Zac and Zane show.
I feel a kinship with Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe and Charlie Worsham. Part of my goal is not to get pigeon hold as a Texas artist, but to ally myself with what I consider to be the good music coming out of Nashville. My strategy is to shoot for the big break and hope it works out, but in meantime to keep steadily building a fan base. I know that slow growth is something that I can count on if I work hard. You know, we are always shooting for big hit song and if we can do that great, but if not slow growth is cool with me because I get to make a living doing what I love to do.
There aren't many people that have it better than I do. I know that with big names there is a pressure to record certain songs, not record certain songs and to have an image. I don’t have that kind of pressure on me. I write my songs and get to perform them. I like the guys in my band and we have fun. I know I have it pretty good, but like anybody, I am always trying to push to get better and reach for next level and hoping people hear my music.
What are you listening to now?
Charlie Worsham. Right now Rubberband is my kind of album. It has catchy songs that still have substance and the production is modern but still country. I've got young kids and this is one cd they can listen to as well. We jam out to a lot of his music these days. My other favorite record is Randy Rogers Band Trouble. I have opened for them a fair bit and know them pretty well. To me, they are the kings of the Texas country music scene. They do that sound thing better than anyone else. They represent their own sound with songs that are consistently great. They don't pander to what anyone wants; they are just a great band.
To learn more about Zane Williams & hear his terrific music visit www.zanewilliamsmusic.com
You can follow Zane on Twitter @ZaneTheSinger
Find Zane on Facebook