Texas chart-topper Zane Williams released his sixth studio album, Bringin’ Country Back on October 21st via his newly created Texas Like That Records. Drawing on influences from the 70's, 80's and 90's, the album pays homage to traditional country music via sincere songwriting and melodies featuring fabulous fiddle and steel, and lots of twang. Currently on tour throughout Texas, Williams kindly took the time to talk about the album, finding happiness in Texas and more.
This is your sixth release, but the first one you self-produced. What spurred you to take on that role and did you enjoy the process?
There was a combination of things that led me to produce it myself including the nature of the material and my vision for this record. I wanted this down-home laid- back country sound and…I just felt like I could do it. I was responsible for every little detail which forced me to bear down and ask myself what exactly it is that I wanted. One of the things I wanted was to use my band on the record and the fact that I was able to do that enabled us to do some rehearsing before we went in. I liked that because I’ve always felt kind of rushed in the studio and this gave us time to practice, record, tweak or change things so that by the time we actually went into the studio, I felt like we were almost 80% of the way there.
Overall, it was a good experience and I plan on doing it again for the next record because now I have the ideas and the confidence. It’s more work, responsibility, hours, and lots of decisions, but now I’m spoiled making a record the way I want to make it.
The album is titled Bringin' Country Back and it really does convey that traditional country sound. Recently, someone commented to me that true country music can be found in Texas. Do you agree with that?
Honestly, I do. I feel like there’s an authenticity to the Texas stuff. To me, even some of the more traditional country in Nashville is kind of a little generic, cookie cutter. It’s like “Okay, here’s a good-looking guy with a good voice, we’ll get him a great band and have him sound like Johnny Cash.” Cash was an artist who had a fire, like Merle and Garth. They had heart, soul, and passion and I feel like the best place to find that heart, soul, and passion within the context of a more traditional country sound is in Texas. That’s not to say there aren’t individuals in Nashville and everywhere else that are doing it, but the largest concentration seems to be in Texas where we’re writing our own songs from our hearts and souls, seeing our vision our way and having ownership of our music.
I feel like when you sign a deal in Nashville you give away ownership. Of course, there are people who manage to go through the Nashville machine and still have tons of heart and soul and put an artistic statement in the music, like the Dixie Chicks, Alan Jackson, Eric Church, Brandy Clark, and Miranda Lambert. They write their own material, sound unique and are interesting, but they’re more the exceptions than the rule.
In the vein of following your vision, there are eleven tracks on the record all of which you wrote. Are they all recent writes or did you have some in your pocket?
All the songs are solo writes and were mostly written in the last year and a half. “I Don’t Have the Heart” was one I considered doing on the last record, but ultimately passed on because I thought it wasn’t quite ready. I ended up rewriting the bridge and thought it gelled with this record, so I put it on here.
What I like about the record besides the sound, is that you cover so many themes rather than concentrating on one topic like many singer-songwriter's records. Where do you draw from?
Well, I think it helps to be old. I’m 39 and I’ve experienced a fair bit. I’ve read, seen movies, heard and internalized a lot of human stories from many different places including the media, friends, and family. I feel at this point, I can write a sad song, a happy song, or an addiction song and know that if I choose my words appropriately I can write a three-and-a-half-minute song about it. Now, whether I actually pull it off is another story. I always ask someone who has gone through it whether I captured it well…and when I hear a friend or someone say that the song is one they can relate to, well, then I guess I got it right.
One of my current favorites is “That’s Just Me,” which includes my favorite line “I will treat you with respect even if we disagree/Living together in the land of the free.” Can you share the story behind the song?
I came up with the idea for “That’s Just Me” a year or two ago, but was inspired to finish it up and put it on this record because of the lack of civility and respect that exists in this current political climate. The whole point of being free is that we can disagree and have different viewpoints, but this year has been ridiculous and so divisive. It’s gotten to the point where people say, “I disagree with you, therefore, I hate you and you’re the devil,” when in the end, we all want the same thing - a better life and a strong country.
I write identity songs where I tell the audience who I am and hope they can relate to it, but at the same time, I’m also saying I can be me and you can be you. I realize that not everyone is going to be like me and that’s okay. I’m proud to be me and you can be proud to be you and at the end of the day, why can’t we all get along? I wish more people had that attitude, so put I put this song out there and we’ll see if it helps.
I hope people really listen to the lyrics. It’s a terrific and timely song.
You close the album with Willie’s Road.” Is there any significance to that?
I sequence my albums the same way I do the live show, which is to keep it varied and catch the attention of people. I felt that after “Goodbye Love” I needed to end the album on an upbeat note. I like the feeling of ending with a good jam and that’s what I was going for with “Willie’s Road.” It’s a fun sing-along type song that also shows off the musicianship of the band. I’m no Willie Nelson, but I feel a kinship to his story. I know what it feels like to start over in Texas where I found a more authentic version of myself.
We spoke in depth about your time in Nashville and moving back to Texas when “Overnight Success” came out. Are you happy that you made the move?
Oh, infinitely. I tried a lot of different things in Nashville and I know now what I should have done, but I still don’t know if I could do it, make it work and be happy. I look at Brandy Clark as her story is quite similar to my own. We moved to Nashville around the same time and got cuts at the same time, but the main difference is that she loves to co-write. Then, in the last few years, she got the record deal and I wondered if what happened to her could have happened to me if I stayed. But when I took a publishing deal I wasn’t ever happy co-writing. I was writing what I considered to be great songs that just weren’t getting cut by anyone. Take “Pablo and Maria” – it's a song that isn’t even in the realm of something they can even pitch to record, but it felt sad to watch a song like that go on a shelf and never be heard ever again because some artist wouldn’t record it. So, I figured I would record it myself and make my own records because there’s too much of a rebel in me to toe the line. In Texas, I have a large enough fan base that I can do music for a living and not wallow in obscurity. I’m still not a household name or as successful as a lot of people, but I’m able to pay the bills doing music. I’m super happy.
That's good to hear.
As the year winds down, what are your plans for the remainder of 2016 or early 2017?
For the rest of the year, we have several shows - and that doesn’t really stop. But the way I look at it is it’s how I make my living. I am able to go to my job Thursday through Saturday, keep a good band, play, sell merch and get paid.
I am also going to focus back on writing again. I’ve already written about five or six songs towards the new record which I plan on recording in the Spring. Part of my vision was to start the process earlier so I am not rushed when making the new record. I get inspired when I look at George Strait’s and Willie Nelson’s discography. Starting in the 70's Strait has been releasing albums every few years and Willie sometimes did two to three albums a year in the 70’s – and you have to wonder how it was possible for them to put that many albums out?! Every once in a while, there was a compilation or a live album, but a lot of them were just new material…and Willie co-wrote a lot of them. The dude was cranking them out and that helps me remember that the way you get to be a legend and at the top is by really working super hard and putting out great material. There’s no substitute for that.
I think for a truly independent artist like me, that one great album will honestly not make me into a household name because I don’t have a machine behind me to get it out there. If I put out the world’s best album tomorrow people still wouldn’t hear it and the only way to solve that is to come out with more albums, tour, and slowly build over time like how Aaron Watson has done it. With every record, he grew a bigger fan base and built on his live show, leading him to make another record and build on that success. That’s the path I’m going to try to take.
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Purchase Bringin' Country Back here