The first time we heard Zach Williams sing was several years ago with about a dozen people gathered on a screened porch overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. Armed with just an old guitar, he spent the next hour unleashing a formidable display of vocal dynamics and song-writing unaffectedness unlike anything we had seen in an acoustic setting. These days Zach and his new band The Lone Bellow, are opening for the likes of The Civil Wars and on the cusp of releasing a debut album produced by Grammy-award winner Charlie Peacock.
Having refined his “Brooklyn Country” sound and partnered with equally skilled artists, the Georgia native is at his best, and with The Lone Bellow, quickly becoming a must-see live show in the heart of New York – one of the hardest places to be remarkable. Until the album is available, know this: first, each song is as good as the next, comprising a true album as an art form. Second, you can get a taste of it by watching this unplugged video of Teach Me To Know. Finally, catch them live when they head South for their first show in Atlanta at the Buckhead Theater on August 15.
We recently sat down with Zach in New York to talk more about the band’s journey and their anticipated album.
How did a guy from Atlanta end up playing music in NYC?
“I had a crew of artist friends who made the move to NYC together about seven years ago. These same friends were with me in my darkest days while I was living in a hospital in the ATL while my wife was receiving treatment from a tragic accident. The hospital is where I started writing music, and it became a type of coping. We told each other, ‘If Stacy ever gets to walk again, then let’s all move to New York to pursue things we like.’ She did walk again. For the past several years I’ve had the privilege of playing the most beautiful little music halls in this great city.”
How did the band come together?
“I went on a trip to Mexico, and I wrote a bunch of sad country songs. I came back and wanted to start a side project with some kind of family honky-tonk vibe. I sent out a message to some folks and asked them to meet me for a 9 a.m. jam session. I also called photographer Eric Anderson and asked him to come shoot because I had a feeling this morning might be one that I would want to remember. Everyone showed up. Upright bass, pedal steal, mandolin, banjo, drums, keys, fiddle and one of my oldest friends Brian Elmquist. It was that morning that I told Brian, “Man, this isn’t a side project, lets do this together.” I knew there was one more person who needed to be a part of this thing. Before the Mexico trip, I needed a singer to join me at a show. I asked Kanene and she sang next to me like she was on fire. So a few hours after the morning rehearsal, I asked her to join us. The Lone Bellow quickly formed into the three-part harmony that it was supposed to be, and I was finally a part of a sound I could call home.”
Talk a little bit about the process of creating this new album.
“For years I’ve been playing at a place in NYC called Rockwood Music Hall. The man who owns it has been an inspiration to me, and he has always pushed me to be better, to be honest and to not get caught in things that aren’t real. I love playing his room because you can feel his values as a man and a music lover seeping through the walls. This music hall will forever be home to The Lone Bellow. [Producer] Charlie Peacock got involved when a friend told him about my music, and he invited my family to spend a few days down in Nashville. We dreamed about making a record together some day, so when the songs started forming around The Lone Bellow, I called him and asked him to come up. The moment Charlie walked into Rockwood Music Hall he realized that this place is special. Charlie said, ‘Zach, we should make a record in that room.’ So we did. For three days we recorded 12 songs all in the same room, all at the same time.”
How has your sound developed over the years?
“I have the great honor of playing music with people who have the same burning desire to be a part of moments that matter. That has changed my sound. The people in the room play a big part in it as well. The brash and honest NYC crowd is not something to be taken lightly. If a song is too self involved or a moment is fabricated, they know it quickly and you can feel their vibe within seconds. This is the beautiful give and take between an artist and his community. It’s why good music is always made when honest people are listening.”
Are there specific themes you focused on in this album?
“The themes: tragedy, hope, betrayal and redemption. I am grateful they exist though, because they help me relive moments that I need to. I do hope the music helps us become more alive.”
Southern culture has been a trend some in NYC (restaurants, style, music). What does that look like from your perspective?
“Yeah, definitely. Sometimes I wish I could talk my grandfather into getting on a plane and coming up here so he could try Side Car’s fried chicken or Root’s Café’s grits. I think he would pat his hair down and approve. I think he would dig RRL’s new haberdashery and Freeman’s Barbershop. I think he would also enjoy the bluegrass at Jalopy Theater in Red Hook and would be floored by the selection of instruments on sale at Retro Fret.”