With six studio albums under their belts, three-time Grammy Award winners Zac Brown Band have recording down to a science: They look through songs they’ve written but haven’t tracked, pull out the best, add some new ones, and presto! Mission accomplished.
ZAC BROWN BAND
With: Hunter Hayes
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 26
Where: Wrigley Field, 1060 W. Addison
Not so with “Welcome Home,” their latest full-length release. From the first note to the final mix, it was created with a single purpose in mind.
“This is the first album we wrote from scratch,” says songwriter/lead singer Brown, 38. “Every one of these songs was written for this record. It came from my talking with [longtime collaborators] Niko Moon and Ben Simonetti a couple of years ago. We decided to write the most personal record we’d ever written, about the things that matter the most to us, the struggles and the celebrations of life and our relationships with our families. That’s where this began.”
On “Welcome Home,” they preserve the tradition-meets-contemporary essence of Zac Brown Band’s sound and apply it to values that once were essential in the country repertoire but have lost some currency. Their first single from the album, “Family Table,” transforms an old piece of furniture into a talisman of days gone by, of loved ones lost to the waves of time but etched in the memories of those who gather around it each day. As a piano evokes the sound of Sunday morning gospel services, “Real Thing” compares the values of fine whiskey and honest love, making the simile feel not at all improbable. “My Old Man” is a sentimental reminiscence of Brown’s father and the lessons he imparted. And “Roots” applies all the lessons addressed on “Welcome Home” to the pleasures and paradoxes that Brown deals with as a stadium-filling superstar.
“Any type of life that makes the kinds of demands we deal with can chew you up and spit you out the other side,” Brown says. “Some days, you feel like you can lift up the whole world and carry it around. Some days, you feel like it’s all going to smash you. Balance is really the key, but it’s a daily challenge.”
Brown deals with that challenge by spending as much time as he can at home with his wife, Shelly, and their five kids. When that’s not possible, he makes it a priority to maintain a community vibe when on the road.
“I’m a tribe person,” he explains. “There’s 103 of us that travel together on 10 buses and 12 trucks. Every single one of them is integral to what we’re doing. They’re not working for me. We all work together. That comes from my roots of playing in clubs where sometimes the only person who was there was the swamper cleaning up the bar. My tip jar would be filled with dollar bills soaked in beer — I’d wring the beer out of them, so I could have gas money to get to the next show. You can’t pay any more dues than what we did to get here. That’s where that line comes from at the end of ‘Roots’: ‘Don’t give up. Hold on a little longer. What don’t kill you only makes you stronger.’
“I love playing good music and sharing it with everybody,” Brown sums up. “If we can create music that makes people genuinely feel something, to me that’s what art is. I couldn’t have done this without the community we’ve created. We lift each other up and help each other out. We run our ship based on love and respect. We’re a family, man! Life is just too short to do it any other way.”
Bob Doerschuk, USA TODAY Network