The annals of country music history is littered with stories of bands who have come into public consciousness, delivered a hit or two and left just as quickly as they arrived. Then, there are others, timeless bands, real bands, that have stood the test of time. Bands like Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Alabama and Diamond Rio. What do these bands have that virtually every other band hasn’t? The ability to play everything on their own records. It’s a proud legacy in which Zac Brown Band has not only championed but thrived with as each of their first 10 singles (from The Foundation and You Get What You Give) have hit either #1 or #2 on the Billboard Country Singles chart.
When “Chicken Fried” was released in 2008, Zac Brown Band was still five members (Zac Brown, Jimmy Di Martini, John Driskell Hopkins, Coy Bowles and Chris Fryar). In 2009 they added multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook and just this spring announced percussionist Daniel de los Reyes to make the band seven members strong with each member bringing the band a diversity not heard anywhere else in country music radio. It is this diversity which is showcased in the band’s 2012 release Uncaged a record which runs the gamut from progressive country rockers to reggae, to outright R&B/soul to the bluegrass-leaning lead single “The Wind.”
It is with this in mind that we recently sat down to talk with Clay Cook about Uncaged, new member Daniel, the band’s diversity, growth and much, much more.
Matt Bjorke: How would you compare the new album to the Zac Brown Band’s previous albums?
Clay Cook: Well, in comparison it’s a natural progression from where we were with the last album, You Get What You Give the “b point” with The Foundation the “a point” and Uncaged our current “c point.” We’re still writing our own music, playing all our own instruments, arranging it ourself and it just seems like the next record we were going to make.
Matt: What kind of Dynamic does your new member Daniel de Los Reyes bring to the band?
Clay: He’s got this own subdivision rhythm going on and as a percussionist, he doesn’t play anything more than needs to be there.
Matt: So sort of economical with the instrument, so to speak:
Clay: Yeah, what’s great is that when we do need something big and crazy, he’s there for us. He’s really good at that. He’s also such a sweet fella and I couldn’t be happier to have him in the band with us.
Matt: So how fun is it for you to have a song like “The Wind” hit the charts, especially given the fact that the song showcases the whole band and is sort of an instrumental with vocals, so to speak?
Clay: (laughs)Well, We’ve always have had one high-charged, up tempo bluegrass-style song on each record and never released one on the radio. So, this is just another way for us to broaden people’s image of what they think we are, if they’ve never seen us play…
Matt: Or shatter it…
Clay: (laughs) Yeah, absolutely. For people who have never seen us play, we don’t want to play just eight or nine songs they know and then bore them, we want them to leave the show feeling like there was absolutely no boring point and if there was a boring point, it was the song they already knew, you know?
Matt: (laughs) Absolutely. So the band has a special bond with eat and greets instead of the standard meet and greet, how important is it for you guys to remain connected to the fans in such a unique way?
Clay: The good thing about it and the way that we see it is that we try to put ourself in the fans shoes. It’s an important tool for a band to have meet and greets with fans and we were doing those for a while and thought about how we could make that experience better and Zac wanted to include the food aspect. So instead of walking people into a tent, shaking their hands, taking their picture and kicking ‘em out, instead of literally 15 second hang outs, we wanted to give them something to really remember and by giving them a really great meal and have some great fellowship with the band they’re about to see on stage and turn it into a really great experience for both them and us. Eventually, I think the goal is to have the Southern Ground Food and Music Festivals…
Matt: Yeah, I was going to ask about the success of the Eat and Greets and if they have helped the band grow the festival idea with Nashville added onto it this year…
Clay: Yeah, and Charleston, SC will be our second year in October. I think the goal is to, and we may not ever get here and goals change, but the goal would be to maybe just do a tour of these festivals and go around and do a festival a week. The Zac Brown Band would headline every night and the Southern Ground Artists and other great artists who we ‘con’ into playing our festival, the fans get to walk away with a day of good music, a smile and a full belly.
Matt: And most-likely a great experience that will have them telling all of their friends about the great time and food they had there. And that can only get more fans interested, particularly with social media…
Clay: Yeah, absolutely and when it comes down to it, everybody in this band is a fan of music. We’ve been fans our whole lives and I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if I’d be talking with you if it wasn’t for Pearl Jam. They came along at a very integral part of my life where I didn’t know if it would be basketball, or I’d be an architect or something and I literally became obsessed with them…
Matt: Uncaged is interesting in that it shows a musical variety that allows a showcase for each member of the band and that the Zac Brown Band is a full band, not just Zac Brown and some guys. How important is it for you guys to be able to show that kind of variety that, quite frankly, not many other country music based bands do?
Clay: Well, It’s not that we’re trying to make our music sound that way, there’s no weight into considering that. It’s that we’re not afraid to just play what we want. I think that’s more the point than us trying to showcase different styles or something like that. What it comes down to is that we’re trying to showcase each song the way it should be played. So, if there’s a song on the record that sounds like reggae, it’s because it was written and it came out of the writer as a reggae song and we’ll do our best to make the song sound like that, or if there’s an R&B Song, we’ll make it an R&B song. And there are both of those kinds of songs on [Uncaged]. Instead of doing it in the style of a country band doing a R&B song, we do the song (“Overnight”) as a straight-up R&B song.
Matt: Sure and that I think that’s probably one of the reasons why fans love the band. You’re not trying to make a song fit into traditionally country parameters…
Clay: And we’re not trying to fit into skinny jeans either, which is good. (both laugh)
Matt: Yeah, you guys are who you are and not trying to be Justin Bieber-like or something, right?
Matt: How did you guys come to work with Mike Judge (“King of the Hill”) on the video for “The Wind?”
Clay: Well, I think it’s always been in the back of our minds that we were going to do something with him, at least from three years ago. And the planning went into it a couple of months ago that we were going to do the first single and that was it. It was one of those things where we always knew we were gonna work with Mike and it’s finally happened, you know?
Matt: Cool. It’s definitely a video that’s going to stand out and is certainly fun.
Clay: We hope so.
Matt: How important is it for you to stay plugged-in with all the fans through social media?
Clay: Well, it’s a brave new world out there and there’s no set way of doing things and it seems to change every five years. This is an amazing way for us to keep connected to our fans and that’s exactly what it is. So Instead of us having to go through PR companies to get messages to our fans, all one of us needs to do is to go on our twitter page and send something to the fans.
It’s kind of crazy, it’s taken a lot of power out of some hands and put the power into a different set of hands. It’s a whole different world and I can’t imagine being an artist that’s been around for 20-30 years and they have no idea that this is going on unless they have a teenage daughter that knows all about it and teaches ‘em about it.
Matt: What one word best describes to you?
Clay: Oh, Man…”Stories.” Every single one of these songs, even if it’s silly or heart wrenching, every single song on the radio tries to paint a picture.
Related Zac Brown Band Content
Watch the “The Wind” video here.