CMA Music Festival 2013 feat. Oak Ridge Boys, Tracy Lawrence, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift & Zac Brown BandCountry
Oak Ridge Boys
Hendersonville TN | Country
Theirs is one of the most distinctive and recognizable sounds in the music industry. The four-part harmonies and upbeat songs of the Oak Ridge Boys have spawned dozens of Country hits and a Number One Pop smash, earned them Grammy, Dove, CMA, and ACM awards and garnered a host of other industry and fan accolades. Every time they step before an audience, the Oaks bring three decades of charted singles, and 50 years of tradition, to bear on a stage show widely acknowledged as among the most exciting anywhere. And each remains as enthusiastic about the process as they have ever been.
"When I go on stage, I get the same feeling I had the first time I sang with the Oak Ridge Boys," says lead singer Duane Allen. "This is the only job I've ever wanted to have."
"Like everyone else in the group," adds bass singer extraordinaire Richard Sterban, "I was a fan of the Oaks before I became a member. I'm still a fan of the group today. Being in the Oak Ridge Boys is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream."
The two, along with tenor Joe Bonsall and baritone William Lee Golden, comprise one of Country's truly legendary acts. Their string of hits includes the pop chart-topper Elvira, as well as Bobbie Sue, Dream On, Thank God For Kids, American Made, I Guess It Never Hurts To Hurt Sometimes, Fancy Free, Gonna Take A Lot Of River and many others. They've scored 12 gold, three platinum, and one double platinum album, plus one double platinum single, and had more than a dozen national Number One singles and over 30 Top Ten hits.
The Oaks represent a tradition that extends back to World War II. The original group, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, began performing Country and Gospel music in nearby Oak Ridge where the atomic bomb was being developed. They called themselves the Oak Ridge Quartet, and they began regular Grand Ole Opry appearances in the fall of ’45. In the mid-fifties, they were featured in Time magazine as one of the top drawing Gospel groups in the nation.
By the late ’60s, with more than 30 members having come and gone, they had a lineup that included Duane Allen, William Lee Golden, Noel Fox, and Willie Wynn. Among the Oaks’ many acquaintances in the Gospel field were Bonsall, a streetwise Philadelphia kid who embraced Gospel music; and Sterban, who was singing in quartets and holding down a job as a men’s clothing salesman. Both admired the distinctive, highly popular Oaks.
“They were the most innovative quartet in Gospel music,” says Bonsall. “They performed Gospel with a Rock approach, had a full band, wore bell-bottom pants and grew their hair long... things unheard of at the time.”
The four became friends, and when the Oaks needed a bass and tenor in ’72 and ’73, respectively, Sterban and Bonsall got the calls. For a while, the group remained at the pinnacle of the Gospel music circuit. It was there they refined the strengths that would soon make them an across-the-board attraction.
“We did a lot of package shows,” says Bonsall. “There was an incredible amount of competition. You had to blow people away to sell records and get invited back.”
Their Gospel sound had a distinct Pop edge to it and, although it made for excitement and crowd appeal, it also ruffled purist feathers and left promoters unsure about the Oaks’ direction. Then in 1975, the Oaks were asked to open a number of dates for Roy Clark. Clark’s manager, Jim Halsey, was impressed by their abilities.
“He came backstage and told us we were three-and-a-half minutes (meaning one hit record) away from being a major act,” says Bonsall. “He said we had one of the most dynamic stage shows he’d ever seen but that we had to start singing Country songs.”
They took his advice and the result was a breakthrough.
“Those who came to Country music with or after the New Traditionalists of the mid-eighties cannot possibly imagine the impact the Oaks had in 1977, when they lit up the sky from horizon to horizon with Y’All Come Back Saloon,” wrote Billboard’s Ed Morris. He added “... the vocal intensity the group brought to it instantly enriched and enlivened the perilously staid Country format. These guys were exciting.” Within a year, Paul Simon tapped them to sing backup for his hit Slip Slidin’ Away, and they went on to record with George Jones, Brenda Lee, Johnny Cash, Roy Rogers, Billy Ray Cyrus, Bill Monroe, Ray Charles and others. In 2007, they recorded with the son of an old friend. Shooter Jennings, the son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, invited the Oaks to perform Slow Train, a song on his sophomore CD.
Their career has spanned not only decades, but also formats. They have appeared before five presidents. They produced one of the first Country music videos (Easy, in 1977, although not released in the U.S., it reached the 3 slot in Australia). They participated in the first American popular music headline tour in the USSR. And they have become one of the most enduringly successful touring groups anywhere. They still performing some 150 dates each year at major theaters, fairs and festivals across the U.S. and Canada.
They did it with a consistently upbeat musical approach and terrific business savvy.
“We always look for songs that have lasting value and that are uplifting,” says Allen, who has co-produced the Oaks’ last seven studio albums. “You don’t hear us singing ’cheating’ or ’drinking’ songs, but ’loving’ songs, because we think that will last. We also don’t put music in categories, except for ’good’ or ’bad.’ When we get through with it, it’s probably going to sound like an Oak Ridge Boys song no matter what it is.”
They proved their business acumen in any number of ways, including such steps as declining the chance to sit on the couch during their many appearances on the Tonight Show.
“We said, ’If you’re going to give us four minutes on the couch with Johnny, we’d rather have four minutes to give you another song that lets people know what got us here,’” says Allen. “We didn’t get here talking; we got here singing.”
They also proved themselves to be capable and tireless advocates of charitable and civic causes, serving as spokesmen and/or board members of fundraisers for the Boy Scouts of America, the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse (now known as Prevent Child Abuse America), Feed The Children, the National Anthem Project and many more.
The group’s first personnel change in many years occurred in 1987 when Steve Sanders, who had been playing guitar in the Oaks Band, replaced William Lee as the baritone singer. Late in ’95, Steve resigned from the Oaks and exactly one minute after midnight on New Year’s Eve, Duane, Joe and Richard surprised a packed house at the Holiday Star Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana, by welcoming William Lee on stage and back into the group. The hit makers were finally together again!
The Oaks’ high-energy stage show remains the heart and soul of what they do, and they refine it several times a year, striving to keep it fresh well into the future.
“We’re not willing to rest on our laurels,” Golden says. “That gets boring. As a group, we do things constantly to challenge ourselves, to try to do something different or better than the last time we did it.”
“I feel like I can do what I do on stage just as good now as I could 20 years ago,” says Bonsall. “I plan to be rockin’ my tail off out there as long as I’m healthy. The people who come out, who bring their families to see us, deserve everything I’ve got.”
“We’ve experienced a lot of longevity,” adds Sterban. “I think the reason is the love we have for what we do—the desire, the longing to actually get up there and do it. We love to sing together... to harmonize together. It’s what our lives are all about.”
Born on Jan. 27, 1968, in Atlanta, Texas, and raised in tiny Foreman, Ark., Tracy Lawrence drew from a rich musical heritage that included such Southern rockers as Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top, as well as country traditionalists George Strait and Merle Haggard. He earned his performing stripes by touring the area's bars, honky-tonks and jamborees when barely old enough to drive. Though he recalls the circuit as a "tough road" for a young performer, he says it also taught him some valuable lessons about being an entertainer.
Luke Bryan is a superstar in the making and the career growth from his first to his second to his third studio album, tailgates & tanlines, is the proof. The Georgian who burst on the scene in 2007 with his unique blend of down-home accessibility, movie star good looks and relatable lyrics, is set to explode in a major way.
Not a flash-in-the-pan, overnight sensation, Luke has built his career from the ground up and the Leesburg, Ga., native wouldn’t have it any other way. “My path is exactly where I want it to be,” Luke says. “I’m doing my thing. I’m getting better with every album.”
The son of a peanut farmer, Luke knows patience and determination are key elements when it comes to a successful crop—or career—and he’s dedicated to growth. His first album, I’ll Stay Me, produced the Top 10 hits “All My Friends Say” and “Country Man,” while his sophomore effort, Doin’ My Thing, found the singer-songwriter scoring three straight No. 1 singles: “Do I,” “Someone Else Calling You Baby” and “Rain Is A Good Thing.”
Luke’s momentum shows no signs of slowing. “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” the lead single from his much-anticipated third album, ranks as the fast-rising single of his career.
When Luke scored his first solo performance slot on the 2011 CMT Music Awards, he made the most of it, receiving a standing ovation for his over-the-top performance of “Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” not only from the fans, but also from his artist peers. “When you get performance slots for award shows, that’s a big deal for me,” Luke says.
He’s equally excited about headlining the 10th annual CMT on Tour, which has an impressive list of alumni, including Rascal Flatts, Brad Paisley and Keith Urban. “It’s almost like you’re getting a stamp of approval to go to the next level,” says Luke. “All those artists that were a part of the CMT Tour have crossed over into a larger level of artists.”
His tours with superstars Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts and Jason Aldean, as well as his own annual Farm Tour, which offers a student from a local farming family a college scholarship, showcase a stage mastery built working the college and club circuit.
“I want my music to jump off the stage and out of the speakers,” says Luke. “When we do ’Rain Is A Good Thing’ paired back to back with ’Country Girl,’ it just feels like the roof is fixin’ to come off the place.”
Critics affirm Luke’s stated goal. The Peoria Star Journal calls him a “playful and confident performer” while the Oregonian dubs him “a serious contender for McGraw’s throne.”
Luke’s fan-voted wins as Academy of Country Music Top New Male and Top New Artist, as well as his score as USA Weekend Breakthrough Artist of the Year at the CMT Music Awards were a “huge validation,” he says.
“Country Girl (Shake It For Me),” with its infectious chorus and backbeat, represents another step forward for the strapping star. Co-written by Luke and Dallas Davidson—the pair also penned “Rain Is A Good Thing”—“Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” sets the tone for, but doesn’t define, tailgates & tanlines.
Luke’s latest album is no doubt his best yet. The 13-song collection (of which Luke co-wrote eight) balances lighter fare with meatier offerings. “I Don’t Want This Night To End,” written by Luke with fellow Georgians Dallas Davidson, Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip, is destined to be a clap-along concert favorite and radio smash.
“Drunk On You,” written by hit tunesmiths Rodney Clawson, Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear, is an intoxicating tale of young love that Luke calls “young and fun.”
Another song destined to be a radio favorite is “Too Damn Young,” a coming of age tune about the loss of innocence that country fans will no doubt relate to.
“Harvest Time,” written by Luke with Rodney Clawson, is an autobiographical look at Luke’s rural roots, while “Don’t Know Jack,” penned by Erin Enderlin and Shane McAnally, is a stark reminder of the power of alcohol addiction.
“Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” is an up-tempo lets-make-love-one-more-time-even-though-we-know-we’re-splitting-up song, while “Been There Done That” is the ultimate kiss-off tune.
In short, tailgates & tanlines represents real life.
“I’m really proud that I’ve got some meatier things on this album,” Luke says of the balance between hell raisers and heart breakers. “Nothing is more frustrating to me than putting a song on an album and regret putting it on there. I’m excited that there are no songs on tailgates & tanlines that I’m iffy about.”
As dedicated as he is to his craft, Luke is even more dedicated to his family: wife Caroline and sons Bo and Tate. “I try to make my time in Nashville mean something for the boys,” he says.
“It’s a big fun ride for everybody,” Luke says of his success. “My wife and I are enjoying life more than ever.”
While superstardom is knocking on his door, Luke Bryan will answer when he’s ready. “I have never wanted to grow fast in this business,” he maintains. “I have always wanted to take my time, make it happen and be smart about it and I’ve been lucky—all that stuff is happening.”
Luke’s aw-shucks demeanor belies his rare gifts. This singer/songwriter/entertainer is the complete package and superstardom is inevitable.
Revolution has cast a spark in mainstream country music, and outlaw rebel Eric Church is to blame. Since the release of his first album, Sinners Like Me (2006), Church has led his pack one-by-one through retrospective songwriting, invigorating live shows, and a hard-boiled attitude soaked in blood and sweat, and ice cold beers. Perhaps that’s why his recent No. 1 singles “Drink In My Hand” and “Springsteen” have accomplished RIAA Gold and Platinum certification, respectively, and his first headlining arena tour, aptly titled Eric Church: The Blood, Sweat & Beers Tour, is experiencing record-breaking sales and prompting rave critical reviews. Moreover, there’s no doubt since the release of his ground-breaking RIAA Certified Platinum third album CHIEF, his tenacious tribe of disciples is demanding the world’s help in catapulting their ’chief’ of country music from smoky barroom songster to headlining arena superstar.
On board with the upheaval in naming CHIEF one of NPR’s Top Albums of The Year, renowned critic Ann Powers writes:
“Mainstream music is full of macho dudes in faded designer jeans, but it’s rare to find an artist with enough sophistication and self-awareness to make the outlaw persona feel genuine. Enter Eric Church: The North Carolina native honky-tonker who fully embraces country clichés, but sharpens them with wit, chronicling wild nights and epic hangovers with just the right amount of critical distance, and single with the cool world-weariness of someone who’s lost a few lovers and parking-lot fights.”
Rolling Stone, SPIN, iTunes, and the Los Angeles Times also joined the crusade in granting Church coveted end-of-the-year ’top album’ accolades, and the release of CHIEF earned RIAA Gold Certified sales in only six weeks, helping to launch fan-favorite party anthem and third single release “Drink In My Hand,” to No. 1 on the country radio charts. Furthermore, positioned at the apex of life-long achievements for Church, he experienced the exhilaration of his first-ever GRAMMY nomination with CHIEF for Best Country Album and ACM nominations for Album of the Year and Video of the Year for “Homeboy.”
Having kicked off Eric Church: The Blood, Sweat & Beers Tour on January 19 in Fort Smith, AR, Church is bringing his raucous live show to arena-filled venues from New York, NY to Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL, Nashville, TN and everywhere in between in 2012.
"Normally, you have No. 1 singles before you have No. 1 albums and arena tours, but for us, it was the other way," says Church who began planning the arena tour months before ever reaching the singles summit with “Drink In My Hand" and the two-week No. 1, “Springsteen” – both Church personally co-wrote. Cultivating a devoted fan base without sacrificing musical integrity and self-expression, Church has built up his following slowly, but the hard work is finally proving to have paid off.
Reflecting on his creative process when crafting the game-changing album CHIEF, Church used his opportunity to make a new record provided by his success to push his creativity and live show even further. “I have a theory that all of us only get a small window of time to make records when people will really listen and care,” he says. “It's up to us to move the needle. People like Waylon and Cash or Garth and Strait - they all took the format and said ’We're going over here,’ and they all changed the direction of the music a little bit.”
Although his debut album, Sinners Like Me, established him as one of the most acclaimed new songwriters in country music; and the follow-up, 2009’s RIAA Gold Certified Carolina, produced the singles “Love Your Love the Most” and “Smoke a Little Smoke,” which—along with the continually escalating popularity of his hard-charging live show—elevated Church to the top ranks of today’s country stars in early 2011 at which point Church decided to take a step back to give some thought to his next creative direction.
“I took about a month off and went to a cabin in North Carolina,” he says. “We’ve always blazed our own trail and I was trying to figure out where it needed to go and, honestly, I wasn't sure. So, I didn't go anywhere for a month. Writers came out and we just wrote songs all day and all night. That really stoked the creative flame. Then, I spent the next six months on tour writing whenever I could.”
The songs that resulted illustrate Church’s impressive range. Some of the titles like his first career No. 1 Billboard single “Drink in My Hand” or “Hungover and Hard Up,” instantly show that he’s still comfortable with the expectations of his rowdy live audience. “You’ve got to know what's going to fire them up,” he says, “but, you also need to give them a twist, something they can't just go back and get from the other two records.” Other songs, like the ambitious third single and second No. 1 “Springsteen” or “Like Jesus Does,” reveal complicated emotions and sophisticated song structures.
Church’s fourth single release from the record, “Creepin’,” kicks-off CHIEF.“It’s interesting how sonically it matches the lyrics, then, it gets full-blown and tries to creep out. I love the Roger Miller ’bow-ba-bow’ vocal—that wasn’t planned, it was just a product of being in the room and being involved in the magic.” It’s that fearlessness both on stage and in the studio that continually sets Church apart--earning him performances on stages opening for Metallica at Orion Festival and alongside top names at CMA Music Festival’s LP Field.
Perhaps the bravest track on CHIEF is the first single, “Homeboy,” a provocative appeal from one brother to another to get back on track and make peace with his family that was recently RIAA Gold Certified.
“’Homeboy’ deals with social issues and with everyday life,” says Church. “It was pretty challenging for me to take that term ’homeboy’ and use it as slang, as a destination, and then at the end, as a spiritual place. Sonically, it's like three or four different songs. It’s not something people are used to,” he continues, “and there can be a price to pay for that. I’ve had people say ’that's strange,’ ’it's odd’—things that some people might run from but, I think it's fantastic.”
When it came time to record the album, Church had a sound in mind that felt different from his first two releases. “This record, more than anything else I've done, is breathing and alive,” he says. “There’s a wildness to it. It’s untamed and not very harnessed.”
This energy started with the singer’s own role in the sessions. Much of CHIEF was cut live in the studio. Church played guitar with the band (and for the first time on record, electric guitar on “Like Jesus Does”) and some of the final versions even use the original tracking vocal.
Church gives credit to producer Jay Joyce, with whom he has made all three of his albums, for helping to bring this excitement out on the tracks. “There’s just a comfort level with Jay,” he says. “We’ve both learned to sit back and let each other try different paths and get farther out there. A lot of stuff we just tried, like the handclap loop on ’Homeboy,’ just because we weren’t afraid. We never thought there was anything we couldn’t do. I think it’s the most aggressive record I’ve made because of that.”
Though Church’s focus on CHIEF is on looking forward rather than looking back, he does acknowledge that the surprising success of chart-topping single release “Smoke a Little Smoke” allowed him to explore and experiment with his new songs. Church explains, “This was the first time I picked a single because of the reaction on the road and it paid off.” And his desire to capture the intensity of his live show on record is indicated right in the title of the new album. "’Chief' is my nickname on the road," Church reveals. "When it's show time, I put on the sunglasses and the hat, and that's how people know it's game time. This album was made from a live place; we recorded it with the live show in mind, so it just seemed right to make that the title."
If there is one thing country music needs more of, it’s the attitude that is driving Eric Church, the approach behind every song on CHIEF, the fearlessness that lets an artist swing for the fences and attempt to change the musical landscape. “There were safer choices I could have made for sure, but I just can't feel that helps anybody,” he says. “If you have any respect for the music, you'll use each chance you get to try to be one of the ones who moves the flag.”
Lindale TX | Country
Miranda Lambert’s fourth album, Four The Record, made history when it debuted atop Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart in 2011, making her the first country artist in the 47-year history of the chart to have each of her first four albums debut at No. 1. And it’s appropriate, perhaps, that its lead single was titled “Baggage Claim,” because Lambert carries quite the suitcase of honors.
She is country’s reigning female vocalist of the year, as bestowed by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music (three times each). She’s won the prized album of the year trophy from both organizations as well – from the ACMs for her second record, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; from the CMAs and ACMs for her third, Revolution; and from the ACMs again for Four The Record, making her the first female artist ever to win that honor for three consecutive releases. She took home the Best Female Country Vocal Performance trophy from the 2011 Grammy Awards (for “The House That Built Me”), and, as if a stellar solo career wasn’t enough, Lambert, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe topped the country album chart in 2011 with Hell on Heels, the acclaimed debut album from the sassy trio, Pistol Annies. Their sophomore album "Annie Up" will be out on May 7th.
Most importantly, whether being named one of People’s Most Beautiful People or winning Song of the Year honors from her peers for a heartfelt track like Four The Record’s “Over You” – written with country superstar Blake Shelton, who just happens to be her husband – Lambert has cemented her reputation as an artist whose work is eagerly embraced by audiences and critics alike.
As current single “Mama’s Broken Heart” burns a kerosene-fueled trail up the charts, it’s worth reflecting on Lambert’s whirlwind past few years, which saw her profile skyrocket from rebel underdog to country icon whose fans simply call her "'Ran." Prior to Revolution, she’d never even had a Top 5 single, but her cutting-edge qualities earned her a rapid fan-base and made her an award-show queen and press darling. But in 2010, she finally scored her–first # 1 single with “”White Liar,” and then quickly followed with the award winning “The House That Built Me” and “Heart Like Mine.”
By the release of Four The Record – whose first single, “Baggage Claim,” hit No. 3, her highest-charting lead single yet – there was no uncertainty left. “I’d never had an album release coincide with a hit, ever,” Lambert points out. “Revolution came out on ’Dead Flowers,’ a single that died in the 30s. So I’m excited and so thankful. I'm a little edgy. But I’ve played so many tours and been on the road so much, I feel like people get me. Or else they think, ’She’s not going away, so we might as well just start liking it,’” she laughs.
Lambert is being humble: Four The Record won raves from outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to American Songwriter, and her headlining ’On Fire’ tour played to more than a million fans in 2012. This is no war of attrition; it’s more likely that, as with any groundbreaking artist, it simply took a while for America to catch up with the trail she was blazing.
The fascination began in earnest when she was a humble yet feisty runner-up on Nashville Star in 2003, standing out as the most independent and least likely of all reality-show contestants. Sony Nashville quickly signed her with the understanding that, even though she was still a teen, she had the moxie and know-how to write many of her own songs and pick her own team, like co-producer and fellow Texan Frank Liddell. Reflective singles like “Famous in a Small Town” proved her wise beyond her tender years, and rowdy ones like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” proved her bold beyond all expectations of just how fresh a country freshman should be. Her tough Texas upbringing, her tendency to use a shotgun for a mic stand, those pistol tattoos – Nashville had never seen anything like her before.
“My sole mission with the Revolution album was to go ’Hey, get me out of this corner you’re pushing me in,” Lambert says of her truly revelatory third album. “I’m not just ’Kerosene’ and ’Gunpowder & Lead’ and all that.’ I mean, that’s part of me, but I have so much more to say, and I definitely think I’ve been able to do that.” It's worth noting that it was two of that album’s most subdued and sensitive songs, “The House That Built Me” and “Heart Like Mine,” which took her to the top of the country charts (in the case of “House," for four straight weeks).
When it came time to record Four the Record, the methodology wasn’t much different. As before, Lambert did a lot of the writing herself or in tandem with friends, while also picking selections from Music Row’s favorite tunesmiths (including Chris Stapleton and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley) and the leading lights of alt-country (this time, Gillian Welch and Allison Moorer). But while Revolution was recorded in two sessions of a week or less, the recording of Four the Record was even more compact, taking a mere five days from start to finish. “If everybody can get in one vibe and stay there the whole week, it makes it sound like an album, instead of chopped up,” Lambert maintains. It didn’t hurt that the vast majority of musicians had worked on her previous three albums, too, as had trusted co-producer Liddell. The result is a 14-song set that’s epic in its range of musical styles, including the varied expressiveness in Lambert’s unmistakable voice. She’s clearly in a class with the slim handful of superstar “album artists” whose every full-length release is anxiously anticipated as an event that’s much more than just the sum of its singles.
And if fans listen to “Over You” – which Lambert recently performed on the 2013 Grammy telecast, bringing the crowd to its feet – and detect a little bit of what might be called “maturity,” well, Lambert’s probably just as surprised as you are. “I wrote that song with Blake, just us two,” said Lambert of the 2012 CMA Song of the Year award winning song. “It’s one of the most emotional songs that I’ve ever recorded or written. We were talking about his [late] brother one night, and Blake was playing this real pretty melody, and we started writing this song. I said, ’You went away’, and Blake said, ’How dare you,' and we both started crying. I’d never cried writing a song before, and I probably won’t ever again. It was just a really intense moment between Blake and me as a couple, but also as artists. It was going to be kind of a love-gone-bad song, because that’s what I usually write about – but to be that close and write a song about something that important in his life was really emotional.”
But don’t fret – our Miranda hasn’t gone soft. After all, she’s on the road in 2013 with old friend Dierks Bentley for a tour called "Locked & Reloaded," and she promises it will be a run of “epic badassery." Likewise, current single “Mama’s Broken Heart” returns to the feisty, stereotype-torching chick we’ve all come to know and love. Wish I could be just a little less dramatic, she sings, Like a Kennedy when Camelot went down in flames / Leave it to me to be holdin' the matches / When the fire trucks show up and there’s nobody else to blame.
For the record, we’d expect no less.
Hi, I'm Taylor. I love the number 13. I was born in December on a Christmas tree farm. I like imagining what life was like hundreds of years ago. I have blurry eyesight. My favorite thing in life is writing about life, specifically the parts of life concerning love. Because, as far as I'm concerned, love is absolutely everything.
I'm easily excited, thrilled, scared, and shocked. I'm 22 now, but I never stopped jumping up and down when something wonderful happens. My biggest fear is getting bad news. Or, letting someone down. I really love showing people what I meant when I wrote a song, so my shows are very theatrical. I knock on wood constantly. I have a cat named Meredith. She's named after my favorite character on Grey's Anatomy, and she's fantastic. I live in Nashville, a magical land where 99% of the people are friendly and courteous drivers who let you in and don't honk at you.
I go into a trance when I'm in an antique store. I don't like it when something or someone turns out to be different than what you originally thought. Like when you're shopping and you find a really cute dress, only to realize it’s actually a strange jumpsuit situation. But I mostly don't like it when it happens with people. I love my friends and I'm always making new ones. I don't really think you can ever stop making new friends or learning about as many new things as possible. I also don't think you should ever take life so seriously that you forget to play.
Music has taken me all over the world, but the fans are the reason it's been so magical. I'm so blown away by how nice they are to me. It's strange to feel so understood by such a large group of people, but I love it. For the last two years, I've been working on an album called Red. I called it that because of the tumultuous, crazy adventures in love and loss that it chronicles. In my mind, when you experience love that's fast paced and out of control and mixes infatuation, jealousy, frustration, miscommunication, and all of those lovely emotions… In retrospect, it all looks red.
I can't wait for so many things. But mostly I can't wait to see you, whether it's in a crowd or a coffee shop. Thank you for listening, showing up, reading, and taking such good care of me.
Zac Brown Band
Atlanta GA | Country
Zac Brown Band may have ten hit singles, two platinum-selling records and countless dedicated fans, but to hear its members talk they're just getting warmed up. That's right—after numerous nights in front of packed arenas and amphitheaters, things are just beginning to come together for this accomplished band of brothers, led by one of the most charismatic individuals ever to don a beanie and dominate radio.
The band's latest album 'Uncaged' (Atlantic/Southern Ground) which debuted at #1 on Billboard 200 is proof positive. The result of a highly collaborative process, it's the sound of a group of versatile musicians gelling into a formidable unit and realizing they're capable of anything their fearless leader happens to dream up, from traditional country ("The Wind") to Caribbean rhythms ("Jump Right In") and even slinky bedroom R&B ("Overnight"). Running roughshod over genre boundaries, and bringing its audience along for the ride, its title is absolutely accurate—this is truly the sound of a band 'Uncaged'.
"I think that we've grown so much over the past few years as individual musicians and as a cohesive unit," observes drummer Chris Fryar. "As a band we have really grown together. And we play really, really well together. That increasing level of maturity really shows up on 'Uncaged.'"
"We're always trying to push the barrier of our musicianship and I'm proud to say that there is a little bit of something for everyone," adds Brown. "It's your basic country-Southern rock-bluegrass-reggae-jam record."
The addition of percussionist Daniel de los Reyes has helped the band move the groove along. His new bandmates describe de los Reyes—known for performing and recording with Stevie Nicks, Sting, Peter Frampton and Earth, Wind & Fire, among others—as a consummate professional. "It was really great to have him along," says guitarist/keyboardist Coy Bowles. "Danny's not going to be playing timbales over a bluegrass song. So if he needs to play a shaker all the way through a song, that's what he'll do. He knows when to be aggressive and when to lay back. I think the album has a real cool dynamic because of his sensitivity to all that."
Brown has built a virtual southern Brill Building of songwriting talent, while doing his best to reincarnate the '70s heyday of Capricorn Records through his Southern Ground Artists label, home to The Wood Brothers, Levy Lowrey, Nic Cowan, Sonia Leigh, Blackberry Smoke and The Wheeler Boys. But that's only part of the story. His Southern Ground banner flies over everything from metalworking to leather goods. In addition to housing offices and rehearsal space, the former industrial warehouse in Atlanta that serves as the company's headquarters also features a full kitchen for "Chef Rusty" Hamlin and his crew, the better to power those much-talked-about "eat and greets" that Brown, a former restaurant owner, hosts for lucky fans.
The most farsighted plans reach beyond the warehouse, to a plot of land south of Atlanta where plans proceed for a nonprofit camp aimed to help kids overcoming behavioral and learning disabilities and disadvantaged backgrounds. Simultaneously, Southern Ground has secured a studio in Nashville for future recording needs. At this point it's safe to say that the Zac Brown Band is more than an act—it's quickly becoming a way of life.
So given all of the creative energy around it, new material has never been a problem for Zac Brown Band. The band was originally built on the songwriting partnership of Zac Brown and Wyatt Durette. Since then the brain trust has expanded to encompass the artists on the label as well as members of the band. No matter how heavily the band is touring, something is always percolating.
So while there are ten credited songwriters on the 11 tracks composing 'Uncaged,' all are individuals within the band's social circle—no "guns for hire" here.
Unlike the band's prior outing, 'You Get What You Give' (Atlantic/Southern Ground), which grew out of songs that had already been in the band's live set before it entered the studio, 'Uncaged' was put together from brand new material. After booking some downtime, they all retreated to the Appalachian foothills near Dahlonega. "It had a very cleansing vibe to it," Fryar recalls. "You get really bad cell service there, which was great. There weren't any distractions. We were able to cut off the outside world and dig into what we wanted to say on this record."
They carried with them some 40 songs, none of which had been fleshed out or arranged for the band, and some of which weren't completely done. The goal of the retreat was to pull out and arrange the right 11 songs.
"It was an intensive workshop," notes bassist John Driskell Hopkins. "We hit the record button any time we had an idea worth keeping. Then we'd change things as we went. And we did that in a great place to build a campfire, cook some food, hang out and have some fellowship too. I'm amazed that we got so much done in just four or five days. "
Then, with producer Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson, George Jones) in tow, the band settled in at Echo Mountain Recording Studio in Asheville, N.C. to lay down basic tracks, then took a "working vacation" to Key West, to record vocals at Jimmy Buffett's Shrimpboat Sound. Additional overdubs took place in Atlanta and Nashville.
The result is the most expansive album Zac Brown Band has ever delivered, where the group's trademark vocal harmonies meet jaw-dropping musicianship in a musical world where genre boundaries are increasingly slippery.
But if you think that's going to mean reduced radio exposure and a shrinking audience, you don't know this band very well—or its audience. "A lot of other artists may choose to sit back and do the same record they did last time, because they don't want to lose those fans," Fryar observes. " But from our perspective, we think those fans deserve the best music we can make. If it's different from the past record that's OK, because it's the best we can do. And they deserve the best. They're paying our bills and feeding our families."
Asked whether the band still feels at home on country radio, Hopkins notes that country radio has grown and evolved just as the band has. "It's southern radio to me, and I don't think we're doing anything southern people wouldn't like."
"I love country radio because of the dedication they have given us," De Martini affirms. "When I talk to program directors they tell me they're happy to play it, but they really have no choice because the fans are crazy about calling in and requesting our music all the time."
The album's two featured guests, Amos Lee and Trombone Shorty, aren't Music Row signifiers in the same way Alan Jackson was on 'You Get What You Give,' but Brown says this doesn't mean the band is leaving country music behind. Far from it—lead single "The Wind" is "the most country thing we've ever done," he notes. There is no "master plan," he adds. "We were just getting our buddies to sing with us."
In many ways Zac Brown Band is an unlikely success story. Bands who cover so much territory tend to become critics' darlings, but not platinum sellers.
"The two things I think that make this band different from anybody else, and the reason why we're here today, is that everybody has an insane work ethic," Bowles observes. "Nobody complains. Everybody plays their asses off, everybody gets on the plane or bus even if they're not feeling well, and tries to do everything to the best of their ability, always. And Zac has this ability to make you believe what he's singing no matter what. So if we do an R&B tune or a reggae tune, he's totally believable. You believe he's lived 'Highway 20 Ride,' for example. His conviction comes through all those songs."
"One cool thing about Zac is that he loves to include everybody," De Martini adds. "He doesn't really have to have the Zac Brown Band. I think he would be successful just as Zac Brown. But the band adds a lot and takes it to another level. It's one big family with him."