Most of you are familiar with Zac Brown Band because of their smash-hit, “Chicken Fried.” That’s okay, I am too.
After releasing their debut single, Zac Brown Band quickly became one of the most highly-acclaimed country acts in recent memory.
I’ve seen them play at Alpine Valley, where they whipped out neon-skeleton suits during an epic encore performance.
I’ve seen them play at Summer Camp Music Festival, where they covered “Times Like These” by Foo Fighters and “Killing In The Name Of” by Rage Against The Machine.
Hell, I’ve even seen them perform right here in Chicago for a jam-packed Wrigley Field.
Zac Brown Band has never ceased to fascinate me. Even though my passion for “country” has declined over the last few years, my obsession for this band has only blossomed.
Unlike me, my sister Brittany only became more enthralled by country music as she got older. Now, she’s the producer of a country radio show for The Highway on Sirius XM.
Being the wonderful older sister that she is, Brittany will email me from time-to-time with news leads, interesting story ideas, or just positive feedback on one of my blog posts. Her show, “Storme In The Morning,” is hosted by nationally-followed radio personality, Storme Warren.
Hence the name.
Coincidentally, Brittany emailed me last week because Storme had interviewed Zac Brown on their show that morning. Zac discussed everything from the band’s ridiculous growth to the beach in Australia that inspired him to write their Grammy Award-winning single, “Free.”
Of course, that’s not why Brittany emailed me though.
[quote_right]”I’ve always felt like if the normal genre was a house we were kind of out in the yard running around. And now, were in the other town.” – Zac Brown on ‘Storme In The Morning’ [/quote_right]
During the interview, Zac Brown also talked about the band’s mysterious new album, Jekyll + Hyde. He admits that their fourth studio album will not just leak into rock and alternative, but electronic as well.
Believe it or not, the album will have a couple electronic-influenced tracks in it.
“There’s some great country songs on there, some great story songs. But that’s why it’s called Jekyll + Hyde,” Brown told Storme on The Highway last week. “There’s two songs that have some electronic kinda-fused with the organic music.”
This past January, the band announced the completion of a four-way strategic partnership for the release of Jekyll + Hyde.
To pull off this outrageous concept – Zac Brown hired Big Machine Label Group to run marketing and distribution, Southern Ground Artists to run radio promotion, Republic to run international promotion, and John Varvatos to oversee branding and styling.
That’s correct, Zac Brown hired designer John Varvatos to be the brand master of their upcoming album.
As you might have assumed, this evident clashing of styles and influences gave birth to the album’s title, Jekyll and Hyde.
However, this trend of mixing basslines with a banjo isn’t an entirely new concept.
Do you remember that guy named Avicii? Yeah, me too. Through his smash-hit single with Aloe Blacc (“Wake Me Up”), Avicii introduced the world to EDM’s first official folk-infused project: True.
Some praised the album, calling it a breakthrough and a masterpiece.
Others criticized it, calling it a sprawling hodgepodge of confused influence.
Nonetheless, this trend of mixing genres has taken place on every form of mainstream music over the past few years.
When Kanye West finally reveals ‘So Help Me God,’ Paul McCartney’s presence in the album will only support the notion that music is out-growing the concept of genres. And when Zac Brown Band releases Jekyll + Hyde on April 28th, the definition of genres will be even more blurry than it already is.
This unconventional thinking is rare in today’s music industry, especially in country music. And whether or not Zac Brown is capable of pulling off this risky experiment remains to be seen.
Until then, we won’t know for sure if the world will love Zac Brown’s electronic side. But when you do judge the album for yourself, keep this in mind.
When you heard “Chicken Fried” for the first time, there’s something you didn’t know.
After first creating the song in 2005, The Lost Trailers asked Zac Brown if they could cover the song on their new album. Zac agreed.
In the Nashville episode of HBO’s Sonic Highways, Brown explained the drama that would follow:
“We had this song Chicken Fried, we put it on a CD in ’05. This band, The Lost Trailers had called and said “We want to record Chicken Fried.” I was like “Well, I don’t have a problem with you recording the song, but this is our song. As long as you don’t release it to radio, if you want to have it on your record, I’m fine with that.”
Well, you can probably guess what happens next.
The Lost Trailers got a record deal with Sony through one of the most powerful men in Nashville, Joe Galante. The band then released the song as a single, which Zac Brown only found out about because he heard on the radio.
So he called his lawyers and demanded it be taken off. They advised him against doing so, as it would essentially ‘blackball’ him from Nashville. But Brown insisted, and they issued a cease-and-desist.
Just over a year after Zac Brown told the most powerful man in Music City to fuck off, the band re-recorded the track and released it as their debut single.
One year later, they won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.
As of July, 2014, “Chicken Fried” has sold 4,231,000 copies – just the sixth country song ever to reach this mark.
If Zac Brown can pull that off, I’m pretty damn sure he can pull off Jekyll + Hyde.
(Featured photo courtesy of George Norkus)