Last year’s “Best New Artist” GRAMMY winner, Zac Brown Band has earned three Number 1 country singles and a double platinum album in addition to their award milestone. While the band seems new, they’ve actually been performing and touring since 2002. It seems that “instant stardom” isn’t exactly that instant. This may explain why the band remains a humble group of guys that are really doing everything for the fans. Don’t take our word for it, though. Read on to see what violinist Jimmy DeMartini had to say about all of their success.
OS: The band always seems to try and promote family values along with your music. Why has this been so important for you?
JD: It might be a Georgia thing or a southern thing. When we go home, we want to get together with our families and hang out. We’re not the band out on the road doing drugs, hooking up with girls and stuff like that. Maybe it’s just that we’re a little older. That’s just the kind of lifestyle we live. We don’t necessarily promote it and say that’s how you should live, but that’s just who we are.
OS: Yeah, you guys actually have a family bus that comes out with you sometimes, right?
JD: Sure. My wife and my kid and our tour manager and our bass player—their wives and kids just came out for three days. They just went home. Every once and a while they get to come out too. It’s a good break for them from being at home and taking care of the kids and everything.
OS: Being the violin player—such a classic part of a traditional country band, how do you work your parts into ZBB songs?
JD: I don’t have a lot of country influence, because I actually didn’t listen to a lot of country music growing up. I listened to a lot of rock music. I’m more influenced by guitar players. I’ve been learning how to play bluegrass and country, but you can definitely tell the difference between me and a Nashville fiddle player. I’m more of a classical-style player. When I hear a song, I’ll just try and compliment the song. Sometimes, I’ll do a harmony with the guitar player. Sometimes, I’ll pluck the violin, so on the beach-y tunes it almost has a steel drum kind of sound. Whatever accent the song needs, I’ll try and put it in.
OS: It’s really been in the last few years that the band blew up. How did you guys respond to all of the success?
JD: We’ve always been a touring band. So we’re used to leaving home and going to play shows on the road. We used to travel around in a little airport shuttle bus. It used to be just 6 of us. Now we’ve got 47 or so people on the road, with 4 semi’s and 6 buses. You’re doing the same thing, but it’s just on a larger scale as far as touring. That’s something that you notice more than anything, because that’s basically our job. Everything else, like the interviews and the awards show—it’s all very new to us. We felt a little awkward walking down the red carpet and posing and stuff. I think it’s still weird for us to do that. We try to just stay true to the fans. We do certain things before each show—like sometimes we’ll eat dinner with 100 or so fans. We try to stay close to them. At the end of the night we try to sign for as many people as we can. It’s a little harder these days because there are a lot more people who want a picture or a signature. We’re dealing with it though. It’s not a bad problem to have.
OS: We have to talk about the GRAMMY award. What was it like being named the Best New Artist?
JD: That was pretty crazy. We were not expecting that. We were up against some good people. We thought for sure that a hip hop artist or something would win it. So we were completely surprised when we won it. We went up on stage and were like “Oh my god, this is crazy. We’re on TV winning Best New Artist”. It was pretty intense, but after everything settled we were just back to the same people we were. We just have a GRAMMY at home. Sometimes you have a title. People say the “GRAMMY Award-wining Zac Brown Band”. That’s pretty cool. We grew up watching the GRAMMY’s. You’re voted on by all of your musical peers. So, it did mean a lot to us in the respect that they like our music.
OS: How did the idea for the Sailing Southern Ground cruise come about?
JD: We’d been on a cruise before called “The Rock Boat”. It’s kind of a floating music festival. You get on the cruise ship and there are something like 15-20 bands, and there’s always music going on. There are like 6 stages, whether you’re up top, underneath the deck or in the club or something. We thought it would be a really great idea that, once we had enough fans where we could do our own boat, we would to do it.We’re the headlining, but we got to pick the other bands.We’re going to be doing different things. Some people in the band are doing guitar workshops. I’m actually doing an exercise boot camp, where fans get to exercise with me. It’s going to be cool. We’ll play all night long. We’ll set up in the middle of the bar, and play until 3AM sometimes. It’s just going to be fun.
OS: What are some of the other band members’ activities?
JD: Our drummer is doing a radio show over the speaker every morning, maybe a comedy act. Zac’s doing a cooking demonstration because he’s a big cook. Some guys are doing a “songwriter thing,” maybe karaoke. And I’m doing my workout thing. I’m big into stuff like that. While people are there, they’re going to hear plenty of music, but this way they can learn other aspects of the people in the band.
OS: The new album release date is next week. First of all, why the unique preorder bundle including a spice rub?
JD: It’s called the “Georgia Clay Rub”. It’s the spice rub that Zac came up with, and he’s also got a sauce that he bottles. He has some recipes that he’s taken from family recipes. He’s been cooking for a long time. He cooks for the band a lot. Anytime he has a big Thanksgiving dinner when he’s at home, and sometimes even on the road, he’ll cook it up for us. We do these things called “Eat and Greets” before every show where Zac and another chef cook up some of their family recipes as well. It’s another way for fans to see what else we do. You can order a CD and get a spice rub. The two things he loves are music and cooking and the band loves to eat. So it works out.
OS: Musically, how do you think this album will live up to the success that you had with The Foundation?
JD: Yeah, I think so. We didn’t necessarily have a direction. We just had a bunch of songs that we’d written over the past few years, and kind of chose from those what we think would sound the best. Everyone in the band has different influences between rock and jam bands and jazz and all different styles of country. So, the songs tend to have a different flavor than just country, even though we’re pegged as a “country band” because we’re always on country radio stations. Some of the songs have a “beach-y” feel, and some are more jam band. There are definitely some country radio singles on there. We put everything on this record—there are 14 studio tracks. So, it’s a big one.
All these songs just start on a bus, sitting around writing them. We take them onstage and try them out in front of 10,000 people. Then it becomes part of our setlist. So, by the time we get in the studio, we all know how to play our parts. This is the first album that we’ve ever had people anticipating. When the first record came out, no one knew who we were. It will be interesting to see everybody’s take on it. We have a lot of faith that everyone will enjoy it, especially the fans. So I’m excited to see their response.
Zac Brown Band’s latest album You Get What You Give will drop next Tuesday. They just finished up the Sailing Southern Ground cruise last week so check out some of their “mainland” dates:
9/16- OKC Zoo Amphitheatre, Oklahoma City, OK
9/17- City Bank Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
9/18- Hard Rock Casino Presents The Pavilion, Albuquerque, NM
9/19- Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver, CO
9/23- Lawlor Events Center, Ren, NV
9/24- Save Mart Center, Fresno, CA
9/25- Cricket Wireless Pavilion, Phoenix, AZ
9/26- Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Irvine, CA