HANGOUT FEST COMES FULL CIRCLE WITH RETURN OF INAUGURAL HEADLINERS ZAC BROWN BAND
Zac Brown Band was one of the headliners at the inaugural Hangout Music Fest in 2010. The band was riding an initial wave of commercial success at the time, but five years later, both the band and the festival are more reputable in both talent and popularity.
The Georgia-based group is currently on tour in support of their latest release “Jekyll+Hyde,” which includes an impressive collection of Southern-fried songs composed and produced by an impressive lineup of industry notables. Two dates into their latest tour, guitarist/songwriter Clay Cook explained the band’s excitement to return to Hangout and perform the new material as well as crowd favorites.
Centanni: How does it feel to be getting back to the beach and playing Hangout Fest?
Cook: Well, circumstances are slightly different from last time, four or five years ago. We’ve been trying to do it for the past couple of years and everything finally worked out. We’re very excited to be there.
Centanni: I don’t think I’m alone in saying this, but when Zac Brown Band broke out with “Chicken Fried,” I personally thought that it would be a one-hit-wonder kind of thing. Since then, I’ve been impressed not only with the music you continue to release but also the following that keeps growing. What do you think it is about Zac Brown Band that makes people of all walks embrace it?
Cook: There’s nothing artificial going on. It’s all very genuine. What you see on stage is what we’re doing. There are real musicians on stage and good singers. At the root of it all is good songs. That’s how you’re getting more than one hit out of the whole thing and getting on the radio. Zac’s got good taste himself. He’s good at putting things together in the right way, so people like it. Our live show is pretty exciting, and there’s plenty of improvisation going on at times. I feel like we treat our fans really well too. That’s how we’re staying employed. People come to see us play. So, why not treat them to the best. Then, there are times that I can’t believe that people are coming to see us play. We’re completely humbled and in awe of the whole thing.
Centanni: “Jekyll+Hyde” is doing really well. The new single “Heavy is the Head” is extremely popular right now, and y’all got Chris Cornell on it. Did he come to you, or did you go to him?
Cook: We went to him. The song was already halfway done, and somebody suggested that Chris be involved and just come sing the part. For somebody like Zac, it’s pretty easy for him to find an email address for somebody or a phone number. I think he emailed Chris and sent him the track and got him to test the waters. Chris was excited about it. That’s basically the story.
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Centanni: I’m a big fan of liner notes, and “Jekyll+Hyde” has some of the most interesting credits. The songwriting talent on that album is amazing. “Wildfire” is one you wrote with Zac, Wyatt Durrette, Eric Church and Liz Rose. What was it like for the four of you to bring that song together?
Cook: That particular song is the only one like it on the record. It was originally started by Wyatt and myself, and we thought we’d finished it with Liz Rose a year and a half ago. When we were amassing songs for the new record, Zac said, “I really like that song that y’all did, but I don’t think it’s quite there.” Ultimately he ended up using an instrumental section from an old Zac Brown Band song that wasn’t released on a major label. Then he added a piece of a bridge or verse or something he and Eric Church had written a year or so earlier. With alchemy, he just put it all together. It’s the only one that ended up like that. The rest of the album was a bunch of songs that came together over a week or so. That one took a very long time to fall down the stairs. Once it hit the basement floor, it was pieced together. We’re all very excited about the way that one came together, and it’s interesting how it did.
Centanni: Jason Isbell also wrote one “Dress Blues,” which you used on the album. How did it make it to “Jekyll+Hyde?”
Cook: That one is actually one of (Isbell’s) other releases. We’d all heard the song, and started playing it during our vocal warm-ups on tour last year. Two or three times into screwing around with it, we decided we would include it. We’re no strangers to putting covers on our records. We put a Ray LaMontagne cover (“Jolene”) on “The Foundation.” We came up with our own version of it, which is very close to his version. I don’t think he (Isbell) even knew, Zac might’ve not even asked permission. You don’t really have to ask permission, you just have to make sure that he (Isbell) gets paid. I think he texted him and said, “Hey, man, we’re gonna use ‘Dress Blues’ on our next record.”
Centanni: One of the most random things on the liner notes was that CeeLo Green produced “One Day.” What was it like working with him?
Cook: He was a lot of fun. He’s got a lot of soul in him. That song has been kicking around for a long time, complete with lyrics and melody. We never found the right groove for it. When CeeLo came into the studio, he put us in the right head space. He moved the furniture slightly in the song to the point that we were really excited with the outcome. It finally sounds right. We’ve been playing that song when we do an acoustic set sometimes — we’d been playing it for two years. What it ended up being is a lot more Marvin Gaye than Del McCoury. We were very pleased with the outcome on that one. He was so much fun to work with. It was cool to work with someone that we don’t see every day. We were with country people and rock people a lot. When you bring out a hip-hop/R&B guy, it’s a little bit out of our comfort zone. So, it was a lot of fun. He’s a great guy, too.
Centanni: What are you bringing to Hangout Fest this year?
Cook: As of this interview, we have two shows under our belt with this new tour and album. Our M.O. is just to play the new album and play some hits and use some improvising in there. Normally, we have to tailor our sets for festivals. With playing the album on this one, we don’t feel like we have to tailor our set. There’s something for everyone. We’re gonna play a majority of the record and play some hits that everyone knows and loves. We’re just trying to entertain people. That’s all we do. The fans are the ones that keep us employed, so we do whatever we can to keep them happy.
Band: Zac Brown Band
Date: Saturday, May 16 at 9 p.m.
Stage: Hangout Stage