Making Genre-Defying Music With Zac Brown Band
Guitarist Coy Bowles talks rocking out at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, crafting dynamic melodies, and giving back to the next generation of creatives.
Zac Brown Band
Photo by Diego Pernía
Zac Brown Band is legendary. Since 2002, the southern rock group has toured stages across the nation, capturing audiences with powerful tunes defined by strong instrumentals that flow like water and hit like thunder. Over the course of its five-album history, the longstanding band has made a name for itself with genre-defying music that walks the line between sweet country in “Chicken Fried,” gritty rock in “Heavy Is the Head,” and moving ballads in “Colder Weather.”
Now, in 2019, the band evolves yet again with The Owl, its sixth album. Set for release on September 20, the 11-track record finds a balance between the group’s country sensibilities and danceable, pop-driven melodies. With co-producers like Zac Brown, Jason “Poo Bear” Boyd, Andrew DeRoberts, and Ryan Tedder, the album refuses to be locked into any one genre. As it hops from country classics like “Leaving Love Behind” to heart-wrenching lyrics in “Warrior,” it slips in danceable beats via tracks like “The Woods.”
To celebrate the album’s debut, Zac Brown Band hits the road on The Owl Tour through summer and fall. Before the band makes a pitstop at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on August 30, we caught up with guitarist Coy Bowles, who’s been with the band since 2007, to learn more about the album, the music, and how ZBB keeps things fresh.
Congrats on the new album and the tour! Have you played at SPAC before?
Coy Bowles: We played there a bunch of times. I don’t usually stray away from the venues that much, but in Saratoga I make time to walk around and go to the soaking tubs right up the street, which are super awesome to me.
What’s on the song list for the August 30 show?
CB: The last couple months or so, we’ve been playing songs from the new album, and the crowd seems to really enjoy it. It’s fun to play new stuff.
How does the new album compare sound-wise to past ones?
CB: I think one of the things that’s really interesting is we have a country music fan base. [Country music] can be thought of as a traditional style of music, but we’re a push-the-envelope kind of band. We walk the line between being really simple and wanting to take [listeners] on a ride with us. We did a good job with that.
Is it nerve-wracking to break out of the country comfort zone?
CB: The biggest struggle we have is the more experimental we get, the more our fans could be turned off. We did a good job of giving our traditional country fan base enough songs to keep them interested while remaining true to our journey. We’re always trying to push the boundaries and see what we’re capable of doing. There are many bands that can’t cross as many genres [as us].
How would you describe “The Owl” for new listeners?
CB: On this album, we toyed around with pop sensibilities a bit more in a really cool way. My favorite part about any kind of pop sound is the melodies are really catchy. I’m a sucker for ear candy melodies, and I think there are a lot of strong hooks.
As a musician, what are your favorite ZBB songs to perform?
CB: “Goodbye in Her Eyes” has always been a song I love to perform. My guitar part is really simple, and the band has this sound that’s pretty amazing. That and “Colder Weather.” The piano part hits and the crowd always has this kind of reaction.
“The Woods,” right now that’s probably my favorite song. When I see that song coming up, I get more stoked. It’s super energetic with the beats per minute and the way the groove feels. Every once in a while, you hit the right beat and you can’t help but tap your toes. I enjoy dancing while I’m on stage, and it reminds me of something I would have danced to when I was a kid. I have young kids now and we dance pretty hard to it.
When you’re not songwriting and touring, you also write children’s books. How did you get into that?
CB: The older I got, I started realizing as an adult you’re either part of the problem or you’re part of the solution. I thought the universe was giving me a lot more than I was giving it back. I had deep conversations with people like Zac [Brown]. Zac is a very giving person and has always been giving with camps and his military commitments. He’s been someone who’s guided me on the process of what giving back is all about.
[Writing] is my way of giving back to the world. There’s a lot of stuff that kids need right now, and our education system could use love and attention. [My books] allow teachers and parents to connect with kids about issues that are relevant. I really want to have this creative spark that gets put into classrooms or homes to allow kids to share creativity and ask questions.
I think teachers could use all the love and support they could possibly get. From kindergarten to the last day of high school, you spend more time with teachers than anyone else. These people mold our futures. They make a difference on a daily basis. One of my goals in life is to get in front of as many teachers as I can and learn about why they’re in the classroom in the first place.
Coming up, what’s on the horizon for you and Zac Brown Band?
CB: We’ll be supporting the new album as it comes out, and I’m always quietly writing music in the background. It’s a forever ongoing part of my life.
As far as education, I’m working on a social-emotional kit with Lakeshore Learning based around Behind the Little Red Door (his latest book). One of my best friends, Carlos Sosa, who plays with Jason Mraz and Kelly Clarkson, and I wrote a children’s album called Music for Tiny Humans. I’m super stoked about it. It sounds like stuff that would be in a Disney movie.
Zac Brown Band takes the stage at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on August 30 with special guests Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.