Zac Brown Reveals Diplo & Skrillex-Influenced Dance-Pop Project Sir Rosevelt: Interview

Andy Sapp
Zac Brown of Zac Brown Band photographed in 2014.

"I’m sick of being in a bucket."

Country star Zac Brown dropped a surprise on fans this morning: three tracks by new project Sir Rosevelt, a trio featuring with Niko Moon and Ben Simonetti that combines southern pop with dance grooves. 

Partly inspired by watching artists like Jack U, the dance music super pairing that unites Skrillex and Diplo, Brown says he has found an outlet to explore styles and sounds that go beyond the roots foundation that multi-platinum Zac Brown Band -- which, he reassures, isn't going anywhere and in fact has a new album on the way --  is known for.  

In his first interview on Sir Rosevelt, Brown explains the origins of the trio, how the band fits into his musical pantheon and why he is excited to stretch beyond the country bucket.

When you have played Sir Rosevelt for people do they know it’s you?

Some people do, some people don’t. It’s fun, we get to explore all the other influences that we like and I think it’s just got a lot more international appeal. It’s not shoved in a bucket like country music is.

 

 

Is there a song that defined the sound of this record early on?

When we started creating it we got the first few tunes done and we were literally dancing around the bus excited about it. We just kept going and going and evolving, getting better at it as time went on. And the songs were better too. Then when we had a few people that came on the bus and heard it they were like, “Whoa.” So it’s been very reactive, people liked it a lot. I played it in all different walks of life. I played it for my super hick buddies I go camping with and [they] were straight white people dancing to it.

Are there artists that you admire in the way they have evolved?

We started listening to Jack U, Diplo and Skrillex, and I love listening to that music. So both of those guys and their production styles, I can definitely say the more EDM style was influenced by them and Avicii, DJ Snake, Calvin Harris, people that are a little more open with sounds and borrow from different vocalists. There are three of us that sing in Sir Rosevelt, so it allows us to come from different angles on the vocals. We’ll be able to play a residency in Vegas and we’ll be able to do late-night TV, we’ll be able to play with a big band as well. There are really no rules for it. We had kind of an absurd song on the record called “Robert Baker,” and that might end up being one of the most popular songs because there are no rules to it. Curiosity as artists leads us to different things and different places and I think this will go a lot of places ZBB hasn’t gone.

Are there songs you’re excited to play live?

“Sunday Finest,” we just shot the video for that, it’s going to be really amazing. The image campaign for Sir Rosevelt and all that stuff, it’s just different. Sir Rosevelt is a little more of a persona and we dress up, three-piece Tom Ford suits and it’s a little more refined visually. I want our stage performance to be art as well, so you’re entertained by the music and helping make people dance. But you’re also intrigued and what you’re looking at is very interesting, the fact we can perform and sing live is going to be a big strength compared to a normal DJ.

Are there artists that have really inspired the visual and stage show?

Absolutely, the people like David Gilmore, Pink Floyd, that there was this art that was happening with the build in the live performance of the show, David Byrne and Talking Heads. Visually a lot of the electronic artists have really interesting video and interesting things like that. We want to bring something really fresh to the table for what accompanies our live performance. We’re definitely gonna have dancers and have that energy onstage. And there are gonna be props as well, they’ll be part of the art.

Do you think fans will be accepting of the style switch?

We’re still gonna make the down the middle music that’s Zac Brown Band. When we cover a Chainsmokers song in our live show with ZBB people are dancing and going crazy. I think it’s up to us to make sure what we’re doing has that mojo in it that makes people feel something, regardless of their background. Some people are gonna hate anything, they’re gonna hate when anybody tries to go or do anything and that’s usually the people who don’t ever create anything themselves.

Does having both projects stimulate you more musically?

Absolutely, it was necessary because after I played 90 something shows last year I was really burnt playing the majority of the same songs every night. This gave me a feeling like I had the first time I ever had a band and we were in a garage playing music together, the first time two or three instruments lock together and people start singing. There’s no fluff on the Sir Rosevelt record. They’re all really good in different veins, different colors and stories. You’re having a party, put this record on.

What do you take from this record and what did you learn from it?

It’s definitely looking at a timeline when we go back and listen to where we started and the stuff that we were excited about really early on are kind of our least favorite now. I feel like reflectively when we look back that there’s a lot more to come, that we can do a lot more and develop this live show. Just for example, the video we made for “Sunday’s Finest” is the greatest music video that I’ve ever made. We’ll be somewhere between a DJ and a live band and I think we do both of those things well.

Will we ever see ZBB and Sir Rosevelt share a bill?

Yeah, absolutely, and also we’ve paid for all that production with Zac Brown Band, it’d be easy for Sir Rosevelt to play the after party because somebody is gonna go drink somewhere anyway.

Who would be the dream artists to do remixes off this album?

Definitely Sonny, I’d love have Skrillex on this stuff. I’ve already hit Diplo up about it, I’ve been waiting to hear back from him. Drake would be another guy we’d love to work with one day and then DJ Snake, Calvin Harris, there are just a bunch of them that make legitimate music like that.

What is the timeline for when people will hear this?

Well, pretty soon. First we’re gonna announce the new Zac Brown Band record that’s coming because I don’t want anybody to be running around scared that I’ve quit my band. So this is just another brand that’s exploring a different sound and music, a lot more world-type stuff too. You can’t really take Zac Brown Band and go play Germany and Switzerland because when we’re forced to be called something, which people generally call us a country band, it closes the doors in some places. Even though our touring is unrivaled and we’ve been extremely blessed in those categories this won’t have that kind of stigma to it. It’s hard to crossover once some people coin you as something, so it would take a different persona like this for us to get a fresh look in other areas.

Is this a way to make a fresh start out of the country world as a musician and personality?

Yeah, and this is the outlet I get to do that because we’re criticized and given one-star reviews now for people saying this isn’t country. Well, we had to pick one category on iTunes to release our record, we had to pick country. So people got our last record, would listen to “Heavy Is The Head,” the song we did with Chris Cornell. They would listen to that record, say, “This isn’t country, one star.” Its either good or it’s not, I’m sick of being in a bucket, here’s Sir Rosevelt.

Where would be the ultimate party to play this and the scenario with which you are doing it?

Coachella, a lot of the big festivals, Bonnaroo. We want to do it with some ZBB shows. After it gets established and people know what it is ZBB can finish playing at 10:30, 11 and Sir Roosevelt would go on from 11:30 to 1:30 and we get to use all the big toys, all the big production and speakers and our crowd. The live show needs to be bonkers and fun and beautiful. This will bring people that would never even give Zac Brown Band a chance, never even open the door to it. We’re going straight back to our roots with this next Zac Brown Band record, straight back to the foundation of where we started with that and then Sir Rosevelt is gonna come out. It’s gonna be interesting to see but I don’t see any of our fans that love what we do not loving Sir Rosevelt. They’re not losing Zac Brown Band, they’re gaining Sir Rosevelt.