Since Zac Brown Band hit the road on their first big tour in 2011, the country group hasn’t really stopped touring. And though they’re continuing their 2018 Down the Rabbit Hole Live Tour into the spring this year, Zac Brown Band has already made more touring plans, hitting 36 cities around North America on The Owl Tour, which kicks off May 25 in Indianapolis.
Though the band hasn’t announced a release date or title for their forthcoming album, the tour announcement comes as ZBB puts the finishing touches on their next LP, which they teased with the vulnerable lead single “Someone I Used to Know.” The song introduces a new sound for Zac Brown Band, incorporating dance-inspired production as the group continues to push the boundaries of their Americana roots.
The Zac Brown Band (Brown, Jimmy De Martini, John Driskell Hopkins, Coy Bowles, Clay Cook, Chris Fryar, Daniel De Los Reyes and Matt Mangano) sat down with Billboard ahead of their free Pandora Live show Thursday night during Super Bowl weekend. in Atlanta. The group detailed the exciting new additions they have in store for The Owl Tour, getting personal on this next album, and how they are moving into their most exploratory period yet.
How is The Owl Tour going to be different from the Down the Rabbit Hole trek you’re wrapping just before going out for the summer?
Zac Brown: It’s a totally different show. The presentation, the songs, the whole approach, everything. You’re going to get two completely different shows. You won’t feel like you saw the same thing.
Where did this owl symbolism come from?
Brown: Owls are one of the mythical kind of creatures — we even had one at a photo shoot, and just being next to one and seeing one, they just seem otherworldly to me. They’re just like a magical thing, symbolizing wisdom and foreshadowing. But I have kind of a kinship to them. I don’t know what it is, I’m just really drawn to them. I’ve got three owls tattooed on me, actually.
Coy Bowles: I have an owl on my arm right here that says my mother’s favorite saying, which is “Love it while it lasts,” so that’s kind of what it means to me. I had this crazy experience, my mother got sick and had a surgery that went wrong, and she was in a coma for a while. The first night we left the hospital at like 3 in the morning, we’re driving through this empty parking lot and this owl swoops down in front of our truck and sits in the tree right in front of us. She ended up coming out on the better side of things, so I have this super-freaky relationship with owls — this foreshadowing thing and being a protector.
Another thing that’s making this tour different is that you’ll have a new album to play. What made you feel like “Someone I Used to Know” was a good introduction to this next record?
Brown: That song is really personal to me. I had an awakening last year and just wanted to dedicate my time to all the things that really add value to my life and analyze the things that didn’t. It’s a song born out of strength and born out of being something better than you were; getting to reinvent yourself. That’s something we all can relate to and some people can hopefully use.
Is the rest of the album going to be that personal?
Brown: There’s some really personal songs on the record and some other ones that are pretty heavy. Then there’s some other ones that aren’t. There’s some songs that are so personal and so real that some of them I couldn’t even imagine having to play six months ago when we were writing them. There’s some songs that we wrote and perform that still just tear me up.
Clay Cook: You go into robot mode, not thinking about what you’re saying [when you’re performing them].
Brown: Think about baseball. [Group laughs.]
Bowles: We haven’t played “Song for a Daughter” since I’ve had kids. I’m just waiting for the day that I’m in a puddle of my own tears because of what’s in the song about daughters.
Brown: He’d be ugly-crying during the show.
Bowles: There’s another song we wrote about a buddy that passed away, “Lance’s Song” [from 2012’s Uncaged]. Every time we would play that song, we reflect on that. It’s this really interesting thing — you do this stuff for so long, it’s kind of hard to gain perspective of what your music does to other people. But then you remember back to what music did for you. I’ve had moments that were kind of make or break for me, and then music is what pulls you through to the other side. “Someone I Used to Know” has that potential. That was the idea behind it: Here’s me sharing my adventure of moving forward — if you’re feeling this way, grab hold and do the same.
You’ve only performed “Someone I Used to Know” on The Tonight Show so far, but was it a tough song to sing live because of how personal it is?
Brown: That song’s not as much of a super-emotional impact like the other ones are. I’m excited to share it and look forward to playing it in the show. Getting to play it on Fallon was fun. And it’s got a danceable groove to it, a little bit of modern pop element to it as well. We try to walk that line a little bit.
With the more electronic-driven sound, are you starting to shift Zac Brown Band into more of a pop sphere?
Brown: I’d rather not have a label at all. This is going to be a really good exploratory record — there’s a lot of rhythmic elements added to what we would normally play onstage, and then there’s going to be stuff that’s really stripped-down and real. It’ll be a good mixture of everything.
We’re working with some of the best pop producers ever on this album, and it’s going to have their influence on it. There’s a lot of diversity on this album, as there is on all of our records — with the exception of [2017’s] Welcome Home. We kind of went back to more acoustic [style on that album], but this album’s not that. This one is more exploratory in different ways, but still has stuff that’s down the middle.
How do you see these new songs coming to life onstage?
Brown: A lot of these songs are going to be really fun to play and fun to perform because they’re interactive. A lot of them have callbacks where the audience can sing back with us, and some of these were written to play in stadiums and big venues.
Matt Mangano: I would say if you’re going to see a show on this [summer] tour, see two: One in the beginning and one near the end. Because sometimes songs do take the entire tour to evolve.
Cook: They start out badass and then they end super badass, is what he’s trying to say.
You guys dedicate an entire section to cover songs on the Down the Rabbit Hole Tour — is there a song you’d like to cover on the summer tour?
Bowles: We just did this thing with Shawn Mendes not too long ago [CMT’s Crossroads] and we did [Mendes’ song] “In My Blood.” There was a certain kind of energy where we connected, his band and our band, but I sat down and listened to that recording and I had this idea: What if we were to take that tune and do it the way we do it? It connects with a younger generation, but we still are doing our thing to it. I think it could be a massively gigantic pop-rock song, because it has that pop sensibility but we just crank up the nitros on it and catch it on fire. It could be really cool.
Anything else you want to shout out about The Owl Tour?
Brown: I’m excited about the production. A lot of the video content, and the lighting, and the effects for the summer tour is going to be big, it’s going to feel really big. It’s going to be exciting to play, and it’s going to be really special. A lot of talented people have put themselves into the presentation of this show to really launch the album and show where we’re headed.
What if an owl shows up at one of the shows?
Brown: They will.