“We’re getting about to the end of the writing part,” Van Zant tells Billboard.com, adding that what he’s hearing so far is very much in keeping with what Skynyrd has always done best. “If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. We write about things that we’ve done or things that have happened to people around us. It’s for the common people, people who have made this great country of ours. That’s what the heck I say we always write about.”
Van Zant is also hoping for a smoother and less dramatic recording process than “God & Guns,” which was several years in the making and marked by some band tragedies.
“Yeah, we had a weird time doing that record because we lost our bass player, Ean [cq] Evans, and (longtime keyboardist) Billy Powell at the same time,” he notes. “To pull that one off took all of our energy and our spirits and our beliefs and everything, so we’re hoping with this one we just have their spirits with us.”
Van Zant says Skynyrd has been mostly self-contained while coming up with the new material, though it has done some work with Tom Hambridge, the former Boston drummer who’s also collaborated with Buddy Guy, George Thorogood and Susan Tedeschi. “We usually do a lot of it ourselves and bring in a couple of friends whenever we think we need it, so it’s always a good time,” Van Zant says.
Scoping out an actual recording schedule is a bit more challenging, however. “It looks like we’re going to push it back to November because we’re gonna go out and do some more shows with ZZ (Top),” Van Zant says. “It’s a good year so far; everybody’s healthy and we’re getting a lot of work. So we’ll probably take to it in November and then probably take off the middle and latter half of December and come back in January and finish it off.”
Van Zant is not expecting the band to road test any of the new songs this summer. “We haven’t had a chance to work them up,” he says. “These are in early stages, all the songs. We’ve done demos on a few of them, but we’re just not prepared to take them out to play them live. Once we get back out before the record comes out next year, maybe we’ll be playing some, but not ’til then.”
Skynyrd is also looking forward to the fall opening of the Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ & Beer restaurant in Las Vegas’ Excalibur Hotel & Casino. The spot will be designed to look like Hell House, the backwoods shack in Jacksonville, Fla., where the band forged its sound during the late 60s, and will also feature memorabilia and Skynyrd artwork on the walls. The band will perform there several times each year as well.
“It’s been in the works for about a year now, and they just broke ground about a month ago,” Van Zant says. “It’s kind of between the Luxor and Excalibur, so it’s right here on the strip in a pretty good spot. We hope that when bands come through they’ll go and visit and it’ll be a place to hang out. It should be a cool thing.”