Although Zac Brown Band burst on the music scene with the release of its major label debut, The Foundation, in 2008, the band's roots are laid much deeper. The band's leader and namesake, Zac Brown, started playing guitar and touring as a solo artist nearly 15 years ago, developing his songwriting and assembling his ideal band over an extended period of time.
According to drummer Chris Fryar, "We all filtered in over time and I think that's why it works so well. We didn't just say 'Hey, let's make this band!' It's really a result of Zac's vision and ambition. We've all come together out of a common vision and purpose and we all do it because we love it."
Fryar was actually one of the last members to join the group, entering the band in March of 2008. When he joined, however, he didn't know what was in store. The Foundation had been released independently in 2006 and Fryar got the call when a mutual friend who had played with Brown previously put the two in contact with each other. Fryar laughed when recalling the call he got offering him the opportunity to join the group.
"When Zac invited me to join the band, he said 'We really, really like you and would like you to join the group' and I only had two questions for him. I asked him 'Do you think you can keep me busy? Because I like to work a lot' and 'Do you think you can pay me a little something so I can pay my bills?' Zac said 'Yeah, I think we can do that...' and I was in."
"At the time I was asked, I had no idea that contract negotiations were going on with another label or anything else. I just knew it was a good band and people I wanted to play with," he said. "It was just a matter of finding the exact right situation at the exact right time."
Once The Foundation was released via Atlantic Records to widespread distribution, the band's fan base grew exponentially as country radio embraced the group and the band's hard touring exposed it to an even broader audience.
Although the band has definite country roots, however, it's not strictly a country band. Elements of country, bluegrass, island and rock all intertwine, giving the band a broad appeal that connects with not only country fans, but rock and jam band fans as well.
Live It Up.
"Obviously, country radio has been fantastic to us," Fryar said. "It's amazing how we've connected there and for that we're forever indebted and grateful, but to pigeonhole us as country is not necessarily accurate. Everyone in the band has different backgrounds and different musical influences and we allow that all to come in and color the music."
As popular as The Foundation proved to be, the 2010 release of You Get What You Give proved to be an even stronger album, showing a growth in the songwriting and musicianship of the band and debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard album charts.
According to Fryar, "I think there's just a level of maturity that wasn't present yet in the songwriting and musicianship on The Foundation. Don't' get me wrong, Zac wrote some fantastic songs for that record, but I think you can see a progression and growth collectively, as a band, on the two records."
As popular as the albums and singles have been, however, that band's reputation has really been built around great musicianship and a stellar live show. When asked about the difference, Fryar said "We're definitely a touring band. We live to play -- that's who we are."
The band seems to put forth an extra effort in everything it does, especially when it's on the road. One example of that is the "Eat and Greet" sessions it holds with its fan club members in each city. When asked about this twist on the "Meet and greet", Fryar explained that it's something that Brown himself thought of and figured out how to implement.
"Years ago, Zac owned a little restaurant in Georgia, on the side of a lake," Fryar said. "He still loves to cook and entertain. After so many meet and greets where the fans were shuffled in and out to shake and take a picture, we realized if this isn't fun for us, it can't be good with the fans either. Zac said, 'Wouldn't it be nice to be able to not worry about this, but just do a dinner and sit and enjoy and talk?' So he made it happen."
Now, the band travels with a 53 foot semi trailer that has been converted into a state of the art kitchen and although the band hasn't been able to use it at festivals, they do utilize it for as many shows as possible, usually doing a dinner for between 150 and 200 fans and fan club members at each tour stop. Instead of taking pictures and signing autographs, the band serves up a nice meal and sits with its fans, shaking hands and chatting on a more comfortable atmosphere.
"It's a lot of fun for us," Fryar said. "It's also a lot of work, but it's all about giving back to the fans. Our fans are so dedicated; we like to do something to give back to them. It kind of goes along with the album title: You Get What You Give."
With the current tour getting ready to come to a close, Zac Brown Band arrives in Tulsa this Friday night, Nov. 11, for a show at BOK Center with Sonia Leigh and Nic Cowan (both of which are signed to Brown's record label, Southern Ground). Beyond just a great country show, it's an opportunity to see a group that has been building a reputation as one of the best live bands on the road right now.
When asked what he thinks sets the band apart from other touring acts right now, Fryar said "For us, I think it's that we try not to ever be afraid to try something new.
"This truly is a collective and I think that contributes to our success. Granted, it wouldn't be possible without Zac's visionary ambition. He's our fearless leader."
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