Getting to know Zane Wlliams
There are musicians in the scene that just seem to “get it”, they write great songs from an authentic place, they foster great relationships with their fans, and they understand that there is a balance between their art and the business side of things. Zane Williams is definitely one of those guys. His songs have been garnering a lot of attention lately, and with good reason. He writes songs that many can relate to, and that capture the spirit of the regular every day person. The songs aren’t trying to be flashy or trendy just for the sake of being hip and cool, they are just simple down to earth tunes. Williams’ latest album, Snapshots just came out in January, and he talked with us a bit about that and other things going on in his world.
“It’s a compilation of my last five albums. We made it to just kind of make it easy for people to discover my music,” explained Williams. “Five albums can be a little overwhelming and what we do at a live show is kind of a combination of all five you know. So Snapshots is sort of all of my most popular songs, the ones that have been radio singles and the ones that we do at the live show all in one disc.”
Putting together a collection of his favorite and most popular songs is a great move on Williams’ part, and does give new fans a good place to start discovering his music in a simple and easy way. Williams has been playing music for a long time, and knows that a music career can be a tough gig.
“I would say the most challenging part of all this would be balancing career and family,” explained Williams. “I’m a guy that was lucky enough to be born into a great family and family has always meant a lot to me, and still means the most to me with my wife and my two kids, so trying to make sure I’m a good husband and a good father and then at the same time do music, which you know music is so competitive and so hard to break through. It takes so much of you that It’s hard to have enough left to you know to be a good husband and dad too, but for now we’re doing pretty well with that. The rhythm that we have is that I tour a lot Thursday, Friday and Saturday and then I’m home Sunday through Wednesday take my kid to tae kwon do and take him to school every morning and right now the balance is pretty good. It definitely involves passing up some opportunities here and there, I wouldn’t want to go out on the road for 6 months, even if it was some big huge opportunity, I would rather just keep doing it the way I’ve been doing it, just little 3-4 day tours and 3-4 days home.”
Williams also understands the need to have a balance between trying to maintain authenticity and creativity in songwriting and also remember that it is a business and livelihood as well.
“There is somewhat of a balance there, sometimes you get lucky and you write a song from the heart that happens to also be a hit. For me for the most part I just write the kind of music that I like. I write it all, all the songs on all my albums are all songs that I wrote. A lot of them are about my own life, some of them are more me just writing a general country song, kind of playing a role I guess a little bit, but they all definitely come from an authentic place and I do kind of pride myself on tapping into that authenticity,” said Williams. “Basically the more commercial side of things comes from the fact that I honestly do like songs that have a hooky chorus that you can sing along to, that’s really what I like. My favorite songs have that and so that’s what I try to write. I think if I do my job well it will be a commercial song that lots of people can relate to that radio will play. Other than that you can also strike that balance just through quantity, like I’ve got basically 20 songs that I’ve written since my last album, and we’re only going to put 10-12 on the next album so that gives me a chance to sort of weed through and pick what I feel like what my audience will like the best and which ones radio will like the best. I like them all and they are all authentic, but I get to pick which ones make the best product really.”
The music business can be tricky sometimes and Williams fully understands that. There is definitely a way to be both successful and maintain authenticity in songs.
“I really think that all the best artists, across genres, all those artists that just have respect and credibility but also commercial success; I think about Bruce Springsteen and the Beatles or Tom Petty. In country music, you know Merle Haggard just passed away and obviously he was a huge success, but everybody also says how great he was and how much they loved his songs and they really stood the test of time and really for me that’s kind of the gold standard that you hold yourself to is that ability to write a great song that is hooky and catchy and also from the heart, like Mama Tried,” explained Williams.
Williams was happy to explain his songwriting process as well.
“The song ideas generally just come to me here and there and everywhere, and then I write a lot while I’m just doing something else; like driving down the road, or mowing the yard or going for a walk, washing dishes, all those activities that keep your hands busy but let your mind wander. That’s when I do a lot of my writing,” said Williams. “Between touring on the road and being home and being a dad and also just handling all the different aspects of my business as an independent artist, I wear so many different hats and I have so many different responsibilities that I honestly don’t have a time any more that is just set aside to write songs. I used to do that up in Nashville for a while when I was just a song writer, but these days I don’t have that luxury anymore so I mainly just when inspiration strikes, I just have this song running through my head as I’m doing other things. My wife can always tell, she’ll say something to me and I don’t really respond and I have this far away look in my eyes and I’m kind of taping my toe and she’ll say “you’re writing a song aren’t you?” and I’m like “oh, yeah, sorry.” But I just kind of do it in my head while other stuff is going on. You aren’t under so much pressure that way. I’ve done the other way you know its 10am on a Tuesday and I’m going to sit down with this other person and we’re just going to crank out a song. You know, in my experience, you do that and doing it that way, 4 times out of 5 you are beating your head on a wall, you don’t get anything, and then one time out of five someone will pop out with a magically idea that you are off and running and you get a good song and inspiration really does just strike. But for me those style of songs that I write and the way I do it, it’s easier to do it while I’m doing something else and also just do it by myself, and there’s not quite so much pressure. I just kind of feel like some certain line- I know there’s a better line than what I’ve got, I don’t know what it is, but I’ll think of it someday. But if I don’t think of it right now I’ll think of it tomorrow or the next day or whenever, you know? I write songs over time without any particular rush, just kind of keep polishing it like a rock bouncing around in my head. Just keep polishing it until I’m happy with it.”
Speaking of all the different hats Williams has to wear, he also understands that it takes not only musical talent and songwriting abilities to make it in the scene, but it also takes a great business sense and public relations experience.
“These days it takes all of those things to be a musician. In general you can’t get by, at least not a guy like me doing the independent thing, you can’t get by anymore on just ‘oh I’ve got a great voice I’m just going to go ride in a tour bus and people will adore me’. I’m setting up and tearing down merch, and I’m hiring a band and a tour manager and dealing with inventory and spreadsheets and conversations with my booking agent and manager on strategies and how much we should spend on Facebook ads and blah blah blah blah,” said Williams.
Williams and his crew stay busy though, and are hitting the road hard to try to get his name and music out there to as many places and people as possible.
“We make our living on the road so we don’t hardly take any time off. We don’t play in Oklahoma as much as we like to, we definitely are trying to play Oklahoma more,” said Williams. “We’re doing Lonestar Jam in Austin, that’s a big one that we’re doing for the first time this year. We’re doing a Horse Thief Festival in Jetmore, Kansas. I’ve never even been there, that should be interesting. We got some county fairs and a bunch of honky tonks and everything in between there. We’re still relatively new in Texas so we’re definitely pounding away at trying to get the word out about my music, but then definitely wanting to do more concentric circles out from there and do more Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, New Mexico and Lousiana and even further.”
Williams has a reputation of being a very friendly and personable guy with his fans. He tends to take the time to talk, take pictures and thank his fans personally when they come out to see him play.
“Part of it is that I just like people, and my fans are the kind of people I just like to hang out with anyway. So I’m happy to just chill and have a beer and talk about, you know hunting or whatever,” said Williams on his interactions with his fans. “But also part of it’s that as a solo act and as a songwriter anyway, I’ve spent like 15 years in relative obscurity where there were 15 people coming to my little college shows and no one knowing who I was. So these days having anybody that actually wants to come to the merch booth and take a picture and actually talk to me, I’m just happy that anybody actually wants to do that because it was not that way for so long. I guess it kind of makes me thankful. Aaron Watson does that. He’s a good example for me of a guy that balances career and family and he still comes out to the merch booth and has this huge long line and he just stands there and chats and takes pictures with every single one of them. He doesn’t have to do that, most of the acts of his caliber they just head to the tour bus and start drinking or partying or relaxing or whatever they want to do, but Aaron Watson is a good example of that for me.”
Williams also says there are a few things about him that his fans might just be surprised to learn.
“I was a math major, I have a degree in Math. People are surprised to know that. Definitely just goes to show that I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to be doing this. It was later in life that I figured out that this is what I’m good at and what I love to do,” he explained. “I’m pretty good with a hacky sack. I went to high school in southern California and my friends and I we were not the cool kids in school, but we had a hacky sack circle. Of course I played soccer too, but I spent a lot of time with the hacky sack. I’m like a wanna-be crocodile hunter. Remember Steve Irwin the Crocodile hunter? That’s probably one of my earliest real interests and passions as a kid was reptiles and amphibians and running around in the woods just catching snakes and lizards and frogs and turtles and stuff. I still can’t help but do it,” Williams said with a laugh. “The other day we were driving along in the band van and I just can’t help but scan the road for snakes and stuff , we were going down the road and I saw a rattlesnake sunning itself in the sun. We’re going by it at 65 mph but I was like dude that was a rattle snake, and I slammed on the brakes and I go running back there. Unfortunately it had crawled back into its hole and I didn’t have a good enough hook on the end of my stick to get it out. There were 3 or 4 rattlesnakes back in this hole and the band were videoing me as I was trying to pull him out. Not that I hold rattlesnakes in my hand because I am a guitar player I can’t afford to do that, but I was just trying to drag one out and at least get pictures of it. That’s a little bit of a quirky interest I have I suppose. Mainly just in the woods running around catching snakes and turtles, I’m always catching snakes around our house. I teach my kids to actually like snakes and hold them, you know we catch little snakes round the house and I’ll let the kids hold them. Just the day before yesterday I took my kids down to the creek and we caught a turtle and a little snake and stuff like that. I’ve always just thought those animals were cool and when you are a kid they are easier to find and get your hands on than some other animal that you might think it cool. Like I think foxes are cool, but you hardly ever see one and you’re never going to touch one, but I think snakes are cool and all you haveto do is turn over a rock or a log and you might find one.”
Williams definitely seems to know how to balance those other interests and his family with life as a musician. More and more people are becoming aware of Williams and his music too, probably because of his hard work and effort at getting it out there to the masses. But also because his music is good honest down to earth music that people can relate to. Williams has been writing songs, not only for himself, but for others for quite a while.
“We have the number one song on the Texas Regional Radio report this week, Called ‘Here’s to You’. Some people may not know that I wrote ‘Ride with Me’ that Cody Johnson sings, I wrote ‘While I was Away’ that Pat Green Sings. There is a new song called ‘The Sell Out Song’ and that’s going to be Kevin Fowler’s next single and that’s a song that I wrote. I’ve had those 3 artists record my songs and that’s been cool,” said Williams.
If you haven’t checked out Williams yet, now is a good time. You can find out more about his music and tour schedule on his website at www.zanewilliamsmusic.com or his various social media sites. Find a show near you and make plans to go see him.
“Our live show is just kind of what I like in a show; 3 part harmonies, lots of fiddle playing and mostly fun songs with a few heartfelt ballads,” said Williams.