How the Zac Brown Band stays productive during quarantine

The Zac Brown Band has stayed busy recording new music this summer. Courtesy of Diego Pernía

Credit: Diego Pernía

Credit: Diego Pernía

Two new songs have kept fans sated while touring is on hold.

October will mark a year since the Zac Brown Band last toured.

The octet was a few dates into its spring tour — “The Owl,” named for its 2019 album — when the coronavirus pandemic caused life to skid to a stop. Their summer run, “The Roar with the Lions Tour,” which included several stadium dates also subsequently nixed. (Truist Park was slated as an August homecoming show for the Atlanta-bred band.)

Frontman Brown made headlines in late March with his heartfelt, self-recorded video announcing that he would have to lay off 90% of the band’s road crew — an early indicator of the deep effects the virus has inflicted on the live music industry.

Band members Jimmy De Martini (fiddle, mandolin) and Coy Bowles (guitar, organ, piano) acknowledge that it was a depressing time, even as they hopped online to interact with fans and foster other musical endeavors. (Bowles made many parents happy with his daily Facebook Live singalong for kids.)

Jimmy De Martini of the Zac Brown Band. Courtesy of Andy Sapp

Credit: Andy Sapp

Credit: Andy Sapp

But as the reality of not spending the summer on a tour bus — a bit of a natural habitat for a band renowned for its live shows — evolved into the reality of having much more time at home, the Zac Brown Band got back to work, separately, yet together.

In a recent joint phone interview, Bowles and De Martini talked about the unusual births of two songs the band released this summer, the tearjerker ballad, “The Man Who Loves You the Most,” and the escapist toe-tapper, “You and Islands.”

“It was a little weird not being close to each other and not being able to bounce ideas off each other in real time. We had to record multiple ideas and send them off and then wait for someone to say, ‘I don’t like that,’” De Martini said with a laugh. “But (the benefit) of recording your own parts by yourself is that you can do as many takes as you want and take all day.”

Bowles shared that he and De Martini would Facetime the intro to one of the songs, record several possibilities, send them to Brown and then wait.

“You just keep throwing stuff against the wall until something sticks,” Bowles said. “We would listen to people’s parts and talk to Zac and know what the vibe was he was hearing in his head. Matt Mangano, our bassist, was integral in making sure the ship didn’t go into the high seas. When you take away being in the same place and move (the recording process) online and see how the chemistry still translates, that’s really interesting to me.”

While Mangano was often the musical captain, with eight members in a band, several subsets existed among the musicians as well. De Martini described that he and Bowles would handle lead melodies, while he, Clay Cook (guitar, organ) and John Driskell Hopkins (guitar, banjo, upright bass) worked on vocal harmonies. Mangano would team with the rest of the rhythm section — drummer Chris Fryar and percussionist Daniel De Los Reyes — for separate meetings as well.

Coy Bowles, multi-instrumentalist in the Zac Brown Band. Courtesy of Andy Sapp

Credit: Andy Sapp

Credit: Andy Sapp

The creating and recording process is ongoing, and while another new song isn’t imminent, De Martini said Brown routinely sends texts with audio ideas for the band to dissect.

“For 25 years I’ve been touring and doing some sort of thing with the band, so for a while, you felt like you weren’t accomplishing anything. It felt really good to finish these songs,” De Martini said.

The members of the Zac Brown Band have spent small bits of time together. Bowles visited Cook and wife Brooke, who is expecting their third child this fall, and De Martini and Hopkins played a socially distanced concert in De Martini’s neighborhood.

But they feel even the group text that spouts more than 20 messages a day among the bandmates can’t replace the chumminess of life on a tour bus.

“The part I really miss is when we would leave town for the first night of a run. It’s usually at 8 at night that we meet on the bus and stay up until midnight or 1 a.m. and just talk. That’s the one time when we’re stuck in one spot on the road because once the tour starts and we leave after a show, everyone is tired,” De Martini said.

The Zac Brown Band couldn't tour this summer, as usual, but spent the quarantine recording new music remotely. Courtesy of Andy Sapp

Credit: Andy Sapp

Credit: Andy Sapp

Bowles, ever the optimist, is philosophical about the shift in camaraderie.

“We’ve never had a forced break like this and a certain part of it all is, don’t try to make it something it’s not,” he said. “I’ve really tried to spend time with my family and embrace and enjoy it. This is the one time that we have to be apart from each other as a band, so maybe it’s cool that we’ll have some time between seeing each other. But overall, it still feels like we’re very much connected.”

The Zac Brown Band has a couple of live dates etched on their calendar for July 2021, but the guys are understandably uncertain about whether they’ll take place or if the “Roar with the Lions” tour will be rescheduled.

But when they do stand in front of an audience again and break out that string of No. 1 hits such as “Chicken Fried,” “Knee Deep” and “Colder Weather,” the guys will be more than prepared to absorb the love of fans.

“We’ll stand on stage and feel how lucky we are to do this,” De Martini said.

Added Bowles, “There’s something about the idea of what it will feel like to play a show for the first time after all of this is settled. I can’t imagine the energy. It will feel like going to the prom — total butterflies.”

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