By Jessye Bullock
Anyone with a story similar to that of the great Willie Nelson is destined to sing authentic country music. Zane Williams is a country musician who has won the heart of the country music scene in Texas. Having played in venues as prestigious as the Grand Ole Opry, Williams is bringing his signature sound back home to Texas. He is a genuine artist who believes in keeping the authenticity in country music through not only the lyrics in the songs he writes, but also in the instruments he uses to carry the tune. Earlier this week Williams was generous enough to answer a few questions.
Photoe Credit: Zane WIlliams Facebook Photo credit: Facebook: Zane WIlliams
Daily Campus: Was music something you always planned on pursuing as a career?
Zane Williams: I didn’t grow up in a family of musicians. My parents are both college professors. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do growing up. I went into college as a math major and I kind of thought about being a youth minister or math teacher. I always liked reptiles and snakes and amphibians so I thought about being a herpetologist, but I didn’t really start searching for what I wanted until college. Then as I really started performing more often and got the encouragement to pursue music, that’s when I really made the decision to go for it and moved to Nashville.
DC: Well that certainly is a big leap and I think in a lot of ways you could say you still are a youth minister of sorts with your songs. So, who inspired you growing up? I understand your life is said to resemble that of Willie Nelson’s, any comments on that?
ZW: Yeah, well I can relate to the general parts of Willie’s story because he moved to Nashville and never quite fit in. Then he moved back to Texas and found an artistic community that was welcoming and I guess found his sound. He really had success in his late 30s and 40s and then on, and that is when he became the iconic Willie Nelson we know now. You know me, I moved to Nashville not knowing anything really about anything and I lived there for nine years. It was good and it was a learning experience and I made a lot of friends, but I never made the kind of music that the major labels were looking for and there were lots of parts of the town that didn’t agree with me like the commercialism of it and things like cowriting. Cowriting is the main way you get to know people in Nashville and I tend to write all my stuff by myself. You know Nashville just really didn’t know what to do with me. When I lived in Texas before I really didn’t know anything about the Texas country music scene, so when I came back to Texas it was to be close to family and to start a family. I discovered the Texas music scene about eight years ago when we moved back to Texas and I realized “man, this is a great fit for me, I should’ve been here all along.” So after nine years in Nashville, I’m really kinda starting over fresh in the Texas music scene. That’s why I am so thankful for the Texas music scene because I feel like there is a lot of freedom here for an artist like me to be myself and build a fan base and make a living and that’s something that I hadn’t found in Nashville.
DC: In an industry set on making certain artists conform to a specific image and/or sound, how do you think you were able to stay genuine to your brand?
ZW: I’ve always had that personality where authenticity is really important to me; it has to be honest and I can’t fake it, especially when it comes to music. So I think it’s just kind of my personality and who I am. I can’t stand some of the music machinery where they ask you to do something you’re not comfortable with. To put an album out and you not like how the album sounds, with your name on it? I just can’t do that. I guess I’ve just always kind of walked my own path a little bit. In Texas that’s accepted and encouraged and to be fair there are some people in Nashville who do that and find a way to make it work for them, but for me it just wasn’t the right fit. I still think of myself as a country artist and not just a Texas artist, but Texas is the perfect place for me to be based out of and I definitely don’t ever plan to leave Texas.
DC: What does bringing country back really mean to you? What was the inspiration behind that title?
ZW: Well, mainly the qualities that made me fall in love with country music because I didn’t grow up listening to county music. I listened to all types of music growing up. I basically discovered country music in high school in California and no one I knew listened to country music. What drew me to it were the lyrics. The words of the songs were so relatable and well written. I like the cleverness of it, the story-telling songs, and the fact that it seemed to just be plain talk about real life. I find that a lot of art is a little too obscure for me, it doesn’t make me feel something because I don’t know what it’s about. Country music tends to be a little more literal, but says it in a very poignant way that really drives the message home. Then beyond the lyrics, I found that I really love the sound of country instruments. I love the fiddle, the acoustic guitar, steel guitar, mandolin — I just like those instruments. I like them in general better than electronically produced sounds on a keyboard. I like the realness of it. It’s a real piece of wood or steel and somebody had to work a long time to learn how to play it. It’s not just programmed on a computer somewhere. I feel like the realness of the instruments goes along with the realness in the lyrics. For me it’s all about realness and authenticity and I just felt that from country music. Back to “Bringin’ Country Back,” I was just trying to make the kind of country music that I fell in love with.
DC: What can we expect from your upcoming show at Billy Bob’s?
ZW: We are going to play a lot of new songs. We are going to play some hits too. Mainly just a fun show with lots of harmonies and fiddles and guitar. Mainly just a good ole’ country music show with hopefully good songs that people enjoy and an exciting performance.
DC: Any advice for young performers who may be struggling balancing between new world Hollywood with old soul country?
ZW: I think it takes a while for some people to figure out who you are, at least it was that way for me, and the only way to do that is by listening to all kinds of music. Experience life and as you do that you’ll here a small voice in your head that tells you “I like this, but I like this more and do that better.” I think we all do our best work when we follow that voice. There may be multiple things that you could do, but I think it’s best to listen to that voice and don’t let other people drown it out. Just be the best you that you can be and be happy with whatever kind of career that gives you. You know I’m happy, I don’t think I’ll ever be very famous, but I get to make a living playing music and I like playing the music I make and I feel very fortunate about that because not many people even get that. And hey, if underwater bagpipe playing is your thing, well I don’t know how you play those underwater, but if you love doing that then you should do that. It may not draw a crowd of hundreds of people, but if you’re doing the thing that makes your heart the happiest, that’s the highest form of success you can ask for.