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Interview:
Zac Brown Band turning Detroit into its New Year's tradition
 

By GARY GRAFF
21st Century Media/Digital First Media, @GraffonMu

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They may be Georgia boys, but the Zac Brown Band is building a tradition of ushering in the new year in Northern climes.

For the second year in a row the Southern octet will be turning the calendar at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena, this time with two shows -- New Year's Eve and New Year's Day -- as well as singing "The Star Spangled Banner" at the Winter Classic hockey game in Ann Arbor. It means wearing heavier clothing, but the group isn't complaining about this turn of events.

"I like it. I had so much fun last year, and the crowd was so great," says multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook. "We thought Atlanta was going to be our tradition; we'd done that two years in a row -- almost three, really. So we thought we were going to be home for New Year's every year.

"But they just wanted to change the schedule up, so now it's becoming Detroit. I can't promise it's forever, but they obviously like the idea, otherwise we wouldn't have come back."

Even the decidedly colder temperatures aren't an issue, Cook contends.

"It's not so bad if you don't go outside," he notes with a laugh. "Y'know, if you're just going from the bus to the inside of the building, which is probably 200 feet, you don't even notice it's cold, really. We're inside the whole time, either in the bus or the venue, so it's actually not that bad.

"It's not like we're playing outside -- now that would be absolutely insane."

Fittingly, Cook and the ZBB come to town on the heels of one of their crazier projects.

Earlier this month, the three-time Grammy Award-winning group released "The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1," a four-song EP produced by former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl. The eyebrow-raising collaboration, the product of a ZBB-Grohl meeting at this year's Grammy Awards, debuted at No. 5 on Billboard's country charts but, more importantly, gave the group some new insight into the recording process.

"We didn't really know what to expect," Cook, 35, explains. "We just knew (Grohl) was kind of a cool guy. And we were just trying to break away from our normal fashion (of recording) a little bit. We felt a little bogged down and just wanted to see how he worked and kind of look behind the curtain at that land of Oz, pretty much."

The results, according to Cook, "exceeded expectations," taking the ZBB well out of its comfort zone and into Grohl's old-school studio aesthetic. "It opened up something in us that we were not tapping into before," Cook says. "It makes you work harder because you're (recording) to tape and there's no editing going on as far as in ProTools and computers and stuff like that, which is the way we were making records. You kind of play it about 90 percent well, and they can fix the other 10 percent of it and make it sound great.

"But you can't do that the way (Grohl) works, so it tapped into the real musicians in us. It was a little bit freeing to me. Some of the guys like to rely on (technology). There was a little bit of fighting, to be honest -- not actual fighting but having to demand more of each musician. But by the end of it everyone was happy and it put us in a great place."

And, Cook adds, he holds out every hope there will be a Vol. 2 at some point in the future.

"That's definitely the hope," he says. "Vol. 1 is literally everything we recorded, but we like the idea of maybe adding to this at some point. There are zero plans right now, but Dave was cool with calling it Vol. 1, and maybe Vol. 2 comes out soon, or in 30 years. We don't now what the future holds, but we like the idea, and Dave loves the idea of making more music, too. It's as open-ended to us as it is to you."

More new music from the ZBB is on hold for a bit, however. With Brown and his wife expecting a baby this spring, Cook -- who also co-writes with and produces other artists -- says the group is mostly "trying to tour, tour, tour" with dates currently booked through March 26 (including shows around Super Bowl XLVIII in February with Grohl and the Foo Fighters), though some summer festivals also on the docket. But the ZBB's fourth national album -- and follow-up to 2012's chart-topping, Grammy-winning "Uncaged" -- is on indefinite hold.

"We have no plans now, that's for sure," Cook says. "We've got enough songs to make a record tomorrow, but people like to see us play live, too, so there's no time to even get together and record between now and then.

"At some point we have to find the time and the right situation. You don't want to just go into the studio and try to bang it out as fast as you can. You want to make the best music you can possibly make. You don't want to rush it; I think people can tell if you're just trying to make money or if you really mean it. So you want a recording where you're trying to really make an awesome piece of art and try to touch people the right way.

"So it's basically 'Let's get all the way up to the baby and we'll start making decisions after that.' "

The Zac Brown Band performs at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31, and 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 1, at Joe Louis Arena, 600 Civic Center Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $39.50-$79.50. Call 313-471-6606 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

Web Site: www.olympiaentertainment.com

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