Today's surprise release of "Homegrown," the jubilant new single by Zac Brown Band, marks the official start of a new chapter for the Grammy-winning group. (Listen to the track below.) It's the first taste of their next album, tentatively due in spring, which Brown says will have "a little bit of everything."
"There will be things that people will expect and things that they don't," he tells Rolling Stone Country — a promise already fulfilled with "Homegrown," as its country-radio friendly melody and lyrics yield to an unconventional bridge that takes the song to a whole new sonic ballpark.
"Homegrown" was co-produced by Brown and Jay Joyce, the man behind the board for such blockbuster projects as Little Big Town's Pain Killer and Eric Church's The Outsiders. Joyce is one of dozens of new people on the extended ZBB team, as this upcoming LP will be the first project released by the lead singer's own Southern Ground Artists in partnership with three other labels: Big Machine Label Group, John Varvatos Records and Republic Records. Working with a quartet of companies is arguably an unprecedented move by Brown, whose band ended its deal with Warner Music's New York-based Atlantic Records last year and released the The Grohl Sessions, Volume 1 EP through the indie Southern Ground. Instead of staying the self-run course for ZBB's next project, Brown joined a lot of cooks in one kitchen — but a kitchen in which he still maintains creative and administrative power, while collaborating to catapult his group from Nashville's odd men out to global superstars.
"We've got an amazing team, an amazing amount of horsepower. It would have taken that for me to work with a major label group, and now I feel like I'm getting three of them in exchange for the licensing for this album," says the singer-songwriter. "As we've been touring internationally and touring here [in the U.S.], we're growing but not being jet-powered like I feel like we're going to be able to do with the new team…. We've never had any corporate support from Nashville; we've always been looked at as outsiders. So being a part of a team there is going to help us."
Oddly enough, the catalyst for Zac Brown Band's big Nashville business — which came after years of massive tours, multi-platinum sales, 11 Number One hits and three Grammys — was admiration for a music industry newbie. It was in early 2014 that fashion designer John Varvatos, who has dressed everyone from Willie Nelson and Robert Plant to Alice Cooper and KISS, went from music superfan to record label owner, launching his eponymous company in a partnership with Republic Records.
"Zac reached out to me when he read in Rolling Stone that I was starting a label," Varvatos recalls. "He said he was a big fan of the brand and wanted to hear more about my vision."
For Republic CEO Monte Lipman, his new associate's immediate rapport with Brown was a business dream come true. "I've always been a fan of Zac's and tried unsuccessfully to create a partnership with him back in the day," Lipman reveals. "Zac is one of the most entrepreneurial and resourceful people I've ever met. His vision and enthusiasm for new endeavors is intoxicating."
Along with Lipman, Varvatos and Brown, the fourth head chef in the new Zac Brown Band deal is Big Machine Label Group President and CEO Scott Borchetta. The music mogul (a mentor on American Idol this season) has a proven track record of seeing the global picture, most notably steering Taylor Swift to worldwide superstardom and crossing genre lines with acts from Swift to Florida Georgia Line. He hints that Zac Brown Band's new album may push their already eclectic sound to new heights that can be marketed beyond country radio's borders.
"This music will play in a lot of places," Borchetta tells Rolling Stone Country. "[Zac Brown Band] have always been a great live band, as well as a country radio staple from day one. Now, after spending some time with Zac, I'm blown away by his creativity and vision. I think ZBB are entering their most successful and prolific chapter."
And that's about all any of the four new partners will give away about the new LP at this point, though Varvatos does give quite the one-word answer when asked what he thinks of it: "insane."
Brown just calls it a rule-breaker. "What I've always loved is to try things and take chances that other people are scared to do," he says. "We've got a team of visionary people and people who've proven they can be successful in their own way, by breaking the rules of what is normal."