The first time that Zac Brown Band visited New York’s Citi Field was in 2010 as openers for Dave Matthews. Late last month, the group returned for two headlining shows as part of their tour of Major League Baseball stadiums, presented by Budweiser, playing long sets of castaway country music while occasionally dipping their toes in everything from grunge rock to Muscles Shoals funk. Jams ensued, “Empire State of Mind” was covered and a Jason Isbell deep cut, “Dress Blues,” was re-worked into a show-stopping sing-along. Brown followed these dates with a short vacation, and upon returning he spoke with Rolling Stone Country about his love for EDM, what he considers the difference between new and old country and where his fearless band is headed next.
Most country artists have a studio band and a road band. Does having the same group year-round affect what you guys do?
I think it does. The chemistry that you get from living with your band and creating music and recording with your band translates to the stage. When we craft the songs together, we know all the nuances and dynamics instead of reading them off a chart. I feel like even though sometimes the players are incredible on a lot of studio stuff, the chemistry doesn’t translate.
Has taking your Jekyll + Hyde album on the road changed the way you think about any of the songs?
It definitely magnifies them for me. “Beautiful Drug,” for example: When we play that song live now, we see people reacting to it and jumping up and down. You have a feeling when you’re recording like, “This is gonna translate really well,” and when you see it live and it kind of proves that, that’s an amazing feeling.
“Beautiful Drug” has a bit of Avicii-style EDM. Is that what you were going for?
It was. It’s still a good lyrical song, but adding elements of that nature just opens us up for a broader audience. I’ve read a lot of reviews of the album online, and a lot of people’s complaint was, “This is not a country album.” Well, there’s a bunch of songs on there that are country, but we don’t want to abandon any of the market we have now. We just want to gain new market. Maybe some people that only listen to electronic music will pick up my record and get turned on to some of the story songs, some of the more country-type stuff. It doesn’t seem expected for us to do something like that, but I love electronic music. I spend a lot of my time listening to that and just trying to understand what makes it work — what makes it move people the way it does and why they have some of the best-selling festivals in the world.