Photo by Steven Sebring
Frontman Zach Williams of The Lone Bellow recalls a conversation with the president of one of the major labels about eight years ago when he was asked, “Hey, man, what are you going to do when you don’t have some terrible experience to write about?”
Williams poignantly recalls what the man said next: “He straight up said, ‘I don’t think you can do it.’”
His response? “I said, ‘I don’t like you.’”
Williams, who looks back at the incident with laughter, admits the time has come.
The Lone Bellow’s first album, self-titled, was a moving tribute to the grief Williams endured after his wife was involved in a horseback riding accident that left her a quadriplegic. The album contained notes of self struggle and strife after tragedy and the balance of keeping a healthy marriage. Eventually, Williams’ wife healed and the couple have overcome. The band is hitting its stride — his life on solid ground. Now he faces the beauty of day-to-day life.
“There’s a beautiful challenge in the art and creating out of the mundane,” Williams said.
That’s exactly what the Brooklyn- based Americana band has attempted with its sophomore release Then Came the Morning (Amazon) due out on Jan. 27.
If the name is any indication of direction, the album would make for an optimistic study of life beyond anguish.
“We are these eternal souls,” Williams said. “I think the record is a celebration of that.”
Williams, along with band members Kanene Pipkin and Brian Elmquist have been filling those blank sheets of paper about balancing what can be a spectacular life on the road and the mundane moments of being friends, being family members. Pipkin’s husband Jason rounds out the band as a full-time member.
Williams said it wasn’t just his songs they brought to the table this time around.
“I think it’s important to share the responsibility of creating together,” he said. “Everybody in the band is so talented.”
The churning harmonies of “Watch Over Us,” written by Elmquist, which has been in the band’s live repertoire for more than a year, makes an appearance on the new album.
It’s Williams’ deep friendship and connection to Elmquist, which came about during Williams’ time of healing, that push the three minute heartbreak into an arm wrestle between personal struggle and strife. The song doesn’t just make an appearance, it makes a loud announcement that it’ll be staying awhile.
“I’ve loved singing that with him,” Williams said. “I love to share those moments with him.”
He also points to the songwriting capability of Pipkin, who Williams also considers a dear friend.
“She’s written some real humdingers,” Williams said.
Throw the incredible personal growth with musical thickening along with a new producer in Aaron Dessner, frontman for The National, into a skillet, and it’s become the big sound Williams envisioned moving forward into the second release.
“He has such an eye-opening approach to making sounds,” Williams said. “It was such a life experience.”
The album was recorded at Dreamland Studios in Woodstock, New York, which isn’t exactly the place that provided the vibe Williams was going for.
“I kind of wanted to go for this Vegas- Elvis vibe,” Williams said.
They’ve hit the road to showcase that vibe and while it’s been a challenge preparing for, Williams admits, the band is taking advantage of the opportunity.
“We all learned new instruments. Being able to take that out on the road, we would need way more money,” he joked.
It’s a cup of optimism from a man whose personal sadness led to an incredible triumph in the band’s debut release. It’s steps up a tall mountain that Williams decided to climb, with Elmquist and Pipkin, long ago.
“I’ve experienced some incredible healing,” he said.
That healing has allowed Williams to dig deeper into his life around him to create more story lines for the upcoming album. Such is the case in “Fake Roses,” which paints the picture of his mother-in-law.
“She’s just this incredible human being that raised my wife,” he said. “It’s about her and her sister going through the same thing. They know eachother so well, they know exactly what each other were going through and they didn’t have to talk about it,” Williams said referring to the two being single mothers and the connection of being sisters.
The song book is expanding. Williams said the band wrote 35 songs for the upcoming album. They recorded 19 of those songs and ended up shaving it down to 13.
The band, who often considers themselves a Brooklyn country music band, isn’t sure how the songs will be received in Nashville. With the emergence of acts like Sturgil Simpson and Jason Isbell, Nashville seems to be shifting — and Williams recognizes that. He’s glad to be a part of it.
“To be considered in the same conversation as Sturgil or Jason is an incredible honor,” he said.
Williams points to a show in which The Lone Bellow opened for country legend Dwight Yoakam.
“The response from his crowd was amazing,” Williams said.
It’s that crowd response the band draws so much energy from night to night. The waves of playing content from its first album and new content yet to be released has Williams and company working harder than ever before.
“It’s been a whole smorgasbord of emotion,” Williams admits.
The range of audience has been incredible, according to Williams. One night it can be 10,000 people, the next night 15, the following show can be in a room of 500 people, he said.
“It’s kind of all over the place.”
Being all over the place means playing the likes of the Jimmy Kimmel show and a date at The Hangout Music Fest in Alabama in May.
“We’ve got some fun stuff coming up,” Williams said.
However, Williams makes it clear about what he’s looking most forward to.
“We really just want to finish this cycle of this record.”