“Chicken Fried” Success Hasn’t Changed the Zac Brown Band

Singer-Songwriter Has Befriended Sugarland, Kid Rock

In the last six months, Zac Brown Band‘s “Chicken Fried” has gone from a barroom anthem to a bone-a-fide country hit. Brown filmed the music video in his own back yard, but he believes the scenery reflects more than just his own rural lifestyle.

“People are proud that it’s different and that it is just like our music — it’s different. I mean, it’s a chunk of a backyard party in Georgia,” he says. “We’re a different kind of country, but we are absolutely country, and I think people recognize that. … We’re a product of a lot of different things now, but we choose to go back there and live in those type of places. I think people can relate to the fact that it’s just real. It’s just me and my friends and family. It’s what we do.”

In this interview, the Georgia native discusses the feeding frenzy at his video shoot, his budding friendship with Kid Rock and how a coffee house concert changed his life.

CMT: Is there a scene in the “Chicken Fried” video that really captures you and your spirit?

Brown: I think the whole video did a good job of that. I love to feed my people. In the backyard, in the middle of shooting the video, I had to feed about 50 people back there. I had some help manning the grill once I was getting going, but that scene definitely captures it. I’m usually hustling it whenever we have a get-together, trying to make sure everybody’s fed. That’s just what I do.

Is that the kind of family environment you grew up with?

I did. That’s my dad in the video, as well. I learned it from him. He does the same thing. At our Thanksgivings, he’s the last one to sit down. He’s the one making sure that everybody’s fed. He’s the one carving the turkeys. We love to do that. It’s in our blood.

Are you getting recognized more in public now?

Yeah, people here and there. I know that’s gonna change a lot. It’s the part that I’m getting used to. Usually it’s just around the Southeast. But now other people are recognizing us around. … And most people are pretty cool about it. Some people like to come up in the middle of like a nice dinner, while I’m taking a bite of food, but it’s another perspective thing.

The last time we talked, you told me there was a studio in your back yard. How elaborate is that studio?

I’m working on making it a little more elaborate, but right now it’s just about a 25-by-25 room, just eight-foot ceilings. There are two isolation booths that we’ve built. They’re not fully insulated yet because I don’t ever get to spend time at home right now. It’s just got a little Pro Tools rig in there … and a flat screen. That’s where I keep my songwriting. It’s kind of my cave.

With so much more on your plate now, have you found that your approach to songwriting changed?

Not at all. I’m still writing from the same place, which is just about life experiences around me or whatever stories that someone may tell that may spark something. I haven’t started to write about the success or anything like that.

Country music really embraced you quickly. Have there been any artists that have gone out of their way to welcome you into the fold?

Sugarland was great to us when we were touring with them. They are very gracious to us. I’ve gotten to be good friends with Kid Rock through this whole thing. He was a fan of the record. It was kinda crazy because I’ve been a fan of his forever. He and I have gotten pretty tight. He’s been very, very gracious and took me to Iraq with him. And I’ve opened for folks like Little Big Town and doing dates with Keith Urban coming up this year. I’m just chomping at the bit to get out there and play.

Before “Chicken Fried” came out, how many country shows did you get to go out and see?

I’ve been touring so much in the last 12 years that all my nights were monopolized. Normally, Sunday and Monday nights were the only nights that I didn’t play, so there weren’t a lot of great concerts going on those nights. I’ve been in my own world pretty much just trying to make my way.

Who were the performers that you did see live, and thought, “That’s an entertainer”?

When I was 14 or 15, I saw Shawn Mullins play at a coffee house in Dahlonega, Ga., and I knew that’s what I wanted to do professionally. I’d been playing music for seven or eight years before that, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do for a living. I’ve been one of the blessed that’s known that, so I had a direction to go in. I just had to learn everything the hard way. There wasn’t anybody there to tell me or teach me the way to do it. I just kinda had to do it.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.