Military man and Oologah, Oklahoma, native Zach Bryan is winning over country music fans with his raspy, stripped-down sound to the tune of 4.4M monthly listeners on Spotify alone. Now he has a new album, "American Heartbreak," home to his song "Something In the Orange," to continue the momentum.
"'Something In the Orange' was a weird song because everyone thinks it was over some deep, dark thing," Bryan told Today's Country Radio with Kelleigh Bannen. "And it was just me in a cabin in Wisconsin. And I was like, I thought about the word orange, and I was watching the sunset, and I was like, 'Oh, that's a cool story to tell in a song,' you know?"
When he was 24, Bryan was an active-duty member of the US Navy, a family tradition, currently stationed in Washington state. His breakthrough moment came with the video for his song "Heading South," which was shot by phone in the 95-degree heat outside of his Navy barracks. Millions of fans watched the video without any help from Nashville's music industry. Millions more connected with the sincere songs on Bryan's 2019 debut album "DeAnn" and his 2020 follow-up, "Elisabeth."
Most of his success happened by chance. Bryan said he wasn't even trying to build a career in music; he was just making music in the barracks with his buddies. Then he released two albums, and country music fans latched on with a vengeance.
"Everyone went kind of crazy for them," he said. "So I'm like the luckiest guy in the world. I don't really deserve any of it, but it's been an absolute blast. And I would catch them up by saying, 'Hey, I'm just a 26-year-old. I'm just a guy like everyone else, trying my best to get through life.' And if people wanted to join, they can. If they don't, that's okay too."
Bryan is not trying to be pretentious, but he feels like he has a God-given gift for writing. He said people give him a hard time because his music isn't very dynamic, but he never meant to be a songwriter.
"I wanted to be a writer," he said. "I'm writing every morning when I wake up. Every night when I go to sleep, I write because it's just like how I deal with life. Just like people watch sports, just like people go golf, it's just something that comes naturally to me. It is beautiful to find that and get to do that, but I'd say that first 100 songs were terrible because I was just trying to figure out how to make poems and things that I've written into work that people could connect with through melodies."
The melody piece threw Bryan for a loop. He said he spent eight years trying to write songs before he figured out how to do it. Now when he goes back and listens to his early work, he feels like it's terrible.
"I'm so thankful for every bad song because it led to [where] I could write one, and it made sense," he explained. "I believe that the best songs are written after the best living is done. Sometimes I get in my head, and I'm like, 'Oh, you got to write some music.' And no, you don't have to write anything. You just have to live and then write afterward."