Coy Bowles is living proof that you can be part of one of the biggest bands in America, the winners of multiple Grammy and other Country music awards, have two Billboard 200-topping albums, eight chart-topping country singles and yet still be star-struck in the presence of a legend.
Bowles, who plays guitar and organ for the Zac Brown Band, was beside himself when he learned that none other than Dave Grohl had agreed to help them produce their latest release, The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1. And the experience was so much fun that he is still gushing about it.
“He could not have been cooler,” said Bowles ahead of the band’s concert Saturday and Sunday at The Joint. “Positively one of the coolest, amazing, most genuinely creative, badass dudes I’ve ever met in my life. When I was 13 years old, I was the poster child for Seattle grunge scene music, so it was great getting to hang with him.”
Bowles and the rest of the band, known for massive country hits like “Chicken Fried” and “As She’s Walking Away,” treated this recording experience differently than anything they had done before. The band wanted to give Grohl a chance to really inject himself into the recording sessions, so they left the songs unfinished when they entered the studio.
“Normally we have our tunes arranged and iced down before we get in there, so we went and did this thing seemingly flatfooted [by comparison],” Bowles says. “We worked it out in the moment. We didn’t want to go in feeling like we’d basically already produced the album and Dave’s just going to show up and press record, you know?”
Bowles is thrilled with the final product, but now he can admit to some trepidation about doing the EP the way they did, even if it was Grohl at the helm.
“Zac intentionally left a lot of room for [Dave] to have creative influence, and I thought that was a great decision, but it was kind of scary,” Bowles laughs. “There’s a part of you that’s like, ‘I hope this works!’ But as soon as we started playing we were like, ‘Okay, yeah, this is going to be a blast.’”
The Foo Fighters front man’s stamp is all over the EP as Grohl represents a noticeable sonic evolution for the band. Tracks like “All Alright” stand as proof that the band’s country leanings have largely been replaced by more of a Southern rock sensibility here, and “The Muse” is possessed of a groovy rock sound that will get stuck in your head for weeks. But the track which stands out most is “Day for the Dead.”
A combination of rock and country, it is augmented by an extended jam sequence, a flurry of stomping and hand-clapping, and a break-down section with a haunting vocal that sounds like something out of an old chain-gang song.
“One of the tunes we had talked about doing something similar to is ‘Old Black Water’ by The Doobie Brothers, where they have all these vocal parts going on at the same time,” says Bowles. “[Day for the Dead] wasn’t necessarily referencing that tune, but it was taking this idea that we have so many great vocalists and everybody’s always [harmonizing] with Zac that it would really be a change of pace to have everybody do something different.”
The new release is certainly a trip into new territory for the band, but the question is: Will there be more? The EP’s name suggests there could be, but true to his name, Bowles is coy about answering this question.
“There are certain songs where you tell the audience exactly what it’s about, and others where you never tell anybody what they’re really about because you want everybody to have that question in their minds,” he says. “That was the idea behind labeling it ‘Volume 1,’ to kind of do that old-school Batman thing where it’s like, ‘To be continued! Will the Joker rise again?’ That’s the cool angle on it, to have it be a slight mystery.”
ZAC BROWN BAND will play The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino on Saturday and Sunday. CL