The imagery of dusty roads, pick up trucks, cowboy boots and a certain 'feeling good' always wafts through the air when I get the chance to kick back, relax and listen to American Longspurs. It wasn't too long ago under the shade of a mesquite tree under the same warm winter's sunshine I had the chance to sit down and talk with Zach Zimmerman, Lead Vox/Guitarist, of American Longspurs.
Country music, just like rock... is taking it's own cue and cutting its teeth on its own note.
Interview with Zach Zimmerman of American Longspurs
“I think Waylon would be happy to see that country music as a whole isn't just sitting around trying to recreate the sound of his era.” Zach Zimmerman
Song: Define country music and what you feel it is supposed to sound like?
Zach: I feel like whenever you try to define a genre of music you end up trying to fit something into a box that was never meant to be in one. That being said, I'm not going to pretend that I don't at times try to do it. For me, country music is George Strait and the Dixie Chicks (yeah, I said it) in my mom's SUV on the way to Pinetop to go camping. It's pedal steel, fiddle and a whole lot of home. Simpler times.
Song: How has country music evolved?
Zach: Country music has always been evolving. My whole life my dad has been saying country music isn't country music anymore. To him, it's Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. To my mom it's George Strait and Don Williams. Nowadays, you've got pop-country, rock-country, alt-country, bro-country, hell, you even have some hip-hop country if you're into that sort of thing.
“There's a hell of a lot of good country music out there, you just might have to find it for yourself instead of waiting for someone to spoon feed it to you.” Zach Zimmerman
Song: Has it been a good evolution?
Zach: I think it's always good to be creative and try new things. So in many ways, absolutely. And in other cases, well, maybe not so much. That being said, I'd be lying if I told you I thought hip hop songs about trucks were very good. Maybe someone will end up doing something brilliant with that one day though - I'd be open to hearing it.
Song: Do you sense the measures have crossed over too much so that the “genres' of old are really a blended mish mash that are no longer distinguishable?
Zach: I think it's great that people are playing with genres. It doesn't always result in music that I'm particularly fond of, and I think that's why hardcore country music fans get frustrated, but in the end if you want real country music (or whatever you consider real country music to be) it's pretty damn easy to access nowadays with iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, etc.
Song: How do you feel about where country is now?
Zach: I think we as humans tend to glorify the times in which we grew up - things were always better back in our day. So when at times I find myself wondering what the hell is happening to country music, I have to remind myself that things are always changing and that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's a hell of a lot of good country music out there, you just might have to find it for yourself instead of waiting for someone to spoon feed it to you.
Song: You side yourselves with the label of “outlaw country legends” What do you think Waylon and the boys would have to say about today's country music? How about music in general?
Zach: I love this question. A while back we played a show that features local country artists and after the show the promoter told me that we, "weren't really country." It really bothered me until I realized that we just weren't her brand of country music. We do our own thing and if you're expecting us to use the same formulas that Waylon and the boys used decades ago then you're going to be disappointed. And I think Waylon would be happy to see that country music as a whole isn't just sitting around trying to recreate the sound of his era. How boring would that be? Look at his boy Willie Nelson - I heard a reggae tune with him the other day. And what about Johnny Cash? The last huge (and fantastic) thing he did was covering Nine Inch Nails (and killing it by the way). And music in general? Well, they'd probably think it was better back in their day like everyone else does. But I doubt they'd be sitting around saying, "man, I wish these guys would just try to sound like me already."
“Cross overs can absolutely work...” Zach Zimmerman
Song: Who were some of your early influences? Was it the blend of these that attracted you to this style?
Zach: I grew up all over the place with music. I remember lots of George Strait, The Judds, The Eagles and James Taylor growing up, and then getting into punk bands like Bad Religion, Goldfinger and Social Distortion in high school. I think if you listen to our stuff you can get a pretty good feel for those early influences even if the punk stuff is a lot like my favorite movie I can't watch anymore.
Song: Is the country music you identify with a viable commodity still in the music industry?
Zach: I think it can be. By and large the country music that sings to my soul doesn't really dominate the airwaves but I think there's always going to be a place for good songwriting.
Song: Would you as a musician or as a band consider adding more 'pop' style to your format? Would you consider it to be selling out?
Zach: I mean, we already have a little bit. If you listen to our first EP and compare it to Palo Santo you can hear just how much "pop" or "fun" as I call it, we've added to our sound. We did that because it became obvious to me that we needed to do a little bit more to draw the audience in, and sometimes the best way to do that is to let them in on the fun. I don't consider that to be selling out. I think the only way I'd feel we were selling out is if we started making music we hated simply because we thought a larger audience would like it. I have no interest in doing that.
Song: How do you feel about 'selling out' for the sake of making it?
Zach: Who can you really sell out to other than yourself anyway? Making music is a dream job, and I wouldn't knock anyone for taking that opportunity; it beats sitting at a desk all day.
Song: You and Drew obviously had a vision when you began this musical journey. How long did it take to find the likes of Chester, Nick and John to round out the band? What has their contribution brought to American Longspurs?
Zach: Drew and I have been making music together since we were in high school. We played our first show as American Longspurs a little over 2 years ago but it wasn't until about 1 year ago that Chester, John and Nick became permanent members of the band. What they've brought to the band has been unbelievable. Chester has an incredible mind and in addition to his talents on fiddle, mandolin and vocals, he's added so much in the area of production and we're so very much the better for it. John is the voice of reason and the perfect timekeeper for us. He demands precision and is always the first one asking to rehearse and the last one to be satisfied while refining new material. We joke around with Nick a lot, but really he's irreplaceable. Nick has an amazing ear for what the listener wants and is always the first to advocate for the audience.
“Country music, and music in general, is constantly changing and evolving...”
Song: You personally Zach, when American Longspurs played during Country Thunder in 2014, what did that mean to you in terms of the track you and Drew began together? Overall how was the experience, and would you as a band do it again?
Song: What can musicians learn from each other today? Do cross overs from hip hop to country, pop to metal, etc... do they work? Is the music industry lost and just trying to find a 'new sound?' How do you perceive this?
Zach: I think musicians from any genre can learn a lot from one another. It's always important to keep an open mind and pick up on things that people are doing well in any type of music because you can always apply that to what you're doing. Cross overs can absolutely work - Darius Rucker has been pretty successful doing it and there have always been artists working outside their respective genres. I think the problem is when a cross over happens as the result of a business decision rather than a creative one. I think people sense this and therefore don't see the endeavor as being genuine.
Song: When do you think the shift in country music happened? As country left the crooners of old, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, those story tellers of the heartland, and went citified with the advent of Urban Cowboy... is it possible to remain true to the story telling and still make a living off of the outlaw imagery of singing it from the soul?
Zach: I don't know if it's possible to pinpoint one specific moment where the shift happened. Country music, and music in general, is constantly changing and evolving so it's difficult to point to one moment and say, "there, that's where it happened." But is it still possible to make a living off singing it from the soul? I say hell yeah, it is.
Song: I asked you in the beginning to define country music and what it is supposed to sound like... tell me Zach does the heart of country, country/rock does it also embed itself to a life style? Does it need a horse, large silver belt buckle, cowboy boots and a hat?
Zach: I don't think so. No, not at all really. I think country music is about being true to yourself, being proud of your roots and giving a middle finger to anyone who's got a problem with it. I don't have a horse, I don't wear a big belt buckle, I wear boots when I'm not wearing Converse All Stars, and I wear a cowboy hat because my girlfriend bought me one and I like it. Love the music you love and wear whatever the hell you want. It doesn't matter.
Song: I understand you are working on a follow up release this year, 2015. The latest single, Whiskey Feelin' was given a shot glass filled reception. What single is next? And is American Longspurs looking to release a full album, and when?
Zach: Whiskey Feelin' was a lot of fun to record and we can't wait to get back in the studio and do more. I have no idea what the next single will be but I expect we'll get back in the studio by summer and we'll have something to put out by summer's end at least. It might be a full-length or it might be another EP. With everyone streaming music online nowadays it might make sense for us to just keep releasing new material as we get it so people always have something new to sink their teeth in.
Song: Lastly, when did you purchase your first toy pistol, and holster? Caps or Blaster rings?
Zach: Haha, I think my first toy pistol was given to me by my grandma at a very early age, maybe 3 or 4 and they were definitely caps.