A Return to Unfinished Business

A Return to Unfinished Business

“For this tour, I’ll be performing solo, just me and my guitar, traveling from spot to spot in my car. The shows will be intimate and raw, with just one microphone picking up my guitar and vocals. It’s a style of performance that I really enjoy because it makes me feel alive,” says Zachary Williams of The Lone Bellow, and solo singer-songwriter in his own right, on the phone as he is driving across the country after the release of his solo album, Dirty Camaro, 2021.

Zachary started the trip in a deep freeze across the country in early February 2022. “I’m nervous. You know, I’ve never driven all the way across the country by myself. Doing that right now while I’m on the phone with you,” said Zachary. It started so beautifully. This crazy ice sheet storm happened last night while driving through Memphis. All the trees were encapsulated and iced by five o’clock in the morning. It was magical and terrifying.” And it was a little tear there. He said, seeing trash everywhere. “I’m driving to Austin, TX, right now. Then I will stay with my old buddy, Nathaniel Rateliff, while I’m in Denver.”

Dirty Camero isn’t exactly a new idea for Zachary, just a return to some unfinished business of the past. He has a classic story. On the outside, a rural Georgia boy moves to New York City to become an artist and makes it big. 

But what happened in between led him to this moment, touring around in a van by himself, slinging merch, shaking hands, and singing to silent rooms, who are clinging to the melodic stories of his solo album. His music career is usually filled with loud bellows and sold old rooms, packed with energy that surmounts to the point of pure bliss—quite the dichotomy. 

Zach says he called Jim James of My Morning Jacket (MMJ) after the latest release of his solo album, The Order of Nature. Jim has a successful dual career as a solo artist and mecca presence as a frontman in MMJ. Zachary says to Jim, “Hey man, you’re my hero. Can we sit down for a coffee sometime? I want to pick your brain.” Zachary always wanted to do a solo thing but never wanted to hurt the band’s feelings or confuse the fans. Jim agreed to the coffee and told Zach that art should be accessible and free-flowing. It will deteriorate if you just have this one funnel (His band, MMJ, or Zachary’s band, The Lone Bellow). Not doing it is all fear-based. If you have ideas, they can be outside the realm of the band. Zachary said that one conversation put ‘some gas in his tank.’ And he put all that ‘fuel’ into his solo release. 

Zachary first started writing music living in the hospital, in despair and with no way to release an outpouring of pain he was enduring. “This crazy accident happened with my wife. She fell off one of my family’s horses and was in the hospital for a long time in Atlanta.” 

“I’d go and play at the open mic across the street on Monday nights and just bawl my eyes out to strangers, as you do. That is what open mics are for. And that’s where this love of live music and this interaction just really sunk into my soul.” 

That’s when Zachary made the promise to himself. If his wife got better, he would move to New York City and commit to making music.  

And he kept his promise, moved, and played his heart out for seven years with no album devoted to making it in the big city. He was having a blast at this newfound side of himself. But Zachary hit a riff in his marriage and didn’t want to sing the songs he had been singing anymore. He had written all these sad songs.

Brian Elmquist and Kanene Donehey Pipkin moved to town. Within six months, the three played their first show and became, The Lone Bellow

“With The Lone Bellow, there’s a lot of collaboration and compromise involved. We all bring our own ideas to the table, and we work together to shape them into a cohesive sound. With my solo work, I had more control over the creative direction and was able to experiment with different sounds and instrumentation,” Zach says. “But at the same time, I still wanted to stay true to my roots and the music that I love. So I tried to find a balance between exploring new ideas and staying true to myself as an artist.”

The inspiration behind this solo album comes from 20’s years of Zach’s personal experiences and emotions, as well as the people and places that have influenced him along the way. It is an album that was a long time coming. One song, in particular, that rings true to that for him is “Dirty Camaro.” Zach says, “It’s a song about the illusion of perfection and how we often chase after things that we think will make us happy, but ultimately leave us feeling empty. It’s a message that I think a lot of people can relate to.”

Zach says releasing an album during the pandemic was definitely a unique experience. On the one hand, it was challenging because Zach couldn’t tour and play shows, a massive part of the music industry. But on the other hand, it allowed him to focus on the music and not get distracted by all the other stuff that comes with touring and promoting an album. It was also a way to connect with fans differently through social media and online performances. And dirty Camaro has a timeless quality, making it feel like it could be released at any time, not just during the pandemic. So overall, Zach is proud of the album and the fact that they were able to make something beautiful during such a difficult time.

The album, which now has a part two, deserves a few spins and some self-reflection for all music lovers.

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