Zach Schmidt was one of the first artists I played when I started The Local Brew Hour two years ago. That was from his 2016 album The Day We Lost The War. To say his new album has been a long time coming would be stating it mildly. After losing two record deals and surviving the pandemic, release day for Raise A Banner is finally here! I can definitely say, it was worth the wait. Zach plays a set at noon today for Finally Friday From Home on WMOT. We chatted about the obstacles he overcame to get this record out and the joy of making music.
AnaLee: Congratulations Zach, I know you’ve been waiting to release Raise A Banner and you must be thrilled that the day has finally come! I know you didn’t intend to have five years in between album releases. When did you put the finishing touches on this record and what happened in between? Including getting married last fall to your singing partner, Jackie Berkley, who is also on the album.
Zach: Thank you! I can’t believe this album is finally out in the world. So much has happened in the world since we finished making this record it is hard to know where to start. We put the final touches on this record at the very beginning of 2019. We had recorded the year prior, which is so wild that it took nearly three years to get out into the world. During that time, we had and lost multiple record deals, were close to a deal with a few labels and then ran head first into a global pandemic. All of these things combined is why it took so long to get out. We were so focused on a record deal because as an independent musician it is incredibly expensive to get music out into the world and have people actually hear it. But with all that in mind we just went ahead and started our own record label, Bossdawg Records, so that we can control everything that happens with the album. Despite everything going on in the world we are healthy and happy and excited to have some new music out there. We did get married last year, we got a dog, and are excited about what's to come.
AnaLee: Sadler Vaden produced Raise A Banner and plays on the album along with most of his 400 Unit Band members. The song, “Foregone Conclusion” features some smokin’ guitar from Sadler and his bandmate (boss!), Jason Isbell. Tell us about making the record.
Zach: Making this record was a truly incredible experience for me. I had been wanting to record these songs and one night was complaining to my friend Paul that I really just don’t know where to start. I wanted to find a producer and I wanted to get to work immediately, being the incredibly impatient person that I am. He told me that he had an idea and then Sadler called me at like 8am the next day from Australia. He asked if I would send over the songs and if he liked them and thought he would be a good fit then he will call me back. So, the next day around the same time he called and told me he liked the songs, he will be back in Nashville in a week and he booked a studio and we were starting in two weeks. I absolutely could not believe it all came together so quickly.
The next week Sadler and I got together to pick out the songs that we wanted to record from the batch that I sent, we made a plan and we were off. He mentioned that he was going to have the 400 unit guys play on the record and I knew we would come out with something we would all be proud of. We get to the studio and had two days to get the live takes of these songs because Chad lives in Alabama and was coming up for the sessions. We had no extra time to waste so we got straight to work. I would play the song for them in the control room, Sadler would tell everyone what vision he had and then we went in and cut it. Some of the songs we got on the first take, there was a bit of magic that I can’t really explain in playing the songs for the first time with a new vision. I mean these guys have been one of the best bands around for a long time, so they know how to play off and play with each other so well. I couldn’t speak higher about their talent as musicians but I also couldn’t speak higher of them as people. Going into something like this you really have no idea how you are going to mesh with people but we had a blast and Chad, Jimbo, Derry and Sadler are some of the best guys around. So basically, in those two day of recording we had a finished record. A couple weeks later Sadler called to ask if I cared if Jason put some guitar on a song, of course I said that it would be fine. I was out on tour when that happened but I am eternally grateful to Jason for his time and willingness to play on the record. Looking back on it now that the record is released, the only thing I can really feel about the process is pride in the work that we did. We made the record that we set out to make and we had fun doing it.
AnaLee: The first single you released, “I Can’t Dance” has a music video to go along with it. It’s linked below. Talk a little about this song and the video.
Zach: The song was inspired by the movie, Manchester by the Sea. If you haven’t seen it, I would highly suggest it but also be prepared to cry your eyes out. Without trying to spoil too much of the movie, there is a house fire scene where the protagonist sustains a serious loss. I remember seeing that movie and being so crushed by the way that his story plays out. I don’t actually remember too much of the process of writing that particular song but it came from trying to verbalize the feelings of that movie. The song faces loss head on but I think it leaves space for hope for a brighter tomorrow.
As far as the video goes, I am incredibly lucky that my best friend is a filmmaker who wanted to partner on the video. His name is Bobcat Davis and he lives out in San Diego and usually specializes in outdoor cinematography. He came up with the concept and came to Nashville where we spent a couple of very long days shooting it.
AnaLee: Are you starting to get a sense for what 2021 is going to look like for you as far as touring for this release?
Zach: Right now, we have two shows booked for 2021 but I hope that we can build on that as more people start to get vaccinated. Our booking agent was laid off at the beginning of the pandemic so that is something we are trying to figure out but I have hopes that it will all work out. I am ready to play some shows, that is certain.
Zach Schmidt, “I Can’t Dance”
Zach Schmidt, “Foregone Conclusion”