It’s been three years since The Lone Bellow released their second album, Then Came The Morning, a successful sophomore record produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner. The band, former Brooklynites and current Nashville locals, have recently followed it up with an emotional and storied third studio album, Walk Into a Storm. Lead vocalist Zach Williams jumped on the phone with me to chat about their music and in turn, we ended up having a bit of a cathartic venting session about recent events.
“We played a show in Toronto last night after such a confusing and terrible day,” Williams explains to me on the Tuesday following the horrific Las Vegas shooting that took place at the Route 91 Harvest music festival. Following the grief stricken news came the announcement of iconic musician Tom Petty’s sudden death. “We woke up to that and I knew I was going to have to be honest with our crowd and tell them how we were feeling,” Williams says. With a heavy heart he says, “Playing music live, these venues that we play in, are sacred places to all of us.” He adds, “The crowd in Toronto were so full of hope and energy and it was a really cathartic night.”
Being in the music industry for nearly a decade, Williams has his old school quirks like waiting until he has sung three songs before speaking to the audience at a show. He admits that it was very important to him though–and the rest of the band–to address the tragedy that music lovers across the world had experienced. “Music is this mysterious force of nature that brings clarity and hope to all of us. We’re not going to stop. We’re not going to let hate and death stop life and beauty, ever.”
As I sit on the other end of the phone, I can’t help but notice the goose bumps that this empowered voice has just given me. After a moment more of celebrating music in general, we both agree that although this is a topic we could discuss for ages, his band’s new album is also worthy of conversation.
With goose bumps as evidence, I was confident this interview would be en emotional rollercoaster. Spoiler alert: I was right.
“The title track on Walk Into a Storm was a weird love letter to my wife,” Williams reveals. “We’ve been through hell and high water together and I would do it all over again.” The pair have been married for 14 years and been best friends since they were 12 years old. Williams admits that over the course of their relationship, they’ve broken each other’s hearts many times but he would walk into anything with his wife.
The Lone Bellow had long been a Brooklyn-based band, Park Slope specifically since its inception. Recently, they made the decision as a band to relocate themselves and their families to Nashville. “Brooklyn will always be home but in Nashville, we can all be with our families more often,” Williams says. He tells me that the dynamics of the band changed with the move, and those sentiments found its way onto Walk Into a Storm. For instance, the song “Deeper in the Water” is another letter, offering a promise within the band that they are committing to each other by making this life-changing move. Working with producer Dave Cobb in Nashville on Walk Into a Storm proved to be the right decision, offering a more raw and stripped-back sound from The Lone Bellow. “We loved working with Aaron Dessner but we wanted to make a record that breathed a little more,” he says. “We pulled the reigns back on instrumentation and let the lyrics pop out.”
As a listener, the album is lyric-focused in the most poetic way possible. The song “Between The Lines” says, I’m here to tell you, you don’t need to hurt to make something you love and tell you what you’re worth. You don’t need regret to guide you through the night. You and I were made to stand up straight and read between the lines. The lyrics were inspired by a conversation Williams had years ago with a music executive that didn’t necessarily sit well with him. “He told me it seems like I only write out of tragedy in my life. He didn’t want to have to wait around for the next terrible thing to happen to me for me to write a song I care about,” Williams explains. After offering this notion to fellow musicians like Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver and Mike Taylor from His Golden Messenger, Williams decided that he didn’t want to be a victim of pain in order to make worthwhile art. The chorus of “Between The Lines” is encourages listeners to take whatever hardships are given to you and make it better for yourself. “In the time we’re living in right now, with so much confusion and separation, I want empowered music listeners and musicians to not just be salmon swimming in a river, doing whatever our government or religion tells us to do,” Williams says. He adds, “We have hearts and minds and we can activate those things.”
From unifying and politically charged “Between The Lines” to romantic and brave songs like “Walk Into a Storm,” The Lone Bellow activates a range of emotions throughout Walk Into a Storm. Even for Williams’ six-year-old daughter Betty who upon hearing the anthemic song “May You Be Well,” a track written for his oldest daughter Loretta, broke into tears saying, “I started crying because I thought it was so beautiful you wrote something to one of us.” Williams, who describes Betty as his hippie daughter, couldn’t believe that a song he wrote in the bathroom at a Hampton Inn could trigger such emotion from a listener, let alone his six-year-old. As far as his wife goes, who was the inspiration for the title track, Williams says, “My wife is a realist in the most beautiful way. She knew what “Walk Into a Storm” was about and it meant a lot to her.”
The Lone Bellow has been on tour supporting The Head and the Heart for the past few weeks and will be performing with Mt. Joy and The Wild Reeds into 2018.