Southern rock bands are steeped in a lot more than the “three chords and the truth” philosophy. There’s no denying country roots run deep, but the blues and soul influences often are steering the musical bus. One of the newest incarnations of that Southern style, and finding unique blends to tell new stories about God, country, family and still having one hell of a good time, is Zac Brown.
The founder, front man and lead vocalist for the multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning Southern rock group, Zac Brown Band, combines all of those elements into a gumbo that tastes like home but with it comes surprise flavors folks weren’t expecting. Like the group’s many songs, people want to taste another one and another.
Brown and his guys put a little sass into their Southern style, mixing in a little new with the traditional, tweaking as they go each time, creating a recipe for overwhelming success.
Brown is an impactful songwriter, producer, businessman and philanthropist – making him one of the sharpest minds among today’s generation of artists focused on shifting the paradigm of the music business. Zac Brown Band’s first widely distributed studio album, “The Foundation,” sold more than 5 million copies making the album 5x platinum following its release in 2008. The lead song, “Chicken Fried,” became the band’s first national release, also going 5x platinum with more than 5 million sales and 255 million streams.
Since then, Brown has released four studio albums, two live albums, a greatest hits album and an extended play produced by Dave Grohl, all with Zac Brown Band members including Jimmy De Martini, John Driskell Hopkins, Clay Cook, Chris Fryar, Coy Bowles, Daniel de los Reyes, and Matt Mangano.
Founded in 2002, Zac Brown Band’s success can largely be attributed to Brown’s interest in pushing creative boundaries by collaborating with top artists across different genres including Avicii, Chris Cornell, Jimmy Buffett, Foo Fighters, Sheryl Crow, Sara Bareilles and Jason Mraz to name a few. Most recently, Brown worked with Shawn Mendes on writing his latest single with the band titled “Someone I Used To Know,” which debuted on Billboard’s Hot Country Song Chart the week of its release in November 2018. The new material comes as the band embarks on their “Down The Rabbit Hole Live,” spring 2019 tour, which includes a stop in Laughlin.
Drummer and percussionist Daniel de los Reyes has a bit of a local connection to the area as well as the state of Nevada. Growing up in Las Vegas, and coming up through the ranks to become a seasoned musician, he has played with many bands in not only the Laughlin casinos, but the surrounding area as well. So when we had the opportunity to talk to de los Reyes about this particular trip, we jumped at the chance. Here’s his take on the conversation…
We understand you are from Las Vegas.
I’ll give you a quick little run down. I was born in New York City. I’m a fourth generation musician from the de los Reyes family so we moved wherever there was a good amount of work. We went to San Juan and I lived there until I was 10, then we moved to Las Vegas because that’s when Las Vegas was kicking booty. That’s where I was raised. Now I live in Atlanta, Georgia. I moved over here ever since I joined the Zac Brown Band.
Every time I go back to that area, specifically to that kind of desert in that area, I feel beyond home. I lived there, I graduated high school there and went to UNLV a little bit, and worked all the hotels on The Strip. I worked in and around Nevada — everything from Mesquite and Tonopah to Ely, to Bullhead City, Laughlin, Lake Havasu, in a lot of the lounges — I mean, I even played the jails in upstate Nevada when I was starting. Lake Mead was the place where we would take everybody. I know the Colorado River, I know Laughlin very, very well, so I’m really looking forward to being there. I’m a big fan of Laughlin.
Your thoughts about playing the Laughlin Event Center?
I hope it’s not snowing when we get there. The other day we were in Vegas doing a private event, we got there and it was actually snowing. I mean it snowed there when I was little, but not too often. When it did, it was catastrophic for everybody because nobody knows how to deal with any snow. So it was just weird to land there and have that when I was expecting my Las Vegas sun and sky. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I can’t wait. I’ve never played at the amphitheater there, so that’s gonna be a new thing.
When did you become part of the Zac Brown Band? With your various musical projects and connections, what attracted you to the group?
I think it’s sometimes destiny. It’s not so much what appealed to me that I went after it, it’s more like we ran into each other, Zac and I. That’s how the whole thing started. It was 2011 going into 2012, that I met Zac at a musical event up in Northern California. We played, had a couple of drinks, stayed out late, talking about music and sharing and all that kind of stuff, and we hit it off. I didn’t know who he was. I had just kind of sat in with him and I didn’t recognize the songs that we were just doing, we were kind of just fitting in and we enjoyed each other’s presence and had a great conversation. The next year we met again at the same event, and then he invited me to go out with the guys and I did and seven or eight years later, I’m still here.
Hats off to you guys because so many bands fall prey to the egos.
Absolutely. For the most part, it’s like any family — what family is functional really? There’s some level of disfunctionality in anything and everything you do. So the ego thing, we all have a certain sense of pride with it and I think it’s a healthy thing in everything that we do. We’re gifted and of course, practiced, to become better and better, and it takes a certain level of security when you get up on stage in front of that many people to be able to put forth the kind of energy that it takes to do that. But you know, it’s a give and take thing. Like any family sometimes one is causing more ruckus than another, and we all have to find our place in and around our family relationship.
You maintain a certain freedom with your music, keeping your collective voice and your message without compromise, from the writing, the recording, pretty much all aspects. What is the importance of keeping that in tact?
I guess it all depends on if it’s a group environment or it’s one single individual. Even if it’s one individual — a lot of great, great songs and recordings that we all know, a lot of artists never even wrote those songs or were part of the creations of the songs. So we are definitely on every album that we do and each has a whole different entity to it, life. It’s easy to get caught up and make it the same — “if that works, let’s just reproduce that and do it again and again and again,” and that’s not who we are. We definitely come from being able to explore, try new things, and we definitely try all the time and we definitely thank our incredible audiences and our loyal fan base for being so supportive as we move along. We don’t like to cook the same meal every day, that’s just not us. But we realize the importance of those meals — I’m using the food analogy because I haven’t eaten — (he says with a laugh). We realize that people love a certain style and feel and we make sure we take care of that, especially in our live shows, and more so than in the recordings sometimes. But at the same time, we know our fans and new fans are wondering, “What are they gonna do now?”
There are no creative boundaries with you guys as well.
I think it’s in all of us to do that, to constantly try new things, some more than others at certain moments. Zac being the head of our group, he definitely likes to explore, he definitely likes to go in different directions. That’s one of the things I think attracted us together is because we do like to go off to the right or to the left and try things. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but that’s all good.
Is Laughlin part of the “Down the Rabbit Hole Live Tour?” What can we expect?
Laughlin is part of the “Down the Rabbit Hole Tour.” We’ll start another tour, the “Owl Tour” and it starts in June. I’m excited about this tour because we’re going to up the ante — that happens anytime we do something new and we’re trying new things again and again. We are doing a couple new songs from the new music project we’re doing in the near future. We have an incredible new production and we’ve got video screens, we’ve got these incredible, crazy videos that have been worked on hard for eight months that you’re going to see there. So it’s very exciting. Our new music is different than what we’ve done in the past, new rhythms, a whole different style. Like I said, we like changing things up, but again always giving everybody the main hits in the show. But I hope they take to these new songs because we’re excited about them.
We’ve got new covers also, so we’re always excited about that. We’ve got a Foo Fighters one, a Pearl Jam one, we’re doing a Rage Against the Machine one. You can tell we like rock and roll a lot.
How does this new production element work in the show? Will it allow you guys to color outside the lines a smidge?
Right now there’s so much production that follows all the music that we’re doing. We’re adjusting to the time codes and the particulars and we cannot stray from that at the moment. That doesn’t mean that we’re not going to, but at this particular phase of building the tour we have to stick to these 20 songs that are from A to Z, and the production is built as follows. You cannot just all of a sudden divert it in one direction, because it would offset the beauty of the whole story. But whether or not we fluctuate or we change — obviously you know from the beginning of this conversation, that we’re all about that, so absolutely we’ll color outside the lines. It’s not so much rigid — it might sound like it — but when there’s so many moving pieces, it’s beautiful. I think this is the highest production that we’ve ever done when it to comes to the rest of the show. It’s gonna be awesome to see all the people from that region come and see us and be part of the show.