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Outside Projects Make Zac Brown Band More Creative Together

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Joe Scarnici, Getty Images

Not every band encourages its members to pursue solo careers, but Zac Brown Band aren’t “every band.” All of the group’s members are still free to pursue outside interests, even as they continue on together as a successful unit.

“Before we formed the Zac Brown Band, everybody kind of had their own thing going on,” Jimmy De Martini tells The Boot. “So the way we formed the band … was almost like an all-star thing: It was a bunch of musicians around Atlanta that had their own thing going on, and we’d get together with Zac [Brown] and do some shows, and slowly he added members to the band.”

Adds John Driskell Hopkins, “I’ve always maintained that everybody in Zac Brown Band is a band leader. Coy [Bowles] and Clay [Cook] and I all have our own records and had them before we joined the band. Jimmy used to be one of the main driving forces of the Dave Matthews Cover Band, and they were playing 1,200-seat theaters. All the guys in the band have been music directors and very influential in their own careers before joining this band. So, basically, we’ve continued to live the way that we would normally live but also make our main focus Zac Brown Band.”

As Hopkins explains, their continuing outside projects fulfill a basic need to be independently creative.

“It’s a little tricky in terms of the schedule, but we’re a group of guys that have to create,” he says. “And I’ve been a band leader since I was, you know, 20, so it’s something that I don’t know how not to do it. I have to write my own songs. I have to sing them. And I have to be in front of the mic once in a while.”

De Martini agrees: By being a band that allows its members to pursue their own interests, Zac Brown Band are able to create more interesting music.

“We all have our own thing going on, and we have our own style, and I think that contributes to the sound of the Zac Brown Band,” he says. “That’s why we’re able to be versatile when we go into the studio, when we want to do different styles of music.”

Hopkins’ interests are more than just musical. He has a theater degree and has taken on a couple movie roles in addition to his solo musical pursuits. He and Bowles also participate in an artist-in-residence program at Kennesaw State University.

“[We] both like talking to students and like university atmosphere and like the educational system, and we wanted to be a part of it,” Hopkins explains, “so we come up four times a semester and do a Q&A on what it’s like to be in the Zac Brown Band and … how we spend our time day to day as a professional musician.”

And while none of ZBB’s members draw the same crowds at solo shows as they do together as Zac Brown Band, the size of the audience isn’t really the point.

“There’s just not the same name recognition, and there’s not the same fan base … I can’t expect to sell 100,000 records just because I’m in the Zac Brown Band. I have to do it on my own,” Hopkins admits. “For me, it’s joyful to have a personal challenge like that.”

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