If you’re a fan of country music and you’ve never heard the name Zach Stone, you will quickly want to make yourself familiar with his music. His lyrics are as honest and thoughtful as he was in my interview with him. We talked about why he ultimately picked music over baseball, what he hopes to convey with his music, how his single “Sorry and Lonely” changed when he got into the recording studio and so much more. Keep reading to see what he had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
Well, when I was 12 years old, it was just a fun thing to do. My mom was like, “Hey, you sing all the time. You could go to this place down the street and they’d probably let you do that for people.” So we went, they had auditions, and I made it on the show. It was just a fun gig to do on weekends. Then, as I got older and became a teenager, it was more like, “Oh, I can make money at this.”
When it finally came time to pick what I was doing in college, I had been playing baseball and was doing that competitively, so it was sort between, “Do I go to a school to play baseball or some place where I can play music?” A lot of the schools I had visited and was recruited at were good baseball schools, but didn’t have anything else. I wanted to make sure that wherever I went I had a [subject] that I could major in and that would matter to me. So I found Belmont here in Nashville and it was just the perfect combination of those, division I baseball mixed with the music business right here in Nashville — who could ask for anything more? [laughs] I jumped at the chance, moved to Nashville and have been doing the music thing ever since.
Talking about the fact that you wanted to do both music and baseball in college, was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is ultimately what you wanted to pursue professionally, not baseball?
Not really. After my freshman year of college, I felt like God was leading me towards the music path. I felt like I was being pushed down that road and I wanted to answer that call. So I entered a contest at Belmont and I [ended up] winning it. It was called the Country Showcase and was this big moment of, “Wow, that’s incredible.” Like as soon I decided to do this music thing full time, God just started opening these doors; all of a sudden people started calling me and I started writing more. It was just a huge answered prayer of like, “Yeah, this is where I’m supposed to be. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
So did you stop playing baseball after your freshman year or did you play all four years?
I didn’t play at Belmont after my freshman year. I did play in a couple of independent league things, just because I couldn’t stay away. It was hard emotionally for me to let that go because it had been a big part of my life for so long. It was definitely difficult, but I sort of weaned off of it slowly [laughs].
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music. You would consider yourself a country artist, but if you had to describe your sound without using genre names, what kind of music do you produce?
What a great question. One of the things I want to convey with my music is hope. I’m a pretty positive guy; I know it doesn’t come off with my single, “Sorry and Lonely” [laughs]. But overall, I’m a pretty positive guy and one of my favorite things to do is write songs that are happy, and not just happy but [ones that] have lyrics that convey hopefulness, positivity and a go-get-it attitude. I love music that puts a smile on my face and I want to make people smile every day. It’s always a lot of fun.
But at the same time, I also recognize that the world we live in is a huge shared experience. We are all going through so many things and I can’t possibly relate to all of them, but I can relate to some of them. So I want to be able to reach out and tell people, “Hey this is my story. This is who I am.” [I have a lot of] people who will message me on Instagram or find me at shows and say, “Man this song means so much to me because I just went through this” or “I just had this happen and this is what this song means to me.” That’s always really cool and I think you only get that when you’re willing to be raw, emotional, available and vulnerable with people. I always say vulnerability breeds vulnerability. It’s really important to me that I’m able to reach out with my music, the good songs and the bad songs, and help people get through what they are going through.
That’s awesome. You just mentioned your single, “Sorry and Lonely”, which I love by the way. What inspired this song?
A few years ago, I had a period of time where I was constantly seeking the affirmation of others, and especially women. Just to have some girl talk to me in a bar for 5 minutes or just to have a girl text me back was like a drug to me; it felt so good to have that positive affirmation of, “Oh good, someone wants to talk to me. I must be good at this.” That was just absurd and ridiculous. As I came out of that season, I got to a place where I was comfortable with myself and where I was [in life].
I found myself at a bar one night in Nashville and I just remember looking around and seeing all of these people and I was like, “Wow, these are all the same characters.” As you people watch, you see how everybody does the same things at different places; specifically at bars, everybody is searching for someone. There were girls there, looking for their affirmation and there were guys there, looking for people, hitting on girls, trying to find their friends. It was fascinating to watch these characters play out in front of me. It made me think back to my time and I was like, “Man, I used to look like that too.” I just felt bad to every girl I had ever approached in those times because it was never going to end well. I always thought, “Man, I should have introduced myself as, ‘Hi, I’m lonely and you’re going to be sorry.’” I thought that was kind of funny and as I thought about it more, I thought it was cool. These characters have names, no matter who the people are, whether it’s Zach and Rebecca or Mindy and Jack or whoever; they play these characters, sorry and lonely. So I just wrote that down and started thinking about it. I took it to a friend of mine, who I co-write with a lot, and he loved the idea, which kind of shocked me. But we jumped on the idea and made a really cool song out of it.
You just mentioned that you took this specific song idea to a friend of yours to co-write. But in terms of your general songwriting process, are you someone who tends to write by yourself or do you like collaborating with other artists and songwriters?
I tend to start by myself, generally speaking. I’ll usually come up with an idea on my own because I usually come up with it at the most inopportune times, like when I’m driving or in the shower, these moments where I have no real opportunity to work on it or write it down. But it runs through my head and as it does so, I just jump on that hamster wheel and start spinning it. I get to sort of see what comes out of it and that helps me flesh out the idea. Then I’ll take that idea, walk into the room and [present it] like, “Here’s the idea: it’s called ‘Sorry and Lonely.’ She’s lonely and he’s sorry and here’s the dynamic, this is what they do” and I can sit down and storyboard it with whoever I’m co-writing it with. I’ll say, “This is what the chorus sounds like to me or this is what the verse is” or whatever and we can pick it up from there and work on it together.
Were there any major changes made to the “Sorry and Lonely” once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
Oh good question. Yeah, when we were first writing it, we were like, “Man, this is going to be an acoustic song. There is no way you could add instrumentation to this.” It just felt too forlorn, it just felt too helpless. It was a much slower ballad, all guitars, kind of like “Burning House” by Cam, where it’s just like so ridiculously slow and there’s no musical moment, no anything; it’s just sad and slow. That’s what we thought it was going to be. And when we wrote this song, we thought it was cool and fun to do as creative people, but we were like, “Nobody’s going to like this,” that anybody would listen to this and be like, “Guys, this is weird and slow. We’re out. We’re not interested.” So I was surprised when somebody said, “Hey, that’s a really good song.” And it just kind of kept happening. When we got in the studio, my producer was like, “We should do this big chorus.” He revamped it and played it for me as something that was a little more mid-tempo with this up-tempo chorus and I was like, “Yeah, that grooves.” It’s got this real swingy feel to it; it’s really different and it’s a lot of fun.
It’s funny that you say it’s supposed to be this slow, somber song because now that I’ve listened to it a couple of times, I can’t even imagine what that would sound like.[laughs] The chorus was, again, super stripped down and broken. Just take that song, put it on a record player and click it back one click so it kind of rolls slower and thats what you got.
I know you’re still promoting “Sorry and Lonely” and it’s still enjoying airplay on country radio, but do you have any plans to release more singles or an EP or a full length project sometime soon?
Maybe I do and maybe I don’t [laughs]. I do actually have a single that I’ve been working on. I have a couple of things in the works. I have a vision that I’m still trying to pull together right now. I don’t know that it’s going to manifest itself in a full project like an EP or an album. But I can definitely promise more music is on the way, for sure.
What are some music industry-related goals that you’re aiming to reach in your career in the next couple of years?
I was just talking to somebody yesterday [about this]. We were walking through the CRS media room and doing all kinds of interviews and you could hear the New Faces night. They were playing in the room right next door. Listening to Russell Dickerson, who’s a guy that went to Belmont and I’ve gotten to meet a couple of times before he got massive, it’s cool to see those people succeed and start to climb the ladder. I feel like that’s something I see myself do; it’s been more day-by-day obviously, but it’s been to cool to watch it grow and grow and grow. So that’s one of the things I’m looking forward to is next year doing CRS Next Faces and hoping I can get everybody on board with that.
There’s a lot of focus on the industry itself and I’m not one of those people who really thinks it matters. Someone was talking to me the other day and was like, “Man, if I can only get a record deal.” And I was like, “Dude, you don’t need a record deal. All you need is fans. All you need is people who love you and love your music. Whether you have a record deal or not, that’s what’s going to carry you.” Cause if you get a record deal and you don’t have fans, that’s not going to do you a lot of good. If you have a lot of fans, and then one day you get a record deal and for whatever reason that record deal goes a way, you still have fans. You still get to go out and play shows and people still show up because they still love you. There’s a lot of guys out there that have proven [this]. I know Tim McGraw is an icon, but he’s still selling out shows because he’s got fans, not because he’s had 6 more number ones in the last year. He has fans, people love him. There are a lot of new artists who are proving that too. Cody Johnson was an independent guy from Texas that I’ve been listening to for a decade I feel like. And now all of a sudden he’s signed to Warner and all of these industry things are suddenly working for him. But man, last year, he sold out the Houston Texans stadium which holds like 70 or 80 thousand people. You don’t need the industry, man; you need fans. So that’s what I’m focused on: find my fans, find my people, get out and play shows. I guess the biggest industry thing I focus on is writers. I try to get out and, for a song a really like, I try to go out and find that writer and say, “Hey man I want to write with you.”
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
Oh man. Baseball season is on the way, and that is always something I nerd out about. That is something that friends and girlfriends and family, they all have to deal with me and baseball season, cause let me tell you: it’s a trip. So the Rangers are my team and I follow them, but I also follow all 7 levels of their minor league system, from triple A down to low A, high A and rookie ball. Yeah, I’m all over that. Then I also follow the rest of MLB too, because I love the game. I love watching what other teams are doing and how other teams are working it.