Best known as 1/3 of the Nashville-based super-group The Lone Bellow, Zachary Williams released his debut solo album Dirty Camaro today. Produced by Robert Ellis and Josh Block, the album features an amazing cast of guest musicians including Anderson East, Ashley Monroe, John Paul White (The Civil Wars), Thad Cockrell, and the gospel group Settles Connection.
We caught up with Zachary over the phone right before he was about to step on a plane to Texas to continue The Lone Bellow tour. He has just spent an evening hanging out with Woody Harrelson, Justin Theroux, and Lena Headey at an event for the upcoming The White House Plumbers. If this doesn’t reflect how rapidly his career has grown from playing solo shows in New York in 2011, to releasing his 5th album with The Lone Bellow, in just 10 years, then I don’t what does.
Williams confesses he’d been really wanting to make a solo album for a number of years. He remembers sitting down for coffee with Jim James of My Morning Jacket and asking about the band morale and what it was like when he started releasing his solo albums, hoping everything was okay. James replied that everybody in the band has different creative outlets and that’s the way it should be. If it’s not, then it’s toxic. Williams then took this to the band and asked what they thought. Everyone loved and supported the idea.
“That moment helped my subconscious to release any hesitations and really start writing and figuring out how I wanted to make the album.”
The first single and music video “Game for Guessing” has already garnered 150k streams on Spotify and almost 2k views on Youtube. The bombastically wild video comes with a story behind it. Williams was on a run in his parent’s hometown, saw this old Honda Civic bashed and beaten up. As he approached it he realized it didn’t have a windshield. As he got ever closer he saw two people in pink ski goggles driving the car around.
“I was like, that’s how I feel inside, as crazy as you look here on the street. When I called Debbie Ewing and she asked what I wanted to do, I just told her that story and that was the start of it.”
Williams stopped at his friend’s house to borrow a wig for the video and they offered up a hospital gown. Toward the end of the video, Williams is losing his marbles and that gown was a serendipitous last minute addition.
The album opens with “Airplane”, a track that doesn’t have a chorus. An auspicious decision that sets the tone of not knowing what to expect on the album, the song feels like if Meatloaf and Little Feat did a song together. “Anything” follows as sweet hopeless love song that ties back to Williams himself as he married his childhood best friend. It’s also a song that finally broke down his producer as well after years of trying in hearing the completed song.
“I finally got Robert Ellis to cry. I’ve been working on that for eight years.”
The decision to bring in two guest singers on “Can’t Tell the Difference” was obvious to Williams, sharing it had such a strong Southern trio sound to it. He wanted to hear two voices from Alabama and was surprised to have Anderson East and John Paul White agree to join him. It’s a perfect trio of voices to round out the song and pay homage to The Lone Bellow in William’s own way.
One of the many standout tracks is “Her Picture” featuring Ashley Monroe. Lyrically it’s a bittersweet desire to hold on to memories and the perfect moments captured in a photo. Monroe’s voice twizzler’s tightly with Williams, with flashes of ad libs drive the words home. It feels like a conversation between two people with past relationships, the photos still held onto in a box under the bed.
“You put her picture in my place
She looks so beautiful in her white summer dress
And your hand on her waist” (lyrics from Her Picture)
Coming out of 2020, you’d expect there to be at least one song that would relate to the pandemic. Williams “feverishly” wanted to disregard all of that. He cued back to a movie I Heart Huckabees and the part where Jude Law has to kept retelling the same story over and over about how Shania Twain doesn’t like mayonnaise. He finally loses it and throws up in his mouth a little. Williams chuckles,
“I’m not giving you this power. I’m not going to write the song. I know that’s pretty dramatic but I figured that it would be pretty well covered.”
The album ends with a gospel choir infused track named “Road Over that Mountain” with the Settles Connection. Williams carries such an unique character and style in his voice. This song pulls more of that out of him, gradually takes it over the top at the end. It’s a journey of an album, one with stories, love, and optimism about the future. Dirty Camaro is a powerful solo breakout that draws me through the South, while keeping my heart facing North.
You can catch Zachary Williams with The Lone Bellow at the Varsity Theater on November 4th. Ticket onsale here. Keep an eye out in February 2022 as Williams will be touring this album in smaller venues and intimate settings.