Zac Wilkerson – Back to the Dirt

Zac Wilkerson has been digging in deep within the Texas scene for many years. He’s suffered through rotating band members, changing musical tastes of the populace and the ever dreaded terrible venue owner. Yet, on the evening I met up with him for this interview he was jovial as usual. And he should be, as the highly anticipated follow up to 2014’s Zac Wilkerson & The Wayward Souls is on the cusp of being completed. Coming in November 4th, Zac and his crew will be releasing Dustbowl Soul. This marks the second project to be overseen by Texas music veteran Walt Wilkins.

“Walt? Well, he’s kind of my Soul Brother. Really. He really is. We didn’t know each other that well until we made the first record. We met each other through Nick Verzosa. He introduced us a few times. When it came to making a record, Nick was the one that gave me Walt’s number and told me to try it. He instigated the handoff. We really didn’t have many interactions before then. Over the course of making [Zac Wilkerson & The Wayward Souls], we realized on the same frequency on a lot of stuff. We both love music, and feel the importance and the weight of what we get to do.”

After the release of Dustbowl Soul, Zac has no plans of slowing down with Walt. “Since then, I’ve told him ‘Let’s keep doing this forever.’ He’s my good friend and soul brother. We plan on making as much music as humanly possible. He’s open to being as big a part of my music as I need him or want him to be, which is pretty enormous. It blows my mind sometimes. I’m so lucky.”

How did the latest session differ from the previous album? This time Zac took in his road band, comprised of Paul Douglass on bass and Mike Vann on drums. “It went fast. It doesn’t usually go that fast. We were surprised and thankful the first time, but didn’t expect it this time. With what I wanted in the studio was like the stories I heard about Willie and Waylon going in with their road band. We wanted to be able to take the road band and the road experience, the way we play on the road, and go in with that. Walt and Ron are geniuses. They are musical wells that are many, many leagues deep. They would say ‘Let’s go through this song once’. We had Paul [Douglass] on bass, Mike [Vann] on drums, and we brought Chip [Dolan] back. Chip kind of knew what to expect, already. He likes that unplanned, improvisational creativity. He hadn’t heard the songs before. He just comes in and plays cold. First instinct, kind of. What am I hearing? What sounds right? With Walt and Ron, they give me that freedom, the ability to say ‘I hear this.’ I’m allowed to tell them how this song should sound. They don’t tell me what my sound is. They let me get my sound and then [they] perfect it. With these two guys and Chip, we played the songs ninety percent like we play live. Maybe a few arrangement adjustments, but that input in those little changes make us go ‘Oh yeah, that’s why it never felt quite right.’ They’re great about stuff like that. Simplify. Sometimes what you do live is too cumbersome for a recording. When I write a song, it really isn’t done until we play it live ten to twenty times. We fill it out again. We dissect it a little more. The stage has a way of knocking off all the extra bullshit. It knocks all the rough edges off. All the unnecessary bullcrap, it takes it right off. That’s what the stage does, and I love it. Knocks it down to what the song needs to be delivered the best way. It’s the process of getting the best chemistry possible. I thought it would be real cool to take what we do live, because I genuinely like what we do live. Its raw. Imperfect. Visceral. It’s a sacrificial thing. We sacrifice our bodies. We sacrifice our time. Our voice. Our gift. Our emotions. It will suck you dry. It will suck you to a lifeless husk if you don’t understand what we do is a sacrificial thing. We bring the medicine. We make you forget about all the shit that’s happening. You’re there to help them process it. Give them the medicine they need to get over whatever emotional sickness they’re fighting right now.”

“I’ve nursed a broken heart to a few albums. There are a handful of records that I have that I listen to only when I want to revisit certain memories. There are certain songs I listen to when I want to remember a specific memory. Any other time that song may be off limits because it will bring that memory on. It’s the soundtrack to that memory. When it starts playing you know that scene.” DD