Zach Neil is admittedly a clinger to sad ol’ songs, however, he’s not afraid to turn up the tempo and have a good ol’ time with his music either. With his newest single, “Half Bad,” Neil has released his first true “fun” tune, and has also proven that he’s a versatile singer/songwriter capable of delivering a song for any circumstance life throws their way.
“Half Bad” follows and continues a string of success for Neil, as he’s seen his stock steadily climb since the release of his breakout single, “When She Drinks Whiskey,” in 2019. What has followed has been a handful of top 40 hits, recording with high quality session musicians, and most recently, a song that skyrocketed out of the gate at radio with “Half Bad.”
We caught up with Neil to talk all about “Half Bad,” as well as two of his recent singles, collaborating with heavy-hitting musicians, staying busy during the pandemic, getting back on the road and more!
Pro Country: Your June of 2020 single, “Maverick,” is one of our favorite songs you’ve released so far and details the life of traveling musicians. How autobiographical in nature is that song?
ZN: It’s definitely autobiographical. Being a traveling musician, you’re gone a lot. There’s always the give and take of wanting to be out working, but that makes it hard on relationships. I’ll be honest, my favorite thing about that song is the fiddle. I wrote it with Dan Hudson, and I’d had that idea for about 3 years. I had the title, and honestly, it was driving me insane. I kept coming back to it, and I had no idea what to write to it. I thought it sounded cool though. I was with Dan one night, and I told him I had this idea that was driving me nuts. After I threw it out at him, he almost immediately threw out that first line.
PC: Your last single, “Something Going on in the Stars” became a Top 40 hit on Texas radio. In the midst of a strange year, what did it mean to you to achieve that feat again?
ZN: I’m so grateful. I’m especially grateful for that song, because we couldn’t get out and promote it last year because of Covid. It was very gratifying to see it do so well without being able to support it and play shows. We did some radio interviews over the phone, but that’s not the same as being there in person. I was honestly surprised at how well did considering we couldn’t do any of that kind of stuff.
PC: Why did you feel that your new single, “Half Bad,” was the right follow up to “Something Going on in the Stars”?
ZN: Interestingly enough, we thought we had a different single [laughs]. It was funny because we went in and did the track, and before I even put a vocal on it, everyone was saying how well it sounded. I was on the fence about it, and then we realized it was something fun and that we’re coming out of Covid and in a time where everybody’s ready to get back out there. I’ve got plenty of serious songs, but I’ve never put anything out that was just a light-hearted, fun kind of song. Given everything that’s happened over the last year, we figured people were ready to get out and have some fun. In the first couple weeks it’s been out, radio is really latching onto it. Once again, I’m just so grateful.
PC: To that point, how important is it for you to have that certain sonic and thematic diversity in your music in that way and follow a song like “Something Going on in the Stars” with a fun song like “Half Bad”?
ZN: I think it’s really important. People aren’t sad all the time, and people aren’t happy all the time. I think having songs that cover the emotional spectrum of what we all go through is important. Everybody understands sadness and everybody understands having a good time and everything in between, so having something that speaks to those different feelings is really important. I’m a sucker for a good sad song though [laughs]. If somebody were to listen to my playlist, they’d be so depressed it wouldn’t even be funny [laughs]. But you have to have some fun, light-hearted stuff in there too.
PC: “Half Bad” was co-written with heavy-hitting writers Jeff Silvey and Neal Coty. Can you take us in the writing room and talk about the inspiration behind the song?
ZN: That song came together so fast. I walked in that day to write with them, and I had no idea what we were going to write. Sometimes when you have a write, you don’t have anything on your mind. I showed up and just started playing a guitar riff, and Neal said that he liked the sound of it. Then Jeff spit out, “She’s really good, and I’m not half bad.” It happened that quick. Less than an hour later, we were done. We didn’t overthink it, we just had fun with it.
PC: There were also several heavy-hitting musicians playing on “Half Bad,” including Larry Franklin, Mike Johnson and Jim “Moose” Brown. What is it like to have such high quality players on your songs and to collaborate with them in the studio?
ZN: It’s always such a treat for me to be around those guys. Those guys are the unsung heroes, kind of like songwriters. The songwriters and musicians that play on the songs in the studio bring stuff to life. They go in and hear something for the very first time, and twenty minutes later, you’ve got a track, it’s crazy [laughs]. They’re so talented and so good, so for me, it’s a lot of fun. It’s insane to be around that level of talent.
PC: You’ve got some shows starting to fill up your schedule. After largely being away from the stage for over a year, how excited are you to get back on the road?
ZN: It feels so good. It’s nice to be playing for people in person again. The Facebook Live things that were going on last year were great, but with those, you don’t get feedback from people, other than somebody writing, “Sounds good!” [laughs]. You also don’t have any idea how you sound coming through their speakers. It’s great to be back playing music with guys I love and respect so much, and to have that big, full of sound again.
PC: What was the adjustment like for you with little to no performances last year? How were you able to stay busy?
ZN: I was very fortunate to be able to do a lot of Facebook Lives. Thankfully, there were some radio stations allowing us to take over their Facebook pages, so it was cool to be able to reach their audience that I may not have normally been able to reach quite as easily. There’s a big thank you that needs to go out to the radio stations for letting us do that. Thankfully, I was able to go to Vegas last September as well. It was kind of strange, Vegas is always busy, and it was like a ghost town. It was bizarre. I was able to do some acoustic shows, and I had some people ask me to do private events on Zoom, and that was something I’d never experienced before either. I’m so grateful to have the opportunities that I had
PC: With things starting to open up a bit, what are your plans for the rest of 2021?
ZN: We have a full summer all the shows. We’re going to be all over Texas, out West a little bit, and we’ve even got some stuff in Kentucky and Ohio, so we’re going to be all over. We’ve all been ready to get back at it, so now we’re going to go back at it hard [laughs].
PC: Is there anything you’d like to add?
ZN: We just started an email list that’s going to be like a monthly newsletter. We’re going to be running some contests and promotions there too. That will help people stay up to date with me, the music and where we’ll be. As soon as you go to my website, there’s a box where people can put their email in and hit submit, and they’re done!
*”Half Bad” is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*