If the last two years have proven anything for Zach Willdee, it’s his patience and resiliency. Not only did he wait two years to release his debut single, “Take the Sign,” over that time, he was sporadically homeless, out of work and away from the stage that he loves so dearly. To that point, “Take the Sign” is a big victory for the Nashville-living singer/songwriter.
“Take the Sign” kicks off a year of big plans for Willdee, who has more new music on the horizons and hopes to take his music on the road again by summer. As he carves out his niche in the outlaw and traditional country landscapes, “Take the Sign” has already cemented Willdee as an artist to watch in 2021.
We chatted with Willdee all about “Take the Sign,” as well as falling in love with music at an early age, being away from the stage, what listeners can expect from upcoming releases and more!
Pro Country: Who were some of your earliest influences that had an impact on your sound?
Zach Willdee: When I first started playing guitar at 12 years-old, I found two records that changed my life. One was a John Prine album, Souvenirs, and the other a Carter Family album called Worried Man Blues. These two records had an enormous influence on the future direction I’d take my music. I was also introduced to the music of Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and Doc Watson around that time. Also meeting Doc Watson when I was 12 or 13 had a big kick on my musical path.
PC: You began your music career at just 14 years-old. What was it about music that connected with you so early in your life?
ZW: My father plays guitar, and growing up, he’d practice at night in the room next to my bedroom. I’d hear him play all sorts of bluegrass and country music, which swayed my appreciation towards music. Also, my parents always took my sister and I to festivals and shows while we were growing up, which ignited a desire and passion for music from an early age.
PC: You apprenticed under legendary songwriter Darrell Scott, which sparked your desire to move to Nashville. What was the biggest thing you were able to take away from Darrell’s teachings, and how did it prompt your move to Music City?
ZW: Darrell taught me an extraordinary amount about songwriting and his craft, but he also taught me about the difficulties of being a musician and instilled the drive that you need to pursue music as a career. He was plagued with hard times and difficult decisions, and he taught me that the smartest and wisest writers and performers always persevere through hard times, to keep an end goal in sight, and not to stray from that path.
PC: What emotions were you feeling as you were preparing to release your debut single, “Take the Sign”?
ZW: I was feeling prepared and extraordinarily enthusiastic about the release! I’ve been working on music for years now, and this is the first bit of music that will be released under my own name (not with a band), which is exciting! It’s been a rollercoaster over the last two years; finally cutting and releasing music couldn’t make me happier. I’m really proud of what I’m putting out. I put my heart and soul into it.
PC: Your bio mentions two more singles that will be released in the coming months. Why did you feel that “Take the Sign” was the right lead single?
ZW: “Take the Sign” was written in a dark time period of my life. I was homeless and couch surfing around Nashville, and that song stuck out to me. It bears a lot of pain and turmoil, but conveys the general chaos that was going on in my life at the time. It just kind of embodies where I was when I wrote this album, and I believe it sets the stage for the album.
PC: “Take the Sign” is a song that delves into heartache. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song?
ZW: I was homeless and sometimes stayed with a woman whom I was in love with. She had demons of her own to deal with and didn’t want to work on her own sordid past, which led me to an ultimatum of “You either have to take the signs I’m giving or let go of the relationship.” I wrote the song at her kitchen table after one particular argument that left me very distraught. If anything, this song has taught me that sometimes you can’t change people and have to realize that if they won’t take the signs you’re giving them, you need to see the signs they’re giving and take action. Sometimes the hardest part of a relationship is taking that sign and walking away from a situation that you may want to be in but know it will ruin you if you continue.
PC: Your bio mentions two more forthcoming singles and an album set for release in the Fall. What information can you give about the music you will be releasing? What can listeners expect to hear?
ZW: All the music will be coming from the vein of outlaw/traditional country that I’ve been culminating over the last several years. These two other singles are two of my favorites that I’ve written over the last few years and really paint a picture of the harder times/difficulties that I’ve experienced and overcame. I write music from experience and life experiences, sort of as a form of therapy and processing, and try to connect with the listeners by writing about universal issues that people can relate to and understand.
PC: As someone who has been playing live music for a significant part of your life, what has the past year-plus of limited/no live performances been like for you? What has the adjustment been like and how have you been able to stay busy?
ZW: It’s been an extraordinarily difficult year through the pandemic. For five months of it, I was homeless and jobless trying to scrape by. Musicians are like lions at a circus. They train, practice and train more to perform for audiences, but what do you do when no one shows up to the circus? I myself, as well as a majority of my songwriter friends, agreed the pandemic was absolutely crippling to the music industry and to writers and artists alike; we’re all trained and ready to perform, but caged and unable to do what we were meant to. Through the last year, I dove heavily into writing as a healing process and a means to keep my mind active in a period where the whole word felt lost and abandoned.
PC: Along with your forthcoming releases, what are your plans for the rest of 2021?
ZW: My plans are to be touring by mid-summer and to be getting my music out into the world. I’ve waited patiently for two years now to record and release my own music, and I couldn’t be more excited to finally get back out and show audiences the music I’ve been working on for years now. Who knows what the future holds!
*”Take the Sign” is featured on The Best of Pro Country playlist!*
**Feature image by Autumn Dozier**