Q&A: Zach Williams Talks New Album, Headlining Tour, Working With Walker Hayes & More
Williams’ first project in three years, ‘A Hundred Highways, is out now.
Photo Courtesy Zach Williams
Multi-platinum seller, Zach Williams just dropped his new single, “Jesus’ Fault,” feat. Walker Hayes alongside the release of his first album in three years titled, A Hundred Highways.
“I feel like we kind of tried to capture this Garth Brooks “Friends In Low Places” kind of ‘90s country vibe. So it feels, feels really fun,” he said in regards to the new track with Hayes.
During those years when Williams wasn’t releasing full-length collections, he was taking the time to focus on himself, write music and curate a well-thought-out track list for this project. In doing so, he was also building plenty of anticipation for its release.
“Covid kind of slowed that down,” he explained to Country Now. “Had Covid not came along, I think I could have probably had a record done a lot earlier, but I’m kind of glad that I had the time to do it because there wasn’t any pressure. I didn’t feel rushed.”
Even though Williams did not have a hand in writing this song, it still fits effortlessly into his latest full-length project. As a whole, A Hundred Highways embraces Williams’ signature blend of southern rock and country as he draws in inspiration from his journey of self-discovery and finding peace in the midst of chaos. With each new collection he builds, Williams is solidifying himself more and more as a solo artist after dissolving his band, The Reformation, in 2012.
“The entire record I feel like I’ve kind of touched on all genres of music that I’ve grown up listening to, and I tried to put a little bit of everything on this,” he shared.
In addition to his collaboration with the viral country star, which the two-time Grammy winner says is “as country as you can get,” he’s already released a few other singles off the 15-track project such as “Big Tent Revival,” “Heart of God,” and his most recent, “Lookin’ For You.”
Several of these songs off A Hundred Highways have been worked into the Christian singer’s set for his 2022 fall tour, along with his collaboration with Dolly Parton, “There Was Jesus,” which topped the Christian Billboard charts in 2020.
He snagged the opportunity to record with the country music icon after sending her the track with a sliver of hope that she might fall in love with it the same way he did. He explained that she only got a few lines in before she saw the talent in the song and wanted to be a part of it. They got in the studio together to record his track and later reprised it for her upcoming holiday film, “Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas.”
“She’s the real deal. You have those expectations for people and I’ve heard the whole, ‘don’t meet your heroes’ thing, but with her, she’s lived up to everything and she’s just a great person,” Williams gushed about Dolly.
Not only will Williams be included on the soundtrack to the Christmas special, but he will also play a key role as a member of the wise men next to two other well-known country music stars. Stepping into this experience has even made Williams consider adding acting to his resume.
Country Now recently caught up with Zach Williams ahead of his album release to talk about his recent collaborations, acting in Dolly Parton’s upcoming Christmas film, his fall tour, incorporating religion into his music, and more.
Check out our Q&A with the two-time Grammy winner below.
You have three singles that are already released off your upcoming record. So why were these the songs that you chose to be the first taste of the new music?
Well, “Heart Of God” was the first song and that’s my single at Christian Radio right now. There were a few in the running for lead single, but that one, for me, just felt so different from anything that I’d put out as a radio single. The posture of the song, the message in the song, I feel like it’s a pretty important message for people and for the world right now. Then “Big Tent Revival,” I was like, “Man, I wanna put something out that kind of has the rock and roll and the country and the bluegrass vibes.” So, that was also a potential first single for me. We put that out and I kind of thought about what songs do I wanna play this fall on my tour from this new album.
Can you talk about the meaning behind your most recent release, “Lookin’ For You”?
“Lookin’ For You” is, if there’s a title track for the record, it’s the title track. It says everything that I wanted to say on this record. The “hundred highways” line is in the chorus, and it’s kind of been this journey that I’ve been on for probably 20 years to get to this place. It’s kind of that culmination of, you know, me realizing all these things that I tried to put in my life and try to fix and fill these holes that I had, that for me, only God could do. I grew up with this old saying like, first place you find something is the last place you look for it and I realized the last place I looked, I found Jesus and I realized that I’ve been looking for him my whole life, when I go back and look at my past.
How did you come to work with Walker Hayes on your track, “Jesus’ Fault”?
So this is the only song I’ve ever recorded that I didn’t have a hand in it, really. A friend that co-wrote the song with Walker sent me this song in like a voice memo and I was just so intrigued by the title. I was like, “what’s ‘Jesus’ fault’? Like, what is this?” When I started listening to it, I was like, I can relate to that lyric so much because of my own personal story and I know the people in the fan base that I have coming to my concerts, I know they’re gonna relate to it as well. I started thinking, you know, when I got my life together back in 2012, like I didn’t have an explanation for anybody that was asking me like, “Why have you changed” and all this. It was almost like, don’t blame me, blame Jesus. When I heard this song, I was like, that’s everything that I wanted to say. So I called Walker and I was like, “Hey dude, I heard the song that you guys wrote and I wanna record it and I would love for you to be a part of it if you want to be.” He was busy, I was busy and I said, “Well, why don’t you just let me go in the studio and record the song, and when I get it to a place that I’m happy with, I’ll send it to you.” So we got the song pretty much finished and when I sent it to Walker, he called me freaking out. He jumped on it and kind of took it to another level because he has his own style and his own thing that he does, and I feel like it meshed really well on this song.
Listeners got a taste of the record with the tracks you’ve already released, but what messages are you hoping to convey with the entirety of the album?
My hope is always that there’s songs that people are gonna attach themselves to or be able to relate to. That’s the real reason I write what I write and where I write it from. I’m always hoping that somebody who’s going through something similar that I’ve gone through in my life is gonna hear a lyric or hear a song that they’re gonna be able to attach to and it’s gonna get them through the season that they’re in. I think other than that, my biggest thing is, I kind of feel like this is, for me, the first record that I’ve made that this truly feels like Zach Williams. It sounds like me. I’ve been asked so many times through the years, like, “if you had to describe your sound, who do you sound like?” And I would always say, I grew up listening to Bob Seger or Gregg Allman and, you know, try to make it like that, but I feel like I could finally say for the first time, this record sounds like Zach Williams. It’s true to me and who I am and I feel like this is the record I wanted to make for a long time. I’m super proud of it.
Is there any specific reason you chose to end the project with “Plan For Me”?
It was the first song I wrote for the Rescue Story album, probably over four years, maybe five years ago. It was the first song that I wrote and then I realized it wasn’t gonna be a single on Rescue Story, so I held it and it just felt like it belonged on this record. I was glad that I had that title and that song to end this record with ‘cause it just felt appropriate, kinda like where I’m at in my life right now. This record feels like there’s a lot of reflection and a lot of like looking back and, you know, I would say a lot of gratitude and things like that. This is the perfect song to end this record with.
Your collaboration with Dolly Parton is now certified as a platinum single. How did you go about reaching out to her to ask if she would be a feature on “There Was Jesus”?
It really just started with the song. When we had the song written, it’s funny, me and my wife were listening to the demo at dinner one night and she said, “You should reach out and see if Dolly Parton would sing on that.” I kinda laughed at her and I was like, sure. Then she was like, “No, I’m serious.” And I was like, okay. So, you know, when I first brought it up to my record label, it was kind of the same thing. It was kinda like, “are you serious? Like, you’re gonna ask Dolly?” We didn’t know how to get ahold of her, but we had some people that knew a contact and we sent this all to her and she told me, “I never made it through the chorus, and I knew that it was special.” She said she wanted to be a part of it. She said, “I felt like it was a God’s send.”
What was your first in-person interaction with Dolly like?
It was really funny. We met in the studio to work on the song and that first day, she walked in, she said, “You’re gonna win a Grammy for this song.” And sure enough, we did, which was crazy. I mean, she’s been so cool to just champion that song because she didn’t have any songwriting in it, she didn’t ask for anything, you know, she didn’t want any royalties, any mechanicals. I mean, she just wanted to be a part of it. She asked me to be a part of the CMAs that year, which was a huge opportunity and now she’s invited me to be part of her Christmas special this year. So, we just filmed a version of that song for her Christmas special down in Dollywood about a month ago. It’s kind of the gift that keeps giving. It’s been really cool to see what this song has done to hear people respond to it. Everybody loves Dolly, you know, and for me just to be able to be on the song, I mean, it’s such a cool opportunity. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
What’s your role in the upcoming Christmas Special and how will “There Was Jesus” be incorporated?
I play a Wise Mountain man. I’m a wise man in the Christmas special. I think Willie Nelson plays one and Billy Ray Cyrus plays one, and then I play one. I had some acting roles, which I’m not an actor, but she told me, “You’re a natural. You should get into doing some of this, you should think about your career, you know, things to fall back on.” And I’m like, “Are you serious?” And she’s like, “Yeah.” And my wife’s been telling me, “you should get in some of these Hallmark movies and in westerns.” I’m like, really? Dolly was like, “you would be great at this.” So we had a lot of fun. We got to do the full song and we did it in this old church that was her childhood church that they moved to Dollywood, log by log, about 30 miles away. It was just really cool to get to be in there and kind of have this scene and I think the way they’re using the song in the special is really cool.
Seeing all the success you’re having in your solo career now, how does this journey compare to your time with your band, Zach Williams & The Reformation?
It’s just completely different, for me, anyway. I was living a completely different life, I was not in a good place as a husband or a father, I was just reckless. And not to say anything bad about that time in my life, I really appreciated that time. I learned a lot, it taught me a lot of lessons, but to me, it’s night and day to where I was then to where I am now. I feel like I’ve grown so much as an artist, as a person, as a songwriter. I just feel like I’m in a much better place now.
When was it that religion reclaimed its prevalence in your life again?
Well, I grew up in church. My dad was a worship leader, so I grew up around church music and around church my entire life. So that seed was like really planted early in my life and I feel like had it not been, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. I think that being taught at such an early age really gave me the foundation and I had the roots, they were there. Once I got to this place in my life where I did struggle and run for about 15 years and dealt with, you know, drugs and alcohol and you name it, there was always something in the back of my mind. Maybe it was just my conscience, or maybe it was the conviction that was telling me like, “this is not what you were raised to do.” It was almost like, “this gift that you have now for music is not, this is not why I gave it to you.” I feel like I kind of got to live through that and walk through that and I feel like God allowed me to have that time where I could stand on the side of it now and be like, you know, the only reason I have what I have, is ’cause of the Lord. He’s allowed me to walk through this so I could tell others how good he is. So yeah, I mean church was always there. I just felt like I tried to hide it and tried to run from it for a number of years.
You’re currently on the road for your headlining tour with Ben Fuller as your special guest. How have the first few shows been so far?
It’s great. It just feels good to be out playing music, you know? I mean, it was so rough during Covid trying to stay on the road and trying to find places to play that, it’s like you just feel so grateful ‘cause you realize you didn’t know what it was like to be gone. But no, it’s great. Fans are into these new songs. We’re playing five new songs on the record. I wrote a song called “Flesh And Bone” that’s on this album and I wrote it with the idea of communion in mind. We’re actually doing communion as our encore every night with our fans. It’s a really special moment to end the night. It’s available, it’s not something that everybody has to do, but we kind of set it up and talk about it, and we play this song and it’s been a really sweet moment at the end of the night to do that with the fans.
Fans can keep up with Zach Williams on Instagram.
Madeleine O’Connell graduated from North Central College with a bachelors degree in Journalism and Broadcast Communications before deciding to pursue her studies further at DePaul University. There, she earned her masters degree in Digital Communication & Media Arts. O’Connell served as a freelance writer for over two years while also interning with the Academy of Country Music, SiriusXM and Circle Media and assisting with Amazon Music’s Country Heat Weekly podcast. In addition to Country Now, she has been published in American Songwriter, Music Mayhem, and Holler.Country. Madeleine O’Connell is a member of the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music.