The Lone Bellow’s frontman Zach Williams seems surprisingly excited at the prospect of spending 10 minutes giving a telephone interview.
“Thanks for calling me,” he says, slightly out-of-breath. “I’m just putting together some IKEA furniture right now. It’s horrible.”
It’s easy to believe that deciphering the assembly instructions on a new dining room table from the Swedish furniture maker may be the most difficult thing going on in the young singer’s life at the moment. Set to perform a highly anticipated show Tuesday night at Saxapahaw’s Haw River Ballroom only days after appearing at the Americana Honors & Awards Show for their nomination as Best Duo/Group of the Year, the Brooklyn-based band is well on the way to widespread recognition throughout the music industry.
It’s a concept that astonishes Williams.
“We do not deserve this nomination,” Williams states with emphatic disbelief. “Being nominated was an absolute surprise. It’s incredible, to be with the group of duos and bands that are nominated. It’s an honor just to be included. I think the thing that we’re most looking forward to is just playing at the Ryman Auditorium during the awards show with everybody else that night.”
The band, on tour behind the strength of the critical and commercial success of their sophomore album, “Then Came the Morning,” are finding themselves performing in sold-out venues almost nightly and receiving recognition from respected publications weekly. This is what Williams had hoped for years ago when he left his small hometown in Georgia to venture into the unknown territory of New York City to see if he has what it takes to make it in the music business.
“When I first moved to New York, I wanted to move to a city that wouldn’t,” he pauses, searching for the right words, “a city that wouldn’t waste my time. I didn’t want to waste a bunch of time trying to figure out if I could play music professionally or not. I wanted to move somewhere that people would let me know pretty quick.
“I was living in Florida at the time that I began really playing music. I never really wanted a career down in Georgia; I moved away from there when I was 18. I had some other friends who were thinking of moving to New York to pursue playwriting and acting, and I just thought, ‘If I move with them at least I know we’ll all be struggling together, and I’ll be living in a city that will tell me quickly whether I can build a following or not.’”
Williams didn’t even start playing shows until he was 24, after he had already graduated from college.
“I moved up here, played the music scene for about six years with day jobs that would pay the bills during that time,” he says. “Brian (Elmquist, the band’s guitarist) moved to Brooklyn from Nashville, and we were old friends from Georgia. Then I heard Kanene (Donehey Pipkin, bassist) singing at a wedding, so we started singing together. I had been writing some country type songs, with sad lyrics that needed to be hidden and a melody that wasn’t worth listening to. I was kind of done with what I was doing at the time, because I was performing up here for several years under my name with a bunch of hired guys playing behind me. I was just done with that and really wanted to be a part of something.”
And while that “something” soon became a success beyond Williams’ highest hopes, there were growing pains. Moving from a solo project to a new collaboration among three artists can be tricky for someone used to calling every shot, but the singer says a love for the work was there from the very beginning.
“Everyone has really strong personalities in the band, and we all have a high standard of honesty with each other,” he explains. “We had to learn how to handle each other’s hearts and just figure things out as we went along. I wrote the majority of the first record (the band’s self-titled 2013 debut) by myself. On the second record I really wanted to go deeper into feeling like it was coming from all of us being a part of something. We all wrote a few different songs on it, and then there are the songs that were brought to the table that are just ideas. When it came to ‘Then Came the Morning,’ I literally came to them with only the line, ‘Then came the morning,’ and we started building around that.
“It’s just fun writing with other people, and writing with people that you care about and that you know will be honest with you. I feel like the collaboration side of writing helps you hone in on something worth singing, and not something that should just stay in your journal,” he says.
So with the rapid success that the Bellow have witnessed over the last year, one can’t help but wonder what the next 12 months will bring for the band. As far as Williams is concerned, he wants only that which every aspiring artist wishes to attain.
“I’d love it if everyone could just pay their rent.”
Who: The Lone Bellow
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Haw River Ballroom, 1711 Saxapahaw-Bethlehem Church Road, Saxapahaw