Interview: Zach Cornell
[gallery type="slideshow" link="none" size="full" ids="148850"] What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today? Most of the artists I know spent their whole life knowing they wanted to play music, but that wasn't really the case for me. I guess I should thank my sister for buying an old Ibanez acoustic and pretty much letting me steal it from her. Once I started messing with the guitar, I loved it but even then I didn't get serious about music until about a decade later. Now if I wasn't doing music, I'd either be bartending or driving a forklift somewhere. Those are the only other things I've ever really done, and I actually enjoyed them both for a little while. What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity? My wife and I had a baby back in February, so every minute we aren't working we're doing something with baby Morgan. He's always loved being outside, so we spend a lot of time out with the chickens and goats and whatever else we can find. In a roundabout way, it's kind of brought me back to my roots. I've been writing a lot of the stories from Small Town, America that I had never thought to write before. So it's been a nice change of pace from the constant pressure in Nashville to stick to the mainstream song template. I'm writing stories about growing up in the South and I've been liking a lot of the songs that are coming out. How long has music been your career? Before I moved to Nashville, I played around North Texas on the weekends. That was always a supplemental income to whatever day job I was working. I've been doing music full time for probably a year and a half thanks to the Nashville scene, and I've been a heck of a lot happier. Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music? I'm originally from the Texas Panhandle, so of course I was always surrounded by Texas music. There's always been so much of a traditional country sound in Texas, and I hope that never changes. When I moved to Nashville in 2019, I found myself getting more into bluegrass and some of the more underground niches in country music. I think that's resulted in some kind of combination of the Texas and Nashville sound in my writing, and I have to admit I think we're coming up with a cool sound. I'm really liking the music we're getting ready to record. Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played. It's hard to pick one show for my best, but I've been doing some acoustic gigs with a good buddy of mine, Charlie McNeal, and we've just been having a ball. I think both of our styles compliment each other really well, and it's a dang good time whenever we get to play together. In this business, I think everyone knows they won't get to play with their buddies forever because a million things start to get in the way. So we've just been having as much fun as we can while we still have the means to keep playing together. It's sure been some of my favorite shows I've ever done. My worst show was probably actually my very first show I ever booked. It was a little coffee shop in Wichita Falls, Texas. They double booked me with another guy and had us switch off every few songs, then they paid me half of what I was promised. And of course a hundred other things went wrong that I just wasn't prepared for because I was so new to this. It was my first experience with two of the most common struggles for indie musicians, but I was a lot more timid then than I am now. It really made me think I was in over my head, but I kept on trucking and was fortunate enough to have some much better experiences shortly after that one. Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already? I really like this place in Printer's Alley called Alley Taps. It was where I played my first writer's round, and one of my first all-original shows in Nashville. You probably can't fit a hundred people inside, but there's just something about that little bar that I've loved since the first time I walked in. It's one of the places I was hoping I'd find when I first moved here - a constant stream of songwriters playing great songs in a bar most people have never heard of. As far as places I haven't played yet, there's two that come to mind. Growing up in Texas, everybody knows about Billy Bob's in Fort Worth. So many incredible artists have played there, and I've been chomping at the bits for an opportunity to join them. I've dreamed of having my own "Live at Billy Bob's Texas" album for years now. Of course I also want to play the Ryman Auditorium just as badly as every other artist in Nashville. There's so much country music history that has happened on that stage, and it's probably my favorite venue in the country. The sound quality is insane, and the crowd is always there to listen to good music, which ironically doesn't happen just anywhere. If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket? That's a tough one. I'd probably have to say Chris Stapleton and Travis Tritt. I have the utmost respect for both of them, and they've just done things their own way. What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music? Charlie Daniels said it best - never look at the empty seats. You've got to play like you're playing for a sold out stadium every time you get on a stage. I can't count the number of times I spent a whole set frustrated that no one was listening, just to have someone come up afterwards to tell me how much they enjoyed it. That one person that digs your music is a hundred times more important than whoever didn't. If you're confident in what you're doing and you get really good at it, people are going to follow you. If you really want a career in music, find a way through every obstacle put in your way and use any criticism as fuel for the fire. If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be? Play your guitar more. And don't go looking for a heartache just to get a good song out of it. There's a song to be found in just about everything in life, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a personal experience. I spent a lot of time thinking I could only write a song about something that had happened to me specifically, and I wish I'd realized sooner that that isn't always the case. Of your songs which one means the most to you and why? The song that means the most to me is probably 'Birdy's Song'. My wife actually helped me write it, which doesn't happen super often. We wrote it one day when we were talking about the feeling of wishing we could stay together even after we're gone. It's an idea I had wanted to write for a long time and when it finally came out it only took us about 20 minutes to put together. It just has a lot of really simple lines and it's definitely one of my favorite choruses I've ever written. Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most? My favorite one to play right now is an unreleased one called 'All I Need.' It's another love song that I wrote just a few months ago, but it might be my favorite song I've ever written. My favorite cover to play is probably Tom T. Hall's 'That's How I Got to Memphis,' just because that song has influenced so much of my writing and I think it's one of the few songs that is just perfect in all aspects. The songs I have requested the most are probably 'Birdy's Song' and 'Next to Mine,' so I guess I need to keep writing love songs.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
It's really different for a lot of songs. Sometimes I have a chord progression or a melody before anything and try to run off of that, but a lot of times I start with a hook line and try to write around that. I keep a note in my phone where I write down any good ideas I think of, and then I go through that list when I want to write but don't have something in mind already. I'm really inspired by a good story, and for a couple of reasons. Of course I think a good story deserves to be heard by more and more people. But I also enjoy the challenge of turning a story into a 3 or 4 minute song without losing any good details.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
I don't know that I've ever sat down with the mindset of getting any particular message across. But I think with a small town like mine, some kind of message usually comes through anyways. I'd prefer to let people know how I feel in a subtle way like that. It's really easy for a message to sound forced otherwise, and that probably defeats the whole purpose.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
I've had a few pretty strong disagreements about using a particular word or phrase in a song. It's a little tricky when you have two or three people in a room, and everyone thinks their line fits the song better. I usually try to take a step back from my personal writing style, which I know is different than a lot of my co writers, and look at it from a listener's perspective. Most writers in Nashville are good about respecting another writer's lyrics, but of course in any line of work there's people that are just hard to deal with. Sometimes you just don't jive with someone, which usually means you probably shouldn't schedule another write.
I'm planning on hitting the road a lot more in the future. It's good to have a balance between the local shows in Nashville and some road gigs. As far as music goes, we're getting ready to record at the end of September, so I'm looking forward to having some new music out before long. Social Media Links: https://www.facebook.com/zachcornellmusic https://www.instagram.com/zachcornellmusic/ https://open.spotify.com/artist/6WGNdWo7wBqMOuFKsKmRkJ?si=Ovbgw2E6Reii5O-SNJK_9A&dl_branch=1&nd=1 https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9fuOwVIKE1scpbRP9-sDZg