Zachary Williams is used to traveling by tour bus with The Lone Bellow, so you’d expect him to view a van jaunt as a step down in accommodations. But Williams is excited about the switch as he chats while loading the van for a run of solo dates.
“Back then, I knew I’d mis it,” he says of his early, DIY days. “I played in bars in New York City for almost a decade before I started The Lone Bellow. So it’s ingrained, it’s in my bloodstream. I knew that I’d have to come back to it somehow, and it’s been really fun to have to win over a new crowd.”
Another adjustment for Williams: He’s using the name Zachary, instead of his usual Zach, for these dates and his debut solo album, “Dirty Camaro,” released in October.
“I had to change my name for this. I’m in Mike Bolton’s situation from ‘Office Space.’ Some other ass clown took my name, ” he says, referencing a beloved line from the cult comedy film. “So I had to change my name, so it’s a couple degrees from The Lone Bellow, which has been really fun, having to win people over and build a different audience. There hasn’t been a terrible amount of crossover because I had to change my name to Zachary.”
His tour will wind through the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, Pa., on Thursday, March 30, and Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 on Friday, April 1. Rockwood, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, has played a vital role in Williams’ career.
“I had the honor of opening that room,” he says of Stage 2. “I was the first one to play there. Ken Rockwood has been a mentor of mine for 15 years. I made the first Lone Bellow record there. He gave me the venue for three days and three nights, so you can imagine how much money he lost. They literally invested in us.
“It’s one of my favorite rooms in America. The first time I visited New York to see if I could even try to move there to play music, I remember Stage 1 had just opened, it was 2005. Ian Thomas was playing a song about some snake shedding its skin. It was wintertime. It’s probably been more of a home to me than my home in Nashville, my house, emotionally.”
Early James is the special guest and Williams’ band for these shows.
“Dirty Camaro” is built on Williams’ storytelling prowess and sense of humor, as well as his musical adventurousness, with string arrangements, vaudeville piano and even a gospel group making appearances. Robert Ellis and Josh Block produced the album, which Williams recorded at Niles City Sound in Forth Worth, Texas. Williams invited some A-list guests to contribute as well, including Ashley Monroe, John Paul White, Anderson East and Thad Cockrell.
“I met Ashley when I just moved to Nashville,” Williams says. “Ashley just has such a sweet presence about her but also a meekness. She’s a strong human being. We sat down one day and wrote this song together called ‘Her Picture,’ and I loved it from the second we wrote the melody. I thought it would be fun to do a duet that’s really from a woman’s perspective.”
Williams met White through White’s previous duo, The Civil Wars.
“The Civil Wars and Dwight Yoakam were the first two bands that took a chance on The Lone Bellow over a decade ago when we went on tour with them,” Williams says. “Me and John became good buddies on the road. I’ve always respected his songwriting and sensitivity. He’s a wonderful father and just a kind man. He’s a quiet, slow-talking dude. We just became friends. We’ve written together for a while.”
White and East are featured on the song “Can’t Tell The Difference.”
“Anderson opened for The Lone Bellow a few years ago,” Williams says, “and we toured together a lot. I actually blame him on me moving to Nashville. When I wrote ‘Can’t Tell The Difference,’ I really wanted it to be three-part harmony, but I specifically wanted this Alabama, or someone that at least grew up around the gospel world and knew the nuances of singing. My two Alabama boys were Anderson East and John Paul White.”
The Lone Bellow has summer tour dates on the books, including opening slots for Lake Street Dive and Maren Morris. There’s also a new ready. Recording and touring “Dirty Camaro,” Williams says, has made him a better bandmate with The Lone Bellow.
“I think I’m a lot easier to be around,” he says. “Because I was able to have another creative outlet, and they gave me that. They’ve been so gracious to me in letting me do this, to the point where they’re not working right now because I’m out working on this, and that’s how good they’ve been to me.
“After I made this record, we recorded our latest Lone Bellow record, our first record that we self-produced. I don’t think I would’ve had the confidence to do that otherwise. We worked in the past with Aaron Dessner (of The National), I think we would’ve leaned on another hotshot producer.”