Zac Brown opens up about new album, divorce and surprising collaborations

Zac Brown opens up about new album, divorce

After 22 years on the road, the eight members of the Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band still cram together on their tour bus, working on their setlist.

Brown says they're like a "ship full of Vikings." Their longest break from touring lasted just 60 days.

"This is a real life," said Brown. "And it takes a lot of dedication. And it's monopolizing. You can't just go to work and come home every day. You have to be gone a lot. But you don't get the kind of chemistry any other way. You can't fake it. You have to live this life."

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The Zac Brown Band holds an acoustic warm-up session on their tour bus, an intimate, hour-long pre-show ritual.  CBS News

That lifestyle, though rewarding, can take a toll. They drew inspiration from personal hardships for their latest album, "The Owl."

It's been a long time comin'
Couldn't keep on runnin'
Had to hit rock bottom to know
From "Someone I Used to Know"

CBSN anchor Vladimir Duthiers asked Brown, "Who is that song about? Who's it for?"

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Zac Brown. CBS News

"Well, for me," Brown replied. "I decided two years ago that there were just parts of myself that I didn't wanna be anymore. Some mornings being on the road you wake up with some headaches. That's not anymore. My life's not about that anymore."

Brown said, "I think it's important to be vulnerable, and be yourself, and just be real. I don't want to be around things that aren't real anymore. I'm trying to engineer my life for things that have soul, and things that I create. Some of 'em are fun. And then some of the things are like me bleeding my soul, and my life, and my hardship out in a song."

I believe, yes I do
That everything we lose will be a gift in time
But the hardest part is leaving love behind
From "Leaving Love Behind"

Some of those songs tell the story of Brown's 12-year marriage, which came to an end last year. Duthiers asked, "When did you know that it was not going to last?"

"You know, lots of things that you don't ever foresee," Brown replied. "But you know, when you live in something long enough that it's not working anymore, and that the differences that are there are greater, and that it's healthier to not live in conflict than it is to try to stay. And no matter how many mistakes, or whatever, and she absolutely was the one. And, you know, we have five amazing, beautiful children together. And that was the reason that we were together.

"It's not how I planned it to be. But it gave me more than I could've ever dreamed of having, you know?"

Brown says creating music about his life is his therapy.

"It helps me to, like, grieve the things that have happened," he said. "And if I'm doing it right, then other people can, too. Like, when I look out and see people crying, that's us doing our job, trying to. And we're always chasing that emotion in the songs."

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"The Owl" is the Zac Brown Band's seventh studio album. CBS News

For Brown, doing so means collaborating with artists and producers outside of country music. For their latest studio album, "The Owl," the Zac Brown Band teamed up with some unlikely collaborators, including pop producers Ryan Tedder and Benny Blanco, and EDM producer Skrillex.

Brown noted, "When I put out a record, I have to pick a category to put it in. You have to. You release a record on iTunes, you have to pick a category. One category. You can't say country, rock, reggae, soul and whatever. No, you get one bucket to coin yourself in.

"I am not just a country artist. I'm not," he said. "I have to create what moves me and what connects with my fans. And I don't really care about their buckets. But I don't like being coined as a 'country artist.' I like just being an 'artist.'"

Don't judge a book by its cover 'cause people look different
Don't shut 'em down, you never know what you're missin'
Some people find love, some love fightin'
Some lay with the lambs, and some roar with the lions
From "The Woods"

Brown said, "So, purists, I get 'em. They should just listen to the songs of mine that are more country, and leave me alone about all the other ones. 'Cause I don't really care what they have to say about 'em."

Zac Brown also dropped a surprise pop solo album last month, called "The Controversy."

You can stream the Zac Brown Band's album "The Owl" by clicking on the embed below (Free Spotify registration required to hear the tracks in full):