Zach Neil

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Zach Neil

Zach Neil was not supposed to be a country singer – it’s as simple as that. He grew up working on his family’s farm in Exeter, Ontario, Canada, where tending crops was the only way of life he knew. As a child he planned to graduate from high school, earn a degree in agricultural business, and become a third-generation farmer. But when he turned 16, a simple question from a stranger changed everything.

 

Postcards Magazine sat down with Zach to learn more about the conversation that caused him to pivot and find his own path from rural Canada to Music City – and now to the Lone Star State.

 

What was it like growing up on the family farm in Canada?

 

We grew rutabagas, wheat, and soybeans. It was hard work, but what I loved the most about it was the sense of accomplishment each day. You saw the tangible results of your hard work daily, as well as over the course of the 7-8 month growing period. It was cool to be able to take something from start to finish and have that sense of accomplishment.

 

Is the farm still in your family?

Yes, my mom and dad are still there, along with my brothers and sister. My parents are retired now, but my sister and brother in-law are still farming.

 

What made you change your career path from farming?

Music and life happened. My parents made me and my siblings take music lessons – piano lessons, specifically. And I did not enjoy those at all. I begged them for a guitar and, looking back on it, I don’t really know why, but I thought playing the guitar would be cool. That was it. So, when I was 12, they got me a guitar for Christmas, and I never stopped playing it. They had to tell me to put the guitar down because there was farm work to be done. They had to beg me to practice the piano, but they had to beg me to stop practicing the guitar so I could get some chores done. 

 

I still really enjoyed farming, but when I was 16, I did a Battle of the Bands competition in high school, and one of the judges, who was an engineer on a lot of rock records on the west coast, pulled me aside and basically asked, “Hey is this what you want to do? I know a couple people, and I could make some calls for you.” And so, at 16, of course I said, “Yeah, sure, that sounds great.” And that was it. That really got the ball rolling. I made trips to Nashville and got introduced to people there, and the rest, as they say, is history. 

 

So, that one question really was the turning point for you?

 

Yeah. And, going back to my band in high school, what made us unique wasn’t that we were good – because we weren’t, but we were a bunch of young teenagers playing traditional country music. Everybody our age was playing rock, and we were playing Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, and George Jones songs. So that kind of separated us and got people’s attention. I got steered toward Nashville, got to know some people in Nashville, graduated high school and boom – made the move. 

 

What happened when you got to Tennessee?

I made the move to Nashville, and we were going for major label deals. We did a showcase for a major label, and they loved everything about us, but said we were “too country.” But you know, it is what it is. We didn’t fit into that box. The business side of music is a big part of it, and I understand that. But I just didn’t fit into what was hip or trendy, and because of that, they passed. That’s when I decided I would go out and play my kind of music, because there are still a lot of people who like that kind of music. So, the focus really changed for me, especially in that time when social media and streaming platforms were really starting to take off. There were other avenues to get your music out there for people to find you and hear you.

 

Who are some of the singers who helped shape you as a vocalist?

Randy Travis, Mark Chesnutt, George Strait, Alan Jackson, and Brooks and Dunn – you know, a lot of guys from the ‘90s. That’s the era I grew up in. And then there was an oldies show on the local station at home growing up on Saturday mornings. It was basically everything from the early ‘80s and before. So, sometimes on Saturday mornings, it would be on in the house, and you would hear George Jones, Conway Twitty, and really old-school stuff like Hank Williams.

 

You can definitely hear a ‘90s country sound in your voice. Major labels may have said you were “too country,” but that’s what we like in Texas. You seem to have found a great fit here in the Lone Star State. How did you get here?

I’ve got nieces that live in the Houston area, and I had family in the Austin area for a long time, so I used to come down and was getting exposed to the Texas Music Scene even while still pursuing the Nashville thing. But I was understanding that Texas is much more receptive to the kind of country music I love to do. And Texas feels a little more like home to me. Country music in Texas has fiddles, steels, and songs that have something to say.

 

Your current single Half Bad made is to the Top 40 on all Texas Country charts. What was the inspiration behind this song?

 

I showed up to write with Neal Coty and Jeff Silvey, and I really didn’t have anything that I wanted to write, but I hoped one of them had something. I had actually watched a Rolling Stones documentary two or three nights before, and I don’t know if that influenced me or not, but I started playing this guitar riff and Neal goes, “that’s like a Rolling Stones kind of thing,” and Jeff just spit out, “Well, she’s really good, and I’m not too bad,” and I think Neal said, “and me, I ain’t half-bad.” And boom, like that, we all said, “there’s the idea.” We just had fun with it and wrote it in less than an hour. It just kind of fell out and the next thing you know, I started playing it at a couple of acoustic gigs that I was doing, just to test it out and see. I played it, and people loved it. So, we released it as a single.

 

Texas radio has really embraced it, and Texas has embraced you. You were a nominee for the Emerging Artist award at the Texas Country Music Awards. What was that like?

It was exciting and an honor. I know that’s what you’re supposed to say, but it’s the truth. We’ve really been relative newcomers to the Texas Country Music scene, which is why it’s called emerging artist. But there’s a lot of talented people, so to be selected and narrowed down to that group of people is a real honor. It’s an indication that we’re fitting into the Texas music scene. 

 

What are you doing when you’re not playing music?

 

Outdoors stuff. I like being outside, and that can be fishing or getting the chainsaw out and trimming up trees. I’ve got some property, so the stuff I used to have to do on the farm growing up has turned into the stuff I enjoy doing – the kind of stuff that’s an escape. Of course, I also like getting together with friends, kicking back around a campfire, and just relaxing.

Now that you are an honorary Texan by choice, what are some of your favorite things about our great state?

I love the strong and independent spirit of Texas and Texans! And of course, the BBQ!

 

Let’s play a game called “5 Bests.”

 

Best country song, ever?
“Everything That Glitters,” by Dan Seals

 

Best thing you’ve ever eaten?
Homemade enchiladas

 

Best Christmas movie?
Christmas Vacation

 

Best place to shop?
Bass Pro Shops

 

Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Listen more, talk less.

 

Great advice we should all live by!

Zach has been taking his Texas country sound across the state and across the United States. Visit zachneilmusic.com to find out when Zach will be playing near you and to sign up for his official fan newsletter.

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