By Noah Hubbell
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For nearly a decade, Jimmy De Martini has played fiddle for the Zac Brown Band, one of the most commercially successful and critically acclaimed modern country acts. De Martini studied classical violin and rock guitar before joining Brown's ensemble in Georgia in 2004, but his background didn't keep him from fitting in with the band's unique approach to country music. Brown's take on the genre pulls from rock as much as it does his background as a singer-songwriter and fan of 1970s-era folk.
That ambitious mix hasn't alienated the country establishment: The Zac Brown Band has garnered awards from the Academy of Country Music, the Country Music Association and CMT. Its most recent album, Uncaged, picked up a Grammy last year for Best Country Album. We recently spoke with De Martini about the band's genre-bending approach to country.
Westword: You guys have been making stops at a lot of awards ceremonies recently, picking up nominations at the CMA and the American Country Awards, and winning the Grammy for Best Country Album for Uncaged. But the constant has been the "country" label. Considering all the influences in [your] music, do you think that's a fair label for the band's work?
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Jimmy De Martini: I don't think of our sound as country, although country radio is a great place for our songs to live. I think what people gravitate toward in country music is the songwriting. The way it sounds is not as important as it is that it tells a story. That's what country-music fans have grasped on to. I think that we've made some great strides in the country realm, and that country music has been really good to us.
Having said that, I think we stretch the boundaries of it a little bit. We consider ourselves more of a live act than anything. At our live shows, there's such a mix of people in the crowd. We actually get to be ourselves, which is really cool. We don't have to think of a certain genre and say, "That's not going to work because it's too heavy or too different." We all come from different genres of music. We have a jazz drummer, a Latin percussionist, a blues guitarist, a singer-songwriter as another guitarist. Our bass player came from a rock band; I came from a background playing guitar in rock bands; Zac grew up on '70s songwriting. None of us really grew up in the country world. Country is kind of new to us, and it's a great place for us to be. But I think we definitely stretch the boundaries.