Zach Top playing an electric guitar in a denim jacket, blue striped shirt and black cowboy hat, with blue jeans on. A drummer sits behind him.

Meet Zach Top: The New Pioneer of Neo-Traditional Country

May 20, 2024 5:13 pm GMT

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Feature Photography by Laura Ord

“He was a little more blonde than me, I guess, but we do get the comparison plenty,” Zach Top says, his voice echoing with laughter.

Fresh off the stage at Two Step Inn, the exciting new hitmaker sits down with Holler to discuss everything from his influences and his debut album, Cold Beer & Country Music, to how it feels to be dubbed the future of the genre. But right now, seated on a cushy sofa in some trailer, we’re talking about the great mustaches of country music – his and Alan Jackson’s, to be exact.

You see, while the country crooner – looking slightly out of place in the luxe fifth-wheel haloed in a black cowboy hat and clad in denim-on-denim – often gets compared to other artists, it goes further than just facial hair. His jukebox sound and boot-scootin’ proclivities are regularly likened to those of George Strait, Keith Whitley and Randy Travis, with fans and critics alike looking to him as the harbinger of ‘90s country’s fated return.

“Country music has always been cyclical,” Top offers, remarking on the decades-old style’s resurgence as if it were inevitable. “The pendulum swings one way, a long way, and then it comes swinging back. Something fresh comes on and then everybody copies that for a little while. Somebody sets a trend and then there's a whole bunch that copy it and we kind of beat the horse till it's dead. Then it's time for a change and something else fresh comes along, and the pendulum swings back.”

That’s the position the 25-year-old Washington State native feels he’s in now: in the midst of the backswing. “I ain’t knocking any of it, but country's had such a pop swing for a long time,” he says, citing Easton Corbin’s All Over the Road era from over a decade ago as one of the last times the genre experienced what he describes as “straight-down-the-middle country.”

Perhaps Top is bringing back the ‘90s or something akin to that “straight-down-the-middle country,” but he sometimes ponders whether it’s just because he’s in the right place at the right time to do so.

“It's funny, I think about that a lot,” he shares. “If I’d have come along five years ago and put out this record, it might not have worked. I don't think it would have been the right time. So I feel very blessed that it's the right time, right place. It feels like people are hungry for what I'm putting out.”

And hungry they are.

Since the early April release of his debut effort, Cold Beer & Country Music, Top has quickly situated himself among the who’s who of the genre, and in the early afternoon at Two Step Inn, he is no doubt one of the festival’s must-see acts. Flaunting some of the record’s already well-loved originals, like the cheating anthem ‘Use Me,’ the thundering ballad ‘Bad Luck’ and the heartbreak hit ‘I Never Lie,’ the artist takes command of the spotlight and his audience. He douses them in a swoon-inducing baritone, every word escaping from a wide grin and punctuated by a waggle of his dark, expressive brows. Up there, he’s cool and confident, a natural bandleader and an effortless showman.

While his dozen-song set certainly echoes the hitmakers of yore – Top himself acknowledges so on the opening offering, ‘Sounds Like the Radio,’ singing “Well, the day I was born the doc couldn't believe / I came out cryin' ‘Chattahoochee’” – his performance also glimmers with something singular and thrilling. He’s able to counteract the comparisons by unleashing his distinctive flavor of unwavering country, one that’s mixed with some spirited rock and giddy-up grooves. He unleashes such a style on the blistering ‘The Kinda Woman I Like’ and his debut’s title track.

It’s not that Top set out to reinvent the wheel or rock the jukebox, so to speak. While many have lauded the young artist as the future of country music, he has only arrived informed by the music he loves, holding tight to a commitment to the artists he so greatly respects.

“I’m humbled and honored,” he says of the praise and the pedestal upon which many have placed him. He’s just as warm and confident lounging among the trailer’s scant interior as he is on stage flanked by an attentive band and looking out into an enraptured audience. “I mean that’s what I’ve hoped I could be since I was about five years old, so it feels like a dream come true. I’m glad folks have been loving the music so much that that’s the sort of position they put me in.”

He views that position as one of a pioneer, offering that word up with conviction when he says, “I love being there and I love being able to be kind of a pioneer again.” The young artist certainly recognizes his role as a trailblazer in today’s country music landscape.

Top by no means suggests he’s a revolutionary or the originator of such a vintage-sheened sound, but it seems he sees himself as more of a purveyor, as someone responsible for breathing new life into the style of music that made him. “I get that it’s been a long time since we’ve had a sound like that, so for a whole generation, it’s like I’m a new thing, which is great. I love getting to be one of the guys carrying that forward and showing country music to young folks.”

He asserts: “To me, I’m carrying forward the traditions of country.” He cites influences from every corner of the genre – Buck Owens and Merle Haggard with their Bakersfield sound, Keith Whitley, George Jones and that neon-lit Nashville style, and even a dash of Marty Robbins – adding, “Between all that and a bunch of bluegrass music growing up, I have come up with some amalgamation that turned into me.”

He’ll take that sound, along with his already well-honed style of showmanship, on the road for the better part of 2024, supporting Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan and Lainey Wilson on their respective tours. It will be over the next couple of months that the star will gain the tools for his journey ahead.

“There's a ton of notes I can take every night being out with these guys, like how to set yourself up well on the business side,” he explains, sounding eager to learn from the best. He recognizes the power of the live performance, too. It’s something he’s already skilled at, but he doesn’t seem content with just being proficient; “I'm always trying to sponge up whatever I can as far as how they put together their show. I want my show to be an experience that takes people somewhere for however long the set is. It's not just a list of songs strung together, it's like I'm taking you on a journey and you're going into the mind of Zach Top for a little while.”

While there’s no one tune from Cold Beer & Country Music that perfectly sums up Top or succinctly maps out the road ahead, all twelve tracks begin to encapsulate what’s next for the soon-to-be sensation. Like the country genre itself, the artist offers a little bit of everything and prides himself on having a little something for everyone.

“I think that's one of my favorite things about country music, there's something for everybody,” he adds. “You've got your ‘stomp-your-boot-and-hold-your-beer-up-in-the-air’ party songs, and you've got your dancing songs if you got somebody you love, and you got heartbreak songs if you're feeling down. There's something to make anybody feel understood, wherever they're at.”

Zach Top’s 2024 album, Cold Beer & Country Music, is out now via Leo33.

For more on Zach Top, see below:

Written by Alli Patton, Images by Laura Ord
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