Lynyrd Skynyrd's brand-new studio album, Last of a Dyin' Breed, is available everywhere today. (Get your copy from Amazon or on iTunes!) We got frontman Johnny Van Zant on the phone to talk about some of the songs from the new record, how they work in the studio, and more.
When the song "Last of a Dyin’ Breed" came together, did you know right away that was the title track of the album?
No, not really. We had been searching for a title, and we thought about Life’s Twisted or Homegrown—'cause we usually try to feed off a song that’s been written for the album—but as the song progressed we rewrote “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”; it was called “Hammer Down,” “Hammer Down On the Run,” “Rebel On the Run”—we had so many different titles. Lyrically, we rewrote it about three times, and when it finally happened, we were like, “Okay, there it is, now.” Sometimes that just happens. But we kept going back to it—we took a piece of paper and started writing titles up on the wall in the studio, and the more we got to thinking about it, it was just the right thing to do, you know? As far as the Southern bands that came out the same time as Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Allman Brothers, Grinderswitch and Marshall Tucker—we are one of the last ones to be out there really carrying on the tradition of the Southern rock movement. So it actually kind of fits with what we’re doing and where we’ve been.
Now, “Homegrown” is a very different sounding song for you—how did you decide to go in that direction?
Well, a lot of times in the past we’ve said, “Let’s stick within the boundaries of Lynyrd Skynyrd.” This song was a little heavier—[Rickey] Medlock had the guitar part, and we co-wrote the song with Blair Daly; we went over to his house and just started pounding it out. With this particular album, we said, “Let’s start writing songs how we’re feeling that day and what we’re doing, and not stay confined within any boundaries,” and it really is outside for us a little bit. Lyrically, it talks about a crazy chick that’s just got it all going on, and I think the song fits lots of our female fans' attitudes. They got it goin’ on, and they’re homegrown, you know? They’re down-to-earth chicks. We had a great time doing it, and I love the song—I love what it’s about, and the feel of it.
Talk about the song “Honey Hole” a little – it’s not what its title might make you think it’s about, is it?
Well, for us, we’re big fishermen, and any fisherman’ll tell you, “Hey, man, I’ve gotta go down to my honey hole.” So that’s where it started out, but now it’s kinda taken on a new meaning. [laughs] I guess your honey hole could be whatever you want it to be. It’s an interesting song, and it has so many different kinds of things going on in terms of instrumentation. It’s a different kind of song, it really is. And that’s the cool thing about writing songs. You start out with your thought on what the song’s about, and then people take it to other places, and that’s why songs are songs—people put themselves into ’em. So whatever “Honey Hole” means to you is fine with us. [laughs]
How do you guys work in the studio – do you come in with the songs pretty much arranged and together, or do they come together while you’re working?
You know, a lot of times it’s just us in a room with a recorder going and one or two guitars, me trying to scat through the lyrics, so no. We take a lot of this into the studio and work it out right there, and this time, what we did was, there’s an upstairs there at Blackbird Studios in Nashville, where we cut the album, and we’d go upstairs with just little amps and I’d play along—I used to play drums, so I’d play along with the band, just on my legs or whatever, and we’d come up with the arrangements along with Bob [Marlette, producer], and we just kind of worked it out that way, and then we’d go out, put the headphones on, and cut it. We’d run through ’em a few times and say, “Well, maybe this should go here, maybe this should go there, maybe we should change this chord,” and then we’d go back in the control room and listen, go back out and cut it. So it was done fairly quickly.
This album isn’t as political as the last one—was that something you consciously chose to avoid this time, or did it just happen as you wrote new songs?
You know what, man? We’ve got a song on there called “Nothing Comes Easy,” and there’s a song called “Something to Live For” that if you listen to the lyrics, it’s a little deeper than you may think it is. But we always touch on something political. We’re not politicians, man, but we can write it in a song the way we think our fans feel and the way we feel. I think we stand for the common people of America, or even the world—we just got through doing our most successful European tour, and we’re going back to Great Britain for the Classic Rock awards in November, and we look forward to going back and doing festivals next year. People ask me all the time, “What’s the difference between your fans in Europe and America," or this part of the country versus that part of the country, and I say there’s really no difference. Our fans are working-class people, people that get up and go to work and make a living for their families, and believe in the values that we have.
How many new songs are you planning on putting in the live set?
We’re doing “Last of a Dyin’ Breed,” “One Day at a Time” and “Good Teacher” right now. What we’re planning on doing is working up “Homegrown” and probably one of the ballads, I’m not sure. What we’re really doing is every week, kinda switching it up, because Skynyrd’s got a lot of songs that people would love to hear. We could play for five hours and never play all the songs that fans would love to hear. But we’ve gotta stick “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird” in there. We’re definitely playing at least two to three songs a night from the new record.