Interview: Nashville songsmith and The Nixons frontman Zac Maloy leading home-state Oklahoma Songwriters Festival
An abbreviated version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman.
Writer 'round: Nashville songsmith Zac Maloy returns to home state spearheading annual Oklahoma Songwriters Festival
Zac Maloy theorizes that Oklahoma boasts more successful songwriters per capita than almost any other state.
“I grew up in Ada, so I’m biased. So, I’ll just put that right out there. But if you really think about it, Woody Guthrie is from Oklahoma and Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic is from Oklahoma. Just have that be the bookends and then fill in the blanks between: Hoyt Axton, The Flaming Lips, the Chainsaw Kittens, Hanson, then all the one-name country people – Garth, Vince, Carrie, Reba, Blake – it’s kind of astounding how many great songwriters from Oklahoma,” said Maloy, who happens to be one of those hit-making scribes, by phone from his adopted home base in Tennessee.
“I’ve been here nine years now in Nashville, and every week or so, I walk into a room, whether it’s a business meeting or a songwriting session, and ‘Oh, yeah, you’re from Oklahoma? Me, too. I grew up in Ardmore, I grew up in Clinton, I grew up in Stillwater,’ whatever. Again, I’m biased, but I think Oklahoma could very possibly be the best place for a songwriters event like this.”
For the fourth year, Maloy, who has co-written country music superstar and fellow Oklahoma native Carrie Underwood’s chart-topper “Temporary Home” and Christian rock band Skillet’s No. 1 hit “American Noise,” is spearheading this weekend’s Oklahoma Songwriters Festival, a two-day event that brings together some of his fellow Nashville songsmiths with local writers from across multiple genres.
The frontman for the recently reunited 1990s alt-rock band The Nixons, Maloy said the festival, presented by Shawnee’s Grand Casino Hotel & Resort and the Oklahoma Film + Music Office, will include a fundraising dinner Friday night, followed by a Songwriting Camp Saturday morning and a Songwriter Showcase Saturday night.
“These are songwriters that have written Grammy Award-winning songs, and they’re going to tell the stories and sing the songs behind them,” Maloy said of the festival finale. “You put up a poster of Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, people will buy tickets, they’ll come see it. You put up a poster of Brett James (who grew up in Oklahoma City and Cordell), Marcus Hummon, David Hodges and Zac Maloy, people are going to scratch their head a little bit. But then you dig a little bit and you see that … Brett James will sing ‘Jesus, Take the Wheel’ and talk about it. Marcus will sing ‘Bless the Broken Road’ and tell you how he came up with sort of the beginnings. David Hodges, who is a founding member of Evanescence, also wrote ‘Because of You’ for Kelly Clarkson.”
The festival actually will start Friday with part that isn’t open to the public, as local songwriters will meet with members of the Nashville contingent and work on songs together.
“I wanted my event to be actual writing so that at the end of the weekend, some songs have been created and people that live in Oklahoma helped create them,” he said. “We spent several months sort of looking for people who are out there writing and performing and working in Oklahoma, and we’ll pair them with writers on Friday.”
To kick off the public aspects of the festival, a limited number of tickets are available for a dinner featuring performances by the Nashville songwriters at 7 p.m. Friday at Grand Casino’s Flame Brazilian Steakhouse. Tickets for the dinner are $100 per person and include transportation to and from OKC’s 21c Museum Hotel. Maloy said a portion of proceeds from the dinner will go to OKC music programs.
The Songwriting Camp at 11 a.m. Saturday at Castle Row Studios in Del City is free and open to the public and will include an interactive panel discussion and Q&A with the featured songwriters.
“It really becomes a conversation with local songwriters asking for tips and advice, and we give it to them. Hopefully, it helps a little bit and infuses a little bit of music business intel into the state,” Maloy said.
The festival will conclude with the annual Songwriter Showcase at 7 p.m. at OKC’s Tower Theatre, and it will use a “writer round” format in which the songsmiths take turns performing songs they’ve penned and telling the tales behind the music. Maloy said the format is popular at Nashville’s iconic The Bluebird Café, where writer rounds are performed twice nightly.
In honor of the Oklahoma Songwriter's Festival, deadCenter Film Festival organizers have announced that the state’s biggest film festival will screen the film “Bluebird,” about the famed Nashville café, as a free outdoor screening on June 8.
“Several of the Grammy Award-winning songwriters appearing at the festival this weekend were discovered at The Bluebird Cafe,” said deadCenter Executive Director Lance McDaniel in an email.
Saturday’s Songwriter Showcase will open with a writer round featuring local favorites Kinsey Charles, Graham Colton, Tyler Hopkins and Beau Jennings, followed by the Nashville writers’ round.
“Last year, I sat in the back corner and sort of hid myself away and listened to the local round – it’s shorter; they just do a couple songs – but so many people came up to me – and I agree with this – and said, ‘Oh my gosh, it was cool to see you guys playing these songs that I know, but it was just as cool to see these local singer-songwriters … singing songs I didn’t know but were awesome. Oh my gosh, there’s so much talent here.’ I can’t tell you how many times I heard that.”
In addition, local rapper Jabee Williams will perform an impromptu hip-hop set, and Maloy and former Chainsaw Kittens frontman Tyson Meade will play a song together.
“This is the most diverse, this is the most accomplished lineup we’ve had,” Maloy said. “The Nixons came up in the early ‘90s and we would sneak in – because we were broke and poor – and we would go watch The Flaming Lips and the Chainsaw Kittens. That’s what we did. We would watch those bands, and then we would go off and try to do a Nixons show that sort of even remotely lived up to either one of those. That really was inspiring to us.”
Maloy said he might even perform a new song from The Nixons, which reunited in 2017 for what they thought would be a couple of shows. He said the “Sister” hitmakers have a raucous new single called “Crutch,” accompanied by a music video, due out April 19.
“We just signed a little record deal. … We reunited for some shows, but then, lo and behold, we wrote a song - and we wrote another song, we wrote another song, and we recorded them,” Maloy said.
“This event is really kind of a one-of-a-kind thing. Nixons fan, come out and then you’re gonna hear some other stuff that’s gonna blow your mind. Country fans, come out and you’re gonna hear an Evanescence song that maybe you’ve never heard. … At the end of every one of these – we’ve done three now - people come up to me and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I had no idea that I was gonna see that.’ And that’s pretty cool. It’s pretty damn cool.”
Fourth Annual Oklahoma Songwriters Festival
Friday dinner: 7 p.m. Friday at Grand Casino’s Flame Brazilian Steakhouse, 777 Grand Casino Blvd, Shawnee. Tickets are $100.
Songwriting Camp: 11 a.m. Saturday at Castle Row Studios, 2908 Epperly Drive, Del City. Free and open to the public.
Songwriter Showcase: 7 p.m. Saturday Tower Theatre, 425 NW 23. Tickets are $14 to $40.
Tickets and information: www.oklahomasongwritersfestival.com.