Singer. Songwriter. Medical student. One of these things is not like the others, but Zach DuBois is living proof that the 3 are not mutually exclusive. For the past 7 years, DuBois was based out of Nashville, TN touring full-time as a singer-songwriter, hitting the road with the likes of Turnpike Troubadours, American Aquarium, Josh Abbott Band, Old Dominion, Jack Ingram, and Radney Foster. However, in the fall of 2018 DuBois returned to his native Indiana to begin medical school. In addition to his studies, he is still writing, recording, and touring - proving that it is possible to pursue more than one passion in life. A heady songwriter and story-teller lauded by CMT and Billboard, living somewhere between John Denver and John Mellencamp, DuBois has 3 studio albums under his belt with plans to release a new batch of songs in 2019.
Flânuer - a noun of French origin, defined as a gentleman philosopher who travels around observing life and his surroundings. Perhaps there is no better way to describe the past six years of Zach DuBois’ life - and, as he explains, it is the perfect title of his new collection of songs. “I first heard the word flâneur while watching an Anthony Bourdain show called The Layover. They were in Paris and he was talking to a bunch of people about the essence of flânuer. At the time, I was trying to come up with a name for the album, and after hearing it being described on the show, it just perfectly captured the soul of the project. All of these songs came from the last six years of my life, traveling around the US and parts of Europe, playing music for anyone who would listen to me.”
It’s been quite an interesting journey for DuBois to arrive here. After graduating from the University of Notre Dame in 2011, the Elkhart, IN native decided to put medical school on hold in pursuit of his passion for music. He recalls that process, “As part of an entrepreneurship class during my senior year, we had to develop a business plan for a venture that we wanted to start after graduation, so I decided to focus my project on being a touring singer-songwriter. After I ran the numbers and completed a feasibility analysis, I sort of had a ‘Eureka’ moment, realizing that I could actually make money playing music instead of taking a more traditional path.”
Once his studies were finished, DuBois put that plan into action, self-booking and promoting a tour in most states East of the Mississippi. Some nights might see a crowd of two, other nights two hundred, but throughout the process he held firm to his plan. “The whole purpose of that first tour was to make connections and gather emails from people who liked my music. So after it was over, I ran a Pledge Music campaign to fund my first album." These days, DuBois plays to bigger crowds than his early years - he's shared the stage with the likes of Old Dominion, Josh Abbott Band, Jack Ingram, Turnpike Troubadours, and American Aquarium - but looks back fondly on how far he has come.
After recording two albums (Destination Unknown and Back Porch) and seeing his video for “Work Harder” get picked up by CMT in 2016, Zach DuBois shows off his growth as a songwriter and artist with his new release, Flânuer. DuBois co-produced the project with his frequent collaborator Eli Rhodes. In attempting to describe the sound of Flâneur, DuBois offers, “I guess I hope it lands somewhere between John Denver and John Mellencamp - between singer-songwriter and roots rock. That’s what I’m shooting for. We tried to make sure that the production enhances the lyrics and allows the message of the songs to ring true.”
One of the highlights of the album is “Pray For Rain,” a ballad which DuBois describes as a modern-day homage to Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath. “Over the past few decades, we’ve seen an influx of immigrants to the US from Mexico and Central America. People seeking the American dream. I wanted to tell that story, but I didn’t want to take a big political stance - the talking-heads in the news media and politicians on both sides of the aisle do a good enough job of that. As a songwriter, all I wanted to do was try and show the humanity of the situation. At the heart it, these are people simply trying to make a better life for their family. And I think that’s something that we can all relate to.” The forthcoming music video for the song has personal roots. “There’s a guy here in town, who is kind of a handyman for a couple of my close friends. He has actually crossed the border twice, illegally. Hearing his story was incredible. He now has a wife and family here, and has jumped through off all of the necessary legal hoops, but he’s certainly an inspiration for the song. I’m so happy to be able to feature him in the music video.”
On the other end of the spectrum of Flânuer is “Paris is for Lovers,” which has a more humorous origin – although perhaps it wasn’t so humorous at the time of the song’s inception. “I guess it was two and a half years ago, I took my girlfriend at the time to Paris. Paris is the city of love, so what an awesome experience for a couple to experience together - right? Well, there were multiple nights we ended up getting into ‘disagreements’ after, perhaps, enjoying a bit too much wine,” he jokes. “One of those nights, we were at a corner cafe and she ended up leaving me at the table, going back to our Airbnb. At that point, I took out my phone and typed ‘Write a song about breaking up in Paris’ because at the time I thought there was a good chance that was going to happen. Plus, I had never heard a song about that before - it was an interesting angle. So when I got back to the States, I got together with my buddy Eli (Rhodes) and wrote it.” The real-life story has a happy ending, though, as the couple returned to the City of Lights the following year and became engaged.
Other standouts from the album include the lead track “Life on the Road,” an autobiographical anthem of the singer-songwriter’s past six years on the road, chasing a dream. “Proverbs to Peter” was inspired by Zach’s time volunteering at The Little Pantry That Could, a food pantry in West Nashville. One of the frequent shoppers at the pantry was a homeless man who detailed his life to DuBois, including the fact that he possessed an MBA but was now unable to hold a job because of his problem with alcohol. The song is a riff on the axiom of not judging a book by its cover, which is both literal and metaphorical as the song’s narrator hides a flask of liquor in his Bible, so as to hide the habit from his family.
DuBois believes it is essential for artists to define success early on in a career, as it is crucial for finding happiness and establishing contentment throughout the journey. “Success is different for everyone. Some define it as being on a major label or having a number one single. I’ve never defined success in those terms, though. Mostly because so much of that stuff is out of your control. For me, being successful is very much two-fold. First and foremost, I want to create music that I am proud of. When you get to Nashville, and you start to have a little success within the songwriting community, it's easy to fall into the trap of chasing fads, because publishers might tell you that they are looking for a particular type of ‘commercial’ song and sound. Unless you are in-tune with yourself as an artist and songwriter, it’s easy to lose touch with who you are. The thing that distinguishes you - makes you unique and different. The other aspect of success, for me, is to be a self-sustaining artist. So, in those two respects, I feel as though I’ve already achieved success. I certainly want to continue to grow as an artist and as a human being, exposing more and more people to my music, but it is good to step back and be proud of what I’ve built to this point. Flâneur is 100% the album that I wanted to make, so I hope that it connects and resonates with fans. If industry folks in Nashville don’t like it, if the labels don’t like it, that’s fine with me, because this is me as an artist. This is who I am, and who I want to be going forward. It’s such a difficult industry, and the odds are that you are not going to ‘make it’ - so if I’m going to go down, I’d much rather go down swinging, doing it my way, as opposed to trying to ‘play the game,’ being something that I am not, and still failing anyway. I would absolutely have regrets if that happened. Staying true to myself, carving my own path - I’ll never have regrets doing that.