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Interview : John Driskell Hopkins, founder of the Zac Brown Band

John Driskell Hopkins is reminiscent of a singer/songwriter from legendary times. The co-founder of the three-time Grammy award-winning Zac Brown Band, Hopkins is straightforward, open and a man’s man who does things his way and does them well. He just released a new song and music video called “Lonesome High,” a tune about the importance of family. Even though he is busy producing, writing and singing with his own John Driskell Hopkins Band and others, Hopkins found time to sit down with Moviehole and talk about his long career.

MOVIEHOLE: How did you get into music?

John Driskell Hopkins: I started playing in a band in high school with friends and I think from that point on, I was trying to write something or play with someone somewhere. I went to the University of Georgia for two years and got into a band called The Woodpeckers, so by the time I graduated I started to make money doing that and haven’t looked back. I’ve been a musician full-time almost 30 years, now I’m a lifer; I don’t know what else I’d do. Rather than pay for studio time, I decided to make my own records from the beginning. We’ve been pressing buttons and working mikes. I made my living as an engineer and that’s how I got to know Zac (Brown).

MOVIEHOLE: You got started in theatricals at college — why did you switch to music?

JDH: Coming out of university, I wanted to write my own script and perform and express things I’ve experienced.  It’s different than an actor, it’s more gratifying. I still love to get on stage and I’ve been in a couple movies. But the songwriting thing brings it home personally; it’s more gratifying than being an actor. Music has been at the forefront since the beginning.

MOVIEHOLE: How do you get your ideas for songs?

JDH: I’m not really good at writing fiction, so I tend to write things that are my personal experience or about someone close to me. I write about my friends and family and those people close to me who are celebrating or dealing with things. I often want a song to be a healing sort of peace that lets the listener leave with a sense of feeling better. It’s hard to talk about songs. Sometimes they take five minutes or five years. That “Lonesome High” song we wrote five or six years ago, we did not have time to put the record out.

This year we are putting four or five records out, one with a hard rock band which was in a movie called “Adolescence,” where I picked five songs and made an EP.  Then there’s a Christmas record released in a few weeks, an all R&B hits EP from 1950 to 1985 called “Our Finest Gifts.” I collaborated with the ATL Collective to put the Christmas record out. It’s our third Christmas album. The ATL Collective is a dot org.

MOVIEHOLE: What is the hardest part about writing songs? 

JDH: As easy as it comes sometimes, it can be frustrating because it’s hard to put in words. Some people don’t understand that punctuation is a big choice — do I put a dot or an exclamation point? Everything has to be just so for me to be excited about it, but all of it matters. I’ve been able to write some things not personal to me, I’d like to get better at it as it would be great to draw from everything. But I tend to be happier about writing things closer to me. Writing about characters in the movie was exciting and invariably I would put personal aspects into the characters. It was little more freeing as it was not about me but about the characters. It becomes your own. I’m a nonfiction writer.

MOVIEHOLE: You said this song “Lonesome High” was written for your girls – how did they react?

JDH: They love it, they are going to have an interesting upbringing in music and video; they want to be in all the videos and I do love having them in them. I’ve got one daughter in the play “The Wizard of Oz,” she’s 7 and in the chorus. The other two girls both like to perform and sing as well but they are not driven. One is into graphic painting and one is into volleyball. I’m not going to push them in any direction.

MOVIEHOLE: I really liked “Lonesome High,” about how much you miss your family on the road. Especially the ending.

JDH: On “Lonesome High,” we show that the girls can grab me away and I can step out of there and be daddy again.

MOVIEHOLE: How did Coy Bowles (Zac Brown Band) get involved?

 JDH: I really love having the guys in the band become featured.  I needed electric guitar on the song, a need that he was happy to fill. The slide is a great addition to that song and he jumped on the video months later and sat on the back of the truck and played it. All the guys in the band are brothers.

MOVIEHOLE: What has been the hardest challenge of your career?

JDH: More recently it’s been time management and getting it all done. We were lucky and excited to have so much success over the past ten years that we were able to get to people we wanted to collaborate with, continue to work with and tour. It’s a huge blessing but with that said, I’m overzealous, putting out my own Christmas records and trying to play bigger venues. And now I’m worried about getting home to my girls and about another record getting out. All these things are expensive and we’re not made of money. It’s about tackling things we want to tackle. Everyone feels there’s another artistic endeavor to do. We are certainly in the world of self-starters, that’s what we’ve always been.

MOVIEHOLE: What would you advise newbies about getting into music?

JDH: As a self-starter, I think a lot of people need to be persistent and find a way to make it happen on your terms. The biggest thing I have to say, is don’t give up. You get into this and start to doubt about making a living or provide for your family. Those who are dedicated find a way. I’ve got a lot of friends who gave up and regretted it; others just moved on and didn’t regret it.

Just don’t give up.

MOVIEHOLE: Who would you like to work with?

JDH: I got a chance to work with one of my favorite artists when we wrote “Good Morning Believer” with Emily Saliers from the Indigo Girls. I’m excited to get that song finished and I hope to do that video soon. There are lots of people I’d like to work with in the future, but people have to reveal themselves.

MOVIEHOLE: What are your future plans and songs/albums?

JDH: Our Christmas album comes out November 15 and then there’s the original record of “Lonesome High” — we don’t have a release date yet, maybe February and hopefully in time for the Sail Across the Sun Festival with the band Train. After that I need to get to writing and get into making videos again to promote the release of the record “Lonesome High.”


Hopkins continues to perform with the John Hopkins Driskell Band at music venues and festivals across the country. When Hopkins is not touring, he is busy writing songs and producing out of his Brighter Shade Studios in Atlanta, Georgia.

Check out: “Lonesome High

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