Zac Brown is making his foray into the pop world.
In a surprise move, the Grammy-winning musician released his first-ever pop solo album, The Controversy, on Friday, just one week after his eponymously titled Zac Brown Band dropped their new cross-over country album, The Owl.
“I wanted to create all these other genres of music that I love to do,” Brown, 41, says in a video shared to his YouTube page about The Controversy. “Some of the guys in my band played on these records. We’re still going to perform some of them at Zac Brown Band shows.”
Brown goes on to say that it’s “unfortunate” that he’s limited to choosing just one genre to put a new album under.
“With a Zac Brown Band record, it has to be under country,” he explains. “I wish that there was a category that was a little broader than that because I love country, but I love other things, too. So this is my outlet. This is my chance to be an artist and be creative and it’s another side.”
“The goal as an artist is to be able to create the kind of music that you want to listen to so Controversy, in itself, is all the diversity that I love [which] causes controversy with people because some people only like certain things, but I like a lot of different things,” he continues. “And some people do, too. I’m hoping this can bridge the gap [of needing] a specific label. I don’t want a specific label. I gave birth to all of this stuff, and I’m super proud of it and I’m super excited for people to get it and hopefully people can connect with it.”
To create The Controversy, Brown collaborated with a number of producers and writers across the industry including Sasha Sirota, Jason ‘Poo Bear’ Boyd, Shroom, Benny Blanco and Max Martin. He collaborated with Skrillex and Poo Bear on the song “Time,” and his longtime Zac Brown Band bandmates are featured on the track, “Lion’s Den.”
“I’ve always been influenced by all genres and never want to limit myself to a single type of music. I love my band and love creating music with them, but we all pursue our own thing in addition to what we put out together and support each other’s creative endeavors. You can actually hear the guys playing on parts of The Controversy,” Brown said in a statement. “This album is an outlet for me to explore pop music, a broad category in its own right, without expectations. The Controversy is a reflection of the diversity of sounds that I love, and the culmination of my work with vastly talented new collaborators. I hope you have as much fun listening to it as I did creating it.”
Along with “Time” and “Lion’s Den,” other tracks on The Controversy include “Nowhere Left to Go,” “Spend It All On You,” “Swayze” (featuring Sasha Sirota), “Dream Sellin‘” (featuring Sirota and Poo Bear), “This Far” and “Always and Never.”
Despite having a solo project, Brown will continue publishing music with his Zac Brown Band bandmates and touring with them as a group. The group’s new album, The Owl, is their first since 2017’s Welcome Home.
In a press release, The Owl is described as showing a “deeper side of Zac Brown Band,” and it follows the frontman’s separation from jewelry designer Shelly Brown last year.
“As an artist, I’ve never wanted to be stuck in a box. Any fan who has followed my career from the beginning has always heard me bringing different genres and sounds into every record, whether it’s Zac Brown Band or this solo project. Jekyll + Hyde had everything from bluegrass to electronic, and we just released The Owl last week, which includes many tracks that aren’t country at all,” Brown tells PEOPLE exclusively. “‘God Given,’ for example, is very rock and pop-leaning, and while it sounds like we are singing about Gucci bags, diamonds and G5’s being cool, really it’s about a naturally beautiful woman who doesn’t need any of that because what she’s got is God-given. The Controversy has allowed me to take things we explore in The Owl to the next level and lean into all of the genres of music that I love.”
At the 2019 CMT Awards in June, the band accepted the group video of the year award for their hit “Someone I Used to Know.” Brown, who accepted the award on behalf of his bandmates, used his speech to make a statement.
“For you young artists who have courage to stand up against the machine, be yourself, work hard and one day you can stand up here and tell all the haters to f— off,” he said.