Posted by Brian Truitt

The hottest country act around today espouses the Southern virtues of sweet tea, pecan pie, homemade wine and -- of course -- fried chicken. Hailing from right outside of Atlanta, Zac Brown Band is topping the CMT video list with its latest hit, Whatever It Is, but it's the band's breakout song, Chicken Fried, that is up for the USA WEEKEND Breakthrough Video of the Year at the upcoming CMT Music Awards. (It's also in the running for Group Video of the Year.) The images of Brown's group and a whole mess of people hanging out and enjoying themselves is as friendly and inviting as the song is catchy. (His family's getting ready to grow by one more -- Brown's wife is expecting their third little girl Sept. 7. And Brown himself is the 11th of 12 children.) I got a chance to talk with Brown last week about the video and his band's recent success after many, many years on the road so click read more for the Q&A. Take a peek at the Chicken Fried video below and if you like what you see, go here to vote for Brown and see if the group wins live at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, June 16.

Zac Brown Band

When did you shoot the video?
We shot it last fall, before the song was coming out. We were between our Live Nation deal and our Atlantic Records deal, and we had plans with Live Nation to do the video with them. We got out of our deal, and we just did it on our own: We went in the back yard and had barbecue and do what we do.

So that's all your family and friends in the video?
Yes, sir. We just let everybody know we were coming and it worked out great. Everybody ended up showing up and helping to make it happen.

Were there any other ideas you were thinking about, or was getting everybody in the back yard always what you wanted to do?
Originally, we were going to do a 300-foot-long picnic table and have every kind of person in the world on either side of the picnic table, to show off all kinds of people. You know how it is, with business changes, you have to adapt and make the best out of it. That's what we did and it ended up being very homemade, but it was also very us: very genuine to who we are and what we do. It was very cool how it all worked out.

Do you like filming music videos?
It's something new. The hardest part is figuring out how to time everything because before we never had to do that, so we just have to put that in our calendar now to set aside this week for video time and this day for editing, etc. We just shot our third one for Toes and it's a lot of fun. It's got helicopters, and Kid Rock's in it. We're working with a great producer on this one, a guy named Darren Doane, and the first two I did with a friend of mine, Clifton Collins Jr., who's actually an actor. It's very cool to work with different people and try to take a lot of the crazy ideas in my head and get those on to video.

I hear you're a pretty good chef.
I enjoy cooking and I've been doing it my whole life. My whole family cooks and I've learned a lot of stuff from them, and wherever I go, I mess around. We squeeze it in and cook for the guys on the road. You gotta eat, you know? We did a big Memorial Day show and cooked for about 50 to 60 people there at the event and then played a show.

Do you have a specialty?
Southern soul food, but with fusion from different places and different things. I call it "Southern gourmet."

You guys are blowing up nationally now. What's been the key to the success?
Hard work. This is my 13th year of touring, I've done over 3,000 shows and we're constantly working. The blue-collar approach to things is the only way you can really have longevity in this business. You get on a reality show these days and become famous, but as far as creating pages in the history of music, that very rarely happens without a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

You name James Taylor as your single biggest influence. How fulfilling will it be in five or 10 years when people cite you as their musical hero?
To have people cover my songs, it's an honor. It lets you know that you're doing the right thing and going about it the right way. There's a great story behind us too, just as far as how we got started and how long it took to do it. I think for other musicians who are coming up and learning how to be a touring musician, you just gotta get out there and do it and work hard. We're the perfect band to carry that flag that it's OK to be yourself and OK to make your music as long as you work hard at it.