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‘Pretty Little Poison’: Warren Zeiders’ Debut Album Is A Cure For Heartbreak
In Depth

‘Pretty Little Poison’: Warren Zeiders’ Debut Album Is A Cure For Heartbreak

With his debut album, ‘Pretty Little Poison’, Warren Zeiders finds the antidote to a broken heart, and emerges a country icon in the making.

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Even by country music’s exacting standards for authenticity, Pennsylvania-born, Tennessee-based Warren Zeiders is about as authentic as they come. Pouring his soul out across Pretty Little Poison’s 14 songs, the fast-rising Zeiders has created a debut album that acts as a cure for heartbreak, while also proving himself to be a natural-born songwriter who’s earned every bit of acclaim thrown his way since the release of his debut single, Ride The Lightning, in 2021. Going from staging an impromptu performance at a local bar to appearing on the Grand Ole Opry and announcing a headline show at Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium before even releasing his debut, Zeiders’ story is one of up-from-the-bootstraps self-determination the likes of which few artists possess.

“This album is my story. It’s who I am. It’s who I’ve always been,” he says of Pretty Little Poison. “I still put in the work. I still push myself.”

Listen to ‘Pretty Little Poison’ here.

A rising country star: “A lightbulb went off, and I thought, This is something I should pursue”

Despite being a relative newcomer to the country scene, the 24-year-old Zeiders is no stranger to a crowd. Before committing himself to music, he played lacrosse for over a decade, but was forced to bow out of a successful career after too many concussions threatened his long-term health. In swapping his lacrosse stick for an acoustic guitar, however, Zeiders took much of the discipline he’d learned as an athlete into his newly chosen career as a musician. “There were so many tournaments in different cities. So many different hotel rooms,” Zeiders has said of the gruelling demands of being a full-time sportsman. “It felt a lot like touring. It taught me about travel, commitment and hard work at a young age.”

Learning things the old-fashioned way, Zeiders taught himself guitar by playing along with Chris Stapleton and Luke Combs records in his bedroom, before a song by the latter set his new destiny in motion: while Zeiders was out for dinner with his family, a local musician began taking requests; when she didn’t know Combs’ song Beautiful Crazy, Zeiders got up and played it for the room. “I had an out-of-body experience,” he says. “In that moment, a lightbulb went off, and I thought, This is something I should pursue.”

Over 1.4 billion TikTok views, nearly 100 million audio streams and a collection of early recordings, titled 717 Tapes, later, Zeiders released Pretty Little Poison on 18 August 2023 as a fully formed statement of intent.

The songs: “A lot of this album is about a girl, and a lot of it is about me”

Opening with its title track, Pretty Little Poison sets out its stall from the off. Building from a mournful pedal steel and scene-setting acoustic guitar into a widescreen ballad that adds a shot of defiance into Zeiders’ cocktail of dejection and heartbreak (“Yeah, she came with a warning/But I didn’t mind/I’ll go out on that high every time”), the song signposts everything that’s to come from Zeiders’ debut. “A lot of this album is about a girl, and a lot of it is about me,” he has said, adding, “I’m paying tribute to that classic country sound, but I’m keeping things modern, too. At the end of the day, I’m just putting my heart on my sleeve and putting myself onstage.”

More of that modern twist comes with the rock-tinged Some Whiskey, in which Zeiders manages to make an anthem out of drinking his sorrows away – any which way (“Some whiskey’s good in a shot/Some you sip on the rocks/Some you raise up and drink/Some burn up every memory”). His fighting spirit returns on Black And Blue (“I’d rather be on the losin’ side of a parkin’-lot fight/… Be bucked off a bronc, kicked up and stomped”) before riding the song to its kiss-off line: “‘Cause there ain’t nothin’ like the hurt I got from you”. But if Pain Killer is a defences-down cry for help from self-confessed “broken man” (“My heart’s in a thousand pieces/Ain’t found no cure for the pain”), Tell Me Like It Is makes a demand for honesty while offering loyalty in return (“’Cause, honey, this one’s here to stay/So say what you need to say”).

“I was raised on country, rock and Christian music,” Zeiders has said – a holy trinity of its own which courses through Pretty Little Poison’s 45 minutes. Noting that all three “helped shape me into who I am”, Zeiders has also revealed that, in recording his debut album, he settled for nothing less than total artistic integrity: “I needed this album to touch all of those bases, because if I’m going to create something, I have to believe in it.”

The verdict: “I’m staying true to who I am”

As the last notes of the album’s closing ballad, Cowboys Ride Away, fade into the distance, Zeiders rejects the images of “them old Westerns” that “got it wrong” and “had me fooled all along”; refusing to chase the sunset – and, ultimately, the girl – the competitive sportsman turned confessional songwriter instead does what he always does: plants his flag in his own territory and doubles down on himself.

“Faith, family and athletics were the three pillars of my life, long before I started playing music,” Zeiders says. “I haven’t forgotten that. I’m always learning new things – if you stop doing that, you stop growing – but I’m staying true to who I am, too… I may not be playing lacrosse anymore, but I haven’t lost the discipline or focus that I learned as an athlete… I go onstage and treat it like it’s a game day.”

Looking for more? Check out the best albums of 2023.

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