Steve Moakler: Steve talks about the inspiration behind ‘Steel Town’, working with Luke Laird, the power of ‘Riser’ and more

A lot of people may know Steve Moakler by the song that he wrote with Travis Meadows ‘Riser’ which was later recorded by country megastar Dierks Bentley. Some know him as the man from Pittsburgh who has released a couple of his own records and is more than primed for the big time. Last month Moakler released his latest album, ‘Steel Town’, which is a tribute to his hometown and could well be the record that sends him into the spotlight. We were lucky enough to get to chat to Steve in the week after his album release.

Thanks for talking to us today. How are things?

Things are good. Very good. We have a nice few days at home at the moment then we’re hitting the road again so I’m just spending the day getting my things together! How are things with you?

They’re great thank you. We have some rare English sunshine which is nice!

Awesome. You know I think this is my first interview with someone in the UK! It’s exciting!

It’s a privilege. How has album release week been?

Yeah it’s been busy! Last week we launched the record and kicked off the tour then this week is the second weekend of the tour. We have four club shows and we are going to be playing the Today Show. So we’ll be in New York City visiting all kinds of folks. I’ve never done anything like the Today Show. It’ll be my national TV debut, which is going to be cool!

Wow. We know the Today Show over here. That’s a big one!

Really?! Cool! Wow now I’m even more nervous if you guys can see it too!

How have you found the early reaction to the record?

I definitely have found that it’s been good. I’m very encouraged by it. One of the things that people seem to say is that it’s a record that they can listen to top to bottom. I always want to do albums like that where you can just turn them on and not worry about skipping songs. I try to make it a complete package. Balanced and every song is on there for a reason.

Absolutely. A lot of American artists are surprised when an English crowd know the deep cuts of a record but it’s a very English thing to listen to the whole thing. ‘Steel Town’ is definitely an album like that. I’ve had it on a loop since it came out!

Have you really?! Thank you!

Definitely. The great thing about this album is that we have a team of writers at Six Shooter and a few of us have reviewed ‘Steel Town’… It’s a popular one!

Oh wow! That makes my day! It’s so cool!

‘Steel Town’ is obviously a very personal project for you. How does it feel to get the record out there?

It feels so good! I feel like, as personal as it is, it’s very much about the place and time and people that I grew up with. The older that I’ve got the more appreciate I’ve gotten for who they are. It’s really cool to be able to shine a light back onto them. They mean so much to me and it’s important to give something back.

Why, at this point in your career having lived in Nashville for so long, did you decide to go back to your Pittsburgh roots for this record and write the likes of ‘Steel Town’ and ‘Siddle’s Saloon’?

Everybody is different but for me, when I moved to this town (Nashville), I had spent so much time looking forward. I was only thinking about where I was going and dreaming. I think that’s pretty typical for an eighteen or nineteen year old, that’s definitely my story, I think for me it’s taken ten years and now at twenty nine I’m figuring it out. I feel like in your twenties there’s this light bulb just slowly coming on to create this full picture of who you are and where you’re from and how much you’re a product of all this. I think for me it’s really taken that long to realise and have that perspective that, as much as I think I’m a true individual, I’m very much a product of this place.

Do you have a favourite or most cherished song on the album?

That’s really hard to say! There’s a few. I love every song on there for different reasons but just strictly from a songwriters standpoint ‘Wheels’ is my favourite. It’s the kind of song that I’ve always wanted to write because it’s so personal and universal. It’s such a simple image and I’m so proud of how it turned out. I know that when I sing it everyone can put themselves in it somehow. ‘Siddle’s Saloon’ is also very personal to me and it’s also the most rocking and rambunctious song that I’ve written so that’s really cool. ‘Steel Town’ also as I’ve always wanted to write that song but I guess ‘Wheels’ is my favourite.

Out of interest, as you mentioned ‘Steel Town’, where does the spoken section at the start of the record come from?

So Luke Laird, he’s the producer and co-wrote a couple of songs, he had a vision for how we were going to start that song. He’s also from Western Pennsylvania and he has a passion for that area as well – he knows what’s special about it. He had a vision to find a voice that could embody that place and he was searching on YouTube to try and find an example that we could recreate. He found this guy, it was the Pittsburgh newspaper that did a series of different historical pieces and there was this guy called Jim Kapusta who was a steel mill work, in that clip that you hear he’s actually giving a tour of the steel mill that he used to work in twenty or thirty years after it closed down. We just took the audio from that tour and thought that was it! We got to meet him last year, he was so honoured to be on the record and he’s such a kind and humble guy. He’s perfect!

You mentioned Luke Laird who hails from the same part of Pennsylvania as you. Do you find it helpful to have someone who knows where you come from be a part of this project?

Definitely! To be honest I was committed to working with Luke on this before we even realised that it’d have such a strong theme to it. When I wrote ‘Steel Town’ I had an idea that we might use that name for the record but it wasn’t until a few other songs were written that we realised that was the overarching theme. Luke was perfect because he shares the same passion and understands the people and culture and was just as excited as me to share the story.

There was a period of your career where you took a step back and focused more on song writing than being an artist. Why was this?

I think my early twenties I got to a point where I was very frustrated with the pressure that I felt to fit into a box somewhere. It’s hard to even go back to my headspace at that point. I think I felt too much pressure and I wasn’t enjoying it the way that I used to. I met a girl, I wanted to marry her, I did and I thought “you know what? Maybe I’m just going to be a songwriter, I’m just going to fall in love with writing songs because I know I love doing that. The rest is just confusing right now and not coming naturally” so we got married and I started to write. It was a wonderful time in my life. My artistic voice started to come through clearer than ever. Suddenly, from a place of rest rather than a place of striving, I found my voice.

Almost like you’d taken the pressure off?

Yeah. Exactly. I took the pressure off and let it happen naturally then I could get out there and sing, make records and affect people. It just came back stronger than ever!

I can’t let this opportunity pass without mentioning one of my favourite songs of all time and a song which has helped me through a lot of hard times in ‘Riser’…

Oh yeah! Thank you!

Well I suffered a lot with depression in my twenties and that song became my anthem and here I am now!

Wow! That is so cool. Thank you for sharing that. That makes my day and keeps me going.

How did it feel to see an artist like Dierks cut it?

It was a huge honour! I wrote it with Travis Meadows. That probably is my favourite song that I’ve written. If I had to choose one song that’d be the one. It’s because of what you just said – what it means to people. That song was very personal to Travis and I. We felt like it was a diary entry. We weren’t swinging for a hit record or anything. We were just trying to write a powerful song that gave us both strength. When we found that Dierks loved it we were just shocked! Not because we didn’t think it was a good song but because it’s just not the type of song that usually makes it to the mainstream. Typically the songs that break through and get to an audience don’t have that type of depth. For a writer, at least for Travis and I, that’s really our heart is to bring a message like that. To write and sing songs like that. That was really our first big cut and it was a huge honour. Dierks did a great job with it!

I’ve actually got the lyrics framed on my wall!

No you don’t dude! Aw man thank you! That means the World!

I’ll have to bring them along and get them signed if you do come to England!

I do want to get over there man and I look forward to meeting you! It’s one of the things that I want to do this year for sure. I’ve seen a lot of videos of friends over there and everyone says that the country fans in the UK are more passionate than America!

A lot of the artists, especially songwriters, seem to find a lot more success over here! I think people struggle to understand why our crowds our a little more quiet but it’s because those songs that really mean something like ‘Riser’ or ‘Wheels’ the crowd will just sit and listen to. It’d be awesome for someone like yourself…

Wow man! I appreciate you saying that. It makes me feel so welcome. After this conversation I’m even more inclined to make it happen ASAP!

I presume you’ve got big plans to tour in the US with ‘Steel Town’ to get done first?

Yes Sir. We just kicked off the headline tour this past weekend and we’ll be on that until the end of May. The summertime will be filled with festivals and some more headline shows sprinkled in there. All I can see is until the end of the Summer at the moment! Thank you so much for your encouragement and I really look forward to meeting you!

Check out our review of ‘Steel Town’ here

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