by: Ryan Heape
Five years ago now, native Floridian Jeremy Steding came out to Austin and gave us an album called “Whiskey Songs And Prison Songs.” It was outlaw. It was Texas. But, it was also youthful and optimistic. A noted workhorse, Steding has since independently recorded two records; his most recent, the sliding and melodic “I Keep On Livin’, But I Don’t Learn,” was born of a Kickstarter project and was recorded under the guidance of one Walt Wilkins.
He and his band will be coming to open for the great Max Stalling on Friday up at the Blue Light, beaming Irish-smile and songs about cocaine in tow. I rendezvoused with the 31-year old songwriter to talk about the grind of independent music, the virtues of fiddle, and his upcoming acoustic tour of Europe. Like Jeremy Steding on Facebook here and follow him on Twitter here.
New Slang: By my count, this’ll be your seventh time coming to gig out in Lubbock. How do you feel your interaction with this town has been?
Jeremy Steding: Whoa, that’s wild. I never would’ve guessed it’d been that many. I love Lubbock. I think it’s because Blue Light is one of my absolute favorite venues in Texas.
NS: The last couple times we’ve seen you, you’ve enlisted the fiddle talents of Lubbock’s own Tina Turner. Are we going to have the pleasure of seeing that again?
JS: Indeed! Yeah, Tina’s gonna be playing with us Friday night, which is awesome. I wish she lived in Austin and could be in the band constantly.
NS: Fiddle really does something very cool to your live set.
JS: For sure. Yeah, from this point forward, anything we do as a band, we’re going to enlist a full-time fiddle player. And that includes Austin and everywhere. Eventually, I’d like to have someone who can play both fiddle and mandolin.
NS: I’ve heard enough people refer to you as the “hardest working man in Texas music.” Do you take ownership of that?
JS: [Laughs] I guess, man. I mean, I think it’s true. I know there’s a lot of people who bust their asses. I run pretty much everything myself, which is actually great at this level I think. I was talking to Dustin Six, he used to do all the booking at Blue Light. He said that so many artists, as they’re working their way up, they can’t hang for that long because they’re paying so many people out. I don’t know, I just like to work hard. I’m doing what I love though, and that’s why I think it’s gonna work out for me.
NS: Your second LP, “A Damn Good Ride,” is a fun listen, but it’s also about that grind.
NS: And you’ve successfully pulled off a Kickstarter project. How many people can actually say that?
JS: Oh, that was fantastic [Laughs]. Yeah, we’ll probably end up having to do that again here pretty soon. I don’t know what percentage of those things are successful, but I know it’s less than a third.
NS: You moved to Austin from Florida after college. Can you say that was more of a logistical decision in terms of being close with your musical peers or was it also an artistic decision in terms of the music itself and where you wanted to take it?
JS: It was both. I just got turned on to stuff like Robert Earl Keen, et cetera. And Texas has a lot of unique music that’s supported really well here that isn’t supported elsewhere. There’s not really an independent music scene like it. So it was a business decision and also I wanted to get closer to these guys. Like if you would’ve told me five years ago that I would be friends with Walt Wilkins and be at least kind-of-friends with Cory Morrow–who’s a huge influence of mine–that would’ve been crazy. When you’re young and upcoming, it’s cool to have friends like that who I really look up to.
NS: Listening to your records, there are at least traces of your more southern heritage and not only that, but your Irish heritage as well.
JS: I love those cultures. A lot of music–especially country, Americana, early rock n’ roll–did derive a lot from Irish or Scotch-Irish music. All those Scotch-Irish settlers in the Appalachians and deep south, you know that–along with the blues–was what made country. Most guys, they write country and they listen to country and they listen to rock. I tend to listen to a lot more Irish folk and I even love listening to civil war-era music. It’s kind of weird, but it’s definitely something that comes across in my songwriting. And it helps that I’m a big history buff.
NS: I want to talk about these three albums you now have under your belt. How exactly did having a guy like Walt Wilkins in the studio affect the recording process of your newest, “I Keep On Livin’, But I Don’t Learn?”
JS: Well I think how this album is more stripped-down, that’s Walt’s style. He was so cool, and it made it so fun. It’s more folk/Americana than my others, you know. “Damn Good Ride” was a straight COUNTRY album, and then the first one, “Whiskey Songs and Prison Songs” was more rock-influenced. But to tell you the truth, as far as production goes, that first LP is my favorite. I mean if you go back and listen to “Bonnie Blue,” that’s a straight up Irish song the way it’s written and recorded and everything. Chris Gill is the producer on that, and I’m actually going to work with him in Nashville on my next project. We’re going to take some of the old songs and rerecord those, and just try to make it a balls-to-the-wall, badass perfection of what I learned over the course of the past few years.
NS: [Laughs] The Definitive Jeremy Steding LP?
JS: Yeah! “The Essential.”
NS: I’ve noticed you’ve got “Whiskey Songs” and “Prison Songs” tattooed on each of your arms. Was that before or after you figured out that was what you were going to call your debut album?
JS: [Laughs] Yeah, the tattoo came after the title. It’s kind of ridiculous, but I actually got it right when I moved to Austin. Because even when I moved here, there was still the major thought of going into the corporate sector and getting a “normal” job and still try to pursue music. But certainly if you have a full-time, corporate job you can’t go after a music career full throttle. I know some guys who’ve tried it and they’re not around anymore.
NS: So the tats were a kind-of commitment to a musician’s life.
JS: Yeah, but…it was sort of a bitch move because they’re so high on my arms, it was like I was trying to keep the door open just in case [Laughs].
NS: Do you still feel the same connection with those earlier tunes like “Jack Daniels” or that title track off your debut, “Whiskey Songs And Prison Songs”?
JS: “Jack Daniels,” yes. “Whiskey Songs And Prison Songs,” I kind of hate performing, like, I love that tune. But there’s like eight mentions of ‘cocaine’ in it! And it’s just one of those things where there’s this fan, she always requests it at the Austin shows—but she always comes with her mom, and it’s always so awkward [Laughs]. Maybe we’ll change that to “propane” or something. I was never an avid snorter of cocaine, but I think it was just a reflection of how much I love Johnny Cash. And for a while there, we were always closing out our sets with “Cocaine Blues,” which is just the most fun ever. And as far as old songs go, “Life’s A Song” off that first record is one of my favorites we’ve ever done. We’ll have to re-record that, too. Not really messing with the production, but I think my voice has matured since that first album.
NS: There is a notable progression in terms of vocals, isn’t there?
JS: Yeah. The newest record is probably the best representation of my “real” voice. I found my voice and I found what works best for me through singing the music of guys like Cash and Waylon. And so on the second record there’s still a lot of me trying to sound like them, which isn’t exactly a bad thing—those aren’t bad guys to be emulating. But I think if I had never done that I wouldn’t have been able to grow into what my real, unique voice is. Like through emulating them, I was able to learn things. Last time I was in Lubbock [April 24 at Blue Light], we played that Irish folk tune “Rocky Road To Dublin,” and actually through singing a lot of that same stuff, I think I’ve been able to build my range a little.
NS: Let’s talk about what you’ve got going on later this year. What’s this I hear about you and the boys touring Europe?
JS: Yeah, it’s gonna be me, acoustic. I couldn’t be more excited. It’s gonna be a professional tour slash pilgrimage of sorts. I fly into Dublin in May and from there, I’m actually gonna make my way over and set up camp in Nuremberg, Germany.
NS: I’ve actually been to Nuremberg. Sensational town, from what I remember. I was only 10, though.
JS: Oh yeah. I’m guessing you didn’t have an interest in beer then. Or you could’ve been just an incredible man-child hardass, but probably not [laughs]. So there’s that castle there, though. They have that Nuremberg bratwurst house there, the bratwurst of course is outrageously good, but it’s not what you’d expect. The brats are real thin, it’s like finger food–but you have that, with a fat, fresh pretzel plus you have Tucher Weissebier, which is brewed in the same house. So all of those German aromas are together in the air…it’s just perfect.
NS: So you’re telling me you’re excited about it.
JS: I’m stoked. I’ve got shows booked all over the Scottish Highlands and I’ve also got two shows in Italy: one with Whiskey Myers, and one with Turnpike Troubadours.
NS: Whiskey Myers, Jeremy Steding, and each of the Turnpike Troubadours as American ambassadors to Italy. Scary. So after Europe?
JS: I’ll be moving back to Nashville to record, and play, you know, kind of get back to where I started. You’ll probably get a new record late next year. But I’ll be back around to Lubbock just as often. Don’t worry about that.