Steve Moakler will release his fourth album, Steel Town, on Friday (March 17), but he admits it feels like it is his first record. The singer/songwriter co-wrote 10 of the album’s 11 tracks, which he says makes for a personal release. As he explains, Steel Town has so much “chapter one information” and as a result, many of the songs vividly paint the picture of his roots. On “Steel Town,” Moakler discusses what life in his hometown south of Pittsburgh was like and how it shaped who he has become.
“In a steel town you learn how to bend and not break / How to hang in, how to cut loose, how to find a way / How to start from nothing and build it from the ground / Everything that matters most I learned about in a steel town,” he sings on the chorus.
“There are a lot of songs about looking back, and also a lot of songs about trying to be in the moment and appreciating the moment,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville of Steel Town. “All those looking back moments come from my roots in a steel town. And I think it’s taken me, really, 10 years of being gone to really understand how much I’m a product of that place and how much it has given me that I bring with me everywhere.”
Another personal song is the rowdy “Siddle’s Saloon,” where Moakler pays homage to his grandfather’s home bar. Located in his grandfather’s basement, it’s a place his family still gets together to reminisce about old times. “Siddle’s Saloon” is a song that marks new territory for Moakler and one that he can’t wait to play live on the upcoming the Highway Finds Tour which kicks off Thursday (March 16).
“It’s a very personal song but it also is the most up-tempo, rocking [one],” he says. “It sounds honestly like a Celtic bar blue collar anthem. It’s got a great energy to it and I think it’ll be really, really fun to play live, and should add a lot of energy to the show. That, paired with what it means to me, probably puts it in the running for the song I’m most excited to play.”
While Moakler laughs when asked if he’ll be whipping out Celtic instruments during his set, he admits that he can’t afford any Celtic instrumentalists at this point in his career. He does promise a fiddle on the track, though, which he says will help bring the Celtic energy to the room.
At heart, Moakler is a songwriter first and foremost and fans get a glimpse into his life throughout the entirety of Steel Town. Well known for penning songs for other artists including Dierks Bentley’s “Riser,” Moakler says songwriting is what first brought him to Nashville, adding that it is his deepest love.
“The thrill of the chase of writing a song, the feeling that comes over a room and over you when you’re writing a song you love,” he says, pausing. “When we wrote ‘Wheels’ and when I wrote ‘Steel Town’ and really all the songs on this album, that excitement of tapping into something new and special and real, that feeling keeps me going. I really don’t know what else I would do. If I ever lost my voice or for some reason couldn’t travel anymore, I could write songs and I could still be a pretty fulfilled, creative person. That really is my first love.”
One of the albums highlights is new single “Wheels,” which Moakler co-wrote with Caitlyn Smith and Gordie Sampson. He recalls Smith throwing out the title while the three songwriters were discussing life. Someone suggested the idea, “they started off pushing you on four and you don’t have a say where you’re going.”
“Then we realized, we can tell the entire story of life and growing up using the images of wheels. Obviously, everyone can relate to that. We were all instantly onboard and it just lit a spark that started a fire, and it came together pretty quickly,” he recalls. “We had the title ‘Wheels’ that we were so intrigued by, and then it opened that whole narrative for us.”
While Moakler saw his first country radio success as an artist last year with the Thomas Rhett, Barry Dean and Luke Laird-penned single “Suitcase,” listeners will get a better sense of who he is as an artist throughout the remainder of Steel Town as he co-wrote every other track.
“I think I had to be the one to write a lot of the songs on this project to make it the personal album that it is,” he says while pondering the thought of cutting outside songs. “I’ll probably always mostly record songs that I write, but that being said, and being a songwriter first, I have a deep appreciation for great songs when I hear one and I know what an honor it is to get to sing one.”
Country fans can catch Moakler singing his songs live throughout the country as he headlines the Highway Finds Tour. His album, Steel Town, is out March 17.