This interview is week 7 of Sean Claes' 52 Weeks of Austin Music Interviews.Living and Learning with
Jeremy Steding plays that dance hall style Country music that thankfully has survived the progression of Country music. His style seems to equally pull from the likes of Robert Earl Keen and Johnny Cash and, like any songwriter worth his salt, he is able to take you places with his lyrics.
When he moved from Florida to Austin in 2007, he brought with him a songwriters talent and a love for the Texas-style Americana country... and over the last six years, he's worn it well.
I just recently discovered him when I was invited to a recording of the Backroom Bootleg Sessions at the Gibson Guitar Showroom. When I saw him perform his song "Arkansas Rain," I knew I had to get to know him a little better... and I needed to let others know about this talent.
Sadly, he's not sticking around Austin very long. He's making the jump to Nashville to hone his songwriting skills, but before he goes you should make it a point to see him live at least once.
Sean Claes: You made the trek from Florida to Austin in 2007 with an unreleased album in your hands. Tell me about your relocation, and why you chose Austin?
Jeremy Steding: It felt right. I had never been, but I just kept hearing about it. I wanted to pursue original music, professionally. I wanted to perform my own brand of country music in a place I believed it would be well received. I wanted to grow as an artist.
Claes: Were you familiar with the “Texas Music” brand of country?
Steding: In college, I heard of Cory Morrow and Robert Earl Keen. I dug into Texas Music and fell in love. If I could pinpoint it, I would say that the REK song, “Feelin’ Good Again,” was the reason I moved to Austin, having never before been to Texas. Moving to Austin was the best decision I have ever made.
Claes: Growing up in Florida, how did you end up playing and singing country/Americana?
Steding: I grew up listening to good music. My dad plays and sings. “Paradise,” by John Prine, “Folsom Prison Blues”, by Johnny Cash, and folk classics, like “Where Have all the Flowers Gone?” were features in his nightly, family room concert series.
Claes: Your first album, 2008’s Whiskey Songs and Prison Songs, got some attention on the Texas Music Charts for the single “Auburn.” How did it feel to get that first charted single?
Steding: It was an amazing feeling! I take the most pride in the fact that I promoted it entirely myself. I did not spend the usual $3,500 on a Texas Radio promoter because I didn’t have it. Honestly, at that time, I don’t think I had $350. I just did the best I could, being persistent and polite. I am very grateful for the independent minded stations that helped. This is still a cult hit in a lot of college crowds.
Claes: You also released A Damn Good Ride in 2009 and hit the charts with “Let The Boys Drink Whiskey.”
Steding: I believe this is one of the two best produced songs I have ever done and still one of my favorites. Tim Crouch plays the fiddle and mandolin and Doug DeForest produced. I feel the song came out beautifully. ”Life’s a Song” from Whiskey Songs and Prison Songs, is my other favorite.
Claes: Do you feel you advanced as a musician and performer between the two?
Steding: Between the two albums, I grew immensely. I progressed quite a bit as a player, musician and singer. I could play with a metronome by this point.
Most importantly, I learned about the music business and entered it. I recorded WSPS in 2005, (though it wasn’t “released” until 2008) so, by the time I made A Damn Good Ride I had not been in the studio in almost four years.
Claes: Back in June you released your third record I Keep On Livin’, but I Don’t Learn. How has the reaction been thus far?
Steding: Very, very good overall. We have had a ton of support from bloggers and radio stations internationally. This album was written about at least 4 times as much as the previous two combined.
I feel my fan base is really expanding with this. At the same time, I have further separated from the Texas Country mainstream. I feel like I am really coming into my own. Of course, now, I am totally inspired and can't wait to record again!
The reaction, in Europe, has been amazing and that is where I have been focusing my attention. We debuted at #17 on the Euro-Americana Charts, and Euro Radio airplay is growing wildly.
Claes: How do you feel you’ve progressed as a songwriter on the new album?
Steding: This is the first album I could hand to Guy Clark and say, “Hey man, I’d be grateful for a listen.” I feel the songwriting on this album is more “intelligent” than the ones before. I have had kind mentions and gained respect from some of the songwriters I truly admire. The production is simple and true to the live show of the time.
Sean Claes: The album was produced by Walt Wilkins. How was it to work with him?
Steding: Walt seems like the coolest guy in the world, but he is actually much cooler than he seems! It was a ball.
Claes: I caught you performing “Arkansas Rain” (video above) from the current album as part of the “Bootleg Series” at the Gibson Guitar Showroom. It’s really a beautiful track that seems to be a classic hurtin’ song. Tell me about the song.
Steding: I wrote the song while in a very unhealthy relationship, and it was a forethought into what the future might be if I didn’t get out of it. I thought about the millions of people who live, daily, with heartache and regret.
I’m very glad I wrote the song instead of becoming one of them. Struggle often creates absolutely beautiful art.
Claes: You cover Johnny Cash’s “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” on the new release.
Steding: Cash is my favorite artist and this is one of Walt’s favorite songs. It was just right!
Claes: What is your favorite track on I Keep On Livin’, but I Don’t Learn?
Steding: I struggle with this. My favorite song is “Arkansas Rain,” but I think “Five Aprils” sounds the best. I love the fiddle.
I kept this album completely organic, in the style the live band played at the time, and in retrospect I would have brought in more fiddle/mandolin.
Claes: You also used Kickstarter.com to raise the money to record this and you were able to raise over $11k and had 82 individuals back you. That’s pretty amazing.
Steding: Grateful would be a huge understatement. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the friends/fans and family that helped us reach our goal! Thank you, Gracias, Merci, Danke Schon!!! I can not possibly thank y’all enough.
Claes: You currently have all three of your releases available for free download (or for a contribution of any amount). Why did you choose to do this?
Steding: Embarrassingly enough, I was turned onto some of my favorite artists, like Robert Earl Keen, through free (illegal) downloads. Since then, I have spent a lot of money on concert tickets, hard copy CDs and I have mentioned many of these artists in conversations I’ve had.
If it were not for “free” music, I would not have discovered Texas Music. Though many would argue, I believe this is the way of the future. Upcoming bands must be heard. Exposure is the only way people can pass judgment and mainstream media is not an option for all music.
I have found that the more people hear the music, the more people will come to shows. If a song touches someone, they tend to buy a CD, or a shirt.
Claes: Who are some of your favorite musicians in town?
Steding: Off the top of my head: The Trishas, Heybale, Dale Watson, Roger Wallace, Mike Ethan Messick, Walt Wilkins and the Mystiqueros, Mike and the Moonpies, John Evans, Bracken Hale, Tessy Lou Williams, Hayes Carll...
I could go on and on and on, they just came to mind at first thought... I know I need to see White Ghost Shivers, I have been assured, by trustworthy sources that I will think they are fantastic. Please, go listen to Bracken Hale.
Claes: You’re playing tonight (2/21) at Legends Sports Bar in Austin. What’s the cover and are you playing with anyone?
Steding: This is a free, solo-acoustic show. This is actually a very cool hang, a lot of times other musicians show up and play some...
Claes: This Friday (2/24) you’ll play the Old Coupland Inn and Dancehall. Is it a different feel when you play legendary places like this?
Steding: Totally. This is our first time back since it reopened. Coupland Dance Hall is legendary. It just feels good to be there. Coupland is the real deal. Please, please, please, if you have never made the 40 minute trek out there, do it. It is worth it. This is living Texas History, you step back in time 100 years when you walk through the door.
Also, get the ribs or something “Chicken Fried”
Claes: You’ve also been tapped to play the ‘Rockin’ A Outdoor Stage” at the Star of Texas Fair & Rodeo in March.
Steding: I love the rodeo. This is our third year playing there. It started because my buddy, Scott Boyd was dating Christy Bowen, who booked the bands in 2010. She wanted a young, more traditional country band for a show. Then, I have just followed up, yearly. We always love playing at the Rodeo.
We are playing outdoors and on the 100x Stage on Monday, March 12.
Claes: Where are some of your favorite places to play?
Steding: I have really been loving hosting the pickers’ circle, in Luckenbach. Also, I love Saxon Pub - sound is perfect, Threadgill’s, NXNW Brewery is always fun - we play most of their special events. I love going to Lubbock and playing The Blue Light.
My living room is also rad, great acoustics! I’d like to try out the Rattle Inn and the White Horse. Those seem like cool new spots.
I have also recently started an Irish Folk Music Side Project. We will be playing the St. Patricks’ Day Celebrations at Fado Irish Pub and NXNW. I’m really excited. I absolutely love Irish/Scottish folk music, and I believe I do a pretty decent job at it.
Claes: I saw that you’re taking a trip in June to Europe to tour overseas this year.
Steding: I love experience and travel. When I saw how well the album was being received, in Europe, I knew now was the time. I am planning on staying most of the summer.
Fifteen shows have been booked, ranging from house concerts to dance hall stuff. I have had some great friends, here, and in Europe, and here, helping. I’m truly grateful.
Big thanks to April Orr, Rob in Scotland, Mandrin in Switzerland, Max in Italy, Dolf and Frank in The Netherlands. Also, huge thanks to the Euro-Americana Chart and all those involved.
Claes: Is this your first tour overseas?
Steding: I backpacked Europe when I graduated college and have had the pleasure of visiting a number of times, but I have never performed there. My parents, Dan and Jeanne, lived in Erlangen, Germany for three years (2003-06) so I’ve spent a good amount of time there.
Claes: I hear you’re planning on making the move to Nashville this year.
Steding: I’m going to Nashville in October. I want to continue developing my craft and grow as a musician/songwriter. I know I can be a better musician/singer/songwriter than I am now.
I think a change of scene and an immersion in another culture will help. I want to pursue the top level of professional songwriting/performing. I’ll continue touring and spending a great deal of time in Texas, I love Texas and traveling around, sharing our music. I just feel like its the right time.
I will be pursuing publishing, I feel like Zac Brown could have his first ballad hit with “Arkansas Rain.”
I love Nashville. I used to buy into the whole TX vs. Nashville thing, but in my opinion, its not true, at least not anymore.
Claes: The band you play with is called the “Band of Bastards.” How’d that name come about?
Steding: Ehhhhhhh, it was a quick idea and it stuck. I try to avoid the term anymore but people seem to love it. They’re actually really nice guys, haha.
Claes: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Steding: I can’t even begin to express how grateful I am for our friends/fans/supporters. Thank y’all so much for everything. I consider myself truly blessed to perform and travel.
I hope to have a beer with you soon! Come see the Country Band or the new, Irish side-project, soon. First 10 people to mention this article, in a post on my Facebook band page get a free CD and your first drink is on me at the show of your choice (expires after 3/17/2012)
For more information on Jeremy, find him online at http://www.jeremysteding.com or on Facebook or Twitter. His entire catalog of music is available for free (you're welcome to donate if you like) via his Music Page.
He plays tonight in Austin at Legends Sports Bar (8901 Business Park Drive) He'll play the Old Coupland Inn and Dancehall (101 Hoxie St, Coupland, Texas) this Friday. Sunday you can find him Under The Trees at Luckenbach, Texas.Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here - http://www.seanclaes.com/.