Steelwind Releases Third Album, Blue, on June 22nd.
Steelwind, the Oklahoma Bluegrass Band, is set to release their third full length album titled Blue on June 22nd at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
I got a chance to chat with the lead vocalists Blake Parks and Michael Henneberry a bit about the album, the process of making it, and their musical journey so far.
“Michael and I met in 2009, and really soon after that we did our first album in Stillwater, more of a garage recording studio, but it was a fun experience and we learned a lot. And then Michael was really busy with school and I had a new job in Oklahoma city, and I played other music and we had a time period where we didn't put anything else out until 2016 when we released F5,” said Blake.
“We were busy with life and it was kind of like a tornado in that it just came all together, and so in 2016 we said we want to really start doing this. So we went to a professional studio in Edmond, we recorded a full length album, F5, and just like any band, we just grew a bunch, we got better and better. This latest album is a culmination of us just doing it full time, with as much energy as we could. We took about a year and half to write all the songs, we spent almost a year recording it, so it truly is our most prolific and the work that we are most proud of coming out. The albums in the past, we love them and they are great, but this is by far our best effort yet and I think you're really going to be able to tell when you listen to it,” said Michael.
While Blake, on fiddle, and Michael, on guitar, are the main songwriters and the vocalists, they also have some other amazing members of the band. They have Adam Davis on dobro, Kenney Parks (Blake's dad) on bass, Becca Herrod is a vocalist and plays mandolin, and Joel Parks (Blake's brother) on banjo. Becca is the newest member, and wasn't a part of the band during the recording of Blue.
“We have all 6 bluegrass instruments in the band which is fun. On the album we have special guests including Carter Sampson. We have two songs My Baby's Gone and Oklahoma Wind, and she added these just amazing angelic backing vocals that honestly took the songs to new levels. We even have a steel guitar player on one of the songs. We have a lot of stuff, it was a lot of fun,” said Michael.
The album was recorded at the 33rd St. studio in Edmond. Which is their producer, Tyler Garcia's studio. Tyler Garcia also mixed the album. David Glasser, who runs Airshow Mastering Studio in Boulder Colorado, mastered it.
“It was amazing to work with a producer this time. The last album we worked with Tyler but it was new to us at the time, so we thought we know how we want these songs to go and we want to do it this way. The more and more that Blake and I have played music and have gotten into this whole music thing we've realized that a producer can really take things to a level that you just couldn't do on your own. When you spend all this time writing the songs and pouring your heart out in the lyrics and the melody, by the end of it it's hard for you to take it to another level and that's where Tyler was really able to help us.,” explained Michael. “What we love about Tyler is that he's not a bluegrass guy. I think we are one of the only bluegrass bands that has worked with him. That actually turned out to be a really good thing, because he had this different approach to it. Don't worry, it's still a bluegrass album, but you know there are certain songs where we have breakdowns in spots that we might not have done that, just ideas that we wouldn't have come up with. So for us it was awesome to be able to trust him and it really really turned out for the best.”
Between writing and recording the album it took a couple of years. I asked the guys what was the most interesting thing that they learned about themselves during that time.
“I guess for me I've learned that true quality just takes time, and you have to have the patience and not get in a hurry. Because when you are creating a masterpiece in your world, it takes a lot longer than you would expect. I think a lot of people just see a song, or they see that a band has another album out and they don't think about all the time it truly takes to get to that point in releasing it, but I've learned that it's not about the product per say. I mean it is, but the true fun in the journey was creating the album, and the recording sessions and the memories that we have in the studio as well as working with the whole team that we had. It's just a fun experience to do and I think it's just one thing that I've learned, the work and the journey of getting there was really fun for me,” said Blake.
“Well said, I agree. It was eye opening for us how much time a true professional recording takes. It was a really fun process. You don't realize the different between a good and a great production. This time we spent just as much time on a rhythm backing instrument that you can barely hear on the track, as the main parts on our last album. I think neither of us will ever forget our time in there, although we are happy that it is done,” said Michael with a laugh.
Next I asked the guys what they would want someone who has never heard of them or their music to know about them and their new album.
“I think for one, we are really trailblazing the way for Oklahoma Bluegrass. We are one of the only young Oklahoma Bluegrass bands that writes their own music. If there's others, there's just a handful of them. That's one of the most unique thing about us. Also something unique about us too is that Blake and I have co-written every single song that we've recorded. So all the songs that you'll hear on this album are co-written songs by us and it wasn't like Blake brought a few songs and I brought a few songs. We sat down over the course of over a year and together wrote every one of them, and I think that's really unique and special. It's cool that Blake is really good at melodies and I'm kinda the word guy and when we combine forces there's this product that neither of us could have created on our own. Our songs have this kind of timeless quality to them, you really wouldn't know what era they were from if you just listened to them lyrically and I think that's something that really sets us apart,” said Michael.
“I think you nailed it Michael, but I would just like to say that I'm excited about this album because it really does push boundaries. It started with the love of bluegrass but it has a lot of elements that all types of music lovers will enjoy. It might cross into country music lovers and it might cross into more folk people, I just feel like a lot of different type of music lovers will appreciate at least one song on the album because there are so many different songs and every song on the album has it's own identity,” said Blake.
Next we talked about the album release show, and how they decided on where to have it.
“It’s going to be at the National Cowboy Heritage Museum. They have a place in there called Prosperity Junction, and it's time specific to about 1900-1910 and they had us there for their whiskey tasting event. Whenever we played there for the event, we thought this is amazing, and how cool would it be to make a music video in there, because it's like you are in a set. The back drop has you going back in time, so we wanted the music video there and we arranged that. That's where we produced My Baby's Gone music video and we got such great feedback that we thought well we should just have the album release party in Prosperity Junction. So we worked that out as well. We're just super excited to kind of make our music video come to life if you will, and people get to come in and almost be in the music video in real life. We're also going to have Mallory Eagle come from Nashville to open up the show at 7:30 pm. The doors open at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $20 in advance, they will be $25 at the door. All ages are welcome, anyone under 18 and below are $10 at the door. There will be cash bar. We're going to have our albums and all kinds of merch there, it's going to be the biggest show of the year for us and the most unique experience for sure for us and our fans.,” said Michael.
Matt Miller recorded and edited their Music videos, which you can see here and at the end of this piece.
The album will be on all digital platforms on June 22nd, but I got to take a sneak peek at it. Here's my review.
The album comes packed with 12 songs including the lovely My Baby's Gone, which is a melancholy song about heartbreak. The instrumentals are layered and lively, as are the melodies and the honey smooth vocals, bringing a good balance to the sorrowful lyrics.
Whiskey Pull is another heavyhearted tune with enticing music, the fiddle is somber and haunting. The beat makes you want to tap your toes along, and it speeds up and slows down in a way that adds a great layer to the storytelling.
Will Winter End is full of life and zest, the instrumentals are layered well and really bring the heart of bluegrass to the tune. The vocals are really balanced and blend so well together, the harmony between these two are impressive.
Oklahoma Wind starts off jiving right away, it's definitely hard to stay still while listening to it, it just makes you want to move. As an Okie, we all know about the Oklahoma wind, and I think the lyrics are well done to pay a sort of homage to the great state of ours, without overly doing so. There's some superb instrumental solos going on throughout the song, and Carter's backing vocals makes an exquisite addition.
Hold Me Like You Used To is a sweet little song that is pulled off with a great simplicity to it. The vocals are polished and serene, a perfect fit for the languishing song. It’s soft and slower, and brings a sweet little addition to the album.
At My Back has a great storytelling quality to it, the lyrics paint a vivid picture of someone running away. The music is slightly hurried, like it's chasing close behind. It's almost got a dark quality to it while still holding onto the lively instrumentals, which gives it a great mix.
The rest of the songs; Blue, One More Drop, Don't Die On Me, When We're Gone, So Wrong, and Waves on the Ocean, all bring it together to form one fantastic album full of varied yet cohesive songs that will keep you well entertained. You'll have to get your hands on a copy to find out for yourself though, which I highly recommend!
You can find out more information about the band and their upcoming shows on their website at www.steelwindmusic.com