By: Beth Casteel
Answering the phone with a cool “hello” and a quick introduction, Jason “Rowdy” Cope of the southern rock band The Steel Woods, soon eased his way into a 15-minute conversation about his band’s history and the story of how their latest album came to be.
Describing the band’s sound as a “classic rock band that’s just not classic,” Cope explained that the band prides themselves on producing music that’s a cool mix of 70s style country and rock. So, as he went on to share, their music can be a middle man of two country and rock mainstays: Waylon Jennings and Led Zeppelin. A curious mix, sure, but the band has been able to make it work.
The group formed a handful of years ago after a one-off show brought current vocalist Wes Bayliss and Cope together. The duo played the show together, and after that fateful night, the two would get together whenever the other wasn’t busy, and they would do the one thing that helped strengthen their newly formed bound: fish.
“We spent probably five days a week out at this little fishing hole, me and Wes. And it just was really fast getting to know each other. If you’re going to do this thing, it can be one of those deals where it turns into the next 30 years of your life. You have to be able to get along with the other 22 hours of the day offstage,” Cope said. “So, we did a lot of that before we pulled the acoustic guitars out and started writing. Then, about month and a half into doing all that fishing and stuff, we started bringing our fishing poles and our acoustic guitars with us.”
Fishing, while a semi-unconventional way to ensure a unity amongst members of a band, was something that allowed the two to better know each other. Being in bands for most of his life, Cope knew what potential struggles could come from not being on the same page. While unconventional, it helped them better lay the foundation of the band.
Fast forward from the fateful gig and those fishing trips, The Steel Woods has released two studio albums, 2017’s debut “Straw In The Wind” and their most recent effort, 2019’s “Old News.”
As with most, the band’s sophomore release has seen the band evolve into a stronger unit than what they had off their debut release. Cope notes that there are a few reasons for the evolution, specifically in the way they decided to record the album and their personal growth as musicians.
The band went back to Cope’s hometown of Asheville, North Carolina to record the album at a studio called Echo Mountain. While there, the band experimented with how they produced the record, which, as he went onto explain, meant that they were playing in the same room together at the same time.
So, instead of going a more traditional route of laying drums, then bass and so on and so forth, the group tried to cut it all at once in the hopes of capturing a live feeling.
However, cutting the album for a live feel isn’t the only difference you’ll notice when spinning the band’s sophomore record. Cope explained that they also went through a period of growth as well, which helped them better write and produce the newest release.
“I can only speak for me personally, I’m constantly trying to be a better writer. You always want to make a record better than the last one; you always want to make the greatest artistic statement,” Cope said. “I guess with this [record], the evolution of [from] the first one, is a lot of [that first record was] just me and Wes, the singer, [whereas] this one, it’s very much all four of us playing our instruments.”
That personal growth can be shown in the band’s latest release, “Old News,” which came out on Jan. 18 via Thirty Tigers.
The album uncovers themes that can only be taken from today’s headlines and throws it back into the audience’s face with lyrics that deal with things such as morality, hope and finding common ground.
While it’s not entirely a political album, that doesn’t mean the band shies away from talking about difficult topics that the country is currently dealing with.
“I guess the concept of the song ‘Old News,’ which is the title track of the record, is based around [the fact that] I feel like there’s a missing concept of debate in this country. I believe no matter what side of the fence you’re on, you can still find a common ground of being American and getting along,” Cope said. “I saw a lot of people seem to be throwing stones at each other lately instead of really like listening to one side and listening to another. But I just think we all have some sort of common ground to find peace about…even if you ultimately come to a disagreement on a thing, it can be done.”
He continued on by saying:
“I think it’s more about the current climate, and it’s not [about] picking a side. It’s really stepping back in an artistic perspective, like, there’s no sense in for this country to have a civil war over politics for crying out loud. It just doesn’t seem like people are actually having conversations and listening. It’s almost like you label the other side and then that’s the enemy. And I just don’t like that. We’re all neighbors; if something real bad went down, I promise you we’re on the same team. There’s an element to finding that.”
Throughout their storied career as a band, one of the most prominent things that can be said about the Nashville-based group is the fact that they’re “weekend warriors,” which essentially means that they’re on the road quite a bit. As Cope further explains, touring is one of the best ways for the band to get their name out there.
The group is an independent band, so they don’t have the backing of a major label to help them with the business side of running a band. While it’s been difficult, that hasn’t stopped them from going into the trenches and taking a real punk “do it yourself” approach.
Whether it’s the filming of their own music videos, designing their merchandise, making the music and promoting it or letting their road warrior mentality shine, they’ve been able to gain quite the following since their formation. While they do a lot by themselves, Cope attributes their success to two things: the power of the internet and touring.
“Well fortunately and unfortunately, we are an independent band, [which means that we don’t have] a major label deal or anything like that. So, we do everything ourselves,” Cope said. “[Touring] is the most real format that we can get our thing out to people…Our generation has never been more [more in tune with technology.] So, we figured that’s where it’s at nowadays. [By touring], we eliminate the middleman by taking our product straight to the people.”
The Steel Woods are currently doing a headlining run in support of their latest album, “Old News.” For a full list of cities and dates, you can go here!
For more information about The Steel Woods, you can visit the band’s website or you can go to the band’s Facebook page or their Twitter. Additionally, you can listen to either of the band’s albums on their Spotify! You can do so by going here.