By Brent Thompson
The term “Southern music” recalls sounds of rock, blues, R&B, bluegrass, country and folk. In other words, definable and indefinable at the same time. The Steel Woods – Wes Bayliss, Jason “Rowdy” Cope, Jay Tooke and Johnny Stanton – play a timeless-sounding brand of music that befits the South and its musical heritage. On Friday, January 18, the Nashville-based quartet will release its sophomore release, Old News [Thirty Tigers]. The band will make two appearances in Birmingham this month – an in-store performance at Seasick Records on Thursday, January 17 followed by a headlining show at Zydeco on Friday, January 25. Recently, Bayliss spoke with us by phone while on a Christmas break in Florida.
Birmingham Stages: Wes, thanks for your time. You guys have an upcoming cruise gig [Southern Rock Cruise]. Is this your first time to do so?
Wes Bayliss: We did a cruise last year – the Kid Rock Cruise – and I’d never been on a cruise before that and it was a lot of fun.
Birmingham Stages: The cruise concepts – Blues, Jamband, Southern Rock and so forth – have become popular.
Bayliss: From what I hear, we wouldn’t be able to get tickets if we weren’t playing [laughs].
Birmingham Stages: We are really enjoying Old News. How did the album’s body of material take shape?
Bayliss: It’s kind of all over the map – that’s how I start most of my answers [laughs]. There’s no one real way – there’s a few [songs] that had been ideas for a while and a couple of them were brand new ideas that happened all at once. Some of them just came together right at the last minute.
Birmingham Stages: Do songs still get tweaked at the last minute even as you’re in the studio recording them?
Bayliss: I’ve said a few times that this record is a lot more premeditated and we sort of knew what we wanted when we went into the studio, but then it’s never exactly what you thought or exactly what you pictured. It’s pretty easy to change your mind about something when you’re in there actually putting it on tape.
Birmingham Stages: How does your specific writing process work?
Bayliss: I have ideas that I just write down and if I’m going to write with somebody, I will pull them out and go back and forth. Compared to other folks – if I write with somebody – they’ve got a book of ideas and that’s not really how it works for me. I try to bring something to the table, but mostly if I have an idea I’m going to write it. When I come up with something, it’s not very long until it’s a song. I rely on other guys for ideas a lot of the time – Rowdy and the other guys that I work with.
Birmingham Stages: When you write with Rowdy, is there a pattern that develops? For example, does one person focus more on lyrics or melody than the other?
Bayliss: There’s no real pattern – he’s a guitar player, so a lot of times he’ll have a melody and I’ll try to tweak it. He’ll have loads of lyrics – he’ll bring a song to me sometimes and it’s mostly done and I’ll see if I can do anything with the words and put my thing on it.
Birmingham Stages: You’re an Alabama native, correct?
Bayliss: I’m from Randolph County – an hour and a half southeast of Birmingham.
Birmingham Stages: How long have you lived in Nashville?
Bayliss: Five years.
Birmingham Stages: You’ve witnessed some serious changes in Nashville since you moved up there.
Bayliss: Good grief! I’ve gotten to where I don’t even go to Nashville anymore unless I’ve got to. I live 30 miles outside of town, so it’s closer for me to go to Dickson which is a town just a little bigger than Roanoke, where I’m from. But yeah, it’s a completely different town in just the time I’ve been there. Johnny’s been there 15 years. It must have been like Urban Cowboy when he got into town.
Birmingham Stages: Even though you live in an area that has a large concentration of musicians, is there a community feel to it or are you all busy going in different directions?
Bayliss: Until I had kids, it was very much like a community. Me and the wife would go out and everybody pretty well knows everybody. There’s something to be said for the vibe of living around loads of musicians and people you can learn from and look up to and who look up to you. I’ve got two kids now and when I’m home, I’m mostly home.
Birmingham Stages: The Steel Woods sound is very timeless and Southern-influenced. Do you strive for a certain feel in your songwriting? How would you sum up your band’s style?
Bayliss: We’re not putting a whole lot of work into a particular sound – it’s just what we’re doing. When we’re writing, we want to get the right vibe for the song. I really like stories. Even though the days of music videos have come and gone, I think of that stuff and I try to write words that will make you think of a music video and we don’t even have to film one.
65 South Presents: The Steel Woods at Zydeco on Friday, January 25. Josh Card will open the 9 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $12 and can be purchased at www.zydecobirmingham.com.
The Steel Woods in-store performance at Seasick Records will take place on Thursday, January 17 at 6 p.m.