Last month I had the pleasure of chatting with an artist who I’ve followed for quite some time now. After many emails, calls and follow-ups, I was finally able to snag an interview with Nashville’s Steve Moakler. If you don’t know Steve, check out his new album “Wide Open” and you will never forget him. He’s a singer songwriter with a country feel to his music, but I’m not about labels. In addition to his own work, Steve’s songs have been recorded by artists such as: Dierks Bentley, Jake Owen, Ben Rector, and Kellie Pickler. If you happen to be in Nashville on Friday he is playing at City Winery– check it out my friends. My interview below:
The Soul Dynamic | So you are originally from Pittsburgh?
Steve Moakler | Well I was actually born in New Jersey, but I was raised in Pittsburgh. I lived there from ages 4 to 18 so I claim Pittsburgh.
The Soul Dynamic | You don’t want to claim the dirty Jers? Haha
SM | No no! I love the dirty Jersey. Bruce Springsteen is from New Jersey and he is one of my all time favorites so it’s a win win. But I’ve been much more influenced by Pittsburgh and have more roots there.
The Soul Dynamic | Haha- ah ok. Now I’ve only been to Pittsburgh once so I’m not too familiar with it, but it doesn’t seem like a music centric town? How did it influence your music? Or was it more of your family?
SM | Well I mean it was mostly my family but I guess it was the town too. Honestly, I think the inspiration of where I am from didn’t really start to make its way into my music until recently. Because when you are there you don’t think anything of it. I was a teenager and was singing a lot of sweet love songs. I had tunnel vision on a girl most of the time. Hahaha, but then you get a little bit older and you travel around and you think about more things in life. I think that I have started to realize how much of where I am from has inspired who I am. And it means a lot more to me now. The people there and the culture… I’ve grown to respect it now that I’ve seen some of the other ones. So really it didn’t inspire my music until the last couple years. I’ve recently started to write songs about life there and my family. It really has made me who I am, it just took me some time getting there. If that makes sense.
The Soul Dynamic | Yeah definitely does! And now you are based in Nashville right?
SM | Yep!
The Soul Dynamic | Ah great town, great town.
SM | You like it here?
The Soul Dynamic | Yeah I do, my cousin actually just moved down there recently and loves it! Assuming Nashville has done a lot for your music, but can you think of anything that sticks out?
SM | Ah man, so much. Really hard to pin point that one. In terms of my music I think the biggest thing I’ve learned here is that the highest caliber songs come out of this town. I don’t mean to say that this is a better art town than other cities, but from a singer songwriter perspective and how those songs are crafted… with the people in Nashville, the bar is just so high. The community here, there is a lot of co-writing that goes on and it is part of the culture. In Pittsburgh I didn’t think I would ever want to do that… but being here for a couple years I started to co-write. I think it’s made my songs so much better and I know I’ve become a better songwriter. There is so much talent here and you can learn so much from different people. The songwriting community is the biggest influence for me musically.
The Soul Dynamic | Right ok, makes sense.
SM | Also it’s living life alongside other artists who have a similar lifestyle, because it is very unique. It’s a lot of unique struggles and great things that come along with being a traveling singer and writer. Just having a network of friends who share a similar lifestyle, deal with the same things. Having a support system like that is huge.
The Soul Dynamic | Where is your favorite place to play?
SM | Oh… man haha. Are we talking about a specific venue or city?
The Soul Dynamic | Either! Venue or city I’m not picky.
SM | Ah, ok. Its still hard haha. Can I make this comment instead? This is what I will say about my favorite places to play…I feel that a lot of the time the rooms and the cities that you are the most hyped about are rarely the ones you remember the most. At least for me. I feel that the shows I remember the most looking back, are the ones that really surprised me. Small towns that most of us had never heard of and the room was crappy… PA systems dangling by a chain. Haha and we just showed up like, “We are going to make this awesome, and not treat this town any less than a Chicago or New York — let’s do this!” And it rocked. For some reason those tend to be my favorite shows. I don’t know why that is haha. But that being said there are so many great rooms and I like playing in nice places and big cities…but there is something about those off-the-map crappy venues that have just made a mark on me.
The Soul Dynamic | Alright — I love that answer!
SM | Thank you haha.
The Soul Dynamic | And then your second favorite to those places is obviously New York right? Haha.
SM | New York is one of my favorite cities! I have a lot of family there. There is some kind of electricity about New York because…because everything is harder in New York. I’ll say that haha.
The Soul Dynamic | Oh I know my friend, I know.
SM | Everything is more difficult! And its really stressful up until the point you play, then there is something rewarding about that feeling of,”Oh my gosh we pulled it off! We played in New York… how did we get all of our gear into this room and OUT of this room… and people came… and how did it even happen?” Haha, still gets me every time.
The Soul Dynamic | Haha amazing. OK, let’s talk about Wide Open. How was making the record?
SM | It was my favorite experience yet.
The Soul Dynamic | Really?!
SM | Yeah, and to be honest it had a lot to do with my head space. I was in a place in the years leading up to the record, where I was thinking about just scaling back my artistic career. Not quitting necessarily, ha, but almost not trying as much. I had a lot of things I was frustrated with, and needed to heal from…and really fall back in love with music again. So I said, ‘forget all this pressure, I’m just going to be a songwriter.’ So a lot of the songs, gosh so many songs off that record came out of that place of surrender. I didn’t feel any pressure to be anything or anyone. I just started writing songs and seeing different types of songs coming out. So I made that record with no commercial aim at all, just wanted it to be something that I was really proud of — kind of like a healing for me.
And I’ll say this, after making that record…it really put the fire back in me to be an artist. In a bigger way than it ever had. It is a really personable album and though it didn’t make a big commercial impact it reminded me of what I am supposed to be doing. What I love.
The Soul Dynamic | Ok, that’s amazing. Yeah it’s a great record. I love it, especially “Damn, Do I Think About You.”
SM | Well thank you very much!
The Soul Dynamic | Of course! So, your team had sent me some talking points, and normally I don’t follow those because I like to get the human side people. But one story stuck out to me- inspiration for “Rather Make a Living”. Can you tell me more about that?
SM | Haha yeah. So Andrew Ripp and I, gosh 3 years ago now, did a tour together. And it was a co-headlining tour on the East coast, but we decided that we wanted to go do some shows on the West coast — all acoustic. So this was at the end of the tour, and it was really going to be an accomplishment for us to get out there and play because we never really had at that point. So we get out there, rented a car, and did 7 shows in 7 days. Started in Portland and made our way down Southern California. And we had so much fun, we really enjoyed it! We weren’t making a ton of money… and maybe 25 people would come every night. It was great. But it was also just expensive to just exist out there, so at the end of the tour we added up our profits and realized we had made $14 dollars total.
The Soul Dynamic | $14 Dollars!? That’s crazy!
SM | Well we then split that, so it literally broke down to $1 dollar a day.
The Soul Dynamic | Oh my god…
SM | We just laughed so hard about it. And what we both realized is that we were both encouraged by it all. Like I would do that again. That was just so fun to do, you know?
The Soul Dynamic | Yeah
SM | So a few weeks later I was back home writing and came up with the first few lines of that song: “Drove out to California, played for a dollar a day, to sing my songs while a few sang along. Was worth more than what I got paid,” then that whole song was born out of that spirit and that time in California.
The Soul Dynamic | I love that! I run into so many people that are just working to work. Not doing what they love at all, but to hear that is so inspiring. More people need to live like that, they need to do exactly what you did.
SM | I think so too! I mean it’s hard, but something like that, it gives you the chance to see what is important to you.
The Soul Dynamic | Agree. Ok, what do you want people to take away from your music and shows?
SM | That’s a great question…from the shows I want people to feel like they just watched musicians just leave it all out on the field. I want them to feel like we were completely present…with the crowd and with the music. I want them to get swept up in the whole night. I want that for me too. To have so much fun and connection that we just forget about everything else.
The Soul Dynamic | Yeah
SM | And for the music… I want them to be uplifted. I want them to feel known and understood. And to feel like they are listening to somebody who is looking at the light through the dark. You know? To feel that kind of hope. I guess that’s the overarching thing for me is hope.
The Soul Dynamic | Yes, ok cool. I love that. Ok, this is my last question for you: What inspires you my friend?
SM | Hmm what inspires me… Cassie that’s a good question. I think what inspires me the most is underdogs…in every way. I mean that in the people that don’t get the credit they deserve. People who decide they want to marry somebody for the rest of their lives, people who are chasing their dreams and doing something that is important to them. Even when all of the odds are against you. And even in something like the gospel. The idea that God came to earth and was born in a barn, sitting on hay. And this story, that we are all saved by this little baby who is God in a Manger you know? It’s an underdog story, but it’s my favorite story. Where people go after something wild and something big that’s unlikely and have odds against them. And they do it with a good heart. That is my favorite thing. There is redemption in it, you don’t get the glory you deserve, but you know that you are doing something right. When I think about most of my songs, there is in some way, that element in there.
I hope that made sense… I’ve actually never tried to say it like that before.
Check out Steve @ City Winery in Nashville this Friday 5/22!