Steve Moakler Gets Personal With New Album ‘Steel Town’
Steve Moakler can trace the origins of his new album, Steel Town, back to a very specific moment in time.
It was a cool October morning at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pa. Moakler had recently released his eponymous 2016 EP and was about to bask in one of the proudest moments of his life — singing a song he wrote, as well as the national anthem, at a Pittsburgh Steelers game.
Family, friends and 60,000-plus fans cheered as their hometown boy sang our nation’s anthem and an original called "Steel Town;" an homage to Moakler’s blue-collar upbringing in Pennsylvania. That song — and that moment — would have such an impact on Moakler that it became the title track of his new 11-song album, Steel Town, which is set for release on March 17.
Though the first half of Steel Town was previewed on Moakler’s aforementioned EP, the long-awaited second half completes his story with personal tracks including "Siddle’s Saloon" and the lead single, "Wheels," which the singer-songwriter tags as his favorite track on the album.
"I think 'Wheels' is the perfect precursor to the second half of this album because there’s not really anything like it on the EP,” Moakler tells Taste of Country. "'Wheels' is a song about life, the passage of time, how it feels and hurts. It’s a dose of something new and I’ve always wanted to write a song like that. My real heart is getting to tell a story lyrically that connects universally. That is tough to do, and I feel like that song does that. I feel like it’s a scenario everyone can put themselves in."
Co-written with Gordie Sampson and Caitlyn Smith, "Wheels" launched after the three songwriters quit the previous so-so song they were working on. Smith spit out the title, and as the trio tried to figure out what it meant, they came up with the song’s first lines: "Wheels start off pushing you on forward / And you don’t have a say in where you’re going."
That’s when a light bulb went off for Moakler and he realized, "We can describe life and tell the whole story of growing up with this simple image." Within a few hours, the song was finished.
It came together differently for tracks like "Steel Town," a title Moakler sat on for about a year, and the uptempo country anthem "Siddle’s Saloon."
The latter was an intimidating write for Moakler because the story revolved around his grandfather’s basement bar in Bridgeville, Pa. Built in the ’70s during the Steelers football dynasty, Moakler’s grandfather Robert, nicknamed Siddle, decided he wanted to create a bar in his basement, so he purchased pieces of a defunct commercial tavern — taps, kegerators, the bartop with full moulding and rails — and began constructing what would be known for decades as Siddle’s Saloon.
"He brought everything home from the bar in the back of his truck, cleaned it and repainted it," Moakler says. "Then he decked out the walls with neon signs [and] sports memorabilia and it was the spot. He and his brothers, their neighbors, they all hung out there and so did the next generation, like my mom and her siblings and then me as a kid. … [Siddle] was just a good, blue-collar guy who loved getting people together."
Though Siddle isn’t here today, Moakler and his family are keeping his legacy alive by continuing the tradition of the basement bar.
"Siddle passed away in the mid-’90s, but his son bought the house," Moakler says. "He put an addition on and moved the bar, but it’s still the same house, a lot of the same memorabilia and a lot of the same crowd that still hangs out. It’s not a public bar, but everyone in the neighborhood knows they can just come in anytime they want to. Everybody knows you and you’re welcome there. It’s a really fun atmosphere and as I’ve gotten older, I realize what a special place it is. I had to write a song about it."
Though Moakler says "Siddle’s Saloon" probably won’t be a single, he’ll get to showcase it as the headliner on Sirius XM’s the Highway Finds Tour, which kicks off March 16 in Charlotte, N.C. Rising country artists Drew Baldridge and Smithfield, also Sirius XM Highway Finds, will join Moakler on the 26-city tour. Steel Town will be released via Creative Nation on March 17.
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