Interview: Jeffrey Steele @ 30A Songwriters Festival 1/17


Artists like Jeffrey Steele are what 30A Songwriters Fest is all about. Maybe his name sounds a little familiar to you but you aren’t sure why… Maybe you’ve just never heard of him. But quickly scan this huge list of songs he’s written and you’ll understand why he was just inducted into the Songwriting Hall of Fame. This man has a remarkable talent for taking a feeling, a character and an atmosphere and putting them all into chords and lyrics. And 30A Fest exists to celebrate this very talent. You might say the two go together like flip flops and Florida beaches…

So you better grab YOUR flip flops and get ready to see this incredibly prolific artist perform again off of Florida’s scenic Highway 30A later this month!

You’ve written songs for so many artists from Rascal Flatts to Miley Cyrus. Do you write new material with a particular voice in mind?  

This past month I’ve been with ZZ top, Joe Bonamassa, Pat Monahan of TRAIN, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Chip Esten from the “Nashville” TV show. Quite a diverse cast of styles to say the least! When I’m with an artist, I’m gonna lean towards what they do musically, be it straight up blues, guitar riff rock and roll, melodic pop or old school country. I try to bring in my history and diversity as a musician first, then lyrically find a moment that fits the idea!

But when I write alone, I never think who will sing this? I just wanna find where the song wants to go and be! I try to stay out of the way of it. I don’t write anything down ever. When you write it down as you go, for me anyway, you’re boxed in to the form and too focused on how the page looks instead [of on] the place the song wants to find!

Do you think writing country music is different from writing pop songs?

I’m trying to write my story whatever the genre, so for me it comes easy, but of course certain themes sing better over certain styles. I always fuse it – I want the best lyric I can get! I’m a fanatic old school country historian [laughs] so if I find myself in a real old style country song, I wanna respect Waylon, Willie, Kris and Merle and I become a tyrant for form… so in that way it’s very different. But generally, I want to find the lyric hiding in those chord changes! I’ve always approached it that way.

You were recently inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. What was that like for you?

I was always the kid in the room learning, watching, pushing, trying. Passionate, angry, hungry, never pleased with where I was at. Just working towards the best I could do with blinders on I guess! My first thought was this is crazy – I haven’t been around long enough! Then I finally looked up and thought wow, it’s been 30 years! And quite a stack of music! I’m humbled and grateful!

If you weren’t a musician or a songwriter, what would you be doing?

Sweeping floors most likely and making up songs in my head. Or I’d be a bicycle mechanic or a pro mountain biker! That’s my favorite thing outside music. Or an astronomer, I love space!

You’ve been to the 30A Songwriters Festival before. What were some highlights of last year’s festival?

Seeing the fans and my writer friends I don’t see so often and catching up and hangin’ at the beach. The diversity is always a highlight.

Who are your favorite songwriters? Does anyone who’s going to be at 30A stand out to you?

Too many to mention! Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson, Bono, Tom Petty…

What about the 2014 festival are you most looking forward to?

Hmmmm I tend to gravitate towards anything I haven’t seen so I’m looking forward to that!

Ah, novelty! Yes! Thank you, Jeffrey, for talking to us! 

Get your tickets for 30A Fest here.

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