The Steel Wheels to spin into Ann ArborWritten by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Fifteen seconds — that’s how long The Steel Wheels hold a high, four-part harmony note near the end of “Whistle Blows” on the 2013 disc, “No More Rain.”
“It tests your stamina, that’s for sure,” Trent Wagler, lead singer, guitarist and banjoist said and laughed. “That’s a fun song.
“Every night when we do that song, it’s not always the same length of time we hold [that note]. Because Jay [Lapp, guitarist and mandolinist] moves in the midst of that note, he’s the one who controls how long it goes. When he moves, we know we’re going to stop soon. There are nights he’s feeling really good, and it’s a long, long time.”
In addition to acoustic Americana roots music, the quartet is known for tight vocals.
“All four of us in the band grew up in some kind of Mennonite family,” Wagler said. “One of the things that gave us in common was growing up singing harmonies.”
Wagler, Lapp, fiddler Eric Brubaker and upright bass player Brian Dickel show off their pipes during a cappella numbers in concert.
“That’s something that I think is fun. You see people taking bluegrass or old-time music in a different direction, and I don’t think I’ve necessarily seen a lot of people taking the a cappella part of those traditions and really own that necessarily, and that’s something we like to do,” Wagler said during a call from his Virginia home.
Gathering around a single microphone on stage also is something the band enjoys.
“I think the single mic, you have a love-hate relationship with that thing,” Wagler said. “It’s problematic because of sound. It’s a struggle; it’s not always easy. And yet we’ve continued to come back to it.
“When you sit in a place and watch four people gather around one mic all night long, there’s something about that coming together; there’s something about that unity that happens,” the singer-songwriter said. “There’s a certain flow that you have when you’re playing around a single mic that becomes choreography that also becomes a sort of physical harmony that you have to do if you’re going to make it sound good.”
The Steel Wheels will roll into Ann Arbor for an 8 p.m. show at The Ark on Feb. 14. Tickets are $20. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
Fans can look forward to hearing new tunes.
“There’s one song that I think is particularly appropriate to Valentine’s Day that I think we’ll probably do at The Ark, and it’s called ‘Every Song You Sing Is a Love Song.’ That one is a waltz,” Wagler said. “It really comes from a very personal place, going and seeing that performer. For me, it is typically a female performer who is singing, and just falling in love; it’s just watching that person and every note is so beautiful.
“So I got this notion of the songwriter and what they’re trying to do with the song sometimes and what the audience actually experiences or feels is not always consistent. You can be singing this painfully, woefully, bluesy breakup song that thematically is just dark or desperate, and at the same time, the audience is just hearing your voice, they’re hearing the melody and just doesn’t care about the theme, just loves it, loves you, loves just feeling love.
“And that’s where this song came from, just this performer, every song you sing is a love song no matter what you try to sing, that’s what I hear.”