Q&A: Steel Wheels

BY HOPE WILSON | AUGUST 01, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Steel Wheels will bring a mixture of mountain sound and old-time musical tradition to the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., this evening with four men, four instruments, and one microphone. Formed in Harrisonburg, Va., the band members share not only a passion for traditional music but also a Mennonite heritage. The Daily Iowan sat down with lead vocalist and primary songwriter Trent Wagler to discuss the history, heritage, and musical style of the band.

DI: Tell me a little bit about how the Steel Wheels formed as a band.

Trent Wagler: The Steel Wheels formed as four friends got together to try to complement some of the songwriting I was doing at the time. We all knew each other from singing in college choirs, rock bands, or serendipitous jam sessions. We didn’t set out to make a long-term career of it, just to make the best songs we could for the next show. The band formed in Harrisonburg, Va., and has been influenced a lot by the acoustic old-time music of our Virginia and the Appalachian region.

DI: How would you explain the group’s style of music?

Wagler: Americana roots. We play American music from old-time fiddle tunes to a cappella four-part harmony. We [play] folk ballads and funky blues. We start with a string-band setup and go on an eclectic journey from there.

DI: One of the unique qualities of the group is the shared Mennonite culture. How has that played into the band’s musical style and overall camaraderie?

Wagler: We didn’t set out to be a Mennonite band. We all had different relationships to the Mennonite faith and heritage, but it is one that we all share. Mennonites, historically, have been a singing people and are known for their four-part harmony singing [many times because their traditions didn’t include musical instruments]. We all grew up singing parts, and it comes very natural for us to lay down our instruments and just sing. Culturally, Mennonites are known for their ethics for simple living, and peace, and social justice. I like to think that has influenced our simple, straightforward approach to the live show [single mike for vocals, for example], and a peaceful word finds its way into the lyrics from time to time as well.

DI: What about the upcoming performance do you most look forward to?

Wagler: We love Iowa City and have been through town a number of times. We love the Mill, the sound, the history, and the feel. We’ll keep coming back as long as people come out and enjoy the show. Every time we’ve been in Iowa City, that’s been the case. It doesn’t hurt that Brian Dickel, our bass player, grew up outside of Iowa City and is a lifelong Hawkeye.

DI: Why do you believe people should come to check out the Steel Wheels?

Wagler: We lay our heart out on the stage every night. I’m proud of our writing and our recordings, but the live show is so important to what we do, and the amount of energy and thought that is put into every night from the first to the last notes keep people wanting more. It’s important to share the same space, breathe the same air. Each night and performance is different and we live for that.

WHAT: Steel Wheels
WHEN: 7 p.m. today
WHERE: Mill, 120 E. Burlington
ADMISSION: Tickets cost $15. The show is open to all ages.

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