Photo | Submitted
Birmingham singer-songwriter Will Stewart, formerly a member of Willie and the Giant and Blank State, has struck out on his own with a solo debut album, “County Seat.”
Band: Will Stewart
Date: Saturday, Aug. 25, 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, 916 Charleston St., www.callaghansirishsocialclub.com
Tickets: $8 at the door
Birmingham singer-songwriter Will Stewart, one of alt. country’s brightest rising stars, is bringing songs from his debut full-length album “County Seat” to Callaghan’s Irish Social Club this Saturday night.
While this may be Stewart’s local solo debut, this isn’t his first visit to Mobile. Before embarking on a solo career, he performed in a number of bands including Willie & the Giant, which performed at the 2015 SouthSounds Music Festival.
As a solo artist, Stewart has crafted a fresh sound that could only come from the Southeast.
“County Seat” is a smooth ride that seamlessly blends the early Southern rock sounds of Athens, Georgia, and the contemporary country glory of Nashville. This collection of songs is the result of a musical journey that took Stewart from Birmingham to Nashville and back again.
When he made his move to Nashville, Stewart admits he had no idea what Music City would hold for him although his first impressions were positive, especially coming from the “cool” yet “smaller and concentrated” Birmingham music scene. Nashville’s overwhelming number of venues, sounds, artists and industry figures made him fall instantly in love with his new home.
“Everyone you would meet was connected to the industry or was a musician in some way,” Stewart said. “I immediately felt like part of a community, even though nobody knew who the hell I was at the time.”
Stewart relocated to Nashville hoping the eclectic Nashville scene and its vast ocean of music would help him find his identity as a songwriter. Fortunately, the Music City embraced him. Along the way, he made friends who were willing to give him advice and/or connect him with people who could help him nurture his own sound.
“I was there four years, and I learned a ton about myself and became more of a confident songwriter,” said Stewart. “I was still unsure of myself when I moved up there. I was around these heavyweights, which can be a little intimidating. For me, that was going to be the best way to learn and grow as a songwriter.”
Eventually, Birmingham began calling Stewart home. He was satisfied with the time he’d spent in Nashville and felt he’d gained the confidence and learned the “tricks of the trade” needed to pursue a career as a songwriter. At the same time, the musicians with whom he had worked in various music projects began their own departures from Music City. Stewart decided Birmingham was “more manageable” on a variety of levels.
“The cost of living is significantly less than Nashville,” said Stewart. “I had enough tools and skills that I picked up there where I could still do the whole band thing and not have to be in an industry city like Nashville and L.A. There wasn’t any big incident that made me want to say, ‘F*ck this place. I gotta leave.’”
After releasing two EPs, Stewart began preparing the tracks for “County Seat,” which he calls his “love letter to the South.” Throughout this album, Stewart found inspiration from what he calls a “weird dichotomy” that exists in the South. While growing up in Montgomery, Stewart remembers affluent areas bordered by impoverished neighborhoods.
All the while, he noticed these two areas existed in a strange harmony. However, he also noticed an underlying racial tension and class struggle between the two worlds. Stewart hopes his songs will act as a progressive voice that will bring more attention to this racial and financial dichotomy while creating a dialogue for change, much in the tradition of such artists as Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell.
“I like the idea that there pretty strong progressive voices coming from straight, white males. I’d like to get to the point to where I can somehow have a platform to be a voice on that side of things. Being an average white dude down here, you get pegged as being in a certain category. That’s certainly not the case,” he said.
To accomplish this task, Stewart took both empathetic and self-exploratory approaches to his songwriting. As he interacted with “characters” from the modern South, Stewart tried to imagine what life might be like for them. For example, the album’s title track is a character study of an elderly man dealing with the loneliness age sometimes brings and the transcendence that can come from this situation. Stewart hopes listeners will discover this message of transcendence and apply it in their own lives.
“It makes me wonder what their story is and hope that they don’t go home and just sit in their easy chair and fall asleep every night doing the same damn thing,” said Stewart. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing. We all do that to an extent. It’s commentary on how I think a lot of older people might think sometime. In the end, there’s always a glimmer of hope, and they find some kind of transcendence. I leave it up to the listener to decide what that might be.”
Callaghan’s should provide a great environment for Stewart’s sermons for the modern South. This charming country troubadour will deliver a set of music in the same tradition as such notables as Jason Isbell. However, those in attendance should not be surprised if they hear a slight tinge of influence in the key of R.E.M.
After promoting his debut, Stewart plans to head back into the studio to work on his sophomore effort with producer/engineer Mark Nevers (Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Calexico, The Dexateens).