Acclaimed singer-songwriter Steve Moakler was making a name for himself as a tunesmith around Music City, writing cuts for Ashley Monroe and Dierks Bentley. Then, in 2017, he stepped into the artist spotlight with Steel Town, an album that celebrated he hardworking people where he grew up in Western Pennsylvania, and earned him a nomination for Nashville Rising Artist-Writer of the Year at the 2018 AIMP Awards in Nashville.
Now, the singer — a soulful mix of Seger and Springsteen with a Music City flair — releases his new album, Born Ready, which he says was influenced by the time he spent on the road at radio while promoting his first disc.
“This record was very much inspired by the road,” he tells Billboard. “I was touring more than I ever had. I had less time to write, but three of the important songs from this record were written before Steel Town. At the same time, the road was a great inspiration. I had never toured that hard. As difficult as it was, it was also incredibly exciting. It provided a whole new lens on thing as far as my career goes. I think a lot of that came through on this album.”
Moakler says the driving title cut came as a result of a commercial endorsement opportunity, but it allowed him to connect with his family lineage.
“That song actually started as an assignment from Mack Trucks. It was due to a song on my last record called ‘Siddle’s Saloon,’ which was about a bar in my grandfather’s basement. There’s a line about how he and his brothers would go to this bar after he unloaded these trucks. Someone in my team heard me say that, and he knew I was from Pennsylvania, and they had me talking to Mack Trucks, which is also in Pennsylvania. It got back to them, and they asked if I would like to write a song for them, like an anthem that they could use when they introduced a new highway truck.
“As a working songwriter, I was just excited to have the job. They are a really cool brand. I called my mom and told her, and she said ‘You know, your grandfather only drove Mack Trucks.’ I felt really excited about that.”
The singer says the song has helped him identify more with those men and women that are moving the eighteen-wheelers up and down the interstates of America. “For the last couple of years on the road, we didn’t have a bus,” he says, “So we pulled our sprinter van between two trucks at the truck stop, and sleep, drink the same coffee, and eat the same sandwiches as the truckers. I think you could say that I felt a little bit of a kinship with these guys, and also a real appreciation for what they do.”
Born Ready also contains other moods and emotions, such as a couple songs with which Moakler expresses his faith. Perhaps the most obvious example of that comes on the album’s closer, “The Last Word,” but one line from the beautiful “Devices,” a song written for his wife, could also stand as a devotion to a higher power. Moakler likes that comparison. “I definitely hope that people can interpret that and make it their own. For me, my wife is the most physical evidence of love and care in my life. Of course, God is beyond that, and he’s definitely working. I’d be in a mess if that wasn’t the case.”
Born Ready was produced by Luke Laird – who along with his wife Beth, co-own Creative Nation, which Moakler writes and records for. It’s an association he treasures. “Luke and Beth are really special people. They have figured out how to create an environment where there’s no fear or pressure. They just really key on individuality and health. They have been huge champions for me, but have also challenged me. Beth has challenged me on specific things, which I needed. Luke is so talented, and he never looks down on anyone. He’s always empowering to the artists and trying to serve their vision, add to it, and never really take it over. They just want to bring out what is unique about thee song and the artists, and how best to capture that.
“There is a list of things about them that is great, but I think it comes down to who they are as people and what they are about. It’s a very inspiring environment, and you feel loved and supportive for who you are and who you should be.”
Moakler is just wrapping up a tour to promote the album – which might sound a little odd since it’s just being released. He laughs at that mention, knowing his approach is a little bit different. “This tour is something that we did backwards. Normally, you go on tour after the record comes out, but we experimented with it a bit. This whole tour was like a big parade that ended with a record. We were slowly dropping songs, and playing some of the new songs before people had a chance to hear them yet, we hoped that would build some awareness and anticipation that this thing was coming out to the core of my fan base. We have great friends at Spotify and SiriusXM that have championed me and my music. We’ll be hitting some festivals this summer, and taking time to talk to the fans who want to help us support the music.”
And, one song that his fans have heard that definitely has made an impact is “Thirty,” which will hit anyone who has hit that milestone. As the writer – along with Troy Verges and Gordie Sampson – what does it mean to him?
“First of all, I was just excited to have made it this long,” he states. “I think there’s a lot of things that, when you’re eighteen, you have all the dreams and expectations. You think you know how things are going to happen, and you feel so invincible. A lot of things didn’t happen the way that I thought that they would. The song is about making peace with myself and where I am. It’s about recognizing those things and my shortcomings, but also realizing that I’m not done yet. I remember when I was eighteen, I thought that life would be over by the time I got to thirty. But, I’m here – and I feel like I’m only just beginning.”