As the song “Keep On” — from The Steel Wheels’ upcoming seventh album Over the Trees — became what the group’s Trent Wagler calls “very anthemic in a fun, poppy sort of way,” the Virginia troupe wanted the video to follow suit. So the clip, premiering exclusively below, focuses on the band spending a day performing and hanging out in Fayetteville, Ark.
“We wanted a sort of raw, let-the-seams-show video for this one,” Wagler tells Billboard. “We have some great friends that run a festival, Fayetteville Roots, and they let us have their headquarters and whatever we needed to shoot a video.” The group also shot scenes in one of Fayetteville’s historic bars, but Wagler hopes that piece conveys a bit of the more serious tone of the song, which is about a young man heading off to war and “this sense of what you’re leaving behind in hopes that you’re doing the right thing, but also a sort of word of encouragement to the people you’re leaving behind.” Wagler adds that, “There’s this sense of feeling a little bit like people are talking past you as you’re thinking and hoping and wishing about someone who’s not there — the disconnection we sometimes feel in these times.”
The “talking past” aspect is illustrated in one of the video’s scenes showing The Steel Wheels in a booth, with the other band members chatting among themselves while Wagler is singing the lyrics to the camera. “It was all band talk, like a business meeting, while I’m trying to sing,” he says. “On stage or on camera, they do as much as they can to trip me up. Part of the way you stay together as a band is you have to have a good sense of humor, I think.”
“Keep On” is Wagler’s only co-write on Over the Trees, with good friend Justin Jones. The album, which comes out July 12, is The Steel Wheels’ second with producer Sam Kassirer (Lake Street Dive, Josh Ritter) and continues from 2017’s Wild as We Came Here in expanding the group’s particular version of Americana, bluegrass and other roots music. It’s also bolstered by contributions from percussionist Kevin Garcia, who became an official member after the last album’s release. The new album features more textures and flavors, including African, Middle Eastern and Indian influences, more keyboards and a wider array of instrument such as calabash, gourd banjo, four-mallet marimba, bowed vibraphone and more.
“I hope we do push some buttons and make some people uncomfortable with parts of this record,” Wagler says. “That means we’re doing something right. I felt like with Wild as We Came Here, we stretched some people, and I thought we’d get more pushback than we did. I wouldn’t say I was disappointed but I wanted it to feel like a big leap and that we were taking some chances. So with this record, again, we pushed that envelope even further, but with a purpose. It’s not like we’re making weird sounds just to make weird sounds.”
The Steel Wheels are supporting Over the Trees‘ release with a variety of festival appearances during the summer, including its own Red Wing Roots Festival July 12-14 in Mount Solon, Va. And after the acceptance for Wild as We Came Here he’s confident the new material will be will-received at these dates. “I feel like within the realm of general Americana you have a lot of people who have come to other music to get to that,” Wagler explains. “They want to see how you’re going to flex and stretch and change. We’ve been a band for awhile; We need to change. You can easily get stuck playing the same setlist or rewriting the same songs, and that’s of no use to us or to the audience.”