Southern rockers pay tribute to their heroes and swear they're not being political on sophomore record 'Old News'

Two years may not seem like a long tenure for a band, but when you play 150 shows a year, like Nashville-based Southern rock act the Steel Woods did in 2018, two years can seem like 10.

After all that time on the road, Steel Woods singer/guitarist Wes Bayliss said the band gained a greater sense of its identity and how the group should follow up its 2017 debut, Straw in the Wind.

“We had ideas for what the finished product would sound like, as opposed to the first time we went into the studio,” Bayliss said recently by phone from the road. “The first time we had ideas of what the sound should be, but nothing was set in stone. We were just kind of winging it. This time we had it sort of figured out. … It's got everything to do with spending as much time as we have together, playing onstage and hanging out the other 22 hours of the day.”

Bayliss, along with Steel Woods songwriting partner Jason “Rowdy” Cope, wanted that camaraderie to come across in the studio, so the band tracked most of new album Old News live at Echo Mountain Studios in Asheville, North Carolina. It made all the difference, Bayliss said.

On Straw in the Wind, the Steel Woods covered Black Sabbath's “Hole in the Sky,” and the band continued the trend on Old News with a cover of “Changes,” though this one evokes soul singer Charles Bradley more than Ozzy Osbourne. It's one of six covers on the 15-track album; Bayliss said the band put the album together like a newspaper, and the last four songs on the record act as the obituary section, paying homage to four artists: Wayne Mills (“One of These Days”), Merle Haggard (“Are the Good Times Really Over”), Gregg Allman (“Whipping Post”) and Tom Petty (“Southern Accents”).

“They're actually in the order of their death,” Bayliss said. “We had a record before those tunes, [but] it's something we wanted to do to pay respects.”

Despite the ripped-from-the-headlines look of the Old News cover art, Bayliss insists the album isn't meant to be political. “Old News is about hope. People ask me all the time, ‘What does this mean politically?' And I've told people over and over, ‘I'm the guy who would never do a political song, especially not a political record,'” he said. “If you're gonna talk politics, you have to voice your opinion, and it has to be one-sided, and we're not doing that at all. We're saying if we could all forget about the things that don't matter — the small things people like to make a big deal about — if we can just focus on what's most important to us, then we'll agree a whole lot more.”