Like a lot of ’90s kids, The Steel Wheels vocalist Trent Wagler grew up listening to Nirvana. “What attracted me to punk was authenticity,” Wagler tells me from his home in Virginia. “Kurt Cobain was so real.”
But after attending college in Virginia, Wagler got to see Doc Watson. “It stopped me in my tracks,” he continues. “I found this treasure of roots and traditional music.”
The Steel Wheels are out on the road supporting last year’s full-length Wild as We Came Here. They’ll also be selling a tour-only 7-inch single of some traditional tunes as well as road-testing new material the band hopes to record after Thanksgiving.
“Seeing a guy like Doc,” Wagler recalls, “who was an old man, his voice and his playing were aged to a certain kind of perfection. There was something about that that was much more immediate and authentic.”
I ask Wagler what he thinks his band adds to traditional string music, folk and bluegrass music. He mentions Jerry Garcia. “He was not only a guy that brought new music to people’s ears, he was also a conduit for people to go back and listen to older stuff,” he says.
“I think we are in that same tradition,” Wagler continues. “We are offering a certain path to really look back: Where does this music come from? It has a history and a context.”
But he is clear that, as songwriters, The Steel Wheels are very much rooted in 2018. “We’re relatively progressive guys in modern America who are displeased with what we are seeing in the political landscape,” Wagler explains. “That’s our reality.”
The Steel Wheels play 8 pm Saturday, Oct. 20, at Hi-Fi Music Hall Lounge; $15 advance, $18 door, 21-plus.