Meet the 'Steel Sessions' Artists: Steel City Sunrise

Posted by Gerard Longo on

Steel City Sunrise, performing live at PBS39 for Steel Sessions on Fri., Aug. 14 at 5:30 p.m., came together at Lehigh University and has taken off from there. Learn more about this energetic alt-folk band.

First, how did you find out about PBS39 Steel Sessions?
One of our fans heard about the opportunity and said we should apply.

In your opinion, why is an opportunity like Steel Sessions important for up-and-coming musicians?
As a young band, we are constantly looking for fresh ways to get our music out there to new audiences. Steel Sessions does just that. For us specifically, our live performance is one of the main attributes that sets us apart. Steel Sessions will capture the explosive energy and unique interactions we have with our fans and each other on stage. Then, the broadcast will share this experience with new listeners who may be the ones rocking out with us at our next show. Exposure like this is essential to up-and-coming musicians. 

Steel City Sunrise originally formed for a Battle of the Bands competition at Lehigh University. Talk about the early days and how you guys came together.
Lehigh University has this wonderful club called the Music Box, which is an outlet for musicians to find other musicians to play with. They also host a few on-campus open mics each semester. A few of us decided to get a little folk band together, and we played without practice at one of these open mics. Then we refined the lineup and started practicing. At the battle of the bands, we surprised everyone with two brand new originals, and an unexpected amount of energy from your typical “folk” band. We then realized how much potential we had, so we decided to get more serious as a band.

You had some early success, winning that Battle of the Bands competition and opening for national touring act, Sugar Ray. Discuss that experience and what it taught you.
Well, we learned quickly how much tougher live music is than it seems. When we played this stage, even with as much practice we had done, we were largely unprepared for the stage we were playing. At the time, John’s banjo nor James’ bass had pickups, so it made the sound technician’s job much harder. So I guess you could say that we learned that any band needs to know who they are, and what they need to make their sound come to fruition. 

From there, you started playing out at festivals and appearing on local radio stations while releasing a self-titled debut EP. How did all of these opportunities come together so quickly?
We had a sort of “epiphany” moment and realized what this band could be something more than just a group of college dudes playing around every once in a while. Our fans’ enthusiasm for our music led us to realize the quality of our originals. We had to get them recorded. So, we to began to envision a series of steps in order to move forward. In the summer of 2014, we recorded our self-titled EP with four of our best songs, got on the lineup for the Highlands Festival and opened for folk band Yarn. We then released the EP and kept gaining momentum with shows in the fall. Then, we began to take even more ambitious steps heading into 2015. We began recording our second EP, “419”, which was this time recorded professionally with acclaimed producer Jesse Cannon. At the same time, we brainstormed the Spring Break Tour, which took us to seven college towns throughout the northeast. We released our first music video to our single, “Breakin’ the Booze,” in conjunction with the tour, and began to find new followings at the colleges where we toured. Now, the recent release of “419” has made a real splash as we head into our possibly our biggest performance yet at Musikfest on August 16. All of this has been done independently, and has required an immense amount of work, but all of it is worth it when we step up on stage and go nuts with our awesome fans. The steps we have planned for this upcoming year are by far our most ambitious yet.  

This is much more than a standard folk record, with other influences clearly present. Talk about who some of those influences are.
Each band member has different influences, which leads to our unique blend of music. We all take influences from so many different avenues, it doesn’t make sense to name them all. What’s really important to us is that we don’t sound the same as everyone else. Our goal, from the first note, is to sell to our listener that we don’t make the music that they would expect. We all listen to a lot of rock, alternative, and dance records, so we wind up writing songs that reflect those genres. The unique part is that none of us are playing electric instruments, so we wind up shifting the sound to a much different brand of folk rock. That being that we focus much more heavily on the rock, rather than the folk, while still keeping standard acoustic instrumentation.

Besides inspiration, are there any other reasons you pursue music?
Well, we’re all either Lehigh students or graduates, and we all are pursuing majors that will soon place us right in the center of the corporate world.  We were all part of the system of high school, college, job and so on. The cycle has been repeated over and over, but it’s much more difficult to break this system in this day and age. We strive to make music about how terrifying this system can be to this generation.

It’s all embodied in the image of a ((+). The three parentheses represent our letters, SCS, and the plus represents two roads of your life coming together. One is what you’re supposed to do: where you follow the system, and the other is whatever makes you happy. This could be music, art, sports, or anything that is a passion. In the end, you have to make a choice, and we want to inspire you to make the decision that will make you happy. 

You present an energetic brand of folk alternative that is sure to get the crowd moving. Tell us a bit more about how you engage fans at the live show.
One of the best parts about our shows is that listeners never know what to expect. We always try to bring a fresh show to our fans. One thing is that you should not expect to sit down. From the first beat, we always have our listeners dancing, singing, jumping, and having the time of their lives. We don’t believe in a separation from ourselves and the crowd, but rather, one insane experience that we are all a part of. It is not uncommon to find one of our members out in the middle of the crowd getting everyone pumped up. Most of all, listeners can always find a party at a Steel City Sunrise concert.  

You’re set to tape Steel Sessions in front of a live studio audience at the PBS39 Public Media & Education Center Fri., Aug. 14 at 5:30 p.m. What can those in attendance expect from your performance?
We don’t want to give too much away about what we have in store, but here are three things that we will reveal: Crazy-fresh live energy, CD Giveaways and banjo solos!

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