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May 10th, 2018

Meet LEAF Contest finalist: Randy Steele

Randy Steele is a charismatic banjo picker from Chattanooga, Tennessee and frontman of the award-winning band Slim Pickins Bluegrass since 2008. His passion for acoustic-based storytelling and bluegrass and blues roots shine through in his solo work. “I enjoy writing stories, and the pieces on Songs from the Suck [his first solo release] are mostly fictional,” he says. “Seems like the newer fans are there not just to enjoy the musical atmosphere, but to really experience the songwriting. I grew up loving that storytelling style of songwriting, and it’s exciting to have the opportunity to share it. Whether I’m playing solo or with the band, I’m having fun making music with my friends.”

Look out for Randy’s latest EP, Moccasin Bender, which is slated for release on July 13th. 

We asked some Randy some questions to learn more about his songwriting process and vision. 

Randy Steele will perform at NewSong’s LEAF Singer-Songwriter Competition Saturday May 12.

What is your songwriting process like?

My songwriting process varies.  Sometimes I begin with melody and see where it goes from there. I keep a notepad of lyrics as another way to kickstart the songwriting process. Some songs take less than a day to finish and some take multiple years. I enjoy writing on the banjo a lot. The possibilities of intertwining melodies between the instrument and the vocals and backing them with an understated chord progression has been the mine I’ve dipped into the most lately.  My written music from the guitar is a completely different thing. The main tension in those songs tend to be between the chord progression and the lyrical content. It is the way I write the most even though it doesn’t tend to be the easiest for me personally. I have found that ‘experience dictates the song’ or to say it another way that ‘experience is the muse’.

Where do you find inspiration? Do you have any songwriting heroes?

My early inspirations ranged from Townes Van Zandt, Garcia/Hunter, John Prine, and Robert Earl Keen.  Lyric driven music stories were my early favorites and continue to be the Songwriting Medium that I feel the most comfortable with.  While I was listening to these guys I was studying some Jazz greats like Wes Montgomery, Thelonious Monk, and John Scofield while I was in school at the University of Tennessee.  After school I got into Bluegrass, especially Banjo driven Bluegrass. Jimmy Martin, Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, and about every ounce of Bluegrass that I could be around during the last 15 years has been my major influence. I enjoy American Literature as well and most of my lyrical content is influenced by Dylan Thomas, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck with the ‘Spoon River Anthology’ by Edgar Lee Masters being one of the most significant influences.

What does it mean to you to be selected as a NewSong finalist, and what do you hope to get out of the experience?

I have submitted to NewSong for the last three years so to get selected meant a lot. I can’t wait to be a part of the LEAF and to hear all of the great songwriters who are also finalists. Honestly I just feel blessed about the whole deal, so my expectations can really be summed up best by the words Honored, Excited, and maybe a little bit Scared.

What would you like your audience to know about you and/or your music?

I am a Banjo pickin’ Singer/Songwriter from the Tennessee Valley with something to say and stories to tell. I’m beyond excited to play for music for new people and hang out at LEAF!