As far as Wes Bayliss can tell, the best way to honor Jason "Rowdy" Cope is to keep pressing on.
Back in January, the members of The Steel Woods were looking ahead to a new year in hopes of carrying an exciting new record with them into a waiting world, at least once the cloud of a global pandemic gave way. Instead, a new cloud descended, one marked by grief and confusion in the wake of Cope's tragic passing at the age of 42.
It took a bit of time to come back around to the music, but Bayliss says once they did, the music took on a new dimension. The new album, All of Your Stones, wasn't just an album in which they were proud. It was a torch, a musical means of carrying forward the legacy of a life that was poured into this set of songs.
Now as the band is able to tour again and they sit on the verge of a record release, Bayliss told us the band feels a greater sense of purpose than before. On the title track,
Analogue: You’re emerging from a long season of this pandemic and more. How have you weathered things personally?
Wes Bayliss: I guess bittersweet is a term I’ve used a lot when people ask about it. I mean, I’ve got a wife and three kids and when I found out we were off, we had a busy year ahead of us. Then in March they said we would be off for a month and maybe the next month, too. I thought, ‘Wow, this is cool.’ Then three months later, when we still don’t have work, I was like, ‘Woah, what are we doing?’ [Laughs]
But it’s been all right. Somehow we were able to make it through. I know there’s been a lot of bad from it, but personally I’ve made the best to it. I dove into the world of a studio and engineering. That’s what my year consisted of, and I didn’t think I would ever do that.
Analogue: Was that a fun turn? Or did it yield what you’d hoped?
Wes: Well, I did a lot of the record here. I did all the vocal here and some guitar overdubs and some mandolin and dobro stuff was done here. I avoided it for a long time and didn’t think I wanted to learn to turn knobs but with all the time I had on my hands, it was a cool thing.
Analogue: Did that change the creative approach at all?
Wes: It was a cool thing having so much time. We just spent so much time deciding we wouldn’t like something and completely start over on a song. I think All of Your Stones was cut three different versions—tempos and time signatures and yeah… we would have never had that opportunity before. On the last record [Old News], we were on the road and took a six-day break in Asheville and left the studio right back to do a show.
Analogue: Most artists will say that whatever they are currently promoting is their best work, but this being the first time you’ve really had the space like you did, do you have a read on that with this in a different way?
Wes: Right. I’m certain this is our most dialed-in work for sure. I think there’s a really cool thing that happens when you’re rushed. Like we did pre-production for the last record on a three-day break in Texas. We had an AirBnB and we set up in ai garage and we were like, ‘We gotta iron these songs out because we’re goin’ into the studio in a month.’ We just learned them and tightened all the writing. We just did it.
So there’s a live kind of thing about it that I think is cool, too. But on this one, we definitely had the time last year to not move forward until it’s right. I know that’s our best work in that regard.
"But there’s one thing I know that if he were still here or if he’s somehow here after he’s gone, he would be saying, ‘Wait a minute. What are you doing? Get to work!'"
Analogue: First I’m so sorry about the loss of Rowdy and if you’re comfortable I’d love to talk about that since it’s so much of the album here. With the cloud lifting on this pandemic, how much have you processed this idea of the show having to go on?
Wes: I’ve processed it as much as I can, y’know? It’s a really hard thing that we’ve gone through and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But there’s one thing I know that if he were still here or if he’s somehow here after he’s gone, he would be saying, ‘Wait a minute. What are you doing? Get to work! We put all this time in and you’re gonna tour the record, right?’
That’s the only thing we know, really, is to press forward. We’ve not done it for very long—a few years now—but we’re doing it all ourselves and we’ve learned to take it as it comes and press forward.
Analogue: Was there a question in the aftermath of that news wondering if The Steel Woods would continue?
Wes: Yeah, I suppose. The first week or so, nobody even talks about work.
Analogue: Of course.
Wes: Maybe it crossed our minds, but that was the least of our worries then when we’ve got the family to console and figure our personal stuff out. But I don’t think it was ever a real question when we came back around to work. It was always in everybody’s minds that we just have to keep the record going. We have to keep the band going and get this music out to as many people as we can. .
Analogue: Does the release of All of Your Stones feel like a way to honor him then? That’s what it sounded like you were saying before.
Wes: Absolutely. That’s the whole deal. I don’t think we’re keeping on just because it’s our job and whatnot. I know it would be his last wish that everything he’s done and been a part of… this project has been his baby. Even long before he met me, he was talking about this. We got together and talked about it and it really lined up with what I wanted to do. So I don’t want to do anything else. I think we’re carrying the torch as long as we can.
Analogue: What about this album do you think he was most proud of?
Wes: I think he was very proud of the fact that he gets to tell his story in a good light in a couple songs. In all of them is the theme of the things he’s been through and how he came out on top. I think that’s the main thing. In the last few years, he really wanted everyone to know. He’d say, ‘I earned this name Rowdy but that’s not the new Rowdy. The new Rowdy is sorta unrowdy.’ [Laughs] I think that comes through in the songs
Analogue: What about you?
Wes: Man, I’m proud of all of it. I’m proud of how we honed in on the sound. Everything until this record was us just putting it down without as much direction as magic as some would say. It happened to be cool, what we were doing. This one is a little more premeditated in terms of what our end goal was.
Rowdy and I were on the same page and we’d talk about what a song would be like or what the whole record would be like. So it was easy to lay it out and say, ‘That’s where we were going with it.’ We really were together long enough to understand one another and that’s one of the things I’m most proud of is how we went at it and know what we’re doing.
Analogue: I just saw a post of yours on Facebook with a garage loaded with vinyl ready to ship. That just struck me as something that likely feels really good just seeing all that ready to go.
Wes: After everything, yeah, it’s wild. Like I said, there wasn’t a question as to whether or not we’d press on, but it’s still like, ‘Here it is. We’re doing it.’ The fans are still buying it. We’re still releasing it. So yeah, it’s a bit surreal. I’ve been waiting to release the record for a long time and I feel like there’s a lot of people who are sorta on the edge of their seat and I’m ready for them to hear it.
VISIT: The Steel Woods
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