With their 2014 debut, Steelism — a (mostly) instrumental band of Nashville sidemen, led by hotshot guitarist Jeremy Fetzer and Miranda Lambert’s pedal steel all-star, Spencer Cullum Jr. — whipped up soundtracks for movies that didn’t exist. Theirs was a cinematic, off-the-wall sound, mixing surf music, spy-movie soundscapes and spaghetti-western arrangements into the same track list. Three years later, the diversity continues with the duo’s follow-up, ism.
This time, however, there’s one notable difference: the guys are welcoming vocalists into the fold.
Andrew Combs, Ruby Amanfu, Tristen and Jessie Baylin all make appearances on the 10-song album, which was tracked to two-inch tape in East Nashville. Fetzer and Cullum – joined by bassist Jon Estes and drummer Jon Radford – keep things instrumental during “Eno Nothing,” then pair up with Tristen on the follow-up track, “Shake Your Heel.”
“We attempted to sneak in as much of our record collections into ‘Eno Nothing’ as we could,” says Fetzer, “from Brian Eno and Thelonius Monk to Serge Gainsbourg and Lalo Schifrin.” Inspired by the soundtrack to 1968’s Bullitt, the song also features one of the band’s longest guest lists to date, including Nashville Cat Charlie McCoy on vibraphone and former Deer Tick bandmate Robbie Crowell on synthesizer.
Meanwhile, “Shake Your Heel” was written on the day of David Bowie’s passing and recorded the week of the 2016 presidential election, adding grim gravity to one of the band’s spaciest songs to date.
“After re-visiting some of Bowie’s Low-era recordings, we went to work and this track became one of the first pieces of music written for ism,” Fetzer says. “Lyrically, it became a song about overcoming modern anxieties in this confusing era, and in the voice of Tristen we were able to find the vision for it.”
Listen to both tracks above. ism arrives June 23rd, one month before the band’s performance at Newport Folk Fest.