Steven Padilla has been working as a singer for more than a decade now, touring college towns and clubs, building up a fan base. His first full length album, Good at Goodbye, will me coming out in May. Padilla and Stormy Lewis sit down to discuss his new album, the modern indie landscape and the difference between small towns and caution light towns.
Strmy Lewis (SL): You’re going to be releasing your first album Good At Goodbye in May, correct?
Steven Padilla (SP): May 13th will be my first full length album.
SL: Tell me a little bit about that album.
SP: I wrote every song on it for starters. I built up my catalog to about 35-40 songs I’d demoed that I felt were strong enough to be album cuts over a three years period. I picked 15 from that group and narrowed it down to eleven. The title track, Good at Goodbye, probably has the most interesting story. It wasn’t recorded. It wasn’t in mu group of songs. We were almost finished with the album with we decided to cut that song last minute. My producer heard me playing around with it, because I just finished writing it, in the studio. Everntually, he said “I want to hear that, what it that, play it for me.” So I did and he immediately said “We got to get into the studio and record that.” We did and it ended up being a work of art. We both loved it and we have gotten a lot of great feedback on it so far. So, we decided to title the album after that song.
SL: I have read that this album marks an evolution in your sound, that you were really looking to find your voice with this album. What helped you find your voice?
SP: I’m just going to have to say, I got really spiritual this past year and I began my walk with Christ. I have to give it all to the man upstairs. He’s in control. I did a lot of soul searching for years trying to figure out what kind of man I was as an artist and as a person. Now I live my life for him and he kind of just does the rest. It shows on the album, a few of the tracks are my testimony. It just kind of fell into place, every aspect of my career, as soon as I gave my life to Christ. I know a lot of people know what I am talking about, a lot of people don’t, but I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s just been amazing to see how the cards have been falling since this time last year. I got married, I had a child a month ago.
SP: My first child, a little girl. Her name is Parker. And, the new album just kind of same about to. It’s been amazing and hard to believe at the same time. I think the hardest thing for me to do to figure out my sound was going into the studio. Years ago, when I first set foot in a studio it was like I didn’t know how to express myself singing and playing. I’m a live guy, I have been playing live shows for a long time and I got into the studio you put walls around me and there’s no crowd, no energy to feed off of and its like I couldn’t express myself. It took some time to get comfortable, figure out the whole recording world and process. It was finding Don Srygley, I co-produced the album with him. I think the biggest challenge was finding someone I was comfortable with, who knew me as a person and as a writer and as a musician. He new how to get the best out of me. It was a really good team effort. It’s been a learning process and I’m still learning. I’m actually already ready to get back in and start of the second album, believe it or not. I have songs. But I have to promote this one. We put a lot of work into it. I am excited get this album out to people.
SL: You mentioned you’re a live artist. You have been touring for over ten years now, I believe?
SL: How have those experiences helped you hone your craft?
SP: I think that’s experience I wouldn’t trade for nothing because it makes me who I am. I spent years playing and covering other country songs. The way that I sing and the way that I play just derives from my experience on stage playing other people’s music. I can’t help but sound like everything that I’ve listened to and gone out and performed for people.
SL: I have to ask, who are your favorite artists to cover?
SP: I really love covering anything Eric Church, just because most of his stuff is right there in the key that I am comfortable singing. I’m not saying that it’s easy to sing, but it’s comfortable to be singing in the key that he sings in. Also, he’s a songwriter himself, so I can relate to what he does as an artist and as a songwriter to be able to go out and do his stuff. I love covering George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Alabama, and Garth Brooks. I love covering songs that people know and are familiar with. Hank Williams Junior, you talk about turning a crowd around. If you are playing in a bar or a honkey tonk or something like that, all you got to do to get the crowd going or get the crowd rowdy, all you got to do is play a Hank Williams song. Then sit back and kind of watch what happens. Those are some of the people I enjoy covering. I’m a big Dierks Bentley fan, I love covering his stuff too. I have been following him since his debut album.
SL: I’ve actually met him before and he’s a really nice guy.
SP: He is, he’s too nice. We somehow keep running into each other. I hope that I can get put on tour with somebody nice like that. He keeps giving me advice. The first time I met him I was playing on Luke Bryan’s tour bus. It was on his first headlining tour and Luke was opening for him. I was on Luke’s bus playing and Dierks came over. It was a big after party and everyone was just hanging out and having fun. I asked him for advice that was early on in my career, back in 2008. He just kept telling me, emphasized that I needed to move to Nashville for starters. Get up there and start meeting people, hit the ground running with my songs. And he just kept talking about how important it was. Everyone I have ever met who was successful in the business that’s all we ever talked about. How you need to write your own music, you need to write with other people. You need to write, write, write so that I what I did. I love writing, it’s one of my favorite things about the business, expressing myself. Knowing that a song that I write my help somebody get through a bad time, or feel better about a good time in their lives. Country music is awesome, I love it. It has gotten me through some tough times. That’s kind of what played a big part in my transition over to focusing on country music, being able to relate to something going on in my own life.
SL: My experience with him was as ACL Fest one year. I came running up to his autograph table probably five minutes after he was supposed to have left his autograph table, but he still signed a bunch of stuff for my brother in law who was in Iraq. It meant a lot to him.
SP: He’s just a nice guy, his wife and his whole family, they are just really good people.
SL: And it’s always good to hear that he is as nice to the people inside the industry as he is to the fans who buy his merchandise.
SP: I just know that it’s something that I go back to. Where I am at in my career, I don’t think that I should be signing autographs but people ask me for it. I just think back to…I’m no better than anybody else but someone is digging my music, it’s awesome. And I think back to when I was waiting in line to get his autograph and I remember that feeling. You want to feel like you know somebody and you want to see if they are real or not, if their music matches up with who they are as a person. That’s something that is so, so important. Going back to your question about finding my voice and who I am as an artist, that was probably the most important thing--When the album is done can I go out and play it for people or give it to people, confident giving it to people, that I can tell them at the end of the day that this is me, not only as an artist, but as a person. That was everything to me. I can tell you right now that if you listen to all eleven songs on the album that they are true stories about me and they are experiences I have had good and bad. That’s everything to me, because then you’ll know that I’m being sincere and that I’m telling the truth. I think that’s important. I wouldn’t want to go out and be somebody I’m not for success. Whatever, I may be I’m a real person and I want people to know me inside out. I want people to feel like they got a friend.
SL: We have something in common. We both grew up in very small towns. How small was your home town?
SP: About six thousand people. It wasn’t crazy, crazy small, like a caution light town. Six thousand people, 4-A high school. We had a theatre that played two different movies, only on Friday and Saturday. There was a seven o’clock movie which was usually rated G and the rated R movie played at nine o’clock. There was a bar in the city limits, which was like a restaurant on the lower level and a bar on the top. Go figure, it was the nicest restaurant in town. That was the only bar inside the city limits. There were honkey tonks down the county road in the middle of nowhere. We’d sneak in with a fake id or whatever to get in to see the country bands play when I was in high school. There wasn’t much to do. We had to make our own fun. I grew up fishing and hunting and playing sports, that was kind of what kept me busy. Like I said, we had to make our own mischief because we didn’t have a mall to go to. There was this gas station in the middle of town and we would all just meet up there, and just kind of drop the tailgate. Everyone would hang around and figure out whose cow pasture would we go to and light a bonfire. That was my teenage days, and high school days pretty much in a nutshell. One of the songs that I’ve written that I’m putting on the next album is called “Sixteen in a Small Town.” Its paints the perfect picture of growing up in a small town, like you did yourself. Turning sixteen was awesome. You went from being bored living in a place where there’s not much to do to now, “I’m sixteen and I can drive. I can have my car or have my pickup and just go riding around. That was a highlight of your high school life. A lot of people can relate to, I guess even if it wasn’t that small town. Turning sixteen is a big deal because you get to drive.
SL: It’s like the first step is you get your bike, and that gives you a greater level of mobility. Then you get your car and that means that you can go anywhere. Even if you never do it, you could get in your car and drive clear across the country if you wanted to.
SP: Exactly. The first day I turned sixteen, I drove to Mobile, Alabama. I’ll never forget it, I just felt like I was free. I had the windows rolled down and I had my Dierks Bentley cd cranked all the way up. I’ll never forget that feeling.
SL: You’re also from Alabama, correct.
SP: Yes, Demopolis Alabama.
SL: I grew up in Cove, Oregon. It’s not the tiniest town on the face of the planet, because we were the biggest school in our league, but it had 435 people. I played sports against the last public boarding school in the country. It’s a boarding school because the area around it is so rural that the only way to go to high school is to sleep over. It gave you some perspective on how small your town was because no matter how small you thought it was, it was never going to be smaller than that.
SP: That’s why I brought up the caution light thing, because sometimes your idea of a small town is completely different from somebody else. There were small towns around my hometown, so that’s why I always say that. A lot of my friends had cattle farms and catfish farms all around us and that was usually the caution light towns. They don’t have a post office or anything.
SL: Do you feel the view of the South, and particularly Alabama, because there are a lot of Alabama jokes out there, in our media is becoming more balanced or are there still a lot of stereotypes?
SP: I think there are a lot of stereotypes. There’s just so many different kinds of people, when you think of people from the South. You come here to Birmingham and you have people living in Mountainbrook that are living in two to five million dollar mansions and its a subdivision of all these people who just have tons of money living up on the hill. Then you just go about 20 miles down the road and you have redneck people living on some county road flying rebel flags, beer drinking in Honkey Tonks on the weekend and hollering “Hell, Yeah!” every time they hear a Hank song. The South is very diverse when it comes to the people down here. Your idea of redneck and mine are two different things.
SL: And I think a lot of times the word Redneck is used as a simplification, where you are only allowed to be one thing if you are from a small town. Especially if you are from a small town and have an accent. My dad has a lot of guns and if he was going to be a character on a TV show that is the only thing there would be, just the guns, the hunting and the fishing, but he was also a railroader who drove trains for 30 years, he has 10,000 books, he has an odd collection of tiny little glass figurines, and none of those things would be explored.
SP: There’s a lot of haters out there, especially in this business. I have just gotten used to being able to hear no for an answer a lot, and hear people who are very critical of the way that I sing and the way that I talk. You have to accept who you are. Got made you the way that you are and you were created for a reason. Be comfortable in your own skin. Be proud of who you are and where you come from. Just, you gotta get used to that. The world is a pretty cruel place sometimes and you got to be able to shake a lot of stuff off. Shake them haters off (laugh).
SL: It does seem that the one place that you are getting a lot of small town life is in mainstream country music right now. Do you feel this is going to help your chances of getting played on the radio?
SP: I hear it from people in the business all the time that you just gotta know who your fans are. Obviously, I know that a lot of my fans are gong to be from small towns. I think that it does help in the country music genre because of the lifestyle that comes along with liking country music. The majority of the demographic I would say would be able to relate to my music and to myself as a person and as an artist. The genre is taking a lot of heat from critics and other genres. I think it’s going to help me in the long run. But again, going back to my faith, I believe that I am going to work hard and what I’m doing and I’m going to give it everything I got and whatever God has planned for my career and the music he has blessed me with, I am just going to stay open and take whatever comes my way.
SL: I read an interview that was a few months old. You were still debating between finding a label and self-releasing your album….
SP: That was older. I have decided—I talked with my management, my whole team, we decided to go independent. We started our own label and we’re rocking and rolling now. I think it was the best fit for me. I had a couple of offers, but it really didn’t make sense for me. I think of myself as an indie artist, because I’m a singer songwriter. The indie route just made sense on paper. It made more sense as a musician, as a writer. It’s not that I have to have control, but it allows me to express myself a lot more, more so than if I were tied to a label, a major label at that which is basically telling me what I need to do, what my music is supposed to sound like, what I am supposed to wear and all that. That would definitely be a great job. It just feels right, it feels comfortable where I’m at right now. We kind of control our own destiny. Like I said, we’re rocking and rolling with it.
SL: And sometimes independent media outlets like NPR stations and local small radio station are easier to get access to than conglomerate radio stations.
SL: A lot of artists are going the independent route these days. What are some of the technologies that have made that such a viable option for artists?
SP: The internet. I mean, seriously. You can reach the masses these days just on the internet. I mean, I believe you have to have money to make money, but with that said it all comes back to how much work you want to put into it. With social media today, Facebook, Twitter, all that good stuff, you can reach a lot of people without having a major label backing you. The music industry is changing. These days the label works mostly as a distribution company. They’re putting you and the product in front of people. With technology in the recording studio you have some people, even national acts, cutting albums in somebody’s basement. The quality you can get in today’s world is just phenomenal. You can get a million dollar studio quality recording in your basement. We did a lot of work on my album out of some big time studios that have millions of dollars of gear in them and you can hear it, and it’s awesome. But we also did a lot of overdub work, a lot of things out of the basement at my house and out of my producer’s basement. We mixed it up a good bit. We even tracked some of the tracking, the drums in particular, to analog two inch tape. There are only two companies in the world who make that anymore and it’s like three hundred and fifty dollars a roll. A lot of people don’t do it anymore, but you can hear that sound like you hear on a vinyl record when it’s tracked analog. You are hearing exactly what you’d hear in a studio, it’s not digitized or anything, it’s just raw sound. I wanted to incorporate that on the album because I’m a big vinyl record fan. I collect them. So we mixed. The technology definitely helps out in today’s indie world. I wanted to mix…I took the best of both worlds. I took the old and the new and found somewhere in between. That’s what the music sounds like altogether. It’s right in the middle of traditional and modern country.
SL: I knew my interview was a little old because it said you were engaged and you mentioned you got married and had a baby. Congratulations on both of those.
SP: Thank you.
SL: One of the songs that was mentioned in the interview was “She Won’t Be Lonely” which you wrote for your wife. Is that going to be on the album?
SP: “She Won’t Be Lonely” is track nine on the album. I actually didn’t write that one about my wife. That song is a, how can I put this…It’s a tribute to all of my ex-girlfriends. When I wrote it, back when I did, it was my way of giving myself closure. When I met Amanda, I thought this is how it’s supposed to be. I finally found somebody who gets me. It immediately felt like this is the woman that God created for me, and this was who he had in mind for me when he put her into this world. I felt that for the first time in my life and it gave me a better understand on my relationships. The song was intended to tell people just because it didn’t work out with somebody, it has nothing to do with them or you. It just wasn’t in the books. I was basically saying, “Nothing against you, nothing against that girl, she’s awesome and amazing. She’s going to make somebody a great wife someday. I know a girl like her, she won’t be lonely. She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s funny, she’s awesome. It just wasn’t meant for us to be together.” My ex-girlfriends, we had some ups and downs for sure, but I know we just weren’t supposed to be together. But it was fun and a learning experience and I guess we get songs out of it.
SL: You have your album coming out in May. If someone was trying to figure out who you are as an artist, kind of checking out to see if they want to buy the album, which two songs should they listen to first?
SP: Number one, “Good at Goodbye.” There’s just something about that song. It wasn’t supposed to be on the album, and it kind of popped up out of nowhere. The song is about an old man who lived up the street from my parents. My dad kept telling me to write a song about him because his wife died seven years ago. He would come down the street with his dog. He had to ride one of those scooter things and he would come down and feed the ducks on the pond. His dog would be running right behind him. I would talk to him every time I came home. I finally sat down and something came to me, and I wrote a song for him. He died about two weeks after that and he never got to hear it. That’s why I kept playing it in the studio when I was working on the album. That’s how my producer hear it, and the rest is history. I love it because of the story. I love it because of that old man. He was a really sweet old man. I honestly feel like he is on that track in spirit. It’s about him, and it’s about hope.
Nobody likes goodbyes, and that’s what the songs is about. You’ll never get good at goodbye. And at the end of the song it all comes together. “I can hear your voice and you’re taking my hand, I can finally see the light, who said you’ll never get good at goodbye.” The only time saying goodbye is when the good Lord is taking your hand to go be with him. That’s how the song idea came about, and it’s just a beautiful song and I’m so grateful that the good Lord blessed me with that song because it’s amazing. The second song...it’s so difficult to do this because I love all the songs. They’re all true stories and their all my life. I would say “Country Side of Mine,” because it really tells who I am. Its kind a funny song about when I was out playing all these college towns. I come from a small town, about like your town, so you kind of have an idea what I’m talking about. I came up to go out and play all these bars in all the college towns There’s all these sorority girls in the bars just drinking and having a good time. They’re loving all the Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton and George Strait that I’m playing and singing. I was single at the time and the girls just loved country music and they wanted to talk to me after the show and on my breaks. I’m just sitting there thinking, when I first dove into it, these girls are wearing Tory Burch shoes and Burberry coats. I’m just sitting there thinking “what the hell do you want with a guy like me, I don’t understand it. You’re from Atlanta, you went to private school. You’re upper class, you live the high class life and I’m just a nobody from a small town, country singer drinking bud light.” That’s kind of what the song is about, and if you listen to if you can see that. “What’s a city girl like you want with a country boy like me,” is kind of where the song was derived from. The second verse talks about my adventures early on coming up to Nashville and meeting people, diving into the shark infested world of country music. I got burned a couple of times and lessons learned. I’ll never do it again.
I had somebody take my money a couple of times when it came to producing and recording. You come up there and it’s just people everywhere hounding you. They can do this for you and they can do that for you, all you got to do it just listen to me and trust me. I found, like I said it was a learning experience, look at somebody’s track record. Whether it’s a writer like myself or a musician like me who has been in the business over a period. Look at their track record, what they have done, what they have accomplished, who they’ve worked with and then determine whether or not it’s the right business decision for you. The second verse is about my first producer in Nashville. We did a single and I never heard from him again. The second verse is about him. He was not a man of his word. I recorded a song that he wanted me to record that I didn’t even write. It turns out that he wrote the song and he got a demo. But, I’m making a comeback and I found out who I am as an artist, and you know what, you can have it buddy because you missed out on something good. And I’m going to prove you wrong. He didn’t like the fact that I was country and that I sang the way that I did. He was trying to make me be something I wasn’t. The whole song…there is one thing that you cannot change and that is the country side of mine. That song tells who I am as an artist and a little bit about my adventures with the sorority girls.