Sometimes, the pursuit of art and expression seems almost predetermined. It’s almost as if the person creating it was destined to do it, and that the results were simply a matter of fate and good fortune.
Singer/songwriter Steve Yanek knows that feeling all too well. His new self-produced album, September — recorded wholly on his own, and set for release August 25th on his own Primitive Records label — is the latest expressive example of how his drive and determination continues to compel him to make music, even when circumstance might determine otherwise. It follows on the heels of the aptly titled Long Overdue, released last summer to rave reviews. That album spent 10 weeks on the Roots Americana charts last fall and went on to top both the Americana and Country charts in Cashbox two weeks in a row. In addition, the two singles it spawned secured the top spots on the singles charts, climbing to the number one and number two chart positions on two separate singles listings.
In addition, the album garnered rave reviews both in the States and overseas. American Songwriter raved, “Suffice it to say Long Overdue was well worth the wait.” Making a Scene Magazine concurred, declaring, “Yanek is a first-rate songwriter who seems to have just appeared on the scene…Let’s hope the gap is much shorter next time.” Maverick concurred, saying, “Melodically, this is a standout collection, as those choruses will get stuck in your head.”
Americana Highways summed things up succinctly. “He [Yanek] effectively provides the listener with exciting, satisfying melodies that are showcased superbly.”
Although it was originally intended for release simultaneously with Long Overdue, Steve wisely chose to delay September in order to give the material more time to gestate and find a life of their own. “It allowed these songs to ripen a little bit more in their creative juices and I wound up recutting a lot of them from scratch,” Steve explains. By separating the two projects, the new album was able to emerge in a way that found it coming into its own.
His decision to wait and find new focus was clearly worthwhile. “Honestly, at this point in my life, I’m not going to spend the time it takes to make an album unless I feel that certain fire of inspiration,” Steve insists. “Fortunately, that inspiration lasted long enough for me to complete this album. Songs for songwriters are like the clothes we wear, and these are the clothes I wore from February 2020 to July 2021. Like photographs, they capture you in that moment.”
The pause caused by the pandemic allowed him to go back to his earlier efforts and begin pulling together and then digitizing the recordings of projects he'd made early, which ranged from cassette demos to studio multi tracks. In the process, he found new inspiration from some of his earlier heroes — those that he had been weaned on as well as some he discovered for the first time.
Suddenly, the music began flowing out of him “Under the circumstances that transpired while these songs were written, and the somewhat personal weight that each song carried, I thought it was best that I make the new record as intimate as possible by writing and recording the songs solely on my own as they arrived. Hopefully, this will showcase my abilities as a multi-instrumentalist, producer and engineer, skills I've managed to develop over the past 45 plus years of putting them into practice.”
Steve says the creative process has helped him not only thrive but survive.
“For as far back as I can remember, songwriting has provided me a coping mechanism,” Steve maintains. “It’s like an underground spring that exists just beneath the surface, one that taps into the creative side of my subconscious. At times, the songs flow freely, yet sometimes the source seems dry. Regardless, there’s always water flowing in that aquifer, and knowing that allows me to look forward to writing my next song.”
Clearly then, the inspiration wasn’t stifled in any way when it came to crafting September. It’s a special set of songs that runs the gamut from the hopeful happenstance captured in the evocative expression of “Summer Days” and the upbeat affirmation of “Count Every Moment” to the tender tones and mellow musings of “You Know It’s Right,” the insistent and emphatic emotions that rise to the surface in “Losing You” and the sheer radiance, emotion and utter beauty of the title track.
It is in fact, a remarkably affecting album.
Steve himself says that each of the selections have special meaning to him personally. For example, he describes the vibrant album opener “Begin Again” as an ode to optimism.
“The song is an analogy that uses Atlantic City as a symbol of resilience,” he explains. “That city has been through so many changes and transitions, but remarkably, it’s still standing, and probably always will be! My parents honeymooned there. And, of course, it was immortalized in song by none other than the Boss himself, Bruce Springsteen. It's just been a thing with me — and that movie with Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon is an all-time favorite of mine. And sometimes I do romanticize those days when I had to struggle to make the rent while I was living in L.A. and playing the clubs in Venice Beach. The lyrics more or less sum things up: The lights of the city get cold and gritty with the wind blowing off the shore…
He says that the upbeat and effusive “I Could Use A Little Rain” is essentially a song about survival when the odds sometimes seem insurmountable. “It was written under the influence of Glenn Frey and Paul Simon in my attempt to write some meaningful lyrics,” he says.
It used to be easier back when my heart was stronger than the shape that it’s been in / Now it’s like a well worn shield, Heavy armor in this battlefield, and I still feel that way somehow, and I could use a little rain right now
“Catch My Fall” is easy breezy, and irrepressible. It describes a sense of gratitude that can be tinged by regret. “I’d been trying to write a song as good as Neil Young’s ‘Hey Babe’ ever since I heard it on his album American Stars 'n Bars. It’s my homage to that iconic country rock feel.”
The wistful and reflective “Carousel” is the only autobiographical song on the album. It describes the night when Steve first met his wife and the festival weekend that followed. “It’s basically about being grateful and really looking forward to tomorrow,” he says. “I was that guy turning 60 in the midst of a pandemic when my wife arranged a birthday getaway at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown for me right after New York State opened everything up. I wrote the song ‘Carousel’ shortly after that road trip. It was something really special, and I will never be able to thank my wife enough for the gift she gave me when I needed that joy the most.”
The personal significance shared in these songs is consistently affecting, and each of them conveys a profound perspective.
“I think those four songs pretty much sum up my thoughts and emotions as I was making this album,” Steve muses, noting that they’ve already garnered lots of attention through online streaming and the radio play they’ve received in Europe since they were released as digital singles.
As for the origin of the album title, Steve has a simple explanation. “September is the month I was born in, and I find summer to be by far my favorite season,” he says. “You’ll never hear me complain about the weather being too hot. However, as a kid, I always hated that month because it meant the end of summer and having to go back school – and I hated school. As an adult, I still have traces of those emotions as August begins to wind down. I use September as a metaphor in the title track. When I say, This ain't a game to run out the clock, it represents the fact that I've always lived life to the fullest and I have no plans to stop now. I also consider it a call to action as far as my music is concerned. I'm a songwriter, and I want to get my songs out there as far as they can go.”
Notably too, the album is dedicated to Emitt Rhodes, the late singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist that Steve refers to as “the one man Beatle” given the fact that like Steve, he often played all the instruments on his albums. Steve still cites him as a source of inspiration.
September and its predecessor Long Overdue were some 17 years in the making, much belated follow-ups to his 2005 debut album, Across the Landscape. With a musical line-up that included such notable names as guitarist Jeff Pevar (a longstanding member of the late David Crosby’s band, CPR, and a member of the Crosby, Stills and Nash touring band), Dixie Dregs drummer Rod Morgenstein, the Dregs’ late keyboard player T. Lavitz, and famed singer Leah Kunkel, it brought belated notice when it was rereleased Europe in 2020.
Still, It wasn’t that Steve ever lacked for success. A successful entrepreneur who first made his mark well beyond the realms of the music business, he possessed the business savvy needed to start his own record label, Primitive Records, while also becoming involved in management and fostering the careers of other artists. He followed his own creative path while developing his songwriting skills, setting up a recording studio and eventually recruiting a band to back him up once he began touring.
“I just got the itch to make music again,” Steve says of his motivation to record Long Overdue. “I had these tracks that Jeff and I had made with T Lavitz and Rod Morgenstein, and I realized that there was something substantial that still needed to be shared.”
As before, he managed to recruit an all-star support cast, with Jeff Pevar, Rod Morgenstein and T Lavitz reprising the roles they played on Across the Landscape, aided and abetted by legendary drummer Kenny Aronoff, Little Feat’s Billy Payne on piano, Dave Livolsi contributing bass, and Larry Kennedy, lead singer for the power pop band The Jellybricks, providing backing vocals.
Having been raised in solid working-class blue-collar environs in Youngstown Ohio, Steve was well prepared to pursue his ambitions as far as making meaningful and memorable music. “This is the 20th album I've written since I graduated from high school in 1978,” he reckons. So too, from the time when he witnessed the first concert he saw at age 15, his course was already set. He says that seeing Dan Fogelberg play his hometown solo acoustic (with Tim Weisberg) a couple years later changed his life.
He was further inspired when Livingston Taylor and Poco came through town. “All I did was woodshed after that, and I've been woodshedding ever since,” he reflects. “I would've been a fourth-generation steel worker had I gone that route, but California was calling, and over the years I channeled that work ethic into writing songs.”
He also found success as a performer, courtesy of repeated performances at some of the West Coast’s most notable venues, among them, the The Palomino Club, McCabe’s Guitar Shop and The Banjo Café.
“Long Overdue opened up some doors for me,” Steve reflects. “The coolest thing was getting to open up for Livingston Taylor this past April. He's been one of my heroes since the late ‘70s. I posted a nice tribute that his management shared on Liv's Facebook page. It read, in part, “I’ve seen Livingston several times over the years. Always great. Always funny. And always moving forward. Never the same show twice. And never looking back at the past. I’ve met him a couple times and he’s always been kind and gracious. Getting to open up for him last April at this amazing venue in Hershey, PA called The Englewood was pretty surreal. And getting to hang out with him before the show kinda felt like meeting up with an old friend.”
In that regard, Steve’s made plenty of fans and friends of his own, courtesy of the renewed momentum he’s maintained over the past few years.
“I'm really on fire right now, mostly because of the internet,” he explains. “I've had so many people connect with my music from all over the world, and as much as I hate artists being being reduced to the table scraps of streaming revenues, it's actually giving artists like me an opportunity to put their music out there.”
With that in mind, Steve guarantees that there’s much more music to come.