Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones are fronted by a 20-year-old powerhouse guitarist, vocalist and songwriter. The South Carolina-born (and now East Nashville-based) artist who formed the band as an eight-year-old has developed a powerful and sublime synthesis of skills and makes it clear that the future is hers to conquer.
On their new (and third) self-titled album, the band--who've played over 2,000 shows including notable festival appearances--digs in deep, hits hard, and crushes it. Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones (available 1/26/18 on her Strawberry Moon imprint) is an aural kaleidoscope of blazing guitars and searing vocals, all of which establish Wicklund as a triple-threat player, singer and writer in the fashion of Susan Tedeschi and the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde.
The album's producer, Sadler Vaden, who's also guitarist with Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, says: "Once we started writing some songs, I saw that she had a real, raw talent. I was inspired to work with her by her love of classic rock music and blues. I wanted to honor that in making this album, but also add a little modern edge to it."
On the 10-track album, Wicklund taps into the fury of loneliness ("Ghost"). She resurrects specters of Hendrix and Joplin ("Looking Glass") as well as power ballad intensity ("Strawberry Moon"). Then, just as she's supercharged you with about as much raw energy as you can channel, she lets you down gently with the acoustic intimacy of "Shadow Boxes"—but even here, her singing achieves an intensity that most artists can only dream of rivaling. Her music stands on a bedrock of razor-edged, old-school rock 'n' roll reanimated by a new generation's urgency.
That impression is doubly emphasized in the video for the album's first single, "Bomb Through The Breeze," a hurricane of swirling color interspersed with spare shots of Wicklund and her band in action, with black bunnies and slithering snakes adding an eerie visual complement.
"Sadler and I wrote this song ["Bomb Through the Breeze"] as a response to feeling backed into a corner by someone who doesn't get the hint," says Wicklund. "This is the type of song to hopefully inspire some self-confidence when it comes to standing up for yourself and others. Unfortunately, when someone's volume is on loud for so long, the only way to get their attention is to do something even louder."
At a table outside of an East Nashville bistro, Wicklund muses: "I feel my songwriting has matured over the last few years, both lyrically and musically. I'm definitely proud of what I've done previous to this new album, but hearing these latest songs finished for the first time, I was able to recognize the overall development my music has gone through. A lot of it came with getting older and living more life, experiencing things that were well worth a song or two. I've always had a more serious and expressive tone to my music, which is still prevalent, but in the last year my songs have started to cover a wider array of feelings and are able to emote more than just a moody song in A minor. Working with a producer that shared my musical taste, similar path and home state had a lot of impact as well. Sadler did a great job of taking what I envisioned and refining it so that every part was suiting the song."
The buzz about Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones is continuing to grow in America and overseas, with the media taking notice. Guitar Player Editor-In-Chief Michael Molenda (posting at GuitarPlayer.com on 9/13/17) has heralded Wicklund "not simply as a shredder or a tonal colorist, though she certainly has chops and can go for some buzzy and less-than-organic sounds. What's impressive to me is how she uses her custom Tom Anderson guitar and Orange half-stack to drive the emotional context of her songs with a combination of spiky rhythms, slow lines, fast runs and cagey riffs. It all adds up to a thrilling ride." Over in the U.K., the influential Team Rock website noted that "Hannah Wicklund blends bluesy sensibilities with tasty wah guitar and jutting rhythm–with notes of (gutsier) Fleetwood Mac in the mix," adding that she is "one to watch out for" (11/10/17).
The first rehearsal of The Steppin Stones was back in 2005, after which they were playing six to nine shows every week. The first song they ever played was Neil Young's "Rockin' In The Free World" at a charity event in South Carolina. By the time Hannah graduated from high school at 16, they had logged well over a thousand gigs together. She grew up knowing that her life would be consumed by music. She understood that this meant working hard but never losing touch with the intensity that music requires.
Hannah credits her father with instilling that lesson. Her first guitar was a present from him, as a kind of atonement for getting rid of her backyard trampoline. That very night, he taught her to play "Rockin' In The Free World" and Tom Petty's "It's Good To Be King." (Creativity runs through the family: her mother, a talented artist, painted the latest Steppin Stones album cover.) Wicklund ramped up her songwriting as well, based on the insights she'd picked up from playing carefully selected covers with The Steppin Stones. "To craft a song well, you look at whose songs you love," she explains. "I love that we were a cover band because we got to see what worked and what didn't through other people's music--and, as a three-piece, how to make it work."
At age 13, the band played the first of many private shows (which Hannah arranged) for AC/DC frontman Brian Johnson and his vintage racing car team. As word began to spread, the band went on to share billing with Jefferson Starship, The Outlaws, Kansas, Jimmy Herring, St. Paul & The Broken Bones and other headliners. They've also performed at major events such as the Peach Music Festival, Firefly Music Festival and Kaaboo Del Mar.
Hannah Wicklund & The Steppin Stones continue to tear it up on the road. In late 2017, they toured Europe and then performed more shows in the U.S., finishing the year out with a string of shows with The Marshall Tucker Band. In January 2018, they'll launch "The Sibling Rivalry" tour with The High Divers (fronted by Hannah's brother, Luke Mitchell).
Their story continues--one step, one stone, and one night of thrilling music at a time.