Story Behind the Song: The SteelDrivers, ‘Bad for You’
The SteelDrivers' newest album, Bad for You, was a momentous project for the group for a number of reasons. It was their first outing with their new frontman Kelvin Damrell, for example, who stepped in after Gary Nichols stepped away from the group in 2017.
A lot of thought went into style and structure during this album-making process, explains fiddle player and founding bandmate Tammy Rogers, who co-wrote the bulk of the album's songs. One example is the project's title track, which The SteelDrivers fought hard to include, even though it was initially tricky to balance the song's essential groove against the mechanics of the instrumentation.
Below, Rogers explains why it was so important to make the song work, and how it came to be the title track for their new album.
I wrote "Bad for You" with Leslie Thatcher and James LeBlanc. James is a longtime Muscle Shoals [Ala.] resident, so I think there was definitely some of that swampy, Shoals-y [influence.] And Leslie actually went down there to record her last record. So that particular thing was by design, for sure. And knowing that we wanted something really edgy, that was more like a rock song, to be honest.
The biggest challenge for that particular song was finding the right tempo, that we could play and honor that groove, but also make the banjo work. It was hard. It wasn't an easy thing -- to take a songwriter demo, basically, and Leslie and James sitting around in a room -- and make it work in a bluegrass instrumentation.
But everybody really loved the song, so everybody wanted to find a way to make it work. It was a combination between [banjo player] Richard [Bailey] figuring out how to make the banjo work on it, and then us finding the right tempo to make the groove work. It had to be slow enough to get that swampy feel, and have enough room for the lyric, because it's kind of rapid-fire style lyrics, in a way. But then fast enough for those particular acoustic instruments to work. And we did it! We figured it out.
Once we got it tracked, everybody just loved the way it turned out. And you know, our reputation as a band is kind of much more edgy than -- none of our [album] titles have been, I don't want to use the word sweet...
But it would have been pretty odd to have a SteelDrivers record title like, you know..."When a Heart Breaks," [another of the tracks that we thought about to become the title track.] Because a lot of our songs are about heartbreak. But it was like, "Nah, too soft. It's not edgy enough."
"I Choose You," even though it's a really important song on the record and it's probably our most requested song at the moment, it doesn't really encompass what the whole record is about. So "Bad for You" seemed to make the most sense.