Will Stewart has released another critically-acclaimed album with “Slow Life”, but as the title indicates - the musician isn’t jumping all into the stereotypical rock and roll lifestyle. Sure he’s filling up venues and is a key member in bands like The Blips and Slack Times, but Will Stewart enjoys his chill and breezy days as much as anyone else. The record is an ode to these moments and other musings, and the musician finds a relatable wavelength to share his catchy observations too. 

“I knew I wanted to call it ‘Slow Life’ a long time ago. I think some people might assume it’s a direct nod to post-COVID. When everything was “Oh you’re stuck at your house”, but the name happened a long time ago,” Stewart explains, “It was just stuck in my mind. I like slow-paced things in life. That’s the ideal for me. As long as I can play my music, work in my yard, and things like that I’m perfectly happy. That’s my only ambition right now. Make music, be with my friends and family, and try to have a good time.”

The songs started coming together when the band, which includes Ross Parker and Tyler McGuire, began meeting up on occasion to jam after the early stages of the pandemic. Ross brought two songs, “Let’s Go” and “New Highway” to the table for the album, and the band enjoyed working together to complete tracks on the project. It took them about 5 months to get the songs together and 6 months of arranging before they went to the Communicating Vessels studio in Woodlawn to record their masterpiece. Longtime Will collaborator and friend Janet Simpson joins for backing vocals on select tracks as well. 

“I wanted this one to be more whimsy and more immediate and straight-to-the-point lyrics. A little bit more playful,” Will explains about his most recent release, “To me there’s a little more rock element to this one, although it’s not a rock record.” It’s a blend of styles. A little folk, a little rock, country, 70s aesthetics, and all sorts of styled sounds. 

The album's cover is a perfect representation of the experience Will provides for the “Slow Life” listener. Knoxville-based artist Beth Meadows sent Stewart some sketches of a building that reminded him of one close to where he used to live on Highland Avenue. Next, they added some details like the I-20 bridge similar to the one near his current Crestwood home, Will’s green travel band van, and of course his dog Otis. The album starts off with “Bad Memory” and the rolling guitars and easy listening are a great indicator of the solid record that’s about to be played.

“My hope is that we can craft a unique Birmingham sound, whatever that is,” Will shares of his current music ambitions, “That would make me really happy, to be able to properly represent Birmingham in a unique way.” He doesn’t have to be the central figure in the scene, but Stewart envisions a Birmingham that is set apart for its music scene’s unique sound. Whether he wants to or not, he is a part of shaping it with his many different ventures. 

It’s all about enjoying the “Slow Life” for Will Stewart and Otis. Image by Jonathan Purvis

“I’m at the point where I’m really grateful that I get to collaborate with so many wonderful musicians and people that are my close friends. The Blips have a new album that is currently being mixed right now,” Stewart states. His different projects let Will explore different passions of his music fandom.  “I like to rock just like anyone else. I’m probably the least rock and roll guy out of that whole band, but it allows me to scratch that itch in a lot of ways,” he shares on The Blips. 

Another fun project is Slack Times, which sees Stewart partnered with Chris McCauley and Stuart Norman of Holy Youth fame. “I’m a really big early R.E.M. fan, and The Byrds. Any kind of jangly guitar stuff. It’s another cool thing that I get to express myself with that’s a lot different from my solo work.” The group released an album earlier this year. One upcoming release to look forward to is Sarah Lee Langford and Will Stewart, which is sure to be a good listen. “I’m really, really excited about this stuff. It’s more cosmic country, California country stuff.”

Stewart also recently spent some time recording in Water Valley, Mississippi after an interesting request from Bryant Saxon of Earth Libraries. Saxon wanted Will to make a project that reimagines songs written by Baker Knight, a now-deceased musician who moved out to Hollywood from Birmingham as a young lad to try and make it big - and found some success while doing so. Knight started out in rockabilly before eventually writing for others. Knight wrote hits like “Lonesome Town” and for the most famous musicians of the time including Elvis and Dean Martin. His impressive discography includes a CMA “Song of the Year” but is often not recognized by the larger public. “I’m hoping I can do it just a little bit of justice,” Stewart shares of the unique tribute.

At the end of the day, Will Stewart is doing exactly what he wants to do. Creating beautiful sounds with his friends and enjoying the days for what they are. “I don’t want to get too philosophical with all of this stuff, but I think of music and songwriting as a craft. I told myself a long time ago ‘This is what I want to do and I’m going to dedicate a large part of my life to it, for better or worse. This has nothing to do with any kind of financial reward or transaction,” Will states, “For me the work and the progress is the biggest reward. Although it’s really gratifying to finally release something and have a finished product, it’s really the behind-the-scenes and the actual nuts and bolts of the work is really why I do it. It’s the most satisfying part to me.”

The behind-the-scenes resulted in a spectacular album, and we’re glad this laid-back rock star calls Birmingham home. 

Cover image from Wes Frazer