He's Gone Country

Shunning ranch life for a music career, Tommy Shane Steiner has the meat and half the hump

Steiner's time in L.A. convinced him to skedaddle back to Austin and try something that was, if not completely different, maybe closer to home. He was eventually talked into getting up on stage with a local band he knew and find out whether he might be able to warble his way through a song or two. Turns out he could. At least once. The next night was a little less stellar. "It was maybe the most devastating thing that ever happened to me," he says. "Everything that could have gone wrong did: The mike was shorting out, my guitar fell off and hit the stage, everybody was laughing at me, and I almost quit. But my buddy told me, Hey, look, now you don't have anything to be afraid of 'cause you've done everything wrong you could. You afraid your voice'll crack? That already happened twice tonight.'"

Steiner stayed with that band, learned new songs, traveled around and sharpened his chops. "Pretty soon I was doing the whole show. And you learn things in a cover band by doing other people's material and learning how to do it right. It's a lot harder now, hearing songs no one has, and trying to decide if anybody will like 'em."

Enter "What If She's an Angel," a song that kicked around in demo limbo for four years before Steiner recorded it. When it was released on RCA, it peaked at number two.

Reborn country: Steiner is one of the new guys — non-hat, video-friendly, pop-oriented country singers raised on music that is as far removed from Hank Williams as Moby is from Minnie Pearl.
Reborn country: Steiner is one of the new guys — non-hat, video-friendly, pop-oriented country singers raised on music that is as far removed from Hank Williams as Moby is from Minnie Pearl.
Ranch dressing up: Steiner's a country showman with neon in his genes.
Ranch dressing up: Steiner's a country showman with neon in his genes.

Details

Scheduled to perform with Jeff Java on Thursday, August 1. Showtime is 7 p.m. Call 480-949-0992.
Rockin' Horse, 7043 East McDowell in Scottsdale

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Steiner's success has brought him a tremendous amount of attention, and it's inevitable he be asked what drew him to country music. "The first music I really remember listening to was the Bee Gees and Elton John. I loved Fleetwood Mac — and the first album I ever bought was Michael Jackson. But when I was growing up, there was all the Willie and Waylon music: Those albums practically showed up in your mailbox if you were in Austin at the time. And I listened to Clint Black, Keith Whitley, Randy Travis — mid-'80s, mostly."

And if he were to be pulled over by the country-music police whilst tooling around Austin in his brand new big black Hummer, what would we find playing on the multidisc changer? "I'll tell you, I listen to everything from Kid Rock to Eminem to Pink Floyd to Alien Ant Farm, Jimmy Eat World. I like Matchbox 20. I even like electronic dance stuff. I listen to everything."

How about alt-country?

"Alt-country I've never really been into." He pauses for a moment and adds, "I like the new Pink album, too!"

"The Hummer, by the way, was the first thing I bought when I got my contract," he adds. "I don't really so much drive around as I do drive over. The fun thing is to drive over things in the city. Don't print that, though, they'll arrest me. They'll start trying to match my paint with accidents."

Having covered most of the more important issues facing a bright and shiny new country pop star, including his video ("I can't stand the way it made my lips look all red. Something about the lighting made them look all swelled up. It got around that I was wearing lipstick. For the record, I used no lipstick. I didn't come off a cattle ranch to wear lipstick.") and the leather pants he wears in press photographs ("I'm sure at some point somebody's gonna say I look funny in my leather pants, and I'll have to run a tackle"), the single most pressing question remains: If Steiner happened upon a big old heifer in labor, say, in the back of a taxi cab in Austin, could he in fact deliver a calf?

"Well, the chances are pretty slim, I think, but oh yeah, I could do it. I've done it," he says. "That's just something you learn to do on a ranch, whether you want to or not. Some of those things might come in handy someday. You never know. But as far as I'm concerned, cows don't really smell all that good, and there's always something — they need shots and you gotta feed 'em at five in the morning — and it gets pretty hairy these days with the ultrasounds and artificial insemination. Bottom line, there's just something about ranch life that don't appeal to me."

Steiner thinks and adds, "Truth is, I really wanted to be able to sleep in a lot longer, and I wanted to get paid a lot more. Course, nowadays I probably sleep less and make less money. But at least I'm having fun."

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