Steve Wariner has heard too many other artists say their newest album is their best to make such a predictable claim himself. But he is pretty proud of what he’s come up with in Steal Another Day. And he does admit that other people have told him it’s his best. They may be right. But regardless of how history and Soundscan judge the album, it’s all his. He produced it, wrote or co-wrote 13 of its 16 songs, contributed a dizzying array of instrumental and vocal parts and created his own label — Selectone Records — to release it.
“We’d toyed around with the idea of [our own label] as far back as when we recorded ‘Holes in the Floor of Heaven’ and handed it to Pat Quigley,” Wariner says. [Quigley was then president of Capitol Records’ Nashville division.] “I recorded ‘Holes’ on my own dime. Then we decided that it should be with Capitol — and that was the right decision at the time. No question.” The move to Capitol did revivify Wariner’s career. “Holes in the Floor of Heaven” rose to No. 2 in Billboard in early 1998 and later that year won both the single and song of the year awards from the Country Music Association.
Capitol gave Wariner the go-ahead to start a new album that would also contain re-recordings of some of his earlier hits. Then Quigley was forced out, and Wariner found himself confronting a new regime that was considerably less excited about his music. That’s why some of the material originally intended for Capitol ended up in Steal Another Day. “I cut ‘Snowfall on the Sand’ [the current single] as a demo,” Wariner explains. “Billy Kirsch and I wrote it about two years ago when I was still actually on Capitol. I played it for everybody up there, and they were very lukewarm about it. They liked it OK, but nobody was jumping up and down.” When Wariner left the label, he took with him the recordings he’d already done for the doomed project.
At about this same time, Wariner was completing his own recording studio. “When my new studio got finished,” he says, “I just wanted to go off and play in it. So I started cutting tracks that I thought were demos. Eventually, these turned out to be part of this new album. I didn’t realize I was making an album. But a lot of people whose opinions I really trusted said, ‘Oh, man, you ought to finish some more tracks and put this thing out.’ … At that point, Caryn [his wife and manager] and I started thinking, ‘Well, maybe we can do this.’ We could keep our costs down and do like an Internet label thing — just something to have for some new music. I already had it cut, and the studio was sitting here paid for, and all the music was pretty well paid for, at least the initial tracks.” Working at a leisurely pace with some of Nashville’s top performing and session musicians, Wariner wrapped up the album this past October.
Having decided to establish his own label, Wariner then faced the question of what to call it. “We started looking at different names and playing around with little logos and ideas,” he says. “We were trying to find something that rolled off the tongue pretty nice. For some reason, we went with Selectone. At first we were thinking Select. We had a hundred different ideas. It kind of reminded me of that movie, That Thing You Do, where the band sits around going, ‘What are we gonna call ourselves.’ … The little chevron [in the label’s logo] is carried over from a guy in Wisconsin who made me a big emblem out of polished steel that’s hanging up in my studio.”
Without the pressure of a major label second-guessing him, Wariner was able to include any song he liked. And as many. “I’ve been bashed a little bit for doing the greatest hits stuff in the album,” he concedes. “Some of the reviews said I didn’t need to do them because they’d already been done. But I wanted to give the consumer a lot of music for a low price. It’s $9.88 in Wal-Mart. And it’s packaged the way I wanted every label in town to [package my albums] over the years. I told somebody, ‘We may not sell records, but we’ve got a nice package.'”
One reason major labels limit the number of songs on an album is that they have to pay publishers and songwriters a “mechanical” royalty of as much as eight cents per song for each album sold. But since Wariner is his own publisher, he could absorb that otherwise formidable cost. “I’m not going to go to any co-writer and cut them in any way,” he explains, “but we can deal on our own publishing stuff.”
Two songs on Steal Another Day that Wariner wrote by himself are intensely personal — “In My Heart Forever (For Chet),” a tribute to his friend and mentor, the late Chet Atkins , and “There Will Come a Day (Holly’s Song)” for his diabetic stepdaughter. “The song for Chet just presented itself,” he says. “I wrote it a couple of days after he passed. It came real quickly. When I wrote it, I didn’t even know I’d be doing another album — maybe never again.
“It was the same way for the song I did for Holly. When I wrote that, I knew we were doing an album, but I truly didn’t think that this song would be on it. I just wrote it to be writing it. When I finished it, I thought it was a cool song, and I knew it meant a lot to me personally. But it was so left field, I doubted it would ever be on any record. But I played it for Caryn and for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and they all loved it. The JDF people from New York came down and heard it, and they flipped out and wanted to use it. So we started thinking, ‘This is the nice thing about being your own boss. We can put it on the album.’ We also gave it to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. Every single cent of the proceeds goes to diabetes research. They’re talking about doing a book on it, much like the one we did for ‘Holes in the Floor of Heaven.'”
The album’s title cut, another collaboration with Billy Kirsch, is an oddity — a love song inspired by national tragedy. “A lot of the girls I play it for say it’s a sexy lyric,” Wariner notes. “I’m not sure what that means, but I do think it’s very romantic. I know this sounds funny, but I think it is a direct repercussion from Sept. 11. We wrote it not too long after that. [The tie-in is] that part about putting yourself in a cocoon and getting away from all the madness that’s in this world — at least for a while.”
Whether Wariner signs other artists to his label depends largely on how his debut album turns out. “I’d like to do this down the line,” he says, “if this thing takes off and generates some cash. I’d probably start with some people who are already established but who don’t have [label] homes. It would also have to be somebody who would listen to me. My scrutiny would be on the songs for sure — on trying to find killer songs [for them].”
Although he plans to do some touring this year, Wariner says it won’t be enough to require him to put together a permanent band. Instead, he’ll organize musicians he knows and who are available when the dates come up. “I’m going to do a show with Ricky Skaggs over in east Tennessee in the middle of the summer and a few other things,” he reports. “I won’t do a ton of dates, but I will go out and support the album. … We may do a Texas and Oklahoma run.”
Wariner continues to write songs and has a couple in the pipeline that Kenny Rogers and Clint Black have recorded. “A lot of these songs on Steal Another Day I would normally have pitched to other people,” he muses, “but I got selfish and cut them myself.”