June 6, 2022 by Jay Minkin
Talk about a moment. When Chloe Wagenhauser graduated from the University of Toledo in 2019, she wasn’t sure what to do next. With a degree in Biology and Chemistry, Chloe attended an interview at the university’s medical school that featured a promotional film about the campus. The film was interspersed with people playing music and Chloe took it as a sign that there was another path to pursue.
Chloe Wagenhauser is the lead vocalist and rhythm guitar player for Chloe & The Steel Strings who released a wonderful album of original material titled Burn Bright at the beginning of 2022. Based in Toledo, The Steel Strings are made up of two parts. One is Chloe’s twin sister Anna Wagenhauser playing keyboard and adding harmonies. The others are former members of the psychedelic band Spilled Milk featuring Eric Stuehr (lead guitar), Cody Podsiado (drums, percussion) and her partner Connor Ward (bass, backing vocals).
Growing up in the area, Chloe had heard an eclectic mix of pop folk singers like Joan Baez and John Denver, classical, and showtunes from her parents, but it was her high school laptop that really provided the key to explore her rock music and songwriter influences. One of the bands that really touched her soul was seeing Birds of Chicago and singer Allison Russell perform live. Chloe and her twin sister Anna began playing in Toledo as a duo in high school and later while both attended college. Chloe met Connor at an open mic night in 2016 and the chance encounter has blossomed into a relationship beyond music. He encouraged her to record some of the original songs she had written and they became her debut album Chloe & The Steel Strings. “This album was made just for fun and something physical to have when playing around town” says Chloe. “The new record was more of a blood, sweat, and tears project that made us really proud of when completed.”
The Steel Strings made a huge jump sonically with the melding of influences from both units coming together as one. Ninety percent of Burn Bright was recorded in their home with some drum and lead guitar parts done at Rogues Hollow Recordings. The studio owned by Mark Grace in Doylestown was a place Spilled Milk jammed and tracked three songs for a high school rock off. One of those songs, “Morning in May” sung by Stuehr, has a haunting Donovan psychedelic style that was re-recorded for Burn Bright.
“Phrases you say when not working at songwriting sometimes sound the best” explains Chloe. “I am constantly catching myself saying something, leaving a voice memo in my phone, then referring back to it as part of a lyric.” That’s how the album’s opening song, “Breakin’ in Two”, a Nora Jones slow jazzy influenced track was written while she and Connor went on their daily morning walk.
Housing a friend who was going through a bad relationship breakup was the essence of “Don’t You Worry” as Chloe elaborates “Someone from the outside can sometimes see things more clearly than the person going through it. The message here is that it’s going to be ok and not the end of the world.” Another top track is the catchy radio guitar driven jangle “Right is Rain”. The song answers the question if taking the unconventional route is the right path when you’re at the fork of life’s road struggling to decide.
One of my favorite songs on the new album is the title track. With its weaving rhythms and gorgeous vocals like early Jefferson Airplane, it burns like incense the spirit of self-actualization. The body of the lyrics “Don’t you know the answers/To the questions that I have?/Don’t you know the reasons/For those dreams that you had?/Cause it’s way down deep inside you now/Waiting to come back” looks for that inner light within your soul. Not giving up on your dreams that your heart wants to follow is this constant thread holding these creative and passionate eight tracks together. All of the occurrences happening in Chloe’s life she took as signs that the path was presenting itself – to be a full-time singer/songwriter. My feelings are that she has chosen … wisely.
Chloe & The Steel Strings will be playing a slew of shows over the summer including June dates at Great Lakes Brewing Co, Hatfield’s Goode Grub, Larchmere Porchfest, and Forest City Brewery in Northeast Ohio as well as the greater Toledo area. You really need to find time to hear this ensemble perform live to appreciate the blending of the twin’s beautiful harmonies and overall musicianship. Most likely you’ll be a sounding board for some new songs crafted by Chloe and Connor for the next upcoming project. Click onto to the band’s homepage for dreamy merch, CD’s, and additional show dates at chloeandthesteelstrings.com.
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Epilogue: I haven’t really written anything since the end of 2019 but have kept the music email box open for messages. Chloe found one of my cards at The Beachland Ballroom and had it tacked on her bulletin board in order to reach out when she had recorded her first band album. Three years later, I received this sweet email in March recounting the above story. I listened to her album via Spotify and loved the San Francisco psychedelic vibe. Hearing the band perform live a few weeks later at Broadview Brewing Company sounded even better. I’m so grateful to Chloe helping me get back to writing again.