Self-made powerhouse duo from the Sault deserves to be heard

Steeletown Girls

I recently reached out to a friend of mine, Morgan Steele, with the hopes of doing a story on her band, Steeletown Girls, something I had seen come across my Instagram and Facebook feed over the last couple of months.

What I thought would be a small feature story on a highschool pal’s passion coming to life soon took an exciting turn.

I’ve spent the last few days getting to know two dynamic, talented women, Morgan Steele, country pop vocalist and passionate songwriter, and Tammy Hill, blues/rock guitarist with an ear for quality sound, who have joined forces.

Steeletown girls
Tammy took the time to show me around the studio this week.

What they’ve created is a self-managed, self-marketed pop-country powerhouse girlband, Steeletown Girls.

Not without the technical expertise from Dan Schmidt, Hill’s father, producer of one of the most unique studios I’ve ever heard of, Pretoria Hills.

The best part? This is homegrown talent at its finest, and an unconventional musical pairing to say the least.

Both girls grew up with music, but in two very different ways that ultimately crossed paths through Korah’s band, Mustang Sally.

Hill can manoeuvre a bass and a keyboard, but primarily plays electric and lead guitar.

Of her start in playing music, she told me “In grade nine I didn’t really play music, I played some acoustic. It wasn’t until the big string of shows in grade nine (with Mustang Sally), with all the fancy setup and lights that I said, wow, I want to play on a stage forever. You get the hook, the rush. After almost a year of not really wanting to do it, by grade ten I had become addicted to playing.”

She was strongly influenced by her father, who told SaultOnline, “I started playing drums at 16, and was really into electronics. My brother and I are also really into high end audio and we love music. We would build our own speakers and play around with that. I got into some bands, and I was always the sound guy.”

steeletown girls
Dan Schmidt with some of the setup!

Schmidt continued, “I always had the sound gear and it just carried over from that.”

Schmidt’s forty years of experience and passion for music and audio have taken the form of Pretoria Hills Productions, established in 2015, a high quality audio studio out of his basement.

Complete with a vocal booth that doubles as a sauna – with extra blankets, it holds a crisp, clean sound that is perfect,  I was amazed. They really took home studio to the next level.

Hill explained to me that in her grade nine year, they started to put together some projects and videos with Mustang Sally, putting her father’s equipment to good use and testing the waters.

The studio’s first artist was a pleasant surprise, and sent the whole project into motion.

Garret Tomalty wanted to surprise his bride at their wedding by playing a recording of himself singing his version of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”.

Schmidt recounted, “within a month, we had Tammy playing bass, him playing guitar and singing, and me throwing down some keys.”

After that inspiring first true kick at the can, Pretoria Hills became a home for Tammy’s band, The Din, alongside Brandan Glew and Mike Haggith.

The Din created live audio, YouTube videos, and recorded two albums at Pretoria Hills.

Steeltown girls
The Dins albums, created with Pretoria Hills.

They played their last show together October 21st at LopLops before going separate ways, which was perfect timing for Hill to devote more time to Steeletown Girls.

Steele, on the other hand, started singing when she was about 4 or 5, taking informal lessons throughout her childhood. She also plays guitar and has a huge passion for song writing, which she describes as “really being about speaking your truth.”

Steele shares how she too got involved in Mustang Sally, “I was actually rejected my first year. I knew that I wanted to be on stage so I asked Greg Ryckman, the director, what I could do to improve. I took his suggestions in stride and the next year was accepted into the band.

Mustang Sally taught me the importance of discipline and dedication in an industry that often prides itself on unprofessional professionals and allowed me to become the performer I am today.”

Morgan belts it out with Mustang Sally.

Steele and Hill met when Hill was still in high school performing with Mustang Sally, and Steele was at Queen’s University completing a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology.

When Steele would come home, she would mentor the band and performed with them both in town and on their trips to Toronto.

In the summer of 2015, Steele really wanted to work on demos and start recording. Having seen Hill’s talent and Schmidt’s impressive studio setup, it seemed like the perfect match.

They played their first two shows that summer, while Hill was still part of The Din and Steele was still to and from southern Ontario for school.

“She came back for Mustang Sally’s tour in my grade 12 year and was like, hey wanna go to Nashville? Let’s go tour, I have some songs,” Hill laughed, recounting the spontaneous manner in which she and Steele went on their first tour – “State by State” in 2016 – across Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans.

“That was when we really had to put an image together and have a name for ourselves,” said Hill, “Before then, we were just Tammy Hill and Morgan Steele.”

Steeletown girls neon signAnd that is how Steeletown Girls – an homage to Steele’s surname and the Steeltown, Sault Ste. Marie, that they both call home.

“When we first decided to become the Steeletown Girls, I was a bit apprehensive about a social media presence. I knew it was a necessity, but I was still shy about the self-promotion aspect of it,” Steele admitted,

“Our following started to grow as we played throughout the summer of 2016, we played almost every weekend and sometimes twice a week, it was really cool to be able to have a concrete measure that showed people liked what we were doing.

When we finally went on the State by State tour, we updated the site at almost every stop and people were actually following our journey online. It was great to be able to kind of bring along the people that helped support us and allowed the tour to happen.”

One of the more intriguing elements of these two working together is how they can work together on music from afar.

When asked about it, Steele explained, “When I am home visiting, we usually spend a day together taking different photos, recording new videos, and laying down some tracks in the studio.

It gets a bit hectic but it’s still really fun for us. It’s really cool to see that people are still interested even when we haven’t played a live show in months. It kind of shows you the direction of the music industry these days. Self-management and marketing really is the new record label.”

It requires dedication and communication on the part of Steele, Tammy, and Schmidt.

Steele does a lot of the writing while Hill makes sure the tracks are laid and the instrumentation is what it is supposed to be, while Schmidt takes care of the technical stuff, all the way down to the final album.

Polishing the final product requires a lot of patience and hard work.

Steeletown Girls HeartbeatWhen asked what is next for the girls as they continue to gain traction despite being apart from each other, Hill explained, “Touring this summer is the game plan. Within the next month we have to order a pile of parts for the van to do a Canada West tour in August and Southern Ontario in September.”

The van Hill refers to is sitting in the driveway, a classic Volkwagen Bus, a 1982 Vanagon, perfect for the girls, Hill’s boyfriend – Jon Livingstone, the extra set of hands needed to make the tour happen – and their equipment to head out to as many gigs as possible.

While all of this is in the works, Steeletown Girls is also hard at work with Pretoria Hills to finalize their debut album – ‘Steeletown Girls.’ It has been narrowed down to 13 tracks with a modern country/pop feel.

They are hoping to release the full album by mid-May, which will be available in album form as well as on Google Play, Spotify, BandCamp, Apple Music, and through the CDDB.

In the mean time, you can head over to their BandCamp page to check out their first single, ‘Heartbeat.’

I would highly recommend that you do – after getting a sneak peak into some of their tunes, I think those who hold the Sault near and dear to their heart will find themselves connecting with Steeletown Girls’ music in a pretty special way.

You can also connect with Steeletown Girls on Facebook and Instagram to see what they are up to and when you can see them play!