There’s a certain Chris Stapleton-esque quality to Steve Moakler, the No. 4 artist on Taste of Country’s 2016 Hot Artists to Watch list. Most in the mainstream haven’t heard of him. But if you ask around Nashville you’ll find most have a story that begins with, “I saw him years ago at …”

Moakler is a grinder. He’s also a "Riser," but we’ll get there.

“I will say, my career so far has been a very slow, but very steady ride,” he says, calling from Boston before several sold out shows with Lori McKenna. “And I’m starting to love that pace.”

The Pittsburgh native came to Nashville years ago without a clear idea of who he was, or what genre he fit in. Not having definition was a struggle, but quickly he embedded himself among songwriters around town, playing in circles and writing with anyone he could, as often as he could. “There Goes My Life,” a 2003 hit from Kenny Chesney, was Moakler's country hook — the song that grabbed him so that other songs in the genre could infect him.

Like so many singers of the modern era, Moakler is compared to singers from outside the format (Ryan Adams, John Mayer, Bruce Springsteen), but he also gets matched to Eric Church at times, which he calls an honor. Dierks Bentley and Thomas Rhett are two artists he closely associates with now. Moakler co-wrote “Riser,” the title track from Bentley’s most recent studio album. The superstar and host of the 2016 ACM Awards has been celebrating the song and its writers (including Travis Meadows) at every opportunity since. As a result, Moakler's writing calendar quickly filled up with superstar co-writes in the months that followed. Gordy Sampson, Barry Dean, Luke Laird, Tom Douglas and Casey Beathard are a few of the hitmakers he’s gotten to know.

Be honest, be yourself and don’t be driven by the wrong things.

“Not only have we written together, we’ve gotten to write new song for my new album together,” Moakler says with genuine shock and humility, referring to an album planned for 2016. “It’s been a really cool thing.”

It wasn’t “Riser” alone that shot Steve Moakler's career trajectory upward, however. Really, it was a combination of a few specific things and media mentions, plus years worth of hard work paying off. His social media following began growing more quickly — a result of a more refined approach. He’s particularly strong on Instagram, something he attributes to being married to a very visual self-starter and his team at Creative Nation. When posting a picture on the social media site, he works to make sure it’s part of a brand that’s slowly building.

“Does it look like a cohesive thought, the way a song or record does?” Moakler asks himself. “It’s a challenge for me, but (I’ve enjoyed) channeling my artistry and kind of view it the same way.”

Fans notice. Three girls from Carnegie Melon recently asked him to speak at their graduation because they appreciated his message. At that point, the singer wasn’t aware he had one, but they helped him put words to who he is.


“Be honest, be yourself and don’t be driven by the wrong things.”

“Suitcase” was written Dean, Laird and Thomas Rhett four years ago, and Moakler heard it while at his publisher’s office. “It just felt like it was my song. Not that I had written, but it just felt so natural to me,” he explains, adding that it became his go-to whenever he’d pick up a guitar. It didn’t make Rhett’s first album, or his second, so he safely assumed the “Crash and Burn” singer was over it.

Spotify picked it up and named Moakler to its list of Artists to Watch in 2016, as well. He'll have more music coming before winter ends if things go according to plan, he shares. He'll also embark on his third headlining tour of clubs across America, and this trek promises more venues than ever. The long, slow road to success is sometimes the most satisfying, it seems. It's now paying off for this Hot Artist to Watch.

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