Hilton Head native Hannah Wicklund wasted no time finding her path in life.
At age 9, she started her rock 'n' roll band, The Steppin Stones. Over the subsequent decade, they've played over 2,000 live shows, moving from two-hour cover sets in Savannah's City Market to tours with The Marshall Tucker Band.
Wicklund serves as the band's primary songwriter and only permanent member. Over the years, the group has evolved dramatically from being an amalgam of a cover band, playing classic rock from Tom Petty and Neil Young, to producing some original material, to playing all original rock 'n' roll.
"We started making the transition a long time ago," Wicklund said. "But it was a slow build. We integrated. Once we started putting music out, we were still doing three- to four-hour cover shows and selling our original music there for years."
Last year, the 20-year-old Wicklund moved from her South Carolina home to Nashville, further shifting the band into the new direction. For their fourth self-titled studio album, due out this month, Wicklund teamed up with South Carolina native Sadler Vaden, a guitarist with Jason Isbell's 400 Unit.
"I had heard his name for years," Wicklund said. "People in South Carolina and Georgia had been mentioning that I should meet Sadler and we should work on something together. When we started thinking about producers, that popped into my head.
"Sadler is a Charleston guy. He's a killer guitar player. It was a good pairing. He definitely got across what I wanted to in the album. It helps that we have the same roots. He loves the classic rock style.
"It's my favorite album that I've done. It sounds more mature. Everything was drawn from real life this time. In years past, there were a couple of filler songs on each album that I had to write. This one was more authentic all the way through."
Recorded at The Smoakstack in Nashville, the latest album features several co-writes with Wicklund and Vaden, including the new single, "Bomb Through Breeze." The co-writes, a popular process in the Nashville scene, is a new venture for Wicklund, who mostly worked alone on songs in the past.
"I think I've matured as a songwriter in the last couple of years. This past year was definitely different. I did some co-writes for the first time. That was new, in the way it evolved. It's different when you get into the room with someone and get acclimated to their writing style.
"I always feel like my sound is more blues rock when I am live. It's more rock 'n' roll, straight up, when it's on the album. I'd say it's definitely in that vein. Sadler did a good job of tightening it up. So everything is more intentional on the album. I think it's more of a rock 'n' roll album.
"Musically, I've definitely done a lot of growing up. As you get older as a guitar player, you learn to give some space sometimes. It's not always about playing a million notes. Phrasing and space is really important. I think that was brought into this album a little bit more intentionally as well."
For her next tour in support of the new album, which includes the Jan. 11 show at The Stage on Bay, Wicklund is teaming up with her brother, Luke Mitchell, for the aptly named Sibling Rivalry Tour. Mitchell fronts the Charleston Americana roots rock band The High Divers, which will open for Wicklund on tour.
The siblings returned to an old mantra to find the right fit for a touring group: "What would Tom Petty do?" For the Sibling Rivalry Tour, Mitchell and The High Divers' bass player Kevin Early will also be The Steppin Stones behind Wicklund, mimicking the famous 1986 Petty and Bob Dylan True Confessions Tour, where Petty and The Heartbreakers opened for Dylan and then played as his backing band.
"I am really looking forward to it," Wicklund said. "He's an amazing drummer. We have the same musical style. It's been years since we've played together. The High Divers and I will be doing some calibration on some stuff, too. There's going to be a few songs that people will recognize. It's going to be awesome.
"My brother's band is awesome. They have the type of music that even though you've never heard it before, you feel like you've heard it before, in the best way possible."
IF YOU GO
What: Hannah Wicklund and The Steppin Stones, The High Divers
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 11
Where: The Stage on Bay, 1200 W. Bay
Info: hannahwicklund.com; savconcerts.com