Music

First Listen: Bluegrass Virtuoso Billy Strings’ ‘Dealing Despair’

Photo courtesy of Billy Strings

Bluegrass virtuoso Billy Strings was born William Apostle, but he earned his fitting stage name at an early age.

“When I was little– about six years old– you’d see me sitting there next to my dad and all of his older friends trying to pick along with them,” Strings tells Wide Open Country. “My Aunt Mondi, she looked over and gave me that nickname one time at a party. She said ‘Look at little Billy Strings trying to hang in there.’ Years later I moved to Traverse City and started playing a couple open mic nights around town. When Mondi passed away I wrote my name on the chalkboard as Billy Strings. Then all hell broke loose.”

Strings developed his love for bluegrass music from his father, who he calls his greatest influence. He started playing guitar at four-years-old and joined a metal band at 13. Soon he was meshing the high-energy spirit of metal shows with bluegrass music.

“When we performed we were just jumping all over the stage head banging and just freaking out. I think a lot of that just kind of crossed over into what I’m doing now,” Strings says. “I try to get the audience into it. If they get into it, then I get even more into it and then we’re all in this thing together.”

Strings brings that same energy to “Dealing Despair,” his stirring new song about police brutality.

“I just heard another unarmed black man got shot down by police and I was awful pissed off when I wrote that song,” Strings says. “I think we’re living in some kind of fucked up times here and people need to come to come together and stand up together. We’re all on the same team.”

Strings’ upcoming album Turmoil and Tinfoil (out Sept. 22) was produced by Glenn Brown and features a high caliber roster of Nashville musicians, including Molly Tuttle and Shad Cobb.

Turmoil and Tinfoil is not strictly your grandfather’s bluegrass music, but a mix of old soul string band sounds and experimental psychedelic folk. Strings says the album has something for everyone.

“I don’t know if it sounds like the past or the future–maybe both at the same time,” Strings says. “I really think the album is a great snapshot of where we’re at right now, and I think it’s gonna freak some people out because it’s definitely not your contemporary bluegrass album.”

Billy Strings is currently on tour across the U.S. and is part of the 2017 AmericanaFest lineup.

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First Listen: Bluegrass Virtuoso Billy Strings’ ‘Dealing Despair’