Some people are saying Billy Strings is the future of Bluegrass music. But when you listen to Strings’ new album “Home,” his second studio album due out on Sept 27, it’s clear he’s the past, present and the future of bluegrass music. Born William Apostol, the Lansing, Michigan native and now East Nashville resident was nicknamed “Billy Stings” by his aunt who saw his talent with multiple stringed instruments and the nickname stuck. Although there are many, his two major influences are his stepfather Terry Barber and Doc Watson. Those influences from the past and classic bluegrass sounds can be heard through out Home.
Music was important to Strings from an early age, and when his family saw some tough times, his stepfather decided to sell his Martin D-93 guitar to help pay some bills. This hit Strings hard because that guitar meant so much to his dad and his family. “When I was learning how to play guitar, that’s the guitar I was sitting in front of. My dad was playing that guitar and I was playing my little Harmony or what ever it was I had back then. It was such a family jewel. And when I was a little kid my dad would say ‘son, this is going to be your guitar someday,’ so later on things got a little tough and he had to sell it to keep our bills paid. It took me seven years to find it.” says Strings.
Searching online, Ebay, Ederly Instruments, guitar forums etc. Strings, by some sort of a miracle did indeed find the guitar when he was 17. Limited edition D-93s are not that common so that might have helped a little. He Identified the guitar through wear and dings that he remembered. Though he found the guitar (it was in Massachusetts) he still didn’t have the money. He asked the owner if they could work out a payment plan to which the owner reluctantly agreed. Three installments of $700. “I took back pop bottles, sold bags of weed, what ever I had to do.” said Strings.
As far as the present goes, if you look at Strings tour schedule, nearly one third of the shows are already sold out. He’s as hot as you get in Bluegrass and still going straight up. He’s on a very similar track as Molly Tuttle, another Nashville.com favorite. And the two were actually roommates for about three years when Strings first got to town. And the’ve both garnered major Bluegrass awards. Strings received the 2016 IBMA Momentum Award for Instrumentalist of the year while Tuttle received the 2017 IBMA Guitar Player of the Year Award.
The future can be heard in the haunting melody of the title track “Home” and especially in the instrumental, “Guitar Peace” which is a guitar piece that has the intermittent electronic sounds of the harmonium and bucala drifting in and out. “Guitar Peace” was inspired by a documentary Strings had recently watched about George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. “I was holding my guitar (in the studio) and I just tried to vibe out for a few minutes, spontaneously. Everybody else was having lunch and I said hey Glen I have an idea. I rolled a up a big ‘ol joint and just got really stoned. And I had Glen play the harmonium and just sat in there and played that thing. It’s like a weird little track. And then we put some bucala on it. It’s like an old school synthesizer.”
I asked Strings how he felt about his current career path and if he had any desire to hit the mainstream. “I mean, we’re doing just fine. The more people that come out to our shows the better. That’s all good and I don’t know about the future but I don’t really like the sound of ‘mainstream.’ I think like just doing it grassroots like we do, I interact with the fans. I’m still at a small enough level that I can take pictures with people and even hang out with people. If people come out and support us I love to support them back.”
Strings will be playing the Amercanafest on Sept. 11 at the Cannery Ballroom at 11:30 pm and we highly recommend you try to catch this show. What ever you’ve heard on his two albums although good doesn’t compare to his amazingly energetic live show.
Pre-order the new album here.