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Billy Strings Talks New LP, Being Billed As Bluegrass' Future, Heavy Metal & Mental Health

Billy Strings

Photo: Daniel Mendoza/Recording Academy

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Billy Strings Talks New LP, Being Billed As Bluegrass' Future, Heavy Metal & Mental Health

The virtuosic bluegrass guitar star opens up about his forthcoming album, his rock and metal influences and how he copes with the pressures of touring and being hailed as the future of a genre

GRAMMYs/Aug 8, 2019 - 10:31 pm

Once you hear Billy Strings do his thing, you'll get it. His unhinged flat-picking guitar playing kicks the tradition of bluegrass into new territory with one foot while keeping the other firmly planted in the genre's rich tradition. As a young artist, his songwriting, already scary good, seems to only be improving. For good reason, Stings is being called the future of bluegrass. And even though seeing is believing, and he proves he's worthy of the attention every night he takes the stage, that's still a lot of pressure for one person.

We sat down with Strings recently at Newport Folk to talk about how he handles the challenges of all the attention and success, how other genres like rock and metal have weaved their way into his astonishing guitar work, the collaborative process of making his forthcoming album, HOME, and more.

You're new album HOME is on its way, Sept. 27. Can you tell us how it was recorded?

We made it back in January over about 10 days or 12 days I think.

So lots of live tracking then?

Yeah, we just all were isolated in different booths and stuff, but we just try to lay the tracks down and I'll play it and live track it. Yeah, I think most of the songs we just end up doing that way. It kind of feels more live that way too than if we played the music and then did the vocals and then did this and that. We kind of just do it all at once like we do at our concert, you know?

I think there's a collaborative element of that, and a collaboration is a theme to this album. Why is it important to you, as a solo artist?

For me it's just I love playing music with my friends. Like I just did with Molly Tuttle up there [on stage at Newport Folk], but yeah, Jerry Douglas played some on the record and sometimes collaborating with people like that, it's just inspiring. It kind of puts a fire underneath you and keeps you going. When I get to play with my heroes, it really inspires me. It's good for you.

There are a lot of the people who want you to carry the torch for bluegrass, bring traditional bluegrass into the new generation. Obviously, you know the history and you come from the history, but you're doing something new. How do you navigate that as an artist?

A lot of people have said, and I would believe that it's true that you kind of have to know the origins and to know traditional bluegrass before you can then branch out. I think there's something true about that. I grew up playing bluegrass with my dad and very traditional bluegrass, I cut my teeth on it, but then somewhere along the way when I was a teenager, I got into heavy metal and rock and roll and all sorts of different music as I grew up and branched out a little bit.

As a writer, I try not to block off those other genres for inspiration as well. I'll let all the rock and roll and the metal and all that stuff that I've listened to inspire me while songwriting just as much as a bluegrass. And also, even if I'm writing a song that's not very bluegrass, it sort of comes out because that's how I learned how to play. It always kind of, you'll hear that flavor in there, I guess.

Yeah, is there something specific about rock or metal that has worked its way into your style?

I think it's more just about our live show. I think the most important thing that we do is our live show. I think that's where we are really best seen is on stage, in a concert venue somewhere. We're gonna make records and we're going to do our best to recreate that live setting on an album, but we're a live music band. Every night it's different. We could play the same song, but it's totally sometimes different. I don't know, we just try to jam with each other.

How often do you practice to play at such a high level?

I mostly even play on stage every day. Sometimes I never get to practice because I'm always on stage. I was talking to my friend David Grisman about that the other day and like, "Man, I never have time to practice." He's like, "Well you could work up new songs and play them and we do that." But, we play a lot of gigs, and sometimes when I'm not playing gigs, I finally get a day or two off after several weeks on tour. Man, it's almost like you just want to take a nap and catch up.

But, I would like to practice more. Honestly, I think I could do better about that. I'd like to write more music. I'd like to get out my metronome more and practice with that. I'd like to just practice learning my fretboard, everything. I mean I'm still trying to get better.

You spend a lot of time playing shows and touring. For a lot of artists, mental health has become a topic we talk about now, where it used to be avoided. What do you do to kind of stay grounded when you're away from home?

The main thing that I do is I see a therapist and I talk to that person and I've been doing that for a while. I had a lot of anxiety back in January maybe before we started making the record and I don't think it was based around the record. It's based around a lot of other things. Things when I was young and just everything, everybody has their own troubles and that kind of things, but certain things can haunt you or if you keep things inside and don't talk about them, that stuff can come out as an anxiety.

It's almost if you have a pot of boiling water, all these emotions and things that you wish you would have said or maybe thought about or this or that and you put the lid on, it starts boiling and a little bit of steam is gonna get out no matter how hard you hold that lid on. Might as well just take it off.

That's what I do is I talk, I see a therapist and I would recommend it to anybody who struggles at all in that way. I think it is an important thing to talk about and I'm certainly not ashamed of that or anything. I have to work on myself and I think a lot of other people do too. I've lost a lot of friends to, whether it's substance abuse or depression and anxiety and that kind of stuff is very real to me.

Unfortunately, I do believe in this line of work as a musician, entertainer, an actor or actress, those kinds of folks, because there is this added amount of pressure, I think a lot of times anxiety and depression sometimes, I think a lot of musicians deal with that or I think maybe a lot of therapists or psychiatrists see a lot of musicians or entertainers because we're like in the public eye and there's a lot of stress involved.

A lot of musicians depend on things. I know a lot of people that are in bands drink a lot and that kind of stuff. It's easy to do. People are always handing your stuff too man when you're out there. People are offering you everything and it's hard to say no when there's a party and it's, until you start to have anxiety and stuff and that's, man, I just, I do everything I can to try to stay healthy. I try to make sure I get enough sleep, make sure I drink enough water, don't be doing drugs except for psychedelics, but yeah, just try to take care of myself and stay zenned out brother.

One more question: What's inspiring you right now?

I think my earlier life, I use [it] as inspiration a lot. When I grew up, I grew up in a small town and I saw a lot of drugs and stuff, a lot of substance abuse and I saw also that those people drove themselves down into a dark hole and that they can never get out of, prison and overdose and stuff like that. It's like, I didn't want to be a bum. I wanted to do something good with my life. I think just seeing that kind of helped me run towards the light in the right direction.

It's great that we get to travel and spread the light and meet people and play music for people and hopefully brighten somebody's day. Also, I've got to mention my father who taught me how to play. It's just great to sort of carry his torch in a way and to kind of, I'm doing it for him and from my mom and him.

Molly Tuttle On 'When You're Ready,' Her Modern Nashville Bluegrass Classic | Newport Folk 2019

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show

Glenn Danzig

Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images

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Original Misfits Unleash One Night Only L.A. Reunion Show

Dark punk legends to play first show with Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only since last year's Riot Fest reunion

GRAMMYs/Aug 22, 2017 - 05:28 am

There's big news today for punk-rock fans aware that the Misfits made much more than just T-shirts.

The massively influential punk band announced a special show touted as the "only 2017 performance in this world… or any world" and billed as "The Original Misfits" in Los Angeles at the Forum on Dec. 30.

This will be the first Misfits show featuring original singer Glenn Danzig and original bassist Jerry Only with long-time guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein since the band reunited for a pair of Riot Fest appearances in Chicago and Denver in 2016. Last year's Riot Fest gigs, which featured drummer Dave Lombardo, marked the first time in 33 years the original Misfits members played together.

"OK Los Angeles, you've waited almost 35 years for this, here's your chance to see the "Original Misfits" in this Exclusive L.A. only performance." said Glenn Danzig. "No Tour, No BS, just one night of dark metal-punk hardcore brutality that will go down in the history books. See you there."

Tickets for this "one night only" show go on sale Friday, August 25.

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.