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Billy Strings

A master of the guitar, banjo, and mandolin, Billy Strings is a singer and instrumentalist whose music starts with the sound and speed of bluegrass and folds in elements of rock, jazz, and psychedelia. Strings deals in acoustic music, but his lyrics are rooted in contemporary issues ("Dust in a Baggie" sounds like a classic bluegrass breakdown, but the lyrics deal with crystal meth addiction), and the music reinforces this fusion of past and present, melding modern melodic frameworks with fiddles and banjos. Strings' music was presented in its most traditional form on his 2016 self-titled EP, while 2019's Grammy-winning Home added a more rock-oriented production style and extended jams to his formula. 2021's Renewal (also Grammy-nominated) featured some of his most personal songwriting and ambitious music to date and 2022's Me/And/Dad found him celebrating his roots alongside his father, guitarist Terry Barber. Billy Strings was born William Apostol in 1992 in Lansing, Michigan. When he was two years old, his father died from a heroin overdose. His mother eventually remarried and the family relocated to Morehead, Kentucky for a spell before later settling in Muir, a small town in Michigan. Strings' step-father Terry Barber and uncle were both accomplished musicians, and the youngster was surrounded by acoustic music practically from birth. At the age of four, Strings asked for a guitar, and he was soon learning to play a second-hand instrument that cost 25 dollars. By the time he was six, he was good enough to join his dad for bluegrass picking parties, and his aunt nicknamed him Billy Strings. By the time he was in middle school, he had picked up an electric guitar and was playing in a heavy metal band. However, it led him into a circle of friends who were abusing drugs, and Strings believed it was leading him into a dark place. Determined to find a better path, Strings returned to playing bluegrass, and after completing high school, he moved to Traverse City, a city in Northern Michigan with a lively music and art scene. When Strings performed at an open-mike night at a club called the Hayloft, local pickers were impressed with his skills, and he soon found a mentor and picking partner in mandolinist Don Julin, who recorded a duo album with Strings titled Rock of Ages. (Strings also independently released a home-brewed solo album in 2014, Fiddle Tune X.) He also played with a bluegrass combo called M-23 Strings, and earned a reputation as one of the most promising talents in the Mitten State. In early 2016, Strings left Traverse City for Nashville, where the talented newcomer did not go unnoticed. In September 2017, he released Turmoil & Tinfoil, an effort that found him adding a wider variety of sounds and influences to his music. The album was produced by Glenn Brown, who had previously worked with Greensky Bluegrass and Luke Winslow-King. After landing a deal with roots music specialists Rounder Records, Strings returned in 2019 with his second solo outing, Home. It reached number one on Billboard's bluegrass albums chart and won a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album. Due to the COVID-19 shutdown of 2020, Strings had more time to devote to his songwriting, and 2021's Renewal found him exploring darker and more personal themes as well as broadening the instrumental palette of his band. It garnered him a further Grammy nomination and again topped the bluegrass chart. Strings' next project was also personal, but for a different reason. Building from a deep well of shared repertoire, he and his step-father Terry Barber recorded 2022's collaborative Me/And/Dad at Nashville's Sound Emporium, trading licks, harmonies, and lead vocal duties alongside a veteran crew that included players like Jerry Douglas, Ron McCoury, and Rob McCoury.
© Mark Deming /TiVo
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Discography

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