How Billy Strings Chose His Way On The Other Side
It’s not just the sound bluegrass that Strings reinvents but also images. Sitting on his bus as 6,000 fans drifted into a sold-out amphitheater near Portland, Ore. This month, Strings held a slender black vaporizer in one hand while holding a $ 300 electronic bong with the other. . Laughing under a hat that said “Sex & Drugs & Flatt & Scruggs”, he looked more like Shaggy’s fully tattooed brother from “Scooby-Doo” than those bluegrass patriarchs.
He joked on the cover of “Dueling Banjos,” made famous in the movie “Deliverance,” with full BDSM badges and bluegrass posters mocked to look like antique auction flyers. He touted the hallucinogen DMT for making him a nicer person. Browsing through his recent Spotify favorites, where Juice WRLD rubbed shoulders with Marty Stuart, Strings admitted he was proud of his friendship with Post Malone and his work with the masked black singer RMR angered traditionalists. “I see racist bullshit all the time in bluegrass,” he said, with an unusual flash of anger.
RMR was floored by Strings’ rebellious streak and happily agreed to sing on “Wargasm,” a plea for peace that suggests Alice in Chains is going country. “It’s music for the old bearded guys, but it didn’t fit that mold,” said RMR, which went viral in 2020 by covering Rascal Flatts in the midst of an armory-wielding crew. “He was dope, because he was different.”
As much as Strings loves to push boundaries, his songwriting appeals to the same deep sincerity that Bill Monroe embraced nearly a century ago. Strings sings the woes of modern America with disarming simplicity, even if it distorts the sound. His first blow, “Dust in a bag” sprints through the parable of an addict who heeds too late warnings. “Tourme and aluminum foil”, the title track from her debut album, mourns the way meth burned her own mother, her face pale with exhaustion.
Strings’ third album, “Renewal,” largely delights questions of the heart. In May, he proposed to his longtime girlfriend and tour manager, Ally Dale, so he celebrates the discovery of love during the tender dawn of “In the Morning Light”. But there’s also climate change anxiety, small town boredom and a nine-minute fight song to fight depression, “Hide and Seek.” Despite the instrumental gaiety of the song, the chorus comes from the last text messages sent by a friend before committing suicide.
The strings called this “sublimation,” or turning life’s darker matter into positivity. It’s more powerful, he suggested, than any guitar trick. Through hours of therapy and nights of singing to strangers, he also did it with his parents. These days, they are largely sober, although many of their old friends continue to party or stay in jail; her mother developed what she called a coconut water addiction. The strings have winced before when they got to shows, but last year he took his stepdad on tour. Their agitation gave him a reason to succeed.
“They’ve done pretty well, because look at me now,” he laughed as he exhaled another tuft of weed smoke. “They couldn’t take care of me, but they taught me what helped me take care of myself. As a parent, isn’t that your job? “