Billy Strings takes things up a notch for Renewal, a long-awaited collection of original songs produced by Jonathan Wilson. But is it bluegrass? Or is it rock ‘n’ roll? Perhaps more on the psychedelic side? Truly there’s no right (or wrong) answer to these questions. As Strings himself puts it, “I’ve learned, you’ve just got to let the song do its thing. So that’s what I try to do — write songs and let them come out however they do.”
Billy Strings is no stranger to the festival circuit, bluegrass or otherwise. His career trajectory over the last few years has netted him international acclaim, a handful of IBMA Awards — including Entertainer of the Year at this year’s IBMA Awards show — and even a Grammy for his 2019 album, Home. A Michigan native who now lives in Nashville, Strings says, “I called my last record Home, and then a few months later that’s where we all got stuck. Right now, we’re heading back into opening back up, and doing some more touring with real concerts and real shows. Hopefully we can renew everything. I think it’s an interesting word. It reminds me of how every morning is a renewed day and another chance.”
With Renewal, Strings seizes upon the opportunity to surprise his listeners and to expand his own musical horizons. By winning the Grammy, he discovered a newfound confidence to consider every creative path that presented itself. Because he’s bringing in his touring bandmates Billy Failing (banjo, vocals, piano), Royal Masat (bass, vocals), and Jarrod Walker (mandolin, vocals, guitar), as well as guests John Mailander (violin), Spencer Cullum Jr. (pedal steel) and Grant Millikem (synth), Renewal is far more than just a singer-songwriter record, even if it exposes his own mindset more than any of his material to date.
“I listen to this album now and it’s emotional,” he says. “I could sit there and tweak it forever, but there’s a point where it’s like building a house of cards. Yeah, I could add an extra tower on top, but it might collapse. I’ve always doubted myself, and I still do, but this album makes me think, ‘Hey, you’re doing all right, kid. You just need to keep going.’”
Read our exclusive two-part interview with Billy Strings here, and enjoy our BGS Essentials playlist below.
Photo credit: Jesse Faatz