Billy Strings: ‘My Whole Foundation Is Music’
When Billy Strings, neé William Apostol, decided to call his 2019 album Home, he wasn't being metaphorical: Music is a very real home for the flat-picking virtuoso and singer-songwriter, dating all the way back to his earliest musical memories.
"My dad taught me to play guitar when I was little, and I never knew that it would be my entire -- my whole lifeline. My whole foundation is music, you know?" Strings reflects to The Boot. "A lot of the songs I do, I learned from my dad, and we're still singing the same s--t that me and him used to sing when I was a little kid."
Strings' dad taught him bluegrass picking, which remains a strong element in his music today. Around age 11, though, he got an electric guitar and started listening to acts such as Jimi Hendrix and Black Sabbath.
"I think what happened is just that I wanted to play music with people that were my age," Strings adds, cracking up. "I had always played with my dad and his older friends. These guys were -- I was, like, seven years old, and they were about 45. When I got into middle school, I wanted to play music my own age, instead of old bluegrass guys."
Initially, Strings wasn't even a fan of the kind of music his friends wanted to play. "The only kind of music that was happening was this heavy metal music, and at first I couldn't stand it, but eventually I acquired a taste for it. Eventually, I joined a band, and we played some shows," he recalls. "So some of that metal energy was still with me when I started this Billy Strings outfit.
"I learned how to play music by playing bluegrass," Strings adds, "but I learned how to perform in a metal band."
Those influences and more all converge fluidly in Strings' music today. From a songwriting standpoint, he says it's never really made sense to him to stay within the boundaries of just one genre.
"It all just goes out the window, and I'm just trying to write a song. It could turn into a rock 'n' roll song, it could be a straight-up bluegrass tune, it could be a slow, sappy ballad -- whatever," he relates. "I'm not gonna take every song that I write and be like, 'Okay, how do I make this a bluegrass song?'
"Genres are just a weird way to categorize music, because music is so boundary-less. It's like water: It moves everywhere," Strings points out. "There's just no end to what you can do with music. So I think to just settle down on one genre, for me, would be nearly impossible."
Fortunately for Strings, he's found a fanbase that doesn't see his multi-stylistic approach to making music as incongruous. "I'm lucky, because my fans and friends and all of my supporters, they just wanna hear me for me," he muses. "I think that's why a lot of folks like our music, is because it is versatile and eclectic."
As for his earliest bluegrass teacher -- his dad -- Strings says he's gotten nothing but support from him for his dynamic style. "He's just really proud, I think. He's mostly happy that I have a good life," the singer says.
"I owe it to him," Strings adds. "He taught me everything, when I was little. I'm really grateful for it all. But I think him and my mom are really proud, and it's just really cool."
Meet More of The Boot's 2020 Artists to Watch