10 New Country Artists You Need to Know: August 2017

From a singer-songwriter who mixes girl-group harmonies with Countrypolitan strings to a disciple of Keith Urban who loves the loop pedal

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Billy Strings

Billy Strings

Sounds Like: The head-banging speed of a thrash metal band channeled through flat-picked guitar and mandolin, with a touch of end-of-the-world psychedelia

For Fans of: Greensky Bluegrass, Ralph Stanley, String Cheese Incident

Why You Should Pay Attention: Born William Apostol in small town Michigan, Billy Strings idolized his father, Terry Barber, an amateur bluegrass picker who bought him his first guitar when he was 4 years old. Raised on his father's music, Strings played in a metal band in middle school called To Once Darkened Skies, but by the time he was in high school he found himself in a "dark" place, surrounded by drug abuse. While taking his mom's car for a joyride one day, he rediscovered his love for bluegrass, and once he'd finally graduated high school (after dropping out twice) he headed to Traverse City and found a mentor in veteran player Don Julin. The pair performed as a team until Strings struck out on his own in early 2016 and headed to Nashville. His debut LP, Turmoil & Tinfoil, produced by Greensky Bluegrass' Glenn Brown, is due September 22nd, and even features a cameo from his father.

He Says: "There's a similarity [between metal and bluegrass], not so much as far as the actual licks you're playing but just the sound of it. Fast banjo music, you could compare that to Slayer. It's just fast and hard and driving like that; it makes your heart race. I took some stuff with me from the metal band I was in and I couldn't let go of a few things. We jumped all over the stage and kicked each other and spit on people in the audience. I don't do that at my shows now, but I almost can't help but move around like that. There's so much energy there. When you go to a metal show and everyone's jumping around and jumping off stage – man, there's something really special going on there."

Hear for Yourself: "Turmoil & Tinfoil," the title track from Strings' upcoming debut, is a dark, spiraling jam that showcases the interplay between Strings' guitar work and his mandolin player, Drew Matulich. J.G.

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