Roots music is at its best when it places greater emphasis on telling powerful stories than it does adhering to any conventional genre boundaries. With that in mind, Billy Strings’ new album Turmoil & Tinfoil is a great roots album.
The Nashville-based player and songwriter is known for his virtuosic guitar chops and explosive live performances, but, while this latest effort does boast chops and energy in spades, he’s also a talented lyricist, telling honest, often painful tales about addiction, incarceration, racism, and remaining positive in the face of negativity and, of course, turmoil.
Strings gave American Songwriter an intimate look at how each of the songs on his new album Turmoil & Tinfoil came to be. Below that, stream the album in its entirety before its September 22 release date.
“On The Line” – Although in this time on Earth it may strike a political nerve, I wrote this song after I saw an episode of The Phil Donahue Show from 1995 where a bunch of old folks were criticizing Marilyn Manson and some other young rockers about moshpits at concerts. They just don’t understand.
“Meet Me At The Creek” – I grew up right on the Maple River in Muir, Michigan. Sometimes when I was having a rough day I would wander alone by the river and just let the sound of the flowing water calm me down.
“All Of Tomorrow” – When I was little I heard my Dad singing lots of songs. Among our favorite singers was the voice with a heart: Mac Wiseman. I wanted to write a song that I could play out of that big open A chord like Mac. It’s a song about a regrettable relationship decision.
“While I’m Waiting Here” – In Ionia County there are probably more prisons than traffic lights. Even as early as high school, I saw some of my close friends overdose, commit suicide, and often end up serving time in a correctional facility, so naturally incarceration is a topic I sometimes write about. This song started as just a sad prison song. I wanted to write a song about some fella who’s stuck in there worried more about his relationship with his partner than his sentence. When I wrote the last verse I realized that the character in the song was in denial about what really went down.
“Living Like An Animal” – I love playing clawhammer banjo and I wanted to have at least one old-timey song on the album. It’s sort of free-form, meaning we did not spend a lot of time working on the instrumental part of it and instead we just jammed on it for a while and let the song go wherever it went.
“Turmoil & Tinfoil” – This song is about missing someone who is standing right in front of you. If you’ve ever had a friend who is addicted to hard drugs you might know what I’m talking about.
“Salty Sheep” – When listening to all the tracks from the record I felt that it was lacking one thing: a hardcore flatpicking guitar medley. I’ve always looked up to Bryan Sutton and have had the pleasure of becoming friends with him over the past few years. So I called him up and asked if he wanted to drop by the studio to pick a tune with me, an offer he graciously accepted. I just love the sound of two guitars.
“Spinning” – We are all a part of something much bigger than this.
“Dealing Despair” – I was absolutely pissed off when I wrote this song after seeing yet another unarmed black man shot down by evil police officers.
“Pyramid Country” – LOVE & GRATITUDE
“Doin’ Things Right” – Most of the songs I write are not very happy or positive. I felt the urge to write at least one song for the album that has a good message behind it. This one is about dissolving hatred and being there for one another. We are all a link in a chain and we have to be the strongest link that we possibly can, otherwise the whole thing will break. Please be kind.
“These Memories Of You” – I grew up pickin’ and singing with my Dad and was very fortunate to be exposed to traditional bluegrass music as a kid. I remember falling in love with not just a specific song, but just the way that real mountain bluegrass harmony sounds. The high vocal part sort of soars above the lead and there’s really nothing better than singing with someone and having that harmony lock into place. When I came up with this tune I wanted to play it straight and I always knew I would record it relatively stripped down around a single mic. I had to sing this one with my Dad because my voice sounds the best when it’s right next to his.