Produced by October for Founders Brewing Co.
On the penultimate night of the Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades took the stage at Chop Shop for a rousing, toe-tapping performance. According to guitarist Adam Greuel, “We’re a progressive old time-y bluegrass rock type band from Wisconsin.” But they are more than that. They are beer-lovers, friends and have acted as a gateway for a new audience to discover the unapologetic joy of bluegrass music. October caught up with Greuel before the show over a round of beers at nearby Estelle’s.
Have you played at the Chicago Bluegrass and Blues Festival before?
We’ve played a fair amount in Chicago, everywhere from the Vic Theater to Evanston Space to Lincoln Hall. We’ve played at Chop Shop a couple times before, but we’ve never played this festival. I have a good feeling about it. It took us a little bit to build a scene here, but it’s now to the point where you start recognizing faces. We always prided ourselves at having a community behind the music. The Grateful Dead have that kind of feel—we’ve always appreciated that and looked up to it.
So, what is a ‘progressive old time-y bluegrass rock type band’?
At our core, we’re best friends. Our band didn’t start with the intent of being a band. We were all friends who played acoustic instruments. From that, people started randomly booking us. We were all in college at the time, and the next thing we knew, we all were graduated. Instead of pursuing what we thought we were going to be doing with our lives, we thought maybe we should take this leap and tour around with our best friends for a while and have a shit-ton of fun.
That’s what happened and I think our sound has always been this juxtaposition of the five individuals that make up the band. When you’re close friends, you have respect for one another. It was never like, we’re going to be a bluegrass band, we’re just going to make the music we make that feels right, that feels fun. I think, over time, after being together for eight years, you get better at being yourself. With this last record, I think we’ve gotten better at embracing our musical curiosities—our freaky side.
Tell me a little about this record.
The Ode just came out. It’s produced by our buddy Dave Simonett from Trampled by Turtles–awesome dude, awesome friend. The Infamous Stringdusters just started a new label called Tape Time Records and we’re the first release on that label, which is super exciting. We’ve never done the label route before, so that was really cool.
But for the record, how we go about that process, we’ve got five songwriters in the band and we just kinda sit down in one of our living rooms with a case of beer and play all of our songs for one another. By the end of a couple nights, we kinda know what’s going to work the best and that’s how we know what to put on the record. It’s an organic way of looking at it. The best record-making times are when everyone is super comfortable. There’s a thing you can hear in the music—you can hear when the vibe was really good in the studio and that’s how this record was for us.
How do you describe the atmosphere at your shows?
I’ve always been conscious about being a conduit to having people be able to be themselves. I think our goofiness on stage, at times, it comes across as a lack of professionalism. But I think we found that it makes people comfortable…Being relaxed on stage then, potentially, helps people do the same. I like to think that our shows are just a conduit to a really good time, where you can actually stop worrying about all the other shit that’s going on in your life. I think that’s true for music in general, but we definitely try to foster that.
Is there a trick to creating that more relaxed, fun atmosphere when you are performing?
It’s just about listening and being super open-minded. The five of us have that because we’re such good friends. If somebody’s having a hard time with various things in life, everybody’s there and supportive of it and we just put it all out on stage. Music has that tendency to relieve stress and heal. For some people, to save. I think, for me personally, it’s hard to imagine my life without playing music.
What drew five guys from Wisconsin to bluegrass music?
I think it’s different for every guy in the band. There’s a longstanding tradition in Wisconsin, believe it or not, of Bluegrass music. There’s this festival called Mole Lake Bluegrass that laid the groundwork. All the bluegrass greats, from Bill Monroe to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to New Grass Revival and John Hartford, they all played at this festival. For us, I think it’s just the simplicity of not having to lug around amps and being able to whip out our instruments in our living room and start messing around.
When we were in college, we would be picking everywhere, whenever we felt like it, from friends’ house parties to the front lawn of campus. I remember one time, I probably downed a 30-rack of Pabst and strapped antlers to my head—we were just trying to play bluegrass Christmas songs a couple days before holiday break in the front of our dorm room. We got in trouble, because a ton of people came and it turned into a total ruckus. It was a great time. But, I think we just naturally gravitated towards it. That’s the thing with out band: Being natural and going with he flow, so to speak.
I think a lot of the things you talked about can be applied to beer—it’s about creating an inviting, relaxed, fun atmosphere. How does beer come into play in your music career?
Look, beer has been a part of our band—it, in part, created our band—so we definitely imbibe before, during and after our shows to varying degrees based upon the night and the person. We started back in the day in college, everyone was so broke, so we were drinking light beers: Hamm’s, PBR, Blatz. We were drinking all those Milwaukee cheap beers. Then, we got more and more into our local craft beers—Central Waters is 20 minutes down the road from where we went to school.
I think everybody in the band drinks almost all of the different kinds of beers. For me, it depends on the season. I have a kegerator at my house and that’s got Mud Puppy Porter in it from Central Waters, because that’s a winter beer. When summer hits, I’m chasing dank, fruity ales or pale ales. And then Oktoberfest, of course, those are my favorite styles.
Do you have a favorite beer?
When I get home from tour, there’s this bourbon barrel stout from Central Waters and it’s super boozy. You drink two of them and feel super comfy. It’s super thick, so you don’t want to drink it fast. That’s my favorite beer to drink when I’m home from tour. But I also run a maple syrup operation up in northern Wisconsin. We have like 600 trees tapped and that’s happening right now. When I’m out there, of course I’m drinking beers in the woods. There, I’m into All Day IPA from Founders. I really like Pinner. Probably my favorite beer, now that I think about it, is from New Glarus. It’s in southern Wisconsin. They have Moon Man, which is just an awesome, awesome beer. If I had to look back at where my beer money has gone, it might be 50-percent to Moon Man.
For the most part, does everyone in the band have similar drinking preferences?
Kind of, everybody is all over the place. Last night, in the green room, for whatever reason, they gave us a shit-ton of Miller High Life in a bottle—the glass bottles. This was in Iowa City. We drank so many Miller High Life last night, because we insisted they were considerably better out of the bottle than in the can. Sometimes, you have the rider for your show and different people have different opinions about what should be on there. Right now, to keep it mixed up, a 12-pack of local, craft beer is what it says to keep it open-ended. And then Pabst. Because, when you’re playing, you kinda want a shitty beer. You want a light beer that you can just drink like water.
When we were in the studio—you’re playing all day and trying to stay mellow—we just had tons and tons of Miller Lite in the cans and just guzzled down Miller Lite. Then, the night would come, and that’s when we would bust out the knockout beer—we call them—the 8 to 10-percent bourbon barrel stouts and shit like that. And then our buddies at Central Waters Brewing Company ended up brewing a beer for us. It’s HHG APA. We call it the Americana pale ale.
What was that experience like?
They’re my homies for many years, though friendship and playing some crazy shows at their brewery. It was really born over late-night beers at 2 a.m. We started exploring it and we have a song “Whiskey,” so I wondered if we should do a bourbon-barrel beer, but they already have a really, really good bourbon-barrel beer. It’s untouchably good; there’s no doing another one. So, my idea was to do a super light pale ale, in line with All Day IPA or Pinner from Oskar Blues. I think, with both of those beers I mentioned, they use Citra hops or Mosaic or both. I didn’t reference those beers at the time, but that’s what I had in my mind and they used Citra and Mosaic hops. It’s super light—a lot of people say it’s grapefruit-y—I love it. But you don’t wear your own band’s t-shirt, so when I’m drinking it, I rip off the label.