Les Gruff And The Billy Goat, based out of St Louis, is a band that has pushed the boundaries of contemporary rock and found a way to advocate for a genre in a way that not only sounds fresh but is also addictive. Their music, steeped in blues and bluegrass, evokes the rural rock n’ roll of Missouri’s storied past while moving the genre forward with their authentically modern spin. These are no-fuss songs that hold up under the stars and stay on your mind in the morning. Their latest album shows the amount of musicianship that these rockers possess which made their album one among the few sonically diverse albums last year. After the release, I was fortunate to be able to ask the band a few questions including why their guitarist chose music over law and where they got the idea for their band name.
Where did you get the idea for the name of your band “Les Gruff and the Billy Goat”?
When you grow up the oldest child in a big family, and your name is Billy, your favorite story might come to be the Three Billy Goats Gruff, specifically the oldest and wisest goat who cold-cocks that mean old troll right off the bridge. Les Gruff is just a mysterious dude whose name I heard mentioned on my CB radio, handle Swamp Grass. The insinuation here is that my voice is gruff, but not as gruff as some other guy. You see any hay patches around lately?
Your new album hit the stores in early December. How has the reception of your album been so far?
The people who continue to buy our music, year after year, album after album, always leave me feeling warm and fuzzy inside, like putting on a pair of slippers on a winter morning before walking across the cold wooden floor. We’ve been lucky to be able to build up our audience in venues around the Midwest and South, and this record has helped us realize how much people are doing to help us out, and we couldn’t be more grateful for the love they’ve given us.
How do you describe your music to people?
It’s music for people to relate to, and come together with. This is Country, Roots Rock, and Americana with our special sauce sprinkled in, extra spicy for ‘ya. Kick back your boots on the rocks around the fire and crack open a cold one, or boot scoot and dance the night away kinda stuff. We play honky tonks and hippie joints.
What are some fun facts about Les Gruff and the Billy Goat that fans wouldn’t expect to hear?
We have two members who have attended law school. Our lead guitarist, Nigel Solomon, is actually a lawyer who chose music over law. As he once put it to me, while riding a subway in DC while he was still a law student, in an epiphany he decided he just didn’t want to live the normal life that so many Midwesterners are pushed to live, clocking in at 9, getting out at 5, and then watching tv until bed. Our drummer, Ed Daugs, is currently a student studying law, and sometimes, he even brings his books to read on the road and before shows.
What bands did you grow up listening to?
Harry Chapin, Tim Houlihan, James Taylor, and any number of ’70s Southern Rock outfits. Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” played on repeat in my ’86 Camry in high school. That car was relegated to the scrap yard when it was unceremoniously smashed by a lady in a beamer.
Is there anything you want to experiment with musically that you haven’t attempted yet?
Music has a funny way of guiding us on where to go. She’s driven people down long roads, taken us across the country and back, and fed people’s need for happiness as long as people could hit a stick against a drum. What we want, is to give people an experience they can value, maybe help a few folks make sense out of some of the crazy shit that happens every day in everyone’s lives. If that means we’re writing a jazz number, then that’s what we’ll do. All in all, I think that’s what we are doing, and will continue to do as long as it serves the good.
What does a band’s genre distinction mean to you? Do you think your genre defines your music?
Bands make all kinds of words up to give themselves a genre, but ultimately, they’re all doing the same thing. This is a double-edged sword, because genre is largely a device to help listeners describe what they’re hearing, and not so much for the band to use to stay inside the lines. If a band’s musical choices are always in line with what they’ve decided, they’ll lose their identity to something more or less meaningless. If it’s taken to it’s extreme, a C is just a C, did a classical musician play that C chord? Does that make it Classical music? Without getting too deep into it, the genre distinction is a useful guideline to help people understand generally what they’re about to hear before listening to the music, but after that, it’s just a word.
What is your preferred recording setting? Absolute quiet? Bustling city?
Studios have a way of imparting any feel they’ve chosen. At Native Sound, where we did this record, there’s a nice rich wood vibe, with warm colors, so even though it’s in this bustling part of the city, it feels like you’re plenty secluded from the madness outside. Native Sound is an amazing place for artists to work free of distraction, and with some of the coolest atmosphere of any studio I’ve been in.
Do you see any advantages of being independent rather than being on a big record label?
When you’ve only seen one side of this coin, it’s tough to identify whether there are any advantages to it, can’t pay the bills with half a coin, y’know? It’s just a position musicians find themselves in these days, lots of folks fighting for scraps, and having played with musicians on huge labels in our genre like Bloodshot, or even one major label Sony artist, the advantages that musicians have in one or the other camp are usually based on their work ethic, and skill as a musician, regardless of representation. Ever stood in a crowd for a musician who got some huge write up in Rolling Stone, but like 20 people were there to support them? Those are the warriors in the fight, and a year from now, the same artist might sell out the Ryman, it has nothing to do with the label or not. Artists need to buckle down and hone their craft, operate within the realm that they can control, and if a label happens in that mix at some point, then by all means, it can be helpful.
What’s next for Les Gruff and the Billy Goat?
Hopefully, they kick me out and get a different singer so I can just collect the royalty checks.
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