By Gwen Fabbiano
The very beginnings of Horseshoes and Hand Grenades are rooted here at the college, and from the dorms and house parties of the past, the band emerged and evolved, yet still holding the importance of just having a good time and leaving your worries behind.
Adam Gruel, lead guitarist and singer, took some time out to chat. “We all met about, what was it, four years ago. It was in a college house party in Stevens Point. There happened to be a bunch of folk instruments kind of layin’ around the house and we had kind of heard of each other, playing around the dorms and stuff. But our earliest forms of communicating with each other was picking with each other. And that certainly has helped to shape our band from the perspective that we believe in creating a jubilant atmosphere, you know? Like a party atmosphere where you can go to have fun and let it all go. Let the week’s strife fade away for a while and we can go to a place without worry for at least a little while.
When asked about the name of the band and how it came to be, Adam said, “It actually came out of nowhere. We were forced to choose a name for a show. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades started as a band without attempting to be a band. We played at an open mic up in Northland Wisconsin, up in, what is it, the Northland Ballroom. We all met up there and played together, and soon thereafter someone asked us to play a gig, and we had to come up with a name. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades had been thrown around at a late night party, and it came time that we had to select a name. We didn’t think we would actually stick with it, but we did.”
These guys are in their early to mid twenties, but their influences certainly go back to long before they were around. “Dirk Powell and Bruce Molskey. And they are slightly newer more progressive old-time players. And then, our influences range from great old blues players like Robert Johnson to the Grateful Dead, to jazz composers and even old school country music like Earl Haggard and certainly Johnny Cash., said Adam.
If the music of Horseshoes and Hand Grenades were to be categorized, it might get a little tricky, but bluegrass and folk music come close. “We call ourselves, just for the sake of categorizing it, progressive-high-energy-old-time-folk-music. And, you know, that’s our best attempt at it. Really we just kind of make the music we make I guess.”
The music that Adam talks about is a collective from 4 of the 5 members, “which is pretty cool. It kind of started out that Russell and I were writing the songs, and then over time it has definitely changed, and Colin and Dave are definitely starting to write more. It is really, really cool to see because it brings a much more diverse sound to our shows since we all write in slightly different styles.”, Adam said.
The rehearsals are kept pretty spontaneous, and there are risks taken on stage since the practices in between are not very structured. “When we practice, it looks more like us just hanging around and jamming. It has never been an extremely regimented thing for our band. It has to do with kind of the nature of how we started, you know, being a band that was definitely interested in having fun and kind of creating a vibe at a party, having a blast and creating new songs. Relying on our ability as musicians to create something spontaneous and fun.”
As Horseshoes and Hand Grenades has grown through time, they have become much more comfortable taking those risks and communicating by reading each other on stage.
Adam stated, “Over time we have certainly come into our own while bringing in those influences we previously had. We then just started to take more risks, just to see what would happen. Keep it in line with keeping things fresh and interesting. I would hope that we have gotten tighter with time, you know from playing with each other as much as we do. We play around a single microphone, so we are all very very close on stage and in our personal lives as well, so there is an ability to be able to read each other that has developed; from a musical standpoint but also just as a person standpoint that is really cool and really feels easy when we are on stage.”
If you are looking to catch a show they play all over the Midwest. Adam filled us in on upcoming shows.
“As far as big shows in Central Wisconsin, we have one coming up in the Laird Room at UWSP on December 7th. And then the other one would be on New Years Eve where we are performing over at Bernards Country Inn with Art Stevenson Highwater and Sloppy Joe. This is the third year of us doing a New Years Eve show in Stevens Point. They are always really, really crazy and super, super fun. I don’t know; they always have a really good vibe.”
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades also has a bit of reach outside the Midwest.
“One western trip through Colorado where we played at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival Band Competition where we took third place. Other recent trips we were out to Seattle Washington, um and you know we are just slowly growing. We all kind of have life constraints because we all have full time jobs, and then me and the other main singer Russell are in still in school at UWSP until December. And actually our fiddle player is in Graduate School down at Marquette Law. So we are busy boys, but we like to all kind of let it hang out on the weekend.”
Where is the band going? Adam commented on the idea of the direction.
“Our ultimate direction has been to kind of just go with the flow. We are all interested in things outside of Horseshoes and Hand Grenades that are always going to be important to us in addition to the band. You know, we absolutely love what we are doing right now, and there is a raw amount of energy that occurs when we are up there playing together. It feels incredible, and it is certainly something that I don’t want out of my life, you know, and I think that goes in line with the rest of the band without speaking for them on a personal level. As far as a band goal goes, it’s just to continue having fun and to continue to play for more and more people and to try to spread some type of a good message too with our music. That’s certainly important to our band; doing something productive for the world around us on the way as we have fun, I guess.”
When asked what he would advise to any brand new band, Adam’s answer was right on track with his own band’s philosophy.
“Yeah just have fun with it. I guess my best advice that I could give would be don’t do something unless you are having fun with it. Life is too short to be sitting there doing something that you hate. We have been blessed to be able to play live music for folks, and we are super appreciative that folks come to listen and come to hang out. That’s fun to us. As far as advice to young bands would go I would say just keep on playing music, you know, keep having fun with it. Growth will come if it’s going to come. It’s not worth worrying about.”
You can find their music online and at live shows.
“We’ve got, I think, 2 of our albums are available on iTunes and they are also both available on CD Baby. I think there are some live shows you can listen to on archive.org.”
It doesn’t sound like they will be slowing down anytime soon, as Adam described the band as a therapy that brings balance and an outlet to his life. “Horseshoes definitely from a songwriting perspective I know me personally, I write songs as a way of getting over things in some sense. Horseshoes definitely embraces the challenging aspects of life and tries to put them in a positive light if possible and certainly the community associated with it works as a big support group. You know, leave your troubles behind for a night, you know, because that’s what we are doing to, as a band.”
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades play the Laird Ballroom at UWSP on Dec. 7.