Horseshoes and Hand Grenades has taken its effervescent brand of high-energy string-band music all over the country since forming in 2010 — New Mexico and Arizona might be the last frontiers in this country. They have a great time everywhere they go, but coming to La Crosse is special for the quintet, which got its start while its members were studying at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
La Crosse feels like a home away from home for the band, being the site of one of its early breaks. Opening for country music legend Merle Haggard at the Oktoberfest grounds in July 2013 was a big boost for the band, guitarist Adam Greuel said in a recent interview just before the band flew to Alaska for a concert tour.
About a decade earlier, Greuel made his stage debut as guitar player, sitting in with the Smokin’ Bandits at an Earth Day barn dance just south of La Crosse. Even at the age of 13, Greuel already was a guitar veteran, taking up the instrument at age 8 after he was inspired by an encounter with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
“I’ve never stopped playing music,” Greuel said. “It tends to be my place of zen.”
Horseshoes and Hand Grenades will be the featured attraction at Friday’s second annual RiverRoast block party on the 100 block of State Street put on by the Charmant Hotel. In addition to music by Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, Gregg Hall and the Wrecking Ball will perform, and a variety of food and beverages will be available for purchase.
In addition to Greuel, who also plays dobro, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades members include Collin Mettelka on fiddle and mandolin; David Lynch on harmonica, accordion and spoons; Russell Pedersen on banjo and fiddle; and Sam Odin on bass. All five sing, sometimes all at the same time, harmonizing like crazy, and everybody brings different influences and their own original material to the band.
The band started as informal jam sessions — “It’s kind of unclear how it turned into old-time bluegrass,” Greuel said — and then its members started playing house parties around the UW-Stevens Point campus, “just for fun, really, to add music to the environment. The next thing we knew people were trying to hire us.”
He recalls being amazed when the band got paid $200 for playing one night. “I remember thinking that was the easiest money of all time,” he said with a laugh. “Little did we know that this would end up being our career. Once we graduated, we said ‘Let’s keep doing this and see how it goes.’”
To say it’s going well might be the understatement of the year. The band is traveling and performing constantly, doing up to 200 shows a year and has released three studio albums, most recently 2015’s “Middle Western.”
Pegging the fun meter every time out is one of the keys to the band’s history of winning new fans wherever it goes. “We’re really an enthusiastic band,” Greuel said. “We love to play music, and people say it shows.”
Work has been completed on the band’s fourth album, “The Ode,” and it should be released toward the end of the year. Greuel is really excited about the album, both for how it turned out and for how the recording process went.
Band members spent a week in January at Pachyderm Recording Studio in Cannon Falls, Minn., where Nirvana recorded its last album. They’d never worked with an outside producer before, but this time they worked with Dave Simonett, a good friend of the band who plays with Trampled by Turtles.
Working with Simonett was a great experience, Greuel said. “He helped to create this energy that was super conducive to our creative pathways,” he said, adding that possibly the hardest part was narrowing down the song choices because they wanted to put the album out on vinyl, which caps the running time of the songs at 42 minutes.
They didn’t really expect to complete the record, but sure enough on the last night of their week at Pachyderm — under the light of a full moon — they had their next album done, including most of the mixing. Greuel recalls Odin, the bass player, hugging him and saying it was the best musical week of his life.
Greuel shared that feeling and is excited about the results of the week.
“The end result is a more organic, honest record,” he said. “We put a lot of heart and soul into it.”