Luke Grimes playing guitar in a field
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Interview: Luke Grimes Completes His Pilgrimage From the Glinting LA Streets to the Rugged Montana Mountains

March 18, 2024 1:02 pm GMT

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When watching Yellowstone or any one of the spin-off series within Taylor Sheridan's rapidly growing universe, you can't help but feel struck by the show's commitment to staying as close as possible to the gritty reality of a ranch-owner's life.

Such is the attention to detail from the riding, roping and rodeo right down to the staging, set design and the now-iconic soundtrack, the lines are blurred to the extent that you fall into the trap of assuming the stars - including Luke Grimes - are real-life cowboys.

The way in which the Yellowstone boundaries seep into reality was further exacerbated by the news that Luke Grimes, who plays the likeable outcast heir to the Dutton throne, Kayce, was venturing into country music. The revelation was inevitably met with some cynicism, as fans wondered whether the former Fifty Shades of Grey actor had simply become so swept up in the Yellowstone world that he now believed he could be a real-life cowboy and country music singer.

Thankfully, veteran producer Dave Cobb was on hand to help steer Grimes’ foray into this new territory, encouraging him to strip it all back and keep it earthy and raw, eschewing any polished, Music City production that would instigate calls of inauthenticity. Grimes recalls what Cobb said to him, “‘I want you and your voice and the stories to be the main character of this, because if we try to overproduce this or make it too big or make it too Nashville, then it's just gonna look like you're cheating....The more personal and the more honest we make this, the more people are going to be open to accepting that you're coming from this other world and making music now’. And I thought that was really smart”.

It's an approach that pays off across Luke Grimes’ self-titled record, which arrived on March 8, with the Ohio singer-songwriter's alluring, enchanting vocals sounding as weather-worn and rugged as the Montana landscape he now calls home.

Trading in the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles to live closer to Yellowstone feels like much more than a move made out of pure practicality - it's the inevitable cumulation of years of disillusionment with the pace of the California lifestyle. It begs the question of whether Grimes’ immersion in Yellowstone and the associated cowboy aesthetic - and, by extension, country music - began as a form of escapism.

Whether or not this journey started as escapism, it's now transcended this to become the day-to-day that he thrives in, “It literally is my reality. I've moved to where we shoot. Four years ago, I moved to Montana from LA, which is a big gear shift. I lived up there half the year for three years, and I would fly back to LA and get in an Uber and go from the airport to my tiny house and have a panic attack. I would legit be like, ‘Why do I live here?’ You get in that Montana gear, and then LA seems like another planet, you know? I realised I fit in more here in Montana”.

The deep-seated appreciation, reverence and gratitude for a rural way of life that colours Yellowstone - and indeed portions of the new album - has provided a form of healing for Luke Grimes, “I'm more suited to live in a more rural environment - that clearly is the truth. I'm a much happier person now. Even when I lived in LA, I would rent an RV pretty much every summer and go drive around the mountains. I didn't know it was in the cards that it could be a reality for me to live out there, because I was like, ‘How would I get any jobs?’ But I'm lucky enough that my job is in Montana right now. We'll see how long that lasts”.

With the final half-season of Yellowstone slated for a November 2024 air-date, Luke Grimes’ pivotal relationship with the TV behemoth is seemingly due to end soon - unless, of course, Grimes appears in the mysterious, upcoming Matthew McConaughey-led spin-off, 2024. Regardless, the sparse, Americana-inspired soundtrack continues to align perfectly with Grimes’ rustic, alt-country blueprint, with his first ever single, ‘No Horse To Ride’, even featuring in Season 5.

Has Yellowstone influenced the musical direction he opted for? Or is this just the sound he's always leant towards? The latter seems closest to the truth, “I would say the reason I'm on Yellowstone is because I've always listened to that kind of thing. Not that I grew up a cowboy - that's not the case, I had to learn all that. But the kind of music on the show is the kind of music I've always loved and gravitated towards and tried to make myself. Taylor Sheridan is a really keen guy, and he understood that it would be easier to hire someone who sort of already understood the heart and soul of this American story, rather than try to teach them”.

As you listen to Luke Grimes, from his folksy, melodic Foy Vance cover, ‘Hold On’, to his intricate musing on being haunted by the memory of an old flame, ‘Ghost Of Who We Were’, the project feels intimate, drawn-in and - perhaps above all else - real.

The stark, visceral image from Yellowstone's 1883 spin-off comes to mind of the travellers finally making it to their (adjusted) destination of Montana, the grief of the journey still etched onto their faces, a glimmer of quiet hope glistening in their eyes.

With his new album, Luke Grimes has completed his pilgrimage from actor to musician, LA celebrity to Montana cowboy. This is not a side-project, this is something Grimes has been wanting to do his whole life, and he's relishing the opportunity to live out this longstanding dream. As the introspective final track, ‘Worst Of Me’ plays, it seems the most valuable journey he's finished is the one nobody seems to manage in Yellowstone - the path towards inner contentment.

In addition, Luke Grimes touched on how Taylor Sheridan helps him discover new artists, how his music career got its start, his touring plans and more.

On touring plans:

“I have such a crazy filming schedule this year. We're going to do a small tour at the end of the year and hit some cities in the US we haven't been to yet. Then the following year, things are really gonna slow down. I think we're going to try to reach out a little more. Maybe [we'll come to the UK and Europe] for album No. 2”.

On pinpointing the sound of this album:

“I'm gonna give a lot of that credit to Dave - all of that credit, really. This happened so fast, from me just sitting around playing songs for myself and learning other people's songs, writing half-songs in my bedroom, to getting a record deal. It's not supposed to happen that way. You're supposed to play a thousand empty bars to try to figure out your sound and be a road dog for a while and build it up. I was just thrown into this, and I'm super lucky for that to happen, but I also didn't have the time to sleep in it enough to know what my sound should be. Dave was really smart. He said, ‘Send me 50 of your favourite songs’, and he started to get an idea really quickly of what my influences were. I can see he picked up on a lot of stuff, which to me seemed like it would be impossible to do”.

On how his music career started:

“It was a manager, Matt Graham, who called me out of the blue. He'd heard through some friends I have in the industry that I write and play music. There was some sort of crazy game of telephone, then I get a call and he said, ‘I work in country music. Would you really like to try it?’ He basically said, ‘I think I could get you a record deal’. First of all, I didn't believe him. Second of all, I thought, ‘I don't know if I should do that’. You know, I was very afraid to even approach it, because of what it might do to all my other creative endeavours. We talked for two years, and finally, I worked up the courage to give it a shot. So he was the one that got me the meeting with UMG Nashville, who took a bet on me and decided to give me a record deal, which was crazy and totally undeserved. Then they set me up with a meeting with Dave. I didn't realise I had met Dave years earlier, when we both lived in LA, through Shooter Jennings. So we had this cool connection and a rapport already. It was pretty simple. He was like, ‘Hey, man, I like you, this will be fun. I just have to like the song’. So I sent him three or four songs and he called back and was like, ‘Yeah, let's do it’”.

On Taylor Sheridan introducing him to new music:

“Taylor writes to the music, and he is better versed in country and Americana than just about anybody. All the time he's showing me stuff I haven't heard yet, and that's how he writes his show. I think that's why music is such a big part of the heart and soul of Yellowstone. I don't know if any more of my stuff will be in there. The way it worked last time is I sent him an iPhone work tape of ‘No Horse To Ride’, and he just said, ‘Hey, that's great!’ Then all of a sudden, I was getting a call that I needed to sign something because they were going to put it in the show. No-one's going to talk that guy into anything. If he likes it, he likes it. If he doesn't, he doesn't. So, yeah, I hope [my music is in the next season] - I'd love it to be”.

On slipping into different personas on the album:

“I can hear how there are different vibes on different songs. I think that's a lot to do with how the song was born, how it was written and who it was written with. A lot of times before you leave a co-write, one of you will lay down an iPhone recording so you don't forget the chords, the melody and the words, so you have a record of everything. Sometimes it's me doing that, and sometimes it's the person I wrote with. When it was a person I wrote with, I would listen to it so many times it felt like the character in the song is the other person. You'd be surprised at how much singing talent there is in the co-writes - people you've never heard of just writing songs behind the scenes with the most incredible voices. Sometimes, without trying to, I'll end up mimicking their vibe. I try to be open and just do what feels right. I try to be honest in the moment when we're cutting a song. There's definitely not an attempt to change characters or change vibes. It's not something I'm doing on purpose. But I see it definitely happens”.

For more on Luke Grimes, see below:

Written by Maxim Mower
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