Banjo player Philip Henning and guitarist Anton Andersson have been making music together for more than a decade, but their musical journey has taken some unusual turns along the way. The two musicians now play together in a Swedish bluegrass band called Kings Cross Stringband, but they actually began their partnership playing metal heavy and making hardcore music before transitioning to Americana, and subsequently to bluegrass.
“Eventually Anton’s girlfriend Emelia Eklund joined us on bass,” Henning says. “After playing gigs for awhile, we also got a hold of ‘Mr. Bluegrass lover,’ Johannes Broborn on mandolin.”
These days, their music maintains their affinity for bluegrass, but it also allows room for other influences as well. “Our sound is leaning mostly towards traditional bluegrass, with a happy, punk attitude,” Henning explains. “But we also love Irish music, so that can also come into play. We sometimes steal a few songs from some of the Irish bands, which we deem to be quite similar to bluegrass in many ways. We play folkish music that’s a fit for both pubs and larger stages, so I believe that the awareness of the bluegrass we perform will continue to grow.”
Henning also says that while they play predominantly covers — a mix of older traditional songs, classic bluegrass — they also venture well beyond. “We perform songs that fall not far from bluegrass, but there are also some that are quite far from that genre as well, like Swedish or Irish folk songs and others of that nature. We also write some of our own songs, and we aim to do more of that in the future.”
In addition, Henning said their influences could be considered both classic and contemporary. He cites the Carter Family, Ricky Skaggs, Tim O’Brien, and Billy Strings as chief among them, but also notes, “We do love old time folk songs, but we also like music that’s new and experimental.”
The band’s debut album, Jack Of Diamonds, can be heard in most streaming platforms. A second album is being prepared for release in 2023.
At this point, Kings Cross Stringband continue to gain new followers and create a fanbase, but Henning hopes they’ll find new opportunities to build even greater awareness in the near future. “We haven’t been on any tours or playing any major festivals yet, but it seems our reputation is growing fast,” he muses. “Plus, we’ve been invited to play at Sweden’s biggest bluegrass festival in Grenna. Just this past weekend we played a smaller folk music festival in our hometown of Örebro, and we’re always surprised at the amazing response we get.”
On the other hand, Henning says he’s not all that surprised that audiences react the way they do. “I think that people are starting to realize that bluegrass can be so much more than just ‘fun gimmick music,'” he says. “The fun and gimmicky thing about it seems to have made people a bit ashamed for it, but hopefully that was a phase that has now passed.”
That said, he has definite thoughts about what brings bluegrass such popular appeal. “It’s about the fun and experimentation,” he said. “The live and jammy world of bluegrass invites everyone to play along, whether you know only three chords, or you can do the amazing solos that inspired us originally. Those will continue to be the things that bring people to bluegrass.”