While the Louvin Brothers are well-respected and remembered today for their fine musical talents, Satan is Real’s cover art lives on in perhaps even greater infamy. Celebrated, critiqued, and later memed, nothing quite says “fire-and-brimstone” like a 12-foot cutout of Satan, surrounding by burning tires, looming over the brothers. The album itself is an intense and powerfully moving expression of the Christian faith—one that, to this day, even secular fans of the Louvins can find the beauty in.
Enter Idiot Grins. The roots band’s Randy Strauss is among the first to admit that, “During these hyper-polarized times, it is pretty clear to me that I would not have very much in common with the Louvin Brothers of the 1940’s or 1950’s, or much of their audience.” Yet, he adds, “Despite this, there is something about the sincerity and earthiness of their music that cuts past all of that and reaches into my soul. I don’t believe we should ignore the painful lessons of our history while we strive for a more hopeful future. I think music is part of that history.”
So was birthed a vision, as Strauss visited his bandmates with a brand-new vinyl LP of Satan is Real with an offhand proposition that they cover it in its entirety, just for kicks. Though they come from differing backgrounds from the Louvins, their reverence for the source material is beautifully exemplified throughout their track-for-track cover album, Thoughts & Prayers.
It makes for an interesting case study—a largely secular band with. assumptively, largely secular views covering one of the most notable gospel albums of our time. Yet, it ekes with a genuine disposition that belies a sincere intent to perform these covers as tribute to the originals, and not in the hokey sort of way that often pervades releases associated with the word “tribute”. Idiot Grins’ Evan Eustis and John Hansen do strong work singing Satan is Real without coming across as hackneyed or insincere. Rather, they staple the whole Thoughts & Prayers affair together, legitimizing the effort by leading the charge on dutiful country-folk renditions of these classic songs.
In celebration of Thoughts & Prayers, the band’s Randy Strauss joins the ‘FFS 5’ family and offers us a glimpse into Idiot Grins and their authentic, artistic collective heart.
Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how did you get started in music? Any defining moments along the path to present day?
Idiot Grins is a 5-piece band of adults. We all have our own perspectives and experiences. I can only respond for myself. We have all known each other for decades at this point, playing in other bands together or playing in competing bands. But we’ve all been friends for all that time and share a lot of common experiences and influences. And have a lot of differences too!
When I was an early teenager, the music on the radio seemed to suck. Somehow, I heard Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Little Richard – which in turn led me to the Beatles, Stones, Who and Beach Boys. Which led me to the Byrds, which led me to Gram Parsons and the world of Country. Which led me to Otis Redding, Stax and soul. In other words, loving music is a lifetime journey that never ends, and never gets old.
When I was around 14, I acquired a department store guitar that probably cost less than $50. It was unplayable. Or at least I couldn’t play it. That didn’t stop me from joining a band – which promptly fired me for not knowing how to play. But I picked up something from the other guitar player. And that’s how it went – joined lots of bands and kept learning. Got a better guitar along the way, and then another.
At some point in college, I felt like I hit my ceiling as a player. It was around that time that I discovered indie bands who wrote their own songs. That was big – when I realized no one could tell me I was playing a song wrong if I wrote it! It didn’t matter if I couldn’t play like the metal shredders, since I hated that kind of music anyway. To me, the best guitar players serve the song, not the other way around. You can’t beat Steve Cropper, George Harrison or Keith Richards!
As an artist, how do you define success?
Have fun, enjoy your bandmates, create something that moves you.
What do you find your greatest struggle to be when it comes to the music business?
It’s no secret that it’s practically impossible to make any money in today’s music business. Taylor Swift is rich. She probably has 100 people who work with her to support her success that are not rich. So you have to put financial reward out of your head. You must do it because you love it and can’t imagine not doing it.
What do you think is the most realistic goal you can achieve as an artist and as a band? What do you hope to achieve?
I’m doing it. I’m playing music with my friends, writing songs with my friends, creating something I’m proud of with my friends. Trying to reach my creative potential with my friends.
Outside of music, what do you like to do that you feel contributes to the creativity that you tap into for your music?
I like to consume art. I love music, film, literature, journalism, etc. And nature. And people. Inspiration is everywhere.
Words by: Jonathan Frahm