Horseshoes & Hand Grenades formed on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, playing in front of their fellow students late into the night at house parties and bonfires.
The progressive string band's tour of Alaska is starting to feel like something of a class reunion.
Fresh off a stint at Salmonfest, HHG concludes its weeklong tour of the state with a performance Friday at Williwaw and Saturday at 49th State Brewing Co. in Healy.
So far, the band couldn't have felt more at home, according to guitarist Adam Greuel.
"There is an absurd amount of Wisconsinites that have relocated up here," he said. "There's a big environmental science program at UW-Stevens Point. A lot of the jobs you can get (with the degree) are up in Alaska. I don't think anywhere in the country I've talked to as many people from Stevens Point as I did at Salmonfest. I think we're going to come up here a lot. We're loving the s–t out of it — glaciers and fishing and kick-ass people and an affinity for good beers and spirits."
And while the band has enjoyed the company of Alaskans, including Wisconsin expatriates, audiences are catching a band that has quickly climbed through the ranks of acoustic music stalwarts, touring with Yonder Mountain String Band and performing at DelFest in the past 18 months.
The band will continue to tour nationwide until Thanksgiving and is set to release their fourth album in the next six months.
The forces that brought the five musicians together in a Stevens Point living room in 2010 were as much congenial as musical.
"We were all going to school there and formed really organically," Greuel said. "A lot of bands are put together with specific intent. With us, it formed by way of friendships. We all became good friends and realized we had this joy of playing acoustic instruments together. We'd played some house parties, and next thing we know people were asking to book us. It was a great way to travel and meet new people and go to new places. For us there was never a goal of creating a band and we just said, 'Let's take it on the road and see what happens.' "
While the band has a traditional string band setup, Greuel said different members have influenced the way the sound has evolved.
"One thing about our group, we've always wanted to retain this perspective of musical openness," he said. "Everyone should feel comfortable bringing their musical influences into the sound of the band."
Bass player Sam Odin is into jazz, and accordion/harmonica player David C. Lynch takes his cues from Cajun music and blues. Greuel cut his teeth with bluegrass and jamgrass.
"There's tons of stuff that's affected us on an individual level and a collective level," Greuel said. "We try to let that dictate our music. We like to allow our curiosities where the music goes while also being songwriters. All five of us in the band are songwriters; there's all kinds of musical influences."
The band's name, like the band itself, formed with a late-night music session in Stevens Point. The band had taken off locally, and was getting a lot of gig offers, but was only known as a group that jammed together at parties.
"At one of these parties the word spread (we needed a name) — all of these ideas and notions were spread around," Greuel said. "The morning light came and the smoke settled and the hooch was gone. The only one anyone could remember was Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. The 'close only counts' term is akin to our mentality. We like to keep joy in our music and be ourselves."
Greuel said that will be evident with the band's upcoming release, "The Ode," which should come out late this year or early in 2018.
Recorded at the famed Pachyderm Studios (Nirvana recorded their final album "In Utero" there) south of Minneapolis, the record was produced by Alaska touring regular Dave Simonett of Trampled by Turtles.
"Simonett is an awesome guy and (the studio) is just a super beautiful space," Greuel said. "It's really just conducive to comfort and thus creativity. I'm really excited about how it came out. We were out there for a week and it was one of those weeks where music flowed from us in this way, we were able to find these spaces we'd never found before."
While Greuel said the record will feature a number of the band's signature "toe-tappers," it will also be the group's most diverse offering to date.
"We've always been a high-energy string band," he said. "There's a lot of that kind of feel and there's this other aspect. I've always been into Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt and those types of great songwriters. With a string band I've been hesitant to go there. We're trying to figure out how to (incorporate those types of songs) and still be compelling and energetic. I think we're starting to understand how to do that."
The band felt an especially strong connection to the mission of Salmonfest.
Back in Wisconsin, the group had been strong environmental advocates, operating a similar festival called "Save The Penokee Springfest" that pushed back against a proposed taconite mine in northern Wisconsin's Penokee Mountains.
"I have a lot of love and inspiration for those that make sure water stays clean and wild stays wild," Greuel said.
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
8 p.m. Friday at Williwaw. Tickets $10. williwawsocial.com/concerts-events. Hope Social Club opening.
6 p.m. Saturday at Augtoberfest at 49th State Brewing Co. Tickets $20. Also playing: Alaska Blaskapelle, Denali Cooks and DJ Mancat.