Introducing Nashville glam rocker Gyasi: "People tell me I’ve made them feel less alone"

(Image credit: Chad Crawford)

Gyasi wasn’t like his peers. An androgynous old soul in a very smalltown world, he looked to rock stars for inspiration. By the age of four he was playing guitar. A life of rock’n’roll was perhaps inevitable. 

“I wasn’t a redneck driving a big old pickup truck,” he says. “I always felt like my masculine and feminine [sides] were equal. So embracing that, writing about that… all that was part of the journey.” 

It’s been an interesting ride, but 2023 could be his year. Together with members of Jack White’s band, Gyasi (his real name) recently released the title track of his new EP, Baby Blue – an infectious T.Rex-meets-Led Zeppelin marriage of dirty riffs and sass. Within a week it had hit 260k views on YouTube. 

This connection with bygone styles began early. Raised in a ‘holler’ in rural West Virginia, Gyasi had an idyllic childhood in lots of ways. His bohemian family farmed using old techniques, ploughing fields with a mule. Evenings were spent listening to old blues records and watching Charlie Chaplin and Marx Brothers films. 

“I grew up in the way people grew up in the 1930s,” he recalls. “It was so unlike anybody else my age.” At the same time, his Russian neighbours played him music by David Bowie, New York Dolls and Lou Reed. By the age of 10 Gyasi was dressing up and creating alter egos with their daughter. “She would do my make-up and we would create these rock’n’roll characters. The idea of using clothing to communicate, I understood from an early age just how powerful that was.”

In high school Gyasi was beaten up regularly. He shaved his head to try to fit in, but grew it out again when he was 16, finding solace in the guitar. 

“I started to find that my only defence was music,” he says. “When I could play guitar, the people that were about to beat me up, they’re like: ‘Hey, you play guitar pretty good. Can you show me how you do it?’” 

From there he moved to Boston to attend Berkeley Music School, where he fell in with the bluegrass and gypsy jazz crowds. A stint with a garage rock duo in Boston followed, after which he moved to Nashville. Gigs and tours were going well until a ripped hand tendon sent him back to West Virginia, where he spent two years recovering. 

“It was a horrible time,” he recalls. “But I wrote a lot of songs. I would just play some chords or open tuning or slide… just finding ways to do the simplest thing.” 

Armed with material, he recorded it before returning to Nashville in 2017. The same year, he met his wife. Ayear later his daughter was born. Now, five years on, his third LP is in the works (Androgyne was released in 2019, Pronounced Jah-See in 2022), promising to build on the glitz and grit of Baby Blue. “People tell me I’ve made them feel less alone,” he says. “People who, I think, feel the way I felt when I was growing up. I think my dream is to do that on a bigger scale, on a global scale."

Polly Glass
Deputy Editor, Classic Rock

Polly is deputy editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she writes and commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage), and has interviewed rock's biggest and newest names. She also contributes to Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. Elsewhere she's had work published in The Musician, delicious. magazine and others, and written biographies for various album campaigns. In a previous life as a women's magazine junior she interviewed Tracey Emin and Lily James – and wangled Rival Sons into the arts pages. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.