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Luke Grimes Music: ‘Yellowstone’ Star Reveals How Outlaw Country Singers and His Father Inspired His First Album

Growing up a Pastor's son gave the star a unique outlook and sound — read his candid interview here!

As an actor, Luke Grimes likes to cultivate an air of mystery, but when it comes to his music, he’s not afraid to lay his heart on the line. Known for his portrayal of youngest son, Kayce Dutton, on the hit TV series Yellowstone, Luke Grimes is indulging his passion for singing with his debut EP, Pain Pills or Pews, releasing Oct. 20 via Mercury Nashville/Range Music.

Pain, Pills or Pews, Luke Grimes' new album cover
Pain Pills or Pews, Luke Grimes

“There’s nothing to hide behind with the music. I feel like with the other job, getting to know me was never part of the job,” Luke Grimes says of being an actor. “The point was that you didn’t get to know me, that you can believe me as something else, and the more you get to know me, maybe the less believable that is. So, I think a lot of mystery is a good thing for people who play characters. But my music is way more personal. It’s my words coming out of my mouth.”

Luke Grimes as Kayce Dutton in 'Yellowstone'
Luke Grimes as Kayce Dutton in Yellowstone

Luke Grimes music is baring it all

Indeed, Grimes co-wrote six of the eight songs on his new EP, and demonstrates he’s gifted when it comes to penning a hit. Releasing this collection of songs is a dream come true for Luke Grimes, the son of a Pentecostal pastor, who grew up playing music in church.

“My parents are from the Appalachian Mountains. Country music was a very big deal for them growing up,” Grimes says. “And then, my dad became a pastor, and music is also a big deal in church. And in a lot of ways, they’re related. Hank Williams wrote, ‘I Saw the Light,’ which I thought was just some old church song. I didn’t realize he wrote that.”

Luke Grimes, 2023
Luke Grimes, 2023

The voices that inspired him

The 39-year-old actor says that growing up, “church and music and the country life, all these things went hand in hand. And my dad also liked the old outlaw guys,” Grimes says of his father listening to Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson. “That was the secret that people in church didn’t know as much because he didn’t want to offend anybody. Some people don’t really listen to secular music, but he played me all of that stuff too. And what was cool about it was how honest those guys were being. They could be these really masculine guys, but tell you about their feelings, which is rare. It’s rare for grown men that are like that to be vulnerable. I’d really like that about that music, and I think that’s what my dad liked about it too.”

Luke Grimes music influences

In addition to his dad’s country favorites, Luke Grimes says he was influenced by a variety of other artists including Nirvana, Tom Petty, the Beatles and gospel music as well. “I grew up playing drums and a huge, huge influence drumming-wise was black gospel, like Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, and some of those live albums. It’s the best rhythm section you’ll ever hear in your life. Those bass players and drummers are out of this world. So that was definitely a big [influence].”

After moving to Los Angeles, Grimes played in a country band. Though he’s always loved music, his acting career took precedence over music as he gained momentum with roles in American Sniper, The Magnificent Seven, Taken 2 and as Christian Grey’s brother Elliott in Fifty Shades of Grey and its two sequels. Since 2018, he has starred alongside Kevin Costner in Yellowstone, portraying Costner’s onscreen son Kayce.

Luke Grimes is letting his songs speak for him

As an actor, there’s always distance between a character and the audience, but as a musician, he’s learning to let the audience know him. “The job here really is to let people in to the point where maybe they can relate, and realize that it’s not just them: we’re all human,” Grimes shares.  

“We all go through things, and that’s the kind of music that I’ve always liked. The stuff that’s always been important to me has been stuff that made me feel like, we’re all in this together. Music is such a human thing, and a shared experience.”

Luke Grimes, 2022
Luke Grimes, 2022

Finding inspiration in the world around him

Grimes currently makes his home in Montana and says life there definitely influences his music. “There’s just this perfect backdrop which inspires creativity,” he says. “It’s beautiful there. I’ve always been a nature person, so the nature just keeps me feeling inspired and also less distracted.”

“In Los Angeles, it’s very easy to distract yourself, or to never be bored, or to never just make yourself sit down and get through the writer’s block and actually just go deep and let yourself do that. It’s easier to just go out and meet a friend for a beer or something. And I feel like in Montana, it puts me in that zone, especially in the wintertime. It gets dark at 4:30 PM, and then you have nothing to do but sit there and read books, make music, and watch films. So in that way it’s just been super inspiring.”

Making an album true to himself

Luke Grimes says for the last 20 years, he’s always had a guitar with him everywhere he went, and he’s always loved playing music. However, when Range Media’s Matt Graham began encouraging him to make a record, he was initially very hesitant.

“I thought about it for two years, to be honest,” he says. “I’m nervous. I don’t want to be judged.” Grimes admits, “I don’t want to look cheesy. I don’t want to look like I’m trying to take someone else’s job. And finally, I was just like, ‘I got to put all that away and get over the fear, and just do it. Because I’ll be really upset one day if I look back and I didn’t.’”

In crafting the album, Grimes co-wrote songs with such Nashville hitmakers as Tony Lane, Rodney Clawson, Nicolle Galyon, Brent Cobb and Aaron Raitiere. Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall collaborated with Grimes on “Oh Ohio,” which is described as a breakup song to where you’re from. “A lot of good country music [is] about people’s hometowns. And you hear a lot of times like, ‘I’m never leaving. I’m never going anywhere.’ It’s a big thing. And clearly, in my case, I left pretty young,” he says of leaving the Buckeye state.

Luke Grimes, 2022
Luke Grimes, 2022

“After I left, when the places I were going were not feeling like home, Ohio still felt like home. That’s because my family was there, and my friends were there. But you start to get away for 10, 12, 14 years, and that changes at a certain point. I remember going home and I’m like, ‘This isn’t home.’ When that was finally gone, it was this really big realization of like, I felt like I broke up with Ohio.”

Grimes continued, “It felt like it had this personality in it, and we weren’t getting along anymore…I loved growing up there. It’s not that, it’s just you change as a person when you travel around and you move different places, and you can’t help but change if you’re living in all these different experiences. So I was just trying to capture that feeling in a song. That sort of feeling of, ‘I’ve grown past this place and moved on, but I’ll always love you.’ Kind of in that way that a breakup song is.”

Luke Grimes tour dates

The opening song on the EP, “No Horse to Ride,” has already been well received, debuting at No. 7 on the Country Songs sales chart and in its second week of release, racking up 95K Shazams, earning it the No. 2 spot on the Shazam Country Chart.

Grimes is slated to perform on September 24 at the Pilgrimage Music Festival south of Nashville. He has upcoming concerts in November and December in Dallas, Austin, Washington DC, Boston, Philadelphia and other cities. He will also return to Stagecoach in Indio, CA in April 2024.

tour dates
Luke Grimes tour dates

Overcoming live performance jitters

Grimes admits performing live was scary at first. “The thing I was most afraid of was having to get up on a stage and play music in front of people,” he confesses. “It was stage fright at its core, and then all this other sort of fear. And a really smart person told me once that, ‘You should always operate out of love and not fear.’ So I just had to get over it, and just move on with it.”

Grimes says his short-term goal is “to just get to the point, as quickly as possible, where the live show experience is as fun for me as it is for the audience, so I can really share in that moment. And it is sometimes. But I feel like I know some people who have been doing it for a long time, and I can just tell they’re so comfortable with it that it’s easy to lock right into that moment with everyone.”

Luke Grimes performing, 2023

A passion project at its core

As for his long-term goals, Grimes is hoping that making music will continue to be part of his life. “I hope enough people relate to it and that it finds enough of an audience that I get to do it again,” he says of reaction to his new EP. “I’m a pretty introverted person, so I don’t need this to be some big smash. I’m not trying to get more famous or have another revenue stream.” He continues, “I’m just really enjoying it, and I hope it does well enough that I get to do it again, and again.”

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