Funk guitarist and bandleader Cory Wong has released the latest episode of his Cory & The Wongnotes musical variety show titled “Nostalgia”. In addition to various comedy sketches and shorts, the episode includes both a live collaboration and an extensive interview between Cory and eclectic bluegrass star Billy Strings.

The second season of Cory & The Wongnotes has corresponded to Wong’s latest album, the guest-filled Power Station, with a different featured artist from the record appearing each episode. New episodes are released each Tuesday via Wong’s YouTube channel. Previously released season two episodes include collaborations with Nate SmithLindsay EllVictor WootenChromeo, and Big Wild.

Assisted by a shuffling backbeat, the Strings collab, “Road Trip”, struts and bounds along its path, Eddie Barbash shadowing the sunny guitar theme on soprano saxophone. With a breakdown clearly catered to a live guitar showdown, look for this track to fill a similar slot to “Blue Bird” (which initially featured Chris Thile) when guests stop by Cory’s gigs in the future—and we hope one of those guests is you, Billy Strings. After picking up a funky bounce during Billy’s solo—a clever wink to the versatility of Wong, Strings, and their respective styles—the song ends in a wash of enveloping piano and harmonics, a sound and feel more akin to Wong and Jon Batiste‘s Grammy-nominated Meditations EP than his bluegrass-oriented Trail Songs LPs.

Cory Wong – “Road Trip” (ft. Billy Strings)

Of course, the new collab is just one piece of the Wongnotes “Nostalgia” pie. In addition to “Road Trip”, another live rendition of a Power Station song (the album-closing, titularly appropriate “Nostalgia”), and segments ranging from a drummer-finding dating app parody (“People are having long-term musical relations on ‘Drumble’ now”) to a nostalgic home video rating contest (“Does It Hold Up?”), Cory Wong sits down for a lengthy interview with Billy Strings.

Related: Cory Wong Hosts Billy Strings, Victor Wooten, Chromeo, More On New LP, ‘Power Station’ [Review/Stream]

As Wong explains to start the segment, the Wongnotes taping and recording session was the first time he and Billy had met in person despite developing mutual respect from afar. Billy wastes no time getting deep with Cory, touching on his experience growing up with bluegrass through his dad, witnessing the joy that music can bring to people, his nostalgic memories about learning to play “Beaumont Rag”, jams in Barkus Park, and using music as a way to avoid going down the dark paths he witnessed as a child.

“I was exposed to a lot of substance abuse and just… crazy kind of stuff growing up, and I saw a lot of people go down the wrong road, and I just didn’t want to do that,” Billy candidly tells Wong. “And so, music really has kept me away from that. That’s a big motivator as well, just not wanting to have a bad life. … I failed all through high school and stuff. The only reason I graduated was ’cause I was selling mushrooms and I paid this kid five bucks per assignment. I couldn’t do math, I couldn’t pass algebra, my brain just doesn’t work that way. … Music’s the only thing I’ve ever had. All that school stuff’s to say that I didn’t have anything else, I didn’t have any other skill, I wasn’t gonna go to college ‘cus I hated school.”

“Playing music was just a way of life around the house, it was never something that I thought was an option as a career,” he continues. “Like, you’re not gonna ‘make it.’ When I was in elementary and middle school and high school and stuff, I read books about, like, Kurt Cobain and Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix and all of those larger-than-life kind of people and, you know, I wanted to be somebody like that, some musical icon or something. When I was a teenager playing in metal bands and stuff, like, paying to play, [I started realizing] wow, this is really tough and that’s kind of an unfathomable dream and this is probably not going to happen. But I just stuck to it and I realized that, okay, I’m not gonna be Jimi Hendrix but I could be, like, a dude that makes a living playing music and have a good life and not have to work some job that I hate. … But it all goes back to just learning to play as a kid. Those were the best days of my life.”

The two guitarists go on to discuss removing attitudes of exclusivity from music appreciation, letting yourself sound like yourself, battling impostor syndrome, and being embraced by their musical heroes (“They’re just a bunch of normal-ass dudes that are cool as hell, and they’re just really good at their instruments, that’s all,” Strings laughs).

Moving on to the episode’s central theme, Wong shifts the conversation to the sense of nostalgia he feels goes hand in hand with bluegrass music. Strings is quick to run with that idea, laying out the finer points of the style’s wistful nature—and how that nature had a profound impact on his life during a difficult time.

“For me, it’s big-time nostalgic, and that’s how it saved my life, I think, because I was going down sort of a bad path,” Billy explains. “I was playing in a metal band and doing drugs and just partying and dropping out of school… I remember one time specifically, I was drunk, like 15 years old, driving my mom’s Chevelle down Hayes Road, cornfields on both sides, with a bottle of vodka riding shotgun, seeing how fast I could get that thing to go. And while I’m cruising down the road, I see this tape hanging out of the tape deck, and I’m like, ‘I wonder what mom’s been listening to?’ And I pop it in. What comes on but The Stanley Brothers‘ ‘Rank Stranger’, one of the most classic bluegrass songs that you’ve ever heard.”

“I just started slowing down,” he continues, “and I just sort of pulled off the road and I was so nostalgic for my past, nostalgic for my childhood before all of that addiction. It was all sunshine back then, and bluegrass. It was just a good childhood. I had drifted away from bluegrass, like I said, I was playing in a metal band, but when I pushed the tape in and I heard that, I just wanted to start crying. It just reminded me of being seven years old again, playing at Barkus Park with my dad and his friends. That’s really what started it again.”

The conversation also touches on the various figures who have changed the game in bluegrass music over the years, the differences between the styles of Doc Watson and Tony Rice (demonstrations included), and distilling influences into a style of your own. When the discussion moves to musical restraint—”the best musicians are the ones that you don’t hear, the ones that blend in,” Strings poses—the conversation also highlights non-bluegrass guitarists like Jimmy Herring (Widespread Panic, Aquarium Rescue Unit). “He could be playing a rip-your-face-off solo, but it still doesn’t sound like he’s poking out front. It sounds so in, into the mix,” Billy notes.

The two find other connections through their mutual experiences on the road. When Billy recounts a lesson in “respecting the song” and staying present from his first time playing with Sam Bush, Cory is quick to connect that concept to a Vulfpeck mantra, “respect for the craft,” which they learned from a deli man. When Cory posits that detaching is often as important as focusing (“Sometimes, I will purposefully imagine a landscape, and I’m just painting that with my instrument. … That’s what I need to do to be more present, just kind of disconnect”), Billy recalls his experience improvising on Grateful Dead music with Bill Kreutzmann and Billy & The Kids in Hawaii (“The only way is to have no way”).

Continuing on the topic of the Dead, Wong goes as far as to suggest that no one is better positioned than Billy Strings to go the John Mayer route and carry the Dead’s flame for a new generation. As a deliberate, reserved Strings responds, “It would be a lot of fun and it would be quite an honor and all that stuff, but at the same time, I got my own kinda thing going on, you know what I mean? I wanna make my own Grateful Dead. I’m getting to the point where I’m almost starting to almost believe in that dream again that I had when I was a little kid. Of, like, nah, screw it, I’m gonna take this thing as far as I can.”

Billy also speaks about his budding friendship with hitmaker Post Malone, explaining, “I went out to his house one time, and it’s just like, jeez, man, you’re 25 and you have made such an amazing life with music. It’s doable. You can reach your dream. You just gotta keep your head down and keep playing.”

He likens his approach to success less to Posty’s than to that of the Dead (or Tom Petty, or Neil Young)—play a ton of live shows and pick up fans along the way as they discover the magic for themselves. Proving his point, he notes how attending events like High Sierra Music Festival and seeing bands like The String Cheese Incident had opened his own eyes to a new side of his art form.

Related: Billy Strings Joins The String Cheese Incident At Inaugural Daze Between New Orleans Festival [Photos/Videos]

“I’m talking only, like, a few years ago, 2011, 2012, I was completely unaware,” Billy recalls. “I grew up playing bluegrass my whole life. Doc, Flat & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin… I had no idea about String Cheese Incident. I had no idea about Yonder Mountain String Band, Infamous Stringdusters, Greensky Bluegrass. I had no idea the there was a scene where there [were] people with a banjo with a band where there [were], like, young kids who were into it.”

Recalling a realization he had while watching a video of The String Cheese Incident playing “Black Clouds” at Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Billy explains, “I’m just like, wait a minute … he’s playing flatpicking guitar in front of 10,000 people. Huh… I wanna figure that out.”

“That’s exactly how I felt watching Bela Fleck and the Flecktones as a teenager, Wong responds. “They’re playing cool music in front of a big crowd!” Billy affirms.

“I used to be like, there’s a certain way to play bluegrass—even, like, there’s a certain way to play this solo on this song,” Billy continues. “I don’t know what happened, I think I took acid and got into the Grateful Dead or something and all of a sudden I realized that music is freedom, and if you just get yourself out of the box, it becomes this amazingly free amoeba of just jellyfish love.”

The winding conversation comes to a head with a demonstration in which the two lay their respective “potent” styles on top of each other. The result is a thrilling head-to-head that’s just as “Cory” as it is “Billy.”

Watch the full “Nostalgia” episode of Cory & The Wongnotes featuring the live performance of “Road Trip” and interview with Billy Strings below. Subscribe to the Cory Wong YouTube page to keep up with future episodes.

Cory & The Wongnotes – “Nostalgia” ft. Billy Strings – Full Episode