Billy Pilgrim

For nearly two decades, there was no documentation that the final work recorded by folk-rock duo Billy Pilgrim existed.

The master tapes burned in a fire in late 2000 at Nickel & Dime Studio near Decatur, Ga. One copy remained, and from it, about 500 CDs were pressed and sold at a 2001 performance at Eddie’s Attic, the Atlanta haven for acoustic music.

Following that concert, Billy Pilgrim’s Kristian Bush and Andrew Hyra went their separate ways – never disbanding, but also never speaking for the next 15 years.

“I remember thinking to myself, man, this band isn’t finished,” Bush said.

In Sept. 2020, Billy Pilgrim’s lost recording, the lone copy unearthed by Bush while rummaging through his closets during the coronavirus quarantine, will finally receive its widespread due when it is released on all streaming platforms.

The aptly titled “In the Time Machine,” a loose concept album, offers a dozen songs presented as they were recorded – the lyrical poetry of “Blindspot” and “Too Fast Coming Down” sitting snugly alongside the idiosyncratic instrumentation that colors “Billy In the Time Machine” and hazy introspection of “Bluelight” and “C’mon.”

Along with Bush and Hyra, the musicians featured on “In The Time Machine” are Brandon Bush (Sugarland, Train) on keyboards; David LaBruyere (John Mayer) on bass; Joey Craig on guitar; and Sigadore “Siggy” Birkis (John Mayer), Marcus Petruska (Corey Davis) and Travis McNabb (Better Than Ezra) on drums.  Producer/engineer Don McCollister, who owned Nickel & Dime Studio, co-produced the album along with the Bush brothers and Hyra.

Billy Pilgrim – named for a character in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five,” a shared favorite novel of the pair – was the first band for Bush, who would later become the soulful half of multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning country duo Sugarland, as well a producer, playwright and solo artist.

Billy Pilgrim – named for a character in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse Five– was the first band for Kristian Bush, who would later become the soulful half of multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning country duo Sugarland, as well a producer, playwright and solo artist.

He met Hyra in Bush’s hometown of Knoxville, Tenn., in 1990 at an open mic night hosted by Hyra and his sister, Annie. As Bush prepared to move to Atlanta to attend Emory University, he persuaded the siblings to also move to the city.

Between 1991-2001 the guys released 5 studio albums, with 2 that were supported by Atlantic Records. The then-trio regularly played Trackside Tavern as The Hyras before Annie headed to Miami to work as a journalist, leaving Hyra and Bush to plow through gigs that might earn them $60 on a weeknight.

But the “special sauce,” as Bush likes to say, of Billy Pilgrim was evident.

“Musical stuff for me is about chemistry, and it’s the kind of chemistry you don’t know until you’re in it,” Bush said. “Creative chemistry is how I bounce up against Andrew and he bounces up against me and it’s a complete mystery. Expect when it happens, it’s completely absorbing.”

Added Hyra, “There were so many things that were interesting about Kristian and me as musical compatriots. Both of us are strong, individualist writers, but we have a unique harmony. You can have a unique voice and the other guy can have a unique voice, but when you sing together, that’s a transcendent thing.”

The band released their independent debut, “St. Christopher’s Crossing” (as Kristian Bush and Andrew Hyra) in 1991 before morphing into Billy Pilgrim and landing a deal with Atlantic Records in March 1992.

Their first major-label effort – the critically acclaimed “Billy Pilgrim” – arrived in 1994 and spawned the college and Triple-A radio hits, “Hurricane Season” and “Insomniac.” The follow-up, 1995’s “Bloom,” hit No. 37 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and offered fans the melodic-yet-muscular “Sweet Louisiana Sound.”

Billy Pilgrim’s videos regularly rotated on VH1 and the band was tapped for numerous high-profile opening slots, including Melissa Etheridge on her 1994-95 worldwide “Yes I Am” tour, the Cowboy Junkies, Matthew Sweet and Hootie & The Blowfish. In 1994, the band shared the main stage of the Beale Street Festival in Memphis with Beck and Bob Dylan.

Following their release from Atlantic Records in 1996, Billy Pilgrim began tinkering with what would eventually become “In the Time Machine.” Nearly five years later, the album received its only public outing at the Eddie’s Attic performance that ended with Bush and Hyra following diverging paths.

As Bush hit country radio gold with Sugarland, Hyra moved to Connecticut – where he still lives – put down his guitar for several years and dove into carpentry.

“I got kind of overwhelmed,” Hyra said of Billy Pilgrim’s initial success. “For me, it was such a whirlwind and it’s probably no surprise I wound up being a carpenter, because working in carpentry is very grounding.”

In recent years, Bush continued his high-profile run with Sugarland, released a solo album (“Southern Gravity” in 2015), co-wrote the musical “Troubadour” at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre (2017), produced the debut of country upstart Lindsay Ell (“The Project,” 2017) and recently debuted the jam-rock band Dark Water with brother Brandon and guitarist Benji Shanks.

Hyra returned to music in the late 2000s and in 2014 teamed with Atlanta guitarist Brian Bristow, along with McCollister, to form the Smokin’ Novas.

While the “reunion” of Bush and Hyra took place at the 30A Songwriters Festival in South Walton, Fla., in 2015, it was a 2016 Bush benefit concert at Eddie’s Attic when the magic of Billy Pilgrim was initially renewed.

Now, the time machine is firmly pointed toward the future.

“This is a very honest way to re-approach this album. We left off in this moment,” said Bush, “and this is the moment we want to start back with again.”

KRISTIAN BUSH

Kristian Bush is a Grammy-Award winning singer, songwriter, musician, playwright and producer who launched his career in the early 1990s with Billy Pilgrim. As half of the multi-platinum-selling country duo Sugarland, Bush has topped the country charts with hits including “All I Want To Do,” “It Happens” and “Settlin’.” In 2011, he formed Songs of the Architect, a music publishing company and songwriting collective. His solo album, “Southern Gravity,” arrived in 2015 and was re-released in April 2020 in extended form. He’s flexed his musical theater abilities by co-writing the musical “Troubadour,” which played Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre in 2017. Bush is currently authoring the new musical, “Darlin’ Cora,” for a fall 2021 debut at the Alliance. Bush, who has won six BMI Awards for his songwriting and sits on the board of the Atlanta Chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, recently debuted the jam-rock band Dark Water with his brother Brandon and guitarist Benji Shanks. He lives in Decatur, Ga., with his family.

ANDREW HYRA

Before the emergence of Billy Pilgrim, Andrew Hyra performed with his sister, Annie, and Kristian Bush in The Hyras in 1991, then as a self-named pairing with Bush before signing to Atlantic Records in 1992 as Billy Pilgrim. With the critically acclaimed folk-rock duo, he released two major label albums, “Billy Pilgrim” and “Bloom,” and toured the world opening for artists including Melissa Etheridge, The Cowboy Junkies and Hootie & The Blowfish. Following the hiatus of Billy Pilgrim in 2001, Hyra moved back to his home state of Connecticut and swapped music for carpentry for several years. In the late 2000s, Hyra returned to music and in 2014 teamed with Atlanta guitarist Brian Bristow, along with Don McCollister, to form the Smokin’ Novas. He currently lives in Connecticut with his family.