Photo: Mark Seliger
Adam Duritz On Counting Crows' New EP 'Butter Miracle, Suite One' & Finally Catching A Break From The Critics
After years of touring hard and writing very little, Adam Duritz headed to an English farm, cleared his head and wrote the strongest Counting Crows music in decades: 'Butter Miracle, Suite One'
Adam Duritz just made crawfish bread and the responses are bowling him over. In a recent episode of his cooking show—which has all but subsumed Counting Crows' Instagram account—Duritz gave a notoriously finicky New Orleans dish the old college try. The base elements are relatively simple—spices, veggies, crawfish—but to make it come out as anything but a pizza or a calzone is a Sisyphean ordeal.
"It's near-impossible to recreate," he tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom from his home in New York City. "I'm on the verge of getting it."
The crawfish bread feels metaphorical for the GRAMMY-nominated band themselves. These days, some may not view them as toothsome as Cajun cuisine. But early on, the slightly mystical rock band with an eccentric leader was almost universally acclaimed. ("We couldn't buy a bad review," Duritz says.) But as he admits, a mix of factors—from tabloid drama to radio omnipresence to an increasingly poppy sound—undermined Counting Crows' image. That they had arguably never made a bad album was powerless against a thousand Shrek 2 jokes.
But as Counting Crows' new EP, Butter Miracle, Suite One, out May 21, wafts in, so does the true essence of the band, one unfairly obfuscated by snickers for too long. The suite's four songs—"Tall Grass," "Elevator Boots," "Angel of 14th Street," and "Bobby and the Rat Kings"—are plugged into their bulletproof inspirations, from Big Star to the Small Faces; Duritz is as emotive and poetic and beautifully skewed as ever.
When the rest of the band kicks into gear, it feels like a self-evident argument for Counting Crows as a great American rock band—one that just made a big circle back to the artistic terrain of 1999's This Desert Life. And, Duritz says, the world is coming back around to them after years of being viewed as—in his words—"a joke." "I think the public must love us because it's been almost 30 years," he concludes. "The average rock career doesn't even exist."
GRAMMY.com caught up with Adam Duritz to discuss the long road to Butter Miracle, Suite One and the sometimes fraught dynamic between his band and the public.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
It's commendable that you spent the pandemic not feeling sorry for yourself but flexing a new muscle in your brain.
I get really anxious about that sort of thing. When you write songs and play music, there's a lot of your life where it's not easy. It's not an easy thing to feel like you're really going to do it [for the rest of] your life. There were a lot of years where I was struggling in the clubs where it was like: I don't have a future.
I got a job, but I'm doing construction or landscaping. I'm washing dishes. Or there's some stretch of time where I don't have a job. It was 10 years in the clubs for me of an uncertain future and not being sure what's happening and feeling like a bum. To this day, coming out of a matinee at a movie theater into the sunlight gives me anxiety because it reminds me of a time where I didn't have much going on.
We took 2019 off. That was our year off of touring. Then, we were going to tour in 2020, and you know what happened. There were points during this year where it just felt like I'm back where I don't have a job. Which freaks me out a little bit. I know it's free-floating anxiety because I do have a job and I'll be fine anyway. But this whole last year and a half definitely made me feel anxious about not working at all.
You know, that app, Cameo? I started doing those because I was like, "I can't sit around and not do anything. I need to earn some money so I feel like I have a job. I've got to do it because it's driving me crazy."
There was a point when I was writing and recording it where it felt like that. I was so excited about making this suite. Once I started writing it and got the idea for what I could do, I was champing at the bit to get in, record it and put it out. I wanted everyone to hear it.
Then we ran into a pandemic when we were 85% done with the record. In the last couple of days in the studio, we were going to take two weeks off and then bring the other two guitar players in, because they hadn't played on it yet. We were going to finish up their stuff, mix it and be done.
This was the first week in March. We were sitting there watching the news in the studio [and saying] "Uh, this doesn't look good. At all." Sure enough, right when we hit that break was right when the quarantine came down. It wasn't until July that we finished.
To zoom out, I feel like the story of Butter Miracle, Suite One begins in the years after 2014's Somewhere Under Wonderland. What was going on with the band in that long stretch of time between albums?
Well ... we toured a lot. We were working. There's always a few years after we put out a record, but in that case, we did it for another three or four years, maybe. Up until 2019, because we had been working probably for a decade straight. Which, of course, was bad timing for a vacation.
I started spending a lot of time over in England. My friend has this farm in the West. It's kind of in the middle of nowhere. There's no one around. Sometimes, my friend was there with his family. Sometimes, my girlfriend was there. But other times, I was alone. It was just me and their dogs and the horses and whatever wildlife there was, which is a stload. Miles and miles of hill and dale.
I hadn't wanted to write for a while and I found myself wanting to, so I rented a keyboard in London and got a friend to drive it down one weekend. I started playing it because I was by myself and I started writing. The weird thing about dissociation is that I don't retain things. I actually forget how to play the piano if I don't play all the time. Every time I start a record, I generally have to learn to play the piano again. It's not automatic.
That song ["Tall Grass"] starts out very simple, I think because that was all I could play at the time. And it opens up into a much more melodic thing, but when I finished it and played the whole song through, seeing how it felt, I was just vamping at the end, playing those two chords back and forth and singing, "I don't know why/I don't know why."
I switched to those two chords and it felt good there. I sang this line off the top of my head [croons] "Bobby was a kid from 'round the town." I said, "Oh, that's great. That's a whole different feel. That's not an extension of this song. That's a different song. I should work on that." I started, and then it occurred to me: "I can write a series of songs where the end of one is the beginning of the next. They can be different songs, but they can flow just like that."
When I finished that song, I did it again. I got really caught up in how cool that could—that idea of a four-song suite, or a series of four-song suites. I got really excited and inspired. Really inspired. It was the first time I wanted to create like that in a little while.
Was writing tricky for you in the preceding years?
Not tricky. I just didn't really feel like doing it. It wasn't that it was hard; I just didn't want to. I love the creative process. It's hard, but it's satisfying. Making records is even harder and even more satisfying. All of it I really love. It's not always the same when you put it out.
Everything up to that point is just you. You and your band. You and your group of people you always work with. It's nothing but your desire to create. When you put it out in the world, there's all this other stuff that comes back. A lot of other people's takes on it. Their criticism of it. Their insinuations to the negative about what it's about. This idea that you're pulling the wool over people's eyes. The weird relationship between artists and critics can sometimes be so antagonistic.
And there's a lot of st that goes with it that I don't like as much when it involves the rest of the world. I like making it, but I don't necessarily always like sharing it. At times in my life, the concept of writing and making art and putting it out there has seemed like the route to all my dreams coming true, and other times, it seems like just asking for trouble.
But also, I think music has been so central and important in my life that I didn't think other things were important at all. Happiness didn't seem at all central like leaving a mark did. But I think in recent years, I also got more into getting my life together. Being happier, maybe. Just learning to live a little more rewarding life than just killing myself to create.
Adam Duritz performing in 1993. Photo: Steve Eichner/WireImage
How would you describe the dynamic between Counting Crows and the public?
It comes and it goes. There were times when we were everyone's idea of the bright new thing. We were great and everybody thought we were great. We couldn't buy a bad review. And there were years when I think we were completely dismissed and thought of as sort of a joke.
Then it comes back, and people seem to think you're good again and respected again. But you've got to learn that other people's take on you can only be so important. It's so variable. You can have a front row at a concert and it's all you can see, and they don't give a st. They're just fking around and talking to each other and they're bored. But does that mean you should be pissed off and not play a good show? Because there are 10,000 people behind them you can't see. You don't want to be dependent on that front row ... You start to learn after a while that it's not worth investing too much in everybody's response.
It's really important that you be inspired and play great and that you want to be there and that you give it your all. You really need to be good for everybody. You can't see everybody. You don't know if they love you or don't love you. It's only so important how everybody takes it, but it does get to be a downer at times. But I think the public must love us because it's been almost 30 years, and the average rock career doesn't exist. The average rock career never even happens. It's a very, very, very tiny percentage of people that get signed, an even smaller percentage that actually put a record out.
My view is that you guys are a great American rock band, full stop. Maybe the only true artistic successor to Van Morrison. But you said there was a point where people may have viewed the band as a joke. Why do you think that was?
Because you annoy the st out of people when you're really successful. On the very simplest level, having massive success on the radio means they will play you every hour. And that will annoy the fk out of people!
After a while, it's like, "I don't want to hear the same st in my car every day." They're not trying to sustain your career. It's the radio's business to play what people want to hear so they get advertising dollars. So, yeah. Too much success doesn't really breed more of it all the time.
The other thing is that music's different from other art forms. It's like our personal cool. [points to Love's Forever Changes album art on his T-shirt] We literally wear it on our shirts. It's the soundtrack to all our memories and moments in our lives.
It's really important to how we feel about ourselves. It's natural to love discovering something and feel like it's yours. You're one of the few who understands something. It's a whole other matter a year later when you have to share that band you love with that ahole at the water cooler who loves the worst fing s*t! He's always playing something you hate, and now he likes your band, too.
At that point, it's not as appetizing to you. That's just human nature. Success breeds some backlash. Very few bands go through life without it. Someone like R.E.M., who has six indie records, that builds that slowly—that's like Teflon. Radiohead. Nobody's really sitting around thinking they're just boring and s*ty. We might not want to buy the record because we think it's too Radiohead, but we're not dismissing them.
There were years where we just didn't have reviews of live shows or records. They were like, "Here's Adam whining again while he's f*ing famous chicks." That just became the narrative. Then it kind of cleans itself up and rehabilitates itself ... Nobody goes 30 years and stays beloved. It's impossible.
I think you guys belong to a class of artists everyone's made up their minds about before actually listening. Randy Newman. Jethro Tull. Steely Dan. The Eagles. But when I sense that there's prejudice toward an artist for no good reason, that makes me love and defend them.
I read a lot of articles from people who like our band that begin, "Bear with me. I think Counting Crows is brilliant. I know, I know. But let me explain." They're apologizing at times. This lets me know that at least, at some point, someone told them [we weren't] cool.
I think that goes around. There was a long period of time where people had made their minds up about us. I don't know how that is now. I can't tell. I certainly read a lot more open-minded reviews and responses to things. There were years when we couldn't get that. We get a lot of writers putting a lot of thought into what they think about us. Whether they like us or don't like us, or they think it's a good or bad record, it's not about some tabloid thing. It's about the music. That's come around for us in a lot of ways, which is a relief.
Yeah. It was a Greater Swiss Mountain Dog and a Rottweiler!
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: M. Caulfield/WireImage for VH-1 Channel - New York
15 Songs That Will Make You Dance And Cry At The Same Time, From "Hey Ya!" To "Dancing On My Own"
Whether it's "Tears of a Clown" or "Tears in the Club," take a listen to some of the most sneakily sad songs by Outkast, TLC, Avicii and more.
In 2003, OutKast scored their second No. 1 hit with "Hey Ya!" The timeless track has an upbeat energy that makes you want to shake it like a polaroid picture — until you happen to catch its rather unhappy lyrics.
"Are we so in denial when we know we're not happy here?" André 3000 sings on the second verse. The line that follows may sum up its contrasting nature: "Y'all don't wanna hear me, you just wanna dance."
The ability to make listeners feel (and physically react) to a wide range of emotions is part of the genius of songwriting. Tunes like "Hey Ya!" — a sad narrative disguised by an infectious melody — is one trick that has been mastered by Outkast, R.E.M., Smokey Robinson, Robyn and many more.
If you've ever happily boogied to a beat before realizing that the lyrics on top are actually a big bummer, you're certainly not alone. BBC and Apple Music both call such tracks Sad Bangers, a fitting name for what's become an unofficial genre over the past half-century.
In light of Mental Health Awareness Month this May, GRAMMY.com compiled a list of 15 songs that will both get you in your feelings and get your body moving.
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles — "The Tears of a Clown" (1967)
The upbeat music on this Motown classic was written by Stevie Wonder, a 25-time GRAMMY winner who is deft at crafting tearjerkers that will tease your body into joyful dancing. The bassoon-bottomed song registers at 128 beats per minute, a tempo that's still favored by modern dance music producers. So when Smokey sings, "The tears of a clown/When there's no one around," you'd be forgiven for also welling up just a little bit while you're in the groove.
Gloria Gaynor — "Never Can Say Goodbye" (1975)
Gloria Gaynor reimagined the Jackson 5's 1971 pop hit "Never Can Say Goodbye" for the disco era. The sweeping string arrangements and trotting beat helped to fill dance floors, and to make the poignant song about holding onto a love of her own. Other cover versions by Isaac Hayes and the Communards also capture the contradictory vibe.
Tears For Fears — "Mad World" (1983)
British duo Tears For Fears became internationally known after outfitting their first danceable hit with a depressing and dramatic chorus that's hard to shake even 40 years after its release: "I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad, the dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had." Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith would later release more uplifting fare, such as "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" and "Sowing the Seeds of Love."
Kate Bush — "Running Up That Hill" (1985)
Kate Bush has had three twirls through charts around the world with "Running Up That Hill," beginning with its 1985 release and then as an unlikely Summer Olympics closing ceremony song in 2012.
"And if I only could, I'd make a deal with God/And I'd get him to swap our places/Be running up that road/be running up that hill/With no problems," she sings in the chorus of the racing track, longing to be more worry-free.
More recently, a placement in the Netflix drama Stranger Things in 2022 earned the weepy, minor key-led dance number a whole new generation of fans. The English artist was recently named a 2023 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee.
Midnight Oil — "Beds Are Burning" (1988)
Midnight Oil lead singer Peter Garrett channeled the rage he felt from early climate change and the lack of Aboriginal land rights in the Australian Outback into "Beds Are Burning." The powerful dance tune flooded airwaves and dance floors around the world in the late '80s, reaching No. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
"How can we dance when the Earth is turning?" he sings in the rousing chorus. "How do we sleep while the beds are burning?"
Garrett clearly had a personal connection to the song's yearning message: He later dedicated his life to environmental activism as the leader of the Australian Conservation Foundation, and became an elected Member of Australia's House of Representatives.
Crystal Waters — "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" (1991)
A house music hit about a woman without a home, "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)" helped New Jersey singer Crystal Waters achieve international success despite a somewhat somber subject. A subsequent parody on the sketch comedy series "In Living Color" drew attention to the contrast of having happy and upbeat instrumentation with dispiriting lyrics.
"She's just like you and me/But she's homeless, she's homeless," rings the chorus. "As she stands there singing for money/La da dee la dee da…"
R.E.M. — "Shiny Happy People" (1991)
This upbeat collaboration is between rock group R.E.M. and B-52's singer Kate Pierson.The jangly guitar pop makes you want to clap your hands and stomp your feet, but the lyrics make you question if everything is indeed quite so shiny and happy.
The song is rumored to be about the massacre in China's Tiananmen Square, because the phrase "Shiny Happy People" appeared on propaganda posters. Pierson isn't so sure about that, though.
"I can't imagine that R.E.M. was thinking at the time, Oh, we want this song to be about Chinese government propaganda," she said in a 2021 interview with Vulture. "It was supposed to be shiny and happy. It was a positive thing all-around."
TLC — "Waterfalls" (1994)
"Waterfalls" was a worldwide hit for TLC in 1994, thanks to its sing-along chorus and funky bassline. The song's insistent bounce softens a firm lyrical warning that pulls people back from the edge: "Don't go chasing waterfalls/Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to/I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all/But I think you're moving too fast."
"We wanted to make a song with a strong message — about unprotected sex, being promiscuous, and hanging out in the wrong crowd," Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas shared with The Guardian in 2018. "The messages in 'Waterfalls' hit home. I think that's why it's our biggest hit to date."
Outkast — "Hey Ya!" (2003)
André 3000 sings about loveless relationships to a whimsical, time-shifting dance beat on this Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping smash. The seriousness of the song — which André 3000 once explained is about "the state of relationships in the 2000s" — got lost among many listeners.*
Its unhappy lyrics were masked by André's peppy singing, as well as the song's jangly guitar and keyboard-led groove, which infectiously doubles up in speed at the end of every four beats. Even Outkast themselves couldn't help acknowledging the song's juxtaposition in a 2021 tweet.
Robyn — "Dancing On My Own" (2010)
A penultimate example of a sad banger is "Dancing On My Own" by Swedish pop star Robyn. The rueful song — a top 10 hit in multiple countries — commands you to shake your stuff, while also picturing yourself watching your ex move on at the club. Calum Scott's 2016 cover really brings out the sadness that can be obscured by Robyn's uptempo version.
"Said, I'm in the corner, watching you kiss her, oh no/And I'm right over here, why can't you see me?" Robyn sings in the chorus. "And I'm giving it my all/ But I'm not the girl you're taking home."
Fun. — "Some Nights" (2012)
fun. (the trio of Jack Antonoff, Andrew Dost and Nate Ruess) is best known for the zeitgeist-grabbing pop-rock power ballad "We Are Young," which is about the relentlessly positive enthusiasm of youth out on the town. The title track to their 2012 album Some Nights (which contains "We Are Young") is a much dancier, yet sadder song.
"What do I stand for?" Ruess asks as your feet shuffle along to the beat. "Most nights, I don't know anymore."
Avicii — "Wake Me Up" (2013)
Avicii collaborated with soulful pop singer Aloe Blacc for this worldwide chart-topper that is considered one of EDM's peak anthems. The slapping beat masks the track's sad, self-reflective lyrics about being lost.
The Swedish DJ/producer's 2018 death by suicide adds an even heavier air to Blacc's impassioned chorus: "So wake me up when it's all over/When I'm wiser and I'm older/All this time I was finding myself, and I/I didn't know I was lost."
Flume featuring Kai — "Never Be Like You" (2015)
"Never Be Like You" isn't the fastest cut in Australian DJ/producer Flume's bass-heavy discography, but the wispy track still has an irresistible bump to it. Canadian singer Kai begs her lover not to leave her ("How do I make you wanna stay?"), but her lovely tone still manages to keep the song hopeful.
FKA twigs featuring The Weekend — "Tears In The Club" (2022)
Perhaps the most overt selection of this entire list is "Tears In The Club," which finds FKA twigs and The Weeknd taking to the dancefloor to shake off the vestiges of a bad relationship. The singer/dancer has been candid about being in an abusive relationship, and the song is a lowkey bop that's buoyed by despairing chants such as, "I might die on the beat, love."
Everything But The Girl — "Nothing Left to Lose" (2023)
Nearly 30 years after DJ/producer Todd Terry helped introduce Everything But the Girl to the international dance music community with a remix of "Missing," the duo leaned into their electronic side on "Nothing Left to Lose." A single from their first album in 24 years, Fuse, "Nothing Left to Lose" features a squelching electronic bassline that contrasts the song's helpless yearning.
"I need a thicker skin/ This pain keeps getting in/ Tell me what to do/ 'Cause I've always listened to you," the pair's Tracy Thorne sings on the opening verse. Later, she makes a demand that fittingly sums up the conflicts of a quintessential sad banger: "Kiss me while the world decays."
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].