Photo: Raul Aragao
ARTBAT at Cercle in Rio de Janeiro
ARTBAT On New CamelPhat Collab, DJing In The Clouds & Loving L.A.
"For a Feeling" is the Ukrainian duo's latest dance release to top Beatport's charts and their seventh track in a year to be selected by Pete Tong as his weekly Essential New Tune
Back in 2015, Artur Kryvenko and Vitalii "Batish" Limarenko, both successful DJs in their native Kyiv, met at a club and joined forces to create ARTBAT. It wasn't long before their deeply emotive brand of melodic techno made them one of the biggest names ever out of Ukraine and had them playing shows at major clubs like London's Printworks, Berlin's Watergate and Blue Marlin and other Ibiza hotspots, along with big events like Amsterdam's Awakenings and Brooklyn's City Fox.
In the global underground electronic scene, 2019 was undeniably the year of ARTBAT: they made their BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix debut, DJed for Cercle atop Rio de Janeiro's Sugarloaf Mountain and their fire releases earned several No. 1 spots on Beatport's charts, eventually closing the year as the top-selling artist on the platform.
Their latest release, "For a Feeling," is a collab with GRAMMY-nominated duo CamelPhat and vocalist Rhodes and has been No. 1 on Beatport's Top 100 for the past two weeks. Calling in from Kyiv, the dynamic duo caught up with the Recording Academy to talk about the new track, what it was like playing on that magic mountain top, and the support they've gotten from Pete Tong and other big DJs. We also dove deep into their lifelong love of electronic music, the rich techno scene in Ukraine and how much they love love Los Angeles.
You guys just released "For a Feeling" with CamelPhat, which is already No. 1 on Beatport. I'd love to learn more about how the collaboration and the track itself were born.
Well, we really like CamelPhat's production but it's a little bit of a different style from our work. We had a lot of good chats and a good connection with them. We played together and decided to try to combine our styles and do something new.
The CamelPhat guys gave us a vocal and some ideas and we really liked the vocal [sung by Rhodes], especially the meaning of lyrics. The meaning felt special for us because we like to feel the music and everything around us, we like to feel that it's deeper. We decided we needed to make something really beautiful with it, for both the dancer and the listener.
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So the starting point of the track was built from the vocal?
Yes. The vocal and some of the rhythm. We worked on it two or three months together. Then we tried it out and people started to love it. Other DJs asked us about the track and we shared it and got some very good feedback from big producers—like Tale Of Us liked the track very much.
So it already get some love on the dancefloor before quarantine?
Yes, of course. We made it last summer and we played it the whole autumn and winter and a little bit of March. It's actually one of our favorite finishing tracks. And as I said, Tale Of Us, Adriatique and other DJs played it for about half year. That's why people already knew this track and were waiting for its release.
Pete Tong recently named the track his Essential New Tune, which I think makes your seventh one. What does that recognition from Pete, as well as the other DJ support and everyone downloading it on Beatport, mean to you two?
We're very thankful to Pete for having his eye on us. He's said wonderful things about us and has liked some of our songs and presented them as essential tunes; for us it's a big honor. 20 years ago, when we were young, Pete Tong was one of our big inspirations. So, the support from him brings us a lot of happiness.
And with Beatport, when we see that people are downloading and buying our tracks, we understand that we are making something which helps people enjoy life, something for their feelings. And when we see this support of our tracks, we feel like we're on the right path. It also helps us find more inspiration in the studio to deliver the emotion, that energy on all that sides that music can bring in.
As we are all feeling pretty isolated right now, it must be really powerful to know that your music is still touching people even when you're not able to share it in person.
We're receiving a lot of videos, Insta stories and posts with our music as people are listening and playing it at home. It's our little inspiration for our current work in studio. It's not an easy time now because we cannot share our music live and we cannot meet people. Everything is on pause now, but some time it will start again and continue as it was when everything was good.
Speaking of Pete Tong, you released your debut BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix last year—what did it feel like for you being a part of the iconic series? Were you nervous going into it?
It's a big honor for us of course. We are music diggers and lovers and for two decades, maybe more, we've been listening to Essential Mixes from all the big DJs and electronic bands, like Daft Punk. To be part of it, and on the list of artists who've made Essential Mixes, is a big privilege for us. We are very thankful to Pete Tong for giving us that opportunity. From producing tracks, the other side of our lives is DJing, and the Essential Mix is a big step in DJ life.
I cannot say that we were nervous but we were very picky while picking out the tracks, to find the balance between old and new tracks, and we were very excited for it. Essential Mixes are one of the main, important mixes in the DJ catalog. It's a big recognition.
Also in 2019, you played an epic Cercle set atop Sugarloaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro. What did that experience feel like for you two, and what was the energy was like playing in that beautiful setting?
It was one of the best experiences in our lives. We had wanted to be a part of Cercle, but we understood the guys pick the artists out themselves. And then they invited us to take part in a Cercle event. We wanted to do it in Kyiv because we live there and love our country very much and show people our country. But the email proposed the venue [Bondinho Pão de Açúcar, or Sugarloaf Mountain Cablecar] and when we saw the mountain we agreed.
When we arrived in Rio de Janeiro, there was a very big storm, so we were very lucky that we had one more day there. The Cercle guys moved the event to the next day, which was very good weather. You can imagine our feelings when we arrived to Rio de Janeiro, it's like a 15-hour flight, and when we landed, we learned that we couldn't have the event today because the weather is rainy and stormy. It could've been canceled because of that, but the guys had time and we could stay for one day more.
It was actually so hot the next day, we were afraid it would be hard to play because we were coming from winter to a very hot summer. But we were lucky because there was a very good breeze on the mountain. When we started to play, we were even under the clouds sometimes, playing for people who knew us and like our music. They were smiling and it was a very close atmosphere because there was just 250, 200 people. It's not a big venue and everyone was very friendly and happy.
And when we were playing, I looked back at the mountain and I thought "thank you my life, thank you energy, that you bring me, with music, to this mountain." It was the best DJing experience. With the beautiful nature, the quality sound system and happy people, I never had an experience quite like that. We will remember it for all our lives.
And actually, when we watched the video [watch for yourself above] after, we couldn't believe that it was us playing there. It's so beautiful. We knew how beautiful it was, but from the other angle of the drone, and the blue sky, blue water and green nature, it's like the best natural combination of colors, music and clouds. And the guys from Cercle also said that it was their favorite location. I think it's one of the best experiences of our DJ career and we know it's very hard to repeat this.
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What do you think are the key elements of a great dance track?
You know, dancing comes from inside you. For some people, one thing gets them moving, and it's something different for others. But, I think for a great dance track, it should be balanced between groove and melody. Sometimes melodies get in the way of dancing because you're starting to really listen to it instead. It's hard to say because every time is different, but I think the key is to find the good balance between uplifting and building. And the melody can't be very long, so you can catch the flow. Of course, rhythm is the dance mover. So good rhythm is most important for the dance track. We dance with the rhythm.
When you guys are playing a club set, what are you looking for in the crowd? For example, what do you do if people aren't dancing?
We start to find the people who you can tell came to dance. Some people maybe just came to party or to listen to music but not to dance, so we're searching for the people we see have a lot of energy, who want to dance and seem happy. So we're trying to first make the flow that keeps them in good mood. We're looking for happy faces and trying to keep them happy and smiling.
But our music is not always happy, sometimes it's kind of deep. So then we're searching for people who are really engaging with it, getting deep in to the music. If they feel it and catch the flow, you can watch them, and if everything is good you see if them dancing and you understand you're doing good.
When did you first start listening to electronic music? What artists made you want to start DJing and producing yourself?
We both started to listen to electronic music very young. I started when I was eight or nine. First it was ['90s] European dance music, like Dr. Alban, maybe you remember him. So it was like '93, '94. For my whole life, I've lived in headphones. I'd spend all my money on new music, buying cassettes, then discs.
And in 2003, I started DJing and I gained a deeper interest in electronic music. Then, I found electronic German records like DJ Hell and then Tiefschwarz. I also listened to DJs like Paul van Dyk and Armin Van Buuren to Carl Cox, Adam Beyer, and also Stephan Bodzin was the one of my favorites. So all the famous DJ that you know, I listened to them. Some of them inspired me in some styles and others in different ways. I really liked how Stephan Bodzin made his own style with Oliver Huntemann, as well as Carl Cox's techno, for its power.
And of course, Batish and I listen to a lot of electronic bands like Orbital, Chemical Brothers, Prodigy, Depeche Mode. Also, I like Pink Floyd a lot.
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How did you discover all this music? Was there a good record store where you grew up—how were you listening to all this cool music from such a young age?
No, it started from cassettes, like I told you, when I had some lunch money from my parents for school, I tried to save it and every week I'd buy two or three new cassettes. And then in 2002, we had internet and I searched different forums for music and where to download it. It wasn't good, but there were the peer-to-peer sites and you could search for the track and the artist. And later, when I went to work, it was a very small salary, but I had good internet there and I could download a lot of music for my DJ sets in clubs.
How old were you when you started DJing?
I started in 2007, so I was 24, 25.
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What was the house and techno scene like in Kyiv then and now? Were there a lot of other DJs then or was it a close-knit community?
Ukraine is a very musical country, people like music here very much. Of course, we have Soviet experiences here and it was not easy for the culture here because of economic hardships. The scene's growth depends on the economy, so when it started to be better from 2014, the scene started to grow also. We have a very good techno community here. In Ukraine, we have a lot of fans of house music and melodic techno, the music that we make. We have very quality clubs that we can compare with the best clubs in the world for sure.
We don't have a lot of festivals. There's a few, but they're not very big. Festival culture only started here, maybe five years ago, in Kyiv. But for music, people are very educated about it. And everyone is waiting for this quarantine to be finished, waiting to get out of our homes especially in summer. We should have had few good festivals here this summer but they're canceled.
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Have you guys been spending more time in the studio during quarantine? Have you been making or even just listening to more music?
Yes. Our last gig was March 8th or 9th. After that, we arrived to Kyiv and put ourselves in self-quarantine for two weeks at home. We actually had some symptoms of coronavirus, so we stayed at home, then got tested after to make sure we were not spreading the virus. It was negative then, so we started to go to the studio. Now we're in the studio three, four, maybe five days a week, trying to find some ideas to make tracks. We actually already made some tracks. But you can understand it's not easy time in terms of inspiration.
Somedays you have inspiration, some days you don't because you're tired from this situation and the restrictions. Sometimes it's hard for the mind, especially when our gigs are canceled. It's not an easy time now. But, like I told you, we're getting good feedback from people, people playing our music and sharing emotions with us. And we're releasing music! Now we've released "For a Feeling" and we also have for one cool track to release in summer, I think.
And we're preparing music for our new sets when the quarantine is finished. We will be ready to show people the new stuff and we always love to play music and enjoy life together with people.
Why did you decide to form ARTBAT together, and what does the project mean to you, as a duo, with the music you're putting out?
Before we met, I think we had like six or seven years of DJing. And it was the period when we played a lot, maybe in all of the clubs [in Kyiv]. I needed some new stuff. I started to search for a person with whom it would be fun to create music with. And faster, more quality, because when you're alone it takes a lot of time deciding if it's good or not and just searching for ideas.
We met in the club, our friends connected us, and we decided to spend one time in the studio together and try it out. In our first studio session, from the first hour, we learned that we can make good music that we both like, that we can make it fast and we like the process together. We can spend all day in the studio and joke, have fun and talk, which doesn't happen when you're working alone. Together, we're sharing a good time and playing music and finding good ideas.
So, we made one track, then two tracks and started to realize we could continue with this. We started to do DJ sets as a project and we searched for the names, for two months actually. Then the idea came from our names; ARTBAT is Artur and Batish.
Now it's like our life, for sure it's the best that can be in in our social, creative life. Our project is everything for us. We live like one family and we're very close. Our passion and our project is almost the same. And we're very picky about the tracks, about everything, because we're very connected to our creative name ARTBAT. It's kind of a dream that came through and now it's all of our life.
Obviously, you guys had a huge 2019. Is there a dream, something you hope will happen, for ARTBAT next year?
Yes, yes, we have our next step, we can't really say now because it's still a baby, we're making it, filling it with ideas. I can't tell you now but, hopefully in few months. But one dream for us is, of course, to play big festivals to share music with big crowds because we like this energy and the feedback from people. Also, we like to represent Ukraine in the music world. We like that people know we are from Ukraine, and a lot of people know us here, but doing gigs around the world is a big pleasure for us, to be people who bring our country in to the music scene
ARTBAT in Los Angeles | Photo: Courtesy of artist
Where do you live now? [Artur asked interviewer.]
I live in Los Angeles.
It's our favorite city in the world. We have been almost all around the world, but L.A. is one city where we really want to try to live someday. One of the first feelings when we came to L.A., you feel this freedom, like freedom for your mind. The atmosphere of freedom is everywhere. I think it's the best city in the world.
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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.
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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].
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Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Listen: All Of The Latin Music 2023 GRAMMY Nominees In One Playlist
Ahead of Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 5, 2023, celebrate with this immersive playlist of every Latin Field nominee at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
The Latin GRAMMYs may have just honored the genre's trailblazers in Las Vegas on Nov. 17, but the celebration will continue at the upcoming 65th GRAMMY Awards ceremony in February. There are five categories in the Latin Field of the 2023 GRAMMY nominations — and you can hear all of the nominees in one playlist.
In the Best Latin Pop Album category, are Christina Aguilera's Latin GRAMMY-winning AGUILERA will compete with Rubén Blades & Boca Livre's Pasieros, Camilo's De Adendro Pa Afuera, Fonseca's VIAJANTE, and Sebastián Yatra's Dharma+. Channeling their lively Latin roots while traversing pop landscapes, these albums all magnetically merge tradition and modernity.
Reggaeton, dancehall, hip hop, and funk coalesce in the nominated works for Best Música Urbana Album: Rauw Alejandro's Trap Cake, Vol. 2, Bad Bunny's Un Verano Sin Ti, Daddy Yankee's LEGENDADDY, Farruko's La 167, and Maluma's The Love & Sex Tape.
The genre-blending jubilation continues with the Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album category. This year's nominees are Cimafunk's El Alimento, Jorge Drexler's Tinta y Tiempo, Mon Laferte's 1940 Carmen, Gaby Moreno's Alegoría, Fito Paez's Los Años Salvajes, and Rosalía's MOTOMAMI.
For Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), 2021 winner Natalia Lafourcade's Un Canto por México - El Musical is up against Chiquis' Abeja Reina, Los Tigres Del Norte's La Reunión (Deluxe), Christian Nodal's EP #1 Forajido, and Marco Antonio Solís' Qué Ganas de Verte (Deluxe).
As for Best Tropical Latin Album, Marc Anthony — a two-time winner in the category — returns as a nominee with Pa'lla Voy, alongside pioneers Tito Nieves (nominated for Legendario), La Santa Cecilia (Quiero Verte Feliz), Víctor Manuelle (Lado A Lado B), Spanish Harlem Orchestra (Imágenes Latinas), and Carlos Vives (Cumbiana II).
Listen to all of the above albums in this comprehensive, 338-song playlist of the Latin music GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
Check it out on Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music — and we'll see you at Music's Biggest Night on Sunday, Feb. 5!