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Smooth Like "Butter": How BTS' GRAMMY-Nominated Mega Hit Came To Be

PHOTO: The Chosunilbo JNS / Contributor

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Smooth Like "Butter": How BTS' GRAMMY-Nominated Mega Hit Came To Be

"Butter" — the second English-language single from K-pop group BTS — is nominated for Best Pop/Duo/Performance at the 64th GRAMMY Awards. Co-writer Rob Grimaldi discusses creating the record-breaking hit for one of the world's biggest bands.

GRAMMYs/Mar 29, 2022 - 06:44 pm

What does it take to create a hit song? Musicians, songwriters and producers have attempted to answer this question since the inception of the music industry and the beginning of the pop star.

While some songwriters and producers feel hit records can be created through a precise science or formulaic approach, others claim that hit records are created based on feeling. Songwriter, producer and A&R Rob Grimaldi advocates for the latter, using BTS' "Butter" as his evidence. 

"Butter" is the second English-language single from BTS, the smooth, groove-heavy South Korean boy band. After forming in 2010, BTS burst onto the American scene in 2017 with “DNA” — their first song to chart on the Billboard 100. In 2018, the seven-member group became the first Korean band to play a U.S. stadium and, three years later, BTS' "Butter" surpassed 800 million streams on Spotify and spent a record-breaking 10 weeks at No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

"Butter" highlights the charming, infectious swagger that has become synonymous with the Bangtan septet of Jungkook, Park Ji-min, J-Hope, Jin, RM, Suga and V. It also illustrates the stellar song crafting abilities of Jenna Andrews, Stephen Kirk, Alex Bilowitz, Sebastian Garcia, Ron Perry, RM and Rob Grimaldi, who developed "Butter" over a three-month period. 

Grimaldi, a multi-instrumentalist from Bergen County, NJ, has a knack for mirroring the style of whatever artist he's working with at the moment. Using this gift, Grimaldi has helped create songs for and with stars such as BLACKPINK, Queen Naija, Jimmie, Tim McGraw, Noah Cyrus and JoJo. His BTS success is the result of years of attention to detail.

"Butter gave that feeling that we were trying to capture for BTS," Grimaldi told GRAMMY.com over Zoom. "It was nostalgic yet fresh; it incorporated what BTS has already done so well and took it to another level."

"Butter" is nominated for Best Pop/Duo/Performance at the 64th GRAMMY Awards. Grimaldi offers insight about creating this No. 1 hit, collaborating with a group of songwriters and producers, and what it was like working with one of the biggest groups in the world. 

This interview has been edited for clarity

When did you first get into producing/songwriting and what was your first chart-hitting single as a songwriter/producer?

Music has been a forever for me. I started playing piano before I could even read or write at about 3 years old. I also began playing drums around the same time, so I think music has always been something that I wanted to pursue. I did classical and jazz training in middle school from a writing perspective. 

Around 12 or 13, I began diving deeper into pop music, and I knew I wanted to start writing. I remember my parents taking me to a studio to cut my first instrumental mini-album around this same time; that was my first look into creating and recording. The first charter that I had was Queen Naija's "Karma" — it was the first record I made with Queen…on Capitol Records, and it went No. 1. 

And from that promising beginning, you eventually worked on BTS' "Butter." You, Jenna Andrews, Stephen Kirk, Alex Bilowitz, Sebastian Garcia and Ron Perry were involved with the songwriting, and  you, Kirk and Perry alone handled the production. How did you all come together to create what would be known as "Butter?"

I think one of the most remarkable aspects of "Butter's" story is the team aspect. And I'm a big team player who believes the team dynamic in music is underrated. For "Butter" specifically, every member of this project had a unique skill set. And that created such a special moment in crafting this song because we were able to shine in our way, using our strengths to come together and build a hit record.

Everybody had a job to do, but we never forced it; we knew what we did well. The experience of being together for three months straight was fantastic personally, but you really get to know each other professionally. And at the end of those "Butter" sessions, we left with a better understanding of each other and what we were capable of when we truly pushed ourselves. 

Did you all know each other before working on "Butter?"

We all had worked together and known each other separately, but we had never worked together on this level of intensity. People's relationships, both personal and professional, were established before, but you have to get after it when you're working on something like this. 

Everyone did such an incredible job of realizing that we have to work together as a squad if we want to make the best piece of art. Collaboration isn't always easy, but it felt natural to get right to work in this case. 

So, walk me through the "Butter" miracle [Laughs]: Could you describe how those studio sessions were? Why did it take three months? And just for clarification, the "Butter" sessions took place during the pandemic, correct?

Yes! And the fun part about it was that a lot of it was over Zoom — even if we were in the same place at times. Whether online or in-person, getting together became routine after a while. We would do our sessions throughout the day and fulfill our calendar, but after dinner, it almost felt like a daily thing of, Okay, it's time to work on 'Butter,' let's get everyone together.

Regarding the three months for the song's creation, the length of design and process depends on the project, and it varies constantly. If you and I were in the studio, some songs would be able to be finished in a day or maybe six to eight hours. At the same time, other songs take three months. "Butter" was a song where everyone was so passionate about getting it right. 

Now, don't get me wrong [laughs], I don't believe there is anything on earth that is perfect. I think that is a word we throw around, but we were all so incredibly motivated and diligent to get this song as close to perfect as possible for BTS. It was extra important for us. We knew what was on the line, and we also knew how talented and fabulous BTS is. The strategy for a record like this took longer than others because we wanted every piece to work correctly. Whether it was working on the track, tweaking a lyric or being competitive through our sonics, these things led to an excellent record, and we took our time to make sure it was ready to go!

What a process! How many drafts of "Butter" did the squad create through this three-month session before you got to the performance that the world fell in love with?

Marc, I can't even tell you the number; I have the session and all of the prints saved on an external hard drive to put in a case somewhere and look at 10 years from now. But there were countless edits both to production and lyrics; we made changes when cutting the demo, cutting the master, and I think there were so many stages of this process that made it magical. 

Looking back at this and saying, "This is where we started and look where we finished," is very rewarding, especially as a producer. I'm sure it's the same feeling as a songwriter, but watching that transformation is incredible. I have to tell you, the moment that we looked at the song from the beginning, we knew it was a hit. But it was in watching the art transform and take different forms was the most satisfying, I would say, about the three-month process. So many versions of the song exist, but I'm glad the one we loved is the one the world loves.

The Beatles have a litany of re-releases with different versions of their songs; maybe we get something like that for BTS' "Butter?" I would not be mad at that!

Hey, if you want to do it, I would be happy to help [Laughs]. 

I know that most producers/songwriters don't go into the studio to create a hit. But you mentioned that you knew this song was a hit from the beginning. Did you or any other songwriters/producers ever verbally say that this song was a hit during its creation?

I think it was immediate for me. As a producer, writer and A&R, you have that one folder on your computer of records that you genuinely believe in, and before this song became "Butter," this was one of those songs for me. It took one listen to understand it and know that there was something exceptional about it, and it's very rare to find those. 

This is [an idea] that the squad and I have had discussions about. When you're writing five songs a week or however many, capturing that undeniable ability and feeling is rare. It makes you even more grateful when you feel that way about something. It pushes you and motivates you to make sure you finish it and get it in the right hands because this one was special. 

This song was a feeling that you caught when you listened to it, but it had the formula to be great from a music perspective. The vibe of the song, the energy, that let me know we were on to something rare. 

"Butter" is a celebration of pop music, as it includes various references to other mega pop stars and chart topping songs. For example, the Michael Jackson and Usher references in the first verse. Was the idea of paying homage an intentional part of "Butter's" song creation, or did that happen more organically?

I think it originally began organically, but the squad had those discussions as the song evolved. We thought about it like, okay, BTS is the most significant group globally, and they're coming off a pretty big hit already. So it wasn't about one-upping; it was about creating something that checked all the boxes. 

The nostalgia and the feeling that merges a lot of our favorites before BTS was an important facet, at least to me, and I know Ron and Stephen on production felt the same about taking influence from records that we loved in the past. 

Even more than influence, though, ["Butter" was informed by] a feeling [of] let's try and create something that makes you feel a certain way, but feels new and fresh. Lyrically, it's the same idea as an Usher song and an MJ song…but when you dive into it, it all points to the same place of outstanding classic records. And that's really what the goal was. 

Do you know how BTS felt when they initially heard the song? You can't speak for them, obviously, but did you get a chance to listen to them speak their piece about "Butter?" And how did that drive you guys from that point forward?

Through the grapevine, I know they were excited when they heard it, but I don't have the specifics to tell you what was said and what wasn't. But I can tell you that the song needed to be immediate for them, which was the goal of lyric, melody and production. The song had great bones. If you just played the music on a piano, you would still be able to understand and sing it back constantly, and there was just a lot to work with. 

So the process of working the song out and making the song what they heard was crucial because they needed something that sounded like a hit as soon as they heard it. So from the beginning to the end, every moment of the song had to give you that feeling. Any sign of weakness on that front, and we may not have gotten the reaction of Wow, this is it. 

There is so much to think about when describing the "making of" in that way. What were some of the best strategies and skills you learned from the other songwriters/producers present for "Butter's" creation?

There was a bunch that I learned, and first and foremost, I want to thank the squad because everyone's antennas were up on this song. The attention to detail throughout this track's creation was incredible. When you share that passion with a group you're working with, everyone holds each other accountable and wants what's best for the song and the group. So it was meaningful to me to share that with the squad of producers/songwriters that I was a part of. 

From an A&R perspective, so much was learned. But, of course, the first thing had to be knowing your talent. In this case, it was studying BTS and getting to know them as a whole. We had to figure out what they stand for and what they believe in, what they say, how they like their records to sound, and what we can do to bring out the best in each member of BTS. Talking about it is not something you discuss when working on a hit record, but in this case, it served us incredibly well. Having that knowledge of who we were writing for dictated the decision-making in the record. 

With the number of details that went into this song, it is genuinely no wonder "Butter" has had the global reach and success it did. Recently, I saw on your Instagram story that "Butter" surpassed 800 million streams on Spotify. With that success still coming in, have any artists come to ask you to replicate the magic that went into BTS' hit song?

The industry is always aware of successful moments. We've seen this in the past with a million other things; when you're going to create for someone and the A&R, producer, songwriter generally says, "I would love a song that sounds like this." "Butter" has become that. 

Yes, I have been asked by many people since — and I know the "Butter" squad has as well — not to recreate "Butter" but a hit that feels like that. As mentioned earlier, these are such rare moments in finding the one. Still, it is satisfying knowing that people are watching this and really appreciate the art, the group and want to find that success in themselves.

"Butter" has become a moment that other people are trying to replicate not only because of the commercial success of the song but the fact because the song has lived this long at the top. BTS will be BTS with or without us; they do that greatness regardless because they're great. But the song's longevity has been proof to me that this worked. 

Have you or the squad contacted BTS since the release of Butter? If so, have you all flirted with the idea of getting the gang back together for another single?

There has been communication with all members of the squad and BTS. Obviously, there is a want to continue the work we did after having so much success with them. However, one of the biggest reasons for wanting to work with them again is how much they learned about them. 

Now moving forward…we understand the formula that worked before, it's certainly not easy recreating that magic. Still, there is so much experience attached there that can move with a clear mind from the beginning. So yeah, lines of communication have definitely been open. Working on "Butter," we got a chance to live in their world creatively, and doing that with BTS was special. 

When you saw that "Butter" had been nominated for a GRAMMY this year, how did that make you feel?

I was so excited for BTS. Obviously, there is a personal side of this where each of us who worked on the record is a big moment, and I would never downplay that. But there was a deep sense of satisfaction for BTS as well; they are making their way into the American market, and the GRAMMYs are a big deal. 

It's in my hopes and prayers that they take this one home because I think they are on the top of the world right now, and winning a GRAMMY would be another huge moment of growth for them. But, my feelings are pretty simple on it: I was elated, and this is the end goal — a chance to be on that stage. 

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The Official 2023 GRAMMYs Playlist Is Here: Listen To 115 Songs By Beyoncé, Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, Kendrick Lamar & More
(L-R, clockwise) Steve Lacy, Harry Styles, Lizzo, Anitta, BTS

Photos (L-R): Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Harry Styles, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy, LUFRÉ, Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

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The Official 2023 GRAMMYs Playlist Is Here: Listen To 115 Songs By Beyoncé, Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, Kendrick Lamar & More

Get to know this year's nominees with the official 2023 GRAMMYs playlist, presented in partnership with Amazon Music, which features 115 GRAMMY-nominated songs across pop, rap, country, and beyond from today's stars.

GRAMMYs/Jan 19, 2023 - 04:24 pm

With the 2023 GRAMMYs less than a month away, excitement is bubbling over in the music community.

Whether you're rooting for innovative newcomers like Wet Leg and Omar Apollo or beloved legends like Beyoncé and ABBA, there is an abundance of spectacular talent to be celebrated this year. And the 2023 GRAMMY nominees are not only leading music, but they’re creatively transforming genres, from rap to alternative to reggae — and beyond.

To let the music speak for itself, stream the official 2023 GRAMMYs playlist, presented in partnership with Amazon Music, which features 115 GRAMMY-nominated songs across pop, rap, country, and beyond from today's stars, including BTS, Harry Styles, Kendrick Lamar, Lizzo, and many, many more.

Get to know this year's nominees by listening to their biggest hits and GRAMMY-nominated works on this immersive Amazon Music playlist — and tune in to CBS and Paramount+ on Sunday, Feb. 5 to experience Music's Biggest Night live.

Where, What Channel & How To Watch The Full 2023 GRAMMYs

Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

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Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist

The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.

GRAMMYs/Jan 6, 2023 - 12:17 am

Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!

The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.

Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.

So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.

Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.

About GRAMMY U:

GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.     

Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.

As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.

Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.

A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 

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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.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

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

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

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

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

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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Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring

interview

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."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

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 Bamback 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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