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BLOND:ISH On Finding Real Community On Twitch, Staying Present & Remixing Foreigner & Fela Kuti

BLOND:ISH

Photo: Courtesy Of The Artist

 

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BLOND:ISH On Finding Real Community On Twitch, Staying Present & Remixing Foreigner & Fela Kuti

GRAMMY.com caught up with the lively DJ/producer to chat about her latest music, finding inspiration in the present moment, advocating for sustainable parties with Bye Bye Plastic and more

GRAMMYs/Nov 23, 2020 - 09:47 pm

Vive-Ann Bakos, a.k.a. BLOND:ISH, is a vibrant being who creates joyful soundscapes and spaces for all to dance and play in. The Canada-born, Los Angeles-based DJ/producer has been a global force in the underground house music scene for the past decade-plus, which is fitting for someone whose sets take you on a journey with rhythms from Colombia, Nigeria, Berlin and beyond. While she's played major clubs and festivals around the world, including all over Tulum, Mexico, Miami, Ibiza, Spain and at Coachella 2019, it's perhaps her Burning Man sunrise sets for which she's most beloved.

Now, with the global shutdown of 2020, Bakos has brought her sunshine personality, love of collaboration and joyful music to the world via Twitch with AbracadabraTV. Every week, fellow artists and dance music lovers gather virtually for the lively music from resident and rotating artists on "Magic Saturdaze," as well as yoga, meditation and music during "Self Love Sundays."

Collaboration and connection are at the core of her ethos. Her label, Abracadabra Records, launched in 2018, is another expansion of the BLOND:ISH universe. 2020 releases on Abracadabra have included the Troublemakers Vol. 1 compilation EP and two-track EPs from Canada's Gab Rhome, Paris duo and AbraTV regulars Chambord, Greece's DSF and others. Look out for a new single from the label maestro herself on Dec. 11: a mystical house collab with Rowee called "Garden Of 3Den."

And with Bye Bye Plastic, also created in 2018, Bakos is paving the path for a more sustainable global community with plastic-free, environmentally friendly guidelines for dance music events and festivals.

GRAMMY.com caught up with Bakos to chat about her latest and upcoming music, finding community online, sustainability, collaboration and more.

 
Your birthday just passed. Happy birthday!

Thank you.

I'm a Libra, too. I'm sure you know, Libras are known for being social, diplomatic, creative and other fabulous things. Do you identify with these qualities? And how do you feel being a Libra influences your creativity in your art and your music?

I didn't know that Libras are creative. My girlfriend's looking at me like, "You knew that." [Laughs.] But no, I just do my thing, you know what I mean? I didn't realize that it was potentially a Libra thing. Today, I was walking on the streets, I'm just really inspired by my surroundings. I was walking around New York and [there are] so many inspirational quotes and stuff everywhere. And I'm just so inspired by all that. I could be in Egypt, walking into a hotel and the door's creaking, and I get inspired by that sound and I'll record it. So it's really random for me. I didn't know it had to do with Libras.

So, you're sort of constantly amused, entertained and inspired by the world around you?

Yeah. I was hanging out with a lot of kids during quarantine. And I was making songs about plastic and poop and stuff. It really depends who I'm around.

Earlier this year, you officially released your fun remix of Foreigner's "I Want To Know What Love Is," the only remix they've ever approved. Can you talk about the journey behind the remix?

It was a long journey. Every year at Burning Man, I try to make a special edit for those sunrise moments. And I like it to encapsulate that feeling of being completely free—and the sunrise—in the middle of the desert with your best friends. It's just the best moment ever that exists, so I like to make an edit for that moment. Somehow, Foreigner came on and it's a super cheesy track. For some reason, I thought it would be good for Burning Man because it would encapsulate that moment. I thought it was risky because it was so cheesy, but then I realized, "It's OK, let's take that risk." And I made the edit because it was really fun to play with it and to replay the basslines and stuff.

When I played it, it was one of the last tracks at the Robot Heart set and, literally, hundreds of people took videos. And I realized after I played it that, "Wow, this is actually a track that people really connect with. And it brings back people to so many different memories." So I was like, "I want to release this. How can we do it?"

We tried so many different routes. I got a lot of nos: "No, they're not going to release it." It's not even [from] Foreigner—I was even asking my friends, "Who knows Foreigner?" And I had a bunch of friends who knew that was someone's dad or someone. So we got connected with them and they said, "Yeah, we would love to release it."

But at the end of the day, they don't own it, so we had to get the publisher to release it. And sometimes these are just people sitting behind a desk. They don't really understand. It was an edit, right, it wasn't a complete super remix. And I think some of those A&Rs, they need some EDM remix or something to make it valid. I don't take no for an answer; I just try to find another way. I think that's great advice for people, is if you hear no, just find a different way, potentially. And yeah, finally we got to the right person and we got a yes, and we got it released officially. It took a year and a half.

What's one of your other favorite edits that you've done for Burning Man over the years?

What did I do? I don't even remember. I'd have to check my computer and check my tracks. My girlfriend's like, "Do you need help?" My brain doesn't work like that. I'm so focused on the present or the future; whatever happened in the past is passé.

What are some of the ways that help you stay present or grounded? How has being present in the moment become so natural for you?

Morning rituals, for sure. Morning meditation to start off the day. It's best, when you wake up, to stay away from those distractions as much as possible. So stay away from your phone and laptop. I mean, it's really obvious advice, but it grounds you for the day. It sets up your day in the right direction.

I try to do my morning rituals as much as possible. I try to do some yoga, stretching or Pilates in the morning. I would love to get more into Qigong; right now, that's calling me. I've practiced it, but I don't have it in my daily practice. You know when you just get those downloads? I got that download, I just haven't pressed play yet. And literally, honestly, I try to stay present. I turn off all my notifications and all that stuff. I don't even use Facebook. Have you seen The Social Dilemma?

I still need to watch it, but I've heard good things.

Yeah. Watch Social Dilemma and My Octopus Teacher. I mean, those are two totally different documentaries, but very important for understanding the idea of presence. So even just walking around New York—when I'm walking on the street, I am just listening to the sounds and observing people. And that's also presence, but in a different way. So simple things like that, just being aware.

That's so true. And you're right, it is technically simple, but I think we're so used to being on our phones.

Yeah, for sure. So the whole goal is to get more in your heart, into where your second brain lives, your intuition, which is near your solar plexus. And right now, as humans, we're so in our heads, which is just really top layer, where we're constantly distracted. And that's the furthest away from our true essence. So it's about turning those things off so we can get deeper into ourselves.

You've remixed a lot of great tracks and a lot of really different stuff—Fela Kuti, Black Coffee and Kaskade with Sabrina Claudio, to name a few. How do you typically approach a remix? And what do you feel is the BLOND:ISH touch?

[Laughs.] Honestly, if I like the track, [I'll remix it]. Fela Kuti is such an inspirational character in so many ways. The BPM was so hard to work with on that track, but I was like, "F* it," because it has such a positive message and he's such an incredible human being that I was inspired by that. And also the whole idea of Africa and the drums; that inspired me.

And then for the Sabrina Claudio remix, they were like, "Oh, they want to release it in two weeks. Can you do a remix in a few days?" And this was at the beginning of quarantine, when there were no clubs, nothing. I was just at home quarantining. And I thought, "The only place you can really listen to music is at home and in your car." I was inspired by the fact that people like to escape from their house and go take a joyride in their cars, so I wanted to make a remix that sounded good in a car. Also, it's that kind of thinking, what's relevant to me in that moment.

I'm working on a remix right now for Christmas. Universal's doing some sort of Christmas album, so I'm remixing an old Temptations track. I remember the Temptations because my parents used to listen to them, and I'm inspired by those really nice basslines they had. I was listening to music all over the house, so I'll make it sound like something you'd like to listen to in your home.

I love that. BLOND:ISH beyond Burning Man, beyond the club.

That's great. Actually, that's a good tagline. I like it.

What's your favorite part about collaborating with other artists?

My favorite part of collaborating is the unknown, where it's going to go. It's like at Burning Man. The reason why Burning Man is so special is because everyone is coming there, sharing their passion or their arts. You'll have the Orgasmatron and then you'll have someone that's really inspired by, I don't know, bourbons or tantra. And they're all living, camping beside each other, and they're interacting. From there comes all the spontaneous moments. That's what art is. It's mixing two creative people.

If you draw two circles, each circle is a collaborator. And there's a part of them that overlaps, and that overlap is unknown. That, to me, is where the magic happens. That's why I love collaborating with other people because you don't know what's going to come out of it. You trust the process because you love what they do, you collaborate with people that you respect and that you're inspired by. So out of the collaboration, new things are born. And you had no idea, you just trusted that process.

Obviously, Burning Man didn't happen this year due to the pandemic. It was just in our hearts. In its absence, what element of magic from the Playa do you feel society could use most right now?

You don't feel lonely at Burning Man. No matter where you are on the Playa, you just feel together; it's one unit. And [there are] 80,000 people there. You feel you all have similar goals and it's all positive. I'm generalizing, but it's really that togetherness, the unity feeling, I guess. And right now, in this world, I'm very optimistic, but things feel so f*ed up and like there's no way out. I hate to say that, but at Burning Man, you don't feel that. You feel everything is going to be OK and that we're all in this together. I feel that's definitely what we can use in this world right now.

I feel like I live in a bubble and I want to make this bubble the size of the world so every human can really feel that freedom and happiness. It's one of our rights. That's what we're trying to do with AbracadabraTV on Twitch and stuff. We're really building the community that way so that they get all those positive reinforcements and those tools. And happiness, ways to feel happy, and music. We go live on Saturdays and Sundays on Twitch, and when we're not live, there's a community gathering on our Discord. There are all sorts of different channels on our Discord: There's a general channel, one on music, on weed, all our different interests. And we talk there when we're not live, so we're still hanging out.

That's where we share a lot of mindful practices, just to hit the messages [from the Twitch programming] home. I've noticed that a lot of people introduce themselves and share they are having mental health issues. And they really find Abracadabra to be a safe space where it actually brings them a little bit of breathing space, out of their mental health issues. I'm all for helping with that.

Wow. That's really powerful. With AbracadabraTV and everything you're doing on Twitch, what has it felt like to have that space to share your music and your message while not being able to do live events and to connect with people in person?

It's such a breath of fresh air. Because if this never happened, I would have never discovered this. I'm so grateful to have discovered it and to actually witness it. Being so connected to the community when I'm playing live—listen, it's amazing, that feeling. And I know DJs miss it very, very much. But honestly, when you're playing a gig, you don't interact with the crowd. You can't get instant feedback. Twitch has chat, which is instant feedback. You can basically have a conversation with your community while you're playing. The conversations they are having online can dictate how your live set progresses and evolves. So it's super cool. The community has never been able to speak with the artists while they're DJing or be connected so closely. That's been an amazing discovery during—whatever this is called—2020.

The thing that is 2020. In addition to the weekly Twitch content, you also hosted the two virtual Abracadabra Festivals. What was the most fun part of the fests for you?

The most fun part, honestly, was being live in the studio in L.A. with the production team, and Channel Tres, Paris Hilton, Diplo, everyone coming through. And everyone just being happy to be a part of it and to be a part of that bigger message. The second festival, we decided to do 80 hours—I don't know why—in a row. It was very exhausting.

But when we were in the studio and everything was just running and we were live and there [were] millions of people watching, I was like, "Wow, it was all worth it." And then getting the feedback from people from all around the world, friends and people that just discovered us. And again, I got that sense of unity for a second. And unity, if you want to backtrack, is one, right? And so this presence, everyone being completely present, also equates to unity as well—they're all in the same space.

Read: Dave Maclean Is Livestreaming With The Band & Chatting With Cats

I've experienced those moments on Twitch where the chat is really fun, the music is really good and I'm dancing with my cat. I never expected a livestream or the internet to be a place where I could really feel present.

The one vibe.

Yeah, it's cool.

It is, right? I'm trying to show the other DJs. Because there's a bunch of DJs that are really not into streaming at all and everyone's different, of course. But I have a feeling that a lot of DJs just haven't gotten that experience, of the chat on fire and all the goodness, of that one vibe on Twitch.

I wonder what the future looks like when we're able to gather again at festivals and in clubs. It would be really interesting to see if artists do more livestreams, where people that can't physically come to the festival can still feel like they're a part of it, too. Do you have any idea of what you'd want to do?

Want me to tell you the future? I'll tell you how it is going to work. So physical events are going to come back. And you have the people that buy tickets and will be there. But you also have another layer, the livestream component. So you have another revenue stream now, where you're going to be selling tickets to the people around the world. For instance, Tulum is open in January, as of now, so we're planning a physical event, obviously reduced capacity, and we're also planning a livestream. So we're going to sell tickets to that as well, for the people that can't be there because many people are not going to travel to Tulum this year, especially from Europe and stuff.

And then, VR is actually getting a huge push because of COVID, and it's all these different worlds. You can come as an avatar to the event; we can build an Abracadabra world in VR. And with a drone, you can control cameras at the event. There are all sorts of different experiences you can have around this one event. And [there are] also ways that—we haven't figured this part out yet, but we're working on it—the audience at home will be able to interact in the physical event somehow.

Read: Bye Bye Plastic: BLOND:ISH, Annie Mac, Eats Everything & More Advocate For Eco-Friendly Parties

To the point of raving in person again, I want to talk about Bye Bye Plastic, because if we want to keep partying, we need to do it in a way that's sustainable. Can you talk about how you are approaching sustainability at events? I'd also love to hear about the initial experience of getting a bunch of DJs on board with the Eco-Rider?

Yeah. I mean, we're trying to just produce the least amount of waste as possible and also being conscious about any fuel we're using to minimize the footprint. We think about the whole circularity of the sustainability process—any waste we produce, what are we doing with each and every thing. Like cigarette butts, where are they going after we collect them? And the compostable cups, where are they going? There isn't any plastic at our events, but even if [there are] bottle caps ...

At our last Tulum event, there was something little that was plastic, and we made sure to repurpose everything. We always make sure it goes to the right place. Even when we do a beach clean, we don't just put the plastic in a recycling bin. We figure out where it's going and make sure it's processed properly because the waste management systems are not trustworthy right now, so we handle it all ourselves.

So [there are] a lot of things that happen in the background with the beach clean. It's not just you show up at the beach, pick up some garbage and that's it. We take inventory and we distribute it properly, so it's upcycled. There's a really cool machine that they've developed in Tulum called Petgas that we're working with. Basically, you can throw any grade of plastic in it and it creates some sort of clean fuel. It's a great collaboration because that will create wealth for the locals.

And your question about the DJs—I mean, listen, I had an assistant last year when I had extra cash. And we had this strategy where it was like, "OK, well we know all the agents, managers, DJs and business. Let's reach out to every single one of them. Let's start a movement." We spent six months getting everyone situated and organized, and then we did a viral push with the video. And that was that. Now we're expanding with more DJs. And working with more agencies and artist houses that have a lot of DJs, so you get 50 artists at a time, not one by one.

I don't know how many times I've wanted to cry leaving an event and walking over crumbled plastic water bottles. The plastic-free Eco-Rider is so smart and seems so common sense. But it is different than the status quo. Were people excited about it?

Yeah, totally, people are excited about it. But then there's a lot of work that's babysitting, basically. When you go to a gig, the DJ doesn't really have time to make sure about all that stuff. So the logistics team, or whoever's helping with the gig, needs to make sure a week before—there's a whole bunch of steps to take care of in the babysitting process.

Right now, there are people doing parties at home, safely or however they're doing it. We want to create a culture of people not buying the red plastic cups, so we're creating a guide for the U.S. of what the alternatives are and how to do a plastic-free event for small private parties and stuff. I noticed people just don't know what to get.

Can we talk a little bit about your label, the other side of Abracadabra? What do you look for in an artist or a release for it?

Well, this is changing right now. Typically, we had a certain vibe, but now there are a lot of artists that come through ABRA TV that are super, super talented and have different styles. It's not just about a genre anymore, it's about the message. So we're expanding that horizon to a positive message with the music.

What BLOND:ISH releases can we expect in the next couple of months, beyond the amazing Christmas track you mentioned?

I did a remix for Sony of [Ethiopian singer] Aster Aweke. It's a really emotional track. You don't understand the words [unless you speak Amharic], but when you feel it, you get the emotion out of it. It's another super cool car track to listen to in your car or dance to in your backyard. That's coming out next. And then I have a release, an original track, with a female vocalist coming out on Spinnin'. It's called "Waves." I don't know when it's coming out though, but probably in a month or two.

And what vibe is "Waves"?

It's very vocal and [features] a lot of piano chords. When you hear the piano chords, it just instantly makes you smile. That kind of vibe.

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

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 

list

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].

Living Legends: Nancy Sinatra Reflects On Creating "Power And Magic" In Studio, Developing A Legacy Beyond "Boots" & The Pop Stars She Wants To Work With

Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
2023 GRAMMYs

Graphic: The Recording Academy

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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.

GRAMMYs/Nov 23, 2022 - 03:01 pm

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.

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

Listen: All Of The Latin Music 2023 GRAMMY Nominees In One Playlist
The Recording Academy

Graphic: The Recording Academy

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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.

GRAMMYs/Nov 22, 2022 - 11:48 pm

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!

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List