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Brendan Yates On Turnstile's Vibrant New Album 'GLOW ON': "The Goal Was To Breathe As Much Imagination Into These Songs As Possible"
Turnstile

Photo: Jimmy Fontaine

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Brendan Yates On Turnstile's Vibrant New Album 'GLOW ON': "The Goal Was To Breathe As Much Imagination Into These Songs As Possible"

From day one, Turnstile have been outliers in the insular, unbending hardcore scene. But to leader Brendan Yates, it's just as well: Their colorful new album 'GLOW ON' is for everybody

GRAMMYs/Aug 4, 2021 - 09:06 pm

Brendan Yates stood in a deserted baseball stadium in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, overcome with emotion. He'd been there before; he couldn't possibly forget it. Where the place had once been filled with sound—roaring fans, a booming announcer, the crack of the bat—wild horses roamed all around him.

"It was this magical place that stuck in my head forever," the leader of the rock band Turnstile tells GRAMMY.com. "Something about it felt extremely lonely and beautiful. That kind of feeling that at one point, those stands would be filled." When it came time to direct their 2021 short film, TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION, it was a no-brainer as to where the shoot would take place.

When that 11-minute film—Yates' directorial debut—premiered in Brooklyn this summer, that forgotten shell of a destination became the framework for slamming rock. Young viewers of countless tastes and backgrounds came out in droves and, when the band appeared onscreen, cheered. What was so unpopulated as to provide grazing land for stallions took on new life.

The stadium feels metaphorical for the music scene that Turnstile grew from. Despite giving the world forward-thinking acts from Bad Brains to Minor Threat, hardcore punk is an often arid space where heterodoxy is tantamount to banishment. Turnstile, who add keyboards and drum machines to their music and collaborate with Diplo, were potential offenders right out of the box. Their intrepid new album, GLOW ON, which arrives August 27, is destined to send them even further afield.

But leaving the bounds of hardcore hasn't limited their audience; like a succulent in a new pot, it's grown and grown and grown. Some tracks like "HOLIDAY" and "T.L.C. (TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION)" are punk ragers with unexpected, ethereal drop-outs. Others, like "ALIEN LOVE CALL"—a collaboration with Dev Hynes (a.k.a. Blood Orange)—eschew power chords and bashed drums altogether, opting to float in interstellar space.

The throughline of all this is a lack of fear—of pushback, of resistance, of excommunication—that defines Turnstile. And, of course, Yates isn't alone in the fray. Together with guitarists Brady Ebert and Pat McCrory, bassist Franz Lyons and drummer Daniel Fang, he's open to try anything, gatekeepers be damned.

GRAMMY.com caught up with Yates over Zoom to discuss the road to GLOW ON, the learning curve of directing his first film and why he views the future of Turnstile as a borderless enterprise.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

There's a certain religiosity and orthodoxy in the hardcore scene. Given that you guys have pop and crossover elements, where do you guys fit in that musical sphere these days?

I think when it comes to that word of categorizing things based on sound, it's all based on an individual's perspective. I think in the world that we come from, we've taken from hardcore and punk growing up and going to shows and stuff like that. It's almost embracing the ideology and the sense of community. Embracing individuality and diversity over what some may predominantly categorize based on sound.

There's some bands that I consider some of my favorite hardcore bands that someone else might not necessarily categorize, sound-wise, as hardcore punk. I think it's more something that's not as easy to categorize by sound and moreso by, overall, where you're coming from.

When Turnstile started to gain momentum, did you face resistance from the gatekeepers of "true" hardcore?

Oh, yeah. But I think that's any kind of music. There's some people who are like, "This is what it is, and this is what it needs to sound like. If it's not that, then I don't mess with it." For us, it doesn't necessarily, in my head, fall into any sort of direct sound category. You can get negative feedback from anyone that needs it to be a certain way.

So, that's always kind of been something that happens, but at the same time, you accept that everyone wants something different in what they expect of you, as long as you're able to swallow that and keep moving forward doing what you want to do.

Was there ever a moment of doubt where it was like, "We've gone too far! We need to reverse course because people are yelling at us!"

Oh, 100 percent. I think with every album we've ever done, there's always this uncomfortable, extremely vulnerable feeling of "Is this OK? Will this be received in whatever world we exist in?" This goes back to earlier Turnstile records. Before an album came out, I felt so proud of the work and ideas we put into it. I felt like that was what we wanted to make, but I was also like, "This could be the last one because I don't think this will connect with anyone else but us."

That vulnerable state that you're in before putting something out, I think is something I grew to try to achieve and embrace a little bit. I feel like it's a sign, a feeling of being able to accept being vulnerable and follow through with it. At the end of the day, it's something you wanted to do.

I'm sure your solidarity with the other guys in the band helps you screw up your courage.

100 percent. We're all so close and there are so many things that we try that are so far from something we've done. We try it and we're like, "Everyone forget that we even tried that. We're never doing that again." It's rewarding to feel those things out, but if something does click or feel right for some reason that's sometimes unexplainable, if we collectively feel good about it and it feels like it's coming from the five of us in a genuine way, then it's like, "Let's just embrace it and let it happen."

Turnstile | Photo: Jimmy Fontaine

GLOW ON is yet another big leap for the band. What did you want to say with this record—literally or abstractly—that you didn't in past works?

I think one thing that I've always kind of felt with our band is: I think the essence of it is in a live environment with other people. Live shows. I think that's always our goal: To maximize that feeling of being at a live show. The energy of the shows that we play. But also, with this recording process, on top of that, the goal was to breathe as much imagination into these songs as possible. 

When you have a feeling you want to get across, sometimes, it's hard to capture that on a recording. There were a lot of ways we tried to capture the different dimensions of what one song could offer feeling-wise, whether it's working with a lot of keyboards or drum machines or messing with different kinds of melodies and rhythms. We were trying to let the entire thing feel a little more imaginative. 

A lot of times, when I hear a song, my brain automatically goes to thinking of other things that could be in it. "I think I could hear a percussive thing here!" or "A melody here!" I think we had a lot of time to not hold back on trying to build the songs as much as possible, creating a world in each song that is a little more multidimensional, I guess.

Are you involved with the songs as they grow from their foundation, or are you more of the cherry on top as the singer?

Pretty much all the songs start with me in my bedroom. I just make the song and, at a certain point, bring it to the band when I feel like it's a full song. We see how it feels and build and shape it from there.

It's interesting, too, because with this album particularly, I feel like there are a lot of songs that started in such different ways, as far as the writing process goes. The song "MYSTERY," for example, that was on the TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION EP, I didn't even imagine as a Turnstile song at first. [I was playing] chords on a keyboard and singing really lightly, almost like a potential interlude or something.

Once the structure was there and I stacked the melodies and everything, then, we tried it as a full band with drums and guitars and everything. That wasn't what the initial writing was intended for, but once we all got together, it blossomed that way. 

It's exciting when that [happens] as far as writing goes, because it's not like every song starts with a guitar riff and "How do we figure it out from there?" This album has taken on a lot of different ways of finding how songs feel good, whether it's starting with a drum beat or guitar riff or having a melody in mind, or having some chords on piano or something like that. That was rewarding: The process expanded in that way.

Was the TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION film your directorial debut?

Yeah, I guess so. I think everything we've ever done has been our idea. We bring songs in and help direct the idea. The creative direction is there and someone helps bring it to life. But this is the first time I fully stepped into a director seat, which was such a learning experience. Now, going through that process, you learn how much goes into it. [I have] so much respect for someone who does that full-time. There are so many small details that go into managing every single aspect of putting it together.

It only ended up being an 11-minute project, but what went into it was exhausting. It was really rewarding to go through the process, but even more rewarding when it was something that came from us as opposed to someone else taking over.

What music videos or films from years past went through your mind while directing TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION? What was your vision for the visual aesthetic and sound design?

It was moreso the visuals that were in mind first. I naturally had these visuals in my head for the songs as far as colors and how I wanted it to feel. And, I had location in mind. That baseball stadium that was abandoned, I'd found years ago. It was this magical place that stuck in my head forever. The first time I went there, it was this abandoned stadium that had wild horses running through it. 

Something about it felt extremely lonely and beautiful. That kind of feeling that at one point, those stands would be filled. Seeing it in this state had this very strange, lonely feeling. I called my friend [Ian Hurdle], who was the DP [director of photography], and said, "I have these ideas and they're flowing together. They tie together in a lot of ways."

"I think there's a beauty in being open to everything that inspires you, whether it's music, people or relationships. Anything that's inspiring, be open to it and let it come out." —Brendan Yates

I explained the whole thing to him and had the idea of "Who should get to direct it?" and he was like, "I think you have the idea there. I can film. We don't need to bring anyone else in. We have an idea that already exists. Let's just try to make it happen." So, obviously, there was the location, but [as to] how to film it, there was plenty of inspiration from different kinds of films and music videos and live performances. It served as this mixing pot of inspiration as to how to actually film this stuff and edit it.

Back to the agreed-upon template of hardcore, or the lack thereof. Do you guys feel like you can grow limitlessly from here? Do you feel any boundaries after GLOW ON?

I don't think so. I don't think there's any boundaries. At the end of the day, when it's the five of us with our instruments, it's always going to be Turnstile. I think there's something comforting in that, because allowing inspiration or trying things, no matter how different they may be, will always [be our MO]. If it comes from us, it'll be a Turnstile song.

That is never necessarily anything we have to try to mainstain, necessarily. It's just the combination of the two guitars, the drummer, the singer and the bass player coming together. It is refreshing to know that it's a blank canvas for the future as long as it feels good to the band as a group of five.

When you look out at your audience, which is wide, healthy and varied, I'm sure it dawns on you that you won them because you didn't box yourselves in. Does what you do invite a larger, more varied swath of people into that community that might have been very insular before?

I think so. I think it can be. I think any subgenre or community can sometimes be a little insular or potentially inaccessible to some. Coming from Baltimore, too—maybe that's just partially our experience—but I think Baltimore being a small city where there's a lot of different kinds of music and art and people doing a lot of different things almost forces those things to overlap. You play shows together. I think that alone is always subconsciously a trick of how we approach it. 

The hardcore or punk community or any kind of subgenre of music has blended together right here, and I feel [everyone's] been welcoming and supportive of each other. I think that has subconsciously ingrained us as being open to play for whoever, to take any opportunity to play for people who would be excited to see the band.

The reason I keep harping on this is because I'm primarily a jazz writer these days. That's also a highly insular world, but the drum I keep beating is "If you don't bring in new blood, this music will die." Do you feel similarly about hardcore?

Yeah. I think, too, [as far as] someone's idea of jazz or hardcore or indie or any kind of stuff, those ideas are never set in stone. It's something that's constantly, always evolving. 

It's the way I look at life or being a person. It's cool to have a certain set of directions or have ideas on how you want to be, but I feel it's also important to always be able to change or have someone else's idea or perspective. From my perspective, someone's life could be totally different from mine. If I close it off and go, "No, this is how it's supposed to be," and they're also like that, then it's this wall that's come between. 

And for something like jazz, too: Jazz, to me, has always felt like such an inspiration because a lot of great jazz musicians have vocalized this idea of not even wanting to call their music "jazz," because if it's good, it's good. If it feels good, it feels good. That's always inspired me as far as working to ignore the genre barriers that are put in place by society.

People feel comfortable putting things in categories, and I think there's something freeing in jazz, where there's such a wide range of inspiration. The beauty in it, I feel, is in accepting whatever it is for whatever it is. If you like it, you like it. 

Everyone's perspective, everyone's truth is very different. I feel like that's how we look at things. We try to navigate through life and be open to whatever. Our music preferences and tastes are all over the board. It's silly to close off the inspiration of what you're doing to only a limited thing that you think would feel comfortable to anyone else.

I think there's a beauty in being open to everything that inspires you, whether it's music, people or relationships. Anything that's inspiring, be open to it and let it come out.

As a musician myself, I like to ask about moments on records more than songs. What are your favorite moments on GLOW ON?

[Elated sigh.] Ah, so many moments.

I really appreciate the song "Alien Love Call," where we ended up collaborating with Dev Hynes of Blood Orange. I think one thing we've always been open to as well—and songs on previous records have formed this way—but there will be a riff, or one little idea, and we'll be on tour and throw it on the set between songs.

Read More: How Collaboration And A Little Magic Made Blood Orange's 'Negro Swan'

That's how so many songs have formed. Sometimes, it works and we do it again. That song, particularly, was a thing that we would play live. Someone might have broken a string and we went into that because the dynamics felt right. Once we played it for so long on tour because it became naturally part of the set, when it came time to record the album, it felt like fully our song at this point instead of this little jam thing. It was worth the effort to try to build it into a song. 

After building it into a song and collaborating with Dev, it was different sonically than a lot of Turnstile songs we've done, but at the same time, it was a moment that felt very true to us because we'd been playing it and it formed in such a natural way with the five of us together. Then, when we and Dev came together on it, that's the kind of stuff that I'm really excited about—when those things happen.

Sometimes, they're not necessarily always perfectly explainable. It's something forming and just embracing it.

What do you appreciate about Dev's music—or just Dev as a person?

So much. I'm such a big fan. He's such an inspiring person, especially his ability to exist in so many different lanes while always genuinely feeling like him, whether it's soundtracking or producing or featuring with artists that are very different sonically. 

As we were talking about, some people may categorize [him], but especially upon meeting him, there's such a great, wide range of inspiration that is built into his DNA, whether it's metal, rock stuff, jazz, classical or R&B. He's so creative and has such a beautiful vision. When we work on things together, it's just so fulfilling. 

It's a vision I feel like I can connect to and appreciate. In many ways, I feel like I can relate to the way he looks at things sometimes, which is super-amazing. I have nothing but love for Dev and what he does.

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Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Turnstile On Mainstream Attention, Touring With Blink-182, Repping DOMi & JD Beck
Turnstile (L-R): Brendan Yates, Franz Lyons, Pat McCrory, Daniel Fang

Photo: Austin Ciezko

interview

Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Turnstile On Mainstream Attention, Touring With Blink-182, Repping DOMi & JD Beck

By pouring fresh melodicism and imagination into hardcore, Turnstile have raised their subculture's flag on the world stage — and been nominated for three GRAMMYs for their efforts.

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2023 - 05:30 pm

Turnstile have deeply entrenched roots in hardcore, a genre and subculture as diametrically opposed to mainstream awards shows as you can possibly get.

But when you ask them about their first set of GRAMMY nominations, they dispense no punk-like opposition — just humility and gratitude.

"It's cool to be just honored from our circle," says Brendan Yates, vocalist for the Baltimore punks, who are up for Best Rock Performance ("Holiday"), Best Metal Performance and Best Rock Song ("Blackout") at the 2023 GRAMMYs. "But [the GRAMMYs represent] a whole other world of musicians, and recognition for things that the music industry does."

Read More: 2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

This broad-mindedness tracks with the overall aesthetic and vision of Turnstile, who expand the often monochromatic palette of hardcore to include all manner of vivid hues. Their breakout 2021 album GLOW ON contains everything from synths ("Mystery") to spacey balladry ("Alien Love Call," with Blood Orange). It  even receives signals from Sly Stone on "T.L.C. (Turnstile Love Connection), which interpolates "Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again)."

From separate locations in Baltimore — guitarist Pat McCrory, bassist Franz Lyons, and drummer Daniel Fang outdoors in one Zoom window, and Yates in his cozy-looking house in another — Turnstile opened up to GRAMMY.com.

Topics included strange bedfellows of punk and the mainstream, the fellow GRAMMY nominees they're thrilled about, their upcoming arena tour with a reconstituted Blink-182, and why "selling out" is for the birds.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

What was the Turnstile fan community's response to the GRAMMYs news? Obviously, perceptions of prestigious awards shows can wildly vary when it comes to subculture.

Daniel Fang: You know, it's wild, because it might be a selective thing, but I feel this unconditional support that surrounds our band — where they'd still be so happy for anything we could receive, or do. It was full-blown love, and it feels like no matter what, they've always got our back anyway. 

But it was one of those things where you're kind of rejoicing together. When you actually look at the people, anyone at the show,  and see what they're saying or feeling — especially when we made these videos for that whole last tour — it feels like unconditional love somehow. 

And I think it goes both ways, so it's like: Right on, they'll celebrate.

Through a punk lens, what's your relationship to the GRAMMY organization and show?

Franz Lyons: First and foremost, getting any sort of recognition and accolades from something so giant and formal is amazing. 

When you start in a band and your parents are driving you, and you get the van and the trailer, and then you get a bigger van, and then you get the Sprinter — once you've taken all these steps and made it, being recognized on that grand scale is awesome.

And it's sweet that [the Recording Academy] took the time to watch someone do their thing, and then actually put them on a platform to be celebrated along the same lines — these are larger-than-life perks.

Brendan Yates: I feel like I always watched the GRAMMYs growing up, because the only TV I was really watching was music-related things. I was watching music videos all the time — MTV and VH1. 

When the GRAMMYs came on — especially because I didn't have the internet much — I was like, Oh, I can see all these people that I love that are doing music. I could see them act as humans — sitting in the chair and stuff like that. That was kind of cool. And then, as I got older, I always paid attention just to see what was going on — seeing performances. 

When I was younger, if I was playing drums, my mom was like, "Alright, it's 9 o'clock. You have to stop playing drums." "Come on, please, 10 more minutes!" And she'd be like, "Alright, you can play for 10 more minutes, but when you go to the GRAMMYs, you know who you're bringing, right?" I was like, "Yeah, OK, fine, I'll bring you."

She said that believing it, but also, it was kind of a joke. To see that actually come to fruition is kind of a shock, and really just cool all around.

How do these GRAMMY nominations color or frame your goals in the music business, now that they've upped the ante for what you can be recognized for on a global scale?

Pat McCrory: It's kind of wild, because it does seem like one of those things that you never really feel like you'll actively be able to attain. And then, after you're getting nominated for something, you're like: Whoa, OK, hold on. I don't know what's possible.

That's a cool feeling. It busted another door open. I don't even know what's on the other side, but there's no door now.

Fang: First of all, we never had any goals as a band other than to pursue the creative impulses that we all have, and work together and collaborate and make something that we all love, and then share it in as many ways as possible.

We keep having these new doors open, so to speak, and having really fun and fulfilling experiences of being able to make certain kinds of art and tour and play in all these different countries for all different types of people.

And then with the GRAMMYs — it's exactly like how Pat said it — we didn't expect it. I just think it's really exciting to know that unexpected, beautiful things can happen. That sets an unhealthy bar of expectation, but we're looking forward to [the ceremony] and  all the experiences we can share together.

Lyons: A great friend of mine phrased our band as "We like to move forward, not upward."

Yates: There are never expectations for great things — opportunities like that. I think we have had so many amazing opportunities. Sometimes, you play a festival and you're playing to 100,000 people — a sea of people. It's not necessarily that at that moment, everything changes. Since day one, I've always kind of felt the same, even up to this point.

And as Daniel was kind of touching on, the acknowledgements and opportunities are amazing, and I think it's cool to see. I don't think it necessarily changed the trajectory or intention behind the original goal of just creating music we love, and creating environments where we can play the music, and touring, and doing whatever feels right to us.

Read More: Like Turnstile And Code Orange? 10 More Bands Expanding The Boundaries Of Hardcore

"Selling out" used to be heresy in guitar-music circles; now, that concept has eroded to borderline nonexistence. Can you talk about that shift in your world?

Yates: I think things have become so accessible with the internet, and the idea of selling out is something that is so transparent. At the end of the day, I feel like the general idea of it is doing something against your will — selling yourself to do something against what you would want to do, for fame or recognition or money or whatever it is.

As it still exists, when you see someone doing something that's genuinely themselves, any sort of recognition or opportunity is almost more celebrated. You can really see genuinely if someone truly cares about what they're doing and has a lot of intention behind it, and is in touch with what they're doing.

So, I think with the accessibility and transparency of everything, you can see a little bit more about what's going on and decide whether you support it or not.

Fang: I think that's a larger, logical kind of observation of what "selling out" means in the context of punk, especially. But like Brendan was saying, things are so accessible. You can put something on YouTube, Spotify or Bandcamp; you can create with really minimal barriers to access.

So, I think what that results in is people being motivated and inspired by things, rather than seeing this inaccessible platform that seems so far away. I can understand why that can result in resentment or feeling detached from something that felt so intimate and underground and subcultural.

I don't think those ceilings exist anymore, in the same way. People's perception of something they love is because they see it growing, or individuals do something that they like to do. Now, I just think people are inspired by that [more] than anything, and that's amazing.

Lyons: Originality is celebrated, bro.

Speaking to Rolling Stone, Franz mentioned he's ready to "kick it" for a bit after your tour-intensive 2022. Once you're recharged and reset, what's on the table for the year?

Yates: Our 2023 definitely has plans. We definitely have plans touring — not as much as [last] year, but there's some select touring. And there's time at home just to be making and living and existing. But, yeah, I think we'll just kind of take it day-by-day.

McCrory: It'll be a nice, busy year, but it will also buy us some time to do what we want. Write music or just sit on your ass, or go out and sit at the beach or in the woods or something. It's been a long couple of years since the world opened back up. 

It'll be a nice combo. I feel like it'll be a traditional mode, where we're out there and doing it a lot. And then there's also the affordable time where you can focus on anything you need to focus on.

What about you, Franz?

Lyons: Uhhh… skate. [Laughs.] Chill back in Ohio. Play music with Dan. Tour with Blink next summer! I mean, it's kind of like the year is going to be some playing shows, some creating. Finding our balance is to do that, but also maintain a healthy standard of living here as well.

Not being shoulder-to-shoulder for six months in a row.

Lyons: I mean, these are my guys. I'm down with the shoulder!

Fang: We all love spending time with each other. But it does have the sacrifice of seeing people at home and maintaining certain relationships. So, I have a lot of rainchecks to attend to — a lot of people I'd like to see, a lot of quality time I'd like to spend with my partner and family.

So, I'm really, really happy we're finding a better balance with that [this] year. It's a good problem to have, but I think it's really good for us to strike a balance.

Turnstile

Turnstile. Photo: Alexis Gross

That tour with Blink-182 will be a watershed achievement. What do you think about that, now that it's on the immediate horizon?

Lyons: I'm actually so incredibly down. But they [points to Daniel and Pat] really love that. Obviously, playing a big, giant show is sweet, but playing a show with the band that resonated so hard with my people, and playing with them all summer…

Not to mention that you get to see Blink every night, get to see Travis Barker play drums every night, and you get a whole venue to run around and just be crazy and do whatever — just completely soak up that environment.

Fang: We're pretty gassed up about it. For me, that was the first show I'd been to, so it's another full circle that'll be pretty surreal. Because you get another, different stage to do some wild stuff on, and be yourself for a sector of people, and also be inspired by one of the bands that changed the game.

Yates: It'll be our first arena tour as well. We always love accepting the opportunity to play in different environments — whether it's some field outside, or a basement, or a big festival, or a club venue. So, this will be checking off new territory, in that we're able to play in that environment for a full tour.

Before I let you guys go, what have you been listening to lately?

Lyons: I've been rocking the new SZA record lately.

Fang: JD Beck and DOMi. We're all really excited about them receiving GRAMMY nominations. We really want the world to see them and hear them. I think all of us are really looking forward to seeing how they blossom, because they're both really serious and phenomenal artists.

Yates: Fiddlehead. I've been listening to the new Caroline Polachek song; I'm excited for her album. Our friend Mary Jane Dunphe has a new album coming out; I'm really excited about that. The new Paramore album. [Editor's note: Yates directed a music video for the title track to Paramore's upcoming 2023 album, This is Why.] I'm also excited to see IDLES at the GRAMMYs.

McCrory: I was watching this Netflix documentary about drums last night, so I listened to a lot of Deep Purple yesterday. It's not a new band to shout out, but… shout out!

Brendan Yates On Turnstile's Vibrant New Album Glow On: "The Goal Was To Breathe As Much Imagination Into These Songs As Possible"

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.

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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.

The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC

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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