Photo: Jimmy Fontaine
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
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.
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.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Noah Kentis
On Militarie Gun's 'Life Under The Gun,' Ian Shelton Invites You Inside His Hornet's Nest Of A Mind
Reared on influences from the Beatles to indie rock, Ian Shelton crafted his band Militarie Gun's debut album as a missile against his enemies, both internal and external. The result is like no punk album you've ever heard.
There's a part near the end of Militarie Gun's debut album that Ian Shelton wishes he could fix. But he can't.
The band's lead singer and songwriter didn't notice it until long after said album, Life Under the Gun, went to print. It's in the penultimate track, "See You Around" — a keys-and-vocals breather reminiscent of '67 Beatles.
"He doesn't sing/ He doesn't sing to me/ When it used to be/ Something I'd like to see," croons Shelton — who in Militarie Gun and his grind band Regional Justice Center, has mostly screamed and barked until his melodic breakthroughs on Life Under the Gun.
"The very last line, I keep doing the same resolve on," he tells GRAMMY.com. "I did the same resolve on every line on that verse, and I hate it. I've listened to this a thousand times. I can't believe I'm just now realizing this sucks." Right then Shelton's voice shifts; it's like his inner critic has seized the controls.
"You f—ing idiot," he tells himself out loud, his breath quickening behind a black Zoom screen. "You thought that was good?"
Such is an interview with Shelton that clocks in at nearly two hours, with a full-band follow-up and many intense texts before and after. Talking to him at length is exactly like listening to his music — it's a hilarious, unvarnished, galvanizing, occasionally harrowing experience. But one that never feels like a put-on.
One minute, he's chewing on his wounds. "One of my main desires in life is to escape the embarrassment that I feel all the time," he says five minutes in. "For some reason, I feel like there's an invisible enemy on my heels at all times."
Another minute, he's scheming and enterprising like a young rapper — which makes a certain amount of sense, as Militarie Gun just signed with Jay-Z's Roc Nation for management, on top of landing a record deal with Loma Vista.
All this self-flagellation and slightly deranged ambition — and a whole lot more — made it into Life Under the Gun. But it's far from bluster and noise: Shelton, whose background is in face-punching hardcore, has blossomed as a singer, composer, lyricist, and performer in an incredibly short time.
On Life Under the Gun — out June 23 — Militarie Gun is filled out by guitarists Nick Cogan (also of Drug Church fame) and Will Acuña, bassist Max Epstein and drummer Vince Nguyen; the live lineup has shifted to include bassist Waylon Trim. In the co-producer's chair, alongside Shelton, was Taylor Young.
Militarie Gun is named after an inside joke that Shelton says "I'm unfortunately stuck with for the rest of my goddamn life." Their first three EPs, 2020's My Life is Over and 2021's All Roads to the Gun I and II, put them on the map as a band nominally in hardcore, but that bristled at its conventions and wore its orthodoxy like a bunchy suit.
In that sense, they're not dissimilar to Turnstile, the GRAMMY-nominated hardcore crew who augmented their sound with genre traversals and block-rocking beats.
But Militarie Gun have expanded beyond hardcore's boundaries in a much different way — via their sheer melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and emotional content. (The album that broke Turnstile into the mainstream, 2021's Glow On, didn't even exist by the time Militarie Gun completed the final demos for Life Under the Gun.)
From chord voicings to lyrics to performances and sheer attitude, advance singles "Do it Faster," "Very High," "Will Logic," and "Never F—ed Up Once" — along with inspired album tracks like "Think Less," "Big Disappointment" and "Sway Too" — are lightyears past their already appealing early material.
How did Shelton evolve so quickly, so profoundly? It happened while delivering weed.
For a solid year, Shelton — a Washington state native — drove around his adopted home of Los Angeles for eight to 12 hours a day, dropping off buds. "I was trying to put 10,000 hours into studying the blade," he says. "I was delivering weed, but the full-time job was studying music."
The artists doing spiritual work on Shelton: the Beatles, the Strokes, Gorillaz, Guided by Voices, Built to Spill… the list goes on. Between it all, he absorbed more than clever hooks or catchy melodies — he developed a knack for compositions that breathe and hold together with integrity.
"That's all just about observing the sonic real estate and going, 'Oh, that's empty,'" he says. "And then putting something there, because the instrumentals are completed before I even write a vocal part."
All this led Shelton to explore the neck of the guitar, unpacking melodies in an open and untutored manner. This jump between instruments puts Shelton in league with any number of drummers turned successful singer/songwriters, from Iggy Pop to Panda Bear to J Mascis — Brendan Yates from Turnstile, too.
One early morning — upon hitting the practice space before weed delivery — Shelton stumbled on what would become the galumphing "Will Logic." For "My Friends Are Having a Hard Time," he identified the essence of Built to Spill's "Carry the Zero" and wrote his own white-knuckled, mid-tempo ballad in response.
"A strange occurrence/ This train is on the rails," Shelton sings in his pained, raspy, yet incisive tenor. "How long until it f—s up and fails?"
In conversation, Shelton's train of thought leads to "Think Less," which happens to follow "My Friends Are Having a Hard Time" in the tracklisting. He'd cited that song earlier, in the same breath as his evocation of his "invisible enemy."
"I'm on some old-school beef," Shelton announces. "The people that I wrote [early Militarie Gun song] 'Ain't No Flowers' and 'Think Less' about, they talked s— about me to one of my friends a couple days ago and I just heard about it yesterday."
Said people are in a band Shelton won't name, but he'll allow this: "The song I wrote about them got 600,000 streams as of yesterday. More than triple anything they've ever done in their life. So, I'm like, 'We're good.'"
Despite being the most out-and-out hardcore moment on Life Under the Gun, "Think Less" is a musical marvel — from the fake-out guitar intro reminiscent of Doug Gillard-era Guided by Voices to the radiant chorus, where he's augmented with harmonies via James Goodson from the fuzz-pop band Dazy. (Mat Morand, a.k.a. Pretty Matty, also contributes backing vocals to the album.)
In stark juxtaposition, Shelton's vocal performance in the final verse sounds like he's peeling off his own skin: "List of people I f—ed over/ Do they think the same of me?" he howls. "List of people I've f—ed over/ Think less of me/ And I agree!"
"For some reason, I will believe whatever they say," Shelton says of those dispensing the haterade. "I wish that I had a really hardened ego to be like, Uh-uh. Instead, I find the kernel of truth and I stick on it."
"Seizure of Assets" is about when Shelton's car was towed by the city of Los Angeles. "I had too many parking tickets, and I literally didn't have the money to get my car back, so I just had to let them keep my car," he relates, deadpan.
With that in mind, it's clear who the "biting bastard leeches/ [that] keep suckin' on me" are. But in Life Under the Gun, those leeches are everywhere. They're most definitely in the sadistic cancel mob in "Never F—ed Up Once."
"Never F—ed Up Once" is about someone in the punk community who committed an indiscretion that went public; once the social-media bear was poked, he was summarily thrown out of his livelihood and craft.
This led to a shamelessly hooky song permeated with empathy, extending a hand to someone past the point of drowning: "When you wish you could stay, but you've been vilified/ When the bloodthirsty mob, it expects a life."
"I grew up going to AA meetings with my mom, and that fundamentally shapes the way that I see the world," Shelton says. "Which is through a lens, ultimately, of forgiveness. I've grown up around nothing but terribly flawed people. You are going to make terrible mistakes, no matter how you carry yourself."
With the album's centerpiece, "Sway Too," Shelton reached new heights of emotional and compositional complexity. What's more, he evades the binary between poppiness and extremity that tends to box in critical perception of Militarie Gun.
"I just couldn't be more proud of that song," Shelton glows, connecting it to the concept of trauma bonding. "What do you trust when your brain flips in trauma and lust?" he ponders at song's end. "What do you trust when it's love as smut?"
Accordingly, "I've never been more proud of a lyric," he says. "Sometimes, you don't even know that you're lying about things. My own brain, at least, is one that gets obsessed and tapped in on something, and then for a period of time, I feel a way and then all of a sudden it just dissipates, and it's one of my biggest flaws. And that song was really trying to take myself to task for that tendency."
If all of this sounds irreducibly heavy and ponderous, it doesn't come off that way; Life Under the Gun's sparkling melodies and production help all these bad feelings go down easy, and the first two singles distill these corrosive emotions into friendly doses.
In the power-popping "Do it Faster," Shelton drives himself up a wall waiting for word about the band being signed; in the equally sticky "Very High," he escapes a depressive spiral by getting absolutely ripped.
"Honestly I think there's something instinctual about writing truly catchy music, and whatever that is. Ian just has it," James Goodson, who sang backing vocals on the album, tells GRAMMY.com. "I also think the thing that really makes Militarie Gun click is that he's got this knack for combining the sweet with the sour. If one element is super melodic, he'll add another element that's really raw."
Life Under the Gun concludes with the triumphal, Who-like closer, "Life Under the Gun." "A life of pursuit," he summarizes, "Ends up pursuing you." After that ouroboros of a line, the song, and record, cut out right then, as if there's nothing more to add: Shelton's laid it all at your feet.
Militarie Gun. (L-R) Vince Nguyen, Nick Cogan, Ian Shelton, Waylon Trim, Will Acuña. Photo: Noah Kentis
Life Under the Gun can be enjoyed in two concurrent ways: it works as a voyage into Shelton's fractured emotions, maniacal aspirations and fever-pitch personality, and as a document of four or five men playing music.
"He definitely knows exactly what he wants the outcome to be," Cogan tells GRAMMY.com of Shelton. "I think he is a really good tell of people, and people being genuine, and people being honest. I'm not sure that matters to a lot of people. I think it matters a lot to Ian, which I think is the coolest thing in the world. He's just an incredibly real person."
Life Under the Gun's press cycle is Shelton's first heavy go-round in the music industry. It's been occasionally hairy, but on the main, he's happy and intact. He promises a few people are "getting destroyed" when this is all over.
It remains to be seen what will befall Shelton's adversaries — as he warned in "Will Logic," "You're standing on my neck/ For something you'll never get."
But most of Life Under the Gun deals with that disparaging voice inside — the one that underlines your unworthiness, and promises everything you love will fall apart, and soon. Each of Shelton's professional and artistic leaps and bounds seem to be in the service of proving it wrong.
"It took me a long time to shake my fear of this cool-guy sense and being jaded. And instead, being really open creatively and saying things that I might find embarrassing, and I try to stick to that," he says. "Every lyric I'm embarrassed of is the lyric people love."
All of this boils down to the grand artistic tradition of getting away with something — which is half the fun of all great rock music. "I literally walk around rubbing my hands together like a villain because it's how I feel," Shelton says.
From their stoner joke of a name to Shelton's second-to-none drunk tweeting to a Taco Bell ad to their promotional "Ooh Ooh" emoji — a play on Shelton's pet vocalization — so much of Militarie Gun's rise has been about gleefully stirring the pot.
But that's all window dressing; it'll fade, and soon, just as all press cycles do. The real impact of Militarie Gun is this: a creative, insecure, enterprising young man with a couple of screws loose took inventory of his life under the gun, opened his mouth and told the truth.
Photo: Austin Ciezko
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.
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."
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.
"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.
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. 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!
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.