Photo: Devyn Galindo
Channel Tres Talks Honoring Isaac Hayes On EP 'Black Moses,' Healing With Music & Being A "Ghetto Savior"
The rising Compton-born singer/rapper/producer sits down with the Recording Academy to talk about his forthcoming second EP, growing up in Compton, his dream collabs (such as recent tourmate Childish Gambino) and more
Meet Channel Tres. The Compton-born singer/rapper/producer and all-around artistic visionary is just getting started living his dream of making an impact with music. He released his swaggy self-titled debut EP last year on Los Angeles indie label GODMODE and in less than a year has become in demand on stages around the world, performing at Detroit's Movement, Barcelona's Primavera Sound and Australia's Splendor In The Grass, to name just a few.
Now he's preparing to share his second EP with the world, Black Moses, which drops on Aug. 16 and is dedicated to the late, great soul legend Isaac Hayes, whose 1971 GRAMMY-winning album shared the same name. To date, Tres has already given the world a taste of its magic with "Brilliant Nigga" and "Sexy Black Timberlake." Next week, on Aug. 2, he'll share the EP's title track and third single featuring politically minded rapper JPEGMAFIA.
We sat down with Tres at the sunny GODMODE studios in East L.A. while he was in town to learn more about Black Moses, how Compton influences his music and his advice to aspiring artists.
You're dropping your second EP, Black Moses, soon; can you speak to the message behind it and the sounds that you explore on it?
First off, it's paying homage to Isaac Hayes. Soundscape-wise, I'm not really in an Isaac Hayes vibe. But the name—I was watching this old festival they threw in Watts [Wattstax 1972]. This is when Shaft and the theme song was really big. He came out and had on a hat and some shades and a coat. They took his coat off and Jesse Jackson was announcing him.
He looked so godly and it was just so black and so powerful for me. So, that's why I just dove into that, which inspired the name and the sounds on it. It's further in what I started with, the Channel Tres EP. I got some cool songs on there and the production got better; it's just a step up. And Moses, in the Bible, is the savior of the people of the promised land. I feel like sometimes I want to be a ghetto savior.
You've already gave us the gift of "Sexy Black Timberlake" from the EP, with groovy G-funk vibes and an amazing video. What was your vision for that song and video?
Thank you. The vision for that song is just people are starting to pay attention more to me and the music, and also I'm growing up to a man and understanding myself more and just being more confident.
How old are you?
I'm 28. So, I'm just crossing over to that mature place. It was funny because when I was younger, depending on what I was wearing—even now—I'm either vilified or objectified. As I started to get more successful, I see how sometimes people objectify me, and women start to objectify men. Because now they see that I'm something. That's what I'm saying that in that song. And it's me just being irritated.
And I love Justin Timberlake. We were just playing around because I wrote a song and I was saying, "Bringing sexy back, making sexy black." We were fing around, it was like, "Let's just name it that, f it." It just makes sense. Also with Compton, just showing a different side.
The video was filmed in Compton, right?
Yeah, I shoot all my stuff there because I've got family everywhere. My little brother's in prison, and it just makes people happy to see the city in stuff like that. Just different places that I grew up. I'm going to make so much music and I like watching my sh*t because I don't get to go there that often.
So you've left, but you grew up here in L.A., in Compton. What does Compton mean to you and how do you think it shaped your artistic journey and identity?
It's a huge community of people out there, so it's home. It will always have a special place in my heart. I'm just happy that I'm street smart. A lot of people don't have common sense. I know how to survive. If there was an apocalypse or something and everything was taken away, I would know how to survive. I grew up in kind of a grimy way, in a grimy area, so your survival tactics are just different. I will always appreciate that. And I love G-funk and just West Coast music, so I'm so happy I got to grow up around that, and actually feel that. To be around that and see things.
Who were your favorite artists growing up, and who remains as your influences today?
Nate Dogg, Tupac, Ice Cube. I love [Dr.] Dre. I grew up on a lot of gospel; Sam Cooke, Fred Hammond, Marvin Gaye. Motown, everything pretty much. Miles Davis. A lot of jazz, a lot of gospel, a lot of rap.
Was there a moment when you knew or decided that you wanted to make music? What called you into that space?
I've always wanted to make music, since I was born. My dad was a musician, I think you're what your parents are. I think it got passed down, the love. I always had a thing for it, but I didn't understand the discipline of it until later on, and that's when I started getting better and things started happening.
What's your biggest goal as an artist?
Just to be around, be in culture. I'd like to do things; work on films, have great songs that just stand the test of time. We still listen to the old funk records and all that, I just want songs that are timeless. I love music, I just want to be in it, I always want to be in it.
You're doing it. In terms of your music, you do a lot. You produce, you sing, you rap, you can dance, it's all there. What's your favorite part of the creative process?
I like it all. Every part of performing, dancing, producing. It's just so many different sides of music so I appreciate it all. You get to connect with the music in a different way, when you've been in all those areas.
Do you have any rituals or places that foster creativity?
I pray. I talk to God. I talk to myself. I lived through a lot and I'm still going through sh*t. So there's enough trauma in there and this all started happening, so I have a lot to talk about. I don't really go anywhere. I'm a Gemini too, I'm kind of crazy in my head. I don't know, I go a lot of places in my head. Music is real cathartic for me, that's how I deal with it, and that's how I'm getting healing from a lot of the things I've been through, so I don't really go nowhere I just do it. I'm just always ready to go. Like, "Let's get it."
Between Movement, Primavera Sound, a Boiler Room set and a bunch of other big shows, you've had a pretty stacked year. What has been a favorite moment from these events so far?
It's all my favorite. A year and a half ago I wasn't playing all these shows and this is something I fantasized about. I was in Spain at Primavera playing by the beach. My set was at 9 pm, it was a great time, the sun was setting. And so many people, and I knew all my words, I knew all my choreo. I was like, "Oh sh*t, I'm doing it." It's fun, I love playing, I like traveling for music.
When you are performing in front of people, do you feel like that's a different sort of therapeutic or cathartic experience as to when you're making the music?
Yeah, I mean I don't have to fight nobody. I got my energy out; all my aggression, all my anger. It's like my form of destruction. I'm pretty easygoing, but on stage you can't tell me sh*t. And if you don't want to be there you don't have to be there.
Hopeless https://t.co/ySj6qqNO8S— channel tres (@channel_tres) July 22, 2019
Have you been able to connect with other people through your music?
Like other artists? Hell yeah. It's been cool. I was making music the other day, and I'm in the room with my idols like, "Oh sh*t!" It's crazy, it's so fun and so cool because I'm still a fan too.
Do you have any dream collaborations that you want to speak out and manifest?
Kendrick [Lamar]. I definitely want to do something with Kendrick one day. I want to do something with Stevie Wonder. I want to work with Jon Brion. There's a lot of people I want to work with, I got a list. I want to work with Childish Gambino, I think we could make some tight sh*t.
Speaking of working with people, you're going to be touring with Toro Y Moi soon, and you recently did a rad remix of one of his tracks from his last album. How did you guys meet and would you ever collab on some tracks?
I'm a big fan of Chaz [Bear, a.k.a. Toro Y Moi] for a long time. We met on my birthday three years ago. Every year we got closer as friends and he started listening to my sh*t I guess. He hit me up and was like, "Yo, we should go on tour." And a year later we go on tour.
so excited to announce that I’m opening for Childish Gambino in Australia. I been grindin my whole life and this one means a lot to me. I’m grateful to be making music, performing, and traveling. Thank you @donaldglover you are brilliant. shout out to my team! God bless pic.twitter.com/pl9D4vwPf7— channel tres (@channel_tres) July 11, 2019
That's so cool. Planting the seeds.
Yeah, I'm about to go on tour with Childish Gambino too. It's not announced yet, but we are playing two shows together in Australia. I'm opening up for him like next week.
Oh sick! I saw him at The Forum.
It was crazy?
Yeah. He has an energy on stage where you're like, "Damn, I want to go wherever you are going."
Yeah, fire. I can't wait to meet him.
Do you have a message for young kids in Compton, or wherever else, who want to get into music?
Persistence always wins and hard work beats talent any day. I'm not the most talented, I mean there's people better than me. But what makes my sh*t cool is just me, I'm not trying to be nobody else. I pay homage to the OGs, I have respect for the people that came before me. I don't think nothing is bad unless musically it doesn't go together. So, I'm not really judgey, I'm not heavily critical of everything. I just try to understand and try to take it day by day.
Just trust God and the universe, and be persistent and really find out if it's what you're supposed to be doing. Because if it's what you are supposed to do, you'll have provision, things will be happening. Even though it might take a long time, you'll know. Just do it for the right reasons. And when you get it, do something good with it.
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Photo: Astrida Valigorsky / Getty Images
Channel Tres' Ascension: How The Compton Producer & Rapper Found Himself Through House Music
Channel Tres discusses his new EP, 'Real Cultural S—,' his love of Teddy Pendergrass, and glowing up as you grow up.
It's about damn time Compton-bred singer, rapper, producer, DJ Channel Tres is recognized and celebrated for the superstar he is.
His latest body of work, the Real Cultural S— EP, dropping on Feb. 24, is just the chance to do so. It includes the jubilant lead singles "6am" and "Just Can’t Get Enough," the latter featuring the perfect use of a Teddy Pendergrass sample, plus three new tracks.
But Tres has long demonstrated his star power with confidence, with 2022 being his biggest year yet. He dropped the palate-cleansing refresh, an eclectic mixtape of vibey instrumentals that showcase his skills as a producer and as an artist unwilling to be boxed in. In March, he offered the clubby Acid / Ganzfeld two-tracker, and followed by the sassy "hollaback b*tch" with Mura Masa and Shygirl. The single "No Limit" provided a fitting anthem for the ascending star, and marked Channel Tres' signing to RCA Records.
The "Topdown" artist also brought back his captivating live show, with more dancers, fresh bedazzled 'fits, and a sleek stage design across the country in 2022. He made his Coachella debut and tore up other big festivals like New York's Governors Ball and San Francisco's new Portola Fest. He sold out three nights in a row in his hometown, at Los Angeles' Fonda Theater in December.
An in-demand collaborator, Tres is regularly tapped by a wide range of dance and pop artists including Tove Lo, SG Lewis, Honey Dijon, TOKiMONSTA, Duke Dumont, Polo & Pan, and Flight Facilities to bring his infectious grooves and swagger to their tunes. In 2021, Tres' fire collabs included Polo & Pan’s "Tunnel" and Duke Dumont’s "Alter Ego."
Channel Tres has come a long way since his 2018 debut — the still fresh-as-ever "Controller" — but he's also become more grounded in the process of his glow up. GRAMMY.com first sat down with Channel Tres in 2019 to discuss his Isaac Hayes-nodding Black Moses EP, which he followed up with 2020's "Weedman" and his sunny, timely pandemic mixtape, i can't go outside, featuring Tyler, The Creator and Tinashe.
GRAMMY.com sat down with Channel Tres once again — this time at Bloom & Plume, a Black-owned coffee shop in Los Angeles — diving deep into his new EP and how he found his musical voice.
On the EP opener "Sleep When Dead," you talk about people not vibing with your sound or the beats you're making, and then making the decision to be yourself. Can you speak to finding your musical voice?
I was just referring to my early years of making music. I started off as a producer. My style was always a little left of center…because of not knowing music and not knowing certain things. I think that's sometimes the best creatively, because you're not following form, you're not following any rules, you're just creating from a very, very pure place. And I'm still like that. But now I know more about music, so everything's more in shape and I know how to achieve certain things.
I grew up with a lot of people critiquing me and around a lot of very talented musicians. The era was really rap heavy and there weren't many Black artists exploring different genres; you were kind of taught to just do one thing. But I've always been somebody who just does what I want, instead of doing what people want me to do. So, I would be in rap sessions and be like, "Let me just play this weird beat." There were times I walked into sessions and would be kicked out because I wasn't where I am now.
That gave me the motivation to work harder. Nas says, "Sleep is the cousin of death." It's not a really healthy thing to be on, but at the time, I equated sleep to being lazy or not being able to get things done. In my younger years, I would stay up a lot. Now, I sleep more and I'm pretty healthy. But "Sleep When Dead" is just kind of a figure of speech: work hard until you get to achieve goals.
I was self-taught at first, but then I went to school when I was 21 and I got classically trained.
Did you find a mentor at a certain point, or was it about finding that mentor inside of yourself?
I found all my mentors on YouTube; I'm a product of YouTube university. I would watch beat videos and take classes online. And then once I was in school, I had teachers teaching me things musically. I would study Hit-Boy. I got to tour with Anderson .Paak early on — when I was DJing for Duckwrth we opened for him, and every time I would get [time with Anderson], I would ask him hella questions, and then I would watch him.
I'm a sponge. If I'm around somebody that has something I want or is just really good at things, I watch and I learn. I'm always like that. The world can teach you a lot. Nobody has to be your mentor directly, but if you put yourself around good people, you learn things.
On "Just Can't Get Enough," you sample Teddy Pendergrass — how did that song come together? Did you start with the sample first, or the mood?
It started off as a love story. I was going through something in my love life, and I just imagined this realm of getting married and exploring a life with someone and how that feels. And how when you're in love with somebody, you just can't get enough of them.
The Teddy Pendergrass sample came because I was studying him. He was a ladies' man, and performance-wise, I was studying him a lot. He was a good inspiration. Teddy is just a big inspiration, as far as how he conveyed emotion in his vocals. And with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, he was the lead singer but the group wasn't named after him. I can relate to that; doing all this work and not getting the recognition. But when he stepped out, he stepped out and it was time.
Do you have a favorite Teddy Pendergrass song?
It's not his song, but It's from the Blue Notes; "The Love I Lost" is one of my favorite songs.
"6am" is a super fun song, and the music video directed by Tajana Bunton-Williams is also super fun, with '70s inspired fits and artsy parking garage shots. What was the vision for that video?
The vision for that was simple, to look cool. I grew up with my great grandparents and when it was Easter Sunday, we got to wear suits, everybody got dressed up. I miss that energy. I don't really go to church anymore, and my great grandparents have passed away.
I feel like I stepped away from that for a while and now my style is maturing again. I'm going back to my roots of how my great grandfather dressed, and how people took pride in what they were wearing. I wanted to do that in a music video and get that feeling again of Easter Sunday or something, but also just sexy. I just wanted to get the fellas together and dance and show we're happy. Growing up, it was always a woman thing to be like that and enjoy yourself, but I feel as we're getting better in society [that's changing]. We all have masculine energy and feminine energy and that's what makes us beautiful as people.
As I'm growing up, I'm realizing that none of [those gender expectations] matter; I can make my life the way I want it. I use videos and different things to explore that. Also, I used to think low of myself, to where I didn't want to dress up because I thought I'm not cuter than the next person. You know, that insecurity. So now, it's like, nope, we're gonna make this a big deal.
My grandma loves the song.
"Chucks" with Terrace Martin is such a perfect melding of your sounds and vibes. How did you two link up and how'd the song come together?
I knew about Terrace since 2009, 2010, just from being from L.A. He was one of my inspirations back then. We linked up maybe a couple years ago, he just DMed me and we made a relationship over that. I met up with him to work on his  album Drones. I wrote a song four years before that called "Drones" and I played it for him. I was like, "Bro, you're on the same f—ing frequency." And then we wrote the song "Tapped" for Drones. After that, we were just really cool.
And "Chucks" came from a session I had with Ty Dolla $ign. (Ty is credited as a co-writer and co-producer of the track.) Ty and I made the track and Ty played it for Terrace, and Terrace put horns and his vocoder on it and made it his, and hit me up and asked to put it out.
These dudes are my idols, so it's always trippy for me. I'm like, Damn, I'm just working with these dudes casually now.
Do you usually reach out to people? Or do you wait for people to reach out to you?
I try to read the vibes. Some things come to me, and then some things, if I push for it, it'll come. I just try to follow my intuition on certain things. Some people are really busy….So I'm not a tough person, like, "You got to get back to me." I believe in the universe and connections; things happen when they're supposed to.
I love when connections and collaborations feel like synergy and like they're supposed to come together, rather than me forcing it. My collaborations usually work because it just flows.
How do you foster your relationship with your intuition, especially when you're super busy or there's a lot going on?
I mean, a lot of it is breathing. Not making rash decisions, taking time. If I feel uneasy, I just completely disconnect from it, and go to sleep [before deciding] or I say, "Just give me a second" and think some stuff out. And working out and listening to audiobooks and reading stuff; filling yourself up with things that help you. You are what you eat, you are what you listen to, you are a lot of the things that you put inside yourself.
The more I fuel myself with positive things and different things that can help me, the more I see that my spirit and my mind is able to filter out bulls—, or suss out things. It's just about spending time with yourself, and learning what triggers you or learning what's going on and looking at past things that have happened, and where your intuition has led you and using that as guidance.
It's been really rad to witness your ascension in music; becoming an in-demand collaborator and selling out three nights at The Fonda. How has the glow up felt for you?
It feels like it's confirmation that if you put the work in, you will get the results. Also, all the stuff I went through before in life, a lot of it is starting to make sense. If I didn't have those situations, I don't know if I would have gotten here or even been able to handle the success.
I'm really grateful. I want to use my platform to help people and spread love and spread that energy. I've gotten there because of all the things I've been through. And now I'm like, How can I help the next person in life, give back to my community and help my family? I can really build a business on the mindset I have now. So, everything comes when it's supposed to.
Real Cultural S— was initially going to be an album. Why did you choose to release it as an EP?
I just felt like, conceptually, I wasn't ready. I started playing the songs on tour. It just felt like it was right for this to be the EP before the first album. I use EPs to get ready conceptually, and to get better. To put a body of work together is a lot of work. I just grew past these songs and it was unexpected for the tour to be so good. I was like, "Oh man, I gotta write on this energy now, where I'm at now and prepare for the next stage.
I got signed, and I have more collaborators I can work with; my relationships are getting stronger with other people that I would love to be on my album. Now, I have access to that, so I can make this process a little more special and document the new mindset I have.
Those songs [on Real Cultural S—] were made between COVID and between me finding myself again. That process got me right here, now. So, it's like, let me make a project on this feeling, this vibe.
What does it feel like when you're on stage?
You just blank out. It's like playing a basketball game. You just lay out all the practice and let all the things you've been doing take over. And then you read the crowd and enjoy.
You coined your music Compton house. If you're describing it to someone, what elements are central to it?
It's just music, it's just me. I'm from Compton and I happen to make dance music. I'm not really a genre type person. I don't think anybody cares. If it sounds good, it sounds good.
I've dabbled in house music, and I make a lot of things. House is a genre that allows you to be you. For me, it's not a [specific] BPM, it's [about] being who you are. I like to put Compton on everything because that's where I'm from. It's just me being who I am, over music.
Would you say it's about the mood or the vibe or just if it sounds good, versus claiming that you're house or Compton house?
Yeah, I don't claim any genre. I like to make people dance, and I like to make people feel good. It is what it is.
House music was in a lot of conversations last year, with the Beyoncé and Drake albums. How do you feel about pop music sampling from house?
I didn't think about it, I was just happy. If it becomes accessible to more of a broader crowd because of them, great. I hope more people listen to my music. We own this music, we don't own anything here. It's all open, it's an open playing field.
I'm grateful that people explore and want to do different things and push the needle. I love Beyoncé's album. I love Drake's album a little bit. I didn't really care, it's just music to me. I don't own any genre. I found house music when I was 20 and I just explored it.
After you got into house music, is that when you started finding your sound and style?
No. I think house music just made me want to be myself more, to explore my sexuality, the way I dress, even what type of parties I like to go to. Now I'm like, "Yo, if ain't nobody dancing, I don't want to be there." At first it was about going to the club and looking good, trying to get somebody's number. Now I'm Shazaming songs, listening to what the DJ's playing, like, Oh my god, they mixed this with that record.
House music made me appreciate a party, a good DJ and mixes, and it helped me free myself from the constricting ideas I had about music.
What are your biggest goals or intentions for this year?
My biggest goal is to just become a better human. Learning how to be more of service, more respectful, more loving, and learning how to love myself better in different ways. Also, to get better at music, performing and production.
I was watching a video of Beyoncé yesterday, she was directing her show and telling her team how they need to get this right. [I want to] be more proactive in that way, to allow my ideas to come to life and to let the people around me know what I want. And being okay with that, knowing that I have the power to advocate for myself and my art.
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Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
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Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
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Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.