meta-scriptAs Code Orange Wraps Up Tour With Korn, They Look Ahead To Headlining Stages & Making New Music: "We Really Want To Take A Big Swing" | GRAMMY.com
As Code Orange Wraps Up Tour With Korn, They Look Ahead To Headlining Stages & Making New Music: "We Really Want To Take A Big Swing"
Jami Morgan of Code Orange

Photo courtesy of Code Orange

interview

As Code Orange Wraps Up Tour With Korn, They Look Ahead To Headlining Stages & Making New Music: "We Really Want To Take A Big Swing"

The Pittsburgh hardcore executioners are finishing up a tour with Korn and gearing up for a headlining run. Code Orange recently unleashed a new single, "Out for Blood," and bandleader Jami Morgan has some intel on upcoming music.

GRAMMYs/Mar 23, 2022 - 08:09 pm

Code Orange's new song "Out for Blood" is nothing if not a blunt instrument. By fusing the most immediate parts of 2000s radio-friendly metal — and pairing it with a viscera-spattered video — it pushed the beloved hardcore band further into the airwaves than ever before. But Code Orange has a fascinating and complex essence that goes past mere riff-mongering.

"We don't subscribe to the idea that you're either a punk-metal band or a 'smart metal' band or a 'dumb, push-people, Monster Energy' band," vocalist and drummer Jami Morgan tells GRAMMY.com. He goes on to remember the old days as Code Orange Kids, where they threw down everywhere from airless punk-squat living rooms to meathead fests and crepuscular harsh-noise covens.

"That's hopefully our imprint on heavy music — to take different pieces from different scenes, because we've been part of all of them," Morgan continues. "We've done it all and we are it all."

This hydra-like multifariousness is what enabled the Pittsburgh hardcore band to make Underneath, arguably their most realized album to date. Commensurately experimental and brutal, the album garnered near-universal critical acclaim and a nomination for Best Metal Performance ("Underneath") at the 2021 GRAMMY Awards. (Three years prior, they'd been nominated in the same category for "Forever.")

So what do Morgan, guitarists Dominic Landolina and Reba Meyers, keyboardist Eric "Shade" Balderose, and bassist Joe Goldman get to do when they've existed in so many spheres? They can become the most arcane space-rock band in the world if they want. Or, they can write shameless bangers like "Out for Blood" and tour with Korn — which they're wrapping up now. 

At the tail-end of those dates and on the cusp of a North America headlining tour kicking off April 3, Morgan caught up with GRAMMY.com to discuss Code Orange's roots, stylistic philosophy and road ahead — which includes new music in the not-too-distant future.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

In these final dates with Korn and your upcoming headline tour, what do fans have to look forward to? 

In terms of supporting Korn, if you're a fan of the band, you're going to see the biggest version of us in a setting that's different than they're used to. We're getting to play a record we worked really, really hard on that wasn't able to get the roadwork that it deserved over the course of the pandemic.

In terms of our headline tour, we're hoping to be able to bring the fullest version of Code Orange there's been so far. We haven't done a headline tour in four years at this point, and we're bringing a visual element to it. A lot of what we do is visual — if you follow the band, you know that. Hopefully, the more we're able to step it up, the more we can show that. 

Was Korn part of your heavy-music immersion growing up? 

I wouldn't say they were necessarily part of our initial heavy-music experience, because we come more from of a hardcore and punk background. That's where we learned about heavy music, and that's where we learned about metal — through punk and hardcore. 

But as we've gone on — obviously, Korn has always been everywhere. Korn was actually, technically, the first concert I ever went to. I went to a concert when I was in fourth or fifth grade. It was Linkin Park and Korn and Snoop Dogg.

I think they're inspiring in their longevity and in their push forward. They definitely try to keep it creative, and they keep it moving. They don't sit there and wait five years in between records. They keep pushing. When you look at Korn, you've got to understand there's not many heavy bands left that can draw in the way Korn does. It's kind of an anomaly, you know?

So, I've got nothing but respect for them. They influenced many of the things that influenced us.

Who were the bands that got you going early on?

We got into this really young. I booked my first show when I was about 14 years old. We've technically been a band — in different incarnations, but with the same four people — since we were 14.

My parents are pretty young, so when I was a little kid, I was listening to a lot of hip-hop and rock. Rakim, KRS-One, Public Enemy, but my dad was also into Minor Threat, Black Flag and Bad Brains. Your basic ABCs of punk and hardcore. It kind of sprung off from there and we fell down the metal rabbit hole. 

We don't subscribe to the idea that you're either a punk-metal band or a "smart metal" band or a "dumb, push-people, Monster Energy" band. We take pieces from all that stuff. We can go as experimental as anybody and push people on the ground as well! That's hopefully our imprint on heavy music — to take different pieces from different scenes, because we've been part of all of them. 

We've paid as many dues to the hardcore scene as you can, but before that, we were playing roll-on-the-ground punk shows where the singer was naked and all the bulls***. We've played the experimental noise dungeon. We've played the push-someone-on-the-ground festival. We've done it all and we are it all.

Did you guys ever play to an audience of zero early on?

Yeah. We've probably played more shows to an audience of zero than anyone. We toured the U.S. 10 times before we were in a magazine or coming out of anybody's mouth that wasn't under the level. 

That's helped us a lot, honestly. That helped us win fans. I find it tough to grow when there's so many bands and artists. Everyone gets attention, but it feels so spread out, especially in heavy music. There's not a linear path like there's been in previous years of heavy music, I would say. 

That has taught us a lot. We've played in many basements; we've slept on many floors; we slept on the same floors we played on, right after. We've done it all.

At what point did you feel Code Orange became a unique entity and not just the sum of your influences?

I think we've always had a sense of ourselves. That sense has developed over the years. To me, I can chart it aesthetically. At one point, when we were young, the band was on a certain aesthetic path and kind of came to the end of that path. We had the fortitude to reboot that a couple of records ago because we wanted to go in a different way that would pay off long-term.

I think [2020's Underneath] is definitely a record that you can't say sounds like anybody. You can say that sections and parts sound like certain influences, but I don't think there's a record that sounds like Underneath. It's the most encompassing of that vision. Where do we go from here? We'll see.

Can you drop any hints about the music you're currently working on?

We've been working hard on it. We have many, many more songs than we've ever had. Normally, we'd kind of plot them out for ebbs and flows. But for me, I'm a heavy music fan, but I'm also a big hip-hop fan. I love electronic music. I love rock. Everything

I get bored going on that same ride. I love metal, but it's hard to sit through these albums all the way through. It can be painful at times. So, the way we try to plot these things out is like a rollercoaster. Up and down. "OK, what are our downs going to be? How do we bring the adrenaline back? How do we [stick] the landing?" 

So far, stylistically it's a big departure from anything we've done so far. But that's why we keep working on it. We want to get it right. We really want to take a big swing on it.

I've found that most heavy musicians listen to far more than just heavy music — or sometimes no heavy music at all. What are your listening habits like?

I just get into specific things really hard. Our guitarist, Dom, is an insane metal encyclopedia. He's unreal. Joe, our bass player, is a huge metal/hardcore guy. Shade, our keyboardist, doesn't really listen to it, but he does understand what makes it tick. Reba's really into alternative music and rock. So, we're able to pick these different things. 

While I don't always sit around listening to metal all day long, I understand what I think makes it great. My goal is to try to suck the best moments out of it, the fun moments, and make that as many of our moments as possible. Hardcore is always the pit, the mosh part, but you can use that philosophy for whatever. 

So, we try to make the songs fun in that regard while hopefully being interesting. We are a rock, metal, hardcore band at the end of the day, and everything else is things we're pulling in. You're not going to hear a record from us that doesn't have a heavy element, but if you've been following our stuff, you know we like to mix it up.

To drill a little deeper, what are you listening to this week?

Let me look. I opened up Spotify. I was listening to that new song by the Game that Kanye produced called "Eazy." That's a killer song. I'm listening to Drakeo the Ruler.

I'm listening to a lot of Nine Inch Nails — they're my favorite band of all time. It's constant. I try to get away from it, to escape it, but I just can't. They're my favorite band because it mixes a lot of elements we're talking about. It doesn't lean on the metal side, but it's just heavy. For the most part, the music I want to make is dark. I'm into the dark arts! Aesthetically, musically, that's what I like.

George [Clarke] from Deafheaven has that new group, Alto Arc. I've been listening to them. I've got a song from that. I thought that was absolutely awesome.

Read More: George Clarke On Deafheaven's New Album Infinite Granite, Finding His Voice & Breaking Out Of Underground Memeification

As a relative outsider looking in, I feel like we're in a really fertile period for hardcore. But as someone who's been truly in it for many years: what's the deal? Are we in a boom or bust period? 

I think it doesn't really work that way, because most of what's good about it — 95 percent of the bands that are good — is because of that environment. And if it grows beyond that environment, it doesn't work. And it shouldn't work, and it's not supposed to work. It's like taking a character out of a movie and putting it in another one. 

There are a small amount of bands that are built in a different way. You can already see Turnstile or Power Trip — rest in peace to Riley — there have been and are bands, and I believe we're a band like that, that can exist and appeal outside of that because of the type of thing they do.

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

That's the type of thing we've always done. We've never went from being a straightforward hardcore band. We started really f***ing weird and we're still really f***ing weird in different ways. There have to be elements of your sound and vibe that reach out from those things. And sometimes, when the ball gets rolling — like maybe what you're describing — it forces other bands out of that box as well.

And that doesn't make sense. To me. It's best in that environment. So, in terms of a boom period in quality, I'm sure: there seems to be a ton of amazing bands, and people are going, and it's exciting.

In terms of bands that are cutting through that cloth, we'll have to see. But I definitely feel like Turnstile is built differently than whatever other band you do like, and is killing in that environment.

But for me, I can already see where it starts and ends. That's what hardcore is, and there's nothing wrong with that. And for most people in hardcore, that's exactly what they want. They don't want things to grow outside of that bubble, because it would literally make it not hardcore.

There's a lot of good stuff, it seems like, and there's always been a lot of good stuff. But we'll have to see what direction bands go. I don't know if a lot of hardcore bands' goal is to take risks. I think their goal is just to be in the hardcore scene and have a blast and play hardcore.

That's not really our goal, and never really has been our goal. We've been screaming that from the rooftops since day one.

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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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.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

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."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

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.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

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." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Code Orange's 'The Above': The Metalcore Heroes On Their Creatively Generous New Album
Code Orange

Photo: Tim Saccenti

interview

Code Orange's 'The Above': The Metalcore Heroes On Their Creatively Generous New Album

Code Orange threw red meat to the listening public with "Out For Blood," ahead of a tour with Korn. After that zig, a zag: released on Sept. 29, 'The Above' is their most eclectic and well-rounded work yet.

GRAMMYs/Sep 28, 2023 - 02:37 pm

Billy Corgan doesn't make too many guest appearances. But he readily guested with Code Orange.

Check his list of credits: generally, Corgan's behind the scenes as a co-writer. When he has appeared as a vocalist or guitarist, it's generally been for veterans — like Scorpions, New Order or Hole — or then-upstarts of modern rock, like Breaking Benjamin.

But there he is, in the delicate bridge of Code Orange's bludgeoning single "Take Shape." "Spread your wings/ Show us who you are," he sings over fingerpicked acoustic guitar, in his inimitable keen. "Spread your wings/ You'll go far."

Corgan's guest appearance has resonance far beyond name recognition, or '90s cred during the '90s wave. Because the Smashing Pumpkins were probably the most emotionally and artistically generous band of that decade.

Back then, Corgan and company gave you everything they were. Emotionally and materially, "withholding" wasn't in their DNA. And the same goes for Code Orange, who hold the odd distinction of being punk veterans by their early thirties.

Over the course of five albums, vocalist Jami Morgan, guitarists Reba Meyers and Dominic Landolina, bassist Joe Goldman, keyboardist Eric "Shade" Balderose, and drummer Max Portnoy have metamorphosed from basement hardcore to a hydra of heavy styles.

Think Pumpkins meets A Perfect Circle, with a helping of metalcore, and you're somewhere in their vicinity. For their efforts, they've garnered two GRAMMY nominations.

Across their development, Code Orange have exemplified this Pumpkinesque spirit of generosity. Their new album, The Above, out Sept. 29, is teeming and bountiful — both emotionally unsparing and all over the map stylistically.

One minute, they're mellow and openhearted, as on "Mirror." The next, they're nightmarishly twisted and alien, as on "A Drone Opting Out of the Hive." And many songs, from "Splinter the Soul" to "Snapshot," effectively marry those refractive qualities.

Whether due to their maturity as songwriters, Steve Albini's blunt-force engineering, or any number of other happy factors, Code Orange have raised the bar once more. And as per Corgan's presence and cosigning, they feel like worthy candidates for the Pumpkins' heirs.

Here's a breakdown of how Code Orange arrived at The Above — with quotes from their brazen, stage-stalking frontman, Jami Morgan.

They Declared Themselves "Out For Blood"

Code Orange's 2020 album Underneath — the one that got nominated for a GRAMMY for Best Metal Performance — was a wonderfully suffocating and immersive work of experimental metal.

The following year's single, "Out for Blood," was a hard right turn — a push into the mainstream rock sphere, ahead of a tour supporting Korn, with an ear for the airwaves

The video is hellacious; the song could soundtrack a weekend rappelling off buildings. It unabashedly flirts with nu metal. It's also just a lot of fun.

Read More: As Code Orange Wraps Up Tour With Korn, They Look Ahead To Headlining Stages & Making New Music: "We Really Want To Take A Big Swing"

"Out for Blood" was arguably Code Orange's furthest-afield single to date; those who got on the train back when they were Code Orange Kids, playing to circle pits in VFW halls, may have been a touch confused. (Or, in YouTube comments and on the hardcore Facebook group No Echo, outwardly hostile.)

But regarding their roots, Code Orange are too canny to just let go of the tether; "Out for Blood" was a brief detour, in the form of a bloody good time.

The Concept Bloomed During The Pandemic

If Underneath represented claustrophobic, subterranean depths, The Above lives in blinding, oppressive daylight: the film Midsommar transmuted to music.

"It started with this light metaphor," Morgan tells GRAMMY.com. "I was reading a lot about parasites, and how when they attach to the host, they'll take other bugs that shouldn't be exposed to light and expose them to it, so they can be consumed.

"I saw that as a cool metaphor for trying to follow the light of our outside acceptance," he continues. The songs he was writing dealt with self-acceptance, success and striving for inner peace.

The lockdown kickstarted Code Orange's writing process earlier than expected. "We started with the loose shape of this record right off the bat," he says. "When we started determining what that is — what paths we could take, that we weren't going to take."

They Embraced Hooks & Pop Structure

Nothing on The Above is quite as deliciously shameless as "Out for Blood." But The Above does share one key element with that barbarous banger: a grasp of pop structure.

"It was like a spliced reality off of the Underneath cycle," Morgan says of "Out for Blood." Over Zoom, he points to a mood board behind him, representing The Above: "To me, the band is one wall, and everything we've done fits in."

Accordingly, Code Orange applied lessons learned to their new album. "Every song, heavy or not, has some kind of hook that comes back," he says. "It's not an ABCDEFG record," like some of the songs we've made in the past."

Code Orange

*Code Orange. Photo: Tim Saccenti*

They Imbued The Music With Newfound Humanity

Scanning the band's discography, Morgan perceives moments where they didn't quite land where they wanted. Because of this, they opted to produce The Above themselves.

"We didn't want to take it and hand it to somebody, like we've done," Morgan says. "Because we've had problems with that."

While at the production controls, they went for a detail-oriented approach that prioritized openness, breathability and forthright emotion — while keeping the experimental torches alight.

They achieved this more organic aesthetic by making the raw band the focus. Also, Morgan rendered his diction clearer, his lyrics more understandable.

"We definitely thought, Can we make something that is experimental, that is boundary-pushing, that is pulled from the past and future," Morgan says, "but is coloring within the lines of structure a little more?"

The Above Feels Like A Bridge Into The Unknown

To Morgan, Code Orange's 15-year evolutionary arc has reached its opposite end on The Above.

As he explains, the closing track, "The Above," is meant to "visualize being on an island of self. I wanted to make a song that you could almost sit on the f—ing beach to, and feel your soul — feel the emotion, and be stoic in yourself."

In that way, The Above is a culmination of everything they've built to — and also a launching pad. "If this was the last thing we did, I will be happy with it," he says. "But I also can see so many possibilities of where to go from it."

Overall, Morgan stresses that Code Orange never existed to rock out or have fun; "It exists to fill a void that I want to see," he says. "We're trying to make statements and we're trying to make artistic pieces.

"If people want that, then we're going to be here forever," Morgan concludes. "And if they don't, then we won't."

But in the modern rock landscape, they bear a message that's difficult to ignore. And it's sung by their spiritual forebear, rock's patron saint of ambition, largesse, and generally being a lot: "Spread your wings."

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On Militarie Gun's 'Life Under The Gun,' Ian Shelton Invites You Inside His Hornet's Nest Of A Mind
Militarie Gun (L-R): Waylon Trim, Ian Shelton, Will Acuña, Vince Nguyen, Nick Cogan

Photo: Noah Kentis

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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.

GRAMMYs/Jun 23, 2023 - 05:41 pm

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 - Ian Shelton - Embed Image

*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.

"A Joyful Burden": How Ian Shelton Of Militarie Gun & Regional Justice Center Makes Art Out Of Negativity

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

Photo: Austin Ciezko

interview

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

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

GRAMMYs/Jan 27, 2023 - 05:30 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This interview has been edited for clarity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lyons: Originality is celebrated, bro.

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

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

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

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

What about you, Franz?

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

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

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

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

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

Turnstile

*Turnstile. Photo: Alexis Gross*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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