Photos (L-R): Jim Dyson, Daniel Knighton, Dave Simpson, Richard Bord/WireImage (All Via Getty Images)
Robert Glasper & Terrace Martin On Removing Their Egos And Creating Their GRAMMY-Nominated Collaboration 'Dinner Party: Dessert'
"No losing, just learning": Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington, and 9th Wonder have been nominated for Best Progressive R&B Album at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. Glasper and Martin open up about how the experiences that formed their project.
Dinner Party is a distinctly egoless organization, but it wasn't that way by default. Like stones smoothed by waves through the ages, Robert Glasper and Terrace Martin have been humbled time and time again. There was the time Martin got too big-headed on tour with Snoop Dogg and got the pink slip in his hotel room, losing almost his entire income in an instant. For Glasper, there are too many anecdotes to pick just one.
"I don't have an ego when it comes to creativity, because it'll prevent you from creating real estate for your family and for yourself," says Martin, a rapper, saxophonist, producer and four-time GRAMMY nominee. "To be closed-minded is not about just your mind being closed. Your health is closed; your relationships are closed; your finances are closed; everything is closed."
"Oh, I've been taught a lesson," Glasper, a four-time GRAMMY-winning keyboardist and producer, tells GRAMMY.com. "And then you take that lesson and move on, because you realize: 'OK, that didn't work out for me. Let me change my whole thought process.'" Despite any number of setbacks along the way, Glasper has enjoyed a dynamite career on his own terms. He sums it all up in four words: "No losing. Just learning."
These decades of learning the hard way are why Dinner Party — a project between Glasper; Martin; saxophonist Kamasi Washington; and producer, DJ and MC 9th Wonder — is stress-free and stylistically borderless. In 2020, they released a self-titled EP to rave reviews; the following year, they upgraded it.
Their remix album, Dinner Party: Dessert, has been nominated for Best Progressive R&B Album at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. Dessert brings famous friends to the proverbial table, among them Herbie Hancock and Tank and the Bangas, and is narrated by Snoop Dogg. "I didn't know Snoop wanted to narrate it!" the man he fired, Martin, says astonishedly. "He was like, 'Keep the mic on.'" Circle closed, and lesson learned.
While you wait to see if the foursome will win the golden gramophone on April 3, read on for a revealing interview with Glasper and Martin about the forces that shaped them as artists — and enabled them to create together without a sliver of pomposity.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
How did you guys react when you learned you'd been nominated?
Martin: "Baby, get the dress ready."
Glasper: "Whatcha wearin'?"
Martin: "I've only got one ticket, so you'd better make it right!"
Glasper: It was cool because we've both been nominated many times separately, obviously. It's just dope to get nominated with your brother on a project that y'all worked on during COVID — you know what I mean?
Martin: And literally, the idea came from Rob and me backstage at a show. So, from the idea to this has always been a warm thing. That s<em></em><em> works*.
Glasper: We've known each other since we were 15 at jazz camp! So, you go from talking about jazz camp to going to the GRAMMYs together! It makes it feel a little different.
The original Dinner Party album was suffused with camaraderie. What inspired you guys to bring more people into the picture?
Martin: Jimmy Iovine.
Glasper: Yep, Jimmy.
Martin: Robert and I went to Jimmy's house for dinner. Me, Rob, Dr. Dre, a few other cats. [Director] Allen Hughes was there. And Jimmy was so hyped about the first Dinner Party album that he called us for dinner. He was telling us how he loved it; he looked at us and was like, "Yo, you guys should do it again and get all your rapper friends. Get all your this; get all your that."
I was kind of like [Meekly] "OK, yeah, yeah, yeah." But then Rob was like, "Ay, let's do that s<em></em>*." So, we just started going through the motions. We tapped back in with Jimmy a few times. Throughout the pandemic, we were getting a million COVID tests to go talk to Jimmy. We were hanging down here, but we were getting consulting from Jimmy Iovine!
Glasper: You have to get a COVID test to talk to Jimmy Iovine on the phone! [Laughs.] It was real, Jack!
Martin: Matter of fact, Jimmy was the first rapid test we did!
Glasper: He sent a mess to the house the first time!
Martin: Jimmy had that s<em></em><em>, bro, before anybody here heard about that s</em><em></em>! He had a nurse come with the whole s<em></em>* on!
Iovine is a music-biz legend. What’s he like to hang out with?
Glasper: [Laughs.] He just does things that aren't in your stratosphere. Just like, "Oh, really? Really?"
We were at his house, and we were talking about Nobu. We were eating Nobu food and we were like, "Oh, you got Nobu delivered to the house!" He's like, "Oh, no, no, no. They're here in my kitchen! I got the staff from Nobu to come to my kitchen and cook it! That's what we're eating!"
Martin: It's different. It's different. A lot of folks talk the talk, but Jimmy walks the walk — all the way from [being] a true student of the music and master of hearing things to putting deals together.
When I hear Snoop and Dr. Dre and everybody talk about him, his whole thing is "His ideas work." If you listen, his ideas work. We don't have any business with him — we're not signed to Jimmy — but he's a friend now, and he offered information that we took. And now, we're GRAMMY-nominated.
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It seems like Iovine has uncanny decision-making abilities.
Martin: He's been in front of a change in music four times. He has a pretty good idea — no matter what genre or whatever. The first thing that he said when Robert and I walked into the room…
Glasper: "I hate jazz."
Glasper: He was like, "I remember in the '70s, I used to work in a record store, and blah blah blah blah blah! I hated jazz music! I hated it! But Dinner Party… I love it! It's different!" He went on and on and on. We were like, "Oh, snap."
That's a wild thing to say.
Martin: No, no, no, no, no, no. I want to change that. It's not a wild thing to say. If you're not into jazz, like, I don't like green peas. I hate green peas. It's not wild to say I don't like green peas. I hate that s<em></em><em>. I don't like certain music; I hate that s</em><em></em>. So when he said that, I didn't take it offensively.
First of all, cats like me and Robert, we've been trained — and trained ourselves — to be such vast artists. We also work in hip-hop, where a lot of hip-hop motherf<em></em>*ers don't like jazz. A lot of jazz guys don't like hip-hop.
I think that's what makes Robert and myself special in that light — to where you can say what you want to say, because we can relate to you in every kind of way. And I think that's why the Dinner Party record is like that.
It didn't bother us when he said that, because I hate jazz sometimes. And not only do I play it, but I've lived what people read about the jazz life. I hate hip-hop sometimes! I don't like everything every day. So when he said that, that would have destroyed a lot of artists that I know…
Martin: …but when he said that, I was like, "Well, shoot. Whatcha like?"
What led you two to be musically omnivorous?
Glasper: I think because African-Americans have given America so many different styles of music. It's in our blood. All the music comes from our bloodline, from rock to jazz to hip-hop to gospel to R&B. You can keep going on and on and on and on and on. It's not so far-fetched.
People have been like, "Why do you like rock music? Why do you mix rock and jazz? Why do you mix rock, jazz and R&B?" That's like asking, "Why are your brothers and sisters playing with each other?"
We both come from musical households. My mom was a musician, and she loved all styles of music. His dad is a musician and loves all styles of music. So, we just came up under that like it was nothing. Blurred lines.
Martin: Not only were our parents doing music, but they did it for a living as well. When your mom and dad are doing gigs, every gig ain't no jazz gig. It's clubs, bar mitzvahs…
Glasper: Survival gigs.
Martin: They're survival gigs. If you saw me in L.A. early in my life, you wouldn't believe I played saxophone. I was playing keyboards, playing Top 40; Frankie, Beverly and Maze; and the new Usher song that just came out.
Glasper: When I first met Kamasi [Washington], he was on keys with Chaka Khan in New York, at B.B. King's.
Glasper: I had no idea he played sax! I thought he was a keyboard player.
When you're coming up as a professional musician, you often have to know many different styles and change directions on a dime. So, perhaps that was passed down to you guys.
Martin: It was passed on to be an adult and survive before music. It was passed on to work.
Man, I asked Quincy Jones one time, "What's the difference between self-confidence and ego?" He said, "Ego prevents you from going to the bank."
I don't have an ego when it comes to creativity — and I know Rob doesn't either — because it'll prevent you from creating real estate for your family and for yourself. To be closed-minded is not about just your mind being closed. Your health is closed; your relationships are closed; your finances are closed; everything is closed.
I started noticing that in certain artists. The cats that did one thing, and one thing well. But when s<em></em>* changed up, it was bad. I don't like looking bad. I just don't. I don't like being uncomfortable.
Rob and I love all kinds of music. That's the bottom line. I'm giving you the science to that. We've got to love it all.
The longer I'm in the music industry, the more I realize that nothing is off-limits. There's a kernel of value even in music you can't stand — if not for you, then for someone else.
Martin: Not to drop another name, but these are our friends: Herbie Hancock always said, "You can find beauty within every problem."
Glasper: You can hear something and say, "Oh, so that's why that doesn't work." No losing. Just learning.
How did you choose who you'd include on Dinner Party: Dessert?
Glasper: Terrace was like, "Yo, I have a young rapper friend who wants to get on. Can we please let him narrate the whole thing?" I was like, "Who?" He was like, "Snoop Dogg." I said, "Who the hell is that?"
Glasper: This whole thing is about helping out Terrace's friends who are not known, really. I'm the keyboard player, and he wanted to bring in some guy named Herbie to play a song!
Martin: It was easy because I always tell everybody: "Relationships are key in the music business." Everywhere, but in music especially.
One thing that Rob and I have done with artists is to walk into their records, no ego, and give them all of us — and leave asking for nothing. When you finally understand that and we're all on the same page, it's not that hard to do.
With managers and lawyers, it's always a thing — but with artists, it's very smooth. Everybody wanted to be part of it, though! I didn't know Snoop wanted to narrate it! He was like, "Keep the mic on."
How do you engender an environment where nobody artistically butts heads?
Martin: Kill the ego.
Martin: That's it. If you've got an ego, bring some good food, wine, weed. Laugh and talk. Ask people how their families are doing. No ego.
It's not like you're asking artists to be in a room with slappers as well, too. Everybody's at a certain level where that's not even a thought to even bring ego in. Everybody is at this high level, so there's no room for any ego. We're all on this plane where it's like, "Let's all coexist and be together."
Was it a process for you both to dismantle your egos, or is that something that comes naturally to you?
Glasper: Oh, I've been taught a lesson. [Laughs.]
Martin: We all have.
Glasper: And then you take that lesson and move on, because you realize: "OK, that didn't work out for me. Let me change my whole thought process."
Martin: I was taught a lesson. I was touring with Snoop for years — six, seven years. Snoop was one of my best friends, and he fired me — sent me home. My job was to do the letters and put them under the hotel door: "Thank you, your services are no more, here's a plane ticket."
One day, I was at my hotel, and my ego went crazy for the whole tour. And I heard something go [Mimics paper sliding] "Ftttp!" I was like, "I know that sound!" I went to the door, and it was the envelope I used to do! It took me 10 minutes to open that motherf<em></em>*er.
Snoop taught me a big lesson because I thought I could never get fired from anything in my life. I thought I was just it. Snoop had hired a band, and I didn't like the way certain band members played. I was being mean and arrogant to them; my ego was out of control. I was being a spoiled f<em></em>*ing person, and I lost everything.
That time, Snoop Dogg was 95 percent of my income, if not 98 percent. The other two percent was breeding pit bulls and selling them, which was nothing. At that time, it got bad financially. I said, "Remember what Quincy Jones said? My ego kept me from the bank."
So, I was like "Even if I have an ego, I'm going to hide that motherf<em></em><em>er. Hard.*"
Glasper: Not to bring him up again, but Herbie said one time, "Music is what you do. Everyone's a person first. And what you do is what you do after that, but you're a person first." At the end of the day, you can lose what you do. It can be no more, and then you're just left with who you are.
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Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Here's What Harry Styles, Brandi Carlile & More Had To Say Backstage At The 2023 GRAMMYs
Backstage at the 2023 GRAMMYs, established and emerging stars alike — from Harry Styles to Samara Joy — opened up about what Music’s Biggest Night meant to them.
Like every edition of Music’s Biggest Night, the 2023 GRAMMYs featured a wealth of funny, touching and inspiring onstage speeches — both at the Premiere Ceremony and the main telecast.
But artists tend to express themselves differently, more intimately, backstage — and this certainly applied to GRAMMY winners and nominees at this year’s ceremony.
In the litany of videos below, see and hear stirring, extemporaneous statements from artists all over the 2023 GRAMMYs winners and nominees list, from Album Of The Year winner Harry Styles to Americana star-turned-rocker Brandi Carlile to Best Global Music Performance nominee Anoushka Shankar and beyond.
Throughout, you’ll get a better sense of the good jitters backstage at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on Feb. 5, and hear exactly what the golden gramophone means to this crop of musical visionaries.
The list of videos begins below.
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.