Photo: Rune Hellestad/Corbis/Getty Images
Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips Announce U.S. Summer Tour
The GRAMMY-winning eclectic rockers will also offer a wide release of their 15th studio album, 'King's Mouth,' on July 19
Three-time GRAMMY winners The Flaming Lips announced a 12-date U.S. summer tour, which they will kick off in Wichita, Kan. on July 23 and wrap up in Raleigh, N.C. on Aug. 7.
The trek will feature support from fellow U.S. alt-rock outfits The Claypool Lennon Delirium, comprising Primus' Les Claypool and Sean Lennon, and Particle Kid, Micah Nelson's musical project. The shows will primarily take place at amphitheaters and other outdoor venues, and the dates are limited to the eastern half of the U.S., with no West Coast shows currently listed.
Following their U.S. dates, The Flaming Lips will perform several shows in Europe, including three special U.K. shows in September to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Soft Bulletin.
Just in time for the tour, the group will offer a full release of their 15th studio album, King's Mouth: Music And Songs, on July 19. The LP had a limited-edition golden vinyl drop for Record Store Day earlier this month. It is the eclectic rock group's follow up to 2017's Oczy Mlody and, according to their website, will include 12 new songs from the group "connected by narration provided by The Clash's Mick Jones."
The band shared the dreamy, electro-tinged "All For The Life Of The City" from the album last week, which you can listen to below.
As is fitting for anything dreamed up by frontman Wayne Coyne, there's more, and it involves rainbows. "A King's Mouth: An Immersive Installation" is currently on display at Rough Trade NYC, an indie record store in Brooklyn, until May 31. The free art exhibit allows "viewers to crawl into a large metallic head to experience a music-driven LED light show," according to the band's site. The album is also paired with a supplementary book, written and illustrated by Coyne.
"The King's Mouth immersive/child-like qualities are born from the same spark and womb as The Flaming Lips' live performances. The King's Mouth adventure was made for humans of all sizes, ages, cultures, and religions," Coyne said of the exhibit in a press release.
Tickets for the newly announced shows, which include special VIP meet and greet options, go on sale this Friday, April 26.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Jim Bennett/Getty Images
Living Legends: Les Claypool Remains The Fearless Leader Of The Frog Brigade
In an interview with GRAMMY.com, Les Claypool details buying weed from a member of Metallica, how Primus created one of the TV's greatest themes, and how his Frog Brigade featuring Sean Lennon tackles one of Pink Floyd's greatest albums.
Les Claypool is one of the most unpredictably prolific artists in rock. At nearly 60, he maintains an ever-mushrooming array of side projects and supergroups, consistently stellar solo outings and, of course, staying active as the frontman and force behind the band that put him on the music map: Primus.
After nearly four decades, the rhythmically arresting rock group is as revered as ever thanks to the omnipresence of its intro and outro theme songs on Comedy Central's "South Park," which still airs nightly. Video game music placement, and quirky singles such as "Jerry Was A Race Car Driver" (from 1991's Sailing the Seas of Cheese) and "Wynona's Big Brown Beaver" (off 1995's Tales from the Punchbowl) ensure that Primus will always remain on the heavy-hitter list alongside bands alongside contemporaries like Jane's Addiction and Tool.
When Primus went on hiatus in the late '90s, Claypool stayed busy. He formed Oysterhead with Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and Stewart Copeland of the Police, and created the trippy rock show known as Les Claypool's Fearless Flying Frog Brigade. He recently resurrected the latter after a 20-year hiatus, and is currently touring the country.
Other groups of note over the years include Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains, formed in 2002 with guitarist Buckethead, Bernie Worrell and Bryan Mantia, and the 2012 bluegrass outfit Duo de Twang with high school friend and M.I.R.V. guitarist Bryan Kehoe. Then there's The Claypool Lennon Delirium, which came a year later and featured Sean Lennon (son of John Lennon and Yoko Ono). The pair released two studio albums, highlighting their psychedelic sensibilities and fresh take on prog rock. As Claypool tells it, bringing Lennon into the Frog fold for the current tour was a no-brainer, especially since the musicians love to get jammy together and happen to be in the midst of finishing a Delirium record.
Just as Primus paid tribute to Claypool's childhood favorites Rush during last year's A Tribute To Kings Tour, the Frog Brigade tour takes on a formidable favorite live: Pink Floyd's Animals, track by track in its entirety. Music from all of Claypool's projects including his and Lennon's work, will also be featured on the tour. Making for an even more all-star experience, the band is co-headlining certain dates with Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew's Remain In Light Tour which features songs from the classic 1980 Talking Heads album of the same name.
Claypool spoke with GRAMMY.com about his different music projects, touring, and maintaining his wildly diverse musical world over the decades.
The Fearless Flying Frog Brigade is reunited after 20 years, and the tour has a lot of festivals on its schedule. At this point in your career, how do you like playing big festivals?
I like festivals. And I especially like the festivals where they have the people who make art out of glow sticks and whatnot. So I'm looking out at the audience and I see all these cool glow sticks. Things like jellyfish and stuff that are made out of glow sticks. Those are my favorite festivals — for lack of a better term, the more hippie fest shows, because I get a light show that I get to look at. People spinning fire and twirling things around — it's eye candy for me and it's very inspirational.
Speaking of trippy stuff, you're doing Pink Floyd's Animals, an album you covered 20 years ago. What made you decide to revisit it?
There was a big, big demand. My manager kept saying a lot of promoters were asking for Frog Brigade doing Animals again. So we had some time off from Primus and I decided to do it. And it's not just the Animals thing. It's also sort of a retrospective of my whole solo career and since Sean's with us, we're also doing some Delirium stuff, too.
Being a retrospective of your work, I was wondering how you go about choosing what to play. You have so many projects. Is it a different setlist each time or do you have a set selection of songs?
Oh yes, it's a different setlist every night. I just sort of mix it up. I mean, the Floyd thing is consistent, but we mix it up.
In terms of covering Pink Floyd — why Animals? Why not one of Floyd's other albums?
Well, when I first did Frog Brigade many years ago… Basically, Primus had broken up in the late '90s. We were, you know, too chickens— to say we broke up so we were "on hiatus" to keep the options open. And it scared the s—out of me. I was like, I have two young kids. I got a mortgage. What the hell am I going to do? My band is now gone.
And so I just loaded up some of my favorite musicians into this old Airstream motorhome I had, and we started driving up and down the coast playing bars. And one of the guys was Jeff Clemente, a keyboardist who now plays with the Dead. I said if I ever have a keyboardist in my band, I want to play "Pigs." So we've learned "Pigs" and I thought, let's just learn the whole album and then we don't need an opening band. We can do two sets. That's sort of how it all started.
Sounds fun. Have you played other Floyd albums before?
There's been bits and pieces of Floyd. We do a version of "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and whatnot. But yeah, Animals was the first in its entirety.
Beyond the Delirium project, what is your relationship with Sean Lennon? Do you hang out and stuff?
He's like my brother. He's literally one of the family. When he and my daughter get together, they're like siblings, they peck at each other and make fun of each other. It's pretty amazing. I mean, we're beyond friends. He's like my brother. We're very close.
Sean was not in the original Frog Brigade lineup, right? How did you go about bringing him into it?
He was not, no. But because we have the Delirium together — and we're actually halfway through another Delirium of record — this notion of bringing Frog Brigade back came up, and I just said, 'Hey, would you be interested in doing this?' And he was like, 'Hell yeah.' So here he is.
You are playing Delirium material on the tour so that makes sense. What about the other musicians; were these guys all collaborators on your past projects? You have so many and so many people you like to play with.
I have Mike Dylan on percussion and vibraphone and marimba, he's been on a lot of my stuff, since Purple Onion. Paulo Baldi, I've played with quite a lot over the years. He plays with Delirium as well. Harry Waters is new but he's really been killing it. He's really stepped up.
The thing is, Primus is Primus and Oysterhead is Oysterhead. It's a set group of individuals. Whereas for me, when I do a Claypool project, whether it's called Frog Brigade, or Fancy Band, or whatever you want to call it, it's a revolving cast of characters. I was talking to Tom Waits one time about some of the musicians he's worked with over the years and he's like [makes growly Waits voice] "You know, it's like, a director doesn't always work with the same actors." And I thought, Well, that's true, you know, and that's what this is.
For me, it's whoever I have available to do the particular slot of time. Or whatever I happened to fancy for what we're recording. For example, there were a few records where I didn't use any guitar at all. I was not anti-guitar, but I was trying to utilize cellos and things like that as opposed to guitar.
You're considered one of the best bass players of all time. How do you feel about so many musicians and fans labeling you that?
I mean, that's a wonderful thought [laughs]. But, you know, there's always people that can do something better or an element of what you do better. And also best is subjective. You know, what one person likes isn't necessarily what another may like.
I see some of these guys as like, the "Baryshnikov of the bass" or the '"Michael Jordans of the bass." I'm like "the Evil Knievel of bass." I just go for it, and if I make it, I make it, and if I don't, I crash into the fountain in front of Caesars, you know? That's always been my approach. But it's wonderful being respected in your field no matter what you do.
I think that's why a lot of people respect you. Beyond the skill, it's the experimentation and the willingness to take chances and do something really different.
One of my favorite bass players of all time was Mark Sandman, who played a two-string bass with the strings in unison and he played it with a slide. He was the bass player for Morphine. Technically, he wasn't doing anything too crazy, but the expression, the way he could express himself and the sultry elements of his tone and everything, it was just magic to me. He will always be one of my heroes.
You famously tried out from Metallica and the story I heard was that they passed because they said you were too good.
Well, at the time, I think they just thought I was some weirdo. You know, me and Kirk [Hammet] went to high school together. In fact, Kirk used to sell me weed. I didn't know much about Metallica as I wasn't into the metal scene. I was doing all this abstract stuff but I knew Kirk's band was doing pretty well. I met Cliff [Burton] right before he passed because he had come to a show that we did with Faith No More. He was buddies with all those guys. He was very pleasant, very complimentary, and very nice. And so when he died, Kirk gave me a shout.
I showed up with two different color tennis shoes on, a braided mohawk and baggy skater pants. I just did not fit. I didn't fit and I'm there playing a bass that looked like a hunk of driftwood. I was sort of like an alien. But they have literally one of the best bassists there is right now, and one of the nicest people I've ever met in the music industry and that's [Robert] Trujillo. He's a great guy and a great player. He and I did a little thing recently for this short film my son made and it was very cool.
What's the short called? Is that something that fans can see?
It's called Precious Metals. It's a little thing we did for EMG Pickups.
I'll check it out. Robert's own son has taken his place on bass in Suicidal Tendencies and they just played at the Punk Rock Bowling Festival. It's nice to see musical legends like you two passing the torch!
If someone's kid was starting to get into music and their parents were telling them about you and your sound — other than Primus, what should they start with? What really reflects you best as an artist overall?
I mean, they all show different sides of me. A lot of people like the Delirium thing, because it's more psychedelic, and it's more, for lack of a better term, it's a little more palatable than other stuff. It's a little less left field. But, I mean, Tom Waits picked Purple Onion as one of his top 20 records ever. So I'm very proud of that.
Tom Waits declaring that for his Top 20 is obviously a huge endorsement.
That's a good feather in my cap. And he's an old friend.
So you can't pick one? You love them all?
Well, I think for my fans, and even for me as a fan, music is the soundtrack for your life and whatever you're going through in that period of time of your life, hopefully it's a wonderful thing. Music, like a smell, brings you back to that time in your life. So when I hear something off of Remain in Light by the Talking Heads, it takes me back to driving around in my friend's Pinto listening to that record back in the day.
Speaking of which, Jerry Harrison and Adrian Belew are opening up for you on some dates. How did that come about?
Yes. They have a band and they do various tunes of theirs and the Talking Heads. I just saw it for the first time last night, but it's very cool. Adrian is literally one of my favorite guitarists in the history of the instrument. So it's always amazing to see him play. We're playing together due to a little cross-pollination between our management and their management. It just seemed like a cool idea, so it's happening.
Back to your output, what should fans listen to right now that best reps your current vibe?
These records as we're making them, represent a slice of our life. And we're reflecting that in the lyrical content and whatnot. So it's hard to pick just because you're picking different portions of your existence. And there's stuff that represents a not-necessarily pleasant time in your life that might be easier to avoid.
But there are different things about different projects that stand out and shine for me. Purple Onion — I'm very proud of that one. That's a great record.
So right now you're focused on the Frog Brigade. But is it possible you'll revisit your other projects again? Do you just kind of go with whatever you're feeling at the time and never say never?
I always use the stove metaphor. I have all these pots on the stove and every now and again, I pull a certain pot to the front burner. Right now Frog Brigade is on the front burner. But I'm also in the middle of two records. Shawn and I are, I guess, two-thirds of the way done with our next Delirium record. And I'm working on some stuff with [Bluegrass artist] Billy Strings. So there's a lot going on.
Primus just released an EP not too long ago — the first new release in five years — called Conspiranoid. The title seems pretty timely with the state of the world, and contrasting views on everything. Can you tell us more about that?
I mean, it's pretty easy to interpret. I'm pretty much reflecting on what I'm seeing around me in conversations with people that I always thought were rational, who have suddenly turned terribly irrational. Primus did the tribute to Rush's A Farewell to Kings record in its entirety and the second time around playing it, I thought, we need some new Primus stuff.
But I think we're at the stage in our careers where people don't necessarily want a full-blown record. They don't want to come to a show and hear you pound a bunch of new songs at them. They want to see you do the old songs, but they might want to hear one or two new songs. So I said, "Well, let's do one new song — one long-ass song."
We wanted to do a 20-minute one but we ended up doing I think it's 11 or 12 minutes. So we had a single and I was like, "we're going to need another 12-minute song for the B side or two songs." So we did two songs. So it's really a single with three songs. Does that make sense? At the shows, you only have to hear a couple new songs, not five that make you go, ok now's the time to go out and buy a t-shirt or have a cigarette.
How do make new material more digestible for live crowds? Or do you even think about that?
I just think that depends on the stage of your career. Like with Delirium, right now we have two albums. We're working on a third album and we need more material to mix into through the night. People want to hear more material. But when you've been around for 30 years and you have 10 or 12 records or whatever, it's different. With Primus, we have a lot of material that gets neglected, stuff that people would like to hear and they don't necessarily want to hear six new songs in a set. Maybe two or three is acceptable. So my thought with our latest was let's just release a single, but then it became a triple because of the length.
Plus, nowadays, the way we all receive music is so different. My kids listen to Spotify and they're listening to songs. They're not even necessarily listening to full-length albums. Back in the80s and '90s with the CDs, they were making these 20+ song releases. In the '70s, when I was listening to my favorite bands, they were putting out albums that had maybe six songs. Like the Animals record we're doing; it's only six songs. So I think it got a little carried away with the long-ass CDs.
Right. There were double albums of course, but in general, it's a marked difference. And none of it really matters nowadays with digital music and TikTok and the like. But, do you think that you will ultimately release another Primus full-length album again?
I would imagine at some point in time, but what is a full-length album anymore? Yeah, six songs or 26 songs? Right now we are working on getting a bunch of old Primus live recordings out, and there's a Primus documentary being made right now.
Your fans will love to hear that. I'm sure your work with Comedy Central and "South Park" will get some screen time. Looking back 25 years later did you have any idea your theme song would become so iconic?
No. We didn't even think it was gonna get on television, let alone become a worldwide phenomenon. They've opened a lot of doors for creativity, Matt and Trey, and they still push the parameters and go way beyond what most people get away with. When we first got the offer to do it they were a couple of guys just out of college who made this little cartoon about the spirit of Christmas. We thought, We'll do that because it's cool. There was no real money involved.
So yes, it's a wonderful thing because both those guys are great guys and they're insanely talented. I love people that push the parameters as they do. I love looking at things where I go, 'How the hell did they think of that?'
Well, the same could be said for you.
Beyond the concert you played at Red Rocks with them, do you still work with them at all?
We pretty much just did the theme song. We've done a couple of versions of it, but that's it. I mean both of those guys are great musicians. Trey's this amazing pianist. So they don't need any help from us.
Before we go, can you tell us a bit more about the Primus documentary?
My son's directing it with our friend Jimmy Hayward. [Primus just played a benefit concert for Hayward, a renowned director, screenwriter and animator who is fighting cancer, with Tool at L.A.'s Belasco Theater in May]. He's had to digitize over 900 hours of footage because we've had guys following us around with cameras for many years. There's a lot of footage he's going through and he's been interviewing all kinds of people. I was hoping it would have been out this summer, but now it looks like next summer, hopefully.
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.
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].