Photo by Andrea Savall
Hinds' Carlotta Cosials On 'The Prettiest Curse' & Why "Rock And Roll Is Free Of Gender"
Cosials speaks to the Recording Academy about her band facing misogyny head-on, turning time into creativity and the depths of studio experimentation on 'The Prettiest Curse'
Sitting in Carlotta Cosials' room via Skype feels a lot like listening to her band Hinds’ new album. For their third LP, The Prettiest Curse, the Spanish indie rockers took time to crack open their world and define themselves—retaining the strident energy of their first albums yet refusing to be reined in by the world’s definition of them. That same ease and freedom flows from Cosials, an inviting warmth that draws you in far enough to discover new rules to the game, the new rubric for understanding Hinds. "When you’re creating something that doesn’t exist, you feel more free," the guitarist/vocalist says. By stopping people from defining Hinds, Cosials and her bandmates found time to slow down the pace and explain themselves on their own terms.
Hinds built their reputation for constant touring and raucous live shows. But rather than continue to chase that energy on record, the quartet spent time in both Madrid and New York City with producer Jennifer Decilveo to capture a reality beyond the four walls of a concert hall. They imagined themselves explaining their reality to children, to streamline exactly who they are and what they do—without the filter of outside expectation or the romanticism of rock and roll.
The Prettiest Curse crystallizes that experience. Over a rubbery rhythm section, "Just Like Kids (Miau)" catalogs the inane comments leveled at Hinds in a nasally mockery, the band channeling their mania through indie pop as smoothly as garage rock. The euphoric "Good Bad Times" churns with ‘80s energy, wrapping heartbreak, anger, sadness and misunderstanding into a glossy ball. To compound the dizzying appeal, the lyrics alternate between English and Spanish, exemplifying the album’s ability to draw every listener into its "us against the world" embrace.
Cosials spoke with the Recording Academy about facing misogyny head-on, turning time into creativity, and the depths of studio experimentation on The Prettiest Curse.
This album is such a journey sonically, and I’m sure it must have been to record as well.
You are so right. We had so many songs! For the first time in Hinds, we wanted to create something with a background that is not necessarily just what you hear and what you see. We wanted something behind the Hinds world, something kind of magical. And for that we had to explore new sounds, which has been such an amazing journey. For the first two albums, it was only two guitars, bass, and drums. So suddenly we were like, "Oh my God, let's use this instrument over here, and oh look at this old piano that sounds like this!" It was just super cool.
What other instruments did you experiment with?
I don't even know how many there are! So many synths, so many pianos, so much space echo vocals. We really had fun at the studio. When you're creating something that doesn't exist, you feel more free. So it was like, "Let's look for the sound that sounds like morning." We would look for sounds that make you feel like it's the morning, waking up and stuff. That was the kind of exploration we were doing—anything, literally anything. Suddenly, production was the priority, and then we would think about the live show, instead of the other way. The other albums were more like turning a live show into a record.
I really hear that. I was struck by the freedom in this record thematically, as well. There's this constant motion, and it deals very openly with the struggles of being a musician on the road, away from the people you love—but without being overly sentimental. What ignited that freer feeling?
We've finally reached the point where we assume that we're going to be musicians forever and that this is our life. We wanted to share the reality of that, and how the reality is tough sometimes. Reality is not as beautiful as what you think of when you think about musicians. Being a musician isn’t just all parties and laughs and claps. We wanted to tell this reality through a story you could tell to a child—saying something that is completely real and not necessarily easy, but you put it in a way that you can swallow it better. It's not hiding it, it's not running away from it, it's not trying to avoid it, or not looking at it. I can go through it, I can face it, and I'm going to put it in a more poetic way because that's what I do. What I do is music. It's my pleasure to talk about the realities of being a touring musician.
What emotional bank, if you can call it that, did you need and pull from in order to make that change and be that open?
This is going to sound silly, but one of the most important things is that when we were recording in New York City, the studio was exactly 45 minutes away walking from the Airbnb we had rented. I have the best ideas when I'm walking or when I can't sleep. So each day, an hour and a half, 45 minutes each way, was the perfect amount of time to listen to an album. It really refreshed my mind and I arrived at the studio with a fresh brain and not full of stress.
The other albums have been always in between tours, and in a rush. I'm not saying that the songs were worse, but when you have more time you just enjoy the process more. There were still some moments of doubt. Like, "Are we going with too many instruments or too many sounds? Is there too much going on, too many layers in a song?" But then at the same time, I don't want to become a guardian of rock or something, the police of rock and roll. So, we just went for it.
It’s incredible how time and freedom can turn into the perfect recipe for creativity. Was there anything from your past records that you wanted to get rid of? Were there things that you didn't want to repeat?
In a more philosophical way, I wanted to get rid of all those fears. We used to be actually proud of only having used four instruments in a whole album. We felt pressure to tap ourselves into rock and roll because that's what we wanted to be: a rock and roll band. Us being girls and stuff, sometimes it's confusing for people. "Why are you here? What the hell are you doing? Are the songs good enough?" So certainly for us it was a relief to be a rock and roll band because I think rock and roll is free of gender. And we felt better if we were established as a rock band. But suddenly with this third album, we're older and wiser. [Laughs.] We just don't care that much about what people think.
So what were the albums that you were listening to when you were walking to the studio every day?
During those walks, I listened a lot to Jesus and Mary Chain. To me, the songs on their first two albums, Psychocandy and Darklands, are pop songs. They're in disguise, but it's actually pop lyrics with pop guitar riffs. And they're the darkest thing you could imagine. You would never think they were cheesy. So if they can do it, we can do it too. Just because we smile more or have fun, that doesn't change the music we do. So, let's go for it.
And then during this year, I'm re-discovering Spanish-singing rock and pop music. I've been studying each album from Los Punsetes, Mujeres' Un Sentimiento Importante, Sen Senra's Sensaciones and Carolina Durante's self-titled album. I've been really enjoying that journey.
Your new album really does mix Spanish and English lyrics in a natural yet urgent way. Was that a conscious decision to do that here?
Yeah, definitely. Ana [Perrote, vocals/guitar] and I wanted to speak more Spanish in the songs. We even tried to write a whole song in Spanish, but it didn't make it to the album. It wasn't good enough. [Laughs.] But I'm really happy how it turned out.
We used to get asked why we sing in English all the time, but it was really never a decision. You accidentally write songs. You know what I mean? You're not actually looking for something. You write songs that sound similar to the music you listen to. At that moment, we were listening to a lot of garage music, and all of it was in English, so it was pretty automatic. And suddenly when we were getting that question so many times, it was like, "Whoa, is this a big deal?" We didn't know it was going to be a big deal.
But now that you're singing more in Spanish, did those lyrics hit harder when you were recording?
One hundred percent. When we write in English, it requires more attention from us because it's not our first language. We think kind of in Spanglish I guess, and we talk to each other in Spanish. And then suddenly when you're translating it into poetry, onto the paper, it's in English. That process is natural for us now. Sometimes I think I speak my feelings better in English than I do in Spanish—but then I realize that's not actually true. When we're singing in Spanish, I have a million possibilities because I think I know all the words in the dictionary. [Laughs.]
Sometimes limiting yourself allows you to explore the meaning of the word even more. So because you don't know "all the words" in the English language—but also, no one does—it limits you to find the words that mean the most to you.
Exactly! This is a super silly comparison, but do you remember season one of Stranger Things? The little girl doesn't know how to speak and she just learned little sentences, like "Friends don't lie." Those are the only things she knows and are the reasons why she does certain things. When you don't have all of the instruments, you're constantly finding the way to express and to communicate. Every kind of art in the end is communication between human beings. I really don't care if I'm speaking another language. I just think we should get rid of those barriers, of accents, of lack of knowledge, and of feeling embarrassed.
And your instruments become their own language. There's a real density to that language on the record. It's just so meaty. The production sounds full and warm, and the harmonies and shout-along passages feel really passionate. Why did these specific songs need that fullness and that warmth?
Sometimes it just flows. For example, during the summer, I was listening to Manu Chao's Clandestino. Throughout the album, a lot of radio sounds come in and out, other sounds are repeated in each song. There's a motif through the whole album. I was also listening to Bestia Bebé's self-titled album, and that one is surrounded by soccer, basically. I was thinking, "This album has to have a concept, something that holds the songs together. It has to be meaningful." And that's how we came to the idea of explaining reality to kids and how this magical world is nowhere and everywhere for us at the same time. The cover of the album is a house, a venue, and backstage. It's nowhere. It's a strange place. We all wanted to sound clearer and not too distorted. It's just evolution.
There's also this youthfulness to the vocals. I'm thinking particularly of the half-buried shouting on "Boy."
Yeah. Another album I was listening to a lot during the recording was Molotov's ¿Dónde Jugarán las Niñas?. There are five or six men in that band, and they're super aggressive, and they shout. Hearing that in a feminine voice, I didn't know if it was going to be cool enough. And then I thought, "What the hell? Am I being sexist against myself?" [Laughs.] "So let's have girls screaming. Hell yeah!" When we were listening to the demos that we had, we felt like they couldn't go lo-fi. It really had to be bold and fat and big and round, or else it would sound weak or broken.
I want to thank you for "Just Like Kids", which is such a powerful anthem for women in the music industry—and really any industry, honestly. Often artists will speak out against sexism, but it's an extra step to bring it into your art. Have you gotten mail from other women who've shared that experience?
Those lyrics, no doubt, are the ones that we're most proud of on the whole album. We've been meeting with people and speaking about the industry, like in panels in New York and Madrid, and we've gone on the radio to speak about this stuff. It's still important to give visibility to the reality of being a girl in a job full of men. I like the way we chose to take it because sometimes I get tired of complaining. That can be exhausting. Taking it in a funny way, of already being over it—like, "Alright, tell me ... tell me your fking advice. Tell me what I'm not good enough to do. Tell me that I'm not pretty enough or that I am too pretty or that I am sucking dicks everywhere. Whatever, all right." [Laughs.] We just don't care anymore.
What do you feel needs to change first? Obviously the first step is what you guys have just done, putting a song out like that. Facing misogyny head on. How did you get to a point that you can write a song like this, and you're not just sitting in a closed-off corner overwhelmed by how awful the industry can be?
It really depends on the day. It sucks sometimes, but sometimes you feel strong enough. Even right now, I play this song to myself. I had to meet with someone the other day and I put it on in my headphones before going into the room to feel stronger, to feel good about myself.
It's not easy to expose yourself constantly. It's not easy to feel great about yourself constantly. Everybody has a fking opinion of you, and more if you're a woman. But at the same time, I agree a lot with the English writer Caitlin Moran and her book How To Be A Woman. She says that actually what we need is time. We need time to feel this freedom, to feel free to jam with guitars, to feel free to sing good or bad, to feel free to do interviews, to feel free to appear on TV, to do anything. They haven't let us have our time before, so it's impossible to achieve a level of greatness in only 30 years.
Ana and me, we met through our ex-boyfriends because they both were in a band. We never took up guitar at the time we were with them, and both of them were guitar players. We never had the idea of taking up guitar because we thought we were going to be a waste of time. You don't want to be last in the class. We're very hard workers. So we started when Ana and I were alone together in a room, where we weren't going to judge each other or criticize each other. We really didn't care whether we were good or bad. When you feel happy and free, you can actually create something. If you feel stressed or pressured, you're not gonna come out with something genuine. So to the haters, leave us alone. [Laughs.] Leave us alone for a while, and we'll start to feel chill and create amazing stuff. We need time and we need to relax. People need to stop telling us what to do or what not to do. We need time.
Why did you choose music as your expression?
Because it's the best one! [Laughs.] I used to be an actress. I also write sometimes. But music is the best one because I'm a very social person. I believe in people, and I think people supporting people is one of the best things you can have in this world. Music, or at least rock and roll, you can't do it on your own. You need to coordinate four little brains and make them agree. And that is one of the biggest things you can ever imagine. Making these four little girls agree on something sometimes is hard. [Laughs.] Group coordination and group support, I just love it. If it could be a representation of the whole world, it would be amazing because you build up your empathy and you stop thinking just about yourself.
Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist
The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.
Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!
The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.
Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.
So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.
Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.
About GRAMMY U:
GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.
Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.
As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.
Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.
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].
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.