Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images
Hold The Wheel And Drive: Incubus Look Back On Their Alt-Metal Classic 'Make Yourself' 20 Years Later
Brandon Boyd, Jose Pasillas, Chris Kilmore and Mike Einziger reminisce with the Recording Academy about their game-changing third studio album
When the clock struck midnight on Dec. 31, 1999, rock music was in its prime. The Red Hot Chili Peppers dominated the Billboard Charts with songs from their seventh studio album, Californication, which was also nominated for Best Rock Album at that year's GRAMMY Awards. Nu-metal kings Korn, Limp Bizkit and Sevendust had planted themselves alongside rock and roll heavyweights like Megadeth, Melvins and Motörhead on the summer festival circuit. And mixed in amongst all the noise was a Calabasas, Calif. rock band named Incubus.
As the decade came to a close, however, Incubus found themselves in a bit of a bind. Though they'd made their major-label debut with second album S.C.I.E.N.C.E in 1997 and toured through 1998 on the Ozzfest lineup, not to mention with rock gods like Black Sabbath, Pantera and Rammstein, the era's aggressive, testosterone-driven sound never suited the band all that well.
While S.C.I.E.N.C.E was certainly a solid record, it mostly mimicked what was going on elsewhere in rock music at the time. Its strengths were in the lighter, melodic moments, where lead singer Brandon Boyd sang without the immediacy of heavy metal over a steady swell of guitar and turntable scratches. Incubus would soon move further in that direction.
When they walked into North Hollywood's NRG studios at the beginning of 1999 to record their next record, they went in with a plan to differentiate themselves from the pack. Armed with a series of demos they’d recorded themselves in a rehearsal studio, they began working on what became their most ambitious work to date. Released on October 26, 1999, Make Yourself pushed Incubus into the mainstream. It got them airtime on radio and on MTV and gained them an audience that was no longer mostly dudes dressed in black metal tees, baggy pants and wallet chains. The album’s three singles, "Pardon Me," "Stellar" and "Drive" all charted on Billboard's Alternative Rock charts. The music video for "Drive" was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award alongside Y2K pop titans *NSYNC and Destiny’s Child. Eventually, Make Yourself went double platinum.
This is the story of how it all came together, from Ozzfest to the studio, to back out on the road again where Incubus discovered a new audience to connect with their softer sonic palette.
Summer camp for rock and rollers
Chris Kilmore (Turntables): [Ozzfest] was like summer camp for rock and rollers. A lot of things happened on that tour that you definitely could not get away with today. All of us are pretty respectful guys with parents that taught us morals, but we were like, wow, this could get crazy if we let it get out of control.
Jose Pasillas (Drums): We saw crazy sh*t go down that I think would make anybody feel uncomfortable, we were [like] freshman in school watching the seniors go crazy. But it didn’t really shake us on our beliefs and how we viewed the world, we knew what we wanted to be and what we didn’t want to be.
Brandon Boyd (Vocals): It was wild. The internet existed but not in the way it does now. A lot of stuff was taken on 35mm disposable cameras, so there’s ridiculous pictures of those, "I dare you to..." moments. I never partied very much so there was probably a lot of stuff that happened that was unbeknownst to me, but I don’t regret not participating in that way. I’ve always been more of a quiet observer.
Mike Einziger (Guitar): That tour was us, System Of A Down, Tool, Megadeth and many others. It was heavy. We all liked heavy music, we all grew up listening and playing heavy music, but we wanted to be different to the male, aggressive, testosterone-fueled music that was happening at that time. So Make Yourself was our attempt at going a different path.
Making Make Yourself
Brandon: We started the album working with a guy who we worked with on S.C.I.E.N.C.E, a really wonderful guy [producer] named Jim Wirt. We started it with him and it wasn’t going very well, so we broke away from him and recorded most of it ourselves.
Chris: I think Jim at that time was in a difficult part of his life, and I don’t think he could dedicate the time that was needed and focus his energy on what we were putting out.
Jose: We spent a couple of weeks recording things and I think we just had two different visions. I feel like we stopped and thought, we can do this on our own and we can make it exactly how we want it. So we kept the same engineer and thought, let’s do an experiment and not have a producer.
Mike: It was a bit of a scary position to be in as 19, 20 year-old kids, in a recording studio that costs thousands of dollars a day. But our A&R person at Epic Records trusted our vision. We had these demos of the songs that we’d made ourselves and they were really good—demo versions of most of the songs on Make Yourself. We’d recorded them in a rehearsal studio and then mixed them in a real studio with a mix engineer. I think based on that the label knew that we were totally capable of delivering a product that was going to sound great.
Brandon: It was kind of fun to have Scott Litt come in because we all held him in such high regard due to his work with R.E.M and Nirvana. When he came in it was always like, “Scott’s here, I hope we’re doing a good job.”
Jose: Mike had been talking to Scott previously, just as a possible option, but I think at the time he had other obligations. It took a few weeks before he came in and started listening to what we’d been playing.
Mike: We met Scott back in late 1995 or early 1996. He had started a record label with a couple of other influential people in the music business, a label called Outpost Records that was putting out records through Geffen [Records], and they were interested in signing us. So that was how we met, and through that process I got to know Scott really well. I had been working on Scott the whole time. I had been calling him and inviting him down to the studio and I think he was going through some personal stuff at the time that was discouraging him from getting involved with what we were doing. But then there was one opportunity where I got him to come down [to the studio], and I think after he heard the songs and the state that they were in he realized that we had some great music. Slowly he started showing up to the studio more and then he started helping us mix.
Brandon: Scott really honed in on what the singles were going to be and he dedicated a lot of sonic energy to “Drive” and “Stellar.” We definitely got a real sonic boost when he came on board.
Chris: I'm pretty sure Brandon had a dentist appointment or something that meant he couldn’t be in the studio, and studios are expensive so we didn’t want to waste the day.
Brandon: I remember coming back into the studio and they had this weird funk scratch situation happening. I was super stoked that it sounded so cool, but I was also butthurt because I didn't have anything to do with it.
Chris: Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark were in the studio next door, so I just went over there and asked them. I said, “Hey, I think we’re gonna scratch all over this track we just wrote, would you guys be interested in each doing a verse?” They were like, “Yeah, whatever you need,” and by the end of the day we had “Battlestar Scralatchtica.”
Brandon: I said, you guys have got to let me name it, at least, so I came up with “Battlestar Scralatchtica.” It was my only contribution to the song.
Hitting The Radio Waves
Jose: The first time they played "Pardon Me" [on the radio] we were at this little Par 3 golf course in the valley. We knew Stryker was going to play it at 4:20, he’s got this thing where he’ll play a local band or something of his liking at 4:20, and he played “Pardon Me.”
Chris: We were in the parking lot with our car doors open hanging out with each other and they played it.
Jose: We were so jazzed. It was such an incredible feeling to even get the chance to be heard on the radio. It was super special and it was the beginning of a new era for us.
Brandon: It was an exciting moment. It’s hard to describe. I don’t think it was like anything any of us had ever experienced, to hear something that you have put so much time and energy and love and effort into get played to a lot of people, like arguably tens of thousands of people all at that one moment.
"Pardon Me" (Acoustic)
Brandon: "Pardon Me" was the first song that got played on commercial radio, but it wasn't necessarily doing very well.
Mike: Brandon and I went and played [an acoustic version of] "Pardon Me" at several different radio stations, and as soon as we did that, those radio stations started playing the acoustic version that they had recorded of us playing in their studio.
Brandon: Mikey and I would go and perform that song, and a number of others, almost every morning. It was really hard actually as the singer, as I’m sure other singers around the world can attest to, to go and sing first thing in the morning. It was cruel and unusual punishment, but it ended up being really cool, because to my knowledge there weren't many bands actually willing to show up with an acoustic guitar at a radio station and do a live performance.
Jose: No rock bands were doing that. No rock bands would ever come in and play a song acoustically.
Mike: Then there was a reaction to it and we started getting requests from pretty much every radio station to come and play acoustic at their station. But it just wasn't feasible for us to do that.
Brandon: I think we were on tour with Primus towards the end of 1999, and on either a day off or on the morning of a show Mikey and I went and recorded an acoustic version.
Mike: We just couldn’t keep up with the demand of people who wanted us to come and play at their station, so we started sending everybody this acoustic version [that we’d recorded ourselves], and it started getting played a lot.
Chris: I think that's what allowed radio stations to feel good about playing it, because we were doing something special for them, and I think the fact that we did that pushed that single as far as it did.
Mike: From there, it naturally went towards the album version of the song and our popularity started rising very quickly. KROQ championed the single and MTV started playing the video and the album version of the song blew up.
Brandon: The album cycle was done. We'd finished touring Make Yourself and we were very actively working on what would become Morning View. Our heads were in a different place, so when that song started getting played on television it was an unexpected surprise.
Mike: We toured behind Make Yourself and we sold about a million albums. I remember when the album went platinum. "Drive" came out after that and on the back of that we sold another million albums. It was a really exciting time for us, the success just kept piling up and it all made perfect sense to me at the time, but looking back on it now I kind of can't believe it.
Chris: I couldn’t believe that "Drive" went to No. 1, but I couldn't believe that "Stellar" went to No. 2 before that, and I couldn't believe that "Pardon Me" went to No. 3.
Brandon: It was exciting, especially the way it gave us that burst of momentum going into the next album. It’s something you can never really plan for.
"Take your fking shirt off"
Nick Hexum (vocalist of 311): After Make Yourself came out I remember [saying] to Mark McGrath [of Sugar Ray], "What happened to Incubus? They're all the sudden this totally important American band. We liked them before, but kinda got lost and confused by their complexity. Now they’re the sh*t!"
Brandon: All the way through S.C.I.E.N.C.E, and then quite a way through touring Make Yourself, we would show up places and more people would come each time, but they all looked like us, they were young guys. People were thrashing and throwing stuff, it was like a boys' club.
Chris: During S.C.I.E.N.C.E our crowd was all teenage kids wearing black and they were all men. Once "Pardon Me" started getting some traction the crowd turned into half-girl crowds. Then when "Stellar" and "Drive" came out, those half-girl crowds became all screaming teenage girls in the front row.
Brandon: It was very interesting. I never knew what it felt like to be objectified, and so after I had my shirt off on television, if I didn't do it at shows you'd hear women yelling, "Take your fking shirt off."
It was an interesting experience, but I just kind of rolled with it. A lot of undergarments were coming on stage around that time. What the message is, where young women, or women of all ages don’t feel like they need to be wearing their undergarments, the logic behind it, it was a very unusual thing. The other fascinating thing is, like, did they bring an extra pair with them? It's underwear, how did they get those off in the audience? Some magical Zoolander trick? I remember in the original Zoolander movie: in the walkoff scene where Hansel puts his hands down his pants on the runway and gets out of his underwear, I’ve always assumed that’s how women were getting out of their undergarments and throwing them up on stage.
Nick: We toured with [Incubus] in Europe and I remember Brandon saying that his favorite part was in our song "You Wouldn't Believe," where I replace the last chorus with a big 'Whoa-oh' crowd sing-along moment. I said, "Well it makes sense that you like that part because I’m doing my best Incubus impression." It’s nice to let the crowd join in on something really simple, to feel the collective energy. Incubus are the kings of that.
Grappling With Fame
Chris: Things were growing and yes, the record label would pick us up in limos and we got to fly on a private jet every now and then, but for the most part it was business as usual.
Brandon: I think what I noticed the most was how people reacted to me in normal, everyday situations. In the late '90s and early 2000s, magazine culture was a lot more powerful than it is today. I remember being in an airport kiosk getting a pack of gum and I was on the cover of a magazine called Seventeen. I was standing there and I saw it, and this one middle-aged guy looked at it and then looked at me and he goes, "Hey, is that you?" And I said, "Yeah, I think so," and he goes, "Hey everybody, look, it's the guy on the cover of this magazine." He totally called me out in public. Then people started to surround me and began buying it and they had me sign it. A lot of them didn’t even know who I was or what I did, it was just that in America we have a weird celebrity worship culture. There's a darkness to it that’s a little weird.
Photo: Kelly Samson, Gallery Photography
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: 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].