Photo: Roshanak Sariaslan
Lee Burridge Hopes His New Album With Lost Desert, 'Melt,' Helps You See Passion & Truth In Yourself
"[My hope is] that people will listen from the beginning to the end…Because it's passion, it's honesty, it's truth and hopefully other people will find that in themselves," the All Day I Dream founder recently told the Recording Academy
If you've ever attended a transformational music festival (like Southern California's Lightning In A Bottle) or enjoyed the underground house scene in the last 36 years, you probably know Lee Burridge. The British DJ/producer is perhaps as well-known for his dreamy, expansive electronic music and the joyful All Day I Dream events and label that showcase those sounds, as he is for his ever-present smile.
Recently, on July 19, he released Melt, his debut full-length, produced collaboratively with Belgian labelmate Lost Desert, who Burridge explains has helped expand his own skills in the studio. The pair have released a handful of tracks and EPs together since 2016, including "Lingala" that year. It features evocative vocals from Junior, who sings on the track in native Congolese language, Lingala. A new version of the song appears on Melt, along with another Junior-powered track, "Mibale." Across ten songs in an hour and seven minutes, the LP is the perfect soundtrack to play as you soak in the magic feeling of enjoying a sunny day outside and watching the clouds pass by, as is encouraged at ADID.
Back in 2011, Burridge launched ADID on a Brooklyn rooftop. It has grown exponentially, into a label and a global event series that highlights a growing, talented crew of house and techno DJ/producers, like Öona Dahl, Lauren Ritter, Bedouin and YokoO.
As Burridge, the other artists and their loyal fan base helps bring the vibey parties to more cities, including Berlin, Ibiza, London and Los Angeles, ADID feels like a movement to create more mindfulness and joy in the dance music space. Sitting down with Burridge at an extra-sunny edition of San Francisco's June ADID, he explains that creating mindfulness is exactly what he set out to do.
"This is the soundtrack to collective engagement and community building. This is really important to me to bring people together, it always was. And also to make them smile. That was actually the first intention at the first party and it's never changed," Burridge said of the events.
Below, Burridge tells the Recording Academy more about the intention behind ADID, Melt and more.
Junior performs live with Burridge at ADID SF | Photo: Roshanak Sariaslan
So you started the All Day I Dream events in Brooklyn about eight years ago? Was it at the Output rooftop?
In 2011, yes. No, I scouted a rooftop one year before. I basically moved into it. They did a job, set up some speakers and two tables, my equipment, a bar. It was baking hot, July 4th. And I just thought, "I can do this better." I'd been to Burning Man. I thought, "It's very gray, I'll hang up material, lanterns and fairy lights and make it look not like an industrial rooftop in Brooklyn. I'll create a world." And that was it. It was just an empty space with a really wonky, wobbly floor that was made of a sort of soft material. The hotter it got, the wonkier the floor got.
Was that the birth of All Day I Dream as it is today? Can you give us a bit more of the origin story?
I mean, it was the birth of the event, the origins came from not being content with where music was and wanting to add another layer or another option for people. Melody, harmony, emotion had kind of been drained by minimal. And that's cool because people are having a great time with minimal, but me personally, I was noticing it being a lot more men at events. Like 95% men at some events, all in black T-shirts.
I really wanted to rebalance that energy out in club land because there seemed to be less options that were attracting girls. And I think it's not only the music, because minimal was a good sound for girls and guys, but I think it was also the tipping point of too many men at a party becomes less comfortable. And it was in black, dirty warehouses with one toilet that had been overflowing for like nine hours.
So I was exploring and trying to find that music to try and play in a set, which became a mix that was released on Resident Advisor. Then I played a set like it at Lightning In A Bottle. Everybody else was playing banging [electronic music]. And it really worked, people really connected to it. Then I started playing it at Burning Man, BPM Festival and when 2010 came around, I played that kind of music on that rooftop and it seemed so perfect with the sun setting. But I just knew that I could do it better and add other things to it to create this world. That was the first step forward that I had hoped people would connect to the idea and then it would allow me to take it around the world, which, fast forward nine [ADID] seasons, and here we are.
With the ADID events, it seems very intentional that mindfulness and just being present is at the forefront of the events. I think part of it is the music itself and your presence and the people that you bring together, but is this something that is important to you?
This is the soundtrack to collective engagement and community-building. This is really important to me to bring people together, it always was. And also to make them smile. That was actually the first intention at the first party, and it's never changed.
I think the music is a filter of sorts, it's not for everybody. Everybody's welcome of course, but you really kind of draw a line with some people, it's not enough energy for them or it's not focused enough on pumping your fist in the air. They don't come and then we get this amazing collection of people that we have ended up with. One of the proudest things is, I've said this a few times, is that I've had over 30 couples that have come up and said, "We met at your event and now we're married." That's amazing to me.
"This is the soundtrack to collective engagement and community building. This is really important to me to bring people together, it always was. And also to make them smile. That was actually the first intention at the first party and it's never changed."
You often open the events with yoga and meditation, which is really cool. Is there anything that you've learned along the way, or anything else that you do to make sure that vibe remains at all the events as you grow to more cities?
By not selling the event to people and letting it grow organically, letting people bring their friends. They are the best filters we have. We could get so many more people and make so much money, but it's not the drive. Of course, the event now makes money, but we put money back into the event to make the event better for people. I always wanted to do that, it never really was a financial project for me. It was a community building project for me.
And to leave it in the hands of everybody else, to not make it my party and make it everybody's party. Of course, we're not the first people to ever have yoga at an event, it's been existing for years, but we definitely want to keep building on other experiences people can have. But at the end of the day, as you just said in the previous question, about the music not being really the center of the experience, absolutely. Because people should come and sit on a blanket and literally look at the sky if they want and listen or hang out with their friends. A lot of people use it as a sort of social meeting point to either make new friends or to bring their friends all together at the same time. And there's not so many of those out there. People go to a festival with a group of friends, but sometimes you're so focused on I need to be here, I need to be there. It seems to be more relaxed it at this event.
Yeah. Less shoving.
Totally. You can dance your ass off, but also you can just wander around, look at how cool people look, you can enjoy the food. It's not really a pop in, schmooze, I was there. People sort of come and commit to it. I love that because I have the same energy.
You said ADID is not really about you, but you're still running it, making sure it happens. What's your favorite thing about being a part of it?
Actually getting to develop new artists now. I always wanted to help everybody along my way. You know, "come and DJ with me, we should do this together." A few years ago I tried to do it, but I wasn't really at that part of my career where it was easy. Sure, I got gigs for a few friends and it helped a bit.
But with this, I get to curate, explore, discover and then, sort of, impart advice. All the mistakes I made along the way, maybe I can expedite that younger artist's growth and experience within the industry. Because we didn't go to school for this, we just sort of fumbled forward and discovered and loved it, and went wholeheartedly into it. But that doesn't mean you're good at it. I see some people that are great business people and I see others that are just true artists. I feel like we should all be somewhere in the middle.
And those that have been successful shouldn't be paranoid about losing their position. They should totally be pushing, influencing and growing the industry. Because it's not about losing your place, it's about the industry getting bigger. That's been a joy for me to see the successes. It's almost like you're vicariously living other parts of your career through younger people. I'm not going to be doing this forever, but I'd like the scene, all this music, to be out there in the world as long as possible because it's positive for people. It's enjoyable. It allows them to have a group of friends that they can empathize with and experience things with.
I want to touch back to when you mentioned the underground scene was all minimal. Going into it were you like, "I want to see if I can create another lane here"?
100%. I found a few artists that had made some records that really blew my mind. Because I came from—I love saying this because it makes me sound so old—I am from a time where DJs used to play long sets and some of them had this innate ability to make you feel like you were on a roller coaster. It wasn't one specific thing. It wasn't this banging energy. I could do that 'til the cows come home and it works.
But there are other lanes, as you say, to really weave together music. If you go to a classical music symphony, it's not one thing, is it? It really has crescendos and it has drops in it and you're on an emotional roller coaster. So it really made sense to me, if I'm going to play music that has emotional elements to it, without being overly cheesy or obvious or overdramatic, that it made sense to actually think of a beginning, a middle and an end, and everything in between. So I integrated that into what the whole thing should feel like.
I also had anthems. Music moves so fast, you might come to a party and only hear a song once. In New York, it was four parties and I decided on about ten records that I would play every single party. They weren't particularly big records at the time, but people grew into them and then were crying because they loved them so much. Then they were asking for them, after they owned them at home or streamed them. I think it was coming back to how it used to be previously for me and seeing if it resonated with people still. It does.
Obviously, I can do that through the label now, but I also do it with any track I find. Every year I try to have a few that they're identifiable with that year at that party, everywhere you go and they're moments, you know? Not fleeting moments, they actually are moments you can build on and become bigger moments.
Yeah, so there was a lot of thought behind it on my part. One of the mistakes I made, but also of the things that worked, was the first ADID New Year's parties I played for the whole seven hours. I got to tell the whole story. And still to this day, it's hard to step away from the project because I'm so integral to it. I'd like to because I'd like the other artists to be more in the spotlight, which is why sometimes I'll put myself on in the middle set and let another artist close, because they deserve it. A lot of the time you don't get that opportunity.
Today is the day we finally get to release Melt out into the world for everyone to experience. I hope you enjoy listening to the album as much as we enjoyed creating it. https://t.co/ExmySUud6F pic.twitter.com/qA3OAIdPjV— Lee Burridge (@leebu) July 19, 2019
So I was kind of shocked to realize that your album that's coming out soon is your first full-length, because you've put out tons of great music.
Yeah. Finally, right now, when it's not relevant to do albums anymore.
I think albums are coming back, honestly.
No, no, this is the point. We wanted to buck the trend a little bit because people tend to put a collection of tracks on an album in dance music and then there's just a bunch of singles. I really enjoyed listening to albums all the way through and just because it's out of vogue right now doesn't mean it won't find the right people. So, we decided to do an album.
I'm not really a producer, that's the thing. It's not my first skillset. I have to work with people and sort of guide the ship. Everybody I've worked with is super talented. I'm sure they do quite a load. I'm just giving them more ideas and taking them to different worlds. So Lost Desert really even didn't even exist, actually. I mean, he existed as a man, but he didn't exist as an artist then. He was in the middle of nowhere ghost writing, feeling he missed the wave. We became friends and I was like, "there's a new way to catch a ride," and here we are today.
It's one thing to make a track together, but with a full album I'm sure there's points where your visions differ. What was your favorite part about collaborating on that project and what was the hardest part about it?
I thought the differences are the best part because they pull left and right. If you eat a dish that has one ingredient, it doesn't taste the same as if you throw a couple in there. And his emotional journey through life and my emotional journey and our professional journeys led to a lot of conversations about who we are as people and what's happened to us in our lives. And then we've tapped into those experiences of ups and downs, of things that you wish you'd done, but then we say, "Why don't we do it?"
And I actually got to make a friend out of it which was important on a very deep level for me. Again, the music will stay out there in the world, and I have this friendship that was built by being really honest with somebody in the studio about how you feel and just learning from somebody, actually. Patrick [Bruyndonx]—Lost Desert—has so much talent, it's so raw and just gushes out. He could make a thousand tracks in a year. But you need another person to just sit and really focus on what's actually coming out and whether that resonates out in the world. As people, our moods change on a daily basis. If he's tapping into an angry day where somebody's turned up and shouted at him, perhaps that's not the message we want to put out there in the world right now to represent him.
My favorite bit was the learning. And growing as a producer for me, because if I'm compared to Patrick, I'm still in my infancy. He's teaching me the walk. I can articulate what I want, but I'm a one finger keyboard player. I used to be afraid to do that but he encouraged it and now at least I can, again, muddle forward and we can get to where I hear something in my head.
So now, when you're producing, do you prefer to do collaborative work?
I think I have to only do collaborative. I think I'm a long way off of even making a single on my own.
"It's never too late for anybody to make music. If you feel like you have any sort of creativeness inside you, why not?"
When you first started DJing, was producing something you were scared to try?
I just was busy being a DJ, I think. I was in Hong Kong and back in the day, when I used to party all the time, my days were being up all night and sleeping all day. I didn't put time in, which is my one regret, that I didn't allocate more time to learning then because it was time I could have started on the path. But it's never too late for anybody to make music. If you feel like you have any sort of creativeness inside you, why not? I mean, you don't have to release it. Sometimes you just make it for yourself.
Honestly, I could have just paid Patrick and this could be a Lee Burridge album, but I don't like artists that do that because it's not really a representation of who you are. And I want to always big up everybody I work with. I mean, we tried to put Patrick's name first on the album, because I think he deserves that, and everybody was saying, "No, you're the bigger artist." I understand why, but I'm definitely going to make sure he gets his credit for being the true talent behind the music. I guess I'm much like an executive producer.
When you've made a name for yourself and you're good at what you do, it can be easy to just keep doing that. But it sounds like it was a great experience for both of you.
It was. Fantastic!
Are you going to make more albums together?
Absolutely. I mean, we're already starting the new one. We're both hugging each other constantly going, "Thank you so much." From me for various things, but definitely in the case of making the album, Patrick's generosity, and from him for plucking him from obscurity, I guess, and giving him the opportunity.
How did you first meet?
The real version or the lie? I said I was hiking through a desert and I heard strange sounds coming from around the corner and found Lost Desert field recording in the Serengeti. It works. I wanted it to give it some mystique. You know, we didn't say his real name at the beginning and then people buy into things, and why not?
It could have been that, but we just played together in Belgium and luckily he had been on as the warmup DJ. I really liked him, I felt that "I want to get to know this guy." I never go to after parties anymore and he said, "Do you want to come to my house?" We went and sat and listened to music all night after we played and we just really got along. Then we started talking and then I just was like, "Can I come work in the studio with you?" I took the train from London and went to the studio and we started making music. "Lingala" actually came out of that. So it's magical. It's magical to still be able to have the drive to learn, not just be, as you say, stuck in a lane where everything's fine. I like learning, I have a thirst for it.
How are you feeling about sharing the project now, your first LP?
I'm really excited. I listened to it a lot and, ego free, it's a nice album. It's cohesive and it has some really nice moments. We worked with Junior who's going to sing today, he's got an amazing voice. I have no fear because I don't think we have any aspirations for it to be number one or anything, you know? We're putting some work out there and hopefully people will find it and enjoy it for a moment. Or it'll mark people's summertimes.
I gave it to a few friends who I knew would critique me, but the worst I got was, "It's kind of an album you'd hear in a restaurant in Ibiza all summer." I think that's amazing. People will have Shazam, I don't need to just be discovered at my own gig playing a record. I think it's really important to reach other worlds and that's a brilliant place to hear music. I've Shazamed plenty of things in restaurants, so it makes me happy to think that they said that.
I like that.
No, and also everything's always out of our control. So, 100% there'll be, "This is dull, it doesn't sound fresh," because the person who's listening, it's not their jam. And other people will be gushing. I think you learn more from criticism than you do from praise. So bring all of it on. I'm going to read everything that's said and it's not to fill my heart with joy that people love it or this might do well, I actually want to read what people didn't like. And then the next album, maybe somewhere in my subconscious that will sort of spike other ideas.
What was your biggest vision or hope for this project?
That people will listen from the beginning to the end is all, and realize it's one piece of work that is a journey. And maybe win some more people into committing to an album rather than three minutes of a track or just 30 seconds. Because it's passion, it's honesty, it's truth and hopefully other people will find that in themselves.
"[My hope is] that people will listen from the beginning to the end is all…Because it's passion, it's honesty, it's truth and hopefully other people will find that in themselves."
And then what about for All Day I Dream, what's your biggest hope and wish for—
All Weekend I Dream is the next cycle.
Yes. But we want to approach it in a different way, that it's not just relentless music. There's a lot of talk of the mental health consciousness. So we're going to approach it in a different way and actually have things for people to do, it's not just party after party. Lots of quality things that people can connect to, but they can also go sit and have dinner with their friends or go have a nap, and just approach a weekend a bit differently.
You travel a lot with ADID events and other DJ gigs. Do you have any self-care musts to stay grounded when you're on the road?
Meditation, 100%. And stretching out after the gig. When I get back to the hotel, I'll always stretch for at least half an hour because I'm old. I throw my body around and forget I'm old because my spirit is exactly the same age it's always been.
How old is that?
And then I wake up. I'm 50 at the moment.
No, your spirit.
Oh, my spirit. Oh I don't know, like two and a half with the maturity of a 15-year-old. [Grins.] I forget and I'll wake up in the morning, [saying], "Oh my legs, my back." Ever since I started stretching, I don't really suffer from that anymore. So definitely meditation and stretching.
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.