Photo: Ellen Edmar
Little Dragon Reveal 2020 Tour Dates, New Song
"Tongue Kissing" is the Swedish electro-pop group's first new music of 2019
Today, Oct. 23, GRAMMY-nominees Little Dragon revealed dates for an extensive European and North American tour next year, with tickets going on sale this Friday. The Swedish electro-pop band also shared their first new music of 2019, a shimmery, bubbling track called "Tongue Kissing."
Their 2020 tour is set to kick off in Stockholm on March 9, with 12 dates across Europe, wrapping up the Euro leg at the 02 Brixton Academy in London on March 26. On April 15, they'll kick of the North American-side of the jaunt in Washington, D.C., followed by an April 18 show at Brooklyn Steel and an April 20 gig at Philadelphia's Union Transfer.
The trek is currently set to end at the House of Blues in San Diego on May 12. Tickets for all shows go on sale this Fri., Oct. 25. For complete dates and ticket info, please visit the band's website.
As for "Tongue Kissing," Little Dragon dropped it yesterday, Oct. 22, along with a sweet message about it on Twitter.
"Feels beautiful to share new music with the world! This song is about facing our demons! Tongue kissing with the madness, slow dancing, soul searching, cry laughing and letting the dream wrap you safe like a cocoon," the group wrote.
Feels beautiful to share new music with the world! This song is about facing our demons! Tongue kissing with the madness, slow dancing, soul searching, cry laughing and letting the dream wrap you safe like a cocoon. https://t.co/fiiupMoovi— little dragon (@LittleDragon) October 22, 2019
Keep an out for new tour dates too! pic.twitter.com/AWx993PDjX
The vibey quartet's most recent prior release was their 2018 Lover Chanting EP. Earlier this year, they were featured on Flying Lotus' "Spontaneous." The band's last full-length album was 2017's Season High, which followed their GRAMMY-nominated Nabuma Rubberband, released in 2014.
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: Delali Ayevi
Little Dragon's Yukimi Nagano On New Album 'Slugs Of Love,' Damon Albarn's "Inspiring" Impact & Leaning Into Intuitive Creativity
The electro-pop group's frontwoman details how their seventh album, 'Slugs of Love,' expands on the group's synergy and the fun they've had together for nearly three decades.
There's a special synergy and magic that comes from music made by people that love and really know each other. Little Dragon has manifested and expanded on that feeling since they were teenagers.
The spirit-lifting Swedish dance-pop quartet — drummer Erik Bodin, bassist Fredrik Wallin, keyboardist Håkan Wirenstarnd and singer Yukimi Nagano — met at their local music high school, and formed Little Dragon back in 1996. Now, they're back with their seventh album, Slugs of Love, and they're simply having fun.
The LP follows 2020's New Me, Same Us, which saw the band at their most collaborative, working together on all elements of the music-making progress to shake things up. Slugs of Love furthers their ultra-collaborative and experimental impulse, exemplified by the exuberant, silly title track, a playful meditation on the essence of humanity.
Their creative freedom radiates throughout the rest of Slugs of Love, like the sun-soaked "Disco Dangerous," whose funky instrumentals provide a dreamy backdrop for Nagano to coyly exclaim "never ever!" to falling in love. The subsequent track, "Lily's Call," shows another side of Little Dragon, a dark and driving number whose instrumental could fit in a Blade Runner soundtrack. Slugs of Love also sees them reconnecting with Damon Albarn — who they first worked with in 2010 on the Gorillaz's Plastic Beach — on the trippy, shimmery "Glow."
"We feel really grateful that we don't have to compromise ourselves at all," Nagano tells GRAMMY.com. "We do what we love and there are people who are into it."
GRAMMY.com caught up with the Little Dragon frontwoman to chat about the group's lively new album, their longevity as a band, reuniting with Damon Albarn and more.
When I first heard "Slugs of Love," I was obsessed and listened to it on repeat. I love how euphoric and absurd it is. What inspired it and how did the track come together?
The track was first written as just a demo beat and it had that infectious energy from the very start, without any vocals and melodies on it, and it just really grabbed me. The guys always write very random titles for demo tracks because you have to name it something, but I loved that title. And sometimes you get inspired by an odd angle, and the demo title together with the music gave me this image to write to. I painted this picture in my mind of humans being like slugs that are crawling on the wall, and everyone's becoming more obsessed and lazier, but ultimately kind of all needing and wanting the same thing — just wanting to be loved and safe.
It took a few turns production-wise. We tried to play it live and then we kind of returned back to the demo vibe. That sometimes feels like you're going backwards because you're trying too much stuff and nothing's working, but then you realize that the vibe was in the original ideas.
Since you chose "Slugs of Love" as the title track of the album, in what ways do you feel like it speaks to or sets the tone for the rest of the album?
It is just a fun image, so we're playing with that. Our first idea was that we wanted to make a trilogy [of] albums. We were gonna make one that was just romantic songs, one of dance songs and one with trippy forest music. In the end, we decided just to make an old-fashioned album because it was becoming very complicated.
"Slugs of Love" stood out as a track and as a title, and it felt sort of representative to the whole process and that time of making music. It felt like it also represented something a little bit new for us. [Our music] is very intuitive when we write it, whatever feels good in our guts, and then we let journalists and the people describe what it means.
You've said that your last album New Me, Same Us was your most collaborative and saw you working together in a new way. How did your approach to making Slugs of Love compare or differ, or build upon that?
Well, it's all just one long, linear story in a way for us, so [we gain] more experience with and understanding of each other. Sometimes you gotta throw away ideas that you have of each other as well – like you do with a family, with someone always being the little sister.
Sometimes we just have to try to have a blank slate and not get too stuck in the characters we've created. So it keeps evolving and everyone really wants to collaborate. I think we all feel like it's a meaningful process, even though sometimes it's really hard. Everyone is pretty strong-willed in different areas of the creative process so it can get complicated.
When you're on stage, you're so in the moment and your feelings are so big, but when you're watching the show, you're so relaxed and you're just there ready to take it in. And I think that kind of feeling [exists] with the process of making your music, and with the relationship with ourselves. Sometimes it's so serious, it's like the center of the universe — but at the end of the day, it's just music. We can get really caught up in one little detail, but really, we just want to be friends and have fun.
Being in a band, you have each other's different perspectives. I think it'd be different if it was just one artist in your own head, being your own neurotic self. We're four neurotic egos bumping heads with each other, so we get a little perspective.
I love the combination of the funky, fuzzy, sparkly instrumentals on "Disco Dangerous" with the sort of anti-love love song lyrics and the "never ever!" refrains. What was the spark for that track?
That track was just fun. [We were just] being silly and having fun and enjoying writing music. We love music that has that vibe of playfulness, and I think that kind of translated on that track. But most of all, we just had a good time making it, so I'm happy that came through.
And how did the instrumentals evolve on that one, from the demo to where it is now?
It started as a pretty basic layer of bass and drums. Then I wrote a little part and then more things got added, and I wrote a little more. We weren't sure about this song. Sometimes you want to write a good song, and sometimes you just want to have fun.
It's fun to know that you can release that stuff as well and not care too much. I think we can all get too stuck in the sickness of wanting to create something special and get caught up in thoughts that actually don't really help the process very much.
You reunited with Damon Albarn on the shimmering "Glow"— how did working with him on it inspire or shift the track?
We just chanced it to see if he was into the song, and he was. What we really loved about Damon's contribution was that he was very careless in a way that we found really inspiring.
When we collaborate with people, we're a little bit tip-toeing, like, "Okay, does this work for you? Is this okay?" And he came in and chopped it up, and added a bunch of new harmonies and a whole new part. I think it fits really well.
When I listened to the song, the visuals I got were very psychedelic; you're in the desert and then you're in the water. And when his part came in, I started seeing these big statues. The music, vocals and everything else he added felt like a whole new scenery which I found really refreshing. It was inspiring [to realize] you don't have to be so careful.
What did you learn from touring with him back in 2010 on the Gorillaz's Escape to Plastic Beach Tour?
The whole experience was a really big impression because there was such a mix of artists on the tour. Fred and I shared a tour bus with Bobby Womack. De La Sol was also on the tour, along with a whole horn band and a Syrian orchestra. There were maybe eight or nine tour buses — it was crazy, like a festival on tour. It was such a good time and a lot of fun memories.
We traveled the States and the UK and Australia, so it was a good three months. The inspiring part was seeing Damon deliver on stage — he gave everything — and the way that he brought all those different artists together. It created a lot of friendships that still exist.
Speaking of performing, you all bring so much energy and joy to live shows. What does it feel like for you and the band when you're on stage?
That's probably the main reason why we gravitated towards each other, because we admired each other as musicians. It feels like we're all in our element together and it feels natural because we've done it for so long. We know each other's language musically, and we know how to communicate with each other. That's such a special thing.
You don't really realize that until you play with people that you don't know their musical language in the same way. It's something that we cherish. Of course, you have good shows and bad shows, but the guys still impress me on stage with the way they play because we improvise a lot and we try to take it somewhere. Every show is different.
Is it important to you to change things up on stage to not get bored yourself, or to entertain the audience, or a bit of both?
I think it's some kind of musician's pride. We also love the jazz philosophy of music. I guess it bores us if we see bands and they have a backing track. I think that's where it shows that we're musicians first, and then we became a band. We were all session musicians, and we had these vibrations between us when we were playing and that's what made us write music together. It started there. It reminds us of the core of what we are on stage together.
What do you get out of sharing your music in person? I'm sure it's one thing to get sweet comments from people online, but it must be something to feel people freaking out to your songs.
It's the best feeling. I mean, we don't always get [an engaged crowd]. Any band will know that doing support shows strengthens your backbone because you have to play almost for yourself. So we have shows that are great, and shows that are less good. Every show has its twists, but when the stars are aligned, it's pretty amazing.
You can have moments where you lose track of yourself, and you feel like the communication between the band is just flowing so nicely — you almost feel like it's flowing back and forth with the audience too. It's a bit addictive, actually, to get that feeling, that energy, from a crowd. Sometimes you have a few people that are going off so hard and dancing and giving so much energy that it just fuels us.
"Ritual Union" was such a big track when it came out in 2011. What did the success and buzz you experienced then feel like to the band at the time?
I don't think it necessarily felt like a peak or anything to us because we've always felt like we were on some kind of a verge. But now we're appreciative of it. Just this last summer when we did shows in San Francisco, I recognized hardcore fans from 10 years back, who still come to the front.
At the time, we were touring so much that we almost exhausted ourselves after Ritual Union. We needed a proper break. As a band, when you feel that you're up-and-coming, it's the feeling that you've got to grab this thing right in front of you, but it keeps moving forward — you're just running after nothing.
We had to stop and be like, "Okay, you can prioritize other things and you can say no to shows." We had to learn stuff like that because you can get this FOMO feeling like if you don't grab it, someone else is going to take it and you're gonna miss it.
There's this feeling in industry that there's so much competition, so if you don't take it now, it's never gonna come back. There's so much fear and pressure in the industry that can push a band too hard. It was a very intense time after Ritual Union. But we were getting a lot of love and touring hard.
What came after that pause? What was the thing that was like "this is why we're a band" or "this is what we're actually focused on"?
We still have our studio and we go there pretty much every day. People rent studios for tons of money, and we have a nice homemade one that's an apartment that we made into a studio. That allows us to be able to make a song like "Disco Dangerous" and to be silly in the studio. It's such a blessing to be able to release that and know that people actually want to hear it and dance to it.
We feel really grateful that we don't have to compromise ourselves at all. We do what we love and there are people who are into it. That's what every artist wants to do, not have to sell out.
Do you feel connected to or inspired by the music scene in Gothenburg?
We have our bubble in the studio. The setup is four studios in one space, so we're definitely bouncing off of each other in that collective space. In a dream world, it'd be a whole building and tons of bands, that would be pretty awesome.
I read that it actually took some time for the band to catch on in Sweden, after the U.K. and U.S. When did that home country recognition finally happen?
I feel like it's still pretty slow here. We're gonna do a show in Gothenburg and Stockholm this fall, it's definitely been growing. We did a few things here during COVID; we were a house band for a really big Swedish TV show. That probably made some people aware, but I feel like it's still growing.
We haven't really invested that much time, either, in playing here. Some bands tour all over Sweden and play all the small towns, but we haven't really done that. You can't really complain if you haven't really toured and promoted that much here. We probably need to play more shows in Sweden. Our first record label [Peacefrog] was in the U.K. I don't know if that has anything to do with it, but they were definitely not really focusing on Sweden.
As a band, how do you make sure that you're still having fun making music together and meshing creatively, since you have been doing it for so long?
Most of the time, it's pretty easy. I mean, it's not always gonna be a vibe, but since we go to the studio pretty much every single day, you're going to flow at some point, even though it can take some time. After the summer, you're going to need a little bit of time to warm up before, and you're not necessarily gonna write your favorite song the first day you get in. You just have to just flow with it.
I think just showing up in the studio every day, being with each other, makes things happen. But how do you make it fun? I think we just have fun together, we don't even have to try most of the time.
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].