meta-scriptLucy Dacus On New Album 'Home Video,' Her Personal Songwriting & Touring Again | GRAMMY.com
Lucy Dacus poses with a red flower over one eye

Lucy Dacus

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Lucy Dacus On New Album 'Home Video,' Her Personal Songwriting & Touring Again

Indie singer/songwriter Lucy Dacus discusses her personal third LP, 'Home Video,' her role as a narrator and chronicling her coming of age

GRAMMYs/Sep 8, 2021 - 10:49 pm

 

Lucy Dacus puts a lot of effort into crafting the lyrics of her songs, so she knows when someone in her show's audience is singing the wrong words back to her.

"It happens way more often than I think people realize," she tells GRAMMY.com from her home in Philadelphia. "Sometimes it'll almost mess me up or I'll start laughing because I'm watching somebody really enthusiastically not know the song." Thankfully, from her vantage point onstage, the charm of it all is a compliment that can't be faked. "They want to be having a good time the way everyone else is," she says admiringly.

After what has undoubtedly felt like an infinite time loop of uncertainty, for the first time in over a year and half, Dacus actually got to return to the stage this summer as the opening act for Bright Eyes. Starting this month, she'll will soon top the bill of her own tour to support her third album, Home Video.

Preempted by a deluge of anticipatory media coverage unlike anything she'd experienced before, the 26-year-old's newest full-length was met with critical acclaim thanks to its unflinching exploration of the songwriter's adolescent past. It features short story-style vignettes of sexual identity, faith, friendship, first loves and heartbreak and shows how looking back at the less romantic parts of one's life can contribute something meaningful to your present.

Recently, a lucky cohort of young songwriters received a masterclass in Storytelling Through Songwriting from the "Thumbs" artist herself, during her GRAMMY U and Songwriters & Composers Wing Zoom webinar. Through this and her music, she is continuing the never-ending creative cycle of making memories with music, putting those and other memories into song form, and inspiring the next generation of music makers with her heartfelt tracks.

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"I feel the most [grounded] when I can relate to everyone who I have been previously," says Dacus. "I have so many friends who do not want to talk about the past, who say 'I hate who I was,' and throw it away. And maybe they have a phoenix feeling about that, where they just are born from the ashes of their past.

But for me I want there to be a line. I want my life to make sense to me, and the closest way for that to happen is to get familiar with the past and take ownership for the things that I did wrong, to forgive myself for those things. I don't have to blame myself. I like to figure out what can I take credit for, what can I not take credit for. I learn so much from that process."

You probably had a lot of emotions going back on the road, but touring with Bright Eyes, how did it feel to be in front of people performing again?

It was wild and amazing. It's also so weird because you just have to trust the science of the day, being told that the vaccines work, that being outside is all right. Making it to the end of the tour with Bright Eyes, none of us got COVID, all the shows were outside except one and that had a vaccination requirement. It was nice to kind of reenter playing shows and it being more of a lower stakes situation as an opener.

It's clear the logistics of touring still come with some hurdles. You're among a growing number of artists requiring vaccination status or negative tests to be able to attend your shows.

It's tough that everyone has had to become half scientist and half lawyer. I don't know these things. It is not in my wheelhouse to know these things. I'm always like, "Can we do this?" And people on my team are like, "I don't know, but we've been talking bit by bit." We're trying to figure out how to make it feel and be as safe as possible, anything that makes people feel more comfortable.

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Your songs have always had such a writerly approach to them, even more so with Home Video. What has kept you from–in some alternate reality–the pursuit of writing an actual book or memoir? Why do you feel music is your most powerful means of communicating?

I think the short answer is that I'm a coward. The longer answer is that I think the literary world has an academic undertone, or it just feels like all of the writers that I love–I can't do that. Whereas with music, all my friends did it, and you can just look up the chords. And you only need to know three.

You need to know lots of words to write a book. Music just felt more accessible. I had examples of it. I went to shows. Books, it's so bare, and so personal, and I feel a particular book could only exist because of who that author is. I can't be them, and so I can't write that book or a book that good.

I just have way more internal monologue that keeps me from writing long form. With music I literally don't even think about it. I'm never second guessing myself. I'm never stopping myself from singing to myself. I'm never thinking "Is this good or not?" I'm just doing it. And when it's done, it's just something that had to happen.

For a listener coming across these songs who had no idea about the context of how they were conceived, how would you describe the narrator of these songs? Do you consider the narrator a reliable one?

I don't think there's such thing as a reliable narrator. That's my take. I think that all story is curation. And to make anything is to curate, because you're not making something else. Even sculpture, looking at a stone and making something out of it, that's a curation of the stone. I don't know if I'm asking people to rely on me. I think I just want people to listen.

One of the things that really struck me listening to these songs is this pervading theme of identity and this awkward period we go through when we're young and just trying to figure ourselves out.

I feel the hardest lesson of trying to get to know yourself is knowing that you're going to change. I think that people who have a really strong sense of self are really flexible. I think that if you try to hold on to who you are too hard, that idea is more likely to crumble.

I do have this desire to really know who I am, or even what that means. I think that I will never be satisfied because any working definition changes. A lot of this has been in the pursuit of figuring out what has never changed about me, maybe what will never change in the future. Who was I then, what does that tell me about who I am now and maybe who I'll become? Then again I think maybe the impulse itself to forecast your life is futile. I'm trying to maybe let go of the need to know who I am.

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The process of writing this record, with so much of it drawn from your journals, when could you say, "This particular moment feels appropriate to be translated into a song"?

It happened the other way around, actually, where I would have this memory and think, "Oh, my gosh, I have this recovered memory from my life." And then I'd go to the journals, to that specific day and find what I had to say about it at the time, which is so different from what I'm thinking about it in the present.

"VBS" is a good example, where I was on the way to record some songs and saw a sign advertising Vacation Bible School. I was like, "Oh, my God, my first boyfriend used to snort nutmeg." And so then it was like, "OK, I have to write that down. That has to be a line."

So the nutmeg line was first. And then everything else I went back and looked not just at journals, but photos from that time, and I tried to just exist within that world, in that state of mind for a little bit to finish the song. I'd have this triggered memory for no reason, and then use all of the primary source documents, to flesh out ideas.

You know how you when you listen to a song during a particular moment in your life, you wind up immediately associating that song with that moment? You're transported back to the way you felt and where you were when you heard it. You have written songs capturing specific memories from your past, putting them to music, which will then be listened to by someone. That song about your memories will become a song that someone will associate with their own experience and memories. What would you call that?

I feel like there's some good metaphor. I can't really put words to it. I think that it's just participating in a tide of gratitude. Because I myself am so affected by those moments in my life where there are songs that I associate with places and memories, and that is so meaningful to me, being able to contribute to that ongoing force. I'm grateful I've gotten to experience other people's work in that way. It's an honor to show up in people's lives in the way that music has shown up for me.

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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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.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

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."

Looking for more GRAMMYs news? The 2024 GRAMMY nominations are here!

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.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

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." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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boygenius
(L-R) Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus of boygenius

Photo: Steve Jennings/Getty Images

interview

The Sound Of Collision: Boygenius Discuss Creating 'The Rest,' Their Deepening Friendship & Identities

Boygenius have experienced a year of exponential growth, culminating with a new EP. In a candid and wide-ranging interview, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus discuss five years of music-making and 'the rest,' which drops Oct.13.

GRAMMYs/Oct 9, 2023 - 01:14 pm

Quite a lot has changed for boygenius in the months following the release of their debut album, the record, in March.

The indie supergroup of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus initially joined forces in 2018, offering a self-titled EP and North American tour. Despite positive reception for both, the trio were largely quiet for several years and shifted to their solo projects.

So when their reunion and debut full-length was confirmed in January 2023, much attention was given to boygenius' trajectory. Once the record was released, the group seemingly went skyward.

Fast forward to the present and the band is on the third leg of their tour in support of the record, recently performing for 25,000 people at Gunnersbury Park in London and selling out Madison Square Garden. Continuing their exponential growth, boygenius recently announced the rest, a four-track EP set for release Oct.13.

Sonically, the rest is a revisitation. ​​"We veered away from our folkier roots on the record in a way that was fun to come back to for the EP," says Bridgers sitting alongside Baker and Dacus on a Zoom call from the Westville Music Bowl in New Haven, Connecticut.

Even deeper rooted than their love of folk music, and what has remained consistent throughout  the five years after their initial connection, is the trio's shared dynamic. 

"We were never not a band," says Bridgers. Yet, "it doesn’t just mean that we’re all great musicians and therefore our talent gets exponentially multiplied," Baker says of their "supergroup" designation. "It’s the dedication to how we mediate music between the three of us as a conduit. That’s the important part." 

Their impact and connection extends beyond music as well. The trio has moved into other forms of media, producing a music film directed by Academy Award nominee Kristen Stewart, and have become icons for the queer community after performing in drag in Nashville to protest the city’s anti-drag legislation (among other pro-queer activities).

Ahead of their new EP, boygenius candidly dive into their songwriting process, relationships with queerness, and using music as a conduit of their connection. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

When you think back on who you were professionally and personally when you wrote the first EP, what is it like to bring those songs into the present on much bigger stages?

Phoebe Bridgers: I think about it more from a fan perspective now. I’m like The kids are singing it to me. They get excited when we play older songs 'cause they feel a part of it.

Julien Baker: It's sweet imagining them having anticipated it. Having been at that [older] show or missed that show. We’ve aged with them and they can trace our parallel aging. 

Bridgers: When we play "Me & My Dog," I was singing about myself and from my perspective. Now I’m so far away from it that it’s like the fans are singing it. I feel that way about "Souvenir." This is one for the fans to sing to us.

How did you view yourselves at the start of the group in 2018, and how does that compare to you are today?

Lucy Dacus: I’m a bigger fan of who I am now than who I was, but you gotta root for yourself, so I’m retroactively rooting for who I was.

Baker: I have more grace for my past self. I don’t know if I would have the wisdom to admire current me… think overall I’d be stoked. Some of the stuff [I've done] would surprise me.

Bridgers: We talk sometimes about how there’s a certain hometown mentality that can be poisonous. Like your friend whose band never took off says, “You guys f—ing sold out,” and we’re like “Well you didn’t get a chance to my friend. 'Sold out' means people buy the album.”

Baker:  In 2018 when I met you guys I was straight edge and vegan and now it’s nice to have a lobster roll when you’re in New England. I’m a lot more lax but more mature and I don’t know if I would have had the foresight as such a young kid.  I was so neurotic then and really principled in a misguided way, but I think I have to have retroactive grace for that person more than I need to admire.

You’ve mentioned that much of the writing for boygenius takes place separately, but the songs are finished together. How did writing the record compare to the first EP?

Bridgers: The main way is that we talk about each other now. We were just writing, trying to help each other with songs that already existed or little ideas that already existed. Now we have so much context for each other that the record starts eating its own tail and becomes about making the record, which is cool.

Baker: There’s an ease of communication that maybe wasn’t quite available when we were first working together, where each of us brought a verse that then got gently edited. 

A lot of the record is an exquisite corpse of working out line by line with each other. Then there are huge swaths that are just s— [Phoebe] wrote or just s— that Lucy wrote, but it’s nice to feel an entitlement to something that’s being created corporately instead of pieced [together].

Dacus: It’s never been difficult [communicating], so it’s not like it even had the chance to get easier. We do a lot of work to avoid difficulty. We do group therapy together and try to foresee what our pitfalls could be and avoid them. 

Not like it’s all easy. We’ll encounter really difficult math problems — [that’s] what it feels like in the studio where none of us will get it and we’ll be frustrated but it’s not at each other.

The final lines of "Powers" are "The force of our impact, the fission/The hum of our contact/The sound of our collision." From my perspective, the sound of your collision as human beings includes the music you’ve made together, but also the way you’ve presented yourselves to the public, for example, in standing up for causes you believe in, and then there is the sound no one else hears within your dynamic as a band. With all this mind, how would you describe "the sound of your collision?"

Baker: Those are both semi-stolen lyrics. I read this book Cruising Utopia by José Esteban Muñoz and he talks about the idea of the lived experience being its own work of art, and then that art needing a witness to be savored and appreciated. 

He talks about the hum of our contact. It’s evocative of all the things that aren’t explicitly stated that take place. All the communication that’s extra-lingual. That is witnessed only in time and action and accrued over years and years. It’s so incremental that you can barely observe it as it's happening. Then you look back and realize that you’ve spent your life with people that have become like your family and they’ve been the driving force in what motivates you. It’s small and daily and powerful. 

So the album and all the other things you guys have done together are all the particles accruing?

Dacus: It’s just a gradual deepening all the time. I think that the closeness has been a pleasant surprise for all of us. Now that we’ve discovered it, we want to interact with it and protect it however we can. Originally it was just a fun lightweight idea. Now it’s my whole life.

Baker: There’s the real face-to-face friendship that we have, but we’ve always been making music together. It feels very much like music is the water that you’re swimming in. Music is the language that you’re speaking.

**The album artwork on the rest is in many ways the counterpart to the record, which feels very hopeful with the three of you looking towards the horizon like a team of superheroes.  Whereas on the EP cover, the surroundings are dark, your faces are darkened, and you’re huddled together for support. Through that lens, how would you compare the two releases?**

Dacus: That photo was taken during the same shoot for the original album art. We always liked the image, but when we chose these four songs to put out together, they all have this spacey, eerie quality about them. I think the wind being in our hair, the natural elements messing us up, it’s a little more unsettling and I feel like these songs — I don’t think they lack optimism, but they’re a little more focused on fear and unsteadiness. 

Bridgers: We had wanted it to be a different time of day in the photo. The back of the EP is dusk at the beach. Not a very hidden meaning in that.

You three have been celebrated very much of late for standing up for the queer community, trans community, and other marginalized communities, but you’ve also stated that doing so doesn’t necessarily make you “role models.” How has the time you’ve spent together as a band affected your relationship with your own queerness?

Dacus:  I’m definitely gayer because of these guys. [All laugh.]

Baker: That’s true! And I’m straighter somehow.

Bridgers: I was thinking that it makes me feel straighter to be around a bunch of gay people all the time. Like when I’m with only straight people.

Baker: You’re the gayest one.

Bridgers: I’m so gay and when I’m around gay people I’m like, damn. But that doesn’t hold true all the time.

Dacus: A serious answer would be that my favorite thing about queerness is how undefined it actually is. Having less allegiance to who I was, being willing to betray my idea of myself in service of what actually feels best and is most honest to the moment at hand — that’s a skill that I think I’ve been getting better at through my life. Not in small part to the people who love me and will accept me at any point of understanding myself, and these guys are included in that.

Baker: It’s like finding a new vernacular around queerness. It’s how you carry out the outfit, or it's how you carry out dancing, or it’s how you carry out some sort of body language that determines whether it’s queer. Not what the action is. It’s how you employ, and I think being around people who see the core static parts of myself …makes me feel more secure to play with the mutable parts of my identity.

Referring to what Julien said earlier about the lived experience being a work of art that needs a witness, how have you served as witnesses for each other? How has your lived experience with queerness influenced your art?

Baker: Queerness is inherently creative. Queerness exists in opposition to a standard. Not to replace it with a superior thing, but to dismantle a dominant prevailing view of how things should be just because that’s how they’re traditionally understood. 

Queerness involves creating a different future for yourself. Imagining yourself towards a different embodiment of you. An embodiment of you that isn’t naturally going to be fomented any other place than by these guys or by your community or by the community you construct.

Dacus: Julien has a banjo that she drew on and has “queer joy” on it, and I think that queerness and joy are inextricable themes. Why be queer if you aren’t trying your very best to access more joy in your life or more authenticity? 

So it’s actually amazing to realize I’m living in it so thoroughly now that I don’t actively think about it as much because it’s a part of everything that I do to the point where I don’t even see it sometimes, which is such a privilege.

In listening to “Without you, without them” I get the impression you guys are telling each other to share everything, so I ask a version of the question that’s posed in the final line of the song: after years of growing together, who would you guys be without each other?

Bridgers: Worse

Dacus: Impossible to know.

[All laugh]

Dacus: The idea of it from here feels really lonely. But it’s also weird to think [about] who would I have cared deeply about or who haven’t I met yet that [would be] as important as these people. Life is so various, and no matter how much you prepare for it it always will catch you off guard in sometimes the best ways.

Bridgers: I think if we had individually gotten more famous and then made friends even with each other from this point of view, it would be great, but I feel lucky that we met when we did. We were all on the same plain with a dream of selling out a 2000-capacity venue. Laying awake at night thinking about it as the end goal. 

So it's weird that I met two people with as close to the same life experience as possible and then it changed into another version of as close as possible. We all come from an indie space. We all are queer. It would be s—y to have nobody that was in my shoes around me.

Baker: Y’all have been additional rudders in my trajectory since we met, and I have no way of knowing — nor do I care to know — how my character would differ if I didn’t have y’all as a whetstone of sharpening my own wit and honesty and musical practice.

Say She She's Big Year: How The NYC Disco Funk Group Made Sure The World Wouldn't Forget Them

Franc Moody
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 

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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.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

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

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

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

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

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.

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billy idol living legend
Billy Idol

Photo: Steven Sebring

interview

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."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

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 Bamback 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].

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