Photo: Jeremy Cowart
5 Takeaways From Luke Combs' New Album 'Growin' Up'
With his third studio album, 'Growin' Up,' Luke Combs continues to deliver his patented lyrical authenticity and chronicles a more mature — but still rowdy — phase of his life.
Between his trademark fishing shirts, heavyset physique and a bristling red beard, Luke Combs has long embraced his everyman aesthetic. Not that it's always worked in his favor: At one point, he auditioned for televised singing competition The Voice, but "I got turned away because my story wasn't interesting enough," he recently told the New York Times.
Over the course of his monolithic six-year career, the very thing that kept him from potential Voice stardom has become a massive asset. Since his major label debut and first single — 2016's breakup belter "Hurricane" — he's established himself as an authentic creative force, capitalizing on his man-of-the-people status to release music that resonates with wide swaths of listeners.
In more recent years, Combs' Average Joe-ishness has been higher profile — he's partnered with brands like Crocs and Miller Lite, for example — but long before he was enough of a star to warrant those kinds of partnerships, his formula for music-making was to be unabashedly, relatedly himself. That was the case on his first album, 2017's This One's For You, and that still rings true on his just-released third project, Growin' Up.
In some ways, little has changed in Combs' music since his mainstream debut. He's still a hard-partying, traditional-country-leaning, full-throated force of a performer, and his skills on stage have only grown — enough to even win him Entertainer of the Year at the 2021 CMA Awards. But in other ways, Combs' new project represents a mentality shift, and a harbinger of the singer's ascendency to country legend status.
Read on for five key takeaways from Luke Combs' new album, Growin' Up.
His '90s and 2000s Influences Are Front And Center
By this point in his career, Combs' fans know that '90s and 2000s country music is a major influence on him as both a songwriter and a performer. Not only has he made that clear in the sounds of his solo work, but he also teamed up with '90s hitmakers Brooks & Dunn twice — once for their Reboot version of their hit "Brand New Man," and again for Combs' What You See Is What You Get cut, "1, 2 Many."
So while it's not a surprise that Growin' Up features a strong '90s vibe, the way that Combs goes about braiding in his influences is noteworthy. It feels more like Combs marinated the songs in throwback country before recording them.
"On the Other Line" is a playful reply to Brad Paisley's "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)," updated with modern lyrics but still as quippy and humorous as ever. The hard-charging guitars and rapid-fire lyrics of "Ain't Far From It" would feel right at home on an early '90s Travis Tritt record, while "Any Given Friday Night" has some common DNA with Tim McGraw's "Truck Yeah."
Even some of the lyrics get specific about Combs' '90s fandom, with "Better Back When" name-checking Kenny Chesney in a line about listening to his 2007 hit "Never Wanted Nothing More."
Importantly, none of these songs are copycat — the singer has found a way to synthesize his influences into original music that still calls its predecessors to listeners' minds. As '90s-leaning sounds infiltrate today's country radio market, Combs' innate throwback inspiration may just land him a few more radio hits.
Combs' Confidence As An Artist Is Growing
Since the beginning of his career, Combs has seemingly had a pretty firm grasp on his personal brand — but he's becoming surer of who he is with each hit single and new album. That means he's not afraid to mix things up: Strands of bluegrass play into his bread-and-butter country music on songs like "The Kind of Love We Make" and "Call Me," and he's nonchalant about incorporating steel guitar alongside hard-rocking arena anthems in the songs on Growin' Up.
Even more notable are the aesthetics of the album rollout itself. Over the past couple of years, Combs has started hiding Easter eggs in his social media posts and music videos, a la Taylor Swift. The music video for his Growin' Up's lead single, "Doin' This," is filled with inside jokes and shout-outs; before dropping the music video for "The Kind of Love We Make," he dropped a digital "poster" for it on Twitter, featuring song lyrics and more details in tiny print.
Meanwhile, he's getting more confident about the songs themselves. "Crazy thing is, I've only ever posted about or played live 6 of the 12 songs on the new album, so y'all have never heard half the songs..." the singer wrote on Twitter a month before he dropped his album. That might not seem so remarkable for other artists, but Combs is notorious for posting acoustic or demo versions of unreleased songs and asking fans for their thoughts. This time around, though, he didn't need the gut check. He knew the songs were good.
He's An Expert At Making Super-Personal Songs Relatable
Combs has always written his life into his songs. When he was first starting out, that was easy: A blue-collar college drop-out who sang for tips at a downtown bar after he got off work, his life played easily into country songs about working hard, stretching a paycheck and hanging around in a small town.
But these days, Combs' average day doesn't look so average anymore. He is one of country music's biggest superstars, and has had 13 singles consecutively reach the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Country Airplay radio chart — a feat none of his peers or predecessors have ever accomplished. He's now a jet-setting, world-touring, bona fide celebrity; if he continued to put out songs about working minimum-wage jobs and struggling to make ends meet, it wouldn't feel authentic.
So, for the lead single off of Growin' Up, he released "Doin' This," a ballad that explores where Combs might have ended up if he'd never made it as a country singer. The hook, of course, is that Combs would still be playing music whether or not he was being paid to do so: "At the Grand Ole Opry or a show in some no-name town/ I'd still be doin' this if I wasn't doin' this," he affirms in the final lines of the chorus.
The song manages to acknowledge Combs' current reality without losing touch with his listeners' experiences — to impressive effect. "Doin' This" quickly became a smash hit, landing at the top of the country chart just 12 weeks after its release.
If the singer struggled over his identity shift from working man to superstar, he didn't show it. His writing process for "Doin' This," he says, was organic: He co-wrote the song with the same couple of buddies that helped him pen an earlier chart-topper, "Forever After All," during a laidback co-write in his "man cave." The subject matter might be different, but the writing process was very similar to how he crafted his very first hits — and though not everyone can relate to being a country star, lots of listeners can relate to having a job they love so much that they'd be doing it even if they weren't getting paid.
"Anybody that's really passionate about what they do and loves their job, and is doing the thing that they love to do and somehow found a way to get paid for it, this is that story," Combs pointed out to ABC Audio. Ever since the beginning of his career, Combs has demonstrated a seemingly innate knack for telling relatable truths, no matter the context, and "Doin' This" is just one more example of that talent.
Combs' Duet Choices Mirror The Country Legend He's Becoming Himself
The track list of What You See is What You Get, Combs' album from 2019, includes an Eric Church collaboration called "Does to Me." The two artists both hail from North Carolina, and Combs has long been a passionate and vocal fan of The Chief, so it made sense he'd jump at the chance to duet with one of country music's modern-day legends.
But with the inclusion of a Miranda Lambert duet, "Outrunnin' Your Memory," on Growin' Up, Combs is starting to paint a larger picture with his collaboration choices. Duets are a fairly rare occurrence for Combs — he recorded "1, 2 Many" with Brooks & Dunn in 2019, featured on frequent co-writer Jameson Rodgers' 2021 hit "Cold Beer Calling My Name," and has shared the stage with Ed Sheeran — and he's especially selective about who he enlists on his own projects. But Church and Lambert may well represent something about the trajectory that Combs is creating for himself in the years ahead.
Neither Lambert nor Church are the country radio giant that Combs is — with 13 consecutive No. 1s, few artists are — but both are revered songwriters and performers within country music. What's more, both strike a balance between challenging the genre's limitations while simultaneously epitomizing its most cherished traditions. Combs is headed in a similar direction. He is a titan of country radio but never panders to it; he practices radical authenticity in his songwriting while never losing sight of how to relate to his audience.
For Combs, choosing collaborators could well be an exercise in surrounding himself with people who've already carved out a path similar to his own. After all, there's no faster way to turn your mentor into your peer than to spend as much time learning from them as you possibly can.
He Can Still Rock Without A Big, Marquee Beer Song
Growin' Up is the first of Combs' three albums to date that doesn't have the word "Beer" in any of its song titles. His debut, This One's For You, had the should've-been-a-single "Beer Can"; What You See is What You Get had the mega-hit "Beer Never Broke My Heart."
While there are lyrics about beer and partying throughout Growin' Up, there is no big beer song this time around. Good-timing tracks like "Ain't Far From It" and "Any Given Friday Night" are the barnburners of the album, but beer isn't the main character of either — small-town life is. Combs also transfers the oomph of a party song into this album's ballads, such as "Middle of Somewhere," which has every bit of the sing-a-long value of "Beer Never Broke My Heart" — and enough emotional mileage to lend its name to Combs' upcoming tour.
That shift was definitely intentional: Combs told Billboard that though he never wants to completely change the musical brand his fans know and love, this album does represent some newfound maturity.
"I still wanna be the guy that goes out and has fun and puts on a great show, and that stuff is important to me, but there are also the things that have become more important, that I wasn't aware of or able to understand until they started to happen," he explained. (His personal life likely has something to do with that: Right before Growin' Up was released, Combs became a first-time father, welcoming son Tex Lawrence Combs with his wife Nicole on June 19.)
As much as Combs wants his music to continue to adhere to his personal brand, he also recognizes that his brand is authenticity. As his life changes, so will the kind of music that comes authentically to him. Combs navigates those changes elegantly on Growin' Up, shifting his songwriting choices and musical voice to a more reflective, balanced perspective — proving that, as an artist, he's making his biggest strides yet.
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Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Watch Luke Combs Make A Poignant GRAMMY Stage Debut With "Going, Going, Gone" Performance | 2023 GRAMMYs
Country superstar Luke Combs took the GRAMMYs stage for the first time at the 2023 GRAMMYs, delivering a stunning rendition of his latest hit, "Going, Going, Gone."
Luke Combs was “Going, Going, Gone” at the 2023 GRAMMYs as he took the stage to perform his latest country hit.
For his debut performance on the GRAMMYs stage, the country singer ditched his usual baseball cap and casual wardrobe for a bespoke plaid suit that paired perfectly with his deep blue acoustic guitar. “It’s like she was made for movin’ on/ That girl is going, going, gone,” he growled as a Joshua tree was lit up by a gigantic moon behind him and his backing band.
Ahead of the performance, Combs admitted to the Recording Academy that he was “kinda nervous” to put the song out. “It is a little bit left of center of what I usually do, but I think it’s a perfect fit for this show,” he said. “And I’m excited for a lot of people who’ve maybe never heard of me or listened to me before to kind of get a chance to at least hear me and go, ‘Oh, this guy’s not so bad!’”
While the country singer chose to showcase the sentimental single on the GRAMMYs stage, its predecessor “Doin’ This” was up for Best Country Song and his collaboration with Miranda Lambert, “Outrunnin’ Your Memory,” scored a nod for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. Meanwhile, Growin’ Up — his 2022 album which contains all three songs — was nominated for Best Country Album.
Check out the complete list of winners and nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
Photos Courtesy of the Artists
2023 GRAMMYs Performers Announced: Bad Bunny, Lizzo, Sam Smith, Steve Lacy, Mary J. Blige & More Confirmed
The first wave of 2023 GRAMMYs performers has been announced: Bad Bunny, Mary J. Blige, Brandi Carlile, Luke Combs, Steve Lacy, Lizzo, Kim Petras, and Sam Smith. Catch them all on Sunday, Feb. 5, on CBS, Paramount+, and live.GRAMMY.com!
(Editor’s note: since this post’s publication, Harry Styles has been added as a performer, and Questlove announced he is co-curating the Hip-Hop 50 tribute performance at the 2023 GRAMMYs.)
We all knew Music's Biggest Night would be explosive this year. Now, GRAMMY night just got bigger! The first round of performers for the 2023 GRAMMYs has been announced. Taking the GRAMMY stage will be current nominees Bad Bunny, Mary J. Blige, Brandi Carlile, Luke Combs, Steve Lacy, Lizzo, Kim Petras, and Sam Smith.
Live from Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles and hosted by Trevor Noah, the 2023 GRAMMYs will be broadcast live on Sunday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on the CBS Television Network and will be available to stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
Prior to the Telecast, the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony will be broadcast live from the Microsoft Theater at 12:30 p.m. PT and will be streamed live on live.GRAMMY.com. Additional performers will be announced in the coming days.
On GRAMMY Sunday, fans can access exclusive, behind-the-scenes GRAMMYs content, including performances, acceptance speeches, interviews from the GRAMMY Live red-carpet special, and more via the Recording Academy's digital experience on live.GRAMMY.com.
Read More: Where, What Channel & How To Watch The Full 2023 GRAMMYs
Learn more about the 2023 GRAMMYs performers and host here and below:
Two-time GRAMMY winner Bad Bunny is up for three GRAMMY nominations: Album Of The Year (Un Verano Sin Ti), Best Pop Solo Performance ("Moscow Mule") and Best Música Urbana Album (Un Verano Sin Ti).
Nine-time GRAMMY winner Mary J. Blige is nominated for six GRAMMY Awards: Record Of The Year ("Good Morning Gorgeous"), Album Of The Year (Good Morning Gorgeous (Deluxe)), Best R&B Performance ("Here With Me"), Best Traditional R&B Performance ("Good Morning Gorgeous"), Best R&B Song ("Good Morning Gorgeous"), and Best R&B Album (Good Morning Gorgeous (Deluxe)).
Six-time GRAMMY winner Brandi Carlile is nominated for seven GRAMMY Awards this year: Record Of The Year ("You And Me On The Rock"), Album Of The Year (In These Silent Days), Best Rock Performance ("Broken Horses"), Best Rock Song ("Broken Horses"), Best Americana Performance ("You And Me On The Rock"), Best American Roots Song ("You And Me On The Rock"), and Best Americana Album (In These Silent Days).
Listen Now: The Official 2023 GRAMMYs Playlist Is Here: Listen To 115 Songs By Beyoncé, Harry Styles, Bad Bunny, Kendrick Lamar & More
Luke Combs is up for three GRAMMY nominations: Best Country Duo/Group Performance ("Outrunnin' Your Memory"), Best Country Song ("Doin' This") and Best Country Album (Growin' Up).
Steve Lacy is up for four GRAMMY nominations: Record Of The Year ("Bad Habit"), Song Of The Year ("Bad Habit"), Best Pop Solo Performance ("Bad Habit"), and Best Progressive R&B Album (Gemini Rights).
Read More: A Look At The Nominees For Album Of The Year At The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
Three-time GRAMMY winner Lizzo is nominated for five GRAMMY Awards: Record Of The Year ("About Damn Time"), Album Of The Year (Special), Song Of The Year ("About Damn Time"), Best Pop Solo Performance ("About Damn Time"), and Best Pop Vocal Album (Special).
First-time nominee Kim Petras is up for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance ("Unholy").
Four-time GRAMMY winner Sam Smith is nominated for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance ("Unholy").
Keep checking back here on GRAMMY.com for more details on the 2023 GRAMMYs — and tune in on Sunday, Feb. 5, at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT to watch who takes home GRAMMY gold. And head to live.GRAMMY.com for a dynamic and expansive online experience where you can explore Music's Biggest Night in full.
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.
The Rise Of Underground House: How Artists Like Fisher & Acraze Have Taken Tech House, Other Electronic Genres From Indie To EDC
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].
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