Photo: Philip Harris
Meet The First-Time GRAMMY Nominee: Jessie Reyez's Best Urban Contemporary Album Nomination Is For Her Parents
Ahead of the 62nd GRAMMY Awards, Jessie Reyez opens up about her Best Urban Contemporary Album nomination for her second EP, 'Being Human In Public'
Being Human In Public, Jessie Reyez says, is about "being untouchable from other people's opinions."
The seven-track EP released in 2018 is a continuation of what she began on 2017's Kiddo: tough, yet vulnerable songwriting featuring strong vocals over R&B beats.
"You ain't scared to fk, but you scared of being lovers/ Why is that, huh?" she calls out in "Fk Being Friends." But the tough-talking Reyez isn't afraid to let her guard down either. We see a softer side to her on "Apple Juice."
"You should know that I'm at your mercy/ I've spent my life searching for you," she sings, demonstrating how even the most walled-off hearts are susceptible to love's power. Reyez's way of navigating matters of the heart as a 20-something has earned her more than 13 million streams a month on Spotify. Her talent has led her to become the "voice to watch out for," and her second EP, Being Human In Public, has nabbed her a 2020 GRAMMY nomination for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
Chatting with the Recording Academy ahead of the 62nd GRAMMY Awards, Reyez said that being nominated for an EP feels "unreal." (She joins the likes of H.E.R. in being nominated without having released an official full-length album yet.)
Since gaining traction online in the mid-2010s, Reyez has collaborated with the likes of Calvin Harris, Tory Lanez, Eminem, Normani, 6lack and Sam Smith on the singing and songwriting front (she co-wrote Harris' pop hit "One Kiss" featuring Dua Lipa). But as much as she enjoys writing for others, her focus is on her own artistry, and that includes nurturing her Latina roots.
Born to Colombian parents in Toronto, Canada, Reyez became interested in music thanks to her family. She would sing with her dad in church, her brother played the clarinet and a lot of records were heard around her house. Her father would play cumbia records all the time when she was growing up. In other interviews, she's mentioned the impact Colombian artists like Carlos Vives (who brought Vallenato, a kind of folk music in Colombia to other parts of Latin Americain and beyond) have had on her.
She features her first song in Spanish on her GRAMMY-nominated album. Co-written with GRAMMY-winning Argentine singer/songwriter Claudia Brant, "Sola" touches on the expectations placed on women in relationships.
When asked about what featuring a Spanish-language song on her album means to her, Reyez has a simple answer: "It means I'm being myself. Being me is being Canadian, being Colombian."
Before releasing a Spanish-language song, Reyez incorporated Spanglish in her music effortlessly: "Fk it, remember back when I told ya/ That I'm a loca Colombiana (Yo te lo dije)," she sings on "Fk it."
Outside her album, Reyez has teamed up with big names in Latin music too. Among them are Latin GRAMMY winner Karol G, GRAMMY-nominated heavy-hitter urbano producer Tainy and GRAMMY-nominated bachata/pop singer Romeo Santos.
Amidst the success Latin urban is seeing, Reyez isn't jumping on a trend; she is simply being herself: a leading young Latinx artist showing the mainstream that you can't make an artist choose between one of their identities. She's also an artist who understands that there's power in a platform.
In her song about long-distance love, Reyez touches on the undocumented immigrant experience. "You're still a world away/ And you're still waitin' for your papers/ Been feelin' like the government wants us to break up," she croons. "I feel what you feel when you're far away/ It's been a hundred days/ Since I kissed your face.""
The song's video features images of President Trump along with scenes of ICE separating family members. Reyez is proud to come from immigrant parents and always felt welcome growing up in Canada. "Canada has this really cool way — specifically Toronto — of encouraging you to wave both flags, if you've been born there, like wave your flag and then wave your parent's flag too and be proud of it," she told the Recording Academy in 2018.
Today, Reyez says her nomination is as much for her as it is for her parents. "They have so much to do with who I am. They're responsible for how I was raised," she says. "It's because of them that I am who I am, so of course this is for them."
And that's exactly who was there when she found out she was nominated for a GRAMMY. In a video posted to Instagram, Reyez opens the door seemingly just haven woken up and gets greeted by her parents with a huge hug and the news of her nomination. "They're my best friend. They're the people who look out for me the most," she says.
Her nephews also act as a stabilizing force, never letting her head get too big. "Oh Tia, are you saying that you can sing now?" one of them joked after she explained how they could pursue a career in graphic design if they wished (after all, she's making a living from her dreams).
"That's how they keep me grounded," she said laughing about the moment. Although a light-hearted exchange, Reyez takes it as a reminder that she is always working on becoming better. In her words, she's "hella meticulous" about her craft.
Being Human In Public is one manifestation of her drive. But one thing's clear, she wants to reach the top by being herself. That's a major theme behind her album and the reason behind her album title. Being real is something that can be hard to achieve in the age of Instagram when everything and everyone seems so polished. "I don't want to dress up. I don't want to put on makeup. I don't want to be fake nice to anybody, I just want to be myself," she says.
At the moment, she feels in control of her narrative on social media but says that that could change as her career grows. Whatever happens, "Nobody's gonna say [she] didn't give it all," as she declares in "Saint Nobody."
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Stringer / Getty Images
6 Deep Insights From Jacob Collier & Jessie Reyez' GRAMMY U Masterclass Conversation
The GRAMMY U Masterclass powered by Mastercard and hosted by GRAMMY-winner Jacob Collier and GRAMMY-nominee Jessie Reyez was dedicated to excellence in music and the development of talent through the industry.
Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, like every year, GRAMMY U student representatives studying to pursue careers in music have gathered together in Los Angeles for GRAMMY Week, many to attend or help out at the GRAMMY Awards.
On Feb. 2, at the Novo venue in downtown L.A., GRAMMY U hosted its own Masterclass dedicated to excellence in music and the development of talent through the industry. Passion and creativity shined bright at the event powered by Mastercard hosted by GRAMMY-winner Jacob Collier and moderated by GRAMMY-nominee Jessie Reyez.
Collier and Reyez presented a rich and rollicking conversation, as well as a musical demonstration, that showcased their admiration for each other and for music-making. The Masterclass also highlighted the dedication, skill and vision of the GRAMMY U students themselves, who made the event and all its magic happen.
Read on for insights and advice from the GRAMMY U Masterclass.
Collaboration is key
"The GRAMMY U representatives work together to help build the vision of the program, including the featured panelists, conversation topic, venues, and overall vibe,” explained GRAMMY U Director Jessie Allen. “The most rewarding part of the events we produce is seeing the pride each Rep has as they see their vision realized."
And the vision for this Masterclass was impressive. The pairing of past collaborators Collier and Reyez was fantastic (Collier tapped Reyez for "Count The People" on Collier’s GRAMMY-nominated Djesse Vol. 3) and led to a deep, lively and illuminating conversation filled with live music and music theory 101. The musical components, which included a stunning demonstration of the audience choir Collier has been performing on tour, felt organic, spur-of-the-moment, and deeply captivating.
"For this Masterclass, we all knew that including live music was a top priority in how we created the event. Once we had Jacob on board, the program direction became clear pretty quickly and the Reps wrote all of the questions and script for him and Jessie. One of the first things they asked was for Jacob to do an audience choir segment, which was such a special part of the event. I was so proud to see them all soaking in every second, knowing that they helped to create it," Allen added.
In addition to shaping the event itself, other GRAMMY U students prepared great additional questions for the audience Q&A portion of the talk. A vibey selection of R&B, Afrobeats and house grooves, ala Beyoncé, Steve Lacy, Doja Cat and Black Coffee was provided by GRAMMY U student DJ, Anastazja before and after the main event as guests mingled and ate sweet treats of fresh churros, fluffy mini donuts, and paletas. The culmination of these collaborative efforts elevated the energy of the entire event.
Rules (and tools) were meant to be stretched
"I've always been interested in stretching all the rules. I've always felt they're quite arbitrary," Collier said toward the beginning of the chat, rocking a chevron-striped sweater and bright yellow Crocs that serendipitously coordinated the oversized chairs both artists perched in. "That gave me a lot of clarity."
The GRAMMY-winning singer, songwriter and composer took the captive audience back to the beginning of his musical journey, where the creative seeds for his GRAMMY-winning debut album In My Room were planted, with a mic and his first Casio keyboard in his childhood London bedroom. He explained that he loved to take apart classic songs he loved, like those of Stevie Wonder and play with them. He also explored all his keyboard had to offer, relishing in its presets which sounded out waltz and polka and horn instruments he'd never played before. This began when he was 10 and through his teenage years, and was a very inspiring and fun period of musical play, learning and experimentation for him. This was his happy place.
That bedroom musical experimentation was "a crucial part of my learning… What you like is one of the most important questions you can ask [yourself]," he said, emphasizing the importance of following your joy and the things and sounds that excite you.
Intuition is a superpower
Learning to trust and listen to your intuition was a recurring theme that both Reyez and Collier brought up when discussing the creative process and navigating the music industry.
"You have to make sure the little voice in your head is on your side," Reyez stated.
She continued, telling the audience not to accept “no” or let others convince them something won't work when they know there's a way. She stressed the importance of nurturing connections with themselves and their intuition, which is always the best guide.
When Reyez gets a no, she checks in with her intuition. When she gets stuck in indecision, instead of letting time continue to pass her by, she flips a coin. For her, this classic trick is a great gut-check and gives her initial insight into her emotional reaction to any decision. Either way, making a choice and moving forward is always more rewarding than doing nothing.
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Stringer / Getty Images
Effective leadership creates harmony
Collier led the "presence and effortless flow" of the audience choir, which he demonstrated to powerful effect, a beautiful chorus of angelic voices that he conducted with simple hand motions and vocal demonstrations.
The demonstration sounded flawless and appeared nearly effortless. He expressed that leading the audience choirs has been a great learning experience for him, understanding how to boil it down to the simplest sounds and give instructions with clear and precise hand signals to result in unified sound.
Drawing parallels between conducting a choice and building out his creative and professional team, Collier mused, "How do I lead in a way where everyone's voice feels important when creating a team?"
Collier indulged the audience with one of many “music nerd moments” of the afternoon as he discussed and demonstrated triadic harmony, concluding with "Harmony's my ultimate crush from day one."
"Think about every problem as an unresolved chord"
Collier offered a great piece of advice someone on his team had once shared with him: "Think about every problem as an unresolved chord." For him, finishing a chord is second nature, so if he can "transpose that [knowledge] to other situations," he understands that all challenges have solutions, eventually.
"When you believe that it can happen, the universe does transpire to help you," Collier asserted, adding that the solution doesn’t always have to come through your mind. Striking the balance between head versus heart and learning to listen to both was a point the dynamic pair emphasized.
He related it back to the power of having a good team and openness for collaboration, which can support in making magic happen. "[It's about] reaching into your peripheral vision knowing something will be there," "The Sun Is In Your Eyes" artist said.
Reflect a perspective through song
"I'm longing for all that is already here," Collier said poetically, in one of his many musical demonstrations. "Longing and abundance…how do you express all that with a chord?" he mused from the piano, playing around with expressing that nuanced feeling, which was truly powerful to experience and let wash over you. "I love the feeling of transposing my experience to [song]," he said.
He activated the audience choir once again as he bounced around the stage which had become his musical playground, moving from the big yellow chair to the front of the stage to conduct, and back to the piano. It's clear that Collier thinks (and moves) in musical form. Speaking to the audience, his choir, he reflects: "The feeling of being a note in a chord, it's an interesting state, it's like being a person."
A question from a GRAMMY U student who is a voice major offered more illumination into Collier's music making mastery. Collier explained that when he was younger, he thought that writing lyrics was meant to be a personal monologue, but as he's developed in his songwriting, he sees it as a chance to share a perspective, and not just your own. It could be a dance between two characters, or a chance to explore a viewpoint completely different than your own.
"Embrace the weirdness of your perspective and others' perspectives," he encouraged. "And don't be right…being good is boring… push into the crumbly, strange, dark corners of your imagination." For him, that's the most exciting creative space to be in.
There were so many mic drop moments during the lengthy conversation, and if that wasn't enough, there were two more cherries to top it off. Collier closed out with a big, heavens-gracing performance of the classic "Can’t Take My Eyes Off You" just for the IRL audience (sorry livestream guests!). His interpretation of the song ended with one more audience choir.
Find out if Collier and your other favorite artists will take home a golden gramophone this Sunday, Feb. 5, at the 65th GRAMMY Awards.
Music’s Biggest Night will be broadcast live from Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles Sunday, Feb. 5 (8:00 - 11:30 PM, live ET/5:00 - 8:30 PM, live PT). It will air on the CBS Television Network, stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].