No Self Control: An Oral History Of 'Peter Gabriel III'


No Self Control: An Oral History Of 'Peter Gabriel III'

In honor of its 40th anniversary, the Recording Academy talks to the musicians and engineers who brought the former Genesis frontman's third solo album to life

GRAMMYs/May 31, 2020 - 05:00 pm

Peter Gabriel's first two albums are full of brilliant moments: the cinematic 7/8 saunter of "Solsbury Hill," the spooky art-funk atmospheres of "Exposure," the creepy-crawly grooves on "Moribund the Burgermeister." But they showcased a songwriter searching for an identity, working with famous producers (Bob Ezrin on his 1977 debut, King Crimson's Robert Fripp on his 1978 follow-up) and exploring new sounds on each song—seemingly to find one that might stick.

That moment arrived in 1980 with his third solo project, another self-titled set best-known by its lavish, Hipgnosis-designed cover art. (In this case, the image of Gabriel's half-disintegrated face earned the nickname "Melt.") Working with producer Steve Lillywhite, producer Hugh Padgham, synth player Larry Fast, drummer Jerry Marotta and a tightly knit ensemble of other players, he crafted a sonic space that, four decades later, remains distinctly his: Songs like "Games Without Frontiers," "No Self Control" and "I Don't Remember" fuse bleak, paranoid lyrics with expansive arrangements (loads of marimba and saxophone) and production techniques that somehow still sound modern.

40 years later, Gabriel's key collaborators reflect on the studio experimentation, happy accidents and deep friendships that fueled an art-rock masterpiece.

Gabriel had a background in progressive rock—a very uncool movement in the era of punk and New Wave. So Lillywhite, who cut his teeth working with hip, edgy bands like XTC and Siouxsie and the Banshees, was shocked the former Genesis frontman would be interested in collaborating.

Steve Lillywhite, producer: Up until that point, I'd worked with these New Wave bands [like XTC], and Peter was the first artist who came to me. His manager actually phoned me up and said, "Steve, Peter Gabriel is interested in you working with him." I thought it was a friend of mine joking! I thought it was someone winding me up.

I remember Peter in Genesis wearing a [fox's] head [onstage], and that was really not cool. And, of course, we all knew he was a public school boy, which made it not very Joe Strummer. [Laughs.] I'd produced XTC's [1979 album] Drums and Wires [with Hugh Padgham as engineer]. Peter heard "Making Plans for Nigel" or something and liked what he heard.

Hugh Padgham, engineer: Steve and I had really hit it off and become friendly. [Drums and Wires] was very well critiqued, and I think that's where Peter had heard of us, particularly Steve. Peter's manager at that time was Gail Colson, and she got ahold of Steve, and Steve said to me, "You won't believe it—I've been asked if I'm interested in working with Peter Gabriel. What do you reckon?" I was a huge Genesis fan. I had some friends who went to the same school as Peter, Charterhouse. The original drummer in Genesis, John Silver, went to the public school I went to. We all sort of thought Genesis was our own band in a way. For me to end up with Peter—and after that end up working with Phil Collins and Genesis—I was, as you can imagine, like a pig in shit. [Laughs.]

Steve accepted the offer, and we were all very excited. We started off recording it using a mobile recording studio owned by Virgin Records called the Manor Mobile. At that point, the Townhouse [studio, where Padgham was house engineer] was brand new. We went down to Ashcombe House, where Peter lived near Bath, England and started the recording there with this mobile truck. Ashcombe had a barn that we did the recording in. I remember it was muddy and rainy. It's a hazy memory, but that must have been the first place I met Peter.

Gabriel's production team was, indeed, brand new—as were some of the album's core musicians (including guitarist David Rhodes, who became a staple of Gabriel's future creative team). But two of the record's most essential performers, synthesizer/processing wizard Larry Fast and drummer Jerry Marotta, were already members of his touring and studio band.

Jerry Marotta, drummer: Peter was a band guy. He'd been in Genesis. I don't think he had much experience with musicians. I never figured out [why Gabriel recruited him]—maybe [bassist/Chapman Stick player] Tony Levin had something to do with it. I don't think it mattered once we got past the first date stage. We just got along well, and it was a good working situation.

Larry Fast, synthesizer player: We'd already encountered each other way back, going back to the early Genesis tours. I did have the first two Synergy [solo] albums under my belt, and those were the days when an electronic instrumental album could chart pretty high as well. [Laughs.] Obviously Peter is more interested in creativity and artistic sentiments than somebody who did well on the charts. We had some overlaps: The label I was signed to, Jem Records, was very instrumental in breaking Genesis in the U.S. through import records. They were fundamentally important to making sure the band got heard because the distributing label Charisma had early on—I don't think they knew what to do with the band. That led to meeting not only with the band members and getting to know Peter a bit, but also the management group for Hit and Run, which would be handling Peter in his solo career as well as Genesis when he left the band. I had a lot of encounters there. I was already beginning to tour as an adjunct member of [prog-rock band] Nektar at that point.

Gabriel's core studio team also included bassist John Giblin (subbing in for regular low-end master, Tony Levin, who was busy filming the Paul Simon movie One-Trick Pony), percussionist Morris Pert and his old Genesis bandmate Phil Collins, who played drums on a few cuts. (More on that later.) And for Gabriel, a dark and innovative sonic vision was starting to crystalize around these versatile players.

Fast: Some of it is an exploration of what the possibilities might be, but he'd explored the ground already with his first two albums. They were really good records in their own way, but there were [other] ideas I heard Peter speak about: We sat down before the first album, and we had a nice meal and talked through a lot of conceptual possibilities. One of the things he mentioned was the idea of no cymbals, which I thought was terrific. It's exactly the way I'd been working in electronic music, particularly in the pre-sampling days. There were no cymbals, and they eat up a lot of sonic space. Peter had speaking about wanting to do that on the first album, but it didn't materialize. I suppose somewhere in conversations that came up and was nixed. Moving on to album two, I don't know if he brought it up again, but same deal: another strong-minded producer in Robert Fripp with a sound of his own. Cymbals were there.

Both Steve Lillywhite and Hugh Padgham were perhaps a little down lower in the hierarchy than a Robert Fripp or a Bob Ezrin, and Peter had had some success under his belt, and they were creative enough to say, "He's the artist. He's the creative one. Maybe we should try some of this." It stuck. And it was a great idea.

Lillywhite: Peter did not want to be complacent on this album. When we met, I said, "What sort of sound do you want on this album?" Right away, he was like, "I don't want cymbals." For me, it was like, "Oh, my god." I'd been starting to experiment with no cymbals on songs. But sometimes I would overdub cymbals because of the sounds I was looking for.

Padgham: I remember distinctly that was rule number one from the beginning: There was gonna be no cymbals on the record. I can't remember any other particular rules. From a rock point of view and a drummer's point of view, it's like cutting off half their arms to ask a drummer not to play cymbals or hi-hats. It was probably quite difficult.

Phil [Collins, who appears on a few songs] sort of took it very much in his stride. Phil is mister fanatically keen, especially in those days. I think Jerry probably found it harder. If I remember, we set up fake cymbals or bits of cardboard or something just so it didn't appear so weird to him.

Marotta: It took me awhile to get used to the fact that I couldn't hit a cymbal when I played something. At the very most, I may have thought, "This is nuts and it's not gonna work." Take the cymbals away and in time, someone will see, "We've gotta put some cymbals back up." But I became very comfortable with that very quickly. I don't remember the moment I got it, but I just got it. I'm obsessive-compulsive, and I have an addictive personality, so if I start doing something, I'm doing it all the time.

I didn't invent that [idea], but I sure did it more and more—to the point where people would get weirded out [in sessions]. When I was playing on other people's records, they'd be like, "Hey man, do you think you can hit a cymbal occasionally?" But who says you have to crash a cymbal at the end of every fill or going into the chorus? Who came up with that concept?

A vibe was emerging: heavy rhythms, experimental effects, heavily processed synthesizers, dark lyrical imagery. But Gabriel, a very un-prolific songwriter, didn't have all his songs finished when the sessions began.   

Fast: Most of the songs were somewhat defined, at least the instrumental tracks, and that goes back to the first album. The working mode would be that we'd go into the studio for the day, and all the musicians would gather in a little room off the main studio, and Peter would sit down at the piano with all of us clustered around with clipboards and notebooks and music paper on our laps and play through what the song was going to be. Often the lyrics weren't completely formed yet, but he'd know where he wanted the chorus, what the melody was going to be, but he was working out the poetry of the song in some cases. That didn't really change. The only difference, by the third album, Peter had already created the drum machine and quick multi-track eversions of these things on cassette. I'd come over for the rhythm tracks after the other guys were already cutting them, and I already had a cassette of about 14 or 16 potential songs for the record. I was familiar with what they'd be, but they'd be recut with the musicians to create the backbone or spine of the song.

There were a couple [songs] that were the beginning of Peter using a drum box. That was something I had. It was a small synthesizer kit company called PAiA, and that was actually owned and founded by a friend of mine who's another synthesizer designer. They had a kit that, to the best of my knowledge, was the first programmable drum box. All the ones prior to that, they were really intended for lounge music and things, so there would be a button you'd push for a cha-cha rhythm or a foxtrot rhythm. It was an accompanist box. Some of them were so corny and square that they were kinda hip in their own way. But [programmable beats] didn't exist until this little PAiA box.

They were electronically generated drum sounds, but it had computer memory in it. You'd push a button and get the metronome tick, and you'd play your drum part and hit the stop button, and it would loop it and remember the drum pattern. It was very small—about the size of a cigar box—and inexpensive. I got one just to play with during the scened album, and Peter became aware of it around the time the second album was finished. He was enthralled with it. [Fast reached out to the company and had them custom-build one for Gabriel.] I remember bringing it to Peter, and about six or eight months later, when the third album cassette tracks were showing up, there was the box used as the spine of a lot of tracks. For Peter, it was a real creative breakthrough because things started being based more on the rhythm.

After their early sessions in Bath, the crew moved into the residential Townhouse studio in London, where their experiments—encouraged and often facilitated by the team of Lillywhite, Padgham and Fast—continued through the album's completion.

Padgham: We were trying to be really experimental. One of the staff had just had a baby or something, and she brought it in one day to show off to everybody. And we said, "Can we borrow your baby for a bit?" We brought the baby in the studio, and it started crying because it was missing its mum, and we were recording it. We slowed the tape down so that it sounded like an old man crying. Then we distorted it and stuff like that. We were doing weird, experimental shit.

Fast: What was really important with Steve and Hugh is they could facilitate Peter's ideas—they could gently point out, as many of us would when something wasn't so practical. But sometimes radical thinking: It's not like doing surgery; it's making records. So why not try it? Why not try to be creative? They gave Peter the space to be Peter. That was so important, and they were also able to help him make an idea even better. The third one was where Peter really hit his stride.

Lillywhite: Peter was enjoying the energy of what we were doing. If we took it to five, he'd say, "No, push it to 10." It was a real art school project.

Of course, the most iconic experiments—the gated drum sound on "Intruder"—helps the album endure as what Lillywhite calls a "sonic flagpole."

The short version: Studio Two at the Townhouse featured a recording console from a new company, Solid State Logic (or SSL), offering compressors and noise gates on every channel. They also featured a "reverse talkback mic," which allowed easier communication between the engineers/producers in the control room and the musicians in the live room. One day, Padgham accidentally—or perhaps by fate—opened the talkback mic at the precise moment Collins was tuning his drums before a session. The sound—a fast shutdown of the drum's natural decay—offered a distinct punch that eventually became one of the defining production techniques of the 1980s. Collins famously utilized the sound on his 1981 solo debut, Face Value, which Padgham engineered and co-produced.

Padgham: We heard this incredible sound suddenly coming through our loud speakers in the control room. The reverse talkback mic circuit had a very, very heavy compressor on it. The effect was remarkable on the sound of the drum that came through. I think we were all in the control room together: Peter, Steve, me, Larry Fast probably, and whoever else. And everybody just went, "Wow, that's bloody incredible!"

Fast: I missed school that day. [Laughs.]

Unfortunately, the reverse talkback mic was rooted to the monitors, not the console, meaning there was no way of recording this jarring sound. Padgham came to the rescue, having the studio's maintenance engineers figure out a workaround in the console.

Padgham: Just for kicks, I went, "Let's see if we can compress it even more." The same button that turned the compressor on effectively turned the noise gate on as well. The noise gate under a certain threshold would cut it off before the decay finished. That's where we all went "wow" again where the sound suddenly shut off. You had this enormous sound, and suddenly it shut off to nothing.

Lillywhite: When the drummer was drumming and we'd put on the talkback mic to talk to him while he was still drumming, it sounded like the best drum sound ever because of the compression on the talkback mic. We got Hugh to plug that talkback mic into the desk. Like I said, if we said we wanted to take it to five, Peter would say, "Take it to 10."

Padgham: Phil came up with a drum part that would enable us to hear the sound shutting off as he was playing. If you play something too quickly, the noise gate never had time to shut off. It would just be open the whole time. In those days, because we didn't have any looping—nothing was digital at all. The only way of him playing in time so it would consistently shut off was to play to a metronome—a good, old-fashioned metronome. We found a tempo that worked, put it into Phil's headphones, he played the drum pattern that worked with all the closing noise gates for about seven or eight minutes, and Peter wrote the song around it.

Lillywhite: In those days, Phil was as good a drummer as anyone in the world. The fact that he can do something like "Intruder," which is so metronomic. That's what I love about Phil as a drummer. There are some great drummers in the world: [Dave Matthews Band's] Carter Beauford is a fantastic drummer, but there's one thing Carter can't do: Carter cannot be Ringo, whereas Phil Collins can be Carter Beauford but also Ringo.

Padgham: It's basically a story of happy accidents. Steve was there, Phil was there, Peter was there. We all sort of took the credit for it, I suppose. It doesn't matter who invented it or didn't invent [the sound].

One of the record's most rewarding experiments came on the dynamic, unnerving "No Self Control," which they built by subtraction rather than addition. The song featured a winding arrangement—inspired in part by Steve Reich—full of eerie Kate Bush backing vocals, steady layers of marimba and highly processed vocals.

Lillywhite: That song originally had drums and everything—every sound you hear at any point—on the multi-track all the way through. When we mixed it, we sculpted it. It was like, "Let's take as much out as we can to make it sound good at the beginning." So we took everything out and left just the marimba and Phil Collins' live bass drum, which we gated so you couldn't hear the rest of the drum kit. [Laughs.] We did about 20 or 30 seconds of the song at a time, with Hugh Padgham at the back of the control room with his headphones on, editing it to the bit before. But we never listened to it—we just trusted him that he did the edit right. I sat at the mixing desk getting the next bit, going, "OK, what should we do now? Let's do this. Let's bring in that." I remember we spent the whole night doing the mix. For the big playback at the end, we brought people in from outside because we knew we had something great. It was like a sculpture. The whole time we recorded it, it had been this big, solid rock. It absolutely came to its beauty in the mix. It was fantastic. Everyone who listened to it was like, "Oh, my god." That was the song everyone loved, loved, loved at the time.

Many of the song's interesting effects were created using the "$9.95" speaker, dubbed as such by the band because Fast purchased it for that price at Radio Shack.

Fast: Radio Shack made a little box—it was basically a transistor radio that had no tuner in it. So it was just a little tiny speaker, a little nine-volt battery, a volume control and an input jack. I could just plug that into anywhere on the modular synth, turn it on quietly in the control room and put it up to one ear like a single-sided headset. I would also use it to set my delay times, reverb depths and other things while waiting to do an overdub so I wouldn't be wasting time. Studio time was expensive! I was doing some processing on Peter's vocals on something, and I had it plugged into the output of something, and Peter's vocals were coming in through a Moog filter or something. They said, "What do you got?" I turned it up, and it was all distorted and horrible-sounding. Peter went, "I love that! Let's use that! Let's put a microphone on it!" I said, "We'll plug it into the board and clean it all up.' He went, "No, no, no!"

Lillywhite: Every single sound on "No Self Control" at the very beginning is the $9.95. Larry used to sit at the back of the control room, working on sounds. He would say, "Check this out, guys." We'd listen to it though the speaker and go, "That's good." Then we'd plug it into the mixing desk, and it sounded average and boring. It was this plastic distortion. On "No Self Control," Peter held the $9.95 up to his mouth, him moving his mouth [makes wah-wah noise] with a microphone there. It was a bit like a poor man's Peter Frampton or something. Peter was holding the thing there, and we retreated it. All the [mouth sounds] is the $9.95. It was the cheapest speaker you've ever heard, but it had this beautiful analog distortion just from the plastic of the speaker.

Fast: We used it a lot. It got really beat up. It was in a little plastic case that fell on the floor a bunch of times. It was held together with gaffer tape. I have it preserved—it's like an archived item. It doesn't get used anymore. I bought another one after that album because the other one was getting too beat up. We processed vocals, synth lines, even drum things. It was exactly like that same thing with the cymbals: How do we conserve sonic space while creating a big sound?

Pictured: Fairlight CMI co-developer Peter Vogel in the Manor Mobile with the prototype of the digital synthesizer/sampler used on 'PG III.'
Photo courtesy of Larry Fast

The third Gabriel album didn't have any singles in the commercial stratosphere of "Sledgehammer," but it did spawn a few minor hits, including the chilly, electronic "Jeux San Frontieres," which landed at Number Four on the U.K. charts. That song also featured a memorable backing vocal ("Jeux sans frontières": the song title in French) from a kindred creative spirit, Kate Bush.

Fast: It's based on the "Jeux San Frontieres" TV show, this multi-national game show competition. Instead of war from these various countries, many of which had been combatants during WWII, they would just have games for national pride. So they're "games without frontiers and war without tears." It all factors in. But Peter was drawing these analogies between the shooting wars and the kind of games that are in the words.

I was reading a book in the studio: Michael Herr's Dispatches, which was one of the first reexaminations of how ugly the Vietnam War had been. Peter was fascinated by it, and I don't know if he bought a copy or borrowed my copy, but a couple of the images showed up. One of the most vivid ones was an American G.I. pissing on a dead Vietnamese soldier. And it was a reflection of, "What have we become as Americans that that could happen?" That image found its way into the lyrics, except Peter used "goons in the jungle" instead of [the derogatory] "'gks' in the jungle."

As usual, the band went nuts on the recording: jamming the groove for minutes longer than the final version, bashing on instruments, doubling the tape speed of the final section.

Marotta: We kind of played the song and then got into a jam, and that jam went on. It went on to a point where the song was over and we were just having fun. I do remember smashing a milk bottle and either me or Steve Lillywhite wandering around the room screaming and breaking things with a microphone in our hands.

Fast: I did a panel appearance at the Audio Engineering Society Convention with Wendy Carlos, and we were talking about recording. One of the things she'd come up with for [her 1968 album] Switched on Bach and some of the earlier albums was a technique called "hocketing," which took a complex line and exploded it into a lot of separate sonic sounds and played separately and re-combined for a much richer sound that kept the listener's interest. I thought, "If that worked for Mozart and Bach and worked for Haydn," I wonder if we can apply that to something Peter's got?" I broke out a few of the parts in a similar manner on a number of turnaround points. For a simple song, it has a lot of synthesizer overdubs that you wouldn't normally think would be done. It's very fussy and precise—it's more of the way I built electronic records than the way rock records get recorded. But it worked. And he liked it, which was the most gratifying part.

Lillywhite: By the time we finished the album, "Games Without Frontiers" was more like, [groans]. It was like, "We get it. OK, Peter. It's got a chant, and a cute lyric and Kate Bush," but the weirder ones for me resonate with me.

Fast: Everybody was falling all over [Kate Bush]. [Laughs.] I don't know if it was Steve or Hugh—of course, they were huge fans—but it was a huge race getting out to the control room to see who would get there first to adjust her microphones or fix her headphones. She came with at least one of her brothers, sort of her family bodyguards. She was just charming, just wonderful. She did exactly what everyone hoped we'd come up with.

Padgham: I think everybody fancied her really, particularly Peter. I ended up doing some stuff with her on [Bush's 1982 album] The Dreaming. Anyone involved in the sound of Peter's album she wanted as well. She was as much star-struck by him as he was with her. She was literally, musically speaking after that, trying to become the female version of Peter Gabriel, I think.

She was great. She's pretty crazy, as well. She just used to smoke spliff—joints—the whole time. She probably didn't on our sessions, but when I worked with her afterward, I was amazed that anything got done, particularly. She was so sweet, and she had this little tiny voice like this [imitates pixie voice].

Though Lillywhite was nominally the producer and Padgham nominally the engineer, they took an all-hands-on-deck approach to record-making. But it was still a crucial album (and "Games Without Frontiers" a crucial song) for Lillywhite's personal confidence, proving that—even at the young age of 23 or 24—he could earn the respect of a full studio team.

Lillywhite: There was a real person moment on this involving Robert Fripp. Kate Bush is in the studio singing on "Games Without Frontiers," and Robert Fripp is in the control room because he'd come to do a guitar overdub on something. He's gone from producer to session guitarist, but if you know anything about Robert Fripp, he's very confident and full of himself. He's like the alpha male in the room. Kate's doing "Jeux sans frontières," but it doesn't sound great, so I'm coaching her to get the vocal how I want it to be. I hear this voice from the back of the control room, saying, "I'm sure she's got it right by now." I'm shaking inside. This is a real play by him because he's been the producer. I just completely ignored him, pressed the button and said, "Can you try that again please?" It was just a fleeting moment, and no one knows about this except for me. But as a producer, it was a pivotal moment in me keeping to my guns and getting what I wanted.

"I Don't Remember," the album's fourth single, pre-dated the recording sessions and was played on Gabriel's previous tour. It's the album's only appearance from Levin, who dominates the track with his monster Chapman Stick, a string instrument that allows players to simultaneously perform bass lines, chords and melodic lines. (On this track, Levin sticks to the low-end.) It's also one of two tracks featuring XTC guitarist Dave Gregory, who describes himself as a "Genesis fanboy" who was beyond intimidated by the bucket list studio experience.

Dave Gregory, guitarist: The date was October 16, 1979. I remember that was date was printed on my memory. I was in awe of just being in the presence of this man I'd admired for a long, long time. He couldn't have been nicer—a decent man, no pretension about him at all. After we'd gotten over the initial embarrassment and handshakes and cups of tea and basic chit-chat, we got down to to work. He said, "Here's the song I'm having trouble with. I've had a couple guitar players in here, but they've not quite nailed the song I'm looking for." He said, "I'm wondering if we could work on an alternative tuning." The big guitar riff just goes "bang bang bang" and it's this downbeat with a long, ringing chord. I listened to it and thought, "Getting power out of that chord will probably require an open tuning."

We sat around the piano, and I said, "Can you show me the notes you played, and I can see if it's possible to tune the guitar to it?" Unfortunately, it was a six-note chord, and it meant that I had to retune the guitar to the most bizarre tuning alteration I've ever used. I'm winding away, thinking, "Oh, no. This [string] is going to pop at any time." This was a test for the guitar, but it coped OK. I didn't break any strings. When the part modulated halfway through the verse, it was just a simple matter of moving my thumb and two fingers up three frets. It still worked.

Pictured: Guitar tuning that Dave Gregory used on "I Don't Remember"
Photo courtesy of Dave Gregory

It was just a couple of hours. I was nervous as hell, as you can imagine. The studio assistants, one of whom who was a German lady named Marlis Dunklaus, was very helpful and reassuring. She could tell I was nervous. We had the amp set up in the stone room, which is where Phil Collins' famous first album was recorded. I was sitting there next to this amplifier, listening to the headphones as the track started. All that was on there was a guide vocal, Jerry Marotta's drums, Tony Levin's Stick, and some keyboard. That was it. It was very, very sparse, but it sounded amazing, just those basic elements. I thought, "I'm gonna fk this up if I play over this. This is too good. What am I doing here?" [Laughs.] It took a few passes. It wasn't a first-take miracle by any means. I've listened to the song many times since then and thought, "I could have done that so much better if I hadn't been so nervous." There are a few wobbly moments that aren't quite in the pocket. I'd only been a professional musician for six months, and it was a bit intimidating.

Gregory also played a simple part on "Family Snapshot," one of the album's most progressive, elaborately arranged tunes, featuring a scene-stealing solo from saxophonist Dick Morrissey.

Fast: The whole back half of the song was part of an instrumental that grew out of soundcheck jams on the second album's tour. But it wasn't really a song. It didn't firm up until the tour and the third album's writing.

Marotta: It's got that epic [quality]. We were playing it, and the sections were kind of there, but we didn't know where to put them. As we played them, I had the idea, "Let's start here, go here." We played that, and Peter liked it. That solidified it.

Gregory: He said, "I'll play you the part on piano." I just want some electric rhythm guitar in the second verse. I had my notes there and wrote the changes down. They ran the track, and I played along, but I thought, "Oh, my god. Something's wrong. What's happened?" I said, "Sorry, guys, this sound's like it's in a different key." They all remembered, because they hadn't revised the track for a number of weeks, that they'd changed the key so it suited his voice better.

We did start work on a third song, "Bully for You." He said, "I haven't done much of this yet, but see what you can do with it." I was kind of tired—it was late afternoon. I was sort of playing along to what they had on tape and wasn't getting very far. It required a bit more thought because it wasn't straight-ahead chords. Then the phone rang, and it was XTC's manager, who said, "David, don't go back to Swindon tonight. We're been booked for "Top Of The Pops" tomorrow. We'll meet you at the hotel [in London] and go to the BBC tomorrow." My fate was decided. They were talking about coming back in the morning to work on this song. I had to say, "Sorry, guys. We're promoting 'Making Plans for Nigel,' and I've got to do the most important pop show on British television." I couldn't believe I was turning down a studio opportunity with Peter Gabriel to do the television show "Top Of The Pops." I must have arrived! This time last year I was driving a van around Bristol delivering mail, and now this!

Pictured: [From left to right] Hugh Padgham, Steve Lillywhite, Peter Gabriel and Atlantic A&R John David Kalodner at Townhouse Studios in Shepherd’s Bush, London
Photo courtesy of Larry Fast

The team recruited Paul Weller, guitarist of mod/punk band the Jam, to record a guitar track for "And Through the Wire," one of the album's most straightforward, rock-flavored moments.

Padgham: He was a sort of angry young man. I remember it was very funny when we asked him to come do a session. In the Townhouse, there were two studios, and the Jam was in studio one when we were in studio two. He came down to the session, but he didn't have a guitar. He'd never done a session, but he didn't think he had to bring a guitar! He turned up, and there were no guitars around.

Lillywhite: With "And Through the Wire," one of the problems is that the guitar was overdubbed and wasn't played with the band. It has this sort of overdubbed thing to it—it's not in the DNA of the recording. A lot of the electric guitar that David Rhodes did is fantastic—the "Intruder" acoustic against those drums, the long-note sustained stuff in "Biko" and "Games Without Frontiers." But the worst thing about [the album] is the rock guitar. I'm sorry to say. "And Through the Wire" and "Not One of Us" don't have that classic, mysterious thing. Rock music probably needs cymbals. Maybe that's why there's something a little disconcerting about them.

Penultimate track "Lead a Normal Life" is the farthest vibe imaginable from "rock." Over a chiming piano line and stark marimba riff, Gabriel channels the isolation one might experience in a mental hospital. 

Fast: "Lead a Normal Life" was built by subtracting things until there was virtually nothing left but the essence of the song: a single piano line and a little wispiness. If you heard the original rhythm track, you'd recognize it was the same song melodically, but it's hard to believe the transformation.

There was a big band recording. I don't remember if everybody was live on it, but it was a huge Phil Collins drum [piece], with Morris Pert on percussion, a full bassline. Linearly, it's all there. I have reference mixes over the four or five months that this album was going, and each one becomes more sparse. It's the exact opposite of what most bands do, and that's one of those creative Peter things that was facilitated by the team around him—by Hugh and Steve and me throwing in my ideas. Peter kind of led the transition: "What would it sound like if we took this out?" Until there was almost nothing left.

Lillywhite: "Lead a Normal Life": Oh, my god! Incredible. The second U2 album had the song "October" on it, and it has a similar sort of feel. It really gets you, that stark thing. When I listen to this, it's like I'm in a mental hospital. That's what you want from a record, isn't it? To paint a picture that's just mind-blowing.

Marotta: That was fun to play live because the idea was to annoy the audience by playing that little riff [hums melody] over and over again to make people uncomfortable.

And the album ends with the anthemic "Biko," a sort of eulogy for the South African anti-apartheid activist Steven Biko, who died in police custody in 1977. The arrangement is thrillingly minimal, each note and beat vibrating with emotion — from the chanted choruses to Fast's climactic solo on "synthesized bagpipes."

Lillywhite: I don't know whether the bagpipes are such an ethnic sound for Africa. It is [a strange combination], but maybe we couldn't think of a better sound to do those sort of pads.

Fast: We had to reverse-engineer the story on that. As it turned out, the drone was a through-piece along with the drums, and there was the big surdo drums and electronic pattern on the PAiA that formed the core of the song. But it had these breaks where there was nothing there. I was playing around with melodic structures over a drone. In the patches, I was working with these narrow-width pulse waves, and it started sounding like a bagpipe if I detuned it enough with harmonizers and things. We said, "That sounds pretty good," and then we tried to figure out how it tied in to this story about Stephen Biko and South Africa. After a little bit of research, it turned out that during the Boer War in South Africa between the British Colonial, Dutch and German forces, one of the Scottish military units was very instrumental. So we went, "OK, there's our hook!" So we had a historical legitimacy to using a bagpipe sound other than "That works musically."

Gabriel isn't always an "easy" collaborator. His slow, often tedious process of analysis and reflection doesn't appeal to everyone. But for the main contributors on his third LP, it's part of the magic that makes him tick.

Marotta: We were very close-knit, kind of a family dynamic. We were around each other a lot, and it could get frustrating. Everybody loved Peter and would do anything for Peter. Everybody at some point wanted to kill Peter. He'd have these ideas he'd want to do, and the last thing you'd want to say to is "You can't do that" because that's exactly the thing he'll want to do. But in a nice way, not in a nasty way. I remember we played a big festival in France, like 180,000 people. And they said, "Whatever you do, don't throw yourself into the audience because from the moment you're in the audience and they're passing you around, we may never see you again. Just don't do that." And, of course, he threw himself into the audience.

Fast: He's one of the few artists where I learned things from him. There are a lot of talented people I've worked with over the years. They'd usually bring me in to layer a little extra something into what they're already doing. But with Peter, it was challenging—learning how to approach things differently, think of things in an unconventional way. He's really good at that, and that's why he's the talent that he is.

Lillywhite: It was a coming-of-age for me as a producer.

Padgham: It was a magical time. It freaks me out that it was 40 years ago.

Gregory: After we'd finished for the afternoon [after his session], we all went to the canteen and had dinner. We had a nice chat around the dinner table, and the subject of touring internationally came up—passports and all that. Someone said, "What occupation have you got on your passport?" Peter said, "I think mine says 'musician,' but when I renew it, I'm going to change that to 'humanist.'" I thought, "That's very interesting because that's exactly who he is." He's such a decent man. They say, "Don't meet your heroes," and that's good advice. But with Peter Gabriel, you make an exception.

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A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
Franc Moody

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.

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'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

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

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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Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
Billy Idol

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."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, 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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Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
2023 GRAMMYs

Graphic: The Recording Academy


Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards

The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.

GRAMMYs/Nov 23, 2022 - 03:01 pm

Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.

Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.

Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."

Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business. 

As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.

Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"

In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.

Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt." 

There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.

Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"

Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.

After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon. 

"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"

Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.

In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."

Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall. 

Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"

When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.

Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production. 

Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.

Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"

Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."

Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar. 

Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List

Listen: All Of The Latin Music 2023 GRAMMY Nominees In One Playlist
The Recording Academy

Graphic: The Recording Academy


Listen: All Of The Latin Music 2023 GRAMMY Nominees In One Playlist

Ahead of Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 5, 2023, celebrate with this immersive playlist of every Latin Field nominee at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

GRAMMYs/Nov 22, 2022 - 11:48 pm

The Latin GRAMMYs may have just honored the genre's trailblazers in Las Vegas on Nov. 17, but the celebration will continue at the upcoming 65th GRAMMY Awards ceremony in February. There are five categories in the Latin Field of the 2023 GRAMMY nominations — and you can hear all of the nominees in one playlist.

In the Best Latin Pop Album category, are Christina Aguilera's Latin GRAMMY-winning AGUILERA will compete with Rubén Blades & Boca Livre's Pasieros, Camilo's De Adendro Pa Afuera, Fonseca's VIAJANTE, and Sebastián Yatra's Dharma+. Channeling their lively Latin roots while traversing pop landscapes, these albums all magnetically merge tradition and modernity.

Reggaeton, dancehall, hip hop, and funk coalesce in the nominated works for Best Música Urbana Album: Rauw Alejandro's Trap Cake, Vol. 2, Bad Bunny's Un Verano Sin Ti, Daddy Yankee's LEGENDADDY, Farruko's La 167, and Maluma's The Love & Sex Tape.

The genre-blending jubilation continues with the Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album category. This year's nominees are Cimafunk's El Alimento, Jorge Drexler's Tinta y Tiempo, Mon Laferte's 1940 Carmen, Gaby Moreno's Alegoría, Fito Paez's Los Años Salvajes, and Rosalía's MOTOMAMI.

For Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), 2021 winner Natalia Lafourcade's Un Canto por México - El Musical is up against Chiquis' Abeja Reina, Los Tigres Del Norte's La Reunión (Deluxe), Christian Nodal's EP #1 Forajido, and Marco Antonio Solís' ​​Qué Ganas de Verte (Deluxe)

As for Best Tropical Latin Album, Marc Anthony — a two-time winner in the category — returns as a nominee with Pa'lla Voy, alongside pioneers Tito Nieves (nominated for Legendario), La Santa Cecilia (Quiero Verte Feliz), Víctor Manuelle (Lado A Lado B), Spanish Harlem Orchestra (Imágenes Latinas), and Carlos Vives (Cumbiana II).

Listen to all of the above albums in this comprehensive, 338-song playlist of the Latin music GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

​​Check it out on Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music — and we'll see you at Music's Biggest Night on Sunday, Feb. 5!

2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List