meta-scriptOn 'Reset,' Animal Collective's Panda Bear Mixes Anxiety & Hope: "It Could Be Medicine" | GRAMMY.com
On 'Reset,' Animal Collective's Panda Bear Mixes Anxiety & Hope: "It Could Be Medicine"
Multi-instrumentalist Panda Bear

interview

On 'Reset,' Animal Collective's Panda Bear Mixes Anxiety & Hope: "It Could Be Medicine"

Panda Bear and producer Sonic Boom travel back in time, mixing the sleepy romanticism of '60s era oldies with modern musical dreamscapes. "We wanted to make something that had an encouraging spirit and uplifted people."

GRAMMYs/Aug 22, 2022 - 05:25 pm

American art hit a reset in the mid-2000s, as musicians began to reinstitute experimentation and DIY ethos back into music. At the forefront of this artistic reformation was Animal Collective, a four-piece band whose jarring, melancholic sound collages were drenched in reverb.

Animal Collective took cues from psychedelia, freak folk, Beat poetry, and performance art, creating a new sound that embraced lo-fi production and sampling while resisting genre categorization. Their albums, notably 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion, inspired the sound of indie rock for the next decade.

Animal Collective's Noah Lennox, also known as Panda Bear, has sustained a successful solo career pushing the AC's sampling, loops, and vocal harmonies into new places. On Aug. 12, Panda Bear released a new album in collaboration with longtime colleague Sonic Boom (a.k.a. Peter Kember), a founding member of pioneering shoegaze band Spacemen 3 who shares Lennox's love of looping and samples.

On Reset, Lennox and Kember sample '60s and '70s pop songs, and doo-wop harmonies, to amplify lyrics about love, longing, and loneliness. The Troggs' "Give It to Me" features prominently on "Go On," while Randy & the Rainbows' "Denise" is the bedrock of "Edge of the Edge," and "Three Steps to Heaven" by Eddie Cochran is the basis of "Gettin’ to the Point." The sleepy romanticism of these oldies created perfect fodder for the duo to sample for their own musical dreamscapes.

Lyrically, the two musicians used the pandemic to stay busy and build upon their shared musical interests. From their new homes in Portugal, Panda Bear and Sonic Boom produced  an album of investigative, self-aware lyrics with buoyant, danceable beats. The blending of moods mirrors the anxiety and hopefulness we all had while locked in our homes during the global outbreak of Covid-19.

GRAMMY.com chatted with Lennox while he enjoyed an off day in Portland on tour. Lennox gave background on his easy, collaborative  relationship with Kember, whether he will ever make a hip-hop album, and the surrealism of having a production credit on Beyoncé’s "Lemonade."

I know you and Peter Kember have been music pals since the Myspace days. What did you hope to accomplish on Reset together? 

I can’t say that we set out for any big plan. It was the first lockdown wave in Portugal, and I found that working on music was the only way I could get my mind off the chaos and spiraling outside. So I leaned hard into work.

Pete had an idea for a while about using these sample loops from intros from songs to build songs out of. He sent me 30 or 40 of these things, and I would just run through them. Whichever one sparked an idea, I would start working on it. By the end of the day, I would have a blueprint of a song.

After I did four or five songs, I thought it would be cool if he sang lead on a few tracks. It grew from there. It wasn’t a plan. It was just something to do.

How did your prior relationship impact the collaborative process? 

He and I had grown closer over time, both professionally and personally. So it seemed inevitable we would start making music together. The first thing we did was my album Tomboy, which he mixed.

On this one, I wanted to make it equal in terms of our input. We both had a really good time. I imagine we will make more like this.

How do you see the similarities and differences in your musical styles?  

We have wildly different perspectives on how songs work or how arrangements and productions work. But there are important similarities that help us work easily together. Minimalism is one of them — we both like simple things and classic chord progressions.

As two musicians with a shared love of samples, what bands and influences did you want to mine on this project? 

On this album, it’s harder to say. But on Person Pitch, which came out in 2007, mostly hip-hop stuff. Madlib, I was a really big fan of J Dilla too. Even the Dust Brothers, I loved how they sampled stuff. Public Enemy as well.

I’ve always noticed a hip-hop element to the sample-based songwriting of your career. How big of an influence is hip-hop? 

I’m a huge fan of hip-hop. I have been since I was really young. It’s part of this trajectory of popular music that started with James Brown, where pop music became less about melody and more about rhythm. So these days, we talk about beats, and MCing is all about rhythm and rhyming. I dig it.

A lot of the early hip-hop they were using James Brown samples. There’s a really clear-cut line in that way. The SP-303, which I bought, I got because the producer Madlib said he made all of the album The Unseen by Quasimoto on it. If he made that whole album just on that, I wanted to see what I could do with it. So He directly inspired me to get the SP-303 [sampler], and that was what I made music off of for the next five years.

Have you ever thought about making a hip-hop record and collaborating with a lyricist?  

I would love to! I feel like the results would be pretty weird. I would want to tweak the vocals a lot, like affecting or dropping out the vocals a bunch. I would like to do something with the rapper Navy Blue a lot. So many rappers, I think, are cool.

I feel like anything was possible once Animal Collective received a sample credit on Beyonce’s "6 Inch" record. How surreal was that? 

That was a strange one. We were honored for sure. But it wasn't a proper sample. We heard the track, and we couldn’t hear it, but we were psyched all the same.

The video for "Edge of the Edge" is a hilarious critique of cell phone inundation. You are of the last generation not born with the internet as a cell phone baby. How present are these themes when making music? 

It was definitely a big theme of the record. In terms of being an "online person" and how that’s affected us. While recognizing or wrestling with the power of it and recognizing how it's not so good for us. The song "Edge of the Edge" is the most explicit example of talking about that. It’s trying to grapple with social media, especially, and trying to be aware of the pitfalls of that stuff.

Some of the lyrics are melancholy, but the vibe feels very relaxed and leisurely, almost optimistic. How did you create that balance? 

Well, it was dark times in the world. It’s still a dark time. A lot of the stuff that comes out of the songs comes from conversations Pete and I were having at that time. Both of us agreed that being negative and cynical about how bad things are, despite them being pretty bad, doesn't benefit anybody or help at all.

We wanted to make something that had an encouraging spirit and uplifted people. It was for us, making the thing. We thought, at best, it could be medicine.

Do you consider yourself an optimistic person? 

Yes, generally. I am also a depressive. So it’s a weird juxtaposition I got going on.

There’s a looping effect in many songs on this album. It almost feels like these songs have no beginning or end, in the same way, dreams feel. Were you hoping to create an ouroboros feeling? 

A lot of that decision making was Pete’s thing. But both of us [have] the idea of the fade-out suggests an infinite loop of the music. It continues in your brain even when the sound goes out. I like that sort of thing. I wouldn’t want every song to be that way, but it felt right with these songs.

The album’s title feels appropriate to our pandemic-riddled reality. So what do you hope the title evokes for listeners? 

I don’t want to set expectations on what people want to feel. I certainly don't have any grand desires as far as somebody's experience with the thing. I’m happy if somebody listens to it and feels something or enjoys it in the moment. At a base level, I hope the music is some sort of communication and, as that, an embrace.

The Beach Boys comparisons have been run into the ground, but I’ve always wondered how conscious the evolution of their sound was.  

I like the Beach Boys a lot, but there are a lot of other vocal groups I like too. It makes sense that the Beach Boys, being the most famous version of a pop vocal group, maybe the Four Tops, is a tough call is the touch point for that kind of music. But I wouldn’t cite them as the only vocal influence.

What in pop right now are you interested in? 

I find it rewarding to keep tabs on what’s going on. Someone like Dua Lipa has a lot of songs I like. Justin Beiber had a couple of songs on the last record I dug. I think Rosalia is cool. Dua Lipa has that song, "Be the One," that I really like.

Do you ever see yourself collaborating with bigger pop acts on that scale? 

I would love to do something like that. The one time I was lucky enough to do it was making stuff with Solange. That was the only brush with that sort of world I had. But I’m down.

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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

He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

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

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

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

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

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15 Must-Hear Albums This September: Olivia Rodrigo, Kylie Minogue, James Blake & More
(Clockwise) Bakar, Olivia Rodrigo, Demi Lovato, Chrissie Hynde, Jalen Ngonda, Kylie Minogue, Mitski

Photos: Antoine Flament/Getty Images; Amy Sussman/WireImage; Santiago Felipe/GettyImages; Ki Price; Rosie Cohe; Edward Cooke; Mauricio Santana/Getty Images

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15 Must-Hear Albums This September: Olivia Rodrigo, Kylie Minogue, James Blake & More

Get your fall playlist ready. From pop blockbusters to the return of rock icons, check out 15 genre-spanning albums dropping in September.

GRAMMYs/Sep 1, 2023 - 01:18 pm

With summer almost in the rear view, it’s time to welcome the first must-hear albums of the fall season. With the onset of chillier days comes a genre-spanning array of new music — from R&B sensation Jorja Smith to indie-rock maestro Mitski. 

September's first big release comes from rock royalty the Pretenders, who return at the top of the month with their twelfth studio album, *Relentless*. The following week, pop firebrand [Olivia Rodrigo](https://www.grammy.com/artists/Olivia-Rodrigo/38411) will reveal *GUTS*, the feverishly anticipated follow-up to her 2021 debut, *SOUR*

Rodrigo shares a release date with star-studded company, including disco queen Róisín Murphy, dance veterans [the Chemical Brothers](https://www.grammy.com/artists/chemical-brothers/7746), shapeshifting singer/songwriter [James Blake](https://www.grammy.com/artists/james-blake/17760), and soul newcomer Jalen Ngonda. Elsewhere in the month, there’s something for all tastes, from the pop-rock reawakening of [Demi Lovato](https://www.grammy.com/artists/demi-lovato/19851) to the noodly electronics of Animal Collective.

As we gear up for a season packed with musical highs, we’ve put together a handy guide to the 15 must-hear albums dropping in September 2023.

The Pretenders -  *Relentless*

**Release date:** Sept. 1

For a band that released its debut album in 1979, the Pretenders still sounds remarkably vital 44 years on. Led by iconic songwriter and frontwoman Chrissie Hynde, the band is back in full force this September with the appropriately titled Relentless, which follows 2020’s on-form Hate for Sale

The Pretenders announced their twelfth LP with a rousing-yet-poetic lead single, "Let the Sun Come In," and the album closes with an intriguing collaboration with [Radiohead](https://www.grammy.com/artists/radiohead/8042)’s [Jonny Greenwood](https://www.grammy.com/artists/jonny-greenwood/11632) on strings. 

"I think anyone in a band is constantly questioning if they should keep going," Hynde said of the album’s title in a statement. "It starts as a youthful pursuit and eventually, it makes you wonder, why am I doing this? It’s the life of the artist. You never retire. You become relentless."

Speedy Ortiz - *Rabbit Rabbit

**Release date:** Sept. 1

Philadelphia rock quartet Speedy Ortiz has kept fans waiting five long years for a new LP, having released their pop-inflected Twerp Verse back in 2018. This September, the band returns with Rabbit Rabbit, its first album on mercurial frontwoman Sadie Dupuis’ label, Wax Nine. 

To record *Rabbit Rabbit*, Speedy Ortiz jumped between two locations steeped in rock lore: Rancho de la Luna in Joshua Tree and Sonic Ranch in Tornillo, Texas. The band has already shared a few songs so far, including the spiky "You S02" and the crunching, cathartic closer "Ghostwriter." The album also opens with a song called "Kim Cattrall."

"I turned 33 while writing this album, a palindrome birthday and a lucky number associated with knowledge," Dupuis said in a statement. "I wanted to mark how I was making better choices as I got older, letting go of heedless anger even when it’s warranted."

**Olivia Rodrigo - *GUTS***

**Release date:** Sept. 8 

As far as breakout albums go, Olivia Rodrigo’s SOUR was about as good as it gets. Powered by the stage-setting singles "drivers license" and "deja vu," the album dropped in May 2021 as a balm for dark pandemic days. Coming in at a lean 34 minutes, SOUR was all killer, no filler— and went on to pick up Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2022 GRAMMYs, alongside Rodrigo’s wins for Best Pop Solo Performance ("drivers license") and Best New Artist. 

With Rodrigo now a bona fide pop superstar, she’s readying her second album, *GUTS*, for a buzzy September drop. [Lead single "vampire"](https://www.grammy.com/news/breakup-songs-like-olivia-rodrigo-vampire-taylor-swift-miley-cyrus-kelly-clarkson) arrived back in June with a lush, swelling sound (producer Dan Nigro makes several appearances on *GUTS*) and score-settling lyrics that cut like a knife. Rodrigo followed this strong return with "bad idea right?," a gleefully fun throwback to the pop-punk and grunge that soundtracked her teens.

In [an interview with the ](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/24/arts/music/olivia-rodrigo-guts.html)*[New York Times](https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/24/arts/music/olivia-rodrigo-guts.html)* ahead of *GUTS*, Rodrigo enthused about embracing crunchy guitars and big emotional swings: "\[I\] always loved rock music, and always wanted to find a way that I could make it feel like me, and make it feel feminine and still telling a story and having something to say that’s vulnerable and intimate."

James Blake - *Playing Robots In Heaven* 

**Release date:** Sept. 8 

Following 2021’s acclaimed Friends That Break Your Heart, which featured guest turns from the likes of SZA, JID and Monica Martin, James Blake is stripping it back to basics on his sixth studio album, Playing Robots Into Heaven

This time around, the etherally-voiced singer has seemingly gone back to the electronic roots of his earlier works that emerged as part of the UK’s post-dubstep scene. 

With no featured guests, the tracklist includes the already-released singles "Big Hammer," which is all chopped-up samples and low-end frequencies, and "Loading," which recalls the vocal manipulations of the producer’s self-titled debut LP. Blake also shared the ambient title track, which will close the album in perfect contemplation. 

Jalen Ngonda - *Come Around and Love Me

**Release date:** Sept. 8

Growing up outside of Washington, D.C., Jalen Ngonda was immersed from an early age in soul music, courtesy of his music-obsessed father. Fast forward to 2023, and Ngonda is himself a talented soul artist signed to the revered Brooklyn indie label Daptone Records. 

The singer's debut album, *Come Around and Love Me*, features lushly arranged singles "If You Don’t Want My Love" and "Just Like You Used To," which showcase his timeless vocal prowess.

In a statement announcing the album, Ngonda revealed, "To a stranger, I’d describe my music as modern soul and R&B, while trying to fit in the [Beach Boys](https://www.grammy.com/artists/beach-boys/609) and [the Beatles](https://www.grammy.com/artists/beatles/16293) somewhere in between."  

The Chemical Brothers - *For That Beautiful Feeling*

**Release date:** Sept. 8

On their ninth album, 2019’s No Geography, UK electronic duo the Chemical Brothers sounded thrillingly energized. Now, after weathering a global pandemic, the veteran producers return with their tenth studio outing, For That Beautiful Feeling

The album features a new version of the duo’s cautiously hopeful 2021 release, "The Darkness That You Fear," alongside the propulsive, classically-Chems single, "No Reason," and collaborations with indie darling Beck and French singer/songwriter Halo Maud. 

The duo is set to follow the album in October with a career-spanning retrospective book, *Paused in Cosmic Reflection*, that’ll have fans clamoring. 

Demi Lovato - *REVAMPED* 

**Release date:** Sept. 15

Already an experienced master of reinvention, Demi Lovato is continuing her rock era with REVAMPED 5. On last year’s Holy Fvck, the pop chameleon wholeheartedly embraced hard rock and pop-punk, including collaborations with Yungblud, Royal & the Serpent and Dead Sara. 

While touring *Holy Fvck*, Lovato also played heavier versions of her earlier songs, and discovered her fans loved it. This inspired her to re-record rock versions of ten songs from past albums, including *Demi* and *Confident*, which are now brought together on *REVAMPED*

On the evidence of early singles like "Heart Attack (Rock Version)" and "Sorry Not Sorry (Rock Version)", the latter featuring [Guns N Roses](https://www.grammy.com/artists/guns-n-roses/7805) shredder Slash, Lovato is relishing the chance to rock out. 

Mitski - *The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We*

**Release date:** Sept. 15

Back in July, ever-inventive singer-songwriter Mitski sent a voice memo to fans via her newsletter. "Hi, this is Mitski, and I’m at Bomb Shelter Studios in Nashville, where we recorded my new album that’s coming out," Mitski revealed. "It’s called The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, and its first single is coming out on Wednesday." 

That beautifully elegiac first single "Bug Like An Angel" suggests a heart-rending album to come from one of the boldest voices in indie-rock. The single also features a surprising (and powerfully effective) appearance from a 17-person choir that’s likely to appear elsewhere on *The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We*. As Mitski teased in a statement, "This is my most American album." 

NEEDTOBREATHE - *CAVES *

Release date: Sept. 15 

Following 2021’s Into The Mystery and its country-rock crossover hit, "I Wanna Remember," featuring Carrie Underwood, Christian rock troupe NEEDTOBREATHE returns with their ninth album, CAVES

As documented in an intimate making-of video, the GRAMMY-winning band assembled in a house overlooking the majestic mountains of Utah to begin writing the album, which they completed while on the road with OneRepublic

"We always believed we could make a record that would feel at home on the world’s biggest stages," the band wrote in a statement announcing CAVES. "It was important to us to prove that we could. This is the most ambitious record we’ve made in a really long time."

Kylie Minogue - *Tension*

**Release date: **Sept. 22

Thanks to the runaway viral success of her dance-pop earworm "Padam Padam," 2023 has already been a triumphant year for Australian pop veteran Kylie Minogue. Released in May, the single went on to vie for song of the summer status, powered by countless dance videos on TikTok and its warm embrace as a Pride anthem. 

Buoyed by her surprise chart hit, Minogue will release her sixteenth studio album, *Tension*. As suggested by the glossy cover art, and the presence of producers such as Oliver Heldens and Biff Stannard, Minogue is ready to reclaim her electro-pop crown. 

"I started this album with an open mind and a blank page," Minogue said in a statement. "Unlike my last two albums, there wasn’t a 'theme.' It was about finding the heart or the fun or the fantasy of that moment and always trying to service the song." 

Bakar - *Halo*

**Release date:** Sept. 22

Acclaimed British artist Bakar will help kick off the month in style with his second album, Halo. The sophomore release is billed as a sonic counterpart to his genre-hopping 2018 mixtape, BADKID. Like that breakout release, Halo is set to blend indie, punk and hip-hop, with Bakar’s beguiling voice at front and center. 

Ahead of a busy summer jumping between festival stages, Bakar dropped a mood-lifting single, "Alive!," accompanied by a music video featuring the artist bringing traffic to a standstill (for real) in Central London. 

Animal Collective - *Isn't It Now?*  

**Release date:** Sept. 29

Following 2022’s Time Skiffs, experimental pop four-piece Animal Collective returns with its most expansive album to date. With a total runtime of 64 minutes, Isn’t It Now? will explore a rich sonic palette, as suggested by the layered and hypnotic single, "Soul Capturer."

Co-produced, mixed and recorded with GRAMMY-winning producer Russell Elevado, Isn’t It Now? reportedly finds each band member digging deep into their current musical whims — such as multi-instrumentalist Panda Bear focusing more on drumming. 

The centerpiece of the album is "Defeat," a 22-minute epic that captures Animal Collective at its most exploratory. 

Jorja Smith -  *Falling or Flying* 

**Release date:** Sept. 29

As one of the brightest stars to emerge from the UK in the past decade, Jorja Smith has already put together an accomplished discography. Following her 2018 debut, Lost & Found, and 2021’s three-track EP, Be Right Back, Smith will release her most complete artistic statement to date. 

Like her previous releases, the singer’s long-awaited second album, *Falling or Flying*, will connect the dots between soul, R&B, UK garage and house, with a song for every mood and situation. 

"This album is like my brain,” Smith said in a statement. “There’s always so much going on but each song is definitely a standstill moment." So far, Smith has given us two standout singles — the garage-tinged "Little Things" and the more contemplative "Try Me" — so anticipation is sky high. 

TINASHE - *BB/ANG3L

**Release date:** TBD 

While it’s yet to lock an official release date, the hype is building for Tinashe’s sixth studio album, BB/ANG3L — her first under a new deal with GRAMMY-winning hitmaker Ricky Reed’s record label, Nice Life. 

"I’ve enjoyed stripping back layers of aesthetic fluff, smoke & mirrors, and white noise to get down to the core of myself," the alternative R&B star said of the album in a statement. 

On lead single, "Talk to Me Nice," Tinashe’s indelible smoky vocals are offset by skittering, seductive production from hip-hop beatmaker [Scoop DeVille](https://www.grammy.com/artists/scoop-deville/18109) and electronic artist Nosaj Thing. Follow-up single "Needs" is another undeniable bop, setting the stage for a standout album.

(G)I-DLE - *HEAT*

**Release date:** Oct. 15

Prolific K-pop girl group (G)I-DLE is set to release its first English language project, HEAT

*HEAT* follows the group’s 2022 debut album, *I Never Die*, which opens with the pop-punk-influenced single, "TOMBOY." While little has been revealed about *HEAT*, the project comes via the Asian market-focused U.S. music company 88rising and South Korean label Cube Entertainment, and will showcase the songwriting prowess of group leader Jeon So-yeon. 

(G)I-DLE has released one single from *HEAT* so far — the highly polished synth-pop love song, "I DO" — and the anticipation has K-pop fans feeling giddy.

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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 

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

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."

Moniquea

Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.

L'Impératrice

L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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

Photo: Steven Sebring

interview

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

"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

**Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?**

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

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