Photo: Danielle Parsons
Patrick Kindlon Can Be A Controversial Figure In Underground Guitar Music. What Does That Say About Underground Guitar Music?
Hardcore-adjacent band Drug Church just released 'Hygiene,' which marks another thrilling leap forward for their singer, multi-hyphenate Patrick Kindlon. Some in the scene view him as an antagonist — but Kindlon's closest friends argue the opposite.
Patrick Kindlon and Eric Wilson were 35 minutes into their podcast episode when Wilson said he had to go — someone from GRAMMY.com was about to call him for an interview about Kindlon. Kindlon’s band, Drug Church, is steadily rising in the hardcore-adjacent musical space, was on a press cycle — and naturally, he was the focal point, both as the singer and a consummate talker.
"Make sure, in that interview, you throw me under the bus," Kindlon told Wilson. "Say, 'Patrick's still evolving.'"
"What if he hits me with a gotcha question?'" Wilson asked with a laugh.
"Just lean in," Kindlon replied. "I don't care where my life goes."
The pair were recording a Patreon edition of "Worst Possible Timeline," their long-running, unscripted show that veers between media criticism, pop-culture hot takes and blue humor. Mild-mannered Wilson plays the straight man to Kindlon, who provides some of the podcast's most sublime moments when he flies completely off the handle.
In that episode, the duo excoriated Patton Oswalt, who had just made what they viewed as a self-righteous, duplicitous Instagram post about his friend of more than 30 years, Dave Chappelle. Drop into the pod any other week, and you're bound to hear shaky-at-best journalism, dispatches from the front lines of TikTok, or Kindlon practically spitting the phrase "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" derisively through his upstate New York accent.
Despite his seemingly lackadaisical, stream-of-consciousness spitfire, Kindlon does indeed care where his life goes. Kindlon is intensely ambitious as a comic book writer and rock band singer. In the latter role, the world's worst self-promoter (as Kindlon's friends call him) is promoting Hygiene, the pummeling new Drug Church record out March 11.
Over shamelessly heavy riffing — with production more along the lines of 2000s radio rock than their hardcore forefathers Minor Threat — Kindlon roars his worldview, often in just a couple of pithy lines. Like in the immortally awkward but oddly unforgettable hook "News flash/ I need news less!" from "Million Miles of Fun." Or the legitimately affecting chorus of "Lieutenant Detective," a thumb in the eye of those itching to throw art out the window: "We don't toss away what we love!"
That wild stance — that we should treat each other decently, and not as mere refuse — is exactly why Kindlon sticks out in underground guitar music. While this scene was built on the shoulders of brilliant, individualistic weirdos from Ian MacKaye to Patti Smith to Iggy Pop, Kindlon thinks it’s become an arid, ideologically monochromatic space, punctuated by often-petty Twitter executions. His acerbic online presence and penchant for contrarianism make him, to some in the music community, a hated troll.
"With no sort of pride, I'm just attached to the identity involved here. I'm just difficult," Kindlon tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom, with LAPD caution tape as his virtual background. "I honestly just think it's a personality type. I don't think it's informed by any trauma."
Hours of listening to Kindlon talk will reveal something startling: Despite the quasi-Rush Limbaugh delivery, he leans about as far to the left as one possibly could — and his views are, at their essence, middle-of-the-road. This begs the question whether Kindlon's controversial status says more about him or the community he's part of.
Where does his contrary nature and relative lack of filter come from? Kindlon's background is a strange brew: the suburban nothingness of an upbringing near Albany, an early immersion in heavy music, a lifelong commitment to a vegan, straight-edge lifestyle, a Bard religious studies degree, his experiences working with the intellectually disabled, his father's incarceration. Can it be pinpointed anywhere on that map?
"By objective, capitalist-style metrics, he's hitting a level of success and catching the opportunities," Bob Shedd, who co-hosts the hardcore podcast "Axe To Grind" with Kindlon, tells GRAMMY.com. "But he's been presented with roadblocks over time that he's had to outlast. And a lot of the success he's feeling now, I feel, is 10 years overdue."
Some of those roadblocks were self-imposed; in his way, he tried to throw off Drug Church's ascent. "I didn't seek to sabotage it," Kindlon says. "But I wanted the band to fail." Of course, he's saying that cheekily, hyperbolically. But he's thought it through, as he usually does. And that mental process provides a window into how this untrained singer navigates the music industry.
According to Kindlon — who doesn’t write Drug Church's music — Hygiene’s predecessor, Cheer, was a 10 out of 10 record, and this one is a mere eight. But the band's songwriting consistency (which, to these ears, only leveled up from Cheer) isn't on trial here.
"I think you're supposed to have a drop-off from the record that blew you up," Kindlon explains, citing Deafheaven's New Bermuda — which followed the blackgaze band's colossally successful Sunbather — and Quicksand's Manic Compression, which he concedes is a great record but not as a good as the celebrated Slip. "I like that. I also like the idea of being slapped back down, should you think that you're more than you are and you don't have to work hard. I think that it's good to be s<em></em>*ted on a little bit by life."
While Kindlon is down with weathering adversity, he doesn’t abide by receiving grief from bad-faith internet orcs. After an aside about a band kicked off an opening slot as a pure political calculation, he brings up the value of simply not associating with those who would "weaponize each other's past against them, or even made-up stories against them."
That said, "I think every misfortune is my fault," Kindlon adds. "And what I mean by that is, even just putting your trust in the wrong person is ultimately your fault."
How did guitar music become a pit of snakes — one that has repeatedly tried to end Kindlon's career for violations like enjoying Morrissey?
"I think there's a combination of two things," Kindlon notes. "I wouldn't call punk music a viable career, but some people still see it that way. If your specific goal is to make money in doing this, you now have the playbook in front of you. There are things that you want to avoid, like, 'Don't play Israel' or whatever nonsense." For the progenitors, like MacKaye, Smith and Pop, this playbook didn't exist, he adds — and in 2022, guitar musicians must follow it to the letter.
Then there's the elephant in the room: social media. "You can delete somebody's ability to make a living in an afternoon, basically," he deadpans. "Every person, whether they know it or not, is walking around with an ax and a tree stump in their pocket that they can tie somebody's hands to." Because of this, there's "limited upside potential to being a public figure — but infinite downside potential."
Shedd has seen this firsthand. "For the first decade of [Kindlon's] musical pursuits and interests, people who have worked with him were shouted down and told, 'Why are you working with that guy?'" he says. "I got several messages from people I liked and respected — and still like and respect — who were saying, 'Don't work with that guy. He's a loudmouth, he's a bozo, he's this, that and the other — because of some suppositions and assumptions about him."
One of the most brutal pushbacks Kindlon ever got, he says, was for arguing for sex workers' rights more than a decade ago — which got his other band, Self Defense Family, essentially banned throughout Germany. Wait: wouldn't the opposite view get you royally canceled today?
"Exactly right," Shedd says. "A lot of the things he says, they're well-thought-out — they're considered. And I just think that a lot of times, music scenes, 'communities' — big quotation marks there — end up being these ugly echo chambers where you feel like you're being confirmed by the dozen people who think like you, act like you, like the same things as you."
The line on Kindlon early on was that he talked too much — that he was full of himself. But his closest friends mostly describe him in terms of his warmth and generosity. "He's not putting that out front and center in his online musings and podcasts," Shedd says. But in person? "People are shocked," he says. "People are taken back by how kind and gentle he comes across because they're used to this hyperbolic, exaggerated, big personality."
As a shy kid who tended to be a fly on the wall at hardcore shows, Wilson — his co-host on "Worst Possible Timeline" — was one of those people shocked at his real-life demeanor. More than a decade ago, he was a fan of Kindlon's pre-Self Defense Family band, End of a Year.
"When I would go to shows, he would go out of his way to say what's up to me," he tells GRAMMY.com. "Every time I'd be at a show, I'd see him and be like, 'I don't want to bother him. He's doing stuff.' But he would always come up to me and be like, 'What's up, man? How's it going?' and stuff." In 2016, Kindlon moved back to Brooklyn and Drug Church played in New York, they began hanging out — then podcasting together. These days, they room together in Los Angeles.
"If we're edgy to you, then you're an insulated person. You're an insulated Twitter person that needs a little bit more exposure to the world," Wilson says. "Because I listen to things on the daily that are 10 times as edgy as us, and that s<em></em><em>'s out there. That s</em><em></em> does better than us — like way better."
Andrew Duggan, a guitarist in Self Defense Family who has enjoyed a two-decade friendship with Kindlon hinged on "good-natured, mutual antagonism," sums up why he, of all people, is controversial in punk music.
"People hate a confident person. It irritates them to no end," he tells GRAMMY.com. "It's kind of like when crabs pull each other back into a bucket when one's trying to get out. it's more about not upsetting the dynamic of the pack than about wishing they were confident."
Despite getting in occasional scuffles with Kindlon over issues like vaccine mandates, Tom Sheehan — the other co-host on "Axe To Grind," who used to sing in the hardcore band Indecision — notes Kindlon's integrity and devotion to unwavering principles. "He's very much about individual rights," Sheehan tells GRAMMY.com. "He doesn't really care about the greater good; he thinks it's all kind of going to turn out bad anyway."
That "individual over the group" philosophy is all over his numberless records, no matter which project you seek out. "I think he's got a way of sort of boiling down a pretty expansive topic, to two really clever, slick lines," Sheehan says. "I find that incredibly impressive."
Plus, it informs Kindlon's derision for call-out culture and the paradigm of NotesApp apologies — which tends to be a verboten position in punk.
"You don't owe strangers an apology for anything — unless, I guess, if you drop a bomb on their home. The person you owe the apology to is the person you wronged, and literally nobody else," Kindlon says. 'I look at these [instances] in pop culture where people say 'I'm sorry; it's accountability!' and they're saying it to the air."
On an interpersonal level, Kindlon's human-first purview means throwing your friends under the bus is repugnant — especially when you claim to be part of the same musical "community."
"It's the token line from The Lord of the Rings: 'Faithless is he that says farewell as the road darkens,'" he adds. "I think it's bizarre that people think there's metaphor-style heaven for people that turn on their friends. I think that the person that would want you to do that is lower than dirt."
It's a scathing take — but one that’s incredibly common outside of the bubbles of punk houses and blue-check Twitter threads. Kindlon may make aggressive music, and be a difficult personality — and may even castigate AOC for her Met Gala dress or compare Hillary Clinton to a "velociraptor" in any number of podcasts. But by all accounts, he's not a jerk who lashes out indiscriminately.
"He's 114 pounds soaking wet. He's a little bird. He's got bird bones. He's got a big heart," Shedd says. "He's not really sharing some extremist view, as opposed to this idea of, 'Wait a second, the side all the way to the right is wrong and the side all the way to the left is wrong, and there's more of this gray area.'
"And I think so much exists in the aggressive-music subculture that is strictly in the extremes," Shedd adds. "When people come with more measured opinions, they can seem like the sore thumb." Of course, Kindlon is not right all the time. It’s just that even when he’s flat-out incorrect, he’s still compelling.
“I think Patrick is often wrong. Probably more often than not, in a lot of topics,” Ian Shelton, the leader of Regional Justice Center and Militarie Gun who has played in Self Defense Family, tells GRAMMY.com. “But with that lens, maybe the facts are wrong, but the opinions or the thought structure surrounding the topics, I'll enjoy or agree with to some extent.”
At the end of the day, some people are memorable, and some aren't — and Kindlon's particular attitude makes for throttling music, innumerable laugh-out-loud tweets and a ripping conversation. If that kind of energy is barred from the increasingly narrow-minded guitar music world, then that scene is the problem — not Kindlon.
"I still love the guy," Sheehan says, recalling a few verbal altercations during podcast sessions. "No matter what, even if we disagree 100%, he's still my buddy."
As a wise — if sometimes lovably unhinged — man once sang, we don't toss away what we love.
Press Play At Home: Trinidad Cardona Shares A Relaxed Bedroom Performance Of His Viral TikTok Hit, "Dinero"
In this stripped-down, brooding performance of "Dinero," bilingual R&B singer-songwriter Trinidad Cardona revisits the song that went viral in TikTok in 2021, three years after he released it.
Smooth vocal runs and a gentle acoustic guitar line are at the center of Trinidad Cardona's performance of "Dinero," a mid-tempo ballad about the intoxicating powers of an ill-fated romantic relationship that, despite its drawbacks, keeps drawing both people back for more.
In this episode of Press Play at Home, the rising R&B singer-songwriter homes in on the intimacy of his hit song, performing a rendition of the track in a bedroom, accompanied only by a guitar line.
Sitting on the edge of a bed and wearing lounge clothes, Cardona sings into a mic, surrounded by objects you'd expect to find in a bedroom: Clothes on the hangers, a record player on the drawer chest, flowers in a vase and a couple of bottles on the nightstand.
It's a fitting backdrop to represent Cardona's success story: The 23-year-old breakout performer found stardom by doing things his own way, without the support of a manager, press agent or label.
According to Billboard, he was supporting himself by picking up odd jobs on Craigslist and delivering food out of his banged-up 1993 Nissan Sentra when "Dinero" went viral on TikTok in 2021.
The song — which had actually already been out for three years, as Cardona released it in 2018 — became the No. 1 song on TikTok's viral chart, inspired more than two million creations by other users and earned more than 65 million streams across all platforms.
Meanwhile, Cardona's success continued to snowball; the up-and-comer has already racked up over 6 billion streams across all platforms.
Press play on the video above to enjoy the singer's easygoing bedroom rendition of "Dinero," and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more episodes of Press Play at Home.
Photo: Tom Ham
IDLES Chatter With Joe Talbot: How The British Rockers Get Personal, Political & Festival Filthy
After wrapping up an American tour, IDLES singer Joe Tablot spoke with GRAMMY.com about making progress, understanding the press and why he has Otis Redding tattooed on his arm.
When IDLES began in 2009, singer Joe Talbot recalls that not even their then-manager got the name right. "We were Idols, Ideals, the Idols. We were put on the wrong posters. Everything you can imagine was wrong for about a year and a half."
But the Welsh-born singer and his band bided their time. After forming IDLES with bassist Adam Devonshire in Bristol, England, "We were very patient with people mistreating us, underestimating us, giving us terrible advice, not paying us, slagging us off," Talbot says. "We'll just look at those minor misgivings or micro-aggressions as something that later on we can look back on and really appreciate as what we went through to get to where we are now, which I think is a place of success."
Indeed, IDLES — rounded out by lead guitarist Mark Bowen, rhythm guitarist Lee Kiernan and drummer Jon Beavis — are huge in their native U.K. IDLES 2020 LP Ultra Mono debuted at No. 1 on the UK charts, and No. 1 on Billboard Emerging Artists chart. The Guardian raved, "Like no other British rock band of their generation, IDLES offer a sense of resilient belonging, rendering pain fertile and ugliness majestic."
Possessed of a punk rock energy intensity and sensibility, with unsettling musicality in songs like "The Wheel," IDLES' acerbic songs run from intensely personal (the caretaking and death of Talbot's mother informed Brutalism) to pointed social commentary ("Model Village"). Talbot’s vocals are upfront and Brit-accented, especially vehement on songs like the pointed, toxic masculinity-bashing "Never Fight a Man With a Perm," which has garnered nearly 26 million Spotify streams.
Although the band has done nine U.S. tours, IDLES' popularity in the States lags slightly behind that of the U.K. Yet since the release of their latest LP, 2021’s Crawler, IDLES worship is growing. The noisy songs of controlled chaos are driven by Talbot’s powerful vibe, of which he’s quick to clarify: "People mistake that my energy is anger."
The singer, whose witty, smart and oft-idiosyncratic and iconoclastic approach is seen in some of his tattoos — a chair, Biggie Smalls, Frida Kahlo on his left hand, Bill Murray’s face and the word "pops" on his neck because his dad hates neck tattoos — chatted with GRAMMY.com in the midst of IDLES ’ recent U.S. tour, which wrapped Sept. 17 at New Jersey’s Sea.Hear. Now. festival. A sold-out tour of New Zealand and Australia kicks off October 27.
IDLES seem to be in a great place career-wise. You’ve won prizes and been nominated for Brit Award, the Mercury Prize, and more. What quantifies success to you?
Progress. I think progress to me sounds and looks like the exploration of the self in a way where you're beautifully comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time as an artist. Success is emotional maturity. And success is a loyalty with the people around you and your community or audience.
Loyalty from an audience perspective comes from them trusting you and being genuine, because you love what you do. And we do. We're very grateful that we're able to come back after the pandemic and do this with so many wonderful people with open arms and open minds.
You can't ignore the money side, that would be ignorant and I think kind of bad taste not to accept that. Being able to pay my bills and build a future for my daughter by playing music is a beautiful thing. Emotionally and monetarily, we can't ask for anything more. We're just in a beautiful dream. And we will keep working as hard as we can. As long as you'll allow us in your venues, we will be there.
You actually have a song inspired by an American venue in Ohio, "Beachland Ballroom." IDLES are known for musical urgency and immediacy but "Beachland Ballroom" is a musical departure.
I grew up with soul music. I’ve been trying to write a soul song for a long time. Like, I've got Otis Redding tattooed on my arm and it’s something that I love. When we started as a band, I was very angry. But I was also self-pitying, and cyclical with my drug and alcohol addiction and blamed everyone else. That's what happens, you know?
But I love where soul took me, so I'd always try and throw [it] in, but I wasn't ready for it vocally and psychologically. I wasn't ready for soul music and to do it properly…to write beautiful poetry I think you need to be immersed in it, not yourself. That sounds weird, but I wanted to write something beautiful. And that's how it sounded.
Another now-iconic American thing is Coachella, and you played there this year. Was it what you expected?
It was exactly as I expected, because I've been there as a punter with my [ex] girlfriend. In 2011 we went for a road trip, four weeks around California. We stopped off at Coachella because Kanye West was performing his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, which at the time, and is, one of the best albums ever. It was just when selfies had taken off. So there's a lot of people taking selfies, which was very bizarre to me at the time. This is how old I am!
European festivals are very different affairs. We like to get filthy and in the U.K., we expect mud and to not shower for five days. It's very debauched.It feels very good, but it doesn't look great. That's what I love about Glastonbury and Reading and all the festivals that I grew up on: you leave the mirror at the door and you go and you forget and let go and you enjoy the music and you embrace the people around you. And you learn something about what it is to be part of the universe with music and energy. Coachella is just a different kettle of fish. But playing it is amazing.
In 2011, the band had been together a couple years. Did you think 'someday I'll play here?'
I never had any expectations of playing anywhere. We were f—king terrible.
Well, lots of terrible people play Coachella.
Yeah, I know. I saw them! No, I didn't [think I’d ever play Coachella] at the time, I was too busy figuring out what we should sound like and how to improve. We were just writing and writing and writing because we knew we weren't there yet. We hadn't found our true voice.
I never knew what to expect from them from the North American market if I'm honest. A key to our success is that we haven't paid attention to our peers. We've kept our heads down and worked as hard as possible. And I've made sure I'm the hardest-working man in every room I've been in in terms of band and music.
America vs. the U.K. is definitely a thing when it comes to both press and success for a British band.
I won't speak for American press because I don't know it well enough. And since I've been being interviewed by North American journalists, it's been a period where I stopped reading because it doesn't help.
The thing about the U.K. is a very small island built on an empire that's like a network of problematic ideologies to make other people feel small. If it was a person, it would be a very short pigeon-chested, angry, balding man with pink skin, screaming at the sun. As an island, I think there's a very defensive nature that comes from our class system. It's both built, built on ideology and built on power struggles, and it's built on oppression. But it's all ideological. It's based in finance. But the reason it's sustained is with language and press.
Now with that, no matter what press, what the journalist is writing about, they're part of that. And as soon as you get to a certain place where you're successful — monetarily, popularity, anything like that — they want to squash you because they feel threatened or feel you don't deserve it, because you're not good enough. Because they think they know what good is and you don't.
To follow that, you had some criticism leveled at you in the U.K. about the ideas in the song "Model Village," and I read that you are no longer playing it live.
I was just offered a new perspective in a quite close-minded article, to be fair, they were wrong. But it made me question it.
They were wrong because the song was misread as what they were pissed off about, that wasn't what I was saying. But I realized, ‘oh, now's not the time to perform this song, because it is divisive, and it is aggressive in its tone.’ And there's a lot of disillusionment in our country based on class. And if people think I'm having a go at the working classes in that song, they're f—king stupid.
But yeah, I stopped that because of an article and I realized, you know, there's a line, I don't want I have to constantly defend a song that I know isn't what it is cut out to be. The only person whose fault that is, is mine. Obviously, my writing wasn't clear enough. And with that comes some real problematic ….
Thank you for clarifying. For me, there's nothing worse than being misconstrued. That said, I appreciate your take on not wanting to add to the burden of a misunderstanding.
I would never apologize for the song, nor would I delete it from the internet or take it off an album. I just don't want to perform it at the moment. It’s not a forever thing. I just think the conversation around the working classes in our country at the moment is a very disturbing one. And I don't want to add to that fire.
Let’s end with "The End," which ends Crawler. Lyrics include, "…act like a dick in spite of it all life is beautiful." Is that about you?
Sometimes. I mean, I'm up and down. I can be a real piece of work. And I struggled with addiction, and I've been graced with some beautiful people that helped me in recovery. And yeah, life is recovery now. So once you've got in the deep end, and you've nearly lost everything a few times you realize what's important, and you stay mindful of that and grateful and you just keep working on it.
I'm in a very wonderful place, and I feel very safe. I feel I'm part of something much bigger than myself, which is something I started the band for; I started the band to feel like I'm not alone. And I don't. And that's the only thing I can ask for, as an addict and someone who's got a lot of love to give, is that I feel safe and not alone to give.
Photo courtesy of the artist
Sean Kingston On "Beautiful Girls" Hysteria, Bad Deals & Starting Over On 'Road To Deliverance'
Fifteen years after topping the charts, Sean Kingston will release a comeback album, 'Road to Deliverance,' on Sept. 30. Kingston spoke with GRAMMY.com about the heavily dancehall-influenced record, and what he's been up to in the intervening years.
The story of Sean Kingston is one of incredible highs and deflating lows. "Beautiful Girls," the Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 single released in 2007, saw a teenaged Kingston reach meteoric heights. And while Kingston's early years established him as a pop star, they also introduced him to the harsh realities of the music business. A lack of creative control, bad record deals, and the changing industry landscape were just some of the challenges that pushed him take a step back from the limelight to regroup and refocus.
Yet Kingston was always working in the background, writing and crafting hits for others, like Chris Brown, while simply being a friend to many of the biggest names in music.
Chris Brown is featured on Kingston's current rapidly rising single "Ocean Drive," and their friendship goes way back. "I've known Sean since we were both kids starting out," Brown tells GRAMMY.com. "We've worked together a few times professionally, but I also know the other Sean when we're just playing video games and hanging out."
And while Sean's home in Los Angeles was a hanging out spot for like-minded artists, it was also a hub of creativity. "I wanted to accomplish something for myself…when I came to L.A.," says rapper Trippie Redd. "Sean's been in the game for a while; his spot was where I met many creative people."
Road to Deliverance, Sean’s comeback album, will be released Sept. 30. The album is heavily influenced by reggae and dancehall music, and will be followed by a more pop-leaning album titled Deliverance due early 2023. Kingston spoke with GRAMMY.com about his time at the top of the music charts, the pitfalls of being a young and hungry new artist, what songs he's most excited about on his new album, and what happened to that lost mixtape with Justin Bieber.
Before the interview, I was checking out your YouTube and the "Beautiful Girls" video is almost at a billion views. How does that make you feel when you hear that?
So blessed. It feels amazing. It feels like I created something I always wanted to: timeless music. I am always going to create something with the intention that it's going to be around for ages and something that people are always going to remember.A billion views that's something a lot of people don't have, so it's definitely a great milestone.
There's a perception that following the release of your last album Back to Life in 2013 to the present day, Sean Kingston disappeared from the music industry, and I assume that wasn't the case. What was going on during that time? And why was now the right time to return with greater visibility?
I was caught in some bad situations. I was in some bad [record]deals. When I was younger, I signed a lot of contracts. I was hungry. I didn't know about the music industry like that. I was just trying to get from point A to point B and trying to get discovered.
They weren't terrible, terrible deals, but they were situations I didn't want to be in where I didn't have creative control with my last label. I couldn't drop when I wanted to drop. I wanted to go the independent route, but I had to wait a bit. I regrouped and got some good lawyers —shout-outs to Won-G. Won-G came in on the music management side and helped me get my stuff back on track. Now we're starting from fresh. Everything is cleared up, and I'm good.
I never fell off. I was still giving hits to other people behind the scenes. I wrote a lot of stuff for Chris Brown that people don't know about. It wasn't ever about "oh no, I won't be able to write another hit record again." I didn't want to put out music because my situation wasn't right.
Take us back to the mid-2000s when you had your monster single "Beautiful Girls." What was something you learned about yourself during that time?
How focused I was; I had tunnel vision. I wanted my fans to get more music from me every three weeks. I feel like a new artist again. It's a blessing. I'm excited to start going at it again as I did back then. I love that the sound that I started is still flourishing. The island/pop sound.
A bit of a random question. Whatever happened to the Our World mixtape you recorded with Justin Bieber back in 2010?
We just got busy. He was doing a lot of stuff, and I was doing a lot of stuff. Believe it or not, those sounds are still on the hard drive. I was listening to some of them the other day. Justin's voice sounds so young. My voice sounds so young. I wish we could have dropped it.
Me and Justin recorded fast. He would come on my tour bus, and we had a studio in the back. We didn't have any features on it. Actually, I think Jaden Smith was on one song.
You got your start by messaging producer J.R. Rotem on MySpace. What do you remember about that day you clicked send on that message back in 2007?
I remember it like it was yesterday, me copying and pasting the message and just kept sending it. I'll never forget the day when I got the message. He said, "I'm in L.A., you're in L.A. Let's have a meeting. You need to meet me here now," and I'm like, wait, what?
At the time, I was doing very badly. My mom was in prison. I had to catch two city buses to the meeting, which was in Culver City, and I was in Burbank. I have the meeting with J.R. Rotem, Tommy Rotem, and Zach Katz. I'm playing the first two songs, and they're looking at me, kind of serious but bopping their heads. And when I played the last song, J.R. said, "Yo, we want to sign you to Beluga Heights."
Amazing story. Let's talk about the music on the new album. I got to hear some of the tracks; I dug "Side" and "Lucky Him," which had some of those "Beautiful Girls" vibes. But the song I want to hone in on was "Satisfaction," built around an interpolation of Terror Fabulous' classic dancehall song "Action." How did you come back to "Action" to help develop that record?
Adam, I'm scared of you, man. You really know music. Those are the songs everyone is going crazy about. With "Satisfaction," I feel like we're in an era right now where a lot of people are sampling, but they don't know how to sample and make [their] record have the feel of the original record. But you also put a new twist on it.
With "Satisfaction," I wanted a real repetitive part of the hook, and I wanted it to be chanty, sing-a-long and have a catchy, ear candy vibe. Me and Supa Dupes did that record in Miami.
Regarding the dancehall vibes running through your music, does that happen organically for you in the recording process, or is it intentional?
That's just part of who I am. It just comes from listening to old reggae songs from my parents. I've got the essence in me, and I'm always looking for a good island vibe.
You mentioned a lot of sampling happening. We hear many people say that everything has been done before when it comes to new music, and nothing's original. How do you feel about that? Is it simply harder now to come up with new ideas?
I love bringing old records back to life. Like on "Beautiful Girls," I sampled Ben E. King's "Stand By Me," so I've always been interested in sampling and bringing back records. So as far as "Satisfaction" and sampling Terror Fabulous, to me, the 1990s was one of the best eras of music.
The music industry is turning a corner regarding revenues being up. And we keep hearing this is the best time for artists because there are so many channels to promote your music, and it has never been easier to create music. As someone who began their career at the end of the physical sales era and the beginning of the mp3 era, do you agree that this is the best time to be an artist?
It's easier to go viral and sell records, but you've still got to create something special. It's easier and smoother than when I first came in.
Talk to me a bit about the business of Sean Kingston. You haven't released an album since 2013, but you still have upwards of 11 million monthly listeners on Spotify. How do you make your hits work for you so many years? And what did you do in those early days to establish your brand?
[I established] my original sound. When you come up with a sound, people will never forget that. We are living in a nostalgia moment right now where people miss stuff and want stuff they grew up with. It just happens that a lot of my songs stuck with them. A lot of my stuff goes viral on TikTok. I think it's dope. I go to my shows, and I'm seeing these kids that are 18 singing these songs, and I'm like, wow, you guys were like 6 years old when this came out.
To close things off, I wanted to ask what advice you would give to an artist starting out today.
Do you. Keep God first. Stay hungry. Be original and stay in your lane and be consistent. Nowadays, these kids want music consistently.
Photo: Michael Goldman
Terri Lyne Carrington Is Making Strides For Inclusion And Mentorship In Jazz. And You Can Hear All Of Them In Her Sound.
With her 'New Standards' multimedia project, the extraordinary drummer Terri Lyne Carrington is fighting the good fight for representation of women composers. And all of it leads back to her mighty sound — and her connectivity with her fellow musicians.
A rainshower of recent press coverage has positioned Terri Lyne Carrington as a conservator, a custodian, a caretaker of the canon — and that's deservedly so.
In Sept. 2022, the three-time GRAMMY-winning drummer released New Standards: 101 Lead Sheets by Women Composers. This sheet music collection rebalances the gender scales and shines a light on women who have been blatantly underrepresented in male-dominated "fake books" — figures like Toshiko Akiyoshi, Geri Allen, Joanne Brackeen, Carla Bley, and Mary Lou Williams.
Accompanying this was new STANDARDS vol. 1 — the first in a series of albums aiming to cover all 101 compositions. Therein, Carrington, pianist Kris Davis, bassist Linda May Han Oh, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and guitarist Matthew Stevens interpreted compositions by women composers represented in the book — like Brandee Younger's "Respected Destroyer," clarinetist Anet Cohen's "Ima," and Bley's "Two Hearts (Lawns)."
This multimedia project does a lot to contextualize Carrington as something of a gravitational center for gender equity in jazz. As an NEA Jazz Master — one of the highest honors a musician in this field can receive — with decades of experience under her belt, Carrington is a worthy representative for this sea change in classrooms, conservatories, workshops and stages.
But while New Standards is a historic and long-overdue achievement, discussions of exactly why Carrington fits into this nexus can get lost in the sauce. Carrington is an extraordinary musician — full stop.
Both her records and live performances speak volumes about how she brings people from divergent backgrounds together, engenders rapport between them, and encourages them to forge forward on their own terms.
No matter which setting or ensemble she appears in, Carrington conjures an ineffable center of gravity. When she's behind the kit, the music takes on new architecture, fresh integrity and a unique sense of purpose and destination.
This was wholly apparent onstage at New York's Village Vanguard in May, when Carrington appeared as part of Kris Davis' Diatom Ribbons ensemble, alongside guitarist Julian Lage, turntablist Val Jeanty and bassist Trevor Dunn.
"I like ebb and flow, and the other thing is time feel. Kris has amazing time, so we connect," Carrington tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom, with her dry, languid and down-to-earth manner. "Also, this reference you would have in common has to do with phrasing. If she plays a phrase, I'm able to hear where it's going before it goes there, and vice versa." (Adds Davis: "She knows when to light a fire, and when to sit back and let things happen.")
But time and phrasing aside, what accounts for the heft in her playing? The heaving, pendulum-like swing? The sense that even a strike of a ride cymbal is a declaration?
Terri Lyne Carrington. Photo: Michael Goldman
The River Of Tradition
Matthew Stevens, who plays in Carrington's ensemble Social Science, sees her work through the lens of the lineage. He names a few stupendous, highly compositional drummers before her: Roy Haynes, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and her personal mentor, Jack DeJohnette.
"She has a certain way of playing time that's really rare by today's standards," Stevens tells GRAMMY.com. "And I think it's just by virtue of coming up under and playing with the mentors that she played with."
The path to DeJohnette came by way of Carrington's early life, when her father exposed her to heavy-grooving records, including those by James Brown and organ trios led by Jimmy Smith, "Brother" Jack McDuff, and Richard "Groove" Holmes.
"The velocity of drummers — of pushing a band — that was my foundation," Carrington says. From there, she analyzed the mechanics of timekeeping, and the concept of interweaving drums through the music in a perpetual flow of organized improvisation.
"I don't feel like I even like to solo," she adds, "because I feel like I'm soloing through everybody else's solo." And all of these concepts are in abundance within DeJohnette, a two-time GRAMMY winner and one of the most revered jazz drummers of the 1970s and beyond.
A Mentor In DeJohnette
Among other accomplishments during his long and storied career, DeJohnette has played on electric Miles classics like Bitches Brew, worked with saxophone luminaries like John Coltrane, Jackie McLean and Charles Lloyd, and cut albums in various contexts for ECM Records. And contemporary offerings like 2016's In Movement show that his abilities remain undimmed.
DeJohnette and Carrington met when she was about 16, by the elder drummer's estimation. From early on, her budding mentor encouraged see the big picture in music, and the value of people — and she not only listened to his counsel, but ran with it.
"We wouldn't really talk about the drums, necessarily, but we listened to music," he tells GRAMMY.com. "She's got her own sound and her own approach, and she started expanding… She learned how to be a good leader, and to get the most out of the musicians she worked with. That's what a good drummer does — inspire the players to forge ahead."
"He's just a really well-rounded drummer who's very organic, and I think that's what I related to with his playing," Carrington says. "He was very open, he could play free — he could play straight-ahead, of course, and could play funky stuff. So, I was very much inspired by him."
Watching Carrington do her thing live, you'll see one of DeJohnette's axioms play out: "We're always trying to be free within the boundaries."
"I like to keep stretching and pushing the boundaries as far as I can, so you're remaining open and can figure out organically: What's the next thing I can do to take the music someplace else?" Carrington says. "It's always about a journey and a mystery: How do I find a mystery? What can I do at this moment to bring things together, or mess things up in a good way, or inspire somebody else, or inspire myself to play something I feel really good about?"
Carrington was asking herself these questions when she performed in Detroit with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding, and pianist Leo Genovese — which was just released on Sept. 9 as Live At The Detroit Jazz Festival 2017.
Her Connectivity In Action
The titanic (and sadly underheralded) pianist and composer Geri Allen was supposed to be on the gig; on June 27 of that year, she had passed away at only 60. In mourning, the reconstituted quartet decided to perform her "Drummer's Song" and dedicate the evening to her.
In this context, the boundaries were partly dictated by these four specific musicians from differing generations, and their matrix of memories and inspirations related to Allen.
"She was looking forward to that show; I remember we were talking about it," Carrington rues. "But the four of us have a strong history in varying ways. There was a lot of love on this stage, and a lot of trust, and a lot of knowledge about each other musically and personally; we've played together a lot."
What transpired on that stage — as you can hear on the record — is what happens when Carrington's the rhythmic core of any ensemble; it takes on a majestic logic of its own.
After the show, "I remember Esperanza, Leo and I kind of looked at each other without saying anything. We all gave that look of, 'Did you feel it, too? Did you feel what I felt?' … It's kind of a lifetime of preparation that sometimes comes together on a certain evening."
That unshakeable integrtion — not just with her fellow musicians, but those before her — permeates all facets of Carrington's work. As the Founder and Artistic Director of the Berklee Institute of Jazz and Gender Justice since 2005, she, in the words of her online bio, "teaches, mentors, and advocates for musicians seeking to study jazz with racial justice and gender justice as guiding principles."
How did social justice come to be part and parcel with Carrington's career? She says it was incremental — and predated her position at said collegiate institute.
A Swell Of Empathy
"I started having empathy for people who had experiences I didn't experience," she recalls. "If a woman came up to me and said, 'I'm having this trouble,' I would just give her advice based on my life, which I realized was not the right thing: 'Oh, just plow through. Just be the best.' Or, 'You can; just don't pay attention to that!'"
This enhanced consideration of discrepancies felt across the gender and racial spectrum led Carrington on the path to New Standards. "Then, you start thinking about animal justice or environmental justice," she says. "All the other things that you want to be involved with, or concerned about, so you leave the planet better than when you found it, if that's possible."
This value system is harmonious with that of the Recording Academy, which continually fights for the rights of all music people through MusiCares, Advocacy, and many other outlets. And naturally, Carrington was a prime candidate for their Board of Trustees, where she served for two terms.
And given her positive experience, she's thinking of getting involved again.
Terri Lyne Carrington. Photo: Michael Goldman
"I just termed out as a trustee, but I learned a lot and became a voice for the things that I'm concerned with, which tend to be on the margins," she says. "Just think jazz; that's on the margins when you think about the Academy, because it's such a small percentage of consumed music and the mentorship."
Reflecting on her time with the Academy, Carrington cites a common flaw in public understanding of the organization.
"Everybody wants to win a GRAMMY, but a lot of people either don't join, or don't vote, or don't get involved," she says. "The best way to do that is to get involved and understand the organization — and the biggest thing is to serve."
Translating this advice into action, Carrington has worked under the organization's umbrella to continue pushing for constructive change. Of course, you don't need to play an instrument — much less master one — to do that.
But Carrington has. Which means the heartbeat of her values — and how she relates to and communicates with her fellow musicians — rings out for all who will listen.
"A Bridge Between Worlds"
"She's a visionary, and most likely the hardest-working person I know," bassist Linda May Han Oh, who performed on new STANDARDS vol. 1, tells GRAMMY.com.
Oh calls Carrington "a bridge between worlds" capable of bringing disparate people and communities together for the love of music-making: "She's able to connect like-minded musicians who may not even be from the same genre, from the same style."
"She's a beautiful human being, someone you are drawn to and can easily connect with," he tells GRAMMY.com. But this interpersonal amenability never translated to meek or docile playing — far from it.
"She's such an exciting and explosive drummer, never playing it safe," Ferrante adds, remembering working with her quartet in tandem with her Yellowjackets affiliation. "I quickly realized her music demanded a heightened level of focus and listening. So much is implied in her playing, and a momentary lapse of focus and concentration came at your own peril!"
"Her intuition is in alignment with Linda and I," Davis says about making music with Carrington. "That push-and-pull, with drama and creating a storyline in the music."
That word — "storyline" — piques curiosity. Especially when considering Carrington's role in the music community, whether she's shaping the flow of an ensemble, mentoring young talent or changing the game via lead-sheet representation for women.
Because Carrington isn't just telling a story within the bounds of a composition, or a gig, or a record date, or even her catalog in its entirety. Her wider story could involve all of us.