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Quarantine Diaries: Caroline Jones Is Working On Her Sophomore Album, Meditating & Exploring New Zealand

Caroline Jones

 

Photo: Courtesy of Caroline Jones

 

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Quarantine Diaries: Caroline Jones Is Working On Her Sophomore Album, Meditating & Exploring New Zealand

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, GRAMMY.com reached out to musicians to see how they were spending their days off the road

GRAMMYs/Nov 12, 2020 - 02:57 am

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, GRAMMY.com reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, Caroline Jones shares her Quarantine Diary. Her latest single, "All of the Boys," is out now.

[6:30 a.m.] Wake-up rituals. I love to wake up early so I have a few hours to meditate and exercise or do Egoscue postural therapy. My physical and mental health are both of utmost importance to me, and my health/wellness routine is designed for optimal energy that I can then devote to my creativity. I also love to walk in nature, daily if possible, or at least spend some time outdoors in some sort of surrounding greenery. I have been quarantining and working on new music in New Zealand for the past few months, so there is a lot of magical scenery to take in. 

[10:00 a.m.] Vocal warm-up. The voice is a muscle, and I consider myself an athlete. Singing, just like producing, songwriting and playing instruments, is a craft that I am constantly honing. I am a classically trained vocalist; I grew up singing opera and jazz. I typically need 45-60 minutes of vocal exercises to feel really warmed up, whether going in the studio or on stage. For those interested, the vocal exercises I have been doing for decades are on my YouTube channel

[11:30 a.m.] Studio time. My team and I have been conducting remote recording sessions while I am here in New Zealand for a few months. The technology is staggering and the execution has been remarkable, thanks to the team at Roundhead Studios in Auckland, New Zealand, and my team in America: Ric Wake, my co-producer, Gustavo Celis, engineer and mixer, and Jorge Stelling, assistant engineer. We have redundant communication between Audio Movers, Zoom and Gus running Pro Tools in real time from Miami through TeamViewer. Whew! I get tired just thinking about it. But it's been working beautifully and we are able to continue the momentum of my second album! 

[2:30 p.m.] Tracking with the Trenwiths. New Zealand being [almost] COVID-free, once I arrived here I was eager to engage in the in-person musical connection I have been missing this year. As anyone who follows me knows, I am always open and excited to dip my toes in the waters of different styles of music. I researched The Hamilton County Bluegrass Band, which is a more-than-50-year-old institution here in New Zealand, and of which Paul Trenwith is a founding member. We were able to get in touch with Paul and begin jamming with him, mandolinist Keith MacMillan, and Paul's sons, Sam and Tim, who together are known as the Trenwiths. 

The Trenwiths and I recorded two Christmas songs (dropping Nov. 20!), stomping down-home bluegrass style at Neil Finn's famous Roundhead Studios. We are now working on a full set to livestream, and hopefully, we will also record a few traditional folk songs. It's hard to put into words how truly down-to-earth, genuine and funny this family band is, but hopefully, folks will feel it in the music we have made thus far and see it in the accompanying videos. We are having an absolute blast!

[5:30 p.m.] Overdubs. When my team and I are not tracking with the Trenwiths, we are completing overdubs on songs for my forthcoming second album (expected early 2021). We tracked most of the album in Nashville in August with an A-list band, and now I am tweaking vocals, singing stacks of harmonies, and overdubbing guitars, banjo, dobro, keys, etc. I absolutely love the process of producing and arranging, and I love challenging myself as a musician in the studio. 

An example is my current single "All of the Boys," which I co-wrote with my good friend and mentor Zac Brown and co-produced with Ric Wake. I have the utmost respect for the talents and expertise of producers, engineers and studio musicians. I have been obsessed with the craft of record making since I first stepped into a Nashville session with Mac McAnally in my early 20s. 

[7:00 p.m.] Adventuring in New Zealand. Typically, after a workday, we will cook or go out for dinner, then wind down and go to sleep! However, on weekends or days off, I have been blessed to adventure in this extraordinarily beautiful country. In the past month, I have found myself in some of the most remote, beautiful and otherworldly settings I have ever seen, by driving just one or two hours outside of Auckland. Piha and Raglan break have some of the world's best surfing; see picture below—not of me surfing, but playing guitar on the beach, ever true to form. We also went camping at South Head on a completely deserted beach. It was magical. 

[10:30 p.m.] Bedtime. What an inspiring time in my life this is for me—to have the opportunity to create, write and adventure in a country 10,000 miles [away] from my home! I am soaking in every moment of it. 

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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

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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."

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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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Megan Moroney's Big Year: The "Tennessee Orange" Country Star Details The Most Meaningful Moments Of Her "Crazy" Career
Megan Moroney

Photo: David McClister

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Megan Moroney's Big Year: The "Tennessee Orange" Country Star Details The Most Meaningful Moments Of Her "Crazy" Career

With her second headlining tour underway, Megan Moroney reminisces about her whirlwind breakout year, including an Opry debut and a No. 1 smash.

GRAMMYs/Oct 5, 2023 - 02:48 pm

Just last summer, Megan Moroney had never even played a show. Fourteen months later, she's headlining a sold-out tour.

The country singer/songwriter kicked off The Lucky Tour on Sept. 20 in New York City, with 22 dates sprinkled throughout the fall until wrapping in her native Georgia on Dec. 10. Though her first headlining tour was in April, The Lucky Tour is an indication of where her stardom is headed — bigger and busier.

"My whole life is completely different now," Moroney says. "Everything is happening, and I'm on the road 24/7. Last year, I would put out a song and I'd play shows a couple weeks at a time and then have some time off, but we're planning so far ahead now. It's a lot of work, but it's what I want to do."

Moroney's rapidly growing success was first fueled by the lovestruck, college football-themed hit "Tennessee Orange," but she's kept the momentum going with her debut album, Lucky. While her country-pop stylings are right in line with the genre's mainstream stars, Moroney's witty, strong-willed songwriting  and husky voice feel like the makings of a superstar.

Moroney's staying power has already been proven from what she's achieved in 2023: "Tennessee Orange" hit No. 1 on the Country Aircheck/Mediabase Country Airplay chart in June, won Moroney her first award in April (CMT Breakthrough Female Video Of The Year), and earned her both New Artist Of The Year and Song Of The Year nominations for the 2023 CMA Awards, to name a few.

But even for a girl who went from never touring to having a No. 1 song in just over a year, Moroney insists that she hasn't lost sight of her purpose.

"I try to just take things a day at a time. I have random goals, but I try not to put too much pressure on myself for specific goals," Moroney adds. "It's how I got to 'Tennessee Orange' — if I just keep my head down and keep working hard, good things will happen."

Before Moroney appears at the GRAMMY Museum for a SPOTLIGHT series event on Oct. 10, hear from the singer about six of her most memorable career milestones she's reached — so far.

Making Her Grand Ole Opry Debut — February 11, 2023

I was in the studio, we were tracking "Kansas Anymore." And I look over, and Jamey Johnson walks in. I figured he was maybe recording and just coming to say hi, because our tour with him had ended not too long before that. And he's like, "Hey, I got somebody on FaceTime."

He had Deana Carter on the phone, and Deana was like, "How would you like to make your Grand Ole Opry debut?" Obviously I completely freaked out.

Then the day of, I had my family come in. It was just a very overwhelming feeling. I remember during soundcheck, when I stepped into the circle, I just started crying. And I was like, Why am I crying? [Laughs.] Like, I knew it was a really big deal, but I definitely didn't plan on crying. 

And that's why, when I made my debut, I tried not to talk too much. I was like, "And this is my song." Because I knew if I talked too much, I would just cry, and I was like, I don't want to do that at the Opry.

I had played bigger venues before, but there's just something about playing the Opry the first time where I was so nervous. Right before I get on stage, Vince Gill introduced himself to me, and I was like, Oh, perfect. He's watching, so don't screw up!

I played "Hair Salon" and "Tennessee Orange." It was great. I noticed a lot of people came there just for me — I can always tell, too, because everyone has Tennessee stuff on. And it was very cool to have my family there. And a bunch of my friends also showed up. 

I think they said there was a standing ovation, but I was offstage at that point. I didn't get to see it, but heard about it. [Laughs.]

Winning Her First Award — April 2, 2023

I was terrified. Public speaking is scary to start with, but also being on television, I was so nervous. And I remember my publicist being like, "You know if you do win, you need to at least sort of have an idea of what you're going to say." And I was just like, "I'm not going to prepare a speech, I'm not gonna win."

I just remember walking off stage and I was like, Did I just speak English? I completely blacked out. I had no idea what I said. I called my mom and I was like, "Hopefully I did not embarrass myself." But obviously, it was very cool to win an award for the music video.

The CMTs were the first award show that I attended as an artist. [At] the CMA Awards in November, I was just a host on the red carpet, interviewing other artists. I fortunately got a ticket to the CMA Awards, but I was like, you know, in the back. 

It was just crazy. Shania Twain is sitting near me, Megan Thee Stallion is in front of me — I'm just like, What? I was already like, This is crazy, I don't need to win. I'm having a great time. I don't know how to give a speech, I'm not well-spoken. Like, I literally write songs about my boyfriend — now I have to go give a speech? [Laughs.]

It's just crazy and hard to believe that it's happening. It feels great, obviously, because I feel like Nashville has been supportive and they see the work that I'm doing and they look at it for what it is and how I wanted it to be received. Making a fan base is one thing, but to also have the support of Nashville, like, "We see what you're doing, and we're recognizing it," it's really cool.

Releasing Her Debut Album — May 5, 2023

The night album came out was the first night of the Brooks & Dunn tour.

We were in Kansas City and I had my team there, and some of my Columbia [Records] people showed up from New York to surprise me. It was so crazy to finally have it out because it had been on my phone for so long. You spend so many hours and put your heart into these songs, and then it comes out, and you're like, Okay, now what?

One [reaction] that meant a lot to me was Olivia Rodrigo DMing me and saying that she loves the songs. I had posted her "vampire" song on my story, and I tagged her, and she responded and was like, "Oh my gosh, your songwriting is so inspiring!" That was really cool, definitely a standout moment of my album coming out.

Overall — I also try not to look at negative things — my fans, they've been receiving it the way that I hoped they would. Like, no one took "Sleep On My Side" too seriously, and "I'm Not Pretty" is not supposed to be a bitchy song; it's supposed to be more of a confident anthem.

"Girl In The Mirror," I've been able to see at live shows [that] that one is having the most impact on my fans. And I think it does have the most important message of all the songs on the whole record. Girls bring signs to my shows that say "You made me love the girl in the mirror." There's little girls that are, like, 7 years old with shirts that say, "You can't love the boy more than the girl in the mirror." It's hitting all age groups. 

I think [with] music, you have to say something, or what's the point? It doesn't matter what you're trying to say, but it needs to do something for people. That song definitely helped me writing it, and I've seen it help my fans. One of my favorite moments in the live show is everyone singing it with me — and I don't ask them to sing it with me. Everyone's just screaming it. I have songs like that from other artists that I feel that way about, so it's cool to have fans connect with that song.

Playing CMA Fest With Her Brother — June 11, 2023

Last year, I got to play CMA Fest for the first time, and I played it with my brother because, honestly, he did it for free. [Laughs.] We were on one of the smallest stages, if not the smallest, in the Music City Center. It's basically the stage that people only showed up because they wanted air conditioning, because it was one of the only indoor stages.

Then this year, when CMA Fest came around again, I got to play the Riverfront Stage and Nissan Stadium, and I invited my brother back. Last year, we were like, "We're gonna make this tradition, because that was fun." And then this year, I found out I was playing the stadium, and I was like, "Well, we said it was a tradition. You've never played a stadium and neither have I, but we're going to do this together." So my brother and I played Nissan Stadium together — we did "I'm Not Pretty" and "Tennessee Orange."

He was playing guitar and singing harmonies. Him and my dad kind of taught me how to play guitar. So we grew up playing together, but now he's an attorney, so he has, like, a legit job and can't just quit to tour with me, even though I would love that. 

The whole thing was special. He texted me a couple of days after when he was back home, and he was like, "Did we really just play in a stadium?" 

I've been used to touring and playing in front of people. So I was definitely nervous, but it was manageable. But for him, I'm like, "You have a normal job. I don't know how you just went out in front of that many people and just played."

That's up there as the most meaningful moments of this year. Just to watch the videos and see my face and his face in Nissan stadium. I'm like, What is this? We used to post videos of us on Instagram together in our living room, and I just never would have thought that we would be in a stadium together.

Earning A No. 1 Song With "Tennessee Orange" — June 20, 2023

When I wrote this song, I was happy with it. I was like, This is different than anything I've written because it's kind of a love song and I'm not good at writing those. But I was [also] like, I wrote this song that I can relate to, but like I don't even know if people in like, California, or someone that doesn't care about [college] football are even going to understand..

When the fall came around and it was about to be football season, and an opportunity with Spotify came, we were like, Well, we've got this football song. I definitely didn't write it and was like, This is gonna be the one. 

When I announced that it was coming out, which was probably like two weeks before, I started promoting it on TikTok. When I posted the initial video, people were making it a trend to show their significant other and they were like, "I met somebody" [with] cute pictures behind the sound. And I teased the bridge and everyone was making TikToks to that. So it was blowing up before the song actually came out. 

The night it went No. 1 was actually the last day of the Brooks & Dunn tour, so it was really just an exciting day in general. We really did not know if it was gonna go No. 1 — I had to mentally prepare myself to not be No. 1, because I didn't want to upset myself too much. The radio team was honest in the fact that there's huge songs that we're competing against. 

We really didn't know for sure until 3 a.m. when it actually was official. I was exhausted because we'd been on this run. So at midnight, I went to sleep, and I was like, "Y'all wake me up at 3 if it goes number one. If I don't get woken up, I'm just gonna not talk to anyone tomorrow." [Laughs.] 

My team and my band came in my room on the bus with orange wigs on, and they scared the life out of me. Then the next day, we went to Broadway to celebrate. I got to hear an artist singing my song on Broadway for the first time — that was really cool, because I remember moving to Nashville and being like, "Wow, if someone is playing a cover of your song on Broadway, you've made it."

I got on stage with her — I was a little intoxicated. [Laughs.] I posted a TikTok video of it. That was a fun day.

Headlining A Sold-Out Tour — Sept. 20 to December 10, 2023

We're literally going from New York to California and everywhere in between. The more headlining shows I play, I feel like the crazier and more passionate my fans get. They show up in handmade merch, and they'll dress like me. So I feel like the fall tour will be even more crazy, because it seems to just be getting crazier.

I love opening because you can make new fans, but when everyone is there for you, it's definitely a different sense of comfortability. My first headlining show was in Georgia, it was in Statesboro. So my family got to be there too. And "Girl In The Mirror" came out a couple of hours before that, and they sang "Girl In The Mirror" back to me. It was the first time I heard them chanting my name. I was just like, This is absurd.

One part of the show that I think I'll always have on my headliners is where I play a couple of songs where it's just me and a guitar. And I like doing that because when I'm writing a song, it's usually just me and a guitar. So I like to recreate that environment for my fans.

One show that really sticks out is a show that I played recently at the Iowa State Fair. I think there were 6,000 people there for me. They were singing every single song — like, the least-streamed song on the album is "Sad Songs For Sad People," and they screamed every word of that. 

To have that many people who care about my music will always beat every other moment, because [I know] what I'm doing is connecting with people. It makes me want to keep creating the same kind of music that does that for people.

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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

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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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