Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty Images
Here's What Happened At The Recording Academy New York Chapter's 2022 GRAMMYs Nominee Celebration: Good Jitters, Good Company & A Spotlight On All Categories
Ahead of the 2022 GRAMMYs, the Recording Academy’s New York Chapter convened for a celebration of the Chapter’s members, current nominees, and the wider New York musical omniverse — which is about to be elevated to the global stage once again
It's a four-hour drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas — but to get from from JFK to LAS, you're looking at five or six hours in the air. Factor in hotels, transportation, credentials, innumerable other logistics — and the still-existent pandemic — and the New York Chapter of the Recording Academy's Nominee Celebration in Manhattan on Mar. 28 was the site of many palpable jitters.
But they were good jitters. As GRAMMY nominees and industry professionals sipped cocktails from an open bar at the Bowery Hotel, settled into comfortable fireside couches and overall enjoyed each other's company, a glimpse into the upcoming magic of the 64th GRAMMY Awards revealed itself. Sure, many of the folks involved were nominated for the same golden gramophone, but there was nary a competitive vibe to be found. Instead, the overarching feeling in the room was of gratitude — that NYC's musical community would be elevated as a united entity.
A more specific pleasure to be found at the celebration, though, was the highlighting of categories more centric to the Premiere Ceremony than the main show. Sure, the lion's share of the attention is generally bestowed on categories like Best New Artist and Album Of The Year But what of Best Instrumental Composition, Best Children's Music Album and Best Latin Jazz Album? Simply put, they matter, too — immensely so.
So it was rewarding to catch up with GRAMMY-nominated artists like family-music singer/songwriter Falu, jazz pianist and composer Luis Perdomo, and harpist and composer Brandee Younger about the inspirations behind their GRAMMY-nominated works and their feelings as the 2022 GRAMMY Awards — and, yes, the crush of flights from JFK, LaGuardia and Newark — draw near.
Read More: 2022 GRAMMYs Awards Show: Complete Nominations List
Among the flashing camera bulbs and piped-in club beats, singer/songwriter Falu — who has been nominated for Best Children's Album for 2021's A Colorful World — calmly reinforced the importance of making substantive music for families to enjoy together.
"Children are the future, and the seeds that we sow in them right now really blossom and make them better citizens," the two-time GRAMMY nominee told GRAMMY.com on the red carpet, stressing that family music should "teach them the values of inclusiveness, diversity, uniqueness and embracing each other, rather than being scared of each other's differences."
And if this means that the music might introduce challenging concepts that don't just pacify with pretty sounds and colors, remember: children are wiser, and more absorbent, than we often give them credit for. "The messages aren't so complex that you can't make a 5-year-old understand," she added. "It becomes natural — something they do when they're sleeping, having dinner, or just playing in the park."
The concept of naturalness came up over and over in these conversations, driving home the point that these GRAMMY-nominated offerings were pure, human expressions — not mere vyings for global recognition. As for the revered pianist Luis Perdomo, his collaborative album with saxophonist Miguel Zenón, El Arte Del Bolero, wasn't even supposed to be a record in the first place.
"We just did it as something for fun," he explained to GRAMMY.com of the dreamy, luminous record. "Kind of like after the gig's over, the club is closing and a lot of people leave, and there are only a few people left — that was the vibe of that." With only a phone call and zero rehearsal, the Venezuelan pianist and Puerto Rican tenorman plumbed the Latin American songbook, dreamily performing standards like "Como Fue," "La Vida Es Un Sueño" and "Jaguete" during a COVID-era livestream at an empty Jazz Gallery in Manhattan.
El Arte Del Bolero resonated far beyond its low-key concept and presentation — the pair now have a GRAMMY and Latin GRAMMY nomination to show for it. "We did it just to put it out on YouTube," the twice-nominated Perdomo said. "It was a wild surprise." No matter what happens during the 2022 GRAMMY Awards, this nomination shows that two old friends performing songs they've known all their lives can still move listeners on a global scale.
In that same spirit, Brandee Younger — who's nominated for Best Instrumental Composition for "Beautiful is Black" — considers how her musical family in New York has been uplifted by the 2022 GRAMMY Awards nominations. “I feel like some underdogs came up,” Younger told GRAMMY.com over text a few days after the party, shouting out fellow GRAMMY nominees Curtis Stewart, Jon Batiste, the Baylor Project, Jazzmeia Horn and Kanye West — she played on the latter’s colossal, complicated, Album Of The Year-nominated Donda.
And if you want to find out how up it can get, tune into the 2022 GRAMMY Awards on April 3 to watch these creative dynamos show the world what New York's musical omniverse is all about.
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Photo: Erin O'Brien
Positive Vibes Only: Brandee Younger Reimagines The Enchantment Of Stevie Wonder's "If It's Magic" In This Instrumental Cover
Using just a harp, Brandee Younger delivers a moving performance of Stevie Wonder's 1976 deep cut "If It's Magic."
Almost 50 years ago, Stevie Wonder graced the world with his critically acclaimed (and Album Of The Year-winning) studio album, Songs in the Key of Life. Beyond notable singles "Isn't She Lovely" and "I Wish" lives "If It's Magic," a song about the unavoidable failure of unprotected love.
"If it's magic/ Then why can't it be everlasting?/ Like the sun that always shines/ Like the poet's endless rhymes/ Like the galaxies in time," Wonder questions in the track's opening verse. "It holds the key to every heart/ Throughout the universe/ It fills you up without a bite/ And quenches every thirst."
In this episode of Positive Vibes Only, American harpist Brandee Younger performs a soothing, instrumental cover of "If It's Magic." Younger plays the harp from a well-lit room covered in plants, increasing the serene ambiance of the performance.
Last month, Younger released her latest album, Brand New Life. As one of the most prominent Black, female harpists, Younger created Brand New Life as one of her many efforts to highlight the musical contributions of Black women. In 2022, she became the first Black woman to be nominated for a GRAMMY Award in the Best Instrumental Composition category.
Press play on the video above to watch Brandee Younger's tranquil cover of Stevie Wonder's deep cut "If It's Magic," and check back to GRAMMY.com every Sunday for more new episodes of Positive Vibes Only.
Chamber Ensemble yMusic Step Into The Light On New LP: "We've Been In Training For This Moment"
Photo courtesy of the Recording Academy
What Went Down At 2023 Recording Academy New York Chapter Nominee Celebration: Musical Theater, Mayor Eric Adams & Magical Company
Last year's party was marked by the good kind of jitters, as the show got moved and the pandemic wasn't done with us yet. This year, there was a palpable sense of relief and enthusiasm — and musical theater and the mayor took the spotlight.
By all means, the 2022 the Recording Academy New York Chapter Nominee Celebration was a fantastic bash, and a welcome return to in-person reverie. But on multiple levels, the party this year was just looser. Which is no knock against last year's edition; it simply reflects the times we're living in.
This brings us to the 2023 Recording Academy New York Chapter Nominee Celebration at Spring Place, a spacious, verdant, intimately lit workspace and social club in Tribeca. Adjacent to the main space was a candlelit "conversation room"; almost nobody went for it, opting to be shoulder-to-shoulder at the bar.
Sure, some opted for masks, but there was a tangible sense of relaxation. More than that, reverie — as a special appearance from New York Mayor Eric Adams underlined.
Adams began with a reflection on the pandemic's impact on NYC, with some poetic asides about the spiritual power of music. "When you sing, when you dance, when you play an instrument, you feed something inside us — [it] feeds the emotional anatomy of our spirit," he stated. He then broke the ice.
"Slick Rick, if you only knew how many shorties I met off your songs!" Adams called out to the rapper in attendance — a recipient of the 2023 Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award — to raucous laughter and cheers. "Now let's bring home the GRAMMYs!"
Aside from relief at the tail-end of a long pandemic, the 2023 New York Chapter Nominee Celebration felt looser in a more profound way. While locked inside, most of us were subjected to technological hypersaturation — our phones became like new limbs. And the everything-now demand of streaming did a number not only on our attention spans, but the value of music as a commodity.
That's all changing, said one GRAMMY-winning trombonist.
"I feel like it's a musical shift," Doug Beavers, a member of Spanish Harlem Orchestra who co-produced their latest album, Imágenes Latinas, told GRAMMY.com. To him, this year's GRAMMYs nominations list — said album is up for Best Tropical Latin Album — reflects an increased grounding in artistic communion, and the here and now.
"Instead of relying on our eyes, we're going back to our ears more," Beavers continues. "I feel like what's represented is good-quality, listenable music. We're going from the streaming stuff and gimme, gimme, gimme now, to: Let's sit down with this record and really enjoy what they're trying to say with it."
It's worth stressing that the General Field is not the be-all-end-all of the GRAMMYs nominations; all fields, from American Roots Music to Global Music to Best New Age, Ambient or Chant, are of the most esteemed importance. Driving this home was the preponderance of musical theater artists on the red carpet.
While you might have to scroll down 63 sections to find that field, it's essential to what Adams called "the baddest city in the world" — and to the Recording Academy.
Jason Veasey, who performs as part of the Broadway musical "A Strange Loop," cites the importance of cast recordings to those who can't readily travel to — or live in — the Big Apple. "Until I got to New York, it was the only thing that I had," he told GRAMMY.com. "All these idols that I loved, I learned about through a [vinyl] album or CD."
Flash forward to the 2023 GRAMMYs, where "A Strange Loop" is nominated for Best Musical Theater Album: Veasey is touched by the honor due to the primacy of the format. "That's how half of our fans found the show," he says. "So, with that genre and art form, it's actually one of the most important things that can happen."
When considering the weight of a GRAMMY nomination, John-Andrew Morrison — who was part of the original cast of "A Strange Loop" — looks back to his childhood abroad.
"The GRAMMYs have been something that I watched since I was a little kid in Jamaica," he tells GRAMMY.com. "I've seen all these brilliant reggae artists and all of these people win, and it's been the pride of Jamaica to see that every year."
Morrison notes that getting a show to Broadway is something of a superhuman feat: to him, "a million and two things have to go right at exactly the same time." "To be able to make a Broadway debut on a show that I love in an industry that I love, and then have all of that wonderful stuff happen," he continues, "to then get nominated for a GRAMMY feels like supremely rarefied air."
Read More: 2023 GRAMMY Nominations: See The Complete Nominees List
Jazz singer/songwriter Nicole Zuraitis was nominated for Best Arrangement, Instruments and Vocals at the 2019 GRAMMYs. As she looks ahead to her upcoming album, the Christian McBride-co-produced How Love Begins, in July, she considers how the nomination changed her trajectory.
"I think [husband, drummer, composer, and fellow GRAMMY nominee] Dan [Pugach] and I were at the point in 2018 where we were working so hard, but not getting very far,” Zuraitis tells GRAMMY.com. "And when we got our GRAMMYnomination… there's that validation of the hard work that we put in."
"The Recording Academy makes us want to put out the best work that we possibly can," she continues. "My best work, I think, is ahead of me."
These two worlds that can be a little niche — musical theater and jazz — are not lost on the Recording Academy, and they were tremendous presences at the 2023 New York Chapter Nominee Celebration. In a hypercompetitive city, under a global culture where pop can hold something of a monopoly, seeing these worlds so happily and generously represented was moving. (This especially applied to musical theater; folks from "MJ: The Musical," "The Phantom of the Opera," "SIX," and more were on the red carpet.)
Maybe the cultural, technological and pandemic-related squeeze is giving way, it was hard not to think. Maybe we're sitting down and really listening.
This year's annual platinum event partner was The Mayor's Office of Media & Entertainment, along with annual gold event partner Great South Bay Music Group, and annual silver event partners include Concord and The Orchard. GREY GOOSE® Vodka is the official spirits partner.
A Look Inside The 2023 Recording Academy Nashville Chapter Nominee Celebration, A Tribute To Its Supportive Musical Community
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
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Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
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