Photo: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images
Ringo Starr's Peace And Love Birthday Celebrations To Take Place At L.A.'s Capitol Records
Every July 7th (Starr's birthday), fans from more than 20 countries around the world join in on the tradition to "create a wave of Peace & Love across the planet"
Rolling Stone reports that every July 7th (Starr's birthday), fans from more than 20 countries around the world have joined in on the tradition to "create a wave of Peace & Love across the planet." This year, Starr is making the moment even more special by hosting an event at Los Angeles' Capitol Records with performances by Ben Kyle, the Jacks and Sara Watkins.
"I’ve said it before but I really can’t think of a better way to celebrate my birthday, or a better gift I could ask for, than peace and love,” Starr said in a statement to the magazine. “It’s so great how every year it keeps growing, with the wave of peace and love starting in the morning on July 7 in Australia and ending in Hawaii, with celebrations in all the time zones in between. I am so happy to be back at Capitol Records, and for our great sponsors who are carrying the message of peace and love around the world, like the David Lynch Foundation, Life is Good, SiriusXM, Modern Drummer and Starbucks. I also want to thank each and everyone of you for continuing to help spread peace and love, Ringo."
Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
The Beatles' Final Song: Giles Martin On The Second Life Of "Now And Then" & How The Fab Four Are "Still Breaking New Ground"
The wait is over: The Beatles will release their final song, "Now and Then," on Nov. 2. Read an interview with remixer Giles Martin about the decades-in-the-making parting gift, as well as remixed, expanded 'Red' and 'Blue' albums.
The Beatles and grief have always been fundamentally intertwined. When John Lennon and Paul McCartney met as teenagers, they bonded over losing their mothers early on. Their manager, Brian Epstein, died in 1967 at only 32; as McCartney put it during the ensuing Get Back sessions, "Daddy's gone away now, you know, and we're on our own at the holiday camp."
Lennon's murder in 1980, at just 40 years old, imbued their story with bottomless longing — not just between this band of brothers, but a world that had to process the Beatles were never coming back. George Harrison's death from cancer, in 2001, was another catastrophic blow.
But the Beatles' message, among many, was that the light prevails. And from "In My Life" to "Eleanor Rigby" to "Julia" to "Let it Be" and beyond, almost nobody made sorrow sound so beautiful. And "Now and Then," billed as "the last Beatles song" — yes, the AI-assisted one you heard about throughout 2023 — is liable to move you to the depths of your soul.
A quick AI sidebar: no, it's not the generative type. Rather, it's the technology Peter Jackson and company used to separate theretofore indivisible instruments and voices for the Get Back documentary. It also worked in spectacular fashion for Giles Martin's — son of George — 2022 remix of Revolver.
The cassette edition of "Now and Then." Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
With this tech, Martin and his team were able to lift a Lennon vocal from a late-'70s piano-and-vocals demo of "Now and Then," a song he was workshopping at the time. (Remember "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love," the reconstituted Beatles songs from the Anthology era? "Now and Then" was the third one they tried — and, until now, aborted.)
The final version of "Now and Then" features Lennon's crystal-clear, isolated vocal, as well as Harrison's original vocal and rhythm guitar from that 1995 session. McCartney adds piano and guitar, including a radiant slide guitar solo in homage to Harrison. Ringo Starr holds down the groove and joins on vocals.
"Now and Then" is more than a worthy parting gift from the most beloved rock band of all time. And you can experience it a la carte or as part of the Red and Blue albums — the Beatles' epochal, color-coded 1973 hit compilations, remixed by Martin, with expanded tracklistings, out Nov. 10.
Ahead of "Now and Then," which will arrive on Nov. 2, read an interview with Martin about his approach to the emotionally steamrolling single — and the host of Beatles classics that flank it on Red and Blue.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
What was the thinking behind the expansion of the Red and Blue albums?
That kind of stemmed from "Now and Then," really. You know, we finished "Now and Then," and then there was the thought about, OK, it can't go on an album. What are we going to put it on?
There was a thought about trying to respect people's listening tastes. And the fact that they've changed — and the No. 1s, for example, don't really reflect the most popular Beatles songs that people are listening to.
Then, we realized it was the 50th anniversary of Red and Blue. For a whole generation — much older than you, my generation — the Red and Blue albums have this sort of gravitas behind them. I know all the tracklistings; even though I think I was 3, when they came out, we had them at home.
So, we decided to do the Red and Blue albums — which took quite a long time, because there was quite a lot of stuff to do on them.
Since you've remixed all the Beatles albums from Sgt. Pepper's onward, I've been glued to the pre-1967 material — this is the first time I've heard your touch on their early work. Remixing songs as early as 1962 must have been a whole different ballgame.
In all honesty, that was the fun bit.
You know, we couldn't have worked on these songs six months ago; the technology had to be developed in place so we could do this — separate drums, bass and guitar, and have the different elements. And they sound good; it doesn't sound strange or artifact-y in any way.
I think people will talk about "Now and Then" for "Now and Then." But I [also] think the true innovations come back from the early Beatles stuff. The way that it pops out; the way that the records still sound like the same records. Hopefully, the character doesn't change, but the energy is different.
Ringo always said, "We're just a bunch of punks in the studios," and they sound like a bunch of punks in the studios. Now, they sound the age they were when they played it.
And that's so key to me, to making these records — that they sound like that. You know, they were way younger than Harry Styles is now, when they were making these records. People think they're old guys, and they're not.
That, to me, is important, in a way. We get old — I hate to break that to you, but we do get old. And recordings, by their nature, stay the same age. And the Beatles will always be that age on those records.
I think, now, they sound like a bunch of young guys in the studios bashing their instruments, and I think that's really exciting, and the technology we've applied has enabled us to, bizarrely, strip back the inadequacies of the technologies they had.
And I don't mean that in a pompous way. What I mean is that my dad never wanted the Beatles to be coming out of one speaker, and then coming out of another speaker. They didn't want the two tracks to be like that. He hated it. He hated it.
But now, we can have the drums coming out of the middle, like a record is now. He can luxuriate in that, and I think it's fun and exciting.
I'm noticing so many heretofore-obscured details in their early work. The vocal flub on "Please Please Me." The maniacal bongos that power "A Hard Day's Night."
I think you're right, but I think from experience — which, actually, I have a lot of now — there is a beauty in the reality.
What I mean by that is: so much music is perfect, and it's fabricated. There are checks and balances that go on, to make sure that everything is in tune, in time. And all this stuff goes on, which is fine and it suits a place. But it's a bit like the dangers of plastic surgery — everyone ends up looking the same.
And in records, everyone's sounding the same. We dial in so it's exciting, and it becomes boring, essentially, is what I mean.
The excitement you get from hearing a mistake in a song you've heard for years doesn't necessarily demean the song itself. It doesn't make you think, Oh my god, the band is s—. You think, Oh my god, what's exciting is these are humans. These are human beings in a room, making noise.
People go, "Well, who's responsible for the sound of the Beatles? Is it your dad? Is it Geoff Emerick? Is It Norman Smith…" blah, blah, blah. I go, "No, it's the Beatles. It's the fact they're four friends in a room. They make that noise."
And that's the thing about great bands; great bands make a great noise together, and they don't even know how they do it themselves. That's the beauty of it.
It's like, why do you love someone? "Well, because they're nice to me," or because they're whatever. You can't explain things; they just happen. And there's something about "Please Please Me," all that early stuff — you can hear it. It's something just happening, and that's so exciting. God, I sound like such an old hippie.
The Beatles in The Cavern, Liverpool, August 1962. Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
Your first Beatles remix project, for Sgt. Pepper's, came out five years ago. On the other side of the coin, The Blue Album features songs from that dense, psychedelic era, like "I Am the Walrus," which is such a beast. That must have been a different kind of fun.
Yeah, well, "Walrus" is a beast. I've actually gone back and re-changed the stereo [mix] recently, because I got asked questions like, "Why did I change the end section so it didn't sound like the original?" I was thinking, Did I? I didn't do it deliberately. It's just the balance of speech versus vocals and stuff like that.
I was very lucky, because "Walrus" was on the Love album and show. I tackled a version of that before, and know how tricky it is.
Because by its nature, "Walrus" sounds technically bad, but it's beautiful. It's beautifully ugly as a record, and they're the hardest ones, because you don't want to take away the character. You don't want to remove the grime, because the grime is the record. I spent a lot of time looking at this and doing this — hopefully, we're in a good place with "Walrus."
You know, music's about, How does this make you feel? You don't want to feel secure around "Walrus" at any stage; you want to be unnerved by it. People sort of ask about plugins and technology, and it's like, it's not about that — something you can get on a shelf. How it makes you feel is the most important thing.
You once said that a White Album remix couldn't be too smooth — it's "slightly trashy. It's visceral. It slaps you in the face." I thought of that while listening to the remixed "Old Brown Shoe"; George's vocal is way grimy on that one.
This is going to sound really ridiculous — and I've been through this with a number of different people — but my job is to make a record sound like how you remember it sounding. Because records never sound like how we remember them sounding. And you go back and go, Was that really there?
Some people accuse me of doing stuff that I haven't done, or maybe forgot to do, or whatever. But the fact of the matter is that we kid ourselves all the time, and we fill in the blanks constantly.
It's like, "What about the vocal of 'Old Brown Shoe'? Why does it sound like this?" And I go, "Well, it sounds like that on the record." It's part of the character of the record. If it was too clean, it wouldn't sound [right].
George was very particular at that stage. He didn't get many goes, is the way I would say it, because he wasn't given enough songs.
There's a story [Beatles engineer] Ken Scott told about The White Album, of him doing "Savoy Truffle" — which is incredibly bright as a song, by the way. And my dad apparently went, "You know, it sounds quite bright, George." And he goes, "I know, and I like it." Like, "I know, and f— off," basically.
You have to respect the artists' wishes when you're doing these things, even though they're not there. Yeah, on "Old Brown Shoe," the vocal's quite strange. But that's what George wanted it to sound like, and [far be it from] me to say it shouldn't sound like that.
The Beatles in 1965. Photo © Apple Corps Ltd.
What's your understanding of the extent of the work the Beatles put into "Now and Then" back in 1995, before they aborted it?
I wasn't there, so I'm just going to speculate. What Paul played me — what we worked on together — was kind of after he'd looked at the material they did together.
Far be it from me to argue with a Beatle: there were some things that I thought we should change from that recording. There were a few synth [things], which I thought, once we decided to put strings on it, [weren't necessary].
You know, the key thing is that George is playing on it. Therefore, it is, by definition, a Beatles song, because all four of them are on it. People ask me, "Why is this the last Beatles song?" Well, there's not another song. There won't; there can't be another song where all four Beatles are playing on it.
So, there were bits and pieces that were used and not used. I don't think they spent a lot of time working on it, but essentially, what we kept was George — and obviously, John's vocal, which then we looked at.
Listening, I was thinking, Thank god that George tracked a rhythm guitar part and harmony vocal back then. Or else, this couldn't happen. Or, if it happened, you and your team would never hear the end of it.
What was interesting was, we did the string arrangement. I sat down with Paul in L.A., and there are lots of chugs and "Eleanor Rigby" kinds of ripoffs in the string arrangement.
And what essentially happened was, Paul spent a lot of time listening to what George was playing on the guitar, and it really changed the arrangement. It's in service to the guitar; it doesn't go against George's playing. They were completely respectful of the other Beatles, and made sure it was a collaboration, and it was all four of them.
As Yoko said to me, "John is just a voice now." And I think it sounds like the Beatles, "Now and Then."
Looking at the post-"Now and Then" Beatles landscape, I'm enticed by which Beatles albums you'll remix next. The select tracks on Red and Blue open a door to what Rubber Soul or Beatles For Sale redux might sound like.
Technology doesn't — and never has — made great records, but it creates a pathway. You can do certain things that you couldn't do in the past. And the most exciting thing for me is — as you say — it does open that door to that early material, which we couldn't have done before.
I suppose fortuitously, we kind of worked backwards, in a way — and it made sense to do that. I couldn't have done what I've done on The Red Album even six months ago, probably; it's that quick. I love the fact that the Beatles are still breaking new ground with technology that will pave the way for other artists.
The Beatles during a photo session in Twickenham, 9 April 1969. Photo: Bruce McBroom / © Apple Corps Ltd.
I can't imagine what this next week of "Now and Then" promotion will be like. There's an incredible weight to this. You must be feeling that.
Well, I mean, there's some perspective. My mom's just died. So, it's like [dark laugh] what's important in life?
It's a funny time. We just talked about her funeral arrangements, and she's getting buried the day, I think, the record comes out. So, there are personal things for me in this.
I've been doing interviews this week, and people have asked me, "How do you feel about what your motivation was?" Somebody was saying I'm talking about the Beatles as a resource, or whatever. I go, "You do these things and hope people get touched by stuff."
When you say you enjoy "Now and Then," that's really nice, because that's why we do it. We do it so people can listen to stuff and not just hear it. "Now and Then" sounds like a love song. It sounds like a song that John wrote for Paul, and the other Beatles: "I miss you/ Now and then."
It sounds like Paul has gone there, which I think he did. You know, no one told Paul to go and do it, and Paul didn't go, This would be a great exercise for the Red and Blue Album.
He was at home in the studio. He dug on the record and started working on it, because it's his mate. And he really misses John. I mean, that's the truth. They broke up, and John died nine years later. It really isn't very long.
So, I hope that people listen to the record and they think about loved ones. Or they think about things. That's what I hope. I don't really care about anything else — do you know what I mean? What I'm excited by is people being touched by it.
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
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.
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."
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.
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."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
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.
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].