Photo: Jill Jarrett
Robby Krieger's Memoir 'Set The Night On Fire' Offers A New Perspective On The Doors & Jim Morrison: "There Was Another Side To Him"
The dust is finally settling on the Doors' legacy: These days, guitarist Robby Krieger and drummer John Densmore are getting along great. And the pandemic allowed Krieger the time to finally complete his memoir, 'Set the Night on Fire.'
When Robby Krieger first watched The Doors, something nagged at him in a big way. It wasn't just that the film almost unwaveringly focused on Jim Morrison — or concocted outrageous scenes from whole cloth, like the singer throwing his girlfriend in a closet and setting it ablaze. No, it was that Oliver Stone's 1991 rock flick failed to reflect the Doors' synergy — four to one, one to four.
"It just doesn't capture the interaction between the four of us," the GRAMMY nominee tells GRAMMY.com over the phone. What about unforgettable wildman Morrison? "There was another side to him that people don't know that much about. Only people that knew him," he adds. "I tried to put that over in the book and tell people what it was really like to hang out with him — when he wasn't all f*ed up."
Read More: The Doors' Self-Titled Debut: For The Record
Krieger is talking about his new, Jeff Alulis-assisted memoir, Set the Night on Fire: Living, Dying and Playing Guitar with the Doors, which arrived Oct. 12. For Doors fans, Krieger's tell-all has been decades coming; after all, drummer John Densmore dropped his book, Riders on the Storm, in 1990, and keyboardist Ray Manzarek followed with Light My Fire in 1999.
What took so long? Despite those three musicians experiencing the band together, shoulder-to-shoulder, they took away sometimes wildly different ideas of what happened. Their differences were magnified in the 2000s, when quarrelling gave way to out-and-out litigation. At times, it seemed nobody could agree on who the Doors were, and what they represented.
But now the smoke has cleared, and surviving members Krieger and Densmore — Manzarek passed away of cancer in 2013 — are getting along famously. For the guitarist's part, he's busier than ever. Aside from promoting Set the Night on Fire, Krieger's getting ready to roll out two new albums and a 50th-anniversary boxed set of L.A. Woman, plus a virtual book event via the Library of Philadelphia on Nov. 8.
Thanks in part to a global pandemic, which gave him the time and space to pick up the threads of a 25-year-old project, Krieger has found an opening to tell his side of the story. GRAMMY.com gave him a ring to discuss his nonlinear storytelling approach, his post-Doors life and career and what the public still gets wrong about Morrison — and their band.
I'm sure you've had opportunities to tell your story in the past. What compelled you to do it now?
Actually, I started writing this about 25 years ago, back when Ray and John both came out with their memoirs. It seemed like it just caused a lot of problems. One of them didn't like what the other said, and same with the other guy. So, it kind of put a stink on me wanting to do it, but I had a lot of it done back then.
I was just waiting until things died down. I had that trial and all that crap. I just kind of forgot about it until the pandemic hit, and then I had all this time. I said, "Hey, might as well finish that book."
It's wild how three guys who had these experiences together could have this kaleidoscope of perspectives on what happened.
Well, that happens with bands, you know? I was just reading about Creedence and all the problems those guys had. They were the biggest thing happening, and then one guy was unhappy about the songwriting or whatever. One thing leads to another.
I'll always remember when I first went to the Hall of Fame induction, when we got inducted back in '90, '91. They were being inducted as well, and I was sitting with the brother [Tom Fogerty]. He went, "He won't play with us. Even for something like this, he will not." I said, "Man, that trouble runs deep."
The Doors. Photo: Bobby Klein
I've always enjoyed the Doors because of all four of you — your contributions and musical voices. Has it been frustrating to watch it become the Jim Show?
Yeah, yeah. I don't think as much as it used to be. When the [Oliver Stone] movie came out, it was all about Jim. But I think, as time goes on, it'll be appreciated more as a band.
Jim was always against that. They wanted to call it "Jim Morrison and the Doors," and he would never put up with that. We had managers who wanted to do that — or even get rid of us and make him a frontman for some superstars or something like that. He would have never put up with that.
You guys had problems like any other band has, but Jim believed in the band democracy.
That's why he would say "Everything written by the Doors." Even though he was writing most of the songs in the early days, he didn't want it to be "Written by Jim Morrison," even though he wrote those first 10 songs or so. They were totally his.
So much ink is devoted to Morrison that it's easy to forget how tight-knit you guys were.
Oh yeah, for sure. I think the three of us — John, Ray and I — were an amazingly tight unit. Ray really was the bassist of the whole thing, because he played the piano bass with his left hand and organ with the right hand. He was so solid — his timing and everything — so that let John and I float over the top of it.
It just worked out perfectly. We were at the right place at the right time and got along musically so well. I've been in so many different musical situations since then and it's never been quite the same as how it was with the Doors.
The Doors. Photo: Paul Ferrara
I enjoyed the conversational, discursive style of Set the Night on Fire. Was that a conscious decision — to not make it a linear experience?
Yeah. I think a lot of that was due to my co-writer, Jeff Alulis. We would just have conversations and talk about what happened. I had the outline of the book — like I said — for years. So, we would just fill in the blanks, you know?
Did the anecdotes spring forth in the order as seen in the book?
Not really. We kind of went through it chronologically and then, after looking at it, we said, "Hmmm. That's boring." "And then this happened, and then it's '72, '73…" I like movies that jump back and forth and do flashbacks. So, that was kind of the idea of what we wanted to do with the book.
When trying to recall what happened half a century ago, did you have to deal with the fallibility of memory?
[Chuckles] Well, yeah. That was where Jeff came in. He's a really good researcher. So, he got to know all these — we call them the "Doors nerds." And these guys know everything about the Doors! Every gig and every little thing that happened. That made it a lot easier to remember stuff.
It was great to read about how you developed your flamenco-influenced guitar style.
Well, that was the first kind of guitar I played back then. I took flamenco lessons. My dad had these flamenco records, and I wanted to sound like that. Actually, the only real flamenco-y kind of song was "Spanish Caravan." I got in there.
But it was mostly the use of the fingers on the right hand that you use in flamenco. I kept that in my guitar playing on electric. I never used a pick with the Doors, and it made us sound different than most.
The Doors. Photo: Henry Diltz
I feel like you guys harkened back to a time when rock bands operated more like jazz bands — cooperating and giving each other a lot of space.
Yeah. Nowadays, it's usually one guy as kind of the musical leader. You don't get that unified band sound. You listen to a Stones song and you know it's the Rolling Stones, even when Mick isn't playing or singing.
After Jim passed away, you guys still had those core musical components. What was the feeling like in the band once he was gone?
We certainly didn't think of quitting. We knew it wouldn't be easy without Jim. But when Jim had gone to Paris, we had continued getting together and making new songs, thinking he would be back at some point and we'd make another album.
So, we had a bunch of songs, and the guy at Elektra Records — Jac Holzman, who we were good buddies with at that time — he kind of talked us into it: "Just keep doing it, man. You guys are so good together. There's no reason to stop." That was kind of cool, so he signed us up for three albums.
What do you make of the arc of your post-Doors career? I'm sure there are some hidden corners that even Doors fans would be surprised to learn about.
Yeah, I've had a lot of solo albums. It's been mostly instrumental stuff because, for me, writing lyrics is like pulling teeth. [Chuckles.] I mostly had Jim to do that until he was gone. But I love music and will always continue to record.
I've got two albums in the can right now that are getting ready to come out. I've got a reggae album — an instrumental reggae album of songs that most people know, like "Stayin' Alive" and Beatles songs. Stuff like that where you know the melody, but to hear it with a reggae style is kind of cool.
What are some reggae records you've been checking out?
You know, I've always been the biggest Wailers fan. Steel Pulse, stuff like that. There's a lot of good reggae that's been coming out over the past years, but I haven't really kept up with it as much as I should have, I guess.
I do. [Editor's note: The Butts Band was a group helmed by Densmore and Krieger between 1973 and 1975.]
Yeah, that was after we split up. John and I were over in England and we got a hold of this guy, Phil Chen. He was the oddest reggae guy in town. And funk — he could play funk. He liked James Jamerson, Motown stuff, which he liked.
So, that was the direction we wanted to go in — Motown reggae. [Chuckles.] It was really happening over in England. It wasn't so much here.
But we ended up recording half the album we did in Jamaica. Phil was from Jamaica, so he was so happy because he got to see his dad, who was sick and passed away shortly after. He showed us all over Jamaica. We actually stayed at [Island Records founder] Chris Blackwell's house up in the mountains.
As far as tending the legacy of the band, how would you describe the dynamic between you three — now two — guys?
We've actually been getting along really good lately. Ever since Ray passed, the two of us decided, "Hey, there's no use in being mad at each other."
So, we've done some fun stuff lately. We did a charity thing for homeless people about a year ago. And then, just recently, John came down to my studio and we did a version of "L.A. Woman," which is coming — the L.A. Woman boxed set is coming out. We did a promotional thing for that.
I play that one so much when I play the Doors stuff. "L.A. Woman" is always in the set. In fact, the last gig we did, my son and I — and a couple of the guys who played with Ray Manzarek and I — we did the whole L.A. Woman album because it's the 50th anniversary of that album.
Do any particular memories of those sessions come to mind?
Oh, gosh. That album was probably one of the most fun times ever for us. Up until then, Paul Rothchild had been producing everything — all the albums. Over time, he got a little anal, maybe. When you have unlimited funds in a studio, you tend to go crazy. He would take four hours to get a snare drum sound and stuff like that.
So, it almost got to be like work before we had fun. Especially for Jim, because the vocal was always the last thing to go on. When you're doing overdubs and stuff, the vocal is last, so he'd have to hang around all day and get drunk. By the time it was ready for him to sing, he'd be so messed up that we'd have to wait until the next day, usually.
But on L.A. Woman, we produced it ourselves with Bruce Botnick, who was our engineer all the time. We did it at our little rehearsal studio, which was pretty convenient for Jim, because he was staying at this little motel across the street. Jim was so amazing: He never cared about money. Staying in a crappy motel for $10 a night. But it was right across the street, so he was there every day, bright and early.
We just had so much time making that album: It was really live, because we had Jerry Scheff, who was Elvis' bass player. And then, we had a rhythm guitar player, which we'd never done before. That let me concentrate on whatever I was playing. I wouldn't have to overdub anything; I could just do it live.
I think had Jim come back from Paris, that's how we would have continued recording.
It's been framed historically as the back-to-basics album — a little earthier. Did it feel that way at the time?
Oh, yeah, for sure. But the cool part is that we actually wrote a couple of songs together, which had never happened before. It was always me and Jim, or I would write one, or he would write one. And then, we'd get together with the other guys and work it out.
But this time, it was like "OK, let's start playing. Let's just jam." That's how "L.A. Woman" came out. Jim just came up with those words, man, right on the spot. It was crazy.
"Riders" was a similar thing. We were kind of jamming on that song "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky" and that gave Jim the idea: "Instead of '(Ghost) Riders in the Sky,' how about "Riders on the Storm"? He just made those words up.
And then he came up with the "Mr. Mojo Risin'" thing for "L.A. Woman." He had that idea before, because he tried to stick that in one of the other songs. [Laughs.]
In the movie, that girlfriend of his claims that she came up with the "Mojo Risin'" thing with the witch. Remember, he got married to that witch, supposedly? But I think Jim actually came up with that idea. It's an anagram, you know. Jim Morrison and "Mr. Mojo Risin'."
Jim has been rendered messianic with time, which makes a certain amount of sense — he was quite a figure. But I hope this interview can help unfreeze his persona a tiny bit.
Well, that's what the book does, too. Not to say that he wasn't an amazing frontman and all that, but there was another side to him that people don't know that much about. Only people that knew him. I tried to put that over in the book and tell people what it was really like to hang out with him — when he wasn't all f*ed up.
What did you appreciate the most about his musicianship?
For a guy that never took a vocal lesson — never took a music lesson in his life — he was really an amazing singer. All these great musicians who play Doors songs with me, they all say the same thing about Jim's voice. He never hit a wrong note, you know?
And he had the most amazing range. He could have that looow voice and then he could scream cooler than anybody could ever scream. He just had a natural talent, and I think people will start realizing that as time goes on. But, god, what a voice.
It must feel like the soundtrack to your life, in a way.
Yeah, for sure. For sure. There's so many guys, like I said, that I play the Doors' songs with today. None of them can quite capture [the songs] the way Jim did it. But they try!
When you consider the breadth of the Doors' legacy and who Jim was, what misconception nags at you the most? What about the band's public perception would you change, if you could?
Well, after seeing the movie, it just doesn't capture the interaction between the four of us. It does a good job of showing how crazy Jim was — lighting his girlfriend on fire in the closet, which never happened.
I don't want to knock the movie, because it was a great rock 'n' roll movie. But it could have been about any group — not just the Doors.
And I think Val Kilmer was amazing, man. You know, the way he got the job, he actually had a Doors tribute band. He made a little film on video and showed it to Oliver Stone and I, and that's how he got the gig. He actually sang 90 percent of that stuff in the movie himself.
Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek. Photo: Paul Ferrara
Eight years after his passing, what do you miss most about Ray Manzarek?
The way he played. I've played with so many keyboard guys who try to play Ray's stuff, and none of them quite get it. Every one of them is amazed at the stuff he came up with — it was just unbelievable.
Read More: The Doors' Ray Manzarek Dies
He was such a different kind of guy — like Jim, kind of, in a way. I think maybe Ray's the only guy in the world that could have actually corralled Jim enough to form a rock 'n' roll band, because he was a little older than us. He was 27 when Jim was 22. I was 19. John was 21, I think.
Ray had a certain presence. He was a big guy — six foot two. [Imitates Manzarek] A big, low voice, you know. I think he's just what Jim needed to corral him enough to be serious about making a rock 'n' roll band.
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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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Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Listen: All Of The Latin Music 2023 GRAMMY Nominees In One Playlist
Ahead of Music's Biggest Night on Feb. 5, 2023, celebrate with this immersive playlist of every Latin Field nominee at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
The Latin GRAMMYs may have just honored the genre's trailblazers in Las Vegas on Nov. 17, but the celebration will continue at the upcoming 65th GRAMMY Awards ceremony in February. There are five categories in the Latin Field of the 2023 GRAMMY nominations — and you can hear all of the nominees in one playlist.
In the Best Latin Pop Album category, are Christina Aguilera's Latin GRAMMY-winning AGUILERA will compete with Rubén Blades & Boca Livre's Pasieros, Camilo's De Adendro Pa Afuera, Fonseca's VIAJANTE, and Sebastián Yatra's Dharma+. Channeling their lively Latin roots while traversing pop landscapes, these albums all magnetically merge tradition and modernity.
Reggaeton, dancehall, hip hop, and funk coalesce in the nominated works for Best Música Urbana Album: Rauw Alejandro's Trap Cake, Vol. 2, Bad Bunny's Un Verano Sin Ti, Daddy Yankee's LEGENDADDY, Farruko's La 167, and Maluma's The Love & Sex Tape.
The genre-blending jubilation continues with the Best Latin Rock or Alternative Album category. This year's nominees are Cimafunk's El Alimento, Jorge Drexler's Tinta y Tiempo, Mon Laferte's 1940 Carmen, Gaby Moreno's Alegoría, Fito Paez's Los Años Salvajes, and Rosalía's MOTOMAMI.
For Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano), 2021 winner Natalia Lafourcade's Un Canto por México - El Musical is up against Chiquis' Abeja Reina, Los Tigres Del Norte's La Reunión (Deluxe), Christian Nodal's EP #1 Forajido, and Marco Antonio Solís' Qué Ganas de Verte (Deluxe).
As for Best Tropical Latin Album, Marc Anthony — a two-time winner in the category — returns as a nominee with Pa'lla Voy, alongside pioneers Tito Nieves (nominated for Legendario), La Santa Cecilia (Quiero Verte Feliz), Víctor Manuelle (Lado A Lado B), Spanish Harlem Orchestra (Imágenes Latinas), and Carlos Vives (Cumbiana II).
Listen to all of the above albums in this comprehensive, 338-song playlist of the Latin music GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
Check it out on Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music — and we'll see you at Music's Biggest Night on Sunday, Feb. 5!