Photos (L-R): Jordi Vidal/Redferns via Getty Images, Erik Frost
Ryley Walker & Switchfoot
Ryley Walker Finally Gets To Interview Switchfoot About New Album 'Interrobang': "I Want To Say For The Record That I'm A Huge Head"
Ryley Walker makes experimental singer/songwriter music for the flannel-clad; Switchfoot makes worshipful hits for the airwaves. Despite their vast differences, Walker is a self-proclaimed "Foothead"—and nobody can interview them like him
Ryley Walker is a singer/songwriter and label owner with a bizarre, hilarious Twitter account and a cult following in the "indie jam" scene. This week, he's in Vermont making music he describes as "bald-ponytail spirituals" for an audience of "Wookiees"—his term for "somebody who wears a Shure microphone shirt." This is not a conventional consumer of mid-2000s Christian radio-rock.
Switchfoot are a wildly successful, GRAMMY-winning rock band nominally in that market, whose songs were inescapable if you went to youth group in the George W. Bush years. In those days, their introspective singles "Dare You to Move" and "Meant to Live" dominated the airwaves. Their polished hits are as far from fried Drag City-style noise jams as you can get.
But upon joining a Zoom call between Walker and Switchfoot's founding brothers Jon and Tim Foreman, the three are instantly all smiles, as if Walker is their long-lost sibling. Walker's very public love for Switchfoot isn't ironic or provocative: He genuinely loves them from the hits to the deep cuts—far more than even some foundational figures like Leonard Cohen and Townes Van Zandt.
The Foremans get a huge kick out of his lowbrow humor, business savvy and encylopedic knowledge of music. They don't flinch when Walker—who's "three years clean and serene" recounts a tale about listening to Nothing Is Sound "30 times in a row" while smoking crack. "I was in a bad state of mind at the time, but that record f*ing lifted me out of some weird stuff," Walker tells them.
He's also here to celebrate their new album, interrobang, which was released on August 20. After carefully studying its tunes, like "fluorescent, "i need you (to be wrong)" and "backwards in time" from beneath the roar of a weed-whacker, he comes loaded with thoughtful questions for the band.
Though no journalist, Walker is perhaps more accredited for this task than anyone with a staff job—if only because no one else would ask Switchfoot if they're "John Fahey heads" or advise them to monitor their digestion on the road if they tend to "put the hurt on the cheese" backstage.
"I've never stopped enjoying them," Walker expresses to GRAMMY.com afterward. "Obviously, they're a big part of Christian youth groups and stuff, and that's how I got to know them. But my filter for what's cool or what's not cool has never been switched on. I've always proudly enjoyed the things I enjoy."
To mark the release of interrobang, GRAMMY.com moderated an interview between Ryley Walker and Switchfoot about Mexican food, open tunings, cheese platters and the book of Ecclesiastes—a meeting of the minds the singer/songwriter genuinely calls "a dream come true."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Ryley Walker: I want to say for the record that I'm a huge head. I came to your music like most other people. When I was a kid growing up, I heard it on the radio and everything. But for years and years, maybe I didn't keep up with you guys. But about seven years ago, I got way into your record Nothing Is Sound. It's one of the most far-out experiences I've ever had.
OK, this is a funny story. I was on a crack binge with this dude. I'm three years clean and serene, by the way. I'm smoking crack with this dude and we're like, "This is one of the most sick anti-war records! It's, like, so anti-war!" We listened to it 30 times in a row. I was in a bad state of mind at the time, but that record f*ing lifted me out of some weird stuff. I really celebrate that record a lot.
And I was wondering: Do you still play those songs live? I haven't seen you guys in a long time.
Jon Foreman: That's a wild story, man! Beautiful! I love that!
Ryley: Don't smoke crack, by the way.
Jon: Hey, Ryley. Say hi to Chad. This is our drummer.
Ryley: Really nice to meet you! Hi!
Jon: Chad's just been feasting on the cheese platter that we talked about earlier.
Ryley: Yeah, you putting the hurt on the cheese? It's gonna make you need to take a poop. You've got to do it twice a day on tour in order to keep your sanity. That's what I've learned.
Jon: You've got to.
Nothing Is Sound was a really dark season for me, which is ironic because as far as numbers are concerned, we were playing for more people and selling more things than we had ever done before. And yet I was really dissatisfied. My marriage was in a bad spot. I think Tim and I were fighting all the time. Tim's my brother, so…
Tim Foreman: We're good at fighting each other.
Jon: We've done it for a long time, but this was a dark season of that. So, when I listen to that album or songs from that period, I definitely feel like there's this desperation and longing and yearning. Hope is a yearning of sorts, but there's a darkness in that album that kind of pervades the music to me when I think back on that season.
Ryley: I really like your voice and lyrics on that record. It's such a different path. I'm not trying to live in the past with you guys, because I really like your new record too, a whole lot. Everything you've done since then.
But was that record kind of an F-you to people who wanted to hear the big singles and stuff? There's nothing wrong with that; that's amazing that people connected with those big, big songs you had on the radio 15, 16 years ago or whatever. But it seemed like that record was kind of in defiance of that. It's way darker and way weirder.
Jon: Yeah. I mean, it wasn't done to piss people off, but it was almost the other side of the teeter-totter. The yin-yang element where we were like, "OK, we've really hit this drum hard. We also need to make sure that we're telling the full truth of the human experience."
There's this book, Ecclesiastes, that says "Meaningless, meaningless, everything's meaningless." That, to me, feels like what Nothing Is Sound is attempting to speak into and sing into. "What is the worth any of this?" is where my head was at.
Ryley: Yeah, yeah. That record just rips so hard. I listen to it pretty much three times a week. I covered that song "The Shadow Proves the Sunshine" for this compilation thing.
Tim: [Genuinely surprised.] Wow!
Ryley: That's your headiest tune, I think. That's the most deep, deep, heady [one]. I love your lyrics on there so much and where you guys were going.
Anyways, I listened to your new record interrobang a bunch while I was weed-whacking. It's like a weed-whacking-in-Vermont anthem.
Jon: That's it! People wonder why we made the album and that was what we were thinking of!
Tim: That's the target demo, yeah.
Ryley: People like me who weed-whack in Vermont in the high days of summer. We buy records, man.
So, I wanted to ask: I'm sure you get a lot of questions, like, [Self-serious affectation] "Did you make it in COVID? What was it like recording in COVID?" It's kind of a bummer because people ask me all the time, "What was it like to lay low in COVID as a musician?" But are you guys feeling good staying at home because you've been on the road for a bajillion years?
Tim: You know, I think it would have been a little easier to feel good about staying at home if it was on our terms, you know? We did that once three years ago. We had a hiatus where we took a year off of touring. That felt a little less scary because it was our idea. At any moment, we could be like, "But now we can go on tour again!"
I think it's just the unknown of "Are we going to be able to provide for our families and keep everyone employed?" Just those small-business-owner headaches, and not feeling like you know what's at the other end of it all, there's that kind of underlying stress that was driving a lot of the thought at the time. I think that kind of stress did drive us to a different sort of creative headspace.
Jon: We just wanted to meet the moment, you know? A lot of people were coming up to me in my neighborhood and saying "We just need happy music to pull us out of this season." I was like, "OK! Maybe we need that! Or maybe we need songs that speak to this uncertainty in the moment that we're all feeling."
That's kind of what drove us into the studio. It just felt like there's this really important moment happening that is filled with uncertainty and unknown, and I think that's great fodder for asking questions in songs, which is, I think, what we do best.
Ryley: That's a really wonderful answer. Did you just stay hunkered down in San Diego the whole time while you were there?
Jon: Oddly enough, no.
Ryley: Where were you?
Tim: I think because we were home for the last year straight, hunkering down outside of San Diego was actually a possibility. So, we went up to L.A. at Sound City…
Ryley: SoCal! Salt life, baby!
[Jon and Tim laugh long and hard.]
Ryley: Dude, I mean, sick, congratulations, that's amazing. I'm from the Midwest. You said you were in Boston for a minute there. Was your locker outside in high school? I remember watching Disney movies when I was a kid and they'd be based in Southern California, and I'm like, "Holy s*! Their locker is outside and they're rollerblading to class!
Tim: Everything is outside. There's no indoor hallways. It's all outside.
Ryley: [Astonished.] You ate lunch outside?
Jon: OK, so here's the weirdest one. I moved from the East Coast to the West Coast freshman year. This will tell you everything. It starts raining and all the kids are freaking out. They ask the teacher, "Hey, can we go outside and watch the rain?" And she's like [Relenting voice] "Alright, sure. Go outside."
Ryley: It was a big, special day!
Jon: I remember being like, "This place is a little different than the East Coast! We're going outside to watch the rain! OK!"
Ryley: Man, it's so much cooler than where I grew up! I'm so upset! Do you ever go to the Casbah in downtown San Diego?
Jon and Tim: Yes!
Ryley: That's where I play the most. You see the airplanes landing the whole time. I'm a San Diego head. I like it more than L.A. It's super far-out. There's the really nice, beautiful beaches, obviously, and there's a fast-food place that's vegan that I always get out there. I'm sure you've been by there. I can't remember the name. The Casbah is so sick!
Jon: There's another flight every five minutes!
Ryley: Yeah, you're looking at a budget Southwest flight from Kansas City or something. I've played Soda Bar and Casbah. Those are the only two spots I've played. The little dinky clubs over there.
Actually, the first time I ever played San Diego—I'm 32 now, I must have been 19 years old—I was in a terrible noise rock band. We went nowhere. We had nowhere to sleep, so we just slept on the beach, man. That was the first time I'd ever been to California. And then we woke up and got fish tacos and I was like, "OK. We saw San Diego." We were homeless on the beach and got their local cuisine.
Jon: That's it. That's the dream right there.
Ryley: No, it's really not. It was actually one of the lowest points of my life.
[Jon and Tim sputter a response.]
Ryley: I'm just kidding, dude! It's all good! Dude, beyond that, I just wanted to say thank you for indulging me in some weird, fried conversation.
Switchfoot. Photo: Erik Frost
Jon: I love it, man. Next time you're in San Diego, let's go surfing.
Ryley: I can't surf for my life. You guys are going to have to save me.
Jon: We'll teach you.
Ryley: That would be great. I'll hold your hand the whole time. Have a really good gig tonight. Please don't eat too much cheese. I hope you guys can have a really nice non-cheese-blocked dump every day on tour.
GRAMMY.com: Ryley, did you have any questions about the new record?
Ryley: Oh! For the GRAMMY readers.
OK, real quick. Tony Berg produced a bunch of weird, fried records from back in the day, like Public Image Ltd. stuff. I don't know how that somehow through the years ends up with him producing Phoebe Bridgers and Switchfoot. This guy's got some weird, far-out… I remember him working with Keith Lavene and Jah Wobble from Public Image or whatever. So, what made you work with Tony Berg?
Jon: We had pretty much an entire album that felt close to being ready, and then when everything happened in 2020, it felt like it didn't fit any of what we were feeling. We just scrapped it and wanted someone who would actually push us. Tony was the only name that really came to the list. We felt like this guy, in many different ways, has this musical lexicon that can take us places we'd never been.
Tim: We were big fans of the Phoebe record, obviously, but actually… do you remember that band Phantom Planet?
Ryley: I do. Hell yeah. Big fan.
Tim: They came out with a record in early 2020. I love it; it's really great.
Ryley: And he produced that?
Tim: Yeah. We read an interview with them where they were talking about Tony being the only guy who could have made that record. That's kind of what started us down that path. We've been doing this a long time, so it's amazing to work with someone who's been doing this almost twice as long as us.
Jon: And bigger than that, someone who's been in it that long and is still passionate. Exuberantly passionate about music.
Tim: We'll play songs for each other and have tears in our eyes and love it, right? But you rarely meet people who have that type of passion. His favorite thing to do is to sit in the studio and play songs—old Beach Boys songs, whatever—and he'll turn around. It's a song I know he's listened to 50 or 6500 times and he'll have tears in his eyes playing these songs. I love seeing that kind of passion because you rarely find that.
Jon: So, we basically just spent two months playing songs for each other and arguing about politics and religion and an election year. It started out really awkward and tense and then it turned into this beautiful friendship. I love Tony. I'm sure he feels the same way. We're almost living proof that different people with different ideologies, different understandings of the world, can actually come together and create something beautiful, which gives me hope for America at large.
Ryley: Whoa. That's pretty heady.
I can't listen to my own vocals in the studio. Are you a comp-head or do you just rage through vocals in one take? I have to comp vocals so hard. I'm such a liar and a faker. I have imposter syndrome when I do vocals. But you're a much more talented singer than me, so I'm sure you crush it.
Jon: No, no. It's upending the space-time continuum when you're listening to your own voice singing back to you, so you're not alone in feeling like it's awkward. It is! It's weird, in and of itself! Vocals are strange. You want to present your soul in ones and zeroes on a compact disc or on Spotify or something.
Tim: We didn't do a lot of comping of his voice on this record. The whole approach for this record was that we wanted it to sound as transparent as possible—that it's just five guys in a room. We did a lot of pre-production, and when do bands do pre-production nowadays? That doesn't happen. We did a full month of pre-production, so when we went into the studio, we played the songs two or three times and were like, "OK. That's the take."
I think there's this beautiful, rough-around-the-edges imperfection that flows throughout the album.
Ryley: Right. And the last question I have that sort of goes to your whole career is that I'm a big open-tuning head and you use a lot of cool open tunings in your music. I'm wondering where that sort of influence came into your guitar playing.
Jon: That's a great question. I love Joni Mitchell, but I think the funny thing is that I'm not the type of guy who learns other peoples' songs. I don't know what people are doing. Even Kaki King or someone like that, I know it's got to be open tuning—there's slide involved sometimes—but I just kind of enjoy it and think "How can I reappropriate some feeling that I got there?"
Tim: Jeremy Enigk did a lot of open tuning on [1996's Return of] The Frog Queen. That's when you started doing a lot of that, when you were into that record.
Jon: A friend of mine, she kind of showed me, "Hey, that same guitar you have—if you tune the keys open, then suddenly you've got a new instrument." It was actually around Nothing Is Sound. I think "Daisy" is the first song we ever did that was open tuning. It's a beautiful thing.
I think another feeling that I had on this record was "Here's an instrument I've had for my whole life and, suddenly, it sounds completely different." Have you tried rubber-bridge guitars?
Ryley: I've never tried a rubber-bridge guitar.
Jon: They're so fun.
Tim: You'll fall in love. It's incredible.
Ryley: It sounds like a hillbilly manifestation. Like a comedown off some weird prescription drug.
Jon: It might be that as well.
Tim: There's no sustain. It's like the most dead guitar you've ever played.
Jon: On this new album, "i need you (to be wrong)" and "the bones of us" have what sounds like a broken acoustic guitar.
Tim: It sounds like a kalimba, almost.
Ryley Walker in 2016. Photo: Jordi Vidal/Redferns via Getty Images
Ryley: Right on. And you put the record out yourself.
Jon: Yeah, we partnered up with Concord.
Ryley: Dude! Hell yeah! Independent for life! That's what I'm saying, dude! Dude, get that money! Don't split that 50 percent! Get paid! Yeah, dude! The kids gotta hear, man!
Nah, there's good people at the labels, but sending out records on your own is one of the great joys of this biz. I think it's more important than ever to keep your art close to you. Too many cooks in the kitchen can be a bummer sometimes.
Jon: Yeah, that's one of the things that COVID actually helped with. No one was allowed in the studio. Band, producer, done.
Ryley: In your big, big major-label days, did you have 30 people running around the studio working the faders?
Tim: We had a couple of goofy moments for sure.
Jon: The main thing that was the weirdest was when people wanted to do co-writes. We were like, "We'll let you in the studio—you can give opinions and all that—but we're going to write the songs. Let us do that. Let us play the instruments and write the songs and you can twist all the knobs you want later."
Ryley: Yeah, man. All of us Footheads know it comes from the heart. Anybody else messing with that recipe is just going to mess it up.
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: Erick Frost
How Switchfoot Reimagined 'The Beautiful Letdown': Ryan Tedder, Owl City, Ingrid Andress & More Detail Their Covers For The Deluxe Edition
As Switchfoot's seminal album 'The Beautiful Letdown' turned 20, the rock band recruited some of the acts they inspired to record a new version. Hear from seven of those artists on how their cover came to life, and what Switchfoot means to them.
Seven years into their career, Switchfoot were only beginning their legacy.
On Feb. 25, 2003, the rock group released their fourth album, The Beautiful Letdown. The project marked their first on a mainstream record label, Columbia Records, an "interesting" move in frontman Jon Foreman's eyes because the album was "so spiritually driven." A Christian band at heart, Switchfoot had released their first three albums through Universal Music Group's Christian imprints Re:Think and Sparrow Records — and it was time for mainstream audiences to hear their message.
Though the album wasn't an instant success — it debuted at No. 85 on the all-genre Billboard 200 albums chart — The Beautiful Letdown has undoubtedly become Switchfoot's staple record and spawned hit singles "Meant to Live" and "Dare You To Move" (the latter of which got a second life after initial placement on their third LP, 2000's Learning to Breathe). That a Christian rock band broke through while the likes of 50 Cent and a newly solo Beyoncé dominated was inspiring to many up-and-coming acts.
Twenty years later, some of those artists have left their own stamp on The Beautiful Letdown. Out Sept. 15, The Beautiful Letdown (Our Version) [Deluxe Edition] is a 25-track reimagining of Switchfoot's breakthrough album featuring re-recordings by the band themselves, as well as covers from hitmakers Jonas Brothers, Twenty One Pilots, Jon Bellion and more.
"We weren't so sure about it. I mean, it's a strange thing to do, revisit songs that you crafted when you were so much younger," Foreman says of the concept, which was first pitched to the band by some close friends. "But the idea was intriguing — what these heroes and friends of ours would turn these songs into if they were given complete control."
As Foreman recalls, the group initially planned on having the reimagined tracks be an EP. But before they knew it, every track on the album — including a B-side, "Monday Comes Around" — was spoken for.
Calling the project "a true honor," Foreman also notes that hearing artists his band inspired put their own spin on The Beautiful Letdown has brought new life to the songs. Like Bellion's version of "Meant To Live," which Foreman listened to while watching the sunrise in Perth, Australia: "I had tears in my eyes hearing this song that I've played a thousand times as if I was hearing it for the first time."
Below, eight of the artists who were part of The Beautiful Letdown reimagining — Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, Noah Gundersen, Adam Young of Owl City, Sloan Struble of Dayglow, Ingrid Andress, Ryan O'Neal of Sleeping At Last, Matt Thiessen of Relient K, and Caleb Chapman of Colony House — detail how their cover came together, and the impact that Switchfoot has made on their own careers.
Why did you choose to cover the song you did, and why is it important to you?
Ryan Tedder, OneRepublic: ["Dare You To Move"] came out right when I was trying to figure out if I wanted to be a solo artist or start a band. There hadn't been a lot of alternative-sounding bands that were having success in the mainstream, but still felt cool to me and authentic and had actual messages to their music. Also, they were raised in the church like I was. I didn't want to be a CCM [contemporary Christian music] artist because it felt too limiting, and Switchfoot was a group that I knew came from the same background, but was having success in the mainstream with just great music.
That song came out at exactly the time I needed to hear it. Even the message behind "Dare You to Move." I was so nervous about moving to L.A. for the first time. That song came out and I literally picked up and moved. That song has a lot of meaning to me.
Noah Gundersen: "Dare You To Move" was already taken! "This Is Your Life" has one of those timeless radio rock choruses that feels both familiar and brand new every time you hear it. I also think the sentiment of being responsible for your own happiness really resonates with me.
Adam Young, Owl City: I really relate to the fact that the physical things on planet Earth that we as humans desire are ephemeral. Fame, wealth, beauty, success… those can make you happy for a time, but none will ultimately satisfy you because they don't last forever. I think the point of "Gone" is that the only thing that does last forever is your soul, so ensuring that you store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust can't get at them, is an enduring piece of wisdom. It's a truth that inspires me.
Sloan Struble, Dayglow: When I was about 5 years old, my older brother showed me Switchfoot. I'd listen to his (probably illegally burned) copy of The Beautiful Letdown every day on his portable CD player. I remember thinking this record just embodied "cool."
"Adding to the Noise" was always a favorite to me because of its stick-it-to-the-man undertone. What 5-year-old doesn't love poking fun at consumerism and big tech?
Ingrid Andress: The guys actually picked “On Fire” for me to sing — it worked out great, because that's one of my favorite songs on the album. It's such an emotionally vulnerable song, and I've always been drawn toward that kind of music. I remember singing along to it in my room when I was growing up, so it was a really amazing full-circle moment for me when Jon asked me to sing it!
Ryan O'Neal, Sleeping At Last: When Jon called to invite me to sing on "Monday Comes Around," I think I blurted out a "yes" before he finished asking. I am a forever Switchfoot fan. "Monday Comes Around" is a great song with a gorgeous melody and I was beyond honored to be welcomed into the reimagining of it!
Matt Thiessen, Relient K: Switchfoot requested that we cover "Ammunition" specifically. However, [Relient K's lead guitarist Matt] Hoopes and I were talking about it in the car the other day, and we said we would have picked it over any other number from TBL. I always loved the energy of the song. It has a tinge of pop-punk flavor that especially appealed to me at the time the album was released.
Caleb Chapman, Colony House: Well, I got a phone call from Jon asking if we'd be up for recording "Redemption" specifically, so the song chose us, I suppose. We just couldn't believe we were going to get to be part of such an iconic project celebrating an album that impacted our whole band so profoundly.
Any fun memories from reimagining the song and/or recording it?
Tedder: I recorded on a tour bus, so my most fun memory was that we had to turn the air conditioning off. It was in the summer and we were in Texas or something. We had to kill the generator so there wouldn't be the sound of an engine running in the background. I probably lost three pounds from sweating while I was recording the song because it was unbearably hot. We were trying to keep the laptop from overheating and all my gear from shutting down. It was kind of a feat to pull that off [Laughs].
Gundersen: It was a lot of fun digging through the original stems for this tune. Hearing Jon's solo'd vocals, along with some of the cool and weird little ear candy that got buried in the original mix. Imagining what the process was for each one of those little parts, knowing that they are all significant in their own way.
Young: I recorded a lot of random objects around my house and cut them up into tiny microscopic samples and used them as layers in the drum sounds on the track. Silverware, door handles, ice chunks, an antique Victrola. I cut down most of the sounds I recorded and only left the attack in each sample. This left me with a palette of extremely short click sounds that made great layers for snare drums, kick drums, clap sounds, etc. I had a lot of fun with this during the recording process.
Struble: Tim [Foreman, Switchfoot's bass guitarist] and I met through a mutual friend, and we got to hang out for the first time in San Diego while I was passing through on tour. That was the first time I ever went surfing, and it was with a childhood hero of mine. If that wasn't already an epic day enough, he asked me after if I'd want to cover a song for the record. It was such a personal full-circle, mind-blowing moment.
Andress: I just remember thinking the whole time Sam Ellis and I were making it, "Don’t f— it up. Don’t f— it up." The song was already perfect. I'm glad we found a way to still keep the integrity of the song while adding my own spin on it. Once I got past the nervous part, I had so much fun diving in!
O'Neal: It was an instant joy to get to sing. Jon and Tim recorded the track and I couldn't help but smile during my entire vocal recording session.
Thiessen: Oh yes. First of all, the assignment was a catalyst for Relient K getting together for the first time in over a year. What a gift. We were able to rehearse and record in conjunction with Dark Horse Academy in Franklin, Tennessee. Basically, there were students helping, observing, and hanging throughout pre-production and the recording. We had a blast working in that environment. We also used the opportunity to record an additional cover of Switchfoot's song, "Home," from their Legend Of Chin LP.
Chapman: Funny enough, we were in the studio working on some music to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of our first album, When I Was Younger, when I got the call from Jon. It was perfect timing because we were already in the headspace of looking back fondly on the music that has brought us to where we are today.
What does Switchfoot and their music mean to you?
Tedder: I think aspirational is the term. They were a great, cool band with huge, cool songs right when I needed an example of just that to justify my own pursuit. Obviously I'm a fan of U2 and the Beatles and a lot of bands from decades before me, but Switchfoot was early 2000s — right when I was like, What do I do with my life? Can you be successful in a band in 2003 and what would it sound like? I needed a band like that at that exact moment in time.
Gundersen: Growing up in a conservative religious home, Switchfoot was one of those bands who's message and identity was just vaguely Christian enough so as not to scare my highly sensitive parents, while still being far enough outside of the bland vanilla Christian music industry to actually be interesting. And the hooks are undeniable. There's also a kind of innocent hopefulness of the early 2000s that The Beautiful Letdown in particular seems to embody.
Young: I have fond memories of Switchfoot's music all the way back 20 years ago. I was in high school at the time The Beautiful Letdown came out, and I remember I'd just gotten my first car. Having my own car meant my world got exponentially bigger, and I rejoiced at the new freedom made available to me. I listened to Switchfoot's music a lot in that car, and when I think back to that season of my life, which was very pivotal, I always think of Switchfoot.
Struble: There was a time in my life when Switchfoot was one of three bands, probably, that I knew existed on the planet. Their music is just so core to my childhood and my upbringing. It lives deep in my brain. I've been a fan always, but it won't ever not feel nostalgic to me no matter what new music they make — it's like watching grunge-Mister Rogers or something for me. It will always remind me of learning to skateboard in my driveway and just being a little prepubescent punk.
Andress: I grew up in a conservative family that only allowed me to listen to Christian music. I would get so bored with all of it, so when Switchfoot came on the map, it truly changed my world sonically. A Christian band that plays cool rock music? I mean, come on. That was pretty different at the time, so it gave me inspiration to think outside the box when it comes to genres.
O'Neal: Back in 2000, Sleeping At Last had the privilege of being the opener at a Switchfoot show at a small venue in Illinois. Already a fan of their work, it was a huge opportunity to get to open up for a band I so admired. They were instantly lovely to me and my band and in some miracle of kindness, [Switchfoot's drummer] Chad Butler videotaped our set and shared it with his friends at record labels.
I was — and still am — entirely blown away by such kindness to share some local band's music with others. A few years later, Switchfoot was sweet enough to extend an invitation to open up for them on their Beautiful Letdown US Tour. It was a first-ever Sleeping At Last tour and was such a pivotal and wonderful experience.
Forever grateful to the Switchfoot family for their friendship over the years, and the incredibly generous encouragement they've given from the start of Sleeping At Last. To have the encouragement of your heroes is such a rare and special gift.
Thiessen: We met the guys in a gymnasium in Toledo back in '97. I can still remember the warmth in their eyes as they approached us and shook our hands for the first time. I've never known a band that are as kind, loving, and nourishing to everyone they touch. They've impacted RK and my life more than I'll ever know.
Getting to play shows, festivals, and entire tours with them, while watching them intensely impact the world, has to be one of the most gratifying blessings of God that I've ever witnessed. I am so honored to be their friend and a big fan.
Chapman: I could write a book with this kind of prompt. Since my brother and I were kids, we have dreamed of being in a band together. When Switchfoot's first album came out, my dad brought it home, put it in the CD player, and explained that there were two brothers in the band and that they made rock 'n' roll music!
About a year later, we ran into Jon, Tim and Chad at a mall in Nashville and got to meet them and tell them that they were our favorite band. Fast forward to The Beautiful Letdown... I had a pre-release copy of the album and remember being in the locker room before PE class one day asking all my friends if they knew who Switchfoot was. Most of my friends had not heard of them yet. To anyone who said no, I simply responded with, "You will know who they are soon."
Each one of us in the band has unique and powerful memories attached to this album and to this band. We are honored to now call Switchfoot friends and mentors. They have led a life and career full of artistic and personal integrity that has laid the groundwork that so many of us have tried to emulate. Their kindness is their legacy, and their intentionality is like a superpower. Their music is a reflection of their heart: bold, uncompromising, disarming, and powerful. You know what they say, right? "Never meet your heroes" — unless it's Switchfoot.
What is your favorite Switchfoot song and why?
Tedder: "Dark Horses" because it's an underdog anthem and I've felt like an underdog my whole life.
Gundersen: "Dare You To Move." As a kid who struggled with depression and anxiety, this song was a sort of self-talk anthem for me. I think it instilled something in me and my own music, something about the duality of hope and struggle and one's own choice in how to engage with life. This feels like the essence of Switchfoot: hope, pain, and potential.
Young: I'd have to say "Chem 6A." It was the first Switchfoot song I heard back in 1997, and I remember learning it on guitar. Memories like that are priceless to me.
Struble: I freaking love "Gone." I was hooked after the first time I heard that for years. And the fact that Owl City is covering it! That is so satisfying to me. Owl City and Relient K were both bands that I admired alongside Switchfoot, so to be on this record with them is just beyond special to me. I don't think I'll ever acknowledge it as reality! Maybe it's not, who knows!
Andress: It's hard to pick, but "This Is Your Life" is probably my favorite Switchfoot song. It gave me a sense of agency over my life when I was growing up and how important it is to be present in the moment. It was pretty high-concept for me at 10 years old, but it inspired me to go after things in life because it's the only chance we have to do it.
O'Neal: There are so many that I adore, but "Only Hope" is one of my favorite songs of all time. A rare song where every single element feels in its right place. The production somehow feels intimate and expansive at the same time, and the lyrics express a deeply personal and yet completely universal story. This song perfectly captures what Switchfoot does best.
Thiessen: "The Shadow Proves The Sunshine" is definitely one of 'em. "Company Car" always makes me really happy. I'm not a big "favorite" picker, but Switchfoot as a whole is definitely one.
Chapman: It's an impossible question. Too many songs over too many years. Switchfoot is not just another band to us. It goes deeper than what is our favorite song. In our eyes, their career is an arch that doesn't exist without every piece playing its part. Every song serves a purpose, and without it, the arch collapses. That's what makes them different. That's what makes them Switchfoot.
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].