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Saves The Day


Saves The Day's Chris Conley Talks 20 Years Of 'Through Being Cool'

Ahead of the emo-punk standard's 20th anniversary, frontman Chris Conley looks back at his band's second LP and addresses some of the cringe-inducing lyrics within

GRAMMYs/Oct 31, 2019 - 06:47 pm

The irony of an album title like Through Being Cool, Saves The Day's breakthrough second LP, is that the record's 1999 release is precisely what made the emo-pop trailblazers, well, cool.

Not that they think of themselves any differently now, of course. If you ask lead singer Chris Conley about Saves The Day's status as genre innovators, he'd deny, deny, deny.

"We were just doing the Jawbreaker, Foo Fighters thing," he says over the phone. "That's all that was. We certainly didn't invent anything. We were just having fun, and the songs were really good and we were really excited. And then people loved it."

And fans certainly did pick up what the Princeton band was putting down 20 years ago. Merging ultra-catchy, pop-minded hooks (à la their tri-state area influencers, Lifetime) and upbeat tempos with a hard-hitting, short-form punk delivery, Saves The Day's influences were considerably wide-ranging, borrowing ideas from post-grunge radio mainstays Foo Fighters and Smashing Pumpkins and Swedish political punks Refused. Capped off by Conley's whinging wail, Through Being Cool would catapult Saves The Day from Conley's mom's New Jersey basement to MTV (which aired music videos from the band's 2001 airtight follow-up, Stay What You Are) to an opening spot on pop-punk deities Green Day and Blink-182's 2002 Pop Disaster tour.    

Today, you can't scroll through an emo or pop-punk best-of list without seeing Through Being Cool near the top. On Oct. 25, the band released a new reissue of Through Being Cool, which features remastered versions of the original record, plus a handful of never-before-heard demos. There's even a new video for album single "Shoulder To The Wheel," featuring house-party animation from Sarah Schmidt and Ian Ballantyne. And, come Saturday, Nov. 2, the 20th anniversary of Through Being Cool, Saves The Day will play the album in its entirety on four sold-out dates, which kicks off at New Jersey's stomping ground for homegrown artists, Starland Ballroom.

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Conley, who is the last original member of Saves The Day, sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about his earliest memories of writing and recording Through Being Cool, shooting its now-iconic cover and how he feels graphic lyrics like "Let me take this awkward saw/ Run it against your thighs" have aged. 

I noticed that when Through Being Cool turned 15 five years ago, you said that it felt like the most important record that Saves The Day did. Do you still feel like that’s true? 

Well, I don't remember saying that, but I think it was absolutely the record that established us an important band in this underground scene, and it was one of the most pivotal chapters of my life. And then we made Stay What You Are a few years later and I think those two records are probably the most important Saves the Day records thus far in terms of establishing our longevity.

You have a brand-new animated video for "Shoulder To The Wheel." Is it true that the band "hated" the original video?

Sometimes I don't know where these things come from. Maybe it was a passing comment and sometimes when you're young, you have intense feelings, but they don't stick around very long. I remember always hating to look at myself on any screen or in photos and that might be a thing. 

There's a story about how we really didn't like our cover of AP, but that was other people that thought things about it that somehow got to Alternative Press, and I was able to finally clear the air with them when I visited them. I said, "I didn't like how I look as a human being, but I never said that to anybody." And so I think that might be where some of that stuff comes from. Maybe somebody overheard me griping about my own self-loathing.

I believe it was Bryan Newman who said that in 2014. You guys were in college when you recorded Through Being Cool, correct?

Yeah. [Founding drummer] Bryan Newman and I had done one year at NYU and the whole time during that year, I would walk over to his dorm and play him songs that I had been writing over in my dorm. And we booked time to record all these songs at the end of the spring semester. Right when we got out of school, it was the beginning of summer of 1999, I think it was late May we went in for 11 days with [producer] Steve Evetts in Trax East in South River, New Jersey. And we tracked it, and we had to book two additional half days because I blew out my voice halfway through vocals. But yeah, that's how that all happened. We were at NYU and I was writing all those songs in New York City. 

When you think about that time, and when you think recording the album that would go on to be so seminal in the genre, does anything in particular stand out for you about the mood in the room and how it felt to be creating this thing?

Well, I specifically remember being in the studio as we were tracking the songs and they were coming together, there was an extreme feeling of excitement and almost bewilderment of how good this thing was. We could tell. And immediately, Bryan and I decided we would defer for the next year at NYU and just hit the road to start touring because we were picking up steam. All that year, after [Saves The Day's 1998 debut album] Can't Slow Down came out, we'd be touring in winter break and then on the weekends we'd be going out playing shows. And every time we'd go out and play a show, more and more people were there singing along. But then we made Through Being Cool and we thought, "Oh my gosh. This is really good. Let's take a year off and let's just commit to touring and do it full-time and just see what happens."

The other thing I remember is just the writing of the songs was incredibly fun, and I could tell that the songs were catchy and cool, and that was just me having fun as a songwriter. I remember at the end of one of the tours for Can't Slow Down, the guys all sat me down and said, "We don't like playing these fast songs. We like your mid-tempo songs more." And so that was a pivotal moment as well where I leaned into the mid-tempo stuff. That was a relief to me because I was only really into fast hardcore for a hot minute. I was really into Gorilla Biscuits and Lifetime for about a year and a half, but my real love is Jawbreaker, Sunny Day Real Estate, Archers Of Loaf, Smashing Pumpkins and stuff like that. And the Foo Fighters' record The Colour And The Shape had come out that year along with the Refused album The Shape Of Punk To Come. We were listening to those albums just non-stop in the van, and those two records are basically the seed of what was to become our sound.

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Yeah, and it sounds like you leaned even harder into that mid-tempo style on Stay What You Are.

Well, what's cool is that one day when I was driving to the mixing of Through Being Cool, this is the final two days of working on the album, I had a long drive from my home in Princeton to the studio. And I was digging around in the back of my car for a tape to listen to, and I used to keep tapes just strewn about the car, and I pulled out a tape that wasn't mine and I didn't put there and it was The Beatles the Red or Blue tape where it was the later hits. 

Oh, that's the Blue album. The later hits.

Yeah. I pulled out the Blue tape and I did not like The Beatles at the time. I thought they were only “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” which I love now, but I didn't like back then. And I was like, "All right, cool. I'll put this in." I put it in, and it was all these weird and cool quirky pop songs that were really strange, and I was instantly hooked. And so I show up at the studio and I told Steve that I found this Beatles tape in the back of the car and he was like, "Oh my god, dude. The Beatles are my favorite band ever."

And so then when we went for lunch that day, when we went into his car, he put on Revolver and Rubber Soul and he was showing me how if you turn the speaker all the way to the left you can hear just the background vocals and ride cymbal and then if you turn it all the way to the right, it's the guitar and the main vocal. And I remember we drove back to the studio and on that day, this is my first day getting into The Beatles, I thought John Lennon sang all the songs. And he was like, "Wait, you can't tell the difference between John and Paul?" I was like, "Wait, there's two singers?" He's like, "Yeah." He's like, "I can't believe you can't hear that." And now it's crazy to me that I couldn't tell the difference between the two of them.

Discovering The Beatles in that moment is what led to Stay What You Are becoming a more expansive sound and coupled with a few other important life events, like flipping our van, having a near-death experience and really seeing through the surface of the superficial aspect of life and starting to question what is this all about, which informed the lyrics. We were also on tour and doing a little bit of the rock and roll thing. You never know what somebody slips into your drink and so music starts to sound really, really cool if you're in a certain mood. And so The Beatles just blew my mind and so that's how you get songs like "Cars And Calories" on Stay What You Are and songs like "Certain Tragedy."

Nowadays Saves The Day gets referenced as helping to generate a new, perhaps more accessible wave of pop-punk and emo. When you were touring this record, did you guys feel like you were breaking new ground? 

Oh, no. Absolutely not. We were just doing the Jawbreaker, Foo Fighters thing. That's all that was. We certainly didn't invent anything. We were just having fun and it was the songs were really good and we were really excited. And then people loved it.

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I think I mean more in a mainstream, commercial sense. For instance, Nirvana were hailed as grunge innovators, but Kurt Cobain would say he was just trying to emulate lesser-known acts like Pixies and the Vaselines. 

I can see what you mean in terms of Nirvana, but I would never be able to wrap my head around thinking about Saves in that same way just in terms of putting a new spin on things, an already established sound, but really I'm just a fan of music. I love what I love and so when Bryan and I first started playing music together, everything we did sounded like Sunny Day Real Estate and Smashing Pumpkins because I was obsessed with those bands. And so that's still the case. You're just influenced by your surroundings and I'm largely who I am because of my parents and I worship them, I love them. Then you learn what you learn in school and you start to think that way and talk that way. And I listen to records and I learn, I read books and study lyrics and I learn. And then it's like a call and response.

Yeah. From my perspective, what you did at that time really helped popularize a lot of sounds, in the mainstream sense.

And that part of it just blows my mind, the fact that we are influential at all is just crazy. That's bewildering in and of itself. And it's also extremely humbling. It's surreal. You know what I mean? I'm incredibly grateful and it's just so cool and so fun.

I want to talk about the record cover, which has to be one of the more instantly recognizable covers of the emo genre. How did you conceptualized the cover of that album? It's a very classic feeling of being at a party and feeling like, "Why am I here. I don't think I belong. I don't know what to say."

Yeah, that was exactly how I felt then and how I feel now. I was so obsessed with the band Lifetime and they were from New Jersey, and they would play shows all the time in Princeton and New Brunswick, which was just right down the road. And in the hardcore punk scene, there's no tall stages, there's no rock stars. It's a community. And so if you hung around after the show, you could meet the band. And so me being as obsessed as I was, I would sit there and help them pack up their gear. They're like, "Man, you're so awesome. You're so nice. Who are you?" And so I'm like, "Hey, I'm Chris. I'm your biggest fan." And Ari Katz, the singer of Lifetime, worked at a record store in New Brunswick.

And so as soon as I got my license, incidentally I would drive after school every day to his record store where he worked. After being there every day for week after week after week and annoying the hell out of him, he finally relented and he was like, "All right. Let's talk." And the first thing he did was, "Can you give me a ride somewhere?" And so we'd start going wherever, he's like, "Head left here. Head right there." He's like, "Pull over here. Park here." We wind up at a head shop and he goes in and buys a bong or something, a pipe or a bong.

And then he gets back in the car and he looks at me. He's like, "I bet you thought a straight-edge band wouldn't be taking you to a head shop." And I was like ... I had no idea. I was just in awe of the fact that I was hanging out with him, but he started telling me about music in that car ride and saying how to make his voice better, he would sing along with Elvis records and how he really loved Elvis Costello as well. When we got back to the record store and continuing that conversation he said, "My favorite record right now is this Devo record." And I forget what the name of the album is [Editor's note: the album is 1981's New Traditionalists], but the first song on the album is called "Through Being Cool." And it goes, "We're through being cool. We're through ... " And so that's how I got the idea to use that name. And when we finally played the record release show for Through Being Cool, we brought our own record player and hooked it up to the PA and played Devo's "Through Being Cool" as we walked on.

And there's also a Jawbreaker song at the end of Dear You. There's an acoustic song where he says, "Wake me up when you're through being cool because I'm snoring." And Blake Schwarzenbach from Jawbreaker is my favorite lyricist of all time. He is so intertwined with my DNA that I would sit there and read his words like they were actual poetry, which they are. 

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Do you remember the day you shot the album cover?

Yeah. In terms of the shoot, yeah, I remember it all really well. We borrowed Kate Reddy sister's apartment in Queens. Kate Reddy is from the band 108. She's a guitar player from 108 and she had her solo project, Project Kate, which is acoustic music that we absolutely loved. In fact, it's the reason that Saves The Day started making acoustic music at all. But Kate is married to Steve Reddy who owns Equal Vision. They'd set up the day at this apartment because Bryan and David Soloway, in our band, both took photography their entire life at our high school Princeton Day School and then went on to study photography in college as well.

The two of them were obsessed with David LaChapelle at the time, who was doing lots of photo shoots for Rolling Stone and magazines like that where he would set up these really elaborate sets that looked like movies. And I said this before for an Alternative Press piece recently so it's not anything new, but that was their inspiration entirely and when we used to be driving around planning the layout, the two of them were just so excited talking about this idea of having it be a party, but we were over it. We don't even want to be there. And then we lose David and have to find him and so they set up this whole story, and we shot it, afterwards we sent it to Equal Vision and a few of the people from Equal Vision were like, "Wait a second. We don't get it. We don't understand."

We said, "No, it's okay. It's kind of tongue-in-cheek. It doesn't have to take itself too seriously. It's just a fun record." We invited all of our friends and friends of friends and people we'd met through shows and in the scene to come and just have a party. We had the time of our lives. There's friends from high school there, there's friends from shows, there's friends that have come and gone, and it's wild to look back on it now and to still know so many people from that shoot and to all be sort of sharing this strange and surreal journey that that album launched.

Well, before I let you go, I wanted to get your take on something. Saves The Day, and this album in particular, has gotten pushback in recent years for some of your more graphic lyrics. I'm specifically thinking of verbiage like “Let me take this awkward saw/ run it against your thighs/ Cut some flesh away,” etc. I’m sure this wouldn’t be the first time anyone’s asked you about this, but I was curious, with the anniversary of this album, what’s your view on how Saves The Day’s lyrics have aged?

Yeah. Well, you know what's completely funny to me? I can't speak for anybody else's lyrics, but none of those songs are about anybody. That song ["Rocks Tonic Juice Magic"] was an assignment for an NYU writing class to talk about extreme feelings of anger and frustration and rage. There is no person attached to that song. That's just a vehicle for the feelings of frustration to live in a vignette, and that's poetic license. One of my favorite lyricists, who's also controversial these days, was Morrissey, and he'd write lines like, "If a 10-ton truck kills both of us, to die by your side is such a heavenly way to die." I just love that. Who knows if there's anybody in that, and that's none of my business, but I do know where I was coming from so I have zero feelings of hesitation or guilt when it comes to this.

And I've said this recently in a piece where the only songs that are about real people are the love songs. Then there are a couple of the angry songs about men. There are songs that you might think are about a female that is about a man and not at all romantically. I used to write songs about just friends that were jerks. You know what I mean? Or roommates in college that were just jerks. What's wild to me is it's an interesting thing to think about. You never know where someone's coming from, anyway. Thank god I know where I was coming from so I can clear the air there, and I'm glad that you mentioned it because when people first started coming up to me saying, "This song is really negative toward females," I was literally surprised.

That would never have occurred to me because it was never what it was about. It was just about my own personal emotions, and clearly I am incredibly emo. Those feelings are universal. I wrote "In Reverie" about feeling disconnected from God and it feels like it's a love letter about a lost lover, but I just felt I wanted to go back home. I just wanted to feel that love again. There's a song "Tomorrow Too Late" that says, "When was the last time I held you all through the night," whatever, "And never a worry would run through my heart like a knife. Feels like a zillion years," whatever. That's a spiritual song. That's spiritual loneliness and solitude and isolation and alienation. I think it's good that you asked me because artists do have to be accountable for what they truly mean and their work is important because it affects people's lives and so I think it's important for me to be able to clarify that.

Yeah, I figured that this was a well-worn topic of conversation for you, and I appreciate you going there with me again now. I'm also interested in your take on how critics have reassessed emo as a genre that is generally violent and dismissive toward women.

That's a shame, and if people are misinterpreting what I was saying had anything to contribute to that, I will go to my grave feeling bad about that, but at the same time, that wasn't my intention. Really, it's a reflection of those people and their inner world. It has nothing to do with me.

If you want to know how I feel about women, in "Shoulder To The Wheel" I say, "I'm having a bad week and I miss my mom." My mom is the only reason I made it through this world, her unconditional love and support and she's the most amazing person I've ever known. And so if you're raised by a strong woman, it doesn't even come across your mind to feel any differently. You just feel respect and there's a reverence there and gratitude.

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

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GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Less Than Jake in 2003
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10 Pop-Punk Albums Turning 20 In 2023: Fall Out Boy, Blink-182, The Ataris & More

Twenty years ago, artists within and around pop-punk released some of the genre's most seminal records. reflects on 10 of the catchiest and most resonant albums from 2003.

GRAMMYs/Jun 21, 2023 - 04:48 pm

There appeared to be something in the pop-punk waters in 2003. Barely a month went by without a bunch of angsty white guys sporting skinny jeans, button ups and choppy bangs releasing a career landmark. 

For some, 2003 saw the debut album that introduced their talents to the world. For others, it was the long deserved mainstream breakthrough after years of toiling on the punk circuit. And for one particular band, their 2003 release was the chance to show they could offer more than toilet humor. But all no doubt benefited from the commercial resurgence of the genre spearheaded a year previously by the likes of Good Charlotte, Simple Plan and Jimmy Eat World.  Here's a look at 10 albums released in 2003 now old enough to throw themselves head first into a mosh pit.  

Fall Out Boy – Take This to Your Grave 

Fall Out Boy were still only on the cusp of adulthood when they recorded debut Take This to Your Grave in conditions producer Sean O'Keefe would compare with going to war. That mix of youthful exuberance and constant creative tension, however, would produce a genuine game-changer. 

Drawing upon their love of pop culture and sardonic sense of humor, the quartet tackled typical adolescent themes of alienation, disillusionment and unrequited love like few of their peers had done before. Take This to Your Grave fused  the heavy riffs and unclean vocals of the band's Chicago hardcore beginnings with pop-punk melodies into  a self-described softcore sound. The album was the beginning of Fall Out Boy's prolific catalog and essentially set the blueprint for every regular Warped Tour act that followed. 

Dashboard Confessional – A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar

Thrust into the limelight via a well-received "MTV Unplugged" session and surprise win at the VMAs, cult favorites Dashboard Confessional had to deal with a new weight of expectation for their third album. 

Those who'd meticulously pored over Chris Carrabba's previous musical diary entries may have been worried when the one-man-band hired a permanent trio of backing musicians as well as hotshot producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters). Yet as its earnest title hints at, A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar largely sticks to the compelling stream-of-consciousness heartbreak and dynamic quiet/loud emo-rock that turned the frontman into the burgeoning scene's ultimate poster boy.  

Yellowcard – Ocean Avenue 

Seemingly unconcerned with any sellout accusations, Yellowcard relocated from Florida to Los Angeles in 2000, a move which eventually paid off when they landed a deal with Capitol Records. Boasting several songs inspired by their Jacksonville hometown, including the Top 40 title track described by Billboard as the soundtrack to "thousands of overnight camp romances," their fourth studio album suggested the band were keen to show they hadn't entirely abandoned their roots. 

Ocean Avenue doesn't deviate too much from their intriguing previous template, either, with Sean Mackin once again proving electric violins and power punk can make for surprisingly harmonious bedfellows. But ruminations on growing older ("Twentythree") and fatherhood ("Life of a Salesman") also hinted that the ever-changing outfit had matured during their time in the bright lights.  

Less Than Jake – Anthem

Spawning only their second Top 40 single ("The Science of Selling Yourself Short") and charting at a career high of No.45, Anthem remains legendary skate punks Less Than Jake's commercial peak. The band's fifth album is full of energetic cautionary tales, both fitting in with and warning the thriving pop-punk scene.  

That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise considering it features a collaboration with Billy Bragg, a Cheap Trick cover and the production talents of Rob Cavallo (the man behind Green Day's monster-selling Dookie). Gainesville's finest also demote their famous horn section to bit-players, although the fast and furious "Best Wishes to Your Black Lung" proved they could still be integral to the band’s sound.  

Alkaline Trio – Good Mourning

You could always rely on doom merchants Alkaline Trio to put the warped in Warped Tour. And Good Mourning — their first album with now-longtime drummer Derek Grant — didn't disappoint. 

The ironically-titled opener "This Could Be Love" is a macabre guide on how to commit the perfect crime of passion ("Step one, slit my throat/Step two, play in my blood"), while "Fatally Yours" boasts a twisted one-liner about a vengeful car-crashing ex ("You told me that you missed me, but you meant with the grill and hood"). The Chicagoans balance all the sadomasochism and misery with surging punk hooks that owe more to the Ramones than the genre’s umpteenth revival.  

The Ataris – So Long, Astoria 

Inspired by punk hero Richard Hell’s theory that "memories are better than life," the Ataris'  breakthrough was largely an emotive exercise in nostalgia. "Summer '79" and "In This Diary" both draw upon frontman Kris Roe's happy Indiana childhood — the album's title actually references favorite film The Goonies. The record is also littered with phrases which appear to have been written for high school graduation speeches ("All You Can Ever Learn Is What You Already Know") and there's even an effective cover of rock's ultimate coming-of-age anthem, Don Henley's "Boys of Summer." 

All the reminiscing worked wonders as So Long, Astoria became the pop-punks' first, and indeed last, Top 40 entry.  

Brand New – Deja Entendu 

Brand New named their second studio effort after the French for "heard before" as a pre-emptive measure against their critics. This would suggest that Deja Entendu mines the same brand of pop-punk and teenage angst as their 2001 debut, yet it's actually a marked departure.

Deja Entendu combines elements of post-hardcore, alternative rock and emo with mature themes of love and death and more film references than a Quentin Tarantino box set: titles include the Home Alone-quoting "Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don't" and "Jaws Theme Swimming." It's little wonder that major label Interscope subsequently came calling.  

AFI – Sing the Sorrow 

After five albums of self-produced gothic-tinged hardcore punk, Californian outfit AFI suddenly appeared to make a concerted bid for the mainstream. They leapt from indie label Nitro to major Dreamworks and unleashed their rage inward instead of against the world, hired Butch Vig (the man who guided Nirvana's Nevermind to blockbuster success), and incorporated choirs, string sections and even spoken word.  

Their distinctly Bay Area sound became a multi-layered affair with radio-friendly sheen, and catapulted the scene stalwarts to mainstream success. Sing the Sorrow went all the way to No. 5 on the Billboard 200, but impressively still sounds resolutely AFI.  

Saves the Day – In Reverie  

Saves the Day found themselves mercilessly dumped by Interscope within weeks of their fourth album's release. Yet, without any major support, the 12-track In Reverie charted at a career high of No. 26. 

An intriguing second collaboration with Elliott Smith producer Rob Schnepf, In Reverie shrouds its grisly lyrical imagery (talk of rotting flesh, bottles breaking on faces and veins tied up in knots) in a contrastingly peppy power pop. Saves the Day's sound was inspired by frontman Chris Conley's new-found love of the Beatles. Thankfully, the Princeton outfit bounced back to continue their own magical mystery tour.  

You know a band has got serious when they title an album eponymously. Inspired by all three members’ recent introductions to fatherhood and the experimentation of Tom DeLonge and Travis Barker's side project Box Car Racer, Blink-182's fifth album ditched the puerile lyrics and cartoonish punk that had dominated MTV. 

In their place were soul-searching meditations on failed romances, unexpected ventures into New Romanticism, post-hardcore and gothic pop, and even a guest appearance from the Cure's Robert Smith. Mark Hoppus revealed he wanted the public's reaction to be, "Wait a minute... that's Blink-182." As exemplified by career-best "I Miss You," the surprise was a pleasant one, too. 

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Franc Moody
Franc Moody

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.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out'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

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

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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billy idol living legend
Billy Idol

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."

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:19 pm

Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP,  Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.

Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.  

Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face." 

But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life. 

His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves. 

Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)

Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") —  their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.

While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens. 

Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.

Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up. 

Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically. 

"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?

We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds. 

We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick. 

I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?

Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol. 

You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way. 

**Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about  freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?**

I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier. 

I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff. 

So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.

[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.

I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.

Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?

I did, yes.

You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?

I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.

It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.

But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is]  informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.

Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.

We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.

It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].

We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.

You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.

It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.

When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.

You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?

Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."

We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.

You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.

With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.

Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.

You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?

I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.

But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.

I remember when you went on "Viva La Bamback in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?

I think it was his car.

Did he get over it later on?

He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.

Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?

In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.

We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.

The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.

There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.

It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.

It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.

Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?

Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.

The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.

The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?

Yeah.  Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].

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