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Tom Green Is (Sort Of) Friends With Drake Now
The comedian/musician/forever talk show host looks back on some of his biggest hits, many of which can be found on his new career-spanning compilation album, the appropriately titled 'The Tom Green Show'
If you were born before, oh, say, 1995, then chances are you know this TV jingle by heart: "This is the Tom Green show / It's not the Green Tom show / This is my favorite show / Because it is my show."
Thanks to his deadpan, deeply sardonic sense of humor, there was a point in pop culture history where comedian/musician Tom Green was everwhere. In the early aughts especially, you couldn't escape him: If his bum wasn't on the rail or the cheese (or all alone), Green could be found performing gross-out stunts (like sucking on a cow's udder) on The Tom Green Show, which initially aired in Canada in the mid-'90s before being picked up by MTV in 1999. Or he'd pop up in major motion pictures like his own Razzie-winning Freddie Got Fingered, or the 2000 Charlie's Angels reboot alongside then-wife Drew Barrymore. A music fan from an early age, he often worked songs into his comedy sketches; his most famous one, the aforementioned "Bum Bum Song" actually had to be retired from MTV's "Total Request Live," it was so popular. Other artists got in on the act as well; rising hip-hop titan Eminem famously parodied "The Bum Bum Song" in his own early-days single "The Real Slim Shady."
But it wasn't as though Green didn't have his serious moments. In 2000, Green showcased his testicular cancer scare in a televised MTV special, where he mused over the idea of being diagnosed at such a young age and showed the entire surgical removal of one of his testicles.
What his American fans may not have realized, though, was that Green had been making the entertainment rounds for years in his native Canada. Starting in the early '90s, Green enjoyed a short-lived career as a rapper in a group called Organized Rhyme; the group's single "Check The O.R." was nominated for a Juno Award in 1993 for Best Rap Recording and won the MuchVibe Best Rap Video award in 1992. Later, on The Tom Green Show, he rolled out winking joke tracks like the aforementioned song about tushes and a semi-serious, health-conscious one called "Hey Kids, Feel Your Balls."
Nowadays, Green can be found doing standup, coming very, very close to winning the second season of Celebrity Big Brother, and promoting his recently released compilation album, also dubbed The Tom Green Show, which features a selection of new tracks, like the Auto-Tuned "I Wanna Be Friends With Drake" and the post-punk "Far 2 Young 2 Die," and some beloved comedy routines and bits from his best-known shows and movies.
The Recording Academy called up Green at his Hollywood home to chat about some of his new endevours. In our conversation, Green looks back on his still very active comedy career, why he doesn't mind at all when people approach him on the street yelling "DADDY, WOULD YOU LIKE SOME SAUSAGE," and how he's that much closer to actually being friends with Drake.
You’ve been doing mostly standup these days. To what extent do you weave your songs into that onstage material?
I did do a tour that was a music tour about a year or two ago, up in Canada. I performed some rap songs, and some funny songs while I was doing standup, and I intermixed it. Usually, when I'm touring right now, it's a strictly standup tour.
I do have this new album out that I put out on vinyl with Ship To Shore Media, which is a really cool label. They approached me about putting up some of my songs that I recorded at home on vinyl. Now, when I do my standup shows I play my music after the show, before the show, and I sometimes walk on stage to some of the songs. It's strictly a standup show that I'm doing right now. I am working on some music that I think will be good for live performance, so maybe next year I might start incorporating some music in.
Oh, cool. I always liked the way you wove music into your routine as an entertainer. I wondered, though, with the vinyl release, why you opted to reuse the name The Tom Green Show. That name in general seems to come up a lot over the course of your career, no matter the medium.
One of the things that's fun about the record is, I took a lot of, not specifically just from the TV show, but several things from the TV show. I took samples that I incorporated into the music, so I have some clips, and moments that happened on The Tom Green Show.
Really, it's meant to be sort of a fun, collectible thing or people who have been fans of mine for the last 20 years or so. I took soundbites from some of my movies, some of my shows and my standup comedy. I sampled them all in with music that I've been doing. It just felt like a cool title for it, because it is sort of scrolling back through a lot those moments from The Tom Green Show.
Yeah, you seem so comfortable throwing back to your most widely recognized material.
I've got this incredible fan base that stuck with me since, you know, in Canada it goes back an extra 10 years. The Tom Green Show started in 1989 in Canada. People know my song from my group, Organized Rhyme, which is a rap group that we were nominated for the Canadian GRAMMY, a Juno award. I was nominated for that in 1992, when I was just a kid.
When I go tour, and do standup, I'll have people that come to my comedy show that know me from my standup. The younger people, or some of the older people will me from The Tom Green Show. Then, some people are there because they're fans of my movies like, Freddy Got Fingered, or Road Trip. Now you have people [who] have just seen me recently on Big Brother.
I have a lot of different people coming to my show. I always try to sort of reference certain things that people remember. When I walk around America, or Canada or anywhere in the world, really, every day someone will come up to me and say something that's a sound bite from the show. Every day someone will come up to me and say, "My bum is on the plant." I'll be walking through the airport, and someone will walk up to me and say, "Daddy, would you like some sausage," or, "I'm the Chad," you know, from Charlie's Angels. There's so many little things that people remember.
I like to have fun with it. There was always sort of a musicality to some of the comedy in the show. Whether it was, "Daddy, would you like some sausage," or "Plastic bag, I've got a plastic bag," or, "It's none of your damn business where I'm going." There was always sort of a musicality, and a rhythm to it.
I just thought it would be really cool with this record to incorporate some of those rhythmic, sort of funny sounds and sound bites, and put them in over hip hop beats and stuff. My standup is a lot like that too. My standup comedy, my new material that I'm doing now, jokes that I'm telling, and things that I'm doing now are all very much in that rhythm. I've always had sort of this silly kind of cadence to my comedy that sort of is a bit musical.
Maybe it comes from the fact that I was rapping when I was younger. That's why I called it The Tom Green Show. I wanted to tie it all together with this record.
Well, I’m glad to hear it doesn’t, uh, bum you out when someone approaches you with a 20-year-old reference.
No, not at all. It's completely the opposite, to be honest with you. This is what you really dream of happening, right? You want people to have things that they love, and remember and want to come see you for. Anything that sticks in people's heads for 20 years, that's just a real bonus, you know? I feel lucky that I've been able to connect with people that way, where I come up with memorable things.
You know, people remember the theme song of the show, [sings] "This is the Tom Green Show.” They remember sort of the rhythm to it, you know? I think that's something I've always really felt like I had a sort of a knack for, which is coming up with catchy melodies and rhythms.
In the video for one of your newer songs, "I Wanna Be Friends With Drake," you appear to receive a phone call that may or may not be from Drake. So, inquiring minds want to know: Are you friends with Drake now?
Well, it's funny. I've never met Drake before. But, I'm going to be friends with Drake. I want to be friends with Drake, and I'm going to be friends with Drake.
Why is it imperative that you two become friends?
Well, first of all, I'm a big fan of his music. It's the kind of music I like to make in my studio. I like making sort of ambient-sounding hip-hop beats, and use the synthesizers, and drum machines and all those kinds of sounds. Modern, and vintage, techno and electronic, and hip-hop sounds, you know?
I was a rapper in Canada back in the early '90s. That's how I started, and I'm a huge fan of that kind of music, and I'm proud that we've got an amazing international number one hip-hop artist from Canada. There were never any hip-hop artists that really made it outside of Canada for many, many years. Then, finally, finally we've changed that, so it's really cool.
Yeah, I want to be friends with Drake. I'd never met him, and I'd like to meet him. I think he's pretty busy right now with the Raptors right now.
He had no idea I was putting out the song, or anything like that. But I do think that maybe he heard about the song, because about a week after I released the video, he did follow me on Instagram. So you could say that, in theory, I am now friends with Drake.
Since you are such a hip-hop fan, do you recall your reaction to Eminem referencing “The Bum Bum Song” on “The Real Slim Shady”?
Yeah. It was awesome. I thought it was really cool. I think to put it in context as well though, he was a brand-new artist. He had "My Name Is," the song came up first, which I loved.
Nobody knew for sure that he was going to become this huge, iconic artist that would go down in the annals of hip-hop history as one of the great MCs of all time, you know?
I could tell when I heard the song that it was amazing, because I love hip-hop, and specifically Eminem. I grew up performing in Organized Rhyme. We were always trying to do funny raps, you know?
Back then, Eminem's rap were really funny. It was just before he got serious later. I loved it. It's funny, because at the time my show was really big on MTV, just came out of nowhere. I just heard it on the radio one day and I thought, "Oh that's really cool. That's hilarious."
At the time, there's so much new and exciting stuff happening with the show and I was doing films and all of these things. It just became one of the many things that was going on in my life that was kind of overwhelming, and bizarre, you know?
"The Bum Bum Song" was number one on "Total Request Live." Road Trip was the number one comedy. I was shooting movies, and making new TV shows and things were exciting. If you'd told me at the time, this song's going to be one of the biggest songs of the last 20 years, you're going to hear this playing in an elevator in Sweden in 20 years, and it's going to be coming on the radio for the rest of your life I would've thought, "Oh, that's pretty cool."
One day, Eminem actually did a full parody of me one day where he took over MTV dressed as me, and went out on the street with a fake goatee on, and a megaphone.
Another track on the album, "Far 2 Young 2 Die," has a rather post-punk, Joy Division vibe. Joy Division, of course, lost its lead singer at an early age. Is that parallel intentional, or am I reading too far into this?
You know, I'm a huge fan of Joy Division, and, like, one of my favorite bands that I would listen to if I'm listening to music. I listen to, a lot of different types of music. Honestly, when I started building my studio, I just, I wanted to try to make different genres and different types of music. I thought it would be interesting, since I'm building a recording studio to try to record, and write some rock, and punk music. The kind of music I grew up listening to as a skateboarder.
Joy Division's definitely one of my favorite bands. Definitely an inspiration for that. There's another video we just shot. It's called "Deliberate Dignity," which is a similar sound to that song, different style. We shot a video for that in Vietnam while we were over there on my tour this year. That hasn't come out yet, but it's going to come out soon.
I don't know. I try not to overthink it too much. When I wrote the lyrics, I get inspired by lots of different things. I like writing raps. I like writing sort of lyrics. I sometimes just sort of think about my own life, and being a cancer survivor, and having sort of a pretty clear sense of my own mortality because of the things that I've been through with dealing with cancer.
At an early age, I think a lot about life and death. I talk about that a lot in my standup comedy.
Yeah, you’ve been cancer-free for for some time, correct?
Oh yeah. Well, with my cancer I've been completely cancer free, and cured for over almost 20 years.
Once you've gotten through the first three or four years after you have testicular cancer, then you're cancer-free. It's no more likely to come back as it is for anybody who's never had cancer.
That's a relief. It's still just the shock of having had cancer, and when you get it and you go through a five-year period at a young age where you really thinking about your mortality, and you're going in and getting follow-ups, and you're worrying about this at an age that you normally don't have to worry about that stuff. It does make you start to examine life differently, you know?
Absolutely. Before we wrap up, can I ask—how did you end up deciding to star on Celebrity Big Brother?
Well, first of all, it started out when they asked me to do it. I had not even yet thought about doing it. It never really had occurred to me that there was a Celebrity Big Brother.
First and foremost, I love television. I built a TV studio in my living room, you know? I did a web pop show here for years. I love cameras, I studied broadcasting in college. I'm a technical person, and it just sounded like a very interesting thing to just sort of see how it all worked. Then, you step outside of that. It also seemed like it would be a funny place to go try to be funny. You're on CBS and you get to be on TV 24 hours a day. It seems like it'd be perfect for me, because I've always loved goofing off in front of cameras and stuff like that. Doing my comedy at my house, I've had cameras in my house before so it shouldn't be too tricky.
Then, at the same time it's like, yeah, it's a great whole new audience of people that may have never even heard of me before, and I'm touring the country do it standup, so it's a perfect forum to just get out there and connect with America.
I think we're living in a world today where everything is so fragmented with the Internet, with Netflix and social media, and people are on their phones all day, and no one's really watching any one given television show, you know? You can't be too picky. I just do everything. Someone asks me to do stuff, then I'm going to do it. Unless I have a real problem with it creatively, I'm going going to do it, because it's gonna be fun and interesting. It ultimately helps me with what I'm doing, which is getting the word out about my comedy.
Press Play On GRAMMY U Mixtape: New Year, It’s Poppin'! Monthly Member Playlist
The GRAMMY U Mixtape is a monthly, genre-spanning playlist to quench your thirst for new tunes, all from student members. GRAMMY U celebrates new beginnings with fresh pop tunes that will kickstart 2023.
Did you know that among all of the students in GRAMMY U, songwriting and performance is one of the most sought after fields of study? We want to create a space to hear what these students are creating today!
The GRAMMY U Mixtape, now available for your listening pleasure, highlights the creations and fresh ideas that students are bringing to this industry directly on the Recording Academy's Spotify and Apple Music pages. Our goal is to celebrate GRAMMY U members, as well as the time and effort they put into making original music — from the songwriting process to the final production of the track.
Each month, we accept submissions and feature 20 to 25 songs that match that month’s theme. This month we're ringing in 2023 with our New Year, It's Poppin'! playlist, which features fresh pop songs that bring new year, new you vibes. Showcasing talented members from our various chapters, we felt these songs represented the positivity and hopefulness that GRAMMY U members embody as they tackle this upcoming year of exciting possibilities.
So, what’s stopping you? Press play on GRAMMY U’s Mixtape and listen now on Spotify below and Apple Music.
Want to be featured on the next playlist? Submit your songs today! We are currently accepting submissions for songs of all genres for consideration for our February playlist. Whether you write pop, rock, hip hop, jazz, or classical, we want to hear from you. Music must be written and/or produced by the student member (an original song) and you must be able to submit a Spotify and/or Apple Music link to the song. Students must be a GRAMMY U member to submit.
About GRAMMY U:
GRAMMY U is a program that connects college students with the industry's brightest and most talented minds and provides those aspiring professionals with the tools and opportunities necessary to start a career in music.
Throughout each semester, events and special programs touch on all facets of the industry, including the business, technology, and the creative process.
As part of the Recording Academy's mission to ensure the recorded arts remain a thriving part of our shared cultural heritage, GRAMMY U establishes the necessary foundation for music’s next generation to flourish.
Not a member, but want to submit to our playlist? Apply for GRAMMY U Membership here.
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].
Graphic: The Recording Academy
Hear All Of The Best Country Solo Performance Nominees For The 2023 GRAMMY Awards
The 2023 GRAMMY Award nominees for Best Country Solo Performance highlight country music's newcomers and veterans, featuring hits from Kelsea Ballerini, Zach Bryan, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris and Willie Nelson.
Country music's evolution is well represented in the 2023 GRAMMY nominees for Best Country Solo Performance. From crossover pop hooks to red-dirt outlaw roots, the genre's most celebrated elements are on full display — thanks to rising stars, leading ladies and country icons.
Longtime hitmaker Miranda Lambert delivered a soulful performance on the rootsy ballad "In His Arms," an arrangement as sparing as the windswept west Texas highlands where she co-wrote the song. Viral newcomer Zach Bryan dug into similar organic territory on the Oklahoma side of the Red River for "Something in the Orange," his voice accompanied with little more than an acoustic guitar.
Two of country's 2010s breakout stars are clearly still shining, too, as Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini both received Best Country Solo Performance GRAMMY nods. Morris channeled the determination that drove her leap-of-faith move from Texas to Nashville for the playful clap-along "Circles Around This Town," while Ballerini brought poppy hooks with a country edge on the infectiously upbeat "HEARTFIRST."
Rounding out the category is the one and only Willie Nelson, who paid tribute to his late friend Billy Joe Shaver with a cover of "Live Forever" — a fitting sentiment for the 89-year-old legend, who is approaching his eighth decade in the business.
As the excitement builds for the 2023 GRAMMYs on Feb. 5, 2023, let's take a closer look at this year's nominees for Best Country Solo Performance.
Kelsea Ballerini — "HEARTFIRST"
In the tradition of Shania Twain, Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood, Kelsea Ballerini represents Nashville's sunnier side — and her single "HEARTFIRST" is a slice of bright, uptempo, confectionary country-pop for the ages.
Ballerini sings about leaning into a carefree crush with her heart on her sleeve, pushing aside her reservations and taking a risk on love at first sight. The scene plays out in a bar room and a back seat, as she sweeps nimbly through the verses and into a shimmering chorus, when the narrator decides she's ready to "wake up in your T-shirt."
There are enough steel guitar licks to let you know you're listening to a country song, but the story and melody are universal. "HEARTFIRST" is Ballerini's third GRAMMY nod, but first in the Best Country Solo Performance category.
Zach Bryan — "Something In The Orange"
Zach Bryan blew into Music City seemingly from nowhere in 2017, when his original song "Heading South" — recorded on an iPhone — went viral. Then an active officer in the U.S. Navy, the Oklahoma native chased his muse through music during his downtime, striking a chord with country music fans on stark songs led by his acoustic guitar and affecting vocals.
After his honorable discharge in 2021, Bryan began his music career in earnest, and in 2022 released "Something in the Orange," a haunting ballad that stakes a convincing claim to the territory between Tyler Childers and Jason Isbell in both sonics and songwriting. Slashing slide guitar drives home the song's heartbreak, as Bryan pines for a lover whose tail lights have long since vanished over the horizon.
"Something In The Orange" marks Bryan's first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
Miranda Lambert — "In His Arms"
Miranda Lambert is the rare, chart-topping contemporary country artist who does more than pay lip service to the genre's rural American roots. "In His Arms" originally surfaced on 2021's The Marfa Tapes, a casual recording Lambert made with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall in Marfa, Texas — a tiny arts enclave in the middle of the west Texas high desert.
In this proper studio version — recorded for her 2022 album, Palomino — Lambert retains the structure and organic feel of the mostly acoustic song; light percussion and soothing atmospherics keep her emotive vocals front and center. A native Texan herself, Lambert sounds fully at home on "In His Arms."
Lambert is the only Best Country Solo Performance nominee who is nominated in all four Country Field categories in 2023. To date, Miranda Lambert has won 3 GRAMMYs and received 27 nominations overall.
Maren Morris — "Circles Around This Town"
When Maren Morris found herself uninspired and dealing with writer's block, she went back to what inspired her to move to Nashville nearly a decade ago — and out came "Circles Around This Town," the lead single from her 2022 album Humble Quest.
Written in one of her first in-person songwriting sessions since the pandemic, Morris has called "Circles Around This Town" her "most autobiographical song" to date; she even recreated her own teenage bedroom for the song's video. As she looks back to her Texas beginnings and the life she left for Nashville, Morris' voice soars over anthemic, yet easygoing production.
Morris last won a GRAMMY for Best Country Solo Performance in 2017, when her song "My Church" earned the singer her first GRAMMY. To date, Maren Morris has won one GRAMMY and received 17 nominations overall.
Willie Nelson — "Live Forever"
Country music icon Willie Nelson is no stranger to the GRAMMYs, and this year he aims to add to his collection of 10 gramophones. He earned another three nominations for 2023 — bringing his career total to 56 — including a Best Country Solo Performance nod for "Live Forever."
Nelson's performance of "Live Forever," the lead track of the 2022 tribute album Live Forever: A Tribute to Billy Joe Shaver, is a faithful rendition of Shaver's signature song. Still, Nelson puts his own twist on the tune, recruiting Lucinda Williams for backing vocals and echoing the melody with the inimitable tone of his nylon-string Martin guitar.
Shaver, an outlaw country pioneer who passed in 2020 at 81 years old, never had any hits of his own during his lifetime. But plenty of his songs were still heard, thanks to stars like Elvis Presley, Kris Kristofferson and Waylon Jennings. Nelson was a longtime friend and frequent collaborator of Shaver's — and now has a GRAMMY nom to show for it.