Photo: Tyler Roi
Yeti Beats: From Punk Guitarist To Doja Cat's Go-To Producer
The Los Angeles-based producer chatted with GRAMMY.com about meeting Doja Cat, her appeal as a viral sensation, his creative process, musical evolution and more
Yeti Beats was searching for some inspiration when he sat in his then-studio in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles with his intern in 2013. The genre-blurring producer and songwriter caught a vibe once he heard the electro-soulful "So High" on SoundCloud by a local rapper/singer/dancer calling herself Doja Cat, and knew collaborating could work wonders for the both of them.
Turns out Yeti Beats' gut was spot on. The beatmaker, who became Doja Cat's co-manager and tour DJ, executive produced all three of the 25-year-old's musically adventurous projects, the 2014 R&B-flavored EP Purrr!; her 2018 major label breakthrough Amala; and her 2019 smash Hot Pink.
A musical chameleon himself behind the console, the musician born David Sprecher either co-wrote or cranked the knobs on "Candy," "Juicy," "Like That," "Tia Tamera," "Cyber Sex," "Go to Town" and the GRAMMY-nominated chart-topper "Say So." His creative direction morphed into an exclusive deal for him with Warner Chappell Music last summer.
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But chasing success in the music business has been trial-and-error for Sprecher over the last two-plus decades. The Santa Barbara, California native started out playing guitar in a melodic/skate punk band, Slimer, while his ears stayed tuned into Al Green, The Cars, reggae and his sister's hip-hop tapes. When Slimer released its Adult Cabaret LP under Grilled Cheese Records in 1999, Sprecher knew the label and touring grind for a band wasn’t exactly for him.
By 2003, he started concentrating on producing records instead, carving out his niche in underground hip-hop and reggae. At his home studio, he booked sessions with Kool Keith, Sizzla, Junior Reid, The Pharcyde’s Fat Lip, late Geto Boys member Bushwick Bill, Kurupt, Ho99o9 and Rebelution. He opened his Echo Park spot, Himalayas, in 2010 before upgrading to another studio in Hollywood in 2015.
These days, the experienced producer has abandoned the state-of-the-art studio atmosphere in favor of his MIDI controller, speakers, laptop, guitar and bass in his house. He recently chatted with GRAMMY.com about how he met Doja Cat, her appeal as a viral sensation, his creative process, musical evolution, future projects, and how the dynamic pair would celebrate a GRAMMY win.
How did you meet Doja Cat?
I first heard her from an intern at my studio, Jerry Powell, a producer himself still involved with lots of Doja’s songs. He was just playing songs off of Soundcloud on the homepage, and he played a really rough home recording that Amala [Dlamini, a.k.a. Doja Cat] had done, "So High," and it immediately caught my ear.
I asked him who it was and we looked her up on Facebook. She happened to live in Los Angeles, we wrote her a message, and asked if she wanted to come in the studio to record some music. A couple of days later, she came in. Soon after recording with her, I just immediately knew that she had incredible raw talent. It was just something that needed to be nurtured. It’s just incredible to see how she’s grown over the years and evolved as an artist and a person is just beautiful to me.
"We try to make music as authentic to who she is, and each one of these records is like a time capsule of Amala as a person."
Is there a formula that you and Doja Cat have whenever you’re in the studio?
We try to keep the projects and creative process fun and lighthearted. Amala is such a unique talent, I just try to keep her inspired. The records have evolved over the years; we started on that dusty, slower, vibey R&B, and over time, we started changing it up, bringing in different sounds, adding elements of dance music and more melodic, quirky sounds that accent her personality. We try to make music as authentic to who she is, and each one of these records is like a time capsule of Amala as a person.
How has social media impacted Doja Cat’s success?
I’m not a social media expert, but I do think that Doja Cat’s music is particularly fun and sticky. She’s also a person that knows how to navigate the internet really well. She’s intriguing. Her sounds go viral, particularly on TikTok, because her music is authentic, and authentic music resonates with people.
How did you celebrate “Say So” becoming Doja Cat’s first No. 1 pop hit?
I was in Los Angeles at my house and in shock that Doja Cat had a No. 1. I talked with our team and the people that were involved on the project on the phone, and I was super congratulatory because it was her surreal moment. It was one of those “wow” moments; very, very crazy in a good way.
What did the Warped Tour in 1999 reveal to you about the music business?
I learned that you have to work really hard because every artist on the roster is out here working really hard. Traveling is not easy, and the lifestyle is not what people think it is. The rock star lifestyle is a different kind of work, which is exhausting. [Chuckles.] I understand the importance of touring, going out there, performing music in front of new people, and making sounds.
How did you go from punk musician to songwriter and producer?
I moved to L.A. to go to college. There, I was exposed to a lot more music. Through a friend, I ended up meeting another close friend of mine, Sam Stegall. He had a little home studio in Hollywood; he invited me to come over there. I watched him produce a beat and work with another artist. A light bulb went off. I was thinking I could do this; maybe I need to get ProTools or a MIDI controller.
I already knew how to play guitar and a little bit of keyboards, so I thought making beats would be fun. That was the beginning of a never-ending journey I would equate to a puzzle. I love creating music and had the realization that if I worked hard, then maybe I could turn that into a career. I already knew somebody who was doing this for a living, and I thought I was capable of it.
With each artist that I’m working with, I try to catch their vibe, have some fun, and not really focus on what I wanna make. I put myself in the artists’ shoes and really listen to what they want and make something that’s authentic to how they should sound. It’s about catching the moment; there’s parts of myself that enjoy the thrash of punk or to kick back and groove to reggae. I listen to uptempo music that makes you dance: funk, disco, house, jazz or pretty much anything across the board. I don’t wanna commit myself to making one genre of music or to just making rap beats. I aspire to be an eclectic producer.
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What are you hoping to accomplish with your exclusive Warner Chappell Music deal?
The main reasons I’m doing the deal is to make sure someone is collecting all of my publishing royalties and to also have a strong partner to connect me with other artists, producers, or people that maybe either Doja wants to collaborate with or myself. It’s showing to be a very strong relationship; they’re putting me in the room with a lot of cool people.
What projects are you currently working on?
BJ The Chicago Kid is an artist that I've known for a while. We've worked together before, and I think he's one of the most amazing singers. We're doing a project together with a band that has a vintage element to it. It's gonna be a really interesting project based on an old soul sound. I have so much love and respect for BJ; he's an incredible artist, and I can’t wait to work with him more.
I have the next Doja Cat album, Planet Her, and I'm most excited about that. I have some really exciting songs on there, and I couldn’t be prouder of the people who worked on this project.
How has working with Doja Cat made you a better producer?
Working with Doja has taught me a lot about life. She was 16 when I met her, and I recognized her unique talent. My main objectives over the years have been to protect, enable and shepherd her through the music business, which can be very hard at times.
It's been a crazy experience watching her grow up from a teenager to a young woman. She’s grown tremendously as an artist, creator, entertainer, live performer. The whole experience has been completely surreal and beautiful. I get goosebumps when I think about where we used to be versus where we’re at; it is just incredible. I feel thankful and blessed.
How would you and Doja Cat celebrate a GRAMMY win?
It's a pretty surreal experience being nominated this year. We feel super blessed to be acknowledged. Me and Doja have a pact between some friends all involved from the early stages going back to 2013; if she was ever to win a GRAMMY, then we'd have to get tattoos of cats on our butts. We'll see if it happens. [Chuckles.]
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Photos (L-R, clockwise): Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation, Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella, Adam Bow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella, Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for ACM, Terry Wyatt/Getty Images
Listen To GRAMMY.com's Women's History Month 2023 Playlist: Swim In The Divine Feminine With These 40 Songs By Rihanna, SZA, Miley Cyrus, BLACKPINK & More
Who run the world? Harness positive energy during Women's History Month with this immersive playlist honoring Beyoncé, Rina Sawayama, Kim Petras, and more female musicians.
In the words of recent GRAMMY winner Lizzo, it's bad b— o'clock. To kick off Women's History Month, GRAMMY.com is celebrating with an extensive playlist spotlighting women's divine musical artistry. Perpetually shaping, reinvigorating, and expanding genres, women's creative passion drives the music industry forward.
This March, get ready to unlock self-love with Miley Cyrus' candid "Flowers," or hit the dancefloor with the rapturous Beyoncé's "I'm That Girl." Whether you're searching for the charisma of Doja Cat's "Woman" or confidence of Rihanna's "B— Better Have My Money," this playlist stuns with diverse songs honoring women's fearlessness and innovation.
Women dominate the music charts throughout the year, but this month, dive into their glorious energy by pressing play on our curated Women's History Month playlist, featuring everyone from Dua Lipa to Missy Elliott to Madonna to Kali Uchis.
Listen below on Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and Pandora.
Photo: Christopher Polk/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
10 Songs That Show Doja Cat’s Rap Skills: From "Vegas" To "Tia Tamara" & "Rules"
Doja Cat’s rap skills are often overshadowed by her many other talents. Yet her bars are too solid to be negated, and her inventive vocal stylings worthy of adulation.
Doja Cat is one of the most exciting talents of our time, and it’s partly thanks to her refusal to stick to one sound. A triple threat, the artist sings, raps and dances with a vigor that’s resulted in seven Top 10 hits and 16 GRAMMY nominations.
But due to the overwhelming popularity of her mainstream pop-forward smashes — including the twice-GRAMMY nominated "Say So," the SZA-assisted "Kiss Me More" (which scored the ladies their first win for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance last year) and her feature on Post Malone’s "I Like You (A Happier Song)" — Doja's rap skills often get overshadowed by her other talents.
Yet Doja Cat is no mere pop star. Her bars are too solid to be negated, and she currently has five 2023 GRAMMY nominations to prove it. Doja's Elvis original motion picture soundtrack cut "Vegas" earned a Best Rap Performance nod, while Planet Her single "Woman" (which fuses sensual Afrobeats with sharp hip-hop rhymes) has three nominations including Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Music Video and Record Of The Year.
In celebration of Doja Cat’s rap prowess, we’ve gathered her best rap songs, from solo album cuts to unforgettable guest features.
What makes Doja Cat’s artistry so mesmerizing is the ease in which she floats from singing to spitting. On "Vegas," the surefire highlight from last year’s Elvis soundtrack, her delicate vocals play a supporting role in amplifying her fiery bars. Her rapping is the star of the show as she unleashes fury at an ex-lover who did her wrong: "Had your ass sittin' first class with your burnt ass out in Abu Dhabi / Coulda been what we shoulda been but you lost a bet."
"Vegas" is a perfect marriage of historical homage (it chops up Shonka Dukureh’s cover of Big Mama Thornton’s original rendition of "Hound Dog") and millennial s— talking that led to a Best Rap Performance nomination at the 2023 GRAMMYs.
"Do It" Remix - Chloe x Halle (2020)
Chloe x Halle gathered an all-star lineup of women rappers for the remix to their sultry hit single "Do It." While the City Girls and Latto brought their own heat, Doja Cat stole the show. Appointed the opening verse, the artist rides the twinkling beat effortlessly but also brings her signature cheeky energy (she literally coughs in the middle of the verse). It leaves you wondering why Doja wasn’t secured for the original version in the first place.
"Tia Tamera" feat. Rico Nasty (2019)
What makes Doja Cat so endearing is that she isn’t afraid to get weird. So when she called upon fellow rapper Rico Nasty for "Tia Tamera" — a track on the deluxe edition Amala, her debut album — we knew we were going to be in for a wild ride. The pair balances their kitschy flows and sheer silliness (Doja is comparing her breasts to the iconic ‘90s twins) with impressive wordplay ("Dug in the guts and I skeet her") to remind you how much they take their rapping seriously.
The Roxana Baldovin-directed video revs up the raucous factor with a neon-colored, ‘90s-inspired explosion featuring homages to "Sister, Sister," Lisa Frank and Nickelodeon’s "Double Dare" game show.
Doja Cat’s rapping often gets compared to Kendrick Lamar for her ability to twist her vocal stylings to invent new effects. On "Rules," Doja Cat’s timbre creates an earworm rollercoaster, leaping from a helium-like tone to velvety seduction.
The Hot Pink song is also one of her most serious, which forces you to pay attention to her lyrical adaptability. "Said play with my p—y/ But don’t play with my emotions," she commands over a Western-inspired production. And better believe listeners obliged.
"Need To Know" (2021)
The GRAMMY-nominated Planet Her was an adventure into Doja’s kooky world, and "Need To Know" was the spaceship to launch us into the stratosphere. Doja Cat transforms into a full alien as she rides on icy synths and crashing snares. It’s maddening how she confidently jumps from cocky ("I don’t play with my pen / I mean what I write") to erotic "Oh, wait, you a fan of the magic? / Poof, p—y like an Alakazam" while never losing her sense of humor. It comes as no surprise that "Need To Know" earned a Best Melodic Rap Performance nomination at the 2022 GRAMMYs.
"Up And Down" (2021)
Doja Cat loves teasing her fans on social media, often sharing songs that she’s working on but likely won't release. Luckily, she gifted listeners with "Up And Down," which she first previewed during an Instagram Live in 2018. She recorded the song in real time, but fans had to hold their breath for three years to hear the official version on the deluxe edition of Planet Her. The wait was worth it, of course, as Doja’s staccato flow and signature cheekiness ("Y'all ain't s— but I flush") still sounded fresh.
"Pu**y Talk - City Girls (2020)
City Girls and Doja Cat are all known for unapologetic praising the power of the woman, so it was only a matter of time when they linked up for this raunchy banger. There is nothing subtle about the song, as Miami-based City Girls explicitly stating how wealthy they need their sexual partners to be. Doja Cat holds her own, dishing a platter of R-rated afterhours innuendos that would make Lil Kim' proud.
"Best Friend" - Saweetie (2021)
You know the musical chemistry is undeniable when it scores you a GRAMMY nomination for Best Rap Song. That’s the case for Saweetie and Doja Cat, whose "Best Friend" was filled to the brim with feel-good energy. The single is all about celebrating friendship and sisterhood, and the song poses the two in an unofficial competition on who can give the other the most compliments. Doja Cat serves double-duty on the twerk-friendly chorus and a verse that shows she’s a ride-or-die friend: "That's my best friend, if you need a freak / I ain't dumb, but motherf—er, she my Tweedledee."
"Make That Cake" Remix - LunchMoney Lewis (2019)
LunchMoney Lewis’ "Make That Cake" single didn’t gather much attention when it first dropped in the summer of 2019, but that all changed when he called upon Doja Cat for the remix not too longer after. Often credited as the artist’s most underrated guest features, it’s the best showcase of her clever and technical wordplay. "Mark my words, hit a billion like I'm Mark Zucker / Big news, Takanawa, Tom Tucker," she spits, making a handful of pop culture references (the Facebook CEO’s wealth, Family Guy news reporters and "zucker" translating to "sugar" in German) in a single bar.
"Get Into It (Yuh)" (2021)
Nicki Minaj is a big influence on Doja Cat’s love for rap. After their "Say So" remix earned both of them their first No. 1 hit, Doja Cat continued to pay homage with "Get Into It (Yuh)."
Minaj is known for her frenetic and unpredictable style, and on the Planet Her highlight Doja Cat channels her inner Barb. Her quickfire flow is downright dizzying, taking brief pauses to catch her breath before hopping right back into her quirky wordplay. "Thank you, Nicki, I love you," she sweetly exclaims in the song’s outro. There’s no doubt she made the millennial Queen of Rap proud.
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Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.
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Photo: Steven Sebring
Living Legends: Billy Idol On Survival, Revival & Breaking Out Of The Cage
"One foot in the past and one foot into the future," Billy Idol says, describing his decade-spanning career in rock. "We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol."
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Billy Idol about his latest EP, Cage, and continuing to rock through decades of changing tastes.
Billy Idol is a true rock 'n' roll survivor who has persevered through cultural shifts and personal struggles. While some may think of Idol solely for "Rebel Yell" and "White Wedding," the singer's musical influences span genres and many of his tunes are less turbo-charged than his '80s hits would belie.
Idol first made a splash in the latter half of the '70s with the British punk band Generation X. In the '80s, he went on to a solo career combining rock, pop, and punk into a distinct sound that transformed him and his musical partner, guitarist Steve Stevens, into icons. They have racked up multiple GRAMMY nominations, in addition to one gold, one double platinum, and four platinum albums thanks to hits like "Cradle Of Love," "Flesh For Fantasy," and "Eyes Without A Face."
But, unlike many legacy artists, Idol is anything but a relic. Billy continues to produce vital Idol music by collaborating with producers and songwriters — including Miley Cyrus — who share his forward-thinking vision. He will play a five-show Vegas residency in November, and filmmaker Jonas Akerlund is working on a documentary about Idol’s life.
His latest release is Cage, the second in a trilogy of annual four-song EPs. The title track is a classic Billy Idol banger expressing the desire to free himself from personal constraints and live a better life. Other tracks on Cage incorporate metallic riffing and funky R&B grooves.
Idol continues to reckon with his demons — they both grappled with addiction during the '80s — and the singer is open about those struggles on the record and the page. (Idol's 2014 memoir Dancing With Myself, details a 1990 motorcycle accident that nearly claimed a leg, and how becoming a father steered him to reject hard drugs. "Bitter Taste," from his last EP, The Roadside, reflects on surviving the accident.)
Although Idol and Stevens split in the late '80s — the skilled guitarist fronted Steve Stevens & The Atomic Playboys, and collaborated with Michael Jackson, Rick Ocasek, Vince Neil, and Harold Faltermeyer (on the GRAMMY-winning "Top Gun Anthem") — their common history and shared musical bond has been undeniable. The duo reunited in 2001 for an episode of "VH1 Storytellers" and have been back in the saddle for two decades. Their union remains one of the strongest collaborations in rock 'n roll history.
While there is recognizable personnel and a distinguishable sound throughout a lot of his work, Billy Idol has always pushed himself to try different things. Idol discusses his musical journey, his desire to constantly move forward, and the strong connection that he shares with Stevens.
Steve has said that you like to mix up a variety of styles, yet everyone assumes you're the "Rebel Yell"/"White Wedding" guy. But if they really listen to your catalog, it's vastly different.
Yeah, that's right. With someone like Steve Stevens, and then back in the day Keith Forsey producing... [Before that] Generation X actually did move around inside punk rock. We didn't stay doing just the Ramones two-minute music. We actually did a seven-minute song. [Laughs]. We did always mix things up.
Then when I got into my solo career, that was the fun of it. With someone like Steve, I knew what he could do. I could see whatever we needed to do, we could nail it. The world was my oyster musically.
"Cage" is a classic-sounding Billy Idol rocker, then "Running From The Ghost" is almost metal, like what the Devil's Playground album was like back in the mid-2000s. "Miss Nobody" comes out of nowhere with this pop/R&B flavor. What inspired that?
We really hadn't done anything like that since something like "Flesh For Fantasy" [which] had a bit of an R&B thing about it. Back in the early days of Billy Idol, "Hot In The City" and "Mony Mony" had girls [singing] on the backgrounds.
We always had a bit of R&B really, so it was actually fun to revisit that. We just hadn't done anything really quite like that for a long time. That was one of the reasons to work with someone like Sam Hollander [for the song "Rita Hayworth"] on The Roadside. We knew we could go [with him] into an R&B world, and he's a great songwriter and producer. That's the fun of music really, trying out these things and seeing if you can make them stick.
I listen to new music by veteran artists and debate that with some people. I'm sure you have those fans that want their nostalgia, and then there are some people who will embrace the newer stuff. Do you find it’s a challenge to reach people with new songs?
Obviously, what we're looking for is, how do we somehow have one foot in the past and one foot into the future? We’ve got the best of all possible worlds because that has been the modus operandi of Billy Idol.
You want to do things that are true to you, and you don't just want to try and do things that you're seeing there in the charts today. I think that we're achieving it with things like "Running From The Ghost" and "Cage" on this new EP. I think we’re managing to do both in a way.
Obviously, "Running From The Ghost" is about addiction, all the stuff that you went through, and in "Cage" you’re talking about freeing yourself from a lot of personal shackles. Was there any one moment in your life that made you really thought I have to not let this weigh me down anymore?
I mean, things like the motorcycle accident I had, that was a bit of a wake up call way back. It was 32 years ago. But there were things like that, years ago, that gradually made me think about what I was doing with my life. I didn't want to ruin it, really. I didn't want to throw it away, and it made [me] be less cavalier.
I had to say to myself, about the drugs and stuff, that I've been there and I've done it. There’s no point in carrying on doing it. You couldn't get any higher. You didn't want to throw your life away casually, and I was close to doing that. It took me a bit of time, but then gradually I was able to get control of myself to a certain extent [with] drugs and everything. And I think Steve's done the same thing. We're on a similar path really, which has been great because we're in the same boat in terms of lyrics and stuff.
So a lot of things like that were wake up calls. Even having grandchildren and just watching my daughter enlarging her family and everything; it just makes you really positive about things and want to show a positive side to how you're feeling, about where you're going. We've lived with the demons so long, we've found a way to live with them. We found a way to be at peace with our demons, in a way. Maybe not completely, but certainly to where we’re enjoying what we do and excited about it.
[When writing] "Running From The Ghost" it was easy to go, what was the ghost for us? At one point, we were very drug addicted in the '80s. And Steve in particular is super sober [now]. I mean, I still vape pot and stuff. I don’t know how he’s doing it, but it’s incredible. All I want to be able to do is have a couple of glasses of wine at a restaurant or something. I can do that now.
I think working with people that are super talented, you just feel confident. That is a big reason why you open up and express yourself more because you feel comfortable with what's around you.
Did you watch Danny Boyle's recent Sex Pistols mini-series?
I did, yes.
You had a couple of cameos; well, an actor who portrayed you did. How did you react to it? How accurate do you think it was in portraying that particular time period?
I love Jonesy’s book, I thought his book was incredible. It's probably one of the best bio books really. It was incredible and so open. I was looking forward to that a lot.
It was as if [the show] kind of stayed with Steve [Jones’ memoir] about halfway through, and then departed from it. [John] Lydon, for instance, was never someone I ever saw acting out; he's more like that today. I never saw him do something like jump up in the room and run around going crazy. The only time I saw him ever do that was when they signed the recording deal with Virgin in front of Buckingham Palace. Whereas Sid Vicious was always acting out; he was always doing something in a horrible way or shouting at someone. I don't remember John being like that. I remember him being much more introverted.
But then I watched interviews with some of the actors about coming to grips with the parts they were playing. And they were saying, we knew punk rock happened but just didn't know any of the details. So I thought well, there you go. If ["Pistol" is] informing a lot of people who wouldn't know anything about punk rock, maybe that's what's good about it.
Maybe down the road John Lydon will get the chance to do John's version of the Pistols story. Maybe someone will go a lot deeper into it and it won't be so surface. But maybe you needed this just to get people back in the flow.
We had punk and metal over here in the States, but it feels like England it was legitimately more dangerous. British society was much more rigid.
It never went [as] mega in America. It went big in England. It exploded when the Pistols did that interview with [TV host Bill] Grundy, that lorry truck driver put his boot through his own TV, and all the national papers had "the filth and the fury" [headlines].
We went from being unknown to being known overnight. We waited a year, Generation X. We even told them [record labels] no for nine months to a year. Every record company wanted their own punk rock group. So it went really mega in England, and it affected the whole country – the style, the fashions, everything. I mean, the Ramones were massive in England. Devo had a No. 1 song [in England] with "Satisfaction" in '77. Actually, Devo was as big as or bigger than the Pistols.
You were ahead of the pop-punk thing that happened in the late '90s, and a lot of it became tongue-in-cheek by then. It didn't have the same sense of rebelliousness as the original movement. It was more pop.
It had become a style. There was a famous book in England called Revolt Into Style — and that's what had happened, a revolt that turned into style which then they were able to duplicate in their own way. Even recently, Billie Joe [Armstrong] did his own version of "Gimme Some Truth," the Lennon song we covered way back in 1977.
When we initially were making [punk] music, it hadn't become accepted yet. It was still dangerous and turned into a style that people were used to. We were still breaking barriers.
You have a band called Generation Sex with Steve Jones and Paul Cook. I assume you all have an easier time playing Pistols and Gen X songs together now and not worrying about getting spit on like back in the '70s?
Yeah, definitely. When I got to America I told the group I was putting it together, "No one spits at the audience."
We had five years of being spat on [in the UK], and it was revolting. And they spat at you if they liked you. If they didn't like it they smashed your gear up. One night, I remember I saw blood on my T-shirt, and I think Joe Strummer got meningitis when spit went in his mouth.
You had to go through a lot to become successful, it wasn't like you just kind of got up there and did a couple of gigs. I don't think some young rock bands really get that today.
With punk going so mega in England, we definitely got a leg up. We still had a lot of work to get where we got to, and rightly so because you find out that you need to do that. A lot of groups in the old days would be together three to five years before they ever made a record, and that time is really important. In a way, what was great about punk rock for me was it was very much a learning period. I really learned a lot [about] recording music and being in a group and even writing songs.
Then when I came to America, it was a flow, really. I also really started to know what I wanted Billy Idol to be. It took me a little bit, but I kind of knew what I wanted Billy Idol to be. And even that took a while to let it marinate.
You and Miley Cyrus have developed a good working relationship in the last several years. How do you think her fans have responded to you, and your fans have responded to her?
I think they're into it. It's more the record company that she had didn't really get "Night Crawling"— it was one of the best songs on Plastic Hearts, and I don't think they understood that. They wanted to go with Dua Lipa, they wanted to go with the modern, young acts, and I don't think they realized that that song was resonating with her fans. Which is a shame really because, with Andrew Watt producing, it's a hit song.
But at the same time, I enjoyed doing it. It came out really good and it's very Billy Idol. In fact, I think it’s more Billy Idol than Miley Cyrus. I think it shows you where Andrew Watt was. He was excited about doing a Billy Idol track. She's fun to work with. She’s a really great person and she works at her singing — I watched her rehearsing for the Super Bowl performance she gave. She rehearsed all Saturday morning, all Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning and it was that afternoon. I have to admire her fortitude. She really cares.
I remember when you went on "Viva La Bam" back in 2005 and decided to give Bam Margera’s Lamborghini a new sunroof by taking a power saw to it. Did he own that car? Was that a rental?
I think it was his car.
Did he get over it later on?
He loved it. [Laughs] He’s got a wacky sense of humor. He’s fantastic, actually. I’m really sorry to see what he's been going through just lately. He's going through a lot, and I wish him the best. He's a fantastic person, and it's a shame that he's struggling so much with his addictions. I know what it's like. It's not easy.
Musically, what is the synergy like with you guys during the past 10 years, doing Kings and Queens of the Underground and this new stuff? What is your working relationship like now in this more sober, older, mature version of you two as opposed to what it was like back in the '80s?
In lots of ways it’s not so different because we always wrote the songs together, we always talked about what we're going to do together. It was just that we were getting high at the same time.We're just not getting [that way now] but we're doing all the same things.
We're still talking about things, still [planning] things:What are we going to do next? How are we going to find new people to work with? We want to find new producers. Let's be a little bit more timely about putting stuff out.That part of our relationship is the same, you know what I mean? That never got affected. We just happened to be overloading in the '80s.
The relationship’s… matured and it's carrying on being fruitful, and I think that's pretty amazing. Really, most people don't get to this place. Usually, they hate each other by now. [Laughs] We also give each other space. We're not stopping each other doing things outside of what we’re working on together. All of that enables us to carry on working together. I love and admire him. I respect him. He's been fantastic. I mean, just standing there on stage with him is always a treat. And he’s got an immensely great sense of humor. I think that's another reason why we can hang together after all this time because we've got the sense of humor to enable us to go forward.
There's a lot of fan reaction videos online, and I noticed a lot of younger women like "Rebel Yell" because, unlike a lot of other '80s alpha male rock tunes, you're talking about satisfying your lover.
It was about my girlfriend at the time, Perri Lister. It was about how great I thought she was, how much I was in love with her, and how great women are, how powerful they are.
It was a bit of a feminist anthem in a weird way. It was all about how relationships can free you and add a lot to your life. It was a cry of love, nothing to do with the Civil War or anything like that. Perri was a big part of my life, a big part of being Billy Idol. I wanted to write about it. I'm glad that's the effect.
Is there something you hope people get out of the songs you've been doing over the last 10 years? Do you find yourself putting out a message that keeps repeating?
Well, I suppose, if anything, is that you can come to terms with your life, you can keep a hold of it. You can work your dreams into reality in a way and, look, a million years later, still be enjoying it.
The only reason I'm singing about getting out of the cage is because I kicked out of the cage years ago. I joined Generation X when I said to my parents, "I'm leaving university, and I'm joining a punk rock group." And they didn't even know what a punk rock group was. Years ago, I’d write things for myself that put me on this path, so that maybe in 2022 I could sing something like "Cage" and be owning this territory and really having a good time. This is the life I wanted.
The original UK punk movement challenged societal norms. Despite all the craziness going on throughout the world, it seems like a lot of modern rock bands are afraid to do what you guys were doing. Do you think we'll see a shift in that?
Yeah. Art usually reacts to things, so I would think eventually there will be a massive reaction to the pop music that’s taken over — the middle of the road music, and then this kind of right wing politics. There will be a massive reaction if there's not already one. I don’t know where it will come from exactly. You never know who's gonna do [it].
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