The FADER Interview is a brand new podcast series in which the world’s most exciting musicians talk with the staff of The FADER about their latest projects. We’ll hear from emerging pop artists on the verge of mainstream breakthroughs, underground rappers pushing boundaries, and icons from across the world who laid the foundations for today’s thriving scenes. Listen to this week’s episode of the podcast below, read a full transcript of this week’s episode after the jump, and subscribe to The FADER Interview wherever you listen to podcasts.
The FADER: On Saturday you're playing a show in Baltimore. This is your first show since lockdown, right?
Yates: This will be the first one, yeah.
How are you feeling?
I feel good. I think it's an equal amount of nerves and excitement to dive into playing shows. We get nervous for any show in general, but to add on not playing a live show for a couple of years, and just all things considered it's amplified. But I think also the excitement for us to play music together and to play a live show and see people is really exciting.
Take me back to the end of the Time & Space tour, because you were brushing right up on the very edge of lockdown. Your last show was March 13th in London, right?
Yeah. That was the last show that we've played. And that was that weird gray area where no one really knew what was going on, but there was lots of different news things going on and promoters weren't sure if shows should happen. And some did, and some were canceling, but the last show we played before, there was the travel ban and we had to just fly immediately home, was in London.
What do you remember about getting out of Europe and coming back? Was it a bit of a mad scramble?
Definitely. I remember sitting up in our hotel room at probably 2:00 or 3:00 A.M., all of us hustling to find a flight back home because there was a travel ban that was announced. So we all had to just buy these immediate flights back home, so we could fly home the morning after the London show. And the airports were crazy and just huge feelings of just uncertainty and just trying to just make it home. That was our only goal was, make it home in one piece and figure out the rest from there.
What do you remember about the first few days back in Baltimore? What did you do? Were you together as a band?
Well, we got back home to Baltimore and we all just went home, and that was the beginning of lockdown. And pretty much spent the next few weeks just really sick, because we got sick. So it was like coming home at the beginning of lockdown and also being sick was just scary, especially when there's not too much news about it really or information that was being out. So it was just this confusing time of uncertainty and trying to just nurse ourselves back to health and just make sure that we're all good. So just a lot of FaceTime calls and just checking in on each other and stuff like that.
When were you ready to start making music again? When did you start writing? I know that this album really came together mostly in your bedroom, at least the genesis of it. When were you ready to start getting going on that?
I think a lot of the songs had existed pre-pandemic or ideas of them. And I'd constantly been working on the songs. And I think once pandemic hit it doubled down on the open amount of time that we had to just be in my bedroom and all of us being home to just finalize some ideas and throw in some last minute ideas and things like that.
We had planned on recording the album last summer, it was already in our agenda. I think the open time that we were allowed through the pandemic, where we had tours and stuff that were canceled, I think opened up this longer period of time where we could just fully isolate and focus on putting the album together.
Turnstile to me seems to be a band who really, not rely on, but are really energized by the call and response of a live show. You feed off an audience and they feed off you. And a lot of your albums have, in many ways been, it really sounds like you're trying to recreate the energy of a live show on your records, which is an extremely hard thing to do.
How difficult was it to try and create a record effectively in isolation, at least for that writing period, just without having that immediate hit of having just come off the road and knowing that you might not be back on the road for a long time?
I think it was an exciting challenge. I think the essence of a Turnstile song is always going to exist when the five of us are put into a room together. And what makes us excited about a song and how we can envision just the flow of songs and the energies into other songs and things like that. So, I think in a lot of ways it was a challenge, but also exciting. And I think the time that we had to fully focus on it without outside distractions of having to travel, allowed that to blossom a little more.
I've been reading interviews with you lately, and I'm really interested in your creative process with songs, the way that you create songs specifically. It's almost as if you let the song drive you. You said recently in an interview that you listen to see, "Am I hearing a keyboard part here? Maybe that belongs here. Maybe there's a beat that belongs here." How do those moments come up where you realize that, "Okay, this is a moment," like you have some moments on this record where this is going to effectively be a fucking R&B song?
I think it's just time can always serve as a filter through things that feel good to you. And when you have ideas that exist for a while and they withstand the test of time in your head, even if they're just in the back of your mind, we like to lean into those, if they exist and they feel good and continue to feel good and are worth trying.
And a lot of times it's worth trying and sometimes they don't work, and other things I think we tend to give a shot and maybe on paper to someone else, may be different from things that we've done before, but to us based on our experience and where it's coming from, usually makes sense, we've connected those dots. So I think based on everyone having a different perspective on just music in general, I think it's always good for us as a band leaning into our perspective and what feels inspiring to us and what feels good to put into a song.
How did working with Mike Elizondo change that? Obviously somebody with an incredibly diverse background, how did he encourage that and how different was it to go through that process with him?
I think it was really cool, because in a lot of ways he let the process kind of just naturally happen a lot. And I think at first I was caught off guard, because you never know what to expect when working with someone. Maybe sometimes you build these expectations, like all right, everything's just going to be changed completely. Like he's going to come in and just change everything, and I'm excited to see how he changes everything completely. And I think when those changes weren't happening, I was kind of at first wondering why.
And I think in hindsight now, I appreciate so much the fact that he kind of gave us this freedom to kind of just let the songs form, and kind of was just there to help along the way with what we needed without trying to change too much about anything. And sometimes I'd be like, "Well, don't we need this?" He's like, "Does it feel good as it is?" I was like, "Yeah." He's like, "Then it feels good." And that was kind of a cool affirmation to have when you're kind of uncertain about what you're putting together. And to have that support there was really cool.
Do you think that's the kind of, that confidence, that's something you can carry forward in every creative endeavor, right, is just being able to say I don't need somebody else to come in and play with this. I need to trust the song myself, I need to trust the idea.
Definitely. I think especially like it's not worth looking in how to change something if you know that where it's at feels great to you. I think even a lot of the sounds that were made in my bedroom that ended up being on just the actual recording, it's kind of like I would bring these sounds and be like, "Alright, we can make a sound that's like this." He'd be like, "But that's the sound right there." And to me, I have this kind of perspective that you can't make something at home in your room as the final product for what you put out.
Like, I kind of separated this kind of initial process, verse, like a final process. And I think he allowed that to kind of be one thing, where it's just like you have these sounds, you have these things that you've made on these keyboards while all of you were at home, and things like that. He's like 'the reason you have these is because you spent time working on them and trying to achieve something, so why change it if you've already done that process?' Which was a cool perspective to have when going into the studio and realizing that like we had kind of achieved some of those things, and you don't really need to look further than what you've naturally done off instinct.
It's too simplistic to say first thought, best thought. But it's a lot of layers of first thought, best thought. It's like five people with a bit of mic, or given their first idea, and then it like layers on top of each other.
Definitely. I think it's always worth putting value to first thought and last. Like any thought, a first thought is never to be thrown out the window. I think your first thought is always to be like every idea is to be kept at the forefront until you figure out which one is actually what you're going for. Because I think when you're making music, you're just really shooting in the dark to feel something that connects with what your goal is. And if something is filling that void for you, but you're looking for something else, sometimes it's worth kind of going back and just accepting what you've kind of landed on. Because there's a reason you got it in the first place, I guess.
Tell me about Phantom Studios. It's all way out there, you're in the countryside. It seems like an amazing place to make an album, especially after you've been inside a city and in lockdown for a while. How did that experience shape the record?
Yeah, I think that experience was super rewarding for us, because we were just fully isolated. Which I think every recording process in the past, we had kind of just been still in the mix, whether it's in Baltimore or outside of Philly. So we're still kind of close to a city and can kind of still be connected to real life. Whereas this was the first experience we had where we were just fully isolated, kind of in the middle of nowhere, no distractions, no human interactions. Really just embracing living on a farm, walking to the barn in the backyard to record every day, and letting it be a kind of experience where you're fully submerged into it, as opposed to breaking up parts of your day to go back to normal life and stuff like that. So that was a really exciting part of the process for us that we all talked about after, really enjoying and appreciating.
Were you already finished with the lyrics by the time you got to Tennessee?
Yeah. There's always kind of last minute little tweaks and stuff, but I think all the songs were written and structured. And even the order of the songs for the record were all kind of already assembled in the order that the record is actually in. So having all that kind of then allowed for more time to focus on breathing more into the songs, then just like the bare foundation of it, which is cool.
With all your records, but especially this time around, especially when you're spending time with your band mates in wide open space and you're just in the music, how much did you talk to them about what you're trying to convey in a song? Is it important for everybody to understand, as they're making it, what you're going to be conveying in your lyrics? Or is it just a separate thing?
I think it's not fully separate. I think it's always like lyrics are a personal thing, but at the same time when you're a band it's like you're also connected. So I don't think it's ever a point where you got to sit down and, like, double check anything, because I think there's a level of trust there to kind of just put out what feels right. I think there's always kind of like the once sending it to everyone, and sending the ideas, and everyone on their own kind of process and soak in. The songs exists for a long time, too, where they start. Everyone is watching things kind of constantly change, and all the different versions of ideas that kind of come about. And I think everyone's along for the ride the whole entire time, that I feel like, yeah, I think it always feels pretty natural.
There were flickers on Turnstile's last album, 2018s Time & Space, that suggested the Baltimore five-piece were ready to venture way beyond the hardcore scene that spawned them. But even those fans who wanted to see Turnstile skate out into the unknown couldn't have been expecting their new album, Glow On. It's a breathless, kaleidoscopic, genuinely experimental record that, with 15 songs spread across 35 minutes, qualifies as a hardcore opus.
There are new structures and textures on Glow On, daubs of R&B, courtesy of Dev Hynes, and backing vocals from Julien Baker, space-age sense, bursts of light between bludgeoning anthems. Their agency is undimmed. Lead singer Brendan Yates' voice still sounds like it could smash through concrete, but none of that means their orthodox. As one watched through the beautifully shot recent short film, Turnstile Love Connection, directed by Yates, starring his band mates and featuring Turnstiles' music throughout, will prove.
Last week The FADER's Editorial Director Alex Robert Ross caught up with Yates to talk about the bands' experimental instincts, their return to the road after a long hiatus, and the experience of recording a wild hardcore record on a farm in the middle of nowhere.
Did you bring Dev Hynes and Julien Baker physically to the studio?
Dev and I, not that studio, but we met in a different studio. Julien just kind of was more of like I called her and she did something kind of just from home, just to kind of throw some harmonies on the song, which is really cool. But Dev, we went into a studio. Yeah, it was great. It was great to actually be in a room and kind of just sit there and spend time just messing with things, and trying things, and getting excited about things we were trying stuff like that, which was just great.
Dev Hynes and Turnstile does make a lot of sense, and especially hearing "Alien Love Call" and "Lonely Desires," like you can really see these two things working together. But Turnstile, obviously you've created an environment within the band that's really open to new ideas, and to creativity, and to progressive ideas about music. On the face of it, that should make it really easy to collaborate with people. But then I was thinking that there might be this flip side where you guys maybe have such a well honed internal language. Can that be difficult for other people to step into, when you've all been working together as a group for so long and developing that vocabulary?
Yeah. There's definitely, when you make music with friends that you love and you've grown up with and have this kind of language that is just so established, it's always like you never really know what to expect when we're working with someone else. But also that's a really great thing to embrace. When you decide to work with someone else, it's because you trust instinct, and you trust their creative input they could have on a song. I think also, what it does is opens up a new perspective on the song that everyone that speaks the exact same language on the song, that's been sitting on the song for years, can't really have. Working with someone else is essentially an opportunity to bring someone else's perspective, which in general, while making music or anything else in life, it's I feel like a great thing to be open to.
I think, as long as you go in knowing that it could work or it couldn't work, but you're just open to try some things. I think in a lot of ways working with Dev... He mentioned as well, with Blood Orange songs, there's just something that gets unlocked that you didn't really see before when you bring in someone else on a song. You can see songs in a new light that wouldn't have been fully realized without taking on a new perspective to be included in it.
Those songs with Dev, you've got those up next to... The variety on this album is that you've got those songs up next to "Blackout" and "TLC." Songs that feel really close to the hardcore sound that you guys came out of. Then you've put this on an album where it feels like the best way to listen to Glow On is as one continuous... I've heard it described as a mixtape. Is the mixtape thing intentional? Is that coming from within the band?
Yeah, I think just all the different songs and ideas, those dots have been connected by us and something that we want to feel or convey in a song or put out. They all do their own thing. I think in a sense, putting them all together automatically creates a roller coaster of ups and downs and different things, which I think is always something that we try to create when making music. Feeling and experiencing music or just feeling things as a person, there's always more dimensions to it than just a one dimensional thing. I think it's something that's always intended to make sure that there's those dynamics and those things that we're trying to get across are all included in there and can be felt as a bigger picture thing.
Almost like by splitting things off, you'd be taking something away from it, but by putting everything together, you're trying to get at something about the human experience. Sometimes you do feel soulful one moment and extremely anxious the next moment and angry the next one and there's not really time to breathe in between them.
Definitely. I think context is a big thing. Even imagining the "Turnstile Love Connection" video that we did, those songs... We just imagined the context of those together made sense to us and we wanted to try to put that together in a way that could provide a context that we felt that we wanted other people to see or feel as well. There is a layer of context and time and place that you feel that you'd experience a song or something that is always a factor in how you take in music.
I wanted to talk about "Turnstile Love Connection." It's a really remarkable piece of work. It's an amazing... Congratulations on your directorial debut. First of all, I wanted to talk about the locations. Arecibo... You'd been there before, right? Can you tell me about the first time you went there?
My friend, Alex and I went there years ago on a whim, a very last minute trip decision, but we both had open time and wanted to just go on a trip together. We went down there with the intention of just really having no plan and just calling it day of, just freestyle it a little bit. As soon as we got down there within a couple of days, we had been stumbling upon a lot of abandoned things, buildings and structures and things like that. Aside from checking out cool nature stuff, made it a point to be pulling over at a lot of these abandoned things and seeking some out. You could just go see the kind of structures that you can look at in a totally different light, whether it's a baseball stadium or a hotel that used to be full of life, and now is overgrown with trees and stuff like that.
I think just that trip in general was a memorable one. In particularly that baseball stadium was one that we just pulled off on the side of the road. One day we were just roaming around aimlessly, saw that. "I think that's abandoned. Let's hop in." We hopped the fence, walked in, saw that field. There was wild horses. I don't know if they were wild or maybe some locals put their horses in there, but there was just horses running around the field. I think the lonely nature of it just felt really memorable and it was something that always just stuck in our head after that trip as being a really special place.
When you started piecing together this idea for effectively a very long form music video in short film, Arecibo was just first thing on your mind.
At first, it was an idea in my mind, but I was like, how do we get something like that? I thought there was no way we would actually be able to go down there and film there. It seemed like a lot. I was like, 'how do I find something like that that could make me feel like that?' We were looking at stuff as a band. Once we actually looked into actually going there, it was easier than we thought. We just did it. Yeah, it was perfect cause I think I had already had some sort of emotional connection to this place that it felt rewarding to be able to apply it to the video project and the songs and everything
You've talked in the past about having a little bit of nerves before releasing a project. It must be doubly anxiety inducing, I suppose when... "Turnstile Love Connection" was your vision, you were the director, it was your idea coming to life. How did you feel before that premiered?
I think that common feeling of excitement and anxiety for it happening and people seeing it. I don't know. None of us are trained musicians or experienced film makers or anything like that. I think everything we do is just shooting in the dark and trying to figure it out together as a group and trying our best to capture the ideas that we have. Something like that, especially when we did the movie theater screenings of it felt like... I don't know, it's nerve-wracking, I guess. It's just unfamiliar territory, but also exciting because I think that vulnerable state is something that's the most fulfilling stuff they ended up doing as a band together.
What did you learn about filmmaking from the experience? What did that teach you about creativity and the creative process more broadly?
I definitely learned there's way more that goes into that process than I ever could have imagined. There's just so many things that... I don't know, just even the smallest thing from a two minute music video can... There's so much that goes into it that created a whole new respect for people that are constantly doing that because it just takes so much. It's very... Draining is not the right word, but constantly creatively and mentally and physically just demanding. I think for all of us, all of us being so involved in it, it was just a big learning process. We're all on deck figuring things out and running from here to there and locking down a logistic here and just helping with everything. My friend, Ian, that was the DP, was so helpful with helping us figure all those things out. So much respect for people that are constantly diving into the projects like that because it takes a lot, I feel.
Yeah. I mean, being a director, you're the spearhead of the creative operation. Obviously you're the lead singer of a band, but Turnstile feels quite democratic. Is it different really having to make the call on everything and to essentially be the person where the buck stops and you have to make a call on something. Is that a different experience to being in a band?
I think luckily us being also close and growing up together, it makes it easy to be able to have this kind of built-in support system of assistance. When there are tough decisions, you have things that you can run by other people because I think a lot of times being in a band in general, your faced with so many... it's never just obvious, correct ways to operate as a band. Oh, this is obviously the right decision, this is obviously the wrong one. A lot of times it's very gray area and you, I feel like, are lucky when you can be put with a group of people that are open to have discussions constantly and figure out ways.
And sometimes you collectively make a decision that you're like, "Okay, it was a learning experience because we should have actually maybe done something kind of different." But having that open communication with everyone is something I value a lot.
I think the process of the video too was a huge learning experience, in particularly for something like critical decision making in a time crunch. Because you kind of are forced to make very important decisions in a matter of seconds sometimes. So it's nice to have a group that can collectively help facilitate those decisions and come to help push things along together.
You have this show on Saturday and then you're ramping up to a tour. And then you're going out with a really wild group of... On an incredible tour with $uicideboy$, Chief Keef, slowthai, I'm missing like six other artist, aren't I? It's a really incredible lineup. You're going out in September, right?
Going out with artists like that, there will be a certain amount of cross-pollination. Some of your fans will be discovering other musicians for the first time and a lot of their fans will be discovering you for the first time. How important is that to Turnstile? How central is that to the band's ethos to try and cross over, not just for yourself, but to try and open up conversations across genre lines?
I think Important because I think we try to always be conscious, but also fluid in the kind of touring that we do and just always being open to play to anyone and never being backed into a corner with any kind of opportunity to play to anyone. Being able to play your music to different people I feel like is probably the most rewarding thing when you're given the ability to tour and travel and play music. So I think it's always exciting to be able to constantly be bouncing back and forth to different things and trying different things, and at least being open because not everything makes sense all the time. And there's a lot of things that like don't necessarily make sense. I think it's always important to try to like connect the dots where you think there could be something that could make sense or connect with someone if you're choosing what kind of show is the play for who and all that kind of stuff. But I think the end goal is always just being as open and fluid as possible to be able to play to whoever.
You played Tel-Aviv and you were really, I thought, really eloquently about why. Why you're playing a DIY show over there and you visited Palestine. You also played Vietnam. You hit a lot of places in that part of the world a few years ago. Obviously COVID is being a bit of a pain in terms of people being able to go to anywhere in the world. But that sense of being geographically very fluid and being able to spark those conversations around the world, is there anywhere that you haven't hit that you want to? If everything were equal and if things really did just continue to improve with the global situation that you would want to get to with the bands to play and open up those conversations?
I know that we've always wanted to play South America. I feel like there's plenty of places that we haven't played that we would always love to have the opportunity to. Not sure in particularly where, but I think there's so many places that we would just love to get the opportunity to go because I think we're grateful for any opportunity to play to people and just to be a band.
Well, look, Brendon, that's a slightly poetic place to end. I really, really appreciate you making time.
Thanks so much. I appreciate your time as well and I will talk to you soon.