Turnstile Are Here to Save Hardcore, LMAO JK They Don’t Give a Shit
Vocalist Brendan Yates spills the details on how the band approached 'Time & Space,' why they signed to Roadrunner, and that Diplo collaboration everyone’s confused about.
Photo by Jimmy Fontaine
Formed in 2010, Turnstile quickly became the most visible band in hardcore, seemingly without trying to be. The group’s groove-heavy take on New York hardcore saw the band routinely compared to 311, the kind of backhanded endorsement that could have derailed them but, instead, vocalist Brendan Yates kind of leaned into it, telling Noisey in 2015 that, “A lot of the nu-metal radio rock is definitely not an influence or a goal for the band, but I think that's just kind of that everyone has their own frame of reference for how they hear.” Pairing their borderline nu-metal sound with a playful aesthetic, which favored bright, neon colors, bucket hats, and matching shorts, Turnstile was poised to anger every hardcore purist this side of Long Island.
But after the release of Nonstop Feeling in 2015, Turnstile somehow became the biggest—or perhaps most talked about—band in hardcore. While Nonstop Feeling still sounded more like Rage Against The Machine than, say, Cro-Mags, the album resonated—not because it was heavier, faster, or harder, but because it was one of a precious few hardcore albums that was gleefully fun. A song like “Drop” may not have been insightful or nuanced, but its central riff was one you could dance to even if you’d never been to a hardcore show. Turnstile was breaking every rule hardcore established since its genesis, even touring with pop-punk bands like New Found Glory, and people were loving them because of it, not in spite of it.
Since then, Turnstile signed to the major label Roadrunner Records for the release of their second album, Time & Space. Signing to a major is a move that has slain plenty of hardcore bands, but instead of cleaning up their sound like those before them, they’ve gone all in on their most alienating elements. Time & Space is Turnstile’s most openly ambitious release, still peddling youthful exuberance as if it was their stock in trade, while baking in even more gleeful sections that will only further alienate their detractors. Clocking in at just over 25 minutes, Time & Space is still a hardcore record, but it boasts full-on R&B interludes, production from Diplo on “Right to Be,” massive keyboard lines, and a kind of progressive bent that most hardcore bands would get booed off the stage for even attempting. Take “Big Smile,” the second song on Time & Space, which devolves into a psychedelic bridge full of flanged drums and effects-laden spoken vocals. You’ll know in that moment whether you’re in or out, and that feels completely intentional.
Talking to Yates, the 28-year-old seems ambivalent about how people will react to Time & Space. The word he uses most throughout the interview is “natural,” attempting to establish that this is the record Turnstile would have made with or without major label backing. It’s a statement that can ring hollow, but Yates is steadfast that Turnstile isn’t motivated by outside forces. After all, he’s acutely aware of the fact that his band will always be a punchline for some, and he’s content to let that be the case. Instead of fighting to prove their legitimacy, Turnstile made a record so brazenly over the top, you’ll either bust out laughing or learn to love every potentially corny element.
Here, Yates spills the details on how the band approached Time & Space, why they signed to Roadrunner, and how they put together their upcoming tour package—which Noisey is sponsoring, no less. Oh, and he talks about that Diplo collaboration everyone’s confused about, too.
Noisey: Time & Space is a pretty big jump from what Turnstile was doing on Nonstop Feeling . Were you trying to shake things up with this record?
Brendan Yates: I think, naturally, with every recording that we’ve done—with the first recording having been that Pressure to Succeed seven-inch,—we’ve tried things that felt cool but were different in a way. With every record, the songs don’t come to life until you can play them in a live environment. Over the years of playing songs in that live environment, feeling out what feels really good to play, and the things that, from an outsider’s perspective, may seem like an uncomfortable or intimidating thing to try on recording, has come to feel really comfortable for our band. I think for this record there’s been a lot of expanding upon the essence of what the band is: making the faster songs faster; the slower songs slower; more melody. We were kind of trying to paint a picture with different stuff, as far as having some keyboard stuff and doing more percussion than we’ve ever done. It was us building upon everything and just expanding the whole platform of what our sound is.
Some of those added layers, like the keyboards for example, were those things present when you were writing the record or did they get added once you were in the studio?
The more I make music the more I realize what kind of influences I like, and the less I hold back on trying things that feel exciting out of some kind of fear that it might not fit into a certain kind of genre or box. I love all kinds of different music that are not the obvious influences of Turnstile, like the groovy New York hardcore kind of stuff. If we’re playing a song and I want to throw some MC5 kind of keyboards on this part, let’s try it. We’re pretty much a band made up of drummers, too, so any time there’s a chance to add some cowbells or rototoms or anything like that, we’re all about it, because it’s exciting and it feels good.
This record also features a bunch of collaborations, like Sheer Mag’s Tina Halladay on “Moon,” and Tanikka Charraé sings the entirety of the interlude “Bomb.” How did you go about incorporating these people into the record?
What’s cool is that it’s always a pretty natural process with all that stuff. For example, “Bomb,” that interlude, it was just some lyrics written down. There was not necessarily a direction of what it could be turned into and how it could be made into a song. These patterns would be sparked for how it should be sung and how it should feel, and Tanikka had a really cool voice, so we had her try it out. And it was the same for Tina singing on a song. I wrote that song, but I wanted to hear Franz [Lyons, Turnstile bassist] sing on it to go into a territory the band had never really tried, because Franz has a really cool voice. When we were recording it, we wanted another voice on it, and we’re very big Sheer Mag fans. I asked Tina, since she’s in Philadelphia and was around, and she sang on a couple different things on the record and we ended up really liking it on “Moon.” It was just really cool and natural that way.
I think people are most surprised by Diplo adding extra production on “Right to Be.” How did that come together, and how did you incorporate what Diplo does into what Turnstile does?
That was another super natural thing, and that’s kind of the benefit of being able to be in a studio for a little bit of time. Every other recording we’ve done has been like, we have the songs written, but we have to get in and out because it’s gonna be a lot of money, so we just have to go in and get it done. But this time, we had a month to go in with Will [Yip, producer] and let ideas naturally come out. We had that song “Right to Be” and we felt that it needed some cool, different sonic things happening—I just imagined some lazer, synth thing. We had established a connection with Diplo in the last couple years: He expressed his like of the band, and we expressed our like of what he does, and just had communication with him, and some admiration and respect over the internet. That communication was open, so I just said it’d be cool if he’d be able to play something on the bridge part. We wrote him and sent him the song and asked him to send something over. He worked on it, sent over a couple things, and we just worked it into the song. We had this connection with this person and respected what they did, and he was psyched to play on the song as well. It was a cool, natural thing that we were excited about.
Every hardcore band hits that point where they kind of take their shot and try to forge a new direction. Were you worried that, by going for it like this, people would be upset with you moving away from what Turnstile’s become known for?
I didn’t feel any fear. If this was a record we put out on Bandcamp for free it would have been the same record, you know? The way I like to look at the band is how I look at how I live as a person: Everything I do, I want it to be progressive; I always want to be progressing. Not necessarily changing who I am, but to allow myself to naturally grow. With the band, we treat it the same way. There’s always gonna be different things influencing the sound, or the visual and art side of it. With this, it was exactly that. We just wanted to do what feels good and just play what feels cool. Even if it is in some people’s eyes, different from what they’d expect, that’s fine. I don’t think we’re making music for close-minded people. We’re making it for ourselves and trying to spark the idea of doing what feels right.
Plenty of genres have the old-school purists types, and hardcore definitely does, but do you feel like that mentality has become less prevalent today because, with the internet, it’s easier for people to be less anchored to one genre?
I think it kind of comes in waves. With music, it always comes in waves. If you look at the 70s and 80s, there was so much experimentation, just genre-expanding kind of stuff. It definitely exists, and it kind of always existed, these kind of narrow, focused people who are locked into what they think a genre should sound like. But for me, when I listen to music, I can always appreciate it if it’s coming from a real place. I wouldn’t want to hear a band that is like this rugged band that’s got a lot of anger and stuff go and put out and a pop record. I just want to hear whatever’s naturally coming from the individuals that build up a unit and what’s coming out of that. It’s not like, “Alright, this band needs to sound like a hardcore band by my definition.” Because, at the same time, everyone’s definition of what they think—even people that are very narrow-minded about genres—their point of reference is different from someone else that might feel the same way.
Did that inspire your decision to expand your vocal approach? You’re singing a lot more, and the vocal melodies are a lot more pronounced on Time & Space.
I think with every recording we try to push ourselves. The more you play shows, the more you become comfortable with the music you’re making. It just kind of falls into place. We’ve been playing a song for like five years and, by this point, it’s way different now than it was five years ago. We’ve tried new things and become more comfortable with our abilities to perform the songs—especially with vocals. It’s not as much thinking about my skill level of how I deliver it, but how right it feels to deliver it and what’s best for me to express myself. I think with this record, “I Don’t Want to Be Blind,” for example, that’s the slowest song we’ve ever written. My intention is really to keep calm a bit when writing songs, because I always want tempo changes and different parts and shorter songs, but I think that was the first one that was like a pretty slow song all the way through. It was cool to embrace that in a way, and just build energy off having a song that was different from other Turnstile songs in that it’s just two minutes of one tempo.
You guys signed to Roadrunner, which has done pretty well for other heavy bands like Code Orange, but was there any trepidation about getting into major label waters? Plenty of hardcore bands tried that in the 90s and it didn’t really pan out.
It’s been super cool. The coolest part about it, and the thing that makes me feel good about being in a band, is that the process was really natural. They expressed interest in putting out our last LP. I think we met them in 2014 but, at that point, it didn’t feel natural. Obviously, we’ve grown up on some Roadrunner records, and we’ve known what the label is based off records that have been inspiring to us, like Madball, Biohazard, and Life of Agony. They kind of came to us and were like, “Hey, we really like what you guys are doing. We just want to be there to help and support the band in any way we can.” And I was like, on paper, that sounds great. I love anyone who wants to help out the band. But you kind of hear horror stories of people working with labels and it just going wrong, and people jumping into things that don’t feel right, so we passed, because we wanted to get to know those guys. So we put the record out ourselves, but we kept talking and got to know those guys better, and I think, over the years, we spent so much time talking and really establishing what would be cool for the band.
It used to be more common for bands to make a leap like that and have their fans turn on them, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. Do you think that mentality of bands selling out has died off?
I think it’s a misconception, and maybe slightly outdated in a way. I think the thought of being skeptical of working with bigger labels is that the band is going to give up full control and let the label mold them. I’m sure that still happens to bands, but I think the cool, natural part about this is that these are people who were coming to shows and playing in bands we’ve toured with, and they really just cared about the band. They wanted to create a relationship where they could be there to help facilitate anything that we need or want to do as a band. For example, helping us with the resources to record a record and make cool visual stuff, that’s exactly what the label has been doing, and it’s been cool to work with someone who can give as much time to the band as the band has given to itself. It’s building a support system to help with the annoying stuff that comes with being in a band in terms of planning tours and the logistics of actually making music, which the label has been really supportive with.
Speaking of tours, how did you approach putting together the bill for this upcoming one? Every band has their own sound and aesthetic, while still being under the umbrella of hardcore.
I’ve always been a fan of diverse lineups for shows. To be able to not just see five bands that sound alike, and to have a say in a tour we’re molding, that’s always gonna be a thing. Razorbumps, for example, as a younger, newer band, this will be their first US tour. The first time I saw them, they played with us in Texas at the end of 2016 and it blew me away. It changed my life. When we were making this tour, we wanted it to be a tour that was cool and different, to bring people out to rooms who just want to watch music that had a cool, cohesive energy with a lot of different sounds.
You’re one of the owners of Pop Wig Records, which has released records by bands like Razorbumps, Primal Rite , and Bugg . How important is to keep your ear to the ground and find new things happening in the world you’ve involved with?
Again, the coolest part about all of it was that we started the label so we could put out bands we were so psyched on. We wanted to help facilitate things. It’s hard to change the world and mold it how exactly you want it, but I think a way to do it is to support things that you really find special. Not everyone is gonna be on the same page, but to bring to light things that make you excited, and create a force behind the bands, the people, and the kind of environments you’d like to see, that’s what we like to do. We put out bands that we think are doing something special and make us excited to be a part of music and the community that I’m involved in. That’s the point of it all.
Being on Roadrunner and seeing your labelmates get Grammy nominations, do you think Turnstile will be the first hardcore band to hit that level? Do you think that Turnstile might be the face of hardcore for a certain era?
I don’t feel any weight. I think the coolest part about all that is that I’m a fan of anything special seeing the light of day. Code Orange getting nominated for a Grammy, that’s really awesome. I’m not sure if I feel weight from the whole thing, but in the same way we play shows, I like to play shows in cool environments, but we can also go to Europe and play Hellfest with Black Sabbath or something like that. I want to diversify everything in terms of the stuff we’re doing, from the environments we play in to the people we play to. As long as we continue to do that, and the label is helping us build upon that and expand upon that, and hopefully a lot of bands that are doing special things, if anyone can take away anything, it’s to support the world and community around you that you think is doing a special thing instead of tearing other things down.
David Anthony is a writer based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter.