Turnstile Kills The Vibe

Franz Lyons knew it was going to be all good as soon as Seth Meyers asked if any of the members of his band Turnstile had a MacGruber tattoo.

“We just hit it off, and he was just kicking it with us,” Lyons says, a tinge of disbelief noticeable in his voice, even over the phone as he recalls the hours leading up to their acclaimed late-night television debut.

Everyone at Late Night With Seth Meyers was “really excited to rock with us. The music producer for the show just hung out with us every step of the way. He had mad other responsibilities, but he was like, ‘nope I’m with the guys.” Even Meyers’ others guests, Marisa Tomei and Matthew McConaughey said hello. It seems these days everyone wants to kick it with Turnstile, rock’s most exciting band.

But such is Lyons’ dedication to the grind that the day after Turnstile’s late-night set, Lyons was calling from a warehouse, helping his “brothers” in the streetwear brand Carpet build out their new headquarters. “You’ve got to be true to yourself,” he says. “I don’t do nothing different or special. I got back from Seth Meyers, and I came here and just got my hands dirty.”

Turnstile, which counts amongst its members the perpetually shirtless frontman Brendan Yates, guitarists Brady Ebert and Pat McCrory, and drummer Daniel Fang, got their start in Baltimore’s notoriously tough hardcore scene. Like any good hardcore band, they worked hard, grinding away on multi-bill sets and releasing cheaply recorded EPs. They made the type of music you could get beat up to, and they were great at it. But what was remarkable was that even in their early stages, Turnstile made bruised cheek music, sweat-soaked work ethic, and blood-pumping catharsis sound like a total blast.

Turnstile builds their songs on top of the deep rhythmic beds created by Lyons and Fang, which gallop with punk thrust but also incorporate R&B bounce. Upon the release of their 2015 debut album Nonstop Feeling in 2015, one writer compared them to funk greats The Gap Band, while others noted that Yates could actually sing, when he wanted to. That album led to Turnstile signing with Roadrunner, a major label affiliate known for its success with Slipknot, for whom they made their second album Time & Space in 2018.

The five members of Turnstile are all locked into seemingly perfect unison, creating a machine of perpetual motion. But even then, Lyons is key, laying down a low end theory for his bros to follow, while bringing a relentless series of ninja jump kicks to their live sets. Which, yes, do require some stretching beforehand. “I can’t accurately tell a room how I feel about playing my guitar, if I don’t absolutely show you all how I feel while playing my guitar,” he explains.

But even then, he admits to some nerves when the band decamped to Gallatin, Tennessee to record their third album Glow On with Mike Elizondo — a pop-music professional who co-wrote 50 Cent’s “In Da Club” and has worked with Dr. Dre, Fiona Apple, and Mastodon — whom Lyons describes as “a bass guitar specialist.”

“Mike is a stone-cold professional, like bro was Dr. Dre’s link, from what I gather, I think he was like the only one really allowed to touch the button in the studio besides Dre,” he says. “I was in the panic room a little bit. But it was everything you would want to comfortably step outside of your comfort zone. It was all a sick-ass learning episode.”

Glow On — which comes in 4th on the 2021 Uproxx Music Critics Poll — is a basement punk on an arena level, bright, big-sounding, and utterly professional in the best ways, but it still crackles with the burning need to connect that fuels this genre. For some people, albums and bands like this are a renewable energy source, a way to psyche yourself up to push through another day. Even a departure like “”Underwater Boi,” a shoegaze-y ballad that features backing vocals from Julien Baker, still sprints rather than lurches. “‘Underwater Boi’ is mad chill, but it has just as much pressure,” says Lyons. “It’s a real in-the-pocket head nod. And that song is just as strong as any other song on record.”

It would prove to be a major leveling up when it was released in August, becoming a late-entry album of the summer for headbanger nation and earning rave reviews from Stereogum, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork, which had actually trashed Time & Space. (Turnstile’s online fanbase very much relished that particular turnabout.)

The success of the album has given Turnstile opportunities that rock bands, particularly volatile and decided un-chill bands that were incubated in the loud-fast-rules world of hardcore punk music, don’t see much anymore in the streaming era, including tours with rap hitmakers, clothing lines with streetwear brands such as Lyons’ friends Carpet, and late-night television appearances that set Twitter on fire. Ever fashionable, Lyons was also psyched he got to cop a pair of Off-White Jordans. He’s had a great year. (The only real downspout for the band was that someone pooped in the pit in one of their shows, an incident about which he offers no comment.)

“We made a lot of ill new relationships with people. We’re just thankful that we were fortunate enough for them to hear the record, and the record did the work. The word of mouth has been very strong,” he says, sounding giddy that he got to work with one of his favorite brands on a line. “That team up has yielded a whole different group of people. I don’t even know what their musical preference is or if we were in their visibility.

“We’ve been really fortunate enough to run into people that are real ones lately,” he adds. “And the ones that we’ve been holding on to for a long time have been riding with us for like a decade now. So it’s solid.”

Glow On argues that anything can be hardcore, as long as Turnstile are doing it. That includes ambitious short-films, arena rock solos that bring to mind the Red Hot Chili Peppers, latin-funk-indebted breakdowns, and hazy R&B comedowns that feature Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, who guested with the band at their New York show, which somehow features a thousand stage divers from the moment the band started. “For him to put himself eye to eye with us, I was like, ‘Oh, he’s a real one for real.'”

We are at the point in our cultural history where we don’t need someone to Save Rock ‘n’ Roll, as savior myths are a bit icky, and the genre is doing just fine, thank you. But their success does come at an interesting time, as several of the year’s Big Event Pop Albums felt overcooked and underwhelming, while pop stars such as Olivia Rodrigo, other “Myspace-Revivalist Acts” such as Willow and Machine Gun Kelly, and even the rapper Polo G brought sugar-y guitar hooks back to the charts.

The streaming era has led to a rise in lean-back listening, where labels and artists favor sounds that can blend in seamlessly on a playlist that you can put on while studying, cooking dinner, or just being chill. It’s music for the era of the vibe, the big mood, for a time period where, more than ever, many of us feel numb and burned out, too distracted and terrified to give anything our engagement, where many need a soothing balm, and disengagement is the best they can muster.

Turnstile don’t’ do anything passively. They are terminally un-chill. Instead, Turnstile makes the argument for maximum passion, maximum engagement. They want you to feel alive, even when it’s scary. Be in the moment, with all your body and mind. It’s exactly what many of us needed in year where the world seemed to constantly vacillate between a dial with Absolutely Terrible On One Spectrum and Slightly Less Terrible on the other. But hell if anything is going to spoil Turnstile’s fun.

On Glow On, Yates sounds like someone who couldn’t wait for all the bullshit to end, bragging that he’s ready to celebrate, letting the audience know that if their music makes you feel alive, well, he’s happy to provide. But even if Glow On didn’t have a lyrical theme of being in the moment continually, Turnstile always plays like a band that refuse to exist in the background.

“Like ‘Wild Wrld,’ to me, it’s been one of my favorite songs on the record, and I’ve been calling it an audio motion picture because it’s like, I can’t passively listen to it,” he says.

Turnstile have had a great year, but even with rock music starting to crawl back into the mainstream, is the larger world ready to get in the pit with them? Early signs are encouraging, as the Meyers set already seems iconic, and Lyons heard that Los Angeles influential KROQ has started adding them into rotation. He’s not sure if that will mean anything, but it’s cool nonetheless. And this past fall, Turnstile were the only rock band on the wildly popular hip-hop duo Suicideboys’s Grey Day tour, which brought them, alongside rappers Slowthai and Chief Keef, in front of arena’s full of kids that normally don’t really feel rock music like that.

Lyons says that he ended becoming friends with everyone on the tour, and lost his mind when his new friend Slowthai would jump into the pit and rap the rest of the show in there. And by the end of tour, he notes that some of the rappers were walking on stage to Metallica songs.

“We got a surprisingly awesome response. They had no choice but to listen for 20 minutes. It was like, ‘I know you don’t like guitar music, you just never seen it in real life,'” he says. “A lot of the messages that the band had got during the tour after were like, I’ve never been to a concert before.”

It’s been a big year, and maybe the next one will be even better. But Lyons insists that their victory came a long time ago. After all, he’s in Turnstile. He’s already won.

“I was just I was completely content with what we made for the first time,” he says. “So like, yeah, the critics are definitely important and other people hearing it is important, but I feel like before it, even like left to the mixer, I was completely content with all the decisions that I made on the record.”

“I’m very grateful, but whether the whole world was paying attention or not, if this was fun and it was paying the bills and keeping us happy, in our heart and in our mind, I wouldn’t even care who was listening,” he adds. “We’ve been doing it for 10 years, and I just turned around yesterday and realized where we were at. It just kind of feels like another day.

“Bro, the only thing that we know how to do is be Turnstile.”

Turnstile is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.